The real-time strategy genre has been mired in micromanagement for years now, but famed designer Chris Taylor and the team at Gas Powered Games are seeking to deliver strategy on a much grander scale with Supreme Commander. The game just recently went gold and will be available on February 20, at which time you'll be able to lay waste to entire continents with one of three competing factions all at once. To find out what distinguishes these three warring groups from one another, we went straight to Taylor himself.
GameSpot: Give us a brief overview of the factions in Supreme Commander. Who are all these people?
Chris Taylor: There are three factions, the United Earth Federation, the Aeon Illuminate, and the Cybran Nation. Each faction has a very unique leadership structure, but each believes that what they are fighting for is "true and just." The UEF is doing what it thinks is best, which is reuniting the galaxy under its original rule. The Cybrans are simply trying to free their enslaved brothers and sisters, and the Aeon are having a hard time coexisting with the other two factions because the UEF and Cybran are constantly waging war. The Aeon intend to "cleanse" them if they won't join "The Way."
The three key characters are the leaders of the three factions: President Riley of the UEF, Princess Burke of the Aeon Illuminate, and the ingenious and very old Dr. Gustaf Brackman. Brackman's brain is suspended in a fluid and connected to the computer that projects a holographic image of him. This lets his followers interact with him on a more personal level.
GS: Tell us about the UEF faction and its units and development strategy. What kind of strategy player will gravitate toward this faction--aggressive players, defensive "turtlers," or hit-and-run-style players?
CT: The UEF is the most traditional faction, and most players that are just starting out with the game might want to try this faction first. The factions are carefully balanced, but if you like a straight-ahead-style approach to battle, the UEF is a good choice. My favorite unit is the gunships, both at Tech 2 and Tech 3, as they move around the map quickly and can be used to wipe out your opponent's economy if you can sneak them in the back door.
GS: How about the Cybran Nation? Give us an overview of this faction's armies and the kinds of strategies that work best for it. What makes the Cybran faction stand out from the rest?
CT: The Cybrans are what I like to call the "can do" faction. They have some odd units like the Cybran destroyer, which can sprout legs and crawl up onto land. And then there is the biggest and baddest unit of the whole faction, the giant monkeylord, an experimental unit. The Cybrans are a little trickier to learn than the UEF but are a lot of fun to play and have a cool and somewhat more ominous look to them.
I think a good strategy while playing as the Cybrans is to master the use of the armored command unit (ACU) in frontline battles and how to properly use the stealth units. In other words, learn what each unit can do, and think of new strategies before you begin each game.
GS: Finally, tell us about the Aeon faction, its armies, and its strategies. What kinds of players will get the most out of playing this faction? What are this faction's most distinguishing units and abilities?
CT: The Aeon are probably the hardest faction to master, and it has the most "out there" look. The cool thing about most of the assault units is that they can hover and get across bodies of water as well as land, which makes water maps a good choice for Aeon players. The galactic colossus usually makes an appearance and can devastate your opponent, but the thing to be careful of is antiair support, as the GC has no antiair defense systems. I think the Aeon are very powerful, and they can be underestimated in terms of their destructive capability.
GS: Tell us about the role each faction plays in the single-player game. How does the story unfold, and how will players interact with each faction?
CT: We take the player through a story arc where they start as a new supreme commander and ultimately win the Infinite War. We put in some extra twists and turns to mix it up, but for the most part the player plays the role of the hero and saves the galaxy...at least for their side. I don't want to spoil too much!
GS: How do the factions stack up in multiplayer--which factions get the quickest start, and which has the most decisive finishing strokes?
CT: All three factions are very balanced at the lower tech levels. It's not until Tech 2 and Tech 3 that they start to diverge, and are completely different at Tech 4. I think both the Aeon and Cybran have the most devastating assault units for game-ending devastation, but the UEF's experimental nuclear artillery battery (the mavor) is pretty outrageous too, which makes them all equally good choices to learn and master.
GS: Tell us about the process of balancing the three sides out in such a huge game. Can you share some particularly exciting or memorable moments in game sessions (which may or may not involve nukes) that you expect players will experience with the final game?
CT: Game balancing is one of the toughest parts of a game's development. And as close as we try to get this balance, we know stuff will come up down the road and we'll need to address it. A game of this size is never really done; it just gets closer and closer over time. And we intend to keep making adjustments as we watch more and more people play.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the factions in Supreme Commander?
CT: I would suggest that new players start with the UEF, but also give the other factions a try before ultimately making a final choice about which faction they will stick with. And check out GPGNET (the game's matchmaking service) and try out a ranked game and see how well you can do. The system is designed to pit each player against someone of equal skill, which will hopefully make playing those ranked games a ton of fun and more fun than just playing against someone randomly. And we are always very interested in player feedback on all aspects of the game--even those with impassioned opinions. It's all good as far as we are concerned!
GS: Thanks, Chris.