Tell Us Dammit: RTS Advice... I Need It!

So if you watched me livestreaming my first ever modern RTS experience with Company of Heroes 2, you may have noticed that I... um, was clueless. I completely sucked is another way of putting it. The only reason I got through was thanks to the help and advice of some Kotaku readers — particularly F4ction and Trjn. But I left with an understanding of what makes these games so compelling to people, so I thought I'd ask: where should a beginner like me head next?

I quite like the history angle of Company of Heroes, and I like the period in which its set, so maybe I'll keep on trucking with that, even if it did seem utterly, utterly uncompromising in helping out new users (although there is apparently a tutorial section that I skipped!) Should I try something else? What general advice do you have to get me up to speed?

Let me know in the comments below.


    1) watch a pro game or two, you'll pick up so many little tips

    2) work out which resource is critical early on and manage it well

    3) Mass void ray is always fun.

      Pro games of COH1 are somewhat tricky to find and a lot harder to follow than other RTS games. At least, that's my experience.

      The trick to getting good is simple: play more. Focus on one area to improve on, such as unit control, making proper use of the mini-map, macroing properly or what-have-you. Spend a few games focusing entirely on that area. Doesn't matter if you win or lose. Once you're confident in your ability to one basic mechanic, focus on another one. Doing the bit you've taught yourself will come naturally and you'll have improved overall.

      I stole that one from Day9.

      Alternatively, just come play some derpy games vs AI with us. We're all pretty terrible and loses can be hilarious.

      EDIT: As a general rule, always use the keyboard to do things when you can. Hotkeys and control groups are the shit.

      Last edited 27/06/13 11:31 am

        There's a popular Starcraft/Starcraft 2 saying:

        Probes and Pylons

        Basically means, focus on your economy first of all, then everything else starts flowing from there. Works in pretty much any strategy game. Hell, it even works in Plants vs Zombies (you want to plant your sunflowers first to establish your economy and allow you to plant your more powerful plants later on).

          I still can't work out how that translates to Company of Heroes though. Resources are gathered by controlling set points on the map (sort of like King of the Hill but there whole map is full of them). Spending the resources is still very important but this game seems to skip probes and pylons and tends to be more "if they're attacking, defend. If they're defending, expand. If they're expanding, attack." or whatever it was Artosis said that one time.

            I haven't played much CoH, BUT I was a big fan of the original Dawn of War and played that and its expansions to death (not DoW 2 though, that sucked). Both games were made by Relic and follow a similar (though not identical) resource model.

            The mantra still applies. You need to get out there onto the map and focus on capturing (and then holding) strategic points to establish your economy. Instead of "Probes and Pylons", in Dawn of War it's "Strat Points and Generators", or in Company of Heroes it's "Strat Points and Supply lines". It's still the same basic concept.

            Last edited 27/06/13 12:08 pm

              As the great Papa-ra once said "make expand then defense it".

              If you think of strat points as expansions, it tends to make some sense.

    Starcraft 2.

    Doesn't matter if you're terrible — you'll be matched with other, equally terrible people. :P

      Forever bronze, I want to be forever bronze ~

        Diamond league it is for you then!

          I still don't know how I got placed into Platinum the first time I did my placement matches. That was odd.

            I'm currently platinum now, but it took me ages to work my way up there. I was stuck in Gold for something like 2 years.

              If it's any consolation, I got destroyed for a few days, stopped playing for a few months and then tanked to Bronze the next time I played.

              EDIT: I haven't touched HOTS multiplayer, so unless they introduced dirt league, I'm still Bronze level.

              Last edited 27/06/13 11:50 am

      Not quite true, i suck and get matched with people are pretty good, bronze but good.

        I agree! I am bronze and the bronzers I play are not that bad. I watch husky do bronze league heroes and I swear I'm not that bad!

    Continue playing the game a few times. Work out where your strengths and weaknesses are. Play around your strengths and work on the weaknesses during each play through.

    In most strategy games, you need to get the larger and stronger army to win, this then leads to a massacre of other teams. If you have problems with unit production, do not focus entirely on defence, as that will be of no help at all, you will be destroyed (known from personal experience). Try and find a good balance.

