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"Someone get Radar in here!!!"

I'm a fan of real-time strategy games. I still regularly play Star Trek: Armada and several of the Command & Conquer games. And recently, I had a thought about a variant.

In most RTS games, the player starts off with a certain amount of resources and has to develop more to supply themselves. In Armada, you have to mine dilithium ore from moons; in Command & Conquer, it's either Tiberium or "ore" and gems that one has to harvest.

This struck me as unrealistic. Military forces haven't had to do their own "foraging" for a very long time. They are supplied with their equipment and reinforcements by a government and military bureaucracy, and don't have to directly concern themselves with buying and developing things.

So I was wondering if any game had ever tried a more "realistic" model.

The idea I had was influenced by shows such as M*A*S*H and Sgt. Bilko and hordes of other fictional accounts of the armed services. In my game model, the player would start off with a complete military force, and have to use their units to build their own base. They would also have a certain number of non-combatant units who would be critical to their success.

These would be "supply clerks."

These units would be the only ones who could requisition new equipment, new units, new personnel. You would have to click on them and then have them ask for what you wanted.

Every now and then, though, they wouldn't succeed. You'd get back a note that their requisition was denied. Or the item was unavailable and would be delayed. Every now and then, you'd get the wrong item entirely. (You put in for a platoon of tanks, but you got a new latrine instead.)

Clerks who survive long enough would get promoted to "elite" status, increasing their success at getting you what you want. And they would get the "scrounge" ability, where they can sometimes get you what you ask for immediately -- but have to trade something else you have to get it. ("You can have the attack bombers right now, but you have to give up three bulldozers and one anti-aircraft gun. Click here to make the deal.")

I dunno how well it would go over, but I think it could be entertaining. And it would at least be somewhat more realistic than the current model for RTS games.


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Comments (23)

I prefer the turn-based gam... (Below threshold)

I prefer the turn-based games like Civilization. Resource allocation is what wins or loses. And you don't get stuff right away - even with a rush build, you can't get things "now." I'd really like something crossing Civ III with Sim City and a dash of supply and demand, where using a lot of one resource makes it scarcer - and if you start running short, the option of developing alternatives (carbon fiber instead of aluminum structure, biofuels instead of petroleum).

Not to mention the "build one really efficient factory for one product makes it pretty useless for something completely different" issue. No, a tank factory and an aircraft factory are not the same.

Then there's the Laffer Curve. Almost all games end up using a straight-line model (increase taxes X%, and your country's economy gets Y amount of cash for government operations while the rest of the economy suffers in a linear progression, instead of the nonlinear reality).

(At Jay's mention of ... (Below threshold)

(At Jay's mention of "supply clerk", every member of the NAPM collectively cringed)

/channeling the politically correct term du jour, "procurement professional"

The Dawn of War series of R... (Below threshold)
the brain:

The Dawn of War series of RTS games give you a constant flow of resources, but the more "strategic points" you capture the faster these resources come in, and if you capture "relics" then you can access the top tier of your factions weapons.

Rewarding a general for aggressive actions and taking territory seems more realistic then gathering random rocks/gold/trees.

I would play that game :) ... (Below threshold)

I would play that game :) Let me know when the beta comes out.

The scrounging that you men... (Below threshold)

The scrounging that you mentioned has always presented challenges to game designers of history-focused WWII games involving US land units in Europe. Far more than apparently was the case for other nations' units, Yank units seemed to constantly add weapons and stuff. When a newbie died, his best stuff was used to upgrade another's and the worst stuff of the unit turned in with his effects.

That was not uncommon, so it seems with other armies, but the Yanks did it on a larger scale. This meant that Yank infantry units tended to get stronger over time instead of weaker, even if the soldier count went down. (e.g., a 40-man unit assigned 2 SMGs might eventually become a 30-man unit with 10 SMGs.) Scrounging was necessary to keep in ammo for the non-assigned weapons.

However, the Yanks did things far greater than the above. There was one documented case where an infantry unit had its own group of Sherman tanks! The tanks were off the books as lost in action and their crews far perferred tackling infantry problems than being sent off against Tigers. The infantrymen managed to scrounge petrol, 75mm ammo, parts, etc to keep the Shermans operational.

So, as a game designer, how does one account for the possibility that a 100-man infantry unit just happens to have 5 Sherman tanks hiding out with them?

While I was in the Navy, I ... (Below threshold)

While I was in the Navy, I spent a few years as an equvalent of a supply clerk. In addition to my regular job maintaining the propulsion plant, I had to make sure my division had all the repair parts we needed. There wasone amusing story that was always around, though I'm not sure if it really happened or was an urban legend.

