SUPREME Commander

PUBLISHER: THQ DEVELOPER: Gas Powered Games GENRE: Real-Time Strategy RELEASE DATE: Spring 2007
fi rst time you play,” warns Gas Powered Games founder Chris Taylor as I sit down for a session of Supreme Commander. “That faction is the hardest one because it’s so different.” But since when has common sense stopped anyone? The United Earth Federation comes with familiar warheads and futuristic offshoots of conventional craft—been there, nuked that. The Cybran Nation is composed of self-actualized super-robots that clearly cribbed notes from The Terminator or Will Smith’s magnum opus Wild Wild West. The Aeon Illuminate, a religious order, uses some weird alien technology that—I’ll
admit now—takes a lot of getting used to.

Any RTS mastermind knows there’s a science to build order. Do you churn out a tank rush, become an economic juggernaut, or go scouting? In my case, you try doing everything at once—and fail miserably. Supreme Commander’s maps are huge—even the two-player battlegrounds here measure 400 square kilometers— and encourage thought and exploration. The best course of action: Quickly get an economy off the ground and send out scouts to gather intel. An army needs energy and mass (the two in-game resources) to operate, and a quick look at the map shows where to set up mass extractors. Some key advice: Select your fi rst engineer, hold down the Shift key, and start stacking orders. Look for the mass collection hash marks on the map; and for every mass extractor you erect, order at least one generator. Quickly tag
resource spots and let your engineers work in the background while building
your army.
Stacking orders early enough—and smartly enough—is half the battle. Let’s say you drop down a factory and want to upgrade it to tech level 2. Click the upgrade button, and you can place a build request for tier-two tech. Then order some more units and request the tier-three upgrade. Instead of waiting around for idle engineer units or monitoring every individual event on the battlefi eld, you only need to focus on giving general directions while the A.I. follows through on the orders.

The way Taylor puts it: “Patton has to say to a guy, ‘Drive the tank over to the hill.’ And the guy comes back and says, ‘Now what?’ And Patton goes, ‘OK, now fuel it.’ And the guy comes back and goes, ‘Now what?’ ‘Put some bullets in the gun.’ He comes back later and says, ‘And now what?’ Patton goes, ‘Take those tanks, get ’em all ready, and attack that small town to the north.’” You’re supposed to be a supreme commander, not a babysitter. “Here, the commander is able to say all that in one fl uid sentence while the guy says, ‘Yes, sir. And I’ll be there by tomorrow afternoon.’” Supreme Commander instantly gives an estimated time of arrival for all your commands. Meanwhile, I create my fi rst scouting party to gather intel on my wily opponent— it’s time to set a course into unknown territory. I create a full loop by setting various waypoints, and an ETA timer tells me how long the loop will take to complete. Oops. I forgot to send a scout out to the northeast corner of the map. No prob. Hold down the Shift key and just drag a waypoint out to adjust the route. The ETA timer updates automatically, and I’m back in business.
Of course, that’s until I screw things up and make idiotic demands of my troops. Remember that whole build-order thing I was just talking about? Stupidly tapping a couple of upgrade buttons too often and too quickly sent my economy into a tailspin. My mass extractors all received orders to upgrade to level-three technologies right from the game’s start. Sure, it’ll yield a metric asston of mass once completed, but it was too much, too soon. With my first few scouts on patrol destroyed, I was out of cash, short on troops, and running out of time.

Forced into a turtling position, I quickly shut down the mass-extractor upgrades (and watch as the economy jumps back to life) while erecting some walls and point-laser defenses. Using my supreme commander unit as an extra set of engineering hands, I clear-cut some trees to build mass and energy collectors to stockpile resources for the fi ght ahead. I was about to get swarmed and had little time to react. Defensive positions! Laser turrets, tier two. Start producing shields for the inevitable nuke strike. Build a radar system. Start upgrading my supreme commander unit for battle (yes, command units can also be upgraded—be a better engineer or develop personal shields, for example). Order up some tech-level 3 Siege Assault bots to fi ght back. With my head back in the game, it was easy to appreciate everything happening. My artillery and defensive turrets tag anything entering radar range—or at least scare ’em away. When you target one unit to attack another in Supreme Commander,
there’s no guarantee you’ll hit it. Taylor chimes in,

“You don’t know if you’re going to miss, hit something else, or hit a tree and then the tree catches fi re, falls over, and hits a shield system instead.” Proper physics decide the battle—physics that I wished to God would work in my favor right about now. I fi nally clear a path for my assault bots to locate and take out the missile silos. Launch detected. Crap. My shields absorb some of the damage, but it’s over. All but a few ragtag units get wiped from the map. I will have my revenge, but there is one thing I can promise: Losing the fi rst round won’t infl uence my opinion of the fi nal game.


The superpowers’ superweapons
Every major war has its confl ict-ending experimental technology. World War II had Fat Man
and Little Boy. The future holds Voltron-like robots and cannon-bristling, trundling dreadnoughts.
Here’s a quick debriefi ng:

Intel: This Mobile Land Factory is a superior support unit, featuring four battleship cannons and a powerful shield generator mounted on a heavily armored frame. An internal construction bay permits troop reinforcements in the fi eld.
Tactics: The Fatboy is ill-prepared for small, fast-moving targets. Penetrate the shields and avoid the limited fi ring arc of side-mounted riot guns to infl ict signifi cantto- serious damage.

Intel: This monstrous spiderbot houses an extremely powerful microwave laser for short-range destruction. Prepped for resistance, it also has extremely thick armor and short-range antiair/antiground countermeasures.
Tactics: The “Monkeylord” (which doesn’t look anything like a monkey, by the way) is a
slow-moving unit that’s especially vulnerable to long-range bombardment or when traveling
through water.

Intel: The Colossus focuses quantum energy through its eye into a highly destructive, short-range beam attack. Upon death, the chest cavity breaks open and releases a highly unstable, incredibly volatile quantum energy “being” that quickly dissipates.
Tactics: The Colossus is extremely vulnerable to air and naval attacks.

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