Universe at War Designer Diary #4 - Synergy and Tactics

Creative director Adam Isgreen returns to explain how adapting to the battlefield and thinking like an alien is the key to winning at this real-time strategy game.

Earth becomes an intergalactic battlefield in Universe at War: Earth Assault, a real-time strategy game that has humanity watching on the sidelines as three powerful alien races duke it out on our planet. In the game, the powerful alien Hierarchy arrives on Earth to wipe it out, but they're followed by their enemies, a sentient machine race called the Novus. This battle awakens the Masari, an ancient race of aliens slumbering deep below the surface of the planet. The result is three wholly unique alien factions going at each other. How do you balance three completely alien races? Creative director Adam Isgreen explains in this designer diary. Universe at War will ship in early December.

Synergy and Tactics

By Adam Isgreen
Creative Director, Petroglyph Entertainment

We set out to make Universe at War a real-time strategy game with very diverse factions. Watching people in the beta test and here at work makes it clear that we succeeded on that front. Sure, you control the factions in a similar manner, but the user-interface interaction is where most similarities end. When an experienced Novus player switches to playing the Hierarchy, he's typically stomping down the hallway after a few missions and ranting, "How do I defend against air units?!" And then starts the "Are you playing the Hierarchy like a Hierarchy player, or like a Novus one?" responses. This conversation is usually an eye-opener for newer players when they realize they really do need to play differently from faction to faction. Building a massive central base as the Masari may be a sound strategy, but doing that for the Novus? That's a recipe for disaster.

The fight comes home to Earth in Universe at War.

"Synergy" is one of those marketing buzzwords you hear in conjunction with parodies of marketing and marketing folk, but in Universe at War we have synergy. Seriously. You're rewarded for trying many different combinations of research, tactical dynamics, and unit types and groups, which makes the overall war between players more dynamic. You have more of a back-and-forth nature to the battles, rather than one massive assault that wins the game.

There was only one specific starting point for each faction, and that was individual play style. Fast and stealthy? Large and menacing? Armored and defendable? Many adjectives were thrown about as we nailed down the key descriptors for each race. From those, the remaining aspects of the factions--unit types, weaknesses, construction philosophy, income method, research branches, and tactical dynamics--all grew simultaneously from the initial play styles, since we wanted everything to fit together tightly.

Engineering synergy into the factions required a lot of preplanning on how we thought people would play each of our factions and what different types of players would want to do as that faction. For example, Novus is our hit-and-run faction, but is also machine- and computer-oriented. How would a speedy hit-and-run machine really want to fight? We tried to get into the mindset of each faction through this process, which in Novus' case, allowed us to explore such concepts as rampant networking and information acquisition, viruses as a battlefield weapon, and nanotech construction and zero-waste recycling processes. Combined with the units we'd designed to play a part in each strategy, this led to Novus' research trees for signal, computing, and nanotech, respectively. Each one emphasizes a different aspect of how our computer intelligence wages war, and each has strategies that can utilize different unit combinations to achieve victory through that aspect.

Units were likewise created to fill multiple roles in different strategies that a faction could employ. The desire to have several clear tactical choices from the get-go required us to create tactics before units. This way, we could figure out what type of unit would be used to pull off that strategy, and to what degree you needed multiple types of units to be successful with that strategy. When you overlaid all the different tactics we wanted for each faction, the overlaps and gaps led to the development of key units for each faction.

Insurance rates are sure to skyrocket thanks to these aliens.

We also had a desire to clamp down on single-unit tactics that would win battles through mass production and brute-force strategies of one unit type. This led to the refinement of our weapons system, which breaks all weapons in the game down into instant, guided, and unguided categories. There are counter-technologies across all the factions, like shields and redirection, but each counter-tech has an appropriate weapon category that it can't deal with, allowing the player to exploit the weaknesses with various types of units. Because it's easier to defend against certain weapon types than others, players are forced to use a mix of different unit types in order to attack successfully in most cases.

