I have fixed my choice to be Dawn of War: Ⅲ, a Real-Time Strategy Game (RTS) game produced by Relic Entertainment and Sega, and Game Workshop, in partnership, in April 27, 2017. The game was given high hope as both a successor of the famous RTS game Dawn of War and a new step from traditional RTS towards Multiplayer online battle Arena (MOBA) game (RTS game with the influence of MOBA*). Nevertheless, since it was released, criticism had never stopped and now the game is shut down and considered an enormous disaster.
It is more than just about this game alone for me to explore this quarter, rather more about the RTS games as an entirety. As we have discussed many games in both Indie game and AAA game, it has occurred to me that almost none of these games are RTS games. This fact is rather interesting considering the decline of this certain type of game during the recent decade. In the 1990s, the RTS game is dominating the entire gaming industry, with extremely famous and successful games like Warcraft Ⅱ, StarCraft (Both by Blizzard), and this kind of success lasted until the 2000s, with the publish of Dawn of War Ⅰand company of hero series (Both by relic entertainment). Nevertheless, in the recent years, fewer and fewer RTS games are being designed, published or well-framed. The MOBA game and other more traditional type of games like first-person gaming take over the market and force RTS games to involve in order to survive.
In such challenge, RTS games much change. Yet to which direction must such games change, remains unknown to both gamers and game designers. Some believe that the game should focus more on the strategy used by the players, a famous example is Hearts of Iron Ⅳ published by Paradox Interactive, which has abandoned player control of battle entirely. In Hearts of Iron, all players can control is just the manufacture of the war gear, the organization of the army, the diplomatic decisions and the technological research of the controlled country, which means the actually battles are fought entirely off the control of the player. Some game designer, in contrary to the engineers of Paradox, believe that new RTS games should focus more on the battle itself rather than the collecting of resources and construction of base. The designers of Relic entertainment are definitely trying to break through in this aspect, the Dawn of War Ⅲ focused highly on the battles, introducing the powerful hero system to use their abilities to directly determine the tide of game, which was considered a key character for MOBA game.
However, the game of Dawn of War Ⅲ, as one of the most recent attempt of RTS game-rethinking, turns out to be a failure. It was much expected by RTS fans, fans of Dawn of War series, and the fans of Warhammer 40K tabletop game, in whose universe the Dawn of War games are set. As a tabletop gamer of Warhammer 40K, I personally watched all my fellow players grow so excited about this game and finally turned so disappointed. This is a deadly blow striking into the already dying RTS games.
I will explore the reasons behind this failure, looking through its graphic problem, game mechanism and narrative setting. As I do seriously doubt the survivability of this certain type of game in the future, I myself is still interested in playing RTS game, and hopefully one day play a part in designing a RTS game. To play and study this example of failure, will hopefully provide some insights helping the future improvements of RTS games.
My game, the DOW Ⅲ, looks bad, feels bad and sounds not so good. This is how I feel, and this is how most players feel. Now I would like to explore why.
We have discussed in the class, that a game’s graphic capability does not equal to its aesthetic. Nevertheless, a reasonable graphic engine is still the foundation of any game; in which aspect DOW Ⅲ failed to provide. It used the old, even ancient Essence Engine developed almost a decade ago1. The incompetence of the game’s graphic engine is the main reason of its terrible aesthetic feels.
When I used the word ‘bad’ to describe the appearance of the game, it is rather objective. What I meant is too bright. The entire contrast ratio is set too high, even with manual adjustments, it still feels too bright and therefore lack of realistic texture, which has always been one of the most appealing advantages of DOW games. Highly related with this problem, the units are too small in such a bright screen, leading to the extreme difficulty of finding your army in the battlefield. The entire game is just graphically inconsistent and presents nothing but discoordination. ‘True evolution seems out of the game’s grasp.’ Thus says Polygon in his review.2
The game’s balance suffers deeply from the same problem, the inconsistency. I believe the game is balanced within its three closable fictions; nevertheless, all three fictions’ gaming experiences are disturbed by its rules, or we call mechanics. The gamers are teamed into two different squads, with each one trying to destroy the other’s energy core, which is supposed to be placed deep inside the team’s territory. The problem is, once the team loses the core, the game ends immediately, which means a player can lose the game with massive resources and a huge army intact just because he cannot arrive to defend his energy core in time. Due to units’ speed design, such problems seem to occur very often. Another constantly mentioned balance problem is the units are extremely expensive, but very easy to lose. So, most of the game time is used not in the battle rather the most boring waiting for enough units to be built. This prolonged the game time without enhancing the gaming experience, making the game as boring as hell.
