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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Column: Gods At Play

Gods at Play: Wide Angle Lens

May 26, 2010 12:00 AM |

gap1.JPG[Gods at Play is a regular GameSetWatch column from Troy Goodfellow about design issues and gamer experiences in strategy games. How can strategy games help us understand the nature of play and the minds of players? This week, Troy examines what an RTS viewing angle says about design priorities.]

When I began playing Blizzard's Starcraft 2 beta, my first instinct was to grab the mousewheel and start scrolling. I like to get a good view of any battlefield before I use it to my advantage, and the mousewheel scroll is the default real time strategy interface for zooming the camera out, giving you a bird's eye look at the world.

Alas, the mousewheel did nothing. Following in the footsteps of its classic parent, Blizzard's Starcraft 2 will not let you zoom out, preferring to give you an intimate look at a tiny corner of the map. The minimap in the lower left is the only strategic view you have, so you must rely on your own memory of how far it is to the next ridge and your knowledge of how quickly your assault team can get to the enemy base.

Supreme Commander 2 was the other end of the zooming spectrum. Gas Powered Games designed the ultimate strategic zoom. All of your monstrous war machines would become no more than NATO symbols as you took a satellite view of the map. The sounds would fade away and the combat was reduced to boxes and diamonds and triangles shooting yellow dots at each other. In the first Supreme Commander, once a mission was completed, the map would get even bigger, letting you zoom even further out.

Gods at Play: Can't Someone Else Do It?

April 28, 2010 12:00 AM |

gap1.JPG[Gods at Play is a new, regular GameSetWatch column from Troy Goodfellow about design issues and gamer experiences in strategy games. How can strategy games help us understand the nature of play and the minds of players? This week, Troy looks at how two different games approach the problem of AI advisors.]

Though not the dominant genre it once was, strategy designers still beat at the same problems that faced Bunten, Meier and Tiller in the genre's heyday. At their best, these are games about planning and understanding systems, not simply reacting to the newest thing on your screen.

As the title of this column series implies, strategy gamers love to pretend that they are gods, and not distant Deistic gods simply setting things in motion. Strategy games give you worlds to build and worlds to destroy. Many of them make you believe you can do whatever you want, but the control freak tendencies are sometimes constrained by information overload. Most of us can only process so many connections, possibilities and events.

For example, classic empire building games (often dubbed "4x" for their emphasis on exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination) often run into the same problems that real empires do. Once you have built an empire over a certain size, the management of that empire becomes more cumbersome.

You might have a large army scattered across more fronts than you want to manage. You might have too many colonies that you don't really care about nagging you for new orders. If the game is really complex, you might not even be comfortable with how everything fits together so some decisions you make just feel like crap shoots.

Enter the virtual viceroys – the AI controlled advisors, governors or generals that you can call on to either advise on or manage the things you don't want to care about right now.