"All war is deception"

Monday, January 22, 2018

First Impressions: Forged Battalion (Early Access)

Forged Battalion is a game in Early Access from the Westwood offshoot Petroglyph games, makers of Universe At War, Star Wars Empire At War, Grey Goo, and 8-Bit RTS series, and in Westwood days, makers of the Command and Conquer series. I am a fan of their work and would at least try, if not outrightly buy a game they come out with.

At its basics, Forged Battalion is a Command and Conquer-style RTS with a faction creator mechanic, with hints of 8-Bit in it. There's a tech tree players can buy technology to use in the faction creator with research points gained in single player or multiplayer. Units come as infantry in mech suits, light vehicles, heavy vehicles, and aircraft. Units have one weapon and may have different passive support abilities or movement, all customizable from the faction editor. Each faction has a superweapon, unlocked from the tech tree. With some differences, it is simply a barely improved Command and Conquer.

Which is not a bad thing, but there are still things to be desired.

This is a "review" of its Early Access stage. Many things could have changed after this review, which was conducted on the date on this article.

Thoughts and Recommendations

Faction Creation 
This is the main selling point and gimmick of Forged Battalion, hence we will cover it. Not that it's bad, it could be a lot better.

While the Faction creator tool is admittedly cool and reminds me of Warzone 2100 RTS unit creator, it makes units and factions as a whole look generic. There are no cosmetic differences and thus gives no personality to the factions or units.

The Faction creator tool works in conjunction with the Tech Tree to customize units. Units come as as infantry in mech suits, light vehicles, heavy vehicles, and aircraft as previously stated. There are also right now five tiers in the tech tree with different levels of tech in it. You may create four units for each type in different tiers to fill a slot. You use research points gained from gameplay to unlock technology.  

I recommend adding more cosmetic options, even if upended with microtransactions, just for differentiation's sake. Things like different unit skins and different chassis designs. Have an option for different voices for units.

I would also love more customizable buildings, not just turrets and headquarter upgrades. In fact, an ability to have more specialized buildings would be really cool and more in line with the create your own faction gimmick.

No customization options for harvesters? Anyone remember the Chrono Miners, War Miners, and Slave Miners of Red Alert 2 days? More personality is often better than lesser personality.

As for units themselves, what would be really cool is to add an option for higher tier units to have two weapons, instead of just one. I want to be able to recreate Mammoth Tanks. Or have multiple barrels of the same weapon.

Really, please add more personality and more uniqueness for faction creation, Petroglyph. Your 8-Bit RTS series was oozing with personality. It doesn't feel individual enough that I can own my factions.

Tech Tree
This is related to Faction Creation, but is a major enough segment to include a different set of recommendations for it.

More tiers. Please. If you want truly special factions, Forged Battalion does not provide. Please look at your past games, especially Red Alert, Generals Zero Hour, 8-Bit, and Universe At War to understand how to differentiate factions. There is so previous material much you can lift from.

I would love more superweapons. How about an option to put epic units to replace superweapons like what was done in 8-Bit Invaders? A mind control superweapon like the one from Yuri's Revenge would be cool.

I understand the last tier is locked, and thus can't guess what they are about, so if my suggestions are already in that last tier, ignore.

Tentatively, I would want to see a Deploy type technology ala Red Alert for added armor and a different type of weapon. Other Command and Conquer technology tropes are already included such as Stealth and Nuclear weaponry and even an Ion Cannon.

Non-lethal weaponry such as freezing/cryo technology and mind control technology would be awesome to have and would add in more to the personality argument I am making. Of course, mind control and such would have its own balancing issues, but it would be so cool.

In fact, more non-lethal support abilities would be needed. There are no medics or engineers or any repair types of buildings or units can be found or any buffs at all. Or even transports. I can do without transports, but no support units? Maybe I haven't dug into the tech tree enough but I didn't find them.

I don't care about graphics that much. I particularly liked 8-bit voxel style for instance. In fact, I do think this new style is an improvement over that. Not too blocky and minimalistic, but detailed enough to strike a balance.

That said, I can barely make out the different units on the battlefield, for again, a lack of cosmetic options. I just need a bit of a color difference other than the faction colors! The Artillery units are different enough to be able to tell them apart from the others. Other ones, not that great to tell them apart.

Also love how Infantry units are in mech suits like GDI Wolverines are. It reminds me of End of Nations as well.

The Barracks could look a bit more different to the other War Factories on the map... I couldn't tell them apart immediately. The Hand of Nod and even the GDI Barracks were clearly Barracks. Just please use a totally different style without the garage door thing in the front. That is a bit confusing, and especially if you want to do an e-sport of this, seeing differentiation is key.

Gameplay is standard/classic RTS warfare. Or read, Command and Conquer style warfare. Only can build one structure and so on. Mine only one resource and manage the power.

Strategy so far seems to be spamming units repeatedly. Simple and effective. However, lack of different RTS tropes, such as the lack of walls to funnel units, makes the execution of combat have something yet to be desired.