For the last point, the game does not support emergent gameplay, which is big step back considering the previous games in the series do support such possibility. I will conclude my essay by saying that though many problems are not so easy to fix for DOW Ⅲ, like graphic engines, many problems should have been avoided by minor fixes, like increasing units’ speed or simply decrease the costs of units. The developer, namely relic entertainment, failed the job they used to do best, creating a good aesthetic experience for their players. Lief said that “Dawn of War 3 is all about recapturing that classic real-time strategy excitement.3” No, it failed the job entirely.
1, Matulef, Jeffery, (2012) Company of Heroes 2
2, Colin Campbell, (2018) Relic abandons plans for additional Dawn of War 3 content
3, Lief Johnson, (2017) Dawn of War 3 review
The entire base of Dawn of War games, the Warhammer tabletop game, is never serious. It was created in the 1980s, when the cold war just reached the highest pick. The very basic tone of the game is to mock the current societal situation, both in the east and the west, to avoid any serious discussions. Thus, it pictures a medieval-like future where all the impossible is possible and all the right is wrong. Technologies are treated as magic and democracy is considered dangerous; people have colonized the entire galaxy but no longer even understand anything they once created. It is a sign of tiredness back then in the society, of whatever promises of a bright future made by MPs, PM or Mr. Brejnev.
Our history is a process of self-discovery and since 1980s, we have marched into an age of rather peaceful and hopeful globe. Will the game have a different heart if it was born years later? We do know that DOW three, as we have discussed in the quarter, is published only in 2017. Withstanding this fact, this relatively new video does share something more serious than its heritage. It shows a brand new political and educational trends in modern world, even it is not an intended political or educational game. For example, most endings for a typical Warhammer story is usually dark, with the main characters’ goal failed and themselves badly killed without achieving anything. Nevertheless, DOW three actually allows all its main characters from all playable fictions to survive and work together to stop a disaster in the final chapter. It almost functions as a political game, only not for a particular political purpose of certain political group or a single country; comparing with what we have in classic Warhammer 40k, it is a political game of our age, a game full of modern hopefulness and a Hollywood conviction that all storyline ends well.
Despise the changing in the context of the game and what these changes reflect, there are things unchanged in DOW series and Wh40K series as well. Most RTS games are cognitive learning games, this theorem believes that real time strategy games usually focus on the exploration of resources and application of strategy in right time, thus helps the development of players’ cognitive ability1. This idea is supported by Bruce Geryk, the author of A History of Real-Time Strategy Games.2
Thus, the hidden risks are revealed spontaneously. The main methodology of RTS games to develop cognitive ability is via letting players to achieve certain goals applying their own methods. Thus, satisfactions are created, which can easily become a source of addiction. We usually focus on the impact of overwhelming violence or the sexual explosion as a major risk of game playing. Notwithstanding, RTS games usually do not focus on such aspects; they are potentially dangerous to players simply because they provide to much satisfaction. When those lack of self-control can not obtain enough sense of achievement, they will turn to seek the substitutions in the game, thus develop an unnatural devotion into the game. The research demonstrates that certain pathways in the forebrain, where dopamine is the neurotransmitter, become active when people are playing video games, and drugs like heroin activate some of these same pathways3.
DOW three, in its nature is not a potentially addictive game, mainly as it is not so joyful to play; nor does it fit into our modern catalogues of new serious games. Yet it still reveals impacts and risks from its origin tabletop Warhammer and the larger RTS games, which are still important topic to be explored more.
1, Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Jonas Heide Smith and Susana Pajares Tosca, (2016) Understanding Video Games
2, Bruce Geryk, (2008) A History of Real-Time Strategy Games
3, Peter Grey Ph.D., (2018) Sense and Nonsense About Video Game Addiction
By all definition, Dawn of War Ⅲ is a Strategy Game, or a Real-time Strategy Game to be more accurate. It is most certain that it contains elements from other genres, but the dominating genre is still obvious. As I have set the cause of my analysis to the possible future of RTS game, I will explore more on the changes of elements within the Strategy genre, and the new additions added to it from other genres.
The first key elements of RTS game is that it is not necessary based upon competition. That is to say, many excellent RTS games actually have terrible artificial intelligence opposites to counter the players and many RTS games even do not support the online person-vs-person playing mode. Examples can be found in games like Heart of Iron series, which do not have a good supportive system for players to interact with each other, yet still are wildly loved by many. Geryk Bruce once mentioned, that RTS games in their nature is “the typical game of the RTS genre features resource gathering, base building, in-game technological development and indirect control of units”1, rather than directly competing with each other.
