Chris Taylor became famous in 1997 with the development of ‚Total Annihilation‘, one of the best RTS games to date. A year later, he founded Gas Powered Games and started work on the action RPG ‚Dungeon Siege‘. After ‚Dungeon Siege 2‘, he’s now working on an RTS game again: ‚Supreme Commander‘, perhaps the spiritual successor to ‚Total Annihilation‘.
Hi Chris! After your trip into the world of RPGs: How do you feel about returning to the genre to which evolution you’ve contributed so much?
It feels great to get back into RTS and find ways to innovate inside the genre, something I did miss for a lot of years.
Since when have you had the idea for ‘Supreme Commander’ in your mind? Your last RTS game (’Total Annihilation’) was released eight years ago…
I started working on ideas right after I started Gas Powered Games, but didn’t actually write anything down for several years. That’s kind of how I work, as I have a theory that all the bad ideas will just get forgotten, and only the good ideas will persist.
You mentioned earlier that ‘Supreme Commander’ won’t be a typical RTS game, that it will be more likely that players will see a game with much more REAL strategic elements than in current games. How will war be presented in ‘Supreme Commander’?
Many of the game elements in ‘Supreme Commander’ will be familiar [for players], for good reason, but we have made some huge changes to the way the game is viewed and interacted with which does indeed make strategic game play much more possible. The biggest change is what we call the “strategic view”, where the player can zoom in or out, to any level, to view the action. The next biggest element is the scope and scale of both the units and the map, which allow us to design units which are in correct proportion to one another. For example, if you zoom all the way in, a battleship is so big it will fill two screens.
And how will the possibility of zooming in and out help players not to get lost on the battlefield?
It’s impossible to get lost, because the player can simply zoom out and get a clear picture of everything that is going on, and every unit will seamlessly transition to a simple and clearly visible icon. Everything is right there, in plain view, and makes the game a buttery and seamless experience.
‘Supreme Commander’ will not be a sequel to ‘Total Annihilation’ but is often compared to your classic game. Doesn’t this bother you sometimes?
Not at all, I think this is a natural connection, and I am quite fine with it.
Some of the screenshots look quite similar to ‘Total Annihilation’, don’t you think so?
There are some that have that “vibe”, but it was not intentional on our part. I think you will see a lot more differentiation as the game gets closer to release. The thing is, I am the same designer, and many of my philosophies of design have stayed the same. I just couldn’t do many of the things that I can today, when I designed TA back in 1996/97.
Does the general development of the unit design follow the expected high system requirements of the game? I assume that there will be large battles with potentially thousands of units on the battle ground?
Potentially yes, and although we aimed at having thousands, it looks like we are going to land somewhere closer to 500 units. You see, the challenge is not for the single player game requirement, but instead multiplayer where you have up to 8 players. We always have to look at the worst case scenario when setting these unit limits. And because the game is entirely data driven, the mod community can set these limits to whatever they want, given that they will likely have much faster machines than the market average.
Could you give us a little hint on how a typical battle in ‘Supreme Commander’ will look like?
Battles are fully simulated, which means you get a lot of emergent gameplay when the battle erupts. This is a really key point, as many RTS games use what is called an “insta-hit” system where shots are determined to have hit or miss, before the unit actually fires. In ‘Supreme Commander’ everything is simulated over time, which means a shot hasn’t registered as hit until it actually collides with the volume of the enemy unit. What this means for the player is that the action is and feels more solid and real, and provides exciting moments that are sometimes accidental, surprising, and even sometimes comical.
Let’s talk about RTS games in general. For the most part, the gameplay of RTS games is predictable, right? Do you think that we will see different attempts and concepts for RTS games in the future?
I can only answer that question from my perspective, and say yes, you will see different approaches from our team here, but I really don’t know what will happen across the industry. I will say, in general, that I do believe the genre is in its infancy, and we’ll see some fantastic stuff in the years to come.
What do you think does a player expect from a future RTS title?
I think players expect innovation and invention that surprises them. It’s just not good enough to see the technology move forward and give players more than just beautiful graphics. We have to continue to add new dimensions to the gameplay experience in smart ways, and not just extend all of the old game play paradigms.
So will ‘Supreme Commander’ surprise us with any specific new game play features or ideas? What about the multiplayer mode?
Absolutely, this is the goal that is at the heart of the game’s design. We start with our full strategic view, and continue with massive “experimental” units, innovation in the command and control system, a highly evolved UI that lets players control a lot of units at once, very easily, like the “coordinated attack” system. The multiplayer mode also has many new ideas we are excited about, but I am keeping those a secret for now.
There will be three playable races in ‘Supreme Commander’: The United Earth Federation, Aeons and Cybrans. What kind of technology do they use?
Each faction has a bias towards a technology that ties into the history of the faction. The United Earth Federation or UEF, is the most traditional of the three, and has a compliment of weapons that will feel the most familiar to the player, the Aeon, at the other extreme, use weapons that are more far fetched, and feel more like science fiction. The Cybrans are somewhere in between, but most of their differences are manifest in the way the units are designed functionally. Our goal was to create factions that looked different and had different core philosophies and also translated those differences into the look and feel of the different weapon systems.
Please explain this differences in the way of playing the three factions a bit more.
Each faction uses the same core game play mechanic, but as the player moves up the tech tree, the units get more diverse in the way they function. By the time the player gets all the way up to the highest tech level, or what we call “experimental”, the unit are completely unique.
Can you tell us something about the role of the experimental units that you just mentioned?
The experimental units serve many different purposes. First, they bring something completely unique to the game, in terms of both the size and scale, and the firepower. They not only cost a lot to build, but they wreak so much destruction that they also play a role as a “game ender”. It’s important that in a game like ‘Supreme Commander’ with huge maps and unit counts that these units cap-off the tech tree.
And what is the so called Supreme Commander?
The Supreme Commander is the player’s unit. I have always felt that it is important that the player be represented in the game, and the Supreme Commander is the perfect unit to make this representation. It also ties beautifully into the story and the campaign. The Supreme Commander is not just a player avatar, however, but instead is a very customizable unit that can be used offensively or defensively. Each Supreme Commander unit has a long list of upgrades that can shape the Commander to the player’s particular needs. This system also applies to what we call the Sub Commanders, which are also special units the player can build as well.
I know that the story of a game is important for you. What is the background of the conflict of the three races in ‘Supreme Commander’?
The story begins with the colonization of the galaxy by our current earth government (which means the story begins in about 2006). The colonies extend across the galaxy, and through a series of events, collapses into galactic civil war. Three factions emerge as the strongest contenders to control the galaxy, but because of advancing technologies on all sides, there are no clear winners, just something called the Infinite War (this war is raging for well over a thousand years before the player gets involved with the story). When the player enters the game, the goal is to end the Infinite War.
Final question: How is development on ‘Supreme Commander’ going?
Development is going great, and we are very much looking forward to showing the game off at this year’s E3!
Chris, thank you for the talk.