    It is sometimes good to make a plan early on. This does not mean, stop and get a note pad. Keep playing and think as you play. This will come with practice.

    Online play may also be a good help. Find someone who is willing to team up with you to guide you. Forums, youtube are also good guides.

    You could start with a few of the oldies through GoG or some such. The original Red Alert is a spiffy learning place for your RTS domination skills. Total Annihilation, although it features a different setting, is also full of goodness.

      Age of Empires II may also be a good place to start.

    The umm... critically acclaimed halo wars... *cough*

    - Play the tutorial
    - Learn the hot keys
    - Learn how to click really fast
    - Max out your mouse and scrolling speed
    - Trial and Error

    StarCraft 2 has a new tutorial that essentially lets you know exactly what to build at what time in a match vs AI. Some key points that this tutorial highlights:

    Don't stop making workers. You might think, "Oh, this is enough workers, right?" WRONG. Many pro StarCraft players won't stop worker production until they're at about 70~75 workers out of a total cap of 200. Zerg players can approach 100 workers.

    Keep your resources low. Unless you're aiming for a specific timing to exploit a large number of expensive units as early as you can, you would be spending all your resources as you get them.

    Make multiple copies of the same production building. In StarCraft, as a Terran player you should have about 4-5 production buildings per resource-gathering base. This helps you spend your money as you need them.

    Some other tips:
    There's a fog of war in most games, but there doesn't have to be. Placing cheap units or buildings as scouts in locations that are ideal paths for an enemy to approach you from is very worthwhile. There is a lot that you can prepare in the 20-30 seconds extra time you got from seeing your enemy coming early.

    Sacrificial flying units, where available, are also worthwhile to get an overhead shot of your opponent's entire base. Of course, you can play Terran in StarCraft and get Orbital Scans =D it's like built-in maphacks.

    At the most basic level, whoever has the larger army will win, but the tips above will help you get as large an army in as short a time as possible. It's also useful to know what units are good against others, and how to effectively use the map layout to your advantage. In StarCraft, this mostly means making use of choke-points to reduce the actual number of enemy units that are actively participating in battle.

    Sorry that all my tips are mostly related to StarCraft. It's the only one I know how to play somewhat decently, but it's popular so it's worth learning a bit about.

    Red Alert - PSone!

      Hell March never gets old!

        I can't Tube at work. Is that?: "Soon we will stand, soon we will stand, soon we will stand INVINCIBLE!"

        Unless facing - the Hell March 3 remix!

    Classic Age of Empires II might be a good place to start with picking up the things you need to manage in RTS games:

    Producing an army requires resources, and you need to constantly keep your economy up at a level that will sustain your army and research/upgrades. This is arguably the most important but hardest thing to handle as you not only have to start up your economy in the early game, but also to maintain it throughout the course of the match - it's very easy to suddenly forget about your economy because you have a "huge" army; but an army without a strong economy backing it will lose steam very quickly.

    You will need to think about how many workers you need "optimally" (eg: 7 farms in AoE II, 5 workers for a gold mine in WarCraft III, and 30 workers per base in StarCraft II) and how many bases you will need at different parts of the match (in some games your natural resources will dwindle in the area your base starts at).

    An army is "generally" going to be the thing that helps you win the game. In most games, sheer numbers of units won't always win you the battle (though it's a good advantage to have); RTS games sometimes require you to think tactically about what composition of units you should have in your army, where your army engages the enemy on the map and also when to fight and run. The thrill of RTS games is that you have to decide on a whim whether to engage in battle or not, sometimes you make a good tactical decision, other times not.

    Like with economy, you need to make sure that you have a well-composed army to deal with the enemy forces and also the production facilities and resources to continually bolster your army as the match progresses. The last thing you want is to have your whole army wiped out and not being able to replenish it back at your base.

    Lots of RTS games give the opportunity for players to improve their army and economy via research and upgrades. Some of these may include adding new units and skills that your army can utilise; and others may include being able to gather resources more efficiently. When two evenly matched armies are pitted against one another, the one with superior upgrades will prevail. This is perhaps the least important factor to consider of the three but nonetheless important as it can net you victories in small skirmishes which ultimately secure your victory.

