Supreme Commander 2 Wishlist
I've spent so many hours playing Supreme Commander and its expansion pack, Forged Alliance, that I now judge all other strategy games by its standard. I can't even get into other strategy games that lack the scale and scope of Gas Powered Games' 2007 strategy hit. But it wasn't that big a hit, unfortunately - the intimidating system requirements and departure from the Starcraft school of "make each race feel like you're playing a different game" formula meant that it was easier to get into, but only if you had the hardware to really get started. And even then, its intimidating scope - especially the first time you pull the camera all the way back to see the whole map at once - really separates Supreme Commander from the rest of the RTS pack, and that familiarity you might have felt at first fades away as the game expects you to manage dozens, often hundreds, of units that are constantly moving and firing.
So even though THQ didn't seem particularly interested in funding GPG's development of a sequel, the guys at Square Enix (yep, they're getting into PC gaming!) most definitely are. While there are no concrete details yet, we do know that Supreme Commander 2 is in development now. Here's our look at what we think the first game did right and what needs to be expanded on in the sequel.
Most RTS games out nowadays require you to balance your overall strategy alongside lower-level tactics, while also having to manage some kind of resources as well as a home base. Single-taskers need not apply to these games, as you'll have to switch and swap and keep an eye on multiple things at a time. It's unfortunate, then, that Forged Alliance, with the moving of Mass Fabricators to Tech 2, forced players to do a lot more detailed management of their resources and distribute their armies more evenly across the map to control mass deposits. Yes, for the serious players it made a more interesting game, where you had to take and retake control of the Mass deposits scattered through each map - players couldn't just build a ton of Fabs, put up a few shields around them, and forget about their economy. But what's good for the pros isn't always good for the rest of the players, so it would be nice to see maybe some kind of middle ground or even an option in the game lobby to make this easier to handle.
SupCom is also rare in that almost all of its units can both move and attack at the same time, and that's where they often wind up doing their best. The annoying part, though, is that you can't simultaneously tell a unit or group of units, "Move here to this point, and while moving, attack this enemy specifically". You can only do one or the other at one time, but not both. Having an option to do that would make for some interesting firefights and allow for smarter focus fire by your units while keeping the fluid nature of the game alive.
There's also the ACU, the core of the game that in most sessions is the real win-loss condition: you only lose when your ACU dies. It's upgradeable with various combat and engineering options, and having more options would be really interesting. For the sequel, we probably don't need to get into any kind of RPG system where the ACU can level up or pick up loot like Warcraft 3 heroes do, but having more options for customizing the ACU, possibly only in conjunction with your engineer units assisting, would be really fun.
The original SupCom campaign was rather annoying in how it limited players to specific tech levels and units for large chunks of the entire experience. Forged Alliance gave you access to all of the original game's stuff and then trickled in the new units, which was a marked improvement, but even that still didn't really teach you how to play in Skirmish mode or online where everything is available all the time. Somehow, GPG needs to find a way to let players build whatever they want while still keeping the game simple for novices to learn at the start, and if not that, then ramp up the unit access much faster than before.
Beyond that, a more interesting story and better voice acting can't hurt, but it is rare that strategy games are ever heavy on the plot. And do we need all four races from Forged Alliance in the sequel? It's possible that eliminating maybe one of the races would be good, and I imagine it wouldn't be the UEF since every strategy needs a humans/Americans-type of race, but doing something like merging two races into one would be interesting.
And yes, having at least a little more uniqueness between the races would likely be healthy, too. Personally, I reject the notion that just because every race shares the same base unit types, that it's automatically some kind of lazy copy-paste hack job (yes, some of the Starcraft faithful do hold this belief). I think that having the races start out looking different but feeling at least somewhat similar is good for the learning curve, but finding lots of depth and big differences between how each race performs - at all techs, not just the Experimental stage - would be nice. A lot of this has already happened with Forged Alliance, which added a good number of exclusive units, so I think GPG is probably well on their way to making this happen already.
For all of Supreme Commander's talk of epic scale and millions of lives hanging in the balance, we never saw a single one of those people we were fighting to protect. The whole battlefield was full of robots with humans only occupying the ACUs, and you never seem to fight in population centers or heavily inhabited areas. Other than what the story dictated to us, for all we knew we were just fighting with robots out in some field somewhere for fun. For the sequel, having fights in cities would be incredible, and would probably do a better job of showing off the scale of the units than the original game did.