In the end, what we've striven to do in Universe at War is provide players with many ways to fight and counter each other's strategies, and the synergy between units and research, as well as each faction's tactical dynamics is a part of that. We wanted players to walk away from a game--even a loss--saying to themselves, "I bet if I had switched to research X..." or "If I had one more of unit Y..." so that even in defeat, you learn something new for the next game and can turn the tables on your opponents.

Players will find a lot to discover and sink their teeth into when it comes to Universe at War. You've got three factions, each of which require you to learn completely new behaviors, abilities, and strategies when you switch from one to another. On top of that, you've got synergy with unit, tactical dynamic, and research combinations--both planned and emergent--which will take a good deal of time to explore, refine, and master the use of.

And fortunately, you don't have long to wait!

Written By

Want the latest news about Universe at War: Earth Assault?

Universe at War: Earth Assault

Universe at War: Earth Assault

Follow

Discussion

42 comments
pkcRAISTLIN
pkcRAISTLIN

wow, the fallacies, poor logic and infantile criticisms keep coming thick and fast! as i have already said, im really glad there are games like UaW and CnC3 to keep the children (who really don't know how to play) off the supcom servers. honestly, the recent criticisms are not only incorrect, they are completely laughable.

skud_720
skud_720

The thing that pissed me off about supcom was the lack of obvious scale. What is the point of making "massive" units when you have no scale to judge it against, just because its slow doesnt mean its big. If they had infantry in it (even if their only a few pixels across) it would have made the scale mean something. I suppose that would have been a waste of time if they were as useless as the level 1 units. That game had no need for a mix of units when only big ones worked. Ina game i want to be able to use basic units right through to the end. Lets hope universe at war gives me that.

Vasot
Vasot

This game will be a Supcom Killer I did not liked supcom... I hope Universe at War kills Supcom

eldargod
eldargod

supcom suck, one of the worst rts i have everplayed 1. units samey the only one that look different are expermental units. 2.too much happpening at once to get your head around 3 horrible interface 4. not stunning graphics SUP COM SUCKS

JcDent
JcDent

I play SC, in campaign, by making lots of units and pointing at the general direction of enemy base. Survival rate is extremely low. And thos game will make me combine units... The only two games where i knew good combinations were "StarCraft" for terrans and "Dawn of War" for Space Marines.

alcari
alcari

You either love SC, or you hate it. But some of these arguments are just insane. 1 - "All sides have the same units" Who cares? does haveing varied units make a game better? I though it was the number of strategic/tactical options available to you. 2 - "You're playing Icon wars" Only rarely. I personally use the strategic zoom only to give large commands, then zoom in further. If you don't like the strategyic zoom and prefer to use a mini-map, that's a personal thing, but don't bash the game over it. I just think Supcom offer MANY more ways to win then any other RTS out there at the moment. where the gameplay is usually a rush with no development.

pkcRAISTLIN
pkcRAISTLIN

apparently harrygordon1000 NEVER has time to watch movies either ;) Dont worry, FA fixes all those problems. all of my FA games thus far have been under half an hour. things are much faster paced now, and defenses have been toned down a bit.

harrygordon1000
harrygordon1000

Supreme Commander is great - I love it. Unfortunately, for those who aren't able to invest copious amounts of time in playing the game - each match I end up playing usually lasts between 1 and 2 hours - it's pointless. With a job and a degree to worry about I just don't have time to play SC. That's it's major downfall. I look forward to the next strategy game that can offer succinct bursts of doom that won't consume my life ^_^. SC really IS over rated. The ratio of investment to return is too low IMHO.

kackarot00
kackarot00

@ RTS fanatic , The factions are actually pretty diverse in FA and you have to look beyond just the dps etc to see how the units differ in supcom .... Considering you actually have to maneuver etc, its a personal thing but i enjoy commanding units at a strategic level alot more than using all there oh so innovative abilities. Personal taste

RTSFanatic
RTSFanatic

[quote]kackarot00 Supreme commander FA is the best strategy game ive ever played , Universe at war is, as many of you have said - booooooring - It has none of the intensity or depth of supcomFA. I dunno if FA will win strat game of the year Raistlin but if there was an award for it , it would definitely win least recognised awesome game of the century.[/quote] I so agree, because the generic and symetrical units in SupCom rule the day. It's like they cut and pasted stats for units on all three factions, with new art, who can tell the difference? UAW is actually a breath of fresh air. For the first time since StarCraft I actually had to learn each faction due to the diversity the game offers. I can't think of an RTS game in the current generation that offerse this.

