Feature Article

Grey Goo, and the Rise, Fall, and Rise of the RTS

Doctor, nothing will stop it!

What has happened to the real-time strategy genre? StarCraft II is huge, obviously, but the heyday of the economy-driven RTS seems behind us, replaced by strategy games that have stripped away base-building systems while focusing on combat. The tactical micromanagement of games like Dawn of War II and Company of Heroes 2 reigns supreme.

Developer Petroglyph, known for real-time strategy games like Star Wars: Empire at War and Universe at War (they really like war over there), recognizes the gap, and it's ready to fill it with Grey Goo. I recently saw Grey Goo in action, and was immediately excited by it. Three diverse factions that play differently from each other, one of which that's like nothing I've ever seen. A comprehensive approach that harks back to the classics of the genre like Age of Empires and Command & Conquer. A sci-fi visual style that reminds me of Ground Control II, one of my favorites strategy games of all time. These elements and more are the forces behind my enthusiasm for a game that could fulfill my need for new, interesting RTSs.

Petroglyph doesn't use the words "classic" or "archetypal" to describe its game, preferring instead to use the term "vintage." Petroglyph lead game designer Andrew Zoboki is quick to point out, however, that Grey Goo is not just a blast from the past. "One of the many lessons we learned from our previous games is that players are looking for something new and fun and don't want a clone of some other game is out there with a minor variation," Zoboki says. "They are hungry for a fun experience and we want to give it to them. Grey Goo is that game."

Why does that gap exist in the first place? A decade ago there were countless real-time strategy games on shelves, and the genre dominated PC game sales. Even rebundled classics like Red Alert and Warcraft II were making their way onto armchair strategists' hard drives; players' hunger seemed insatiable. Zoboki has a theory as to why real-time strategy fell out of favor. "The genre's evolution has headed in a direction that made the genre more complex and difficult to play. Many of the mechanics for how an RTS plays and what is needed to differentiate skills are hidden from players or rely on near perfect execution rather than strategy."

Introducing the Beta. Don't get on their bad side.

Market oversaturation was another factor. "At one point there were roughly 15-plus RTS games coming out in the same year. When you have so many competitive products everyone is looking for a gimmick to get them a piece of the total RTS player pie, and the players themselves get burned out on the genre. Additionally, many other RTS games took the route of making the genre more complex as to stand out from their competition because the market was so saturated. Increased complexity without depth, along with a combination of supply of RTS games being greater than the demand, means you're no longer able to make money, hence driving a lot of the publishers to shy away from the genre."

So back to basics it is. Petroglyph aims to make infrastructure development, economic management, and strategic and tactical combat equally important, while keeping the basic mechanics relatively straightforward. Grey Goo isn't about the speed of your clicks, but about the strength of your strategy.

One of the many lessons we learned from our previous games is that players are looking for something new and fun and don't want a clone of some other game is out there with a minor variation.

Andrew Zoboki, Senior Game Designer

Petroglyph demonstrated the game to me, but I didn't get to see strategy in action. Rather, it showed me what makes the factions so different from each other. The first I saw in action was the Beta, which attaches enhancement modules to core structures, and can ultimately construct giant customizable superunits that float slowly across the map, bringing vast devastation with them. Another was the Human faction, whose structures reminded me of StarCraft's Protoss race, all clean lines and blue glow. Unlike the Beta, Humans must extend their reach from their central base using a Tetris-like system of structure placement. In the case of both factions, you can place resource-gather structures anywhere within a certain range of a resource node. The closer the building is to the center of the node, the more resources you can gather, a simple tweak to traditional mechanics that's so brilliant, I don't understand why it hasn't appeared earlier.

Then there's the Goo.

As the Goo, you begin as a single blob of nanotechnological soup, separating into smaller blobs that can ultimately morph into combat units. I've never seen anything like the Goo in a strategy game, and my only regret from the time I spent during the faction demonstration was that I didn't get to see what kind of trouble the Goo could create in a full three-faction battle. Zoboki assures me, however, that Grey Goo is rife with strategic possibilities.

"Each of the races in Grey Goo gives the player a unique set of mechanics with which to solve their common RTS gameplay challenges," says Zoboki. "Each faction doesn't just approach the gameplay aspects of infrastructure development, economic management, and strategic and tactical combat differently but also caters to different play styles. Ranging from a player who likes to build massive fortresses and turtle up to being extremely aggressive and building small bases across the map, there is a faction that will suit every player for their own personal preference. Every faction has racial themes and mechanics that separate them out from each other, from the Tetris like base building mechanics of the humans, to the modularity and customization of the Beta, to the extreme flexibility and mobility of the Goo."