Getting more bass and rumbles into the sound effects would probably be a good idea, too. It's tough sometimes, making a sci-fi game that's full of lasers sound anything but weak and tinny, but it's almost like GPG didn't try - the sound the Tech 1 Seraphim artillery makes, when fired, can best be described as a squeak. I've heard kittens make more booming sound effects. Sure, we're not talking about planet-busting shells, but even low-powered artillery should sound manlier than a meow. The UEF with their ballistic weapons could use some more oomph as well, and while the explosions sound great, all the sound effects leading up to those blasts could use a new direction.
While it's rare to see a sequel actually sport lower system requirements compared to its predecessor, it did happen with the Forged Alliance expansion and it wouldn't hurt to see that again in Supreme Commander 2 - or at least maintain the same performance that FA did. One issue is that the game overloaded the CPU with amazing-looking physics, high-level ballistics systems, and low-level AI calculations, often dozens or hundreds at a time. Sure, the effect was great, seeing real flight models from aircraft and allowing every single bullet fired on the battlefield to miss, go astray, or even hit units never intended to be hit (yes, seeing a Strategic nuke collide with a fighter jet and detonate at several hundred feet was interesting), but adding it all up makes it very brutal on the CPU. Even though the game could make pretty decent use of all four cored on a Quad Core chip, there were still major slowdowns on some of the more epic games.
With the widespread sale of at least dual core CPUs this may not be such a big deal as it was when SupCom was first released (and most CPUs at the time were single core), but either way, GPG should probably find a way to allow players to turn down some of that CPU-based detail so that the game runs acceptably on lower-end machines. Beyond that, increasing the scope and scale of the whole thing - even further than it is now - doesn't seem necessary, as the original game was already capable of throwing thousands of units around at once (generally at about one quarter to one third of the original speed, mind you), so maybe just making that same number run smoother would be best. Most of the best maps are less than half the size of the massive 81km x 81km maximum that SupCom supported, so making even larger maps is probably not necessary either. Getting 40km maps with a few thousand units running smooth on mid-range machines, though? That'd be golden.
I love watching pro players destroy each other in recorded replays. There are hundreds of great replays available, from the smallest of 1v1s to massive 8-player free-for-alls where ACUs are exploding like popcorn. It'd be nice to get a couple of small additions to the system: the ability to play back the chat that went on in-game (yeah, even the cuss words or trash talk - censor it if need be), and the ability to seek through a replay and rewind if you miss something. That'd probably take a good amount of time for the development team to do, but for people like me who obsessively watch replays to learn how to play better, those features would be incredible for us.
It's sad to hear from the developers that only if one of their other games (in this case, the upcoming DemiGod sells well, then they'll have the money to put into future patches for Supreme Commander. This is just how it goes for an independent studio, but the whole situation sucks that the guys behind the game want to continue working on it - and have a thriving community that'd be very thankful for the changes - yet they don't have leftover money to pay people to make those patches. It is kind of difficult to justify the cost when Blizzard and Maxis seem to be the only guys consistently on the top PC sales lists and the game you spend years on barely breaks the top 10 for a week or two, but if GPG can find the resources to continually update the sequel, the community will eat it up.
Beyond that, the idea behind the GPGNet software is great. It's a cool system to let you see people on your friends list, download maps, replays, and other content that you'd usually have to dig into some fan page to find, and does work well enough to jump into games. But for the sequel, it'd be so much nicer if at least some of that functionality worked from directly inside the game. It's been a while since we've seen a game with a full community interface working from inside a game - Tribes 2, anyone? - but it's a fantastic way to keep a tight-knit gaming community connected. At this point, though, what with social networking sites being so popular and work PCs without the horsepower to run the full game, having some features also work outside of game would probably be a good idea as well.
While many gamers are keeping their eyes on bigger-name strategy titles like Starcraft 2 and Empire Total War, I'm looking forward to Supreme Commander 2 the most. The impressive scale of the first game really does make it seem more like high-level strategy, rather than low-level tactics, than many RTS titles out there. While the original game and its expansion never quite got the fanbase that the developers expected, hopefully Square Enix can help GPG achieve that kind of an audience this time around. So far there is literally zero information on the game or when it'll be released, but a 2009 launch doesn't seem terribly likely at this point. I'll try and be patient, but it's difficult, especially since trailers for other upcoming strategy games are are doing nothing for me. Thanks for ruining my ability to enjoy other RTS games, GPG!