    Bear in mind the concept of cost and benefit. What is the benefit of researching this upgrade and when will I start to reap the rewards of this upgrade? Not all upgrades will be useful in the match, and not all upgrades will be useful at the right times - maybe what you really needed at that critical moment was an upgrade for your economy rather than for your army.

    RTS games can be quite brain intensive because there are many factors to keep in mind as you play through a match, but that's a good thing as they help train you to have a bigger picture over a situation (be it a war or what not). Practice makes perfect like with other games, so keep practising with friends or AI to improve.

    Last edited 27/06/13 11:57 am

    I vote Starcraft 2, or Warcraft 3 and Frozen Throne.

    You've gotta go back to the old school stuff and work your way forwards brother.

    Start with Dune 2 (the Dune 2000 remake is acceptable, if you can't get Dune 2).
    Then you can move onto other games...
    Warcraft's 1 & 2, the Command & Conquer games, Dark Reign and Total Annihilation, The Ages of Empires, Mythologies, Kings and what have you...
    Then then should branch out into the 3D stuff (Homefront 1 &2, Sins of Solar Empires).

    Stay away from MOBA's... some will tell you they're the evolution of the genre, but those are bad people Mark... very bad people.

    The only thing I learnt from playing Starcraft with friends was "bring a book so you have something to do between the time you get destroyed and the time they finish the match".

      It's customary in all RTS games to concede and leave once you know that you've lost.

        Yeah, but if you're specifically playing with a bunch of friends there's nothing much for you to do until the other players have finished up. This was mostly during LANs, etc.

          I'm fairly sure that the rule is you get to eat all the food that they're too distracted to eat and that distracting backrubs are encouraged.

    As far as game recommendations go, there's a tiny company in Canberra called "Panther Games", who make a series of historic RTS games called "Command Ops".

    There's no resource gathering or unit micro management (there's a simulated chain-of-command). They call them "pausable real-time", in that you can pause the action, give commands to your various units, and then start it all up again and monitor the outcome.

    The games are a bit niche, but they're award-winning and made by probably the longest running game company in Australia.

    I am a big fan of the total war games. 250 odd hours into Shogun 2 and its still fun to mess around with. That game can be very deep with resource management and trade and diplomacy or you can leave that to automation and just manage an army in battle without to much micromanagement.

      I'll second the Total War recommendation. Especially Shogun 2. It's a deep and very complex RTS but the basics are easy to learn. And the battles are usually pretty awesome.

      There is a certain division between the economic/ diplomatic play compared to the strategist/ battle play that blends beautifully into an entirely absorbing package. Expansion on the campaign maps can be a risky endeavor, especially on the later DLC's. Using agents, ninja and geisha can have a significant effect on your progress. Both positive and negative.

      Men of War is also a goodin' however I would say the learning curve for MoW far exceeds that of CoH.

      As a below average CoH multiplayer combatant I can offer no advice other then to keep plugging away. I myself struggle against randoms and have so far been fairly effective aggainst AI when i set up a match on CoH. I've yet to dive into CoH2 multi for real, but I did dabble during the beta and got owned every damn time.

      RTS is king!

    men of war is a simple rts. You should try that.

    You're just not one of the lucky few born with awesome uber-micro. But you can learn. Patience and practice.

    Don't suck

    I wise man once said "don't go to war unless you got your money right. Now I got my money right I want war".

    The general flow for RTS against AI is as follows:
    1. Economy
    2. Base
    3. Army

    To start economy
    In the original COH you had three different types of resource fuel, ammo and command points (or something similar). Have at least one of each of these producing resources and have basic unit production ready at yo base and one small fighting group waiting there or in production to defend base before you go scouting/expanding. Because a lot of the time enemy AI start attacking or start sending heavier attacks (not just 1 or 2 units) when they are discovered.

    Build base and upgrade
    Not to much to say except defenses at the front, then production buildings in middle then unit upgrade buildings at the rear. Build your buildings first then upgrade where possible. Defenses might not be needed if you handle unit production well but it really depends on how aggressive enemy AI is.

    Attacking massed enemy
    