If anyone's up to the task of balancing three disparate factions, it's Petroglyph, whose Universe at War stuck three wildly diverse factions into a single game and somehow made them work together. It's a wonder that we haven't heard much from the developer in recent years; Petroglyph continues to improve its MOBA, Battle for Graxia, but has generally kept a low profile. I asked Zoboki is the lessons the developer learned when making a MOBA could be applied to Grey Goo in any meaningful way. His response was an enthusiastic "yes!"

Why must such pretty places be spoiled by violence? Won't someone think of the Goo-children?

"There is a lot that can be learned from the success and failures of MOBAs and the emergence of that genre," says Zoboki. "We have incorporated much of that knowledge into Grey Goo. The most obvious example is in the player interface. The unit and structure build menu that utilizes a similar QWERT command system as is popular in MOBAs. The design for the hotkeys being in that layout was focused around giving the player an immediate hot key solution and easy to remember combinations to build units and structures without having to have a lot of hand movement. By keeping similar key combinations constant through each of the races, the system allows for a player to fall back on what they learned from a previous race when playing a new one."

I've been ready for a game like Grey Goo for a while. As much as I love the most prominent strategy games from recent years, I yearn for that thrill of building bases and sending out scouts into a world that I've never seen before. Thankfully, Grey Goo will let me do that offline, on the Internet, and even in LAN get-togethers (there's another "vintage" option to embrace!). Petroglyph wants their game to be fun for everyone. And since I'm included in that list, I can't help but want to get my hands on Grey Goo as soon as possible--presuming, of course, that the Goo can be washed off when I'm done.

Written By

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

Discussion

64 comments
Algearond
Algearond

Could be interesting, needs more info though

dapsang
dapsang

Try playing Rise of Nations. Kind of old game, but its mechanics are very very relevant to this post. Most of the so called innovations of grey goo are already present there. 

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

Old school RTS evolved into two more distinct genres because those more naturally fit the human concept of war. One is the RTT games like CoH that largely removes base building and resource gathering to focus on the tactics of combat. That some of it has degenerated into micromanaging individual units is, in my opinion, most regretable, but I'd rather be a single soldier than a quartermaster when I play a war game. The other extends upward into the turn-based strategy realm, where infrastructure, resource management, and even much of the strategy are done outside of battle, as they are in real life. Their success can be seen in Total War. This genre suffers from too broad a scope, as to do it well, the devs effectively have to make two games and merge them. Becuase of these evolutions, I found myself not missing old school RTS when they died for me after C&C 3.

There is still place for old school RTS, and I don't mind more offerings like Grey Goo, but I think a reactionary movement in that direction by the whole military strategy genre is more than a step backwards.

bdous
bdous

Nice article.Any news on release date ?


vadagar1
vadagar1

they should add always online feature, with a forth faction that can be unlocked if u pay extra


also the game should come down to who clicks faster and who can build the best unit more, put it in a ball and roll attack move into the enemy base


that's what I would do if I was EA or blizzard 


:D

1wikkid1
1wikkid1

In a way I'm glad that base-building has been mostly removed from RTS games lately. It always felt weird anyway... building the same damm buildings every single time is not fun, it's not a city builder game after all. Personally I'm not a big fan of RTS, my interest in RTS was always (however wrongly) more about building the bases as opposed to fighting a war... I'm more into city building games. But now at least I'm not pulled towards RTS hoping that maybe they have some interesting mechanics in terms of building the base up.

MJ-X
MJ-X

What the hell is grey goo anyway? make it grey matter or something just not goo as that wont make it fly off the shelves with people thinking its a kiddy game.

drysprocket
drysprocket

Cool preview Kevin!


I still think they should change the name...I get the reference, but it's just not marketable for the masses. 

SamehH99
SamehH99

CAN'T WAIT! RTS is my favorite genre for competitive play. I hope this doesn't disappoint

c0mmanderKeen
c0mmanderKeen

Thanks for covering this Kevin, I am crazy for it. Long gone are the glorious days of my endless RTS sessions on- and offline. I hope this enters the hall of fame.


