Even though it's not due out until the first part of 2007, strategy fans everywhere are eagerly looking forward to Supreme Commander, the epic-scale real-time strategy game from Gas Powered Games and THQ. Billed as the spiritual heir to Total Annihilation, one of the most popular RTS games ever, Supreme Commander is set in a far-off future where three factions of humanity wage war against one another.
Like many real-time strategy games, Supreme Commander has an economic aspect to it, as you must accumulate resources (in this case, energy and mass) and use it to churn out war machines. What makes Supreme Commander different, though, is its enormous scale. Battlefields will be hundreds, and even thousands, of square kilometers in size. Don't worry about it being too big, because the quick pace of the combat will have you busy directing armies, navies, and air forces around the map. To get an update on the game, we caught up with creator Chris Taylor.
GameSpot: It's been a few months since we got an update on Supreme Commander. Where's the game at currently? How much work is left?
Chris Taylor: Supreme Commander is getting very close to being complete, but as we approach the finish line, some of the toughest challenges remain. These include tuning and balancing, debugging, optimizing the game for performance, and, lastly, we are finalizing the code to run on DirectX 10 in Windows Vista.
GS: The trailer for Supreme Commander generated an incredible amount of buzz. What was the reaction like to the reaction to the trailer? Does the buzz make you a bit nervous now that all these expectations are out there?
CT: We were very happy to see the reaction, and like you suggest, it made us work harder because we certainly don't want to disappoint those who are excited to play. Nervous, heck yeah, this whole process is pretty hard on the nerves, but we love it.
GS: What can you tell us about the campaign structure? Are there three campaigns that allow you to play as each faction? Will you have a linear set of missions that take you from planet to planet? Or will there be some kind of top strategic layer to link the battles together?
CT: We do indeed have three campaigns, where the player can choose the United Earth Federation, the Aeon Illuminate, or the Cybran Nation. Each campaign is quite huge and follows the story to the conclusion where the player plays a key role in ending the Infinite War.
GS: We've covered the histories and units of the three factions in the game, but could you describe to us just how they're different from one another? How do they play in comparison to one another? Are they essentially the same, but with different appearances?
CT: We struggled between two extremes early on when designing the units. On the one hand we wanted each faction to be unique, but we also wanted to balance them. We finally decided that early on in the game, where each side is using the lower tech levels, we made it so that each faction had access to similar units, and if not in form, close enough in function so that we could balance them. However, as the game progresses, and as the player increases in tech levels, the three factions start to separate more and more on a functional level so that by the highest tech level, what we call experimental, no two units are alike.
GS: How's work on the artificial intelligence progressing? Will the AI know how to use all the space you're giving it to maneuver its forces properly on the battlefield? Will it ambush you, flank you, or surprise you in any way?
CT: The AI has come a long way, and we are very excited about where we ended up. We had grand designs about allowing the player to choose different personality archetypes, and it wasn't looking like we were going to get that done on time, but in the last stretch, this did in fact make it in, and we love how it takes the whole experience to the next level. Oh, and yes, you can expect the AI to play extremely well, and be sure to protect yourself on all sides. And build some antinukes!!
GS: Of course, no AI is as smart as a human being. What can you tell us about the multiplayer at this point? Will multiplayer be one-on-one, or will there be team play, so perhaps two-on-two or even higher? How are the multiplayer matches in the offices, and can you tell us some cool war stories?
CT: Multiplayer allows you to do all of the above. You can play up to eight players, in any configuration, mix and match AIs (and like I mention above, those AIs can be of different personality types), and you can play on teams, with or against the computer AI. The matches here at Gas Powered Games have been insane, and we really have to stay focused on the development side and not get too carried away playing it!
GS: There's going to be a considerable amount of automation in Supreme Commander to reduce micromanagement, particularly since there are so many units spread out over such a huge area. There's also some concern that the game might be too automated, so that you, as a player, don't do a lot. Where do you draw the line, and how much automation do you put in? Though, isn't the point of all of this so you can focus more on the "big picture" rather than the mundane minutiae?
CT: You would be surprised how the whole experience changes, and yet it is strangely familiar. For example, as the map size increases and the automation kicks in to assist the player, the size of the whole theater draws the player back in at a different level...a level where they spend the most time thinking about the next big move, the strategy, the big picture. This is where Supreme Commander really steps away from the typical real-time strategy experience and gives the player the feeling that it's not just about who can click the fastest, but about who has the best strategy for a given map or opponent.
GS: A lot of people are wondering about what sort of PC you'll need to run the game, especially since the battlefields are so large, there are so many units, and everything is modeled.
CT: No question that a game of this nature will require a PC that is well suited to pushing lots of juicy visuals and has a beefy enough CPU to handle the advanced AI, but as we have seen in the past, machines are getting more powerful all the time, and by the time Supreme Commander launches, the average PC sold will likely run the game quite well. I will say, however, that this was a tough decision, but an important one, because we wanted to create a truly next-generation experience and wanted to fully utilize the latest in graphics and processing technology to make that happen.
GS: What's the greatest moment that you've had in the game so far, and could you describe it to us so we can get a better idea of how Supreme Commander is different from most other real-time strategy games?
CT: Ah man, there have been quite a few, but in general the great moments happen near the end, or happen to be the end, when something crazy and over-the-top is going down. Examples range from the massive experimental units meeting on the battlefield like a Godzilla movie, or where a massive wave of units is chewing into a base and the whole screen is alive with explosions, or when a player's Armored Command Unit (ACU) is running from his exploding base to save his own hide and suddenly explodes in a massive nuclear fireball. This stuff happens all the time.
GS: Thanks, Chris.