Dead ends are common in many journeys, and searching for the video game nirvana is not an exception. Sometimes these dead ends are personal, a genre you once loved no longer appeals to you, or they can become unfashionable and unprofitable, disappearing from the market.
Certainly the former has affected me, I was an avid RTS player, but my interest in this genre has faded over the years. I think when Supreme Commander failed to live up to its Total Annihilation heritage I, much like the 21st century United States, lost my will to manage an economy while fighting a war.
Even as early as Dune 2, the first real RTS , base placement, planning tech advances, expanding, economy managing, defending supply lines, scouting, finding a weak point of your enemy’s defences and the attack, this constant list of things to worry about has always been a huge challenge for me. It didn’t help that I had a friend, Chooie, whose skills were far superior to mine, and he was my only opponent for many years. I was only able to beat Chooie once in Warcraft 2 and never in Total Annihilation, and will always fear his excellent economy managing skills and more than competent micromanagement. Even today, I always feel more confident when he’s on my team in a 2v2.
While a game like Company of Heroes doesn’t have quite so much to worry about (no supply gathering per se) I have found it to be a very stressful game. While economy management and ‘teching’ up is important, the game is often won and lost in the micromanagement. Keeping a tank facing incoming fire, getting squads out of a machine-gun’s suppression and avoiding artillery before the barrage starts are only some of the basic skills one must master to be a halfway decent CoH player.
With CoH though, I always found the most stressful part to be before the game has started. The ping sound when an opponent has been found always filled me with dread. Company of Heroes had a pretty good matchmaking system, that rarely screwed up. Nevertheless when the opposing player’s name and rank flashed up in front of you (all to briefly it seemed) a short panic would ensue. A low ranked enemy was no guarantee of an easy fight, it was quite common for the higher rated players to make a ‘smurf’ account, to wreak havoc with the beginners. Potential terror was at every corner.
Similar to Company of Heroes, Men of War offers a much more free form RTS experience and feels more like a sandbox/sim compared to the tight hard counter mechanics of CoH. I’ve found this to be a much less intimidating game, partly because the level of realism acts to make the game slightly more forgiving, which might sound surprising. The game is also more commonly played in 3v3 and 4v4 modes, lessening the burden on any one player.
When I was younger I played quite a lot of ranked StarCraft, with a win/loss record of about 50% I was hardly a pro, but I stuck at it for a good six months. With StarCraft II, I didn’t even attempt the multiplayer.
Far too intimidated!
Conversely I can easily hop into an FPS of any kind, visceral hand to hand combat or sniping a grown man’s neck is no problem for me. There are still tense moments playing these games, but the fear of even just starting a game isn’t there.
As I near thirty, I think this ‘Real Time Strategy’ has become too stressful for these old bones.