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The Most Beautiful game: How Supreme Commander Stole My Heart

An intensive deep dive into what remain the Pinnacle of the real time strategy genre, and why I believe it might just be the greatest spectator game every created and most strategically interesting game that currently has an active community.

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Out of curiosity, any Mottizens play Herzog Zwei on Genesis? I feel this crowd may have.

I enjoy SupCom, and I liked your post. Just wanted to give a little writing advice: you have way too many ellipses. I would recommend that when you write a post you find all the ellipses you put in and delete them. I too have suffered from ellipsiholism, and recovery is possible if you go cold turkey.

I could never get into SupCom. I tried the campaign but ended up looking at the strategic view most of the time, the one with a bunch of basic sprites showing me where the units were. I'll try watching one of the replays from the article.

Not connected to this, but just remembered - I saw your Ayn Rand tweets on Twitter and meant to ask - did you see this? (ie. the Fountainhead review you once indicated you would be interested in)

No i hadn't read it. Will give it a look

I'm a HUGE fan of SupCom. I'm not really big on the pvp aspect, but good old fashioned comp-stomps against the Sorian AI are great.

I really wish RTS games would have tilted more towards the path of SupCom rather than Starcraft 2 and AoE2 sucking all of the oxygen out of the genre.

Great article!

Haha, brings back memories of the game's predecessor, Total Annihilation, which was my jam throughout middle school, and which contained what is still my favorite piece of video game music. (by Jeremy Soule, who went on to score Skyrim. Whole OST is a banger.)

Soule’s music really does feel alive in a way other music doesn’t. Another artist I recommend to his fans, an artist with simpler orchestration but a similar ear for the joy of a good melody, is Makkon. Although he was a brony musician of some reputation, he came to my attention through the Elder Scrolls fancomic Prequel, a prequel to the events of Oblivion.

I found the comic when I was in a dark, desperate place, and the music to one of Prequel’s minigames was Makkon’s One Cold Morning. The minigame’s framing narrative and the music together gave me back some of the confidence and hope my abusers had stolen from me.

Haha, I've had a copy of Supreme Commander for damn near a decade now but haven't even started it up.

Just waiting for someone to learn it with, but yeah, I was initially daunted by the apparent complexity of it.

What you appear to be saying here is that all the complexity ALSO means that there's potential for immense chaos which ensures that there isn't necessarily a dominant strategy/meta as it allows for players to try many, many unexpected tactics.

Which sounds cool, since it does get us closer to a the reality of warfare where the actual chaotic nature of it tends to overwhelm strategy.

Keeping it balanced is a question of it's own, but any game that gives the players the ability to generate surprises even against the most experienced of opponents is alright in my book.

Sins of a Solar Empire is more my jam, I actually LIKE the massive tech trees forcing commanders to choose a path early on which will dictate how they fight for most of the match, and the availability of options for gaining the lead and victory without directly fighting. And if you make it to the highest tiers on the tech tree the galaxy-brained anime strats do start to open up.

But sometimes you just want to go in and have a grand olde brawl with no holds barred and all the competitors juiced to the gills on cocaine, steroids, and bull shark testosterone, and see what happens.

Any tips for getting started with Sins? I’m a big Supcom fan, and I love a lot of things about Sins, but I lose hard to low-level AI. I can’t tell if it’s more an eco or combat thing.

As a side note, Supcom waffles on specialization. You can build everything in one match, sure. IMO the most iconic feature of its multiplayer, huge team battles, benefits from specializing. 4v4 on Seton’s Clutch is probably the most-played example. That map effectively has four quadrants, two land and two sea, connected by a spindly land bridge. On each team, the closest player to the bridge generally builds tanks and rolls forward, while the furthest one tries to get air superiority. The two players near each coast go for a little more flexibility.

It’s a great game, especially if you use the Forged Alliance Forever version. Just held back by UX and technical clunkiness. There’s still nothing quite like it.

Like @faceh said, combat in Sins is very much about fleet comp and not micro (one of the best things about the game, imo). If you are losing to low level AI, most likely you aren't expanding enough so the AI has a better economy than you. Early on you basically want enough military to keep pirate raids from wrecking you (over time you get a feel for how much this is), and otherwise build up your territory and economy. I only ever played single player, so I'm not sure how it goes in MP (if indeed that is still a thing).

Any tips for getting started with Sins?

Just play it to get the feel. A smallish map with enough space to get used to the expansion portion of the game, which in my book is the most important stage. You'll notice that because the actual action takes place in the gravity wells of individual planets, and the gravity wells are connected by hyperspace lanes, there are obvious choke points which you will want to control, and if you can rush there and establish a beachhead, that allows you to eco in relative peace.

Then you'll notice that the game cares very little for individual units. It is based around fleets. This means the game is not very APM reliant. You don't need to tell each individual unit what to do, just add them to a fleet and they will basically behave as a cohesive force. You'll still want to know the hotkeys, but again, you don't need to be constantly adjusting things. If your fleet is getting it's ass kicked, there's literally a dedicated button you can push to order a full retreat to a safe system.