Supposedly, a guy on a sub in Norfolk, VA ordered some little item he needed as part of a big batch or repair parts and his command signed off on everything without looking too carefully. A few weeks later the ship pulls in and all the parts are on the dock... except for the one little part the guy had ordered. Then someone tells him that a HUGE box farther up the dock is for him and remarks that it had to be delivered by crane. Perplexed, the guys walks over to check it out and is stunned to find that it is a complete jet engine from an F-14 Tomcat. It seems he had reversed 2 numbers in his items part number, and that incorrect part number happened to belong to a jet engine. Seems farfetched, but I learned to NEVER doubt the ability of the military supply system to screw up...

P.S. I'm a Starcraft guy myself.

As 'the brain' said, the Da... (Below threshold)

As 'the brain' said, the Dawn of War games use a slightly different method. You don't gain resources per se, you gain requisition points which are provided at a greater speed if you capture more strategic points on the map (that can be re-captured by enemy forces, denying you the benefit until you retake it). You are able to fortify those strategic points to make them more difficult to take as well.

I nice feature with the space marines is that almost all new modules are dropped from orbit when requisitioned. They're dropped as pods, that your construction units unpack and build. Most new units come from orbit as well in pods that dock with your buildings.

Definitely a good game and a little different from other RTS games in many aspects.

JTF (Joint Task Force) is also an excellent game. Check them both out.

Properly establishing a sup... (Below threshold)

Properly establishing a supply line, and having all of the people involved in administering a supply line definitely sounds like the kind of thing that would make an RTS even more interesting. The only catch would be that if a game were to implement something like that it should do so as an option that you can turn off for those people looking for a more traditional RTS experience.

You see, proper supply lines have been pretty much abstracted since the beginning of the genre. Instead of having to worry about and protect the supply line, as well as having the non-combatants running around your base to support it, they just abstracted it by having you forage for your supplies, and "building" your own units. Think of this as a military unit first approach. For the most part this is what RTS' have gone for and fans of the genre expect, so that's why it should probably be implemented as an option that can be turned off.

However, in your scenario, you're advocating a non-combatant unit first approach that involves having to not only properly administer your supply line, but to also protect it, because without it, you're toast. I think that could add a whole new layer of complexity and interest on a genre that has been pretty stale as of late. So in short, I like your idea. At the very least it might give the guy that played Radar a voice-over gig. ;-)

You left out the part about... (Below threshold)

You left out the part about the effective PP getting his or her transfer orders right before your big operation starts. Frequent transfers every 1-2 years is the biggest problem in efficiency and retaining corporate knowledge in our current military.

Nope, never work. Way to r... (Below threshold)

Nope, never work. Way to realistic!

The Civilization ser... (Below threshold)

The Civilization series, mentioned upstream, is a good example. There's a militayr aspect, but you're building a civilization, so you have your civilian units (workers) builidng roads to the iron ore, etc., then putting up mines there, etc.

You might also examine the Warcraft games, which involve units called "Grunts" or similar whose job was to mine gold, ore, etc. The Black & White games also involved working with civilizations -- building up villages, plus their armed forces. You harvested resources as part of a greater civilization.

In B&W (and its extremely underwhelming sequel), my peasants were lazy sods. They demanded food, so I built them fields and set them to farming. They demanded food again, and I, the god of the game, gave them rain to water their fields. They demanded food again, and I, the benevolent god, carried grain from their fields to their storehouse for them. They demanded food againd, and I, the benevolent god, gave them grain. They demanded food yet again, and I, the now-annoyied god, cut loose with the thunderbolts.


The Age of Empires series u... (Below threshold)

The Age of Empires series uses villagers to gather wood, food, gold, and stone. Empire Earth and Rise of Nations work in a similar way.

But for the modern era of warfare, the clerk idea is a good one. Another way to implement it is to make the player into the clerk, who has to scrounge and manage resources for his army.

Tooth-to-tail ration is a d... (Below threshold)

Tooth-to-tail ration is a direct reflection of combat effectiveness but has diminishing returns.

For example, the US army has about 1-10, combat personnel to RearEchelonMoFos(REMFs) vs most 3rd world nation's approaching 1 to 1.

But that tail provides the ability to project power outside of the home nation, a much higher readiness, much more firepower and staying power.

That is not to say US troops are 10 times as effective in combat, though they can be, because the costs are so high to field so many to support so few.

But you are on to something because in Iraq, for example, there are over 60,000 civilian contractors directly supporting the 150,000 Americans deployed and they constitute a sort of hidden 'tail' which cries out for modeling.

