RTS without micromanagement

I like RTS games, in theory. In practice, they are focused on high action count. Click faster to win. While Northgard is not a particularly micromanagement focused game, you can give orders to individual units in a battle, usually resulting in the whole army running around to path towards the target you’ve wrongfully given.

I don’t like this focus of the genre. It dismisses actual strategy for micromanagement. One of my gaming highs was defeating the college Starcraft champion (back before there was even Broodwars) 1 v 1. How did I do it? I challenged him to play on slowest setting. The game had 8 speed settings and everyone was playing on the highest for “more fun”. Without his APM advantage, he was just mediocre.

The RTS that I’d call best written is Tier 5 carriers in World of Warships. Tier 6 got a particularly retarded micromanagement: manual drops and strafes. But T5, which had its first and second ranked sprint is free from these. Your APM is about 20. All you do is watching the battlefield and evaluating. Most of my thoughts is about figuring out which battleship will get the enemy torpedo bombers and place my fighters accordingly.

I believe there could be a sub-genre of the RTS genre: limited APM RTS. In this, the units have basic automatic behaviors, like patrolling an area or scouting. You can’t pinpoint-place a unit, you just send him “around that area”. If engaged, you can only give one order: “flee”, which make them automatically trying to find a way out. You can’t give any other order, forcing you to think when to engage without getting destroyed or routed.

The fun thing is that such game could be created with minimal effort from any existing RTS, as no further graphics or engine programming is needed. Just a new AI and the limitations of the commands.

Northgard is very close to it, but “very close” is not good enough. The “competitive scene” died, and without it the game only lingers, because high APM RTS players destroyed everyone else, then quit, because they didn’t find the APM game challenging enough and were bothered by the random maps that forces them to think. I have a feeling that Northard could be successfully re-launched with some marketing, if all battle micromanagement is removed.

Please note that I do not try to take away the top RTS games from the APM people. Let them have the current genre. I just wish to fork it for those who like the settings and the strategy, but not the micromanagement.

Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

16 thoughts on “RTS without micromanagement”

  1. Northguard without any APM would feel probably exactly like a board game and I am somewhat sure that’s what people who like strategy but dislike high APM do focus on. Even for people without regular ‘real’ people to meet, there are some online board game sites as far as I know. Settlers of Catan online with maybe an online ranking is roughly what you would prefer, isn’t it?


  2. If you don’t need high APM, there is no gameplay profit to make those games RTS at all. You can just as easily make them “small turns” turn strategy. Just like Europa Universalis and some other 4x strategies are. The turn count (days) run constantly, but in reality those are just small steps, you can stop at any point to evaluate situation and so on. Those games are already being made. And they cater specifically for long-term strategists. I would however argue that Europa is actually pretty bad for strategists, because it has a lot of specific scripting to make it feel much more historically realistic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. @Roman: the difference is the time pressure in thinking. In turn based games you can just stop and think forever. Like an IQ test: practically everyone can solve it perfectly, given enough time. But solving it in 45 minutes: that needs IQ.


  4. @Gevlon
    I would think that simple house rule “don’t pause/only pause when both people are ok by it” should solve this problem. You don’t need to create new chess, just add a timer and you can play either fast or classic chess. The pressure can be applied as a simple option to any turn-based strategy. Just cut think times in Hearthstone to 1/10 and this would make a game much more dynamic and make it harder both for casual players and pro-level players (I wonder who will find this change more interesting and more challenging). I actually stopped playing Hearthstone partially because human players took too much time on their turns (which is profitable to them, but seriously hurts my love for fast chess or any other quick decisions).


  5. You could play Supreme Commander. Nearly no unit has any special ability and you can automate basically your whole war (SetUp infinite production chain, queue the output to a landing zone, have transport ships automatically pick up the units and send them to the front, have fighters automatically escort the transports, have Engineers automatically fortify the landing zone with turrets and reclaiming destroyed units for resources).


  6. In Clash of Clans mobile game, you only place your units on the battlefield and the AI takes care of the battle and you get the results while observing the battle and learning.
    It got a bit complicated as there are units with different behavious and stats. Also you can drop buffs/debuffs on the field.
    There is no RMT in it, nor micromanaging, just strategic design of your base and attack strategy. You get protection from attacks sometimes, almost free resources.
    It is not a deep gameplay however, but worth a try.


  7. limited APM RTS
    sounds like you need something like “textbased MMOs” something like OGame [1] “Unlike many other real-time strategy games, OGame does not give the player constant control of his or her spacecraft.