The outcome of battles will be determined almost completely by your fleet size/composition vs. the opposing fleets' size and composition, although where the battle occurs also matters. Micromanaging the battle will only marginally increase your fleet's efficacy.

So fleet composition is king.

Fleet positioning is queen.

But don't worry too much about that at first. There's a comprehensive wiki that will help you out later to optimize your fleets. Just go with the basic idea that the Capital ships are the backbone of a fleet and determine their strategic value, you always want an ample supply of disposable frigates to absorb damage to protect the more valuable elements, and then decide if you want to fight from extreme range (launching bombers), middle range (missile frigates) or you want to punch the enemy at close range (cruisers, usually). Or throw together a huge, expensive doomfleet that does it all at once.

After figuring out the basics you should load up one of the HUUUUGE maps to see the most impressive thing about SoaSE: the scale. It lets you zoom in on the tiniest little fighter ship, then zoom out to see the entire map consisting of multiple stars systems and 50+ planets, seamlessly. You can view the action from any angle you like. The UI can be as minimalist or as detailed as you like. It basically fulfills my Ender Wiggin fantasies. Observe your fleets fighting in beautiful detail or stay at a great distance tracking them through abstracted icons.

And unlike some RTS/4X games, there genuinely CAN be multiple flashpoints going on in disparate parts of the map at once. You can have a raiding party pillaging behind enemy lines, and your main fleet fending off a pirate attack, and your small advance fleet traveling to an adjacent star system to take on the local planetary militia and establish some forward bases/colonies. Since you don't need a high APM to manage things, you can generally maintain focus on the larger strategic picture.

The big map will take hours of time to complete, and you'll get to see the whole tech tree, including the endgame techs that are mostly intended to hasten victory along. My favorite being the Death Star-esque railgun that can kill entire planets from across the map.

So overall it is more slow paced than SupCom appears to be, although you can change settings that make resources more plentiful and thus you get fuckhuge fleets moving around earlier. But that's what I tend to like. The chaos comes to a head when the players have committed to their respective strategies, built increasingly large and numerous fleets, and the question only becomes when and where the pitched battles will kick off.

As stated there are definitely galaxy-brained anime strats that are enabled by late-game techs, but you are more likely to feel like Sir Francis Drake or Chester Nimitz deploying your fleets wisely and pulling off stunning victories by picking the right time to flee and the right time to make a stand.

That is perhaps the one downside, its all 'naval' battles, so there's no division of tech between land, sea, and sky, no establishing air superiority, or hiding under the ocean. But I've never, ever been bored due to lack of variety in strategic options.

There's also a victory condition where you are given a capital ship that, when it dies, you lose, which you'd presumably like if you like SupCom's approach.

This article explains why I loved SupCom as a single player against low tier AIs but knew the skill floor was beyond my reach in terms of APM.

I have to stick in my Company of Heroes box it seems, indefinitely.

I recall from my breif time playing it before my accident that the real challenge wasn't so much raw APM, it was mentally tracking all the plates you were spinning, Like you can cue up 20 sequential move, build, etc orders for an engineer in a second or two, even a newb could easily have a raw apm in the hundreds if not thousands...if they were just doing dumb actions.

The challenge was once you'd given the commands mentally tracking what they were doing how long it'd take, whether you'd have enough mass or power by the time they got there... and the game gives you all those tools, you issue an order and it shows you the seconds it'll take to complete, you have your mass bar at the top and all the flows in and out are displayed, build times are projected, etc.

But you have to make the actual mental decisions in seconds, and optimally you have to remember the numbers and be tracking them against the clock, and know that when you're attacked and have to start putting down point defense you'll have to pause specific build orders elsewhere to keep your mass floating ever so slightly...

The challenge isn't how fast you click, its how fast you think and how much you can mentally keep track of and in how much detail... stuff historic military officers might think through and decide over 20 minutes an hour a high teir supcom player like Tagada will mentally caculate and then daringly decide in a split second...

Whereas a low tier player will hessitate or forget about, or desperately try to micro and forget to attack so they lose the initiative and wind up playing defense.

I never really felt I was struggling with clicking or keeping my units doing things, even at a very unskilled level, but I was always crippled by information overload and indecision.

By contrast I see what high level players are able to do, and they know exactly what needs to be where, what their mass and power will be doing, and where they want their upgrades to be At minute 4, 5, and 6 by minute 2... and they're able to effortlessly change those plans without power stalling or missing a beat... part of that is that they're crazy good at the instantaneous math and estimation, and part of it is they're that familiar with the factions, units, tactics, costs, etc. That they no longer really have to think about a lot of things that keep new players guessing and double guessing.

I swear to god the next Napoleon is going to have grown up playing something like this.

Same here. All the toys available in SupCom are cool, but I'm hopelessly too slow for it.

My Box is Nebulous: Fleet Command.

It's such a brilliant game. I haven't gotten back into it since the missile editor update. But by god I want to shoot down some shipping containers.