kackarot00
kackarot00

Supreme commander FA is the best strategy game ive ever played , Universe at war is, as many of you have said - booooooring - It has none of the intensity or depth of supcomFA. I dunno if FA will win strat game of the year Raistlin but if there was an award for it , it would definitely win least recognised awesome game of the century. /fanboiiii

pkcRAISTLIN
pkcRAISTLIN

hey Vasot- chances are ive been gaming longer than you've been sucking down oxygen so keep your ignorant rubbish to yourself. Whilst there is an element of truth to all the units being the same, in reality they were quite different in terms of health, damage, range etc. indeed, all RTS units are "exactly the same" except for health, damage, range etc ;) this is of course unless said unit has a special ability. Im not gonna persuade anyone that doesn’t like the strategic zoom, so I wont bother. I just have to ask- why do you all play strategy games? Because forged alliance provides the deepest strategic and tactical experience to date. I have never played a game so beautifully stressful from the 3 minute mark until the end of the game. Its ridiculous! There are far more tactical variables in forged alliance than any RTS currently available. It’s a steepish learning curve, but that's half the fun! The new economic system forces a mad rush to dominate the map. And since it’s a simulation, it has a much more "organic" feel and battles are far less predictable than in any RTS since TA. Each to their own obviously, and im not saying that everyone has to like it. But to accuse it of being a poor game shows a distinct lack of experience/knowledge in exactly how innovative this game is. Look out for FA winning strategy game of the year.

mbashour
mbashour

i agree with vasot. although SC has been growing on me, but the zooming and units are just bad. the beta of UAW didn't impress much, but i guess it is a beta. i just dont know when rts games started to have such bad graphics? prolly started with AOEIII...worst sequel of all time

Stanza987
Stanza987

Every RTS is some sort of spamfest. But would you rather do it with 90 smallish units or 500-1000 units with experimentals?

Raptor_4000
Raptor_4000

but supcomm was a giant spamfest-just about every unit (experimentals excluded) did the same thing,with only 1 or 2 minor tweaks!

Vasot
Vasot

Supreme Commander SUCKS and it is overrated SC factions and units look similar and they look like ants with that awful zoom system You have to really zoom in and zoom out all the time and recognize what units you have selected in SC Universe at War seems like a way better game from Supcom with a better story and with really different factions with completely different strategy for each one and with completely different units pkcRAISTLIN does not know what he is talking about He lives in his own little SC world He probably has not played many games in his life A real game with deep tactics and strategy is the TOTAL WAR game series (like Medieval 2 TW) and not Supcom

Stanza987
Stanza987

I agree with plamberton...strategic zoom is a necessary component for RTS games. Once you start using it, you take it for granted, and when other games don't have it, the game suddenly just doesn't seem interesting anymore. Also, pkcRAISTLIN has a very valid point. He actually has a lot of good points, but the one I'm referring to is "forged alliance in the greatest RTS ever made." I'm with you, bro. And that statement is based on the FA beta. Can't say the same for the UAW beta. I'm glad they delayed this game. It definitely needs more work.

pkcRAISTLIN
pkcRAISTLIN

Those of you bashing supcom clearly have no understanding of what a great leap forward in strategy gaming it is. have fun with your "insta-hit" game mechanics, unoriginal rock-paper-scissor hard-countering, incessant micro, tiny unit cap and no strategic zoom. its good that games like CnC3 and UaW are made, it keeps the whining kiddies off the supcom servers. forged alliance is the greatest RTS ever made. it has everything supcom didnt. no other RTS has ever included such rich tactical and strategic depth.

plamberton
plamberton

One thing I don't like about the game from playing the beta is the camera is way too close to the action, when you play the Heiarchy and build walkers they fill up the entire screen. You can't zoom out very far at all. Supcom has changed the zooming in/out interface for RTS for good.

plamberton
plamberton

When are they going to release a single-player demo? I have the closed beta but I don't have a clue what I'm doing in the game, neither do most of the people I play well. It needs a tutorial mission to explain how to play each of the three races.

