Video Game Thoughts: Supreme Commander

Supreme Commander was a 2006 real-time strategy game by Gas Powered Games (now Wargaming Seattle) for the PC. At only $10, this was a nice find at the church rummage sale. Strategy games can range from symmetric to asymmetric. Symmetric games are ones in which all of the playable factions have the exact same game stats. Each faction might have its own unique look, but the units it can field are exactly the same. Asymmetric games are ones in which the races (or factions) are radically different from each other. Most video games do not fall totally in one category but fall somewhere on this range with elements of both.

Supreme Commander fell on the symmetric side. It had three races (humans, cybernetic humans, spiritual humans), but they were all very similar to each other. Each race had a few unique units and some slight tweaks to unit stats, but for the most part, the factions were symmetrical. In general, I prefer asymmetric games just because they tend to give me a lot more replay value. I might play one race for a while, but then a new race is completely different. In Supreme Commander I could barely tell the difference between the races other than the visual changes. They were just too similar for my liking.

Supreme Commander had a number of innovations over other real-time strategy games though. First, the amount of resources the player could acquire per game was infinite. Instead, time was the real resource. The player was constantly trying to make their economy more efficient. They wanted to be getting the max amount of resources per time at any moment while at the same time spending all those resources so they wouldn’t pool up. Second, the map could be zoomed out all the way to a satellite view. Fully zoomed in, it looked just like another real-time strategy game, but then the player could zoom out to get a full view of everything. The player could select all units on the map quickly and easily doing this. In addition, they don’t have to scroll the minimap long distances to order units to locations on the map. They could just zoom out to see everything and directly order them to go where they wanted them.

These innovations made Supreme Commander a really unique experience compared to other real-time strategy games. There really were no other games like it, but for me the campaign is what makes or breaks a real-time strategy game. Supreme Commander had one campaign for each race, standard practice for this type of game. Unfortunately, the campaigns were very short, only six missions per race. Each individual mission was usually several hours long, but this was usually because the A.I. player had so many defenses it took several waves of my attacks to finally make a dent.

Another thing I disliked was the difficulty level. It was way too high for the average player. I am an experienced game player, not with this game, but with video games in general. Most games I can play on the medium or normal difficulty, but not this game. After the first few missions I quickly had to bring it down to the easy difficulty. It was worse than that though. The difficulty ramped up very quickly from the first mission to the last mission.

This is something that was common in all real-time strategy games of this period, but it was never good. Basically, the games had two difficulty levels: one I could select and one that was automatic as I progressed. The general thinking of the time was that players would get bored if the game didn’t get harder as they played, so each mission was harder than the last. Today, that is outdated design. If a game has difficulty levels the player can select, it should honor them. There should be no hidden difficulty that appears on higher missions.

So what happened is that even on the easiest difficulty, it got too hard for me on the last mission. Well, if I wanted to do multiple restarts, I could have beaten it, but that was just too tedious. The older I get the less I am willing to repeat content unless it is making me progress in some way. For example, in Diablo III I might not complete a timed event in the time limit, but I still got some gold, experience points, and loot to show for it. I would get a better reward if I completed the event in time, but I still made some progress. That is the modern design philosophy and what I prefer.

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