...I might need to reinstall Empire at War just now :)

Zarkhaine
Zarkhaine

K, i'm excited for this game now :D

Spent sooo many hours on RTS games like Age of Empires/Mythology and Empire Earth 2 in the past!

Pennebaker
Pennebaker

I miss Age of Empires II.  Something went wrong on AOE3 and it was never the same.

cboye18
cboye18

I haven't played on PC for many years now, but this genre used to be what defined PC gaming (at least for me). I still miss Age of Empires and Dark Reign: Future of War :(

Assimilat0r
Assimilat0r

One of best genre is classic bb RTS!!! I will pre order on steam 4 pack to gift my friends, to support Petroglph and to stop EA and other monsters of industry.

yeah_28
yeah_28

classic base building oriented RTS with combat was my favorite genre at the time, I've been waiting long for a new game like this, hopefully it will deliver.

DarkJedi8_basic
DarkJedi8_basic

I beleive the Casual Game 'RTS' market found on Tablets and Android and Apple Stores casued the fall of Traditional RTS.  And MicroTransactions.  Why wait for resource gathering when you can plunk 9.99 down for 10,000 Ore?  Pathetic!

drwhoiscool
drwhoiscool

LAN Feature!  Finally...  LAN Partys where so awesome back in the day. 

Lach0121
Lach0121

Looking forward to some nice base building RTS games.  I have my eyes on this one.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

The RTS fall is attributed to a two things:


1. Blizzard stopped making RTSes and did nothing but World of Warcraft for about a decade.  What the hell is that.


2. EA destroyed the Command and Conquer series and Westwood.

Geertvdheide
Geertvdheide

I think we'll be seeing more classic RTS games in the coming years. If not from publishers, then from indie developers. There's a very clear gap in the market here, just like there was a lack of turn-based titles and classic RPG's for a while. Now, we're seeing a lot of those being developed - from Divinity: Original Sin to Torment: Tides of Numenera to Age of Wonders 3 - so I expect the same thing to happen with the base building RTS. Especially after Blizzard finishes the Starcraft 2 trilogy. Looking forward to seeing more of Grey Goo, despite the terrible name they chose for it :D

Cloud_imperium
Cloud_imperium

Another great article by Kevin . Thanks dude , and I'm really looking forward to this game . Wish there was World in Conflict 2 but sadly that won't happen now (UbiSoft) .

b74kd3th
b74kd3th

WIC ruined the genre then ubi ruined WIC and shut it down

faizanhd
faizanhd

There needs to be more RTS games that focus on combat rather than tech trees like COH , Warhammer and World in Conflict.

Starcraft and Warcraft 3 just become 30 minute races to who can build the better units first.

Starcraft II solves some of these problems but is still stuck in the past.

tonytones21
tonytones21

We need another Warcraft RTS. That's what we need and then we'll all be happy :).

prats93
prats93

So they're basically taking the Starcraft template (3 unique factions) but spicing things up by tweaking familiar mechanics in innovative ways. My body is ready.

JachAnen
JachAnen

@Unfallen_Satan Acyually think that newer strategy games are a major step backwards. All the best series has gone to s*** in their most recent version or no longer releases any games. Total War as you mentioned, Empire Earth, Age of Empires and of course Command & Conquer. This is why I miss the old school RTS, because those who are there to compete against them, have prettier graphics and worse gameplay or just not any fun.

bdous
bdous

@vadagar1  That is what you do if you want to destroy the game and the genre

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

@1wikkid1 I am glad too, though my problem was I am incredibly inept at resource management. I always end up wtih too much or too little, never just right, even after hundreds of hours playing one of the old RTS.

Vegamyster
Vegamyster

@MJ-X"Grey goo (also spelled gray goo) is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves, a scenario that has been called ecophagy ("eating the environment"). The original idea assumed machines were designed to have this capability, while popularizations have assumed that machines might somehow gain this capability by accident."

- Wikipedia

vadagar1
vadagar1

@MJ-X yes perhaps the name is misleading to the none nerd population ...


hmmmm


but i cant think of a better name tbh

Juan1988
Juan1988

@drysprocket  what's the name reference? Something about the brain (grey matter) or what?

hystavito
hystavito

@Thanatos2k  What about consoles?  Not only is there a control scheme issue, but the console crowd doesn't really like RTS.  And no I'm not saying they are too dumb for an RTS :), but even the simplest RTS seems like an experience most of the console crowd did not and still do not want.  We can also talk about the rise of multiplayer and especially shooters.  A MP shooter gives the satisfaction of defeating your opponent many many times and with mere seconds to a few minutes between.  An RTS on the other hand requires a substantial time investment after which you only have defeated 1 or a few opponents.  Even within shooters themselves we've seen the loss of the old tactical ones, where you worked slowly and methodically for much more time to get each kill.  People, gamers or otherwise, much prefer the fast and frequent reward system.