A big difference is, there are no more MCVs. Infantry must find an Outpost to capture and expand. I am ambivalent about this change.

I'm not sure if it's because it is Early Access, but destroying an enemy's Headquarters does not prevent the enemy from constructing(!?). It frustrated my large attack against the AI base in the first mission. Please do not do this regenerating AI thing.

Not a big thing, as it also wasn't present in 8-Bit, but there is a lack of walls construction. I think walls would at least help in some strategizing by funneling enemy units to a spot.

What I liked about Command and Conquer 3 is the ability to queue more than one building by constructing Cranes. I think it would be an option to consider.

I would like to see more than one resource type on the map. Or rather, like in Command and Conquer, where there was different types and colors of Tiberium, I think it would be nice to have something like that. I just think gold is overused. And don't even really have to do much, just change colors for the types of resources, or even throwback to Command and Conquer by having radioactive resources again. Not too important to me, but I think it will increase player options.

I don't do multiplayer too much, so please have a great campaign for us single only players.

Great Frank Klepancki music. I would like more unit voices, tied to my argument for Faction Creation personality up there. It isn't a priority for me though.

The story itself is a rehash of the End of Nations backstory, except with changed names to suit the stripped down game: a man taking over the world with new technology to save the Earth from climate change and disaster.

It's fine for its purpose, but it needs more meat.

All in all, I like Forged Battalion and its potential. But at its current state, I would probably forget about it once I get to play with all the unlocked technologies. So please further improve and polish the game, Petroglyph.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

First Impressions: 8-Bit Armies

At first, 8-Bit Armies do not look at all that much. But once you get into it, it feels a lot like the classic Command and Conquer. And for a good reason, too, the game was made by Petroglyph Studios, which is a descendant of the Westwood Studios.

You have two factions, the Renegades and the Guardians. Both factions are a mix of GDI and Nod units and powers. For example, the Renegades have nukes but also the military GDI-esque hardware, while the Renegades have a Nod vibe, yet with an ion cannon satellite.

Campaigns play and look like mobile missions, with a 3 star rating for completing objectives. With each mission, you unlock more units and structures for a loadout, which is surprisingly addictive.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Just Interesting: Failure RTS

Failure promises to be a original cyberpunk RTS with some MOBA elements and other hybridization. I like how the units show what territories they get on a hex board, and also clear terrain manipulation.

Check out their website.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Game Design: A Soulslike RTS?

Anyone play Dark Souls?
So DS has a reputation of tight but deliberate combat gameplay.
And there has been a crop of games called Soulslike (as a genre) trying to emulate the tightness and deliberate combat.
For those who haven't played Dark Souls:
1. DS has a stamina bar, which limits your combat actions until it refills
2. Each combat action cannot be stopped midair, if you commit to an attack, you can't cancel it.
3. Each enemy has a distinct and non-randomized pattern in combat.
Is there an RTS equivalent? 
Starcraft is the first to come to mind. It is said to be the tightest RTS gameplay there is.
Dune 2's limitation of being able to select only one unit and attack brings it to mind. It felt deliberate, even though limiting.
But if there's no RTS equivalent, what if a Soulslike RTS would play as follows:
1. It would have a sort of stamina bar for the player to limit his actions of selection and combat? Basically, you get only a few actions per minute.
2. If you send out a unit/squad to move or attack or whatever, you can't immediately micromanage it out of the way to avoid an attack or whatever, so then you must commit to whatever action you put forth.
3. More experimentally, in a squad, you are able to command the units directly and instantly like a character with hotkeys along with mouse. Switch formations on the fly, use the WASD to "guide" the flow of attack. Right clicking is instantly responsive despite distance, for example, clicking for an archer squad will immediately fire a volley of arrows at the mouse location (without doing that hotkey then click or click button then click). Kinda like a MOBA style control.


Friday, February 17, 2017

First Impressions: 0 AD

0 AD is a free, open source RTS.

As an RTS, 0 AD reminds me most of a cross between Age of Empires 3 and Age of Mythology. They have almost the same resources and seeming economic focus. I tried the Athenians, which were the first in alphabetical order for the historical factions.

The most obvious difference is that soldiers also have all worker/builder abilities. There are no male "villagers", all are soldiers. There are female villagers who actually speed up male unit work. I like that dynamic.

The game is incomplete and unfinished so far.

I would love an Israel/Hebrew civilization mod for it.

Download and play 0 AD here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Just Interesting: SC2VN

SC2VN is not a real time strategy game. Rather, it is a visual novel based on a real time strategy game, particularly Starcraft 2, and even more particularly, the South Korean competitive e-sports scene of Starcraft 2.

It is actually pretty well written, and I felt like I saw and understood a subculture when I finished it. It definitely showed a side of RTS gaming I wasn't that knowledgeable in. I hardly ever play multiplayer on Starcraft, so this was, in effect, eye opening.

It's free on Steam and Itch.io, so go ahead and try it.