Just import the BFG from DO... (Below threshold)
Son Of The Godfather:

Just import the BFG from DOOM, enter the cheat code, and never have to worry about supplies again!

Yeah, it's cheating, but I'm gettin' too old to win with honor. ;)

I don't play, but I find th... (Below threshold)

I don't play, but I find the concept both amusing and intriguing :-)

Rise of Nations is Real-Tim... (Below threshold)

Rise of Nations is Real-Time and not Turn Based. Turn Based makes me cringe for some reason. Anyway it has a good balance of building resource, economic, industrial and technology infrastructures vs. strategic use of military advancement and expansion.

jim2: I think Civ actually ... (Below threshold)

jim2: I think Civ actually adresses this problem somewhat with unit experience. The more battles your units fight, the more experience they get, and when they get enough they can purchase abilities to either deal more effectively with infantry, armor, or air units, heal faster, seige cities more effectively, or take better advantage of the terrain. One way of looking at it is not so much that the individuals in the unit got that much better, but that the unit scavanged equipment.

Realistically, that is an a... (Below threshold)

Realistically, that is an absolutely fantastic idea, and the possibility of occasionally getting the wrong part sounds like it would be far too entertaining.

Game-play-wise, however, it would completely eliminate the combat that arises over resource "fields", be they the strateigic points of DoW, ore/vespene of SC, or gold/stone/food/wood of AoE. Now, granted, that would boil down combat into just blowing each other off the face of the map, which certainly has its strong points. However, there have been far too many games I have played where the only way to defeat the other guy(s) was to starve them out, and if the little supply clerks are firmly entrenched behind their defensive lines...

Perhaps if you also implemented some kind of delivery system as well? Orbital drops, aircraft, teleporters - just something that could be jammed/intercepted by opposing forces.

As for "scrounging", I seem to recall that the Terrorist forces in C&C: Generals could augment their vehicles by driving them over the wreckage of their enemy's units, and some of those vehicles, when fully augmented, were downright scary. The idea has been tried before, though not quite to the extent of having tanks running around in an infantry division ;).

JSchuler -Unit exp... (Below threshold)

JSchuler -

Unit experience has indeed been introduced into many games. In fact, some of the WWII games allow the player to upgrade a unit's equipment, but at a drop in experience.

The phenomenon I cited is a different one. It is not that a unit's accuracy, or stealth, or speed of order execution improves - to name some of the typical elements of experience. The Yank infantry unit just would never be modeled as being able to have mobile and armored 75mm cannons, for the extreme case. In the more typical case, it would be "impossible" firepower of a more conventional sort, as a unit uses the 10 (not 2) SMGs, 4 (not 1) mortars, etc. A bonus accuracy for M-1 fire on account of experience cannot imitate that sort of delta.

With the changes above, the problem is that the game designer cannot make game imitate life.

Sometimes, special scenario rules can do it. In one extreme case, there was a battle that had an area around the objective town where historically no one went during the battle, even though the ground was apparently quite suitable. In fact, the ones who started there left as soon as they could and did not go back. So, w/o special rules, no game would play at all like history went.

Turns out that the town had a honey industry and the area in Q had a great many hives. Early in the day, shellfire knocked over most of the hives!

In any case, the problem we're talking about only concerns historical-type WWII war games with Yank troops.

What a shock! Jay Tea is a ... (Below threshold)

What a shock! Jay Tea is a "gamer."

Honestly with Starcraft II ... (Below threshold)

Honestly with Starcraft II just announced and looking insanely awsome, I dont think this idea will play. The point of a RTS is to build an army and attack. Its not to actually simulate a war or a battle. The ones that have tried to be overly complicated or implement something new and different that ends up frustrating the players havent fair well if at all. I would honestly be POed if I ordered a siege tank and recieved a marine instead.

Fantastic Post Jay. I'm a ... (Below threshold)

Fantastic Post Jay. I'm a retired USAF "Procurment Professional" and I appreciate the props for what we do.

By-the-way, nice tie-in with RADAR. I was taught in the first year of my career that to follow RADAR's example was a sure way for mission accomplishment!

On every deployment, the person who best personified Radar's abilities as well as the Tony Curtis character from the Movie OPERATION PETTICOAT, were practically kidnapped to take on the deployment. When you're dropped off in the middle of the desert, you want someone who can scrounge up what ever you need to survive.

What you need is the James ... (Below threshold)
Stevie the K:

What you need is the James Garner character from "The Great Escape"!

Or "Oddball" from "Kelly's Heroes" - but no negative waves, Moriarty!






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