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 TacticsBy 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.
"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.
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!