Thursday, October 06, 2005

Real-Time Strategy

After playing through most of System Shock 2 last week with a couple of characters on Hard, I decided to play some games that I bought but never played. I have a few games in that backlog.

I'm now playing the expansion pack for Rise of Nations, called Thrones and Patriots. Rise of Nations was a nice real-time strategy game, somewhat combining an Age of Empires-style RTS with elements of turn-based empire-building games like Civilization. I'm a big fan of the Civilization-style games, like Civilization 3, Alpha Centauri, and the like.

The expansion pack is fun. Like all expansions, it's not worth the $30-40 they try to charge at first, but I buy almost all games at a reduced price, either by finding a sale, or just waiting a while. I'm having fun, but it's not quite so enthralling as I had thought it might be. I've just played some Quick Battles, I should probably try out their conquer the world mode, kind of a Risk game with RTS battles where each conquest occurs.

However, I feel like RTS games have gone downhill over the past few years. Games like RoN are the only ones with enough new ideas and good execution to hold my interest. But I look back at Total Annihilation, and I wish there were more games like that. It just had a good interface, nice unit automation, a lot of variety, moddability, etc. Other RTS games since just don't hold up in comparison, and just push forward their niche of new ideas without managing many of the fundamentals.

I don't care for some of the lauded classics of the genre. Starcraft never held my interest back when I was playing TA, nor when I tried it in times since. Other games like Empire Earth, Earth 2160, and the various Lord of the Rings and Star Wars merchandise, didn't even hold my interest through the movies and demos.

The only hope in the wide swath of games called RTS are those which don't fit the mold. Games like Hearts of Iron (1 and 2) and Rome: Total War delve into real strategy and tactics and combine traditional RTS games with elements from other genres. I've seen some promise in games which combine RPG elements into RTS games, but I've not tried the recent attempts, and older ones just weren't quite there, yet; just not all that fun. I wonder what the next divergence will be, and if it will be fun.

So, I need to go back and play TA again, and try out some of the vast array of mods that various groups have made. I did hear recently that some company is making a sequel to TA, but I'm not holding my breath. Sequels are more often poorer than the original, and I'm sure they'll follow more recent trends instead of mastering the fundamentals and forging ahead into new ground.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Today I saw Serenity at the theatre nearby. When I got there, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had heard good things, and I like the few episodes of Firefly that I'd seen, but I always try to not get many expectations going into movies.

I got there before the show began, and sat there with my friends, waiting for the previews to begin. I heard some people who sounded a bit obnoxious nearby, and preemptively was concerned that they would be rude during the movie. This was not the case. Except for a healthy dose of laughter when the moments arose, the audience was immersed, so far as I could tell.

It really is a great movie. I laughed at many points in the movie. I was moved to tears, and I tend to be the stoic type. I also was glad to see some real science fiction on the screen.

Now, I don't mind a bit of fantasy thrown in, but it's nice when the fantastic is limited in movies. I mean, the things shown in this story are feasible for the most part. The thing I noticed most, which I had missed in the TV series, was the absence of FTL travel. It's not a horrible thing, but most sci-fi assumes some form of faster-than-light travel. Many other things are plausible with future development in science, but our understanding of physics says that FTL is impossible, as I understand it. Many sci-fi books and short stories deal with universes where there is no FTL travel, but very few movies and TV shows do this, in fact, I can't think of any, off the top of my head..

In any case, I don't want to spoil anything. It's just too good to risk that. Just go see it. And save some money to see it again, buy the Firefly DVDs, and the DVD of Serenity when it comes out. I am.