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RTS Games Should Be 2D

30 May 2001

[Author's Note: This article was started before I had surgery. However, during my long recovery, I never felt like finishing it. Now things have changed in the RTS world and some of what I was going to write wouldn't be valid anymore. This will remain unfinished.]

"To have a truly grand-scale strategy game with lots of units and lots of buildings, I believe that [a 2D engine] is necessary." - Garry Gaber, LucasArts╣

For awhile now, I've been kicking around the idea of writing an editorial against Real-time Strategy (RTS) games going 3D. After seeing the above quote in the June 2001 issue of PC Gamer, I knew I wasn't alone in my thinking.

I love RTS games. From the first time I played WarCraft, I was hooked. There have been some stellar games put out in the last few years. In addition to Warcraft, games like WarCraft II, StarCraft, Total Annihilation, Red Alert I & II, Age of Empires, Z, Close Combat and Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun occupied much of my free time.

Six of the above mentioned games were put out by two companies: Blizzard and Westwood. These companies helped invent the genre. But now there is an evil movement afoot. Gone are the days of simple 2D sprites - 3D polygons are all the rage as Blizzard and Westwood have gone to the Dark Side.

Originally I was excited by the thought of going to a 3D format, but after seeing it in action, I long for the days of old. The problems are manifested in two areas: Performance and Presentation. Since performance is easier to quantify (and isn't as big an issue), I'll tackle that one first.


When Red Alert 2 was released last October, the System Requirements were a P2-266MHz with a 2MB videocard. With the release of Emperor: Battle For Dune, the requirements jumped to a P2-400MHz (P3-600MHz for 5 or more players) and a 16MB videocard. I realize that is nothing for a lot of gamers, but it is still a hefty increase for an 8 month period. Also, even on a fast system, the levels take forever to load - even to the point of thinking that the game has locked up. Finally, while 2D-based games would slow down when a lot of units were on the screen at one time, you down don't know slow until you try that with a 3D-based game.

I'm all for increasing system requirements for new games because it gives me an excuse to upgrade my system. However, you need to get something for that extra horsepower and therein lies the second problem - Presentation.

Next - Presentation

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