    “massively multiplayer online browser game”. Okay that means nothing in 2019 (7 years ago they ported DOOM to javascript [2]) but two decades ago hardware acceleration and seriously optimised javascript or flash in engines as in code where in their infancy.

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OGame
    [2] https://techreport.com/news/21037/doom-ported-to-firefox-using-javascript-html5


  8. It may be impossible to create an interesting game like that.
    Games have to be simple enough to understand rules and have little randomness to make the decisions meaningful.
    But a game with clear rules and little randomness is too predictable and can be mastered into perfect play. This is bad, with the best example of tic-tac-toe.

    Thus, good games add complexity to the point that a human cannot achieve perfection. The game is about minimizing errors and acquiring slow over time advantage by abusing opponent’s small errors.

    Look at chess. Rules are trivially simple, the complexity comes from the possible number of moves. A human can’t solve the problem perfectly thus not every game is the same.

    Look at Starcraft: rules again are trivially simple but the perfect management of units is impossible. Thus, every game is different, again. By the way, I saw a replay of an Archon mode game (where multiple players can control one side of the match) played 3vs3 by top tier pros. The game lasted until the resources on the map were exhausted because with 3 players controlling all the units it was pretty much impossible to achieve any significant advantage.

    Now you want a game that doesn’t have any micromanagement. Fine. Now we have to add enough complexity that nobody can play it perfectly. It would have to come with an increase in rules, resources and units to the point where you can’t take all of them into account in the time given. Meaning, you’d constantly feel like you’re failing because you just don’t have the time to change that slider or train that unit or analyze the map situation. We’d come back to the same point as with micromanagement OR we’d be able to play perfectly, solve the game, and quit out of boredom.

    You personally like this kind of games and I can tell you why. You treat games seriously. You do spend the time to learn all those complicated rules in advance and then have a shot at playing a perfect game. But a manual operation of units cannot be learned in a short time or prepared for before the game. It takes time and practice and you can’t cheat your way into top spots.

    Play WoWs in non-DDs. It’s a much more strategic game than you think when artillery and armour angling are included. Compared to that CVs are absolutely trivial. And contrary to your opinion, it requires no twitch skills in shooting, which itself is very simple. After all, battleships take 15+ seconds to shift rudders and 30 seconds to turn their guns, so there is no benefit from having quick fingers.


  9. @Stawek: WoWs guns need leading the shots which is a split-second analysis on the distance, speed and likely evasive maneuvers of the enemy, using a very counter-intuitive aim-follow camera. You practically have to muscle-memory all ship angles to land a hit. I find it both frustrating and meaningless. Shooting battleships with a Grozovoi is fine. Shooting a DD from further than 5km is mostly a waste of time for me.


  10. It is split-second only in DDs at short distances, at which point aim is very easy anyway. Larger ships have much more time to aim between salvos, up to 30s for BBs. Sure, it takes some practice, but it’s actually the easiest part of the game. Knowing where to position and when to shoot is a much more important and harder skill.

    It is also relatively easy because most ships move at the same speed of about 30kn and are very, very large. Any little error in aim is irrelevant because it still hits the target. Distance is taken care of by the server, mostly.

    When you’re trying to shoot stuff in Shima or even Grozovoi and your targets are mostly dodging DDs, sure it feels like you could never hit anything at 15km distance. But larger guns have much easier aims and their targets are larger and slower than yours are. DD shells lose their airspeed rapidly with distance, making their aim unreliable over 8km or so. BBs can very reliably hit at 15km, even DDs if they don’t dodge. Just not in the lower tiers where BB guns have terrible dispersions.

    Oh, and you have to play other classes to understand their thinking and abuse it when aiming torps.


  11. Two best RTS games and frankly the only two that got me hooked for a significant period of time since ancient Starcraft are EU IV and Ultimate General: Civil War. Both have active pause, which is cruicial ans both are pretty much impossible to achive perfection at due to immense depth and level of complication. Northgard is a childrens toy compared to games like that.


  12. Most RTS games are in fact RTT games – real time tactics, with a little strategy flavour.

    It’s Fire Emblem scale, not Rome: Total War scale. All the units can hit all the other units, making combat something like company sized at most, not army sized.

    Rather than having some automatic behaviours, the game should give the units godlike AI such that micromanagement can’t improve upon it. E.g. have your marines automatically split when they see incoming banelings. (If that can’t be done, then don’t have baneling-type units.)