Atheist_Jew
Atheist_Jew

Sounds good, but why isn't anything mentioned about the game's serious balancing issues? Petro STILL hasn't released a patch for the UaW beta, and the game is practically crippled as a result.

evilmonkey_clou
evilmonkey_clou

Finally, a the game Supreme Commander should have been. SupCom needed to have a closer zoom, but everything else i didnt like about it has been said.

Vasot
Vasot

Supreme Commander SUCKS It was a hyped game with tiny similar units and bad AI Universe at War seems way better I hope it is

ppau08223
ppau08223

interesting. will consider this game based on more reviews.

KorJax
KorJax

SupCom rocks, especially forged alliance beta. But this is just as awesome as it from beta impressions. It's got the depth of SupCom, except with massive options in faction unuiqueness and faction research/abilties for tactics, rather than massive options for strategic scope that SupCom has.

Maximiliator
Maximiliator

I agree with Stanza987 !!!5upR3m3 c0mm4ND3R 1Z BL0W1ng 4w4y 4lL 07H3r G4M3Z !!! --- Max

Stanza987
Stanza987

Supreme Commander makes all other RTS games (including this one) obsolete.

KorJax
KorJax

Beta kicks ass. Only problem is that we have a build from august... and the uber 600+ changes/improvement beta patch is STILL under "review" by Microsoft. Hope it isn't a sign of the future for this kick ass game. I mean, how can you not go wrong with the orignal developers that birthed the RTS franchise? Even the music is done with a style similar to the classic C&C games ;)

KingBahamut
KingBahamut

I signed up fot the beta but can't register because I have apparently been banned from the forum which sucks

42316
42316

Can't wait.......it looks like its gonna be sick....the graphics probably will be good, so all the people who are looking at the screenies and judging the game are stupid!!

bangell99
bangell99

Looks like alot of fun, with some proper tactics and strategy involved. I like the look of the Hierarchy - looks like the things from War of the Worlds.

gogators4life
gogators4life

It's too bad that most people nowadays decide the game on screenshots and videos. Do your research on UAW and you will see it is a unique RTS game, unlike C&C 3, which is nothing but click fest.

thestrateger
thestrateger

it's a good game but it not impressed me =/ :(

Kubilius
Kubilius

Though i think this game might be really good (though some people scare me off comparing it to C&C, which i really had, especially latest releases), but i do think that they've made a mistake choosing earth as a battleground. The environment really doesn't look cool, the idea of alien invasion to earth is a bit lame itself. They could have created a more interesting story and some alien worlds... now the story is lame, but still high hopes for graphics + gameplay + multiplayer experience

DrekNaZuhl
DrekNaZuhl

I agree with Grandhand....I mean when was the last time you played c&c or any other game..give me an example of a game thats has happy graphics(from an artistic standpoint...) hmm ? :D Not the graphics make it a good game,the idea and how it's developed.At this point everything sounds superb,I was waiting for a game which forces you to create groupes of different unti types,instead the same one strategy of : "He,who has the most cheaper or stronger untis and overwhelms his opponent wins..." I like C&C a lot but its strategy is a bit buggy... one massive army of scorpion tanks,venoms or mamooth tanks,jugernauts and you win....and the latest paches don't change much.Of course that changes depending with whom are you playing with,but when you play against a medium/standart player,its always the same....either a rush or one massive attack.No stealth,no hit'n'runs and trsut me this game promises to be different..we'll see..

Grandhand
Grandhand

You have no idea what your talking about at all do you?

Salvaticus
Salvaticus

Sad graphics (not from a technical standpoint, but from an artistic standpoint). Yay... more rock, paper, scissors, old, tired, c&c rts combat. Can't wait for this one. Innovative much? *Sigh*

pugkiller
pugkiller

It'll probably look better when its moving(much like SupCom), plus these are probably at best beta builds of the game. There are other screenshots that look much better than these, so im pretty hopeful.

rockerebay12
rockerebay12

is it just me, or are the graphics (especially on that last pic) kinda unimpressive?