One of the staples of the RTS universe is the inclusion of resource gathering, but as the Soviet tank asks the Japanese and Allied tanks at the start of Red Alert 3 “I’ve always wondered, why do we need to collect these resources anyway?”
Certainly within the game universe, the collection of resources makes little or no sense. The player is generally the commander of an army that is either one of the world powers, or wants to challenge the current powers. Really their army should have stockpiled resources before the war began. It just seems to make little or no sense to place the elite commanders, the people who are supposed to be winning the war for the rest of your faction, in charge of raising money at the same time as fighting.
Further, any justification for resource gathering has been notably poor. Red Alert 3 typically justifies it by answering the Soviet tank “just because” and even Starcraft 2, where you are a weakened rebel with no resources to call your own, doesn’t explain why the enemy have to do exactly the same as you, despite them being well established. Resource gathering weakens you as a player, providing openings that can be exploited by your opponents and consumes valuable time that could be otherwise spent fighting.
However, when the resource gathering element is stripped from RTS, you get an altogether weaker game. Command and Conquer 4 was one such example. The complete lack of refineries (used to harvest tiberium) was one of the reasons that the game was so terrible.
The justification then for the inclusion of in game resources is the tactical depth that they provide for the player. If a RTS contains a resource gathering element, it allows a wealth of new options to open up. I know that personally my favourite tactic in Command and Conquer 3 was building up a collection of attack bikes at the very beginning of the game and rushing them round to the back of the enemy’s base to take out their tiberium harvesters. With no resources coming in they now had no way of winning the game. Victory!
Surely though, this is fair enough? After all these are games we are playing, they have to be fun first and make sense second, correct?
Well yes and no.
Unless the game is meant to be comical (*cough* Red Alert *cough*) then to be honest, it is partially degrading to the medium of gaming to have a resource gathering element there that is not fully justified.
For several years, gamers have been trying to establish games as something more than a toy for every age group. While on one front games are making a hugely positive impact upon the world, on another they are attempting to prove themselves as genuine disciplines, an activity that takes practice and hard work to master, an eSport.
RTS is the foremost genre in proving the value of games in this way. Thousands people in South Korea, for example, follow Starcraft tournaments on TV in the same way that we would follow athletic sports like football. The lack of realism, however, clouds how seriously the game can be taken by those who are not already involved with it.
You see, when games like Starcraft are taken seriously as sport people begin to question the discrepancies in it:
“How can any amount of bullets take down a tank? Where do the units store their apparently limitless ammunition? How come, as the general of an army, you have to always spend some time scavenging for resources?”
Furthermore, when non-gamers take offence to a game, they are likely to get more and more stubborn about not wanting to get involved with it at all while those discrepancies remain.
As a player of RTS games I know these problems don’t really matter. In fact, I also believe that there is no need to cater games that we already enjoy towards people who are openly opposed to them. Of course not everyone will enjoy playing RTS games, some people don’t even like video games at all. However, I do believe they raise a partially valid point. This is for two reasons. Firstly there are those on the edge of RTS who would probably really enjoy it, who are turned away due to the belief that the opponents of RTS gaming are correct. Secondly, improving the depth of RTS through logic and sensibility would not be bad, in fact it could potentially be awesome.
What I would suggest is that instead of resource gathering, have a supply train system (not the kind that goes on tracks). At the end of the day, this is what the whole resource gathering system has been introduced to simulate anyway.
I do not mean this in terms of the system employed by Unity of Command, where capturing a specific point on the map ensures that you have resources delivered to you. No, 2×2 Games have made this work in the sense of a turn-based strategy, but I honestly don’t feel that it should be taken across to real time strategy. Instead, what I would suggest, would be a structure you build that sends out vehicles to collect resources from an off the map supply base. This would allow a maintenance of the resource gathering tactic, without it being nonsensical. The vehicles could be attacked on their way to and from the supply base and missions could be made all the more difficult by having the player’s base further from the edge of the map. Certainly, this could initially introduce some imbalances in game play but then again so does the size and value of resource fields. Still, they definitely allow for more tactical depth. There’s no reason to not do this.
If you don’t won’t to leave the resource fields entirely behind then supply trains could also help, a convoy of vehicles that are not under your control could supply goods to a designated cargo drop off point on the map. It would then be up to you to build warehouses and vehicles to collect the supplies and guard them against the enemy.
Ultimately, what I am suggesting wouldn’t change the face of RTS very much. In fact I hope that it won’t. When companies try to rewrite the rules of RTS they often fail, simply because the current system is so successful in providing a deep and rich gaming experience. What actually needs to change with RTS is not any of the fundamentals, but rather how they are presented. Resources are one of the major tripping points in the continuity of the in game universe and for just that much more immersion or even believability, RTS games need to make a little bit more sense.
I guess what I am trying to say is that resource gathering is currently the weak point of the whole operation, despite a lot of game play relying on it. This needs to be fixed.