Archive for Command and Conquer 3

RTS on a Console

Posted in Games with tags , , , , on February 17, 2009 by zolthanite

I played some of Halo Wars demo yesterday and found the controls to be decently intuitive.  A few things missing, but I figured I could live without them.  But as I always do I started thinking of ways to try and improve upon them.  What did other games do?  How did it function?  Fortunately, my roommate has a copy of Command and Conquer 3 for the 360, so I decided to give that a whirl.  Pending giving LotR: Battle for Middle Earth a go, this is as good as I’m going to get for free.  So, on to the controls*.

*I want to write this down now, before I forget.  I’ll probably write a little bit more of what I thought about the rest of the game later, but this is a big one for me as part of the “RTS and FPS, PC4LYFE” crowd.


Play Experience

Halo Wars:  Since I was playing the demo, I went through the first two missions of the campaign and did a skirmish with each side (USMC and Covenant), replaying the second mission and setting the second skirmish on Heroic (Hard) difficulty.

CnC3: I have already beaten the GDI and Nod campaigns on PC, so I’m not likely to repeat that.  Still, I sat through the tutorial (Hi, Cameron!) and did a simple 1v1 skirmish using GDI.  To be fair, I did do the skirmish first, but it doesn’t affect the outcome of what I’m about to say so much.


Unit Control and Selection

As far as unit control they both pretty much swing the same way.  ‘A’ selects units.  Then there’s a button for moving, a button to cancel, and that sums it up.  Similarities end there though.

Multiple Units:  CnC doesn’t get the drag boxes.  Instead, the shoulder triggers are dedicated to “select all onscreen units of this type” and “select all onscreen combat units”.  Halo Wars gets a “select all onscreen units of this type”, “select all units globally” and a “select all units onscreen”, but also has a semi-hidden, drag-box function.  Basically, you get a small circular area in the center of the screen that will add units to your control as it overlaps them (Moving the circle off of the unit keeps them selected, however).  I say semi-hidden because the game doesn’t tell you about it and in order to get the circle you hold down ‘A’, instead of a normal button press.  It’s nice, but you don’t really need it for reasons further below.

Neither seems to have a group-append similar to Shift+Select on PC games.

Control Groups: Halo Wars has no squad control in the sense any RTS fan is used to, which is in stark contrast to CnC’s number groups.  After playing it for a bit, I’m fairly certain that’s because it largely doesn’t need to.  Most of the game is extremely low unit count activity, so control groups are wasted in effectiveness.  Even with a 40-unit count, you’re using a lot of that in vehicles, of  which you would only have a max of 20 if you did a single-unit built.  

What it does do, however, is give you the ability to select all of your units on the screen globally and locally, while giving a button to select the subtypes of units (Similar to how most PC games allow you to tab through unit types).  Unlike PC RTS, giving unit move and attack commands in this mode only applies it to that unit type.  It also lets you cycle through implied groups based on army region (So if you have split your forces to 3 different map locales, you can cycle through all three, selecting each as it’s own “group”.  It’s really as much granularity as the game needs.

CnC3 has the group tabs mechanic, which is, for lack of a better word, horrible.  However, it is completely and 100% saved by the ability to have the game auto-assign a group number to your selected units AND cycle through them with button presses, so you never have to use the godawful interface tabs if you so choose.

Movement: CnC still has the Forced/Attack Move distinction, by single or double tapping the Move command respectively.  Halo Wars doesn’t have the ability to make the distinction, and does not seem to do Attack Moves (Testing it with USMC marines at the moment).

Special Commands:  Most(All?) units in Halo Wars have secondary abilities.  These are activated by simply hitting ‘Y’.  CnC requires the use of the interface tabs on the unit, which means the following:

  1. Hold R
  2. Move your hand from the Camera Pan stick to the D-Pad
  3. Move over to the desired ability
  4. Move back to the Camera Pan
  5. Hit A

In short, I hate it.


Base Management

Resources: CnC-style refineries vs. the Dawn of War requisition method.  Both have a single unit for currency, not much else to say.

Building Placement:  For people who are used to placing buildings with a mouse, consoles are as bad as you think they are.  CnC still has the same placement strategies as before, with building rotation performed via camera.  Halo Wars opts for the highly simplified, yet much easier “Pod Base” construct, where your base has limited slot expansion, but can build anything you have access to in those slots.  

Building Buildings/Units: Halo Wars is a simple “Select, Point, ‘A'” which ensures that anything you want to build is only three button presses away.  CnC  uses the tab interface which activates by holding the trigger, but requires you to manually select things using the D-pad on a linear list of constructions.  For the construction yard, you’re doing a lot of mousing.  Building a crane also requires you select the crane from the map, preventing you from doing any form of queuing.  And that’s assuming you don’t need to reposition, which requires additional camera rotation.

In short, it’s annoying as hell, and I’m not sure if any amount of practice would make it any more intuitive for me.

The interface DOES allow you to queue units without going back to the base, unlike Halo Wars.  But Halo Wars gets around that by allowing the cycle-army-base buttons to move you camera as you go.

Waypoints:  CnC maintains the “waypoints per production building” mechanic, with the ability to set the default production structure for interface-based construction (That probably means the multi-building unit queues are not in the game.  Shame, really, since that was the best thing to have).  Halo Wars has a single waypoint per base, so no separating based on unit type.  It also gives you the ability to set global waypoints so all bases send units to a specific part of the map.  Awesome?



Halo Wars has an advantage in being able to tailor the game mechanics to fit a console, and get rid of a lot of the stuff that plagues Command and Conquer as a result of being a PC-port.  What’s annoying is that the Halo Wars control scheme could be adapted to CnC fairly well, and would improve a lot of the problems I had with it.  It has a fairly simple control scheme suitable for the game.  CnC is a nice effort, but it loses out on some key PC distinctions that make playing the game no where near as enjoyable.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Halo Wars is a must-buy for anyone.