on handheld devices. AdvAnce WArs’ speedy
pace also emphasized combat over resource
gathering and unit production although these
elements were still present in streamlined form.
Critically, AdvAnce WArs went back to the turn-based model, which broke the game into smaller
chunks that were ideal for mobile gaming and
also had the benefit of making the game easier to
play on a small screen. It's mobility increased its
The most recent evolution has been the
popularization of web browser-based tower
defense games, which are now finding a new
home on mobile platforms like the iPhone. Tower
defense games have simplified play by removing
direct user control of combat but have retained
the immediacy of real-time gameplay. This
makes them perfect for shorter gaming sessions,
and has the benefit of making the games more
accessible to a new group of casual gamers who
other wise wouldn’t touch a strategy game.
Born out of the mod community, defense
of the Ancients is an offshoot of the hero-based
gameplay in WArcrAft 3, and has been quite
successful on the PC. This style of game does
away with base management and minimizes
resource gathering, allowing for an even faster-paced game which is well suited to real-time
multiplayer combat. dotA games have become
a hit in competitive multiplayer circles and are
evolving at a rapid rate, gaining the support of
publishers such as Riot and Valve.
Platform choice and design
» Whenever I begin a new project, one of the
first things I think about is the platform. This is
especially critical for strategy games. Certain
platforms lend themselves to certain genres,
and you can get in a lot of trouble when you try
to force a game mechanic onto a platform when
it isn’t an ideal fit. Before we look into strategy
games on multiple platforms, let’s spend a little
time on what differentiates platforms.
; Consoles: Action focused, multiple players
looking at the same screen, chat via voice, player
controls something directly, sometimes online.
Well suited for games like first-person shooters,
role-playing games, action games, driving games,
and sports games.
; PCs: Strategy focused, one player per screen,
chat via text or voice, player controls something
directly or it can be abstracted, always online.
Ideal for massively multiplayer role-playing
games, strategy games, RPGs, web games, card
games, and Facebook games.
; Mobile: Casual focused with short play sessions,
one player per screen, chat via text, direct or
abstract control, display screen is the controller, and
unreliable online connection. A good fit for puzzle,
word/trivia, arcade action, and strategy games.
game developer | January 2011 32
figUre 1 shows the time spent on tasks within a
typical rts game. figUre 2 shows the time spent on
tasks within a hero-focused rts game.
figUre 3 shows the time spent on tasks within the
iPhone/iPad game, HigHborn.
As these platforms have evolved, some
genres have successfully transitioned to newer
platforms and have flourished. Others came into
existence because of technical innovations or
improvements. Driving games, for example, were
once best experienced on a PC due to higher
graphical fidelity and frame rate. However, larger
screens, more powerful consoles, and analog
controls made the experience so much better on a
console that developers have stopped making PC
driving simulators. As another example, there are
fundamental considerations such as size and play
environment that preclude a World of WArcrAft-style MMO from ever working right on an iPhone.
strategy games on consoles
» Let’s consider the example of real-time
strategy games and designing one for consoles.
The entire core of these games is based on
micromanagement, and they are designed around
the mouse-keyboard input combination. Players
control multiple units, scroll around the map,
select units, and use the other mouse button
to perform context-specific actions. There have
been many attempts to bring RTS games onto
consoles where the design focus has been to
remap the core functions to the console controller.
Unfortunately, experience has shown that these
kinds of interface fixes just don’t work. There are
a few fundamental problems that you can’t design
your way around when working on a console RTS.