Your 2 points are relevant for sure, but like the article said there used to be 15 RTS games in a year.  Shouldn't EA and Blizzard failing to make more RTS games have opened the market for others rather than killed it entirely?  I mean if the demand was there, someone else could have filled the gap.


Maybe I'm just a console hater :), but I really blame consoles mostly for killing RTS, and other genres as well, many genres lay dead in their wake.  I should say though, that if I am a console hater I'm a stupid one, since I own pretty much every console from last and current generation.  Or, maybe I just like to better know my enemies and keep them close :).

Vegamyster
Vegamyster

@Thanatos2k Honestly the only C&C from EA that was bad is C&C 4, Generals/Zero Hour, C&C3/Kane's Wrath and RA3 were good games.

Nightelf123
Nightelf123

@Thanatos2k  3. microsoft also stopped making RTS games.

AriesCZ
AriesCZ

@prats93 More like doing their own thing, like Universe at War, which also had 3 totally distinct factions (and pretty interesting backstory as well). Blizzard did not invent different factions in games :)

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

@JachAnen On an unrelated note, Anno 2070 is a great example of non-military RTS that focuses on infracture building and resource management. By making combat secondary, the game's scale both in size and time feels much more natural for the activity being depicted.

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

@JachAnen

I partly understand the appeal of old school RTS; it's a microcosm of war for gamers who are not military strategists, with both size and playtime of appropriately limited scale. It has value in a way that chess has value, so I too am glad it's not dead and gone. However, game design has matured enough to represent war more fully in all its complexities. Even Total War is far from ideal. However, so far as military strategy games go, that separate focus on strategy and tactics in their appropriate domain is, in my mind without a question, where the genre (military strategy, not RTS per se) should be heading.

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

@JachAnen It's impossible to discuss meaningfully what you personally find fun, and I can't imagine prettier graphics being a step backwards, other things being equal. For gameplay, although Rome II stumbled, Total War is still undoubtedly different from RTS of old like AoE or C&C. Since these games are all military in nature, how can it possibly be a step backwards to move infrasctructure and resources, both clearly strategic and not tactical concepts, out of the limited scale of old school RTS either to the appropriate strategic level like TW, or removed in favor of more pure focus on military tactics?

vadagar1
vadagar1

@bdous @vadagar1and surprisingly they keep doing it


its like people that run big companies don't even play the damn games they make

JachAnen
JachAnen

@Unfallen_Satan @1wikkid1I miss base building games. You have more options and more to think about that way, like resource management.


Btw you aren't supposed to have just right so I'm guessing you never really got the point in these games, no wonder you don't like them.

AriesCZ
AriesCZ

@Juan1988 @drysprocket Check out what Vegamyster quoted from Wikipedia in the comment above. It basically means self-replicating nanotechnology running wild and consuming everything it comes across.

drysprocket
drysprocket

@Juan1988 @drysprocket  


Here ya go. And for full disclosure, I baaarely knew what it was referencing. I'm guessing the vast majority will miss it. And it doesn't sound cool out of context:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_goo

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@Vegamyster @Thanatos2kNot really, no.  None held a candle to either original Red Alert.

Vojtass
Vojtass

@Nightelf123  MS also destroyed Ensemble Studios, once beautiful pearl in the crown of PC gaming.

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

@JachAnen I haven't played AoE for years, and I almost forgot. Doesn't AoE have non-military victory conditions, like building wonders or something? In that sense AoE is actually more a RTS version of Civilization than a military strategy game. RTS need not be military games. For example, the Goo in Grey Goo need not have combat units but instead reaches victory some other way, like covering the map. But it's even harder to balance that level of asymmetricity than the four sides of WC3, and I don't know if any dev is up to the task.

AriesCZ
AriesCZ

@Vojtass @Nightelf123Not really sure they destroyed them. AoE3 was not that bad. The end of a RTS era came and Ensemble Studios was doomed with it...