    The other thing it needs is better rewards for strategic decisions. I’ve always wanted a few things which Blizzard RTTs don’t provide: proper flanking, some reason to split my forces, and the ability to cripple production by targetting certain buildings.

    Combining weak rewards for tactical decision with strong rewards for strategic decisions results in a genuine real-time-Strategy game.

    Proper flanking could be done by making maps more open, to accommodate formations, and making units less manoeuvrable, for example. You would be able to order your units to dance, but they wouldn’t be able to execute a dance on the timescale of a battle.

    Blizzard buildings are ridiculously tough, but can be both built quickly, and can/must be spammed, so destroying one is costly and not meaningful. Let’s reverse all that. One airfield can make all the vikings you might want, and you can expect it to blow up from a dirty look.

    I would like a ‘scout that area’ thing. I think scouts should be a building. You give the building a scout/patrol path. It builds scouts as needed and orders them to flee where possible, etc. You would use this instead of workers or reapers because the scouts are basically free by comparison.

    An actual RTS would have supply lines, which could be cut, not magic supply-teleporting buildings.

    For some reason Blizzard RTTs say you’re ‘training’ a unit, which makes a complete mockery of whatever time scale they’re trying to convey. It would probably help the mechanics a whole lot to reorganize it to be something like realistic. Either make the base-building work as if it’s on a training-sized timescale, or rearrange the unit mechanics to be like requisition. Why do you need a smithy to requisition swordsmen? You don’t. Nor can you research a new kind of sword on the field. Instead, a smithy would reduce maintenance, or allow maintenance of some more advanced tech.

    And so on.

    By the way, Airships: Conquer the Skies has RTS-like mechanics, but each unit can normally take an order only every six seconds. In a Starcraft-style battle sim I’d prefer smart sergeants, but this is certainly another way to accomplish the same kind of end.


  13. In a good RTS game (like Blizzard RTS games or Age of Empires 2) balancing between army management and production management is part of the strategy. In macro oriented games like Starcraft 2 you can get away with not microing your units at all. If you’re efficient with your production, you can make so many units that you don’t have to micro them at all. If you overwhelm your opponent with sheer numbers, it doesn’t matter how good his micro is. The strategy aspect here is to come up with a good all-around army composition that doesn’t require baby-sitting and to attack where the enemy defenses are weak, aiming to contain his economy development rather than to outright kill him. Resources in Starcraft are finite, so turtling tactics don’t work against this style: sooner or later the turtling player runs out of resources and succumbs.

    Efficient macro and very basic army management is enough to get in the diamond league in Starcraft 2 (top 25%). There is Vibe’s Bronze to GM series on youtube that showcase that for all races: https://www.youtube.com/user/ViBEdanny/playlists You can pick any platinum league video and watch a match or two, matches are rather short in this game (~10 minutes on average). The author points out that lots of players are getting stuck in lower leagues exactly because they overestimate the micro aspect: they are trying to be fancy with their army while neglecting production which is more important.

    Does it mean that you can be good in SC2 by playing very slowly? No, and Vibe’s videos illustrate it very well: 20 apm is just not enough to be better than 50% of players in this game. The production management aka macro also comes down to quickly performing precise actions. It’s absolutely less hectic and more straightforward than micro but you still can’t take your time. Additionally, many RTS games (SC2 included) have very efficient rush tactics. Rushing prevents you from getting a significant advantage by focusing on macro. So to defend a rush, you’re forced to micro.

    Removing the need for micro management emphasizes macro management, so the “clicking faster to win” focus doesn’t go away. What happens if you simplify both macro and micro? You effectively eliminate any need for the game to be real-time.

    There is a very good video essay on the topic of RTS game design, I highly recommend it: https://youtu.be/R5SAfTSIOE4

    @Alrenous RTT is a subset of RTS games that don’t have the base building aspect. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real-time_tactics And by the way, Blizzard games do have proper flanking: most army compositions have vulnerable long range high dps units behind beefy meatshield units, plus you can hit bases or production buildings by going around the current enemy army placement and his major static defenses. They do have reasons to split your forces: to overwhelm your opponent by doing a multiprong attack, to mitigate AoE damage, to avoid getting your bulky units stuck in a chokepoint, to perform flanking as described above. And they do provide ability to cripple production by targetting certain buildings: you can disable a huge number of protoss buildings by killing pylons, you have numerous ways to kill workers thus crippling the enemy income, and, most basically, you can target a building which is a prerequisite to high-tech production buildings. You can find examples of all of it by watching VODs of good players: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_T0XV9igZc


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