Supreme Commander! SUPREME COMMANDER! Comandante Supremo!

April 13, 2007

We get too many search engine hits from that damn post I did on Supreme Commander. And I really don’t understand why. So, allow me a moment to show some tremendous disrespect of the kindly people who boost our blog stats. Better reviews of the game, written by bona fide English majors, can be found elsewhere on the web, such as Gamespot, and more comprehensive articles on the history of real-time strategy (RTS) games can be found Wikipedia. Furthermore, I didn’t even like the game that much. It’s a good game. But it’s not a great game.

A great RTS game would be Relic’s superb Company of Heroes, or the less tactical, yet sublimely fun Command and Conquer 3. Both are titles that should appeal to fans of RTS’ and newcomers alike, and frankly, Company of Heroes should appeal to anyone interested in the history of World War II… or heck, anyone who enjoyed watching Saving Private Ryan.

So, to shift gears of war entirely, let me propose a premise for a better remake of Supreme Commander by means of a seemingly oblique anecdote. Notwithabang… returned to his New York alma mater earlier this week in order to work on some science-y stuff that he had left over from the past school year, also taking the occasion to visit with Ms. Notwithabang… (hence Shewhomustbeobeyed). The trip was busy and fun, and given the amount of work I had to do, was without incident. That is, until I took a break from the lab and went to the corner grocery store for a snack. There I bumped into none other than GustRobot, future Yesterday’s Salad philosophy columnist and former sublet-er of the SaladCave, the dusky locale in which Yesterday’s Salad was spawned, if not necessarily conceived.

In and of itself, this too would be unremarkable. The SaladCave is in a building adjacent to the store, and numerous salads eaten a day late and other cooking misadventures sponsored by Yesterday’s Salad were made possible by the store’s overpriced-yet-delightful victuals. What was remarkable was what GustRobot was buying. In the many years I have known GustRobot, I have seen him eat approximately five things. 1) Pizza. 2) Carrots. 3) Steak. 4) Double-meat turkey sandwiches. 5) Plain hamburgers. Occasionally there’s a desert item in there. Nothing more. No seasoning, save for some heavy garlic salting of the steak. Certainly no garnishes. Given the cruel efficiency with which he consumes these item, and the superhuman regularity and promptness with which he does so, it’s not hard to see why some of us were under the impression that he *might* be a robot.

Yet, lo and behold, he was there buying a can opener. This confused me. To my knowledge, none of the aforementioned items comes in a can (save for heavily sugared carrots, and God help us all if pizza is ever made available in can form). Could it be that he had simply decided to cut out the charade of human food, and would switch to eating scrap metal he had julienned with the can opener? And if he did, would it give him the strength of five gorillas? So I quit belaboring the obvious and asked him.

He explained that he was going to use it to open a can of tuna, which he was going to have for lunch. After resuscitating me moments later, using his hands as hi-tech shock panels, he explained that he had just had some salmon for the first time for breakfast. This prompted the need for a second defibrillation, after which he left with the can opener in hand. Either he was simply trying to better understand our ways, or he actually was becoming unmistakably more human over the years. No matter which is correct, I’m just glad he’s still got those laws of robotics up and functioning.

This scenario also presented an solution to the general blah-ness of Supreme Commander. The game features three different factions who use their giant, all-powerful robots (the titular Supreme Commanders) to build giant armies and then wail on one another. While the three factions are somewhat distinct in motivation, their goal is the same — total annihilation of the other two factions — and it shows in playing the game.  No matter which force you’re commanding, it’s the same exact game.  Like many other RTS games, a tank is a tank, no matter the cosmetic differences or whether it has a little more armor or a little more firepower.  So why not change the entire equation?

In the new Supreme Commander, let there be only one Supreme Commander, a giant robot capable of immense destruction, but self-aware and unsure how to best use its power.  And instead of each of the three factions having their own, let them compete over the one, trying to bring it over to their side (and if they do manage to get it, you can let them have a field day with their opponents).  One side could be completely robotic, focusing on attracting the commander by advancing its technical capacity.  Another could be more pragmatic humans, who attempt to draw the commander in by getting it to sympathize with humanity, and integrating human nerves and features into it in order to increase its intelligence and understanding.  Finally, a nutty religious faction could have a completely different goal, that of destroying the nascent deus ex machina before it reaches its full potential.

The three sides could continue to wail on each other throughout, with the commander being a nigh-unstoppable trump card.  However, the conflicting goals of the three sides would encourage alliances of convenience between the three sides — for instance, players from the robotic faction might want the religious faction to weaken the commander, should the humanistic side start gaining too much ground.  Or game designers can continue to make games where the goal is to build a lot of tanks and smash them together for hours until one side is crowned a winner.

Personally, with the continued production of cookie-cutter games like Supreme Commander, I’m ready to eschew gaming altogether in favor of catching up on a some novels I’ve been meaning to read.  Because if this over-hyped title is really one of the exemplars of the “next” generation of games, I can say that after some long years, I’m ready to stop sticking with what I’ve known and try something fresh and new.

One Response to “Supreme Commander! SUPREME COMMANDER! Comandante Supremo!”

  1. […] yours truly covered this subject in earlier articles, a caveat I have with the Gamasutra article (which bemoans the fact that “Real Time […]

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