The substitutions of players’ main motivation, taking place of the stimulations created by competitive acts, are multiple, including but not limited to collecting system, the stimulations created by commanding. Little explanations are required to be added to these aspects, as we are by our natural heritage programmed in our genes to collect and lead. By having collecting behaviors provide joys, we obtain a necessary guarantee for our ancestors to have enough resources supply. While by using leading and commanding as a source of contents, we have developed a more organized social life. As says William Green, in his Big Game Hunter, that “Whereas games are often characterized by their tools, they are often defined by their rules, as our society is.”2
Another key element of RTS game is the sense of tension by the use of real-time system. Different from games like card game using round-based system, every second of real life playing is counted in the game directly as gaming time, leading to different outcome of the game.
While Dawn of War Ⅲ surely contains those elements above, it did use some new characters rarely seen in RTS games before, to create a mixed RTS-MOBA game. The new elements did Dawn of War Ⅲ introduced, include some flavors from action game. As I have mentioned, the DOW Ⅲ have has powerful heroes and elite units for the players to command. These heroes are designed with glorious killing moves and much bigger size than the normal units. In traditional RTS games, as a contrary, most units are designed in realistic size with battle actions mimicking real soldiers battling. The introduction of enormous, and powerful, heroes and elite units caused some criticism, as Canapal mentioned in his gaming review,” Worst edition of DOW ever”3.
A question we must explore is why these new attempts failed. The most obvious answer is that these changes aimed at the wrong player group. But the deeper reasons are still more related with the first part of this assay. The player group is defined by the group of people interested in playing, which in turn is a subset of people obtaining joys from these stimulation systems we discussed. The RTS player group expects nothing from actions or adventures, they play the game because they enjoy commanding units and reaching certain levels of collections of building or territories controlled. That is why Canapal wrote as “Worst edition of DOW ever”, the game itself failed not as a game, but as a DOW game. It is not what RTS players, or Dawn of War fans had expected.
The player-based theorem points out that a game’s circulene is completed when the players have played and recognized the game. To make innovations without considering the players’ demands, is the first mistake made by the designers group. We will certainly explore more mistakes like this one in the future assays.
1, Geryk, Bruce, (2007) A History of Real-Time Strategy Games
2, William Green, (2008) Big Game Hunter
3, Canapal, (2017) Game review http://www.metacritic.com/g...
Dawn of War Ⅲ, namely the third subseries of larger Dawn of War series, certainly has its historical roots. The Dawn of War series have always been considered one of the most successful game series in RTS game history, as I have repeatedly mentioned in the previous work. The series contain three subseries so different from each other yet still possessing multiple common playing style other than the linear story line. I will now use the historical back ground to analysis DOW Ⅲ as the successor of DOW games.
The DOW Ⅰ was born as an attempt to focus the RTS game on combat area. The game we published in 2014, with many innovations unseen in the previous RTS games. The enormous success of the game comes from its focus of numerous details, like the combating system and detailed actions of single soldiers. The previous RTS games like Warcraft or spacecraft actually have a very tedious and repeated unit combat actions, with a large number of units doing almost identical moves, and the outcome of the battle largely decided by the quantity and quality of the units alone. The Dawn of War, nevertheless, introduced systems like terrains and covers for the first time, with its every single soldier having five or seven different combat moves. This focus of detailed units movements became later a key character throughout the entire history of DOW.
Coming in 2009, DOW Ⅱ came with a much smaller battlefield. This modification was meant to maximize the focus of the use of strategy in combat rather than the collections of resources, as Poole said, “Perhaps of most interest are the new multiplayer options1.”; however, the gamers did not agree on the modifications. Though the units to control are much less than the previous work, the combat move of each unit is much simpler, which is disappointing for many. The smaller battlefield is also a controversial change itself, many missed the game feeling of having much more soldiers fighting on their command. Many yet liked DOW Ⅱ for its tense combat rhythm and the introduction of many power command units like heroes. The game is, in general, much different from its forefathers, yet clear possessing many characters for DOW alone.
As we have thoroughly discussed in the essays for the last few weeks, DOW Ⅲ introduced systems of powerful heroes playing a leading role in combat. As game critics Colin would place it, that “Published by Sega under license from Games Workshop, Dawn of War 3 was an attempt to reinvigorate the somewhat moribund real-time strategy (RTS) genre, by incorporating elements from multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBAs), which have taken over the top-down, RTS genre.2” Now we can finally trace back this innovation back to the entire game series. The very first game of the series creates many identifying qualities of the game, and each of its following work tries to magnify, or emphasis one of those key figures. The DOW Ⅲ, focused on the roles of powerful characters, just as DOW Ⅱ did with the cover-terrain system.
1, Wesley Yin-Poole (2017), new Endless War update
2, Colin Campbell (2018), Real-time strategy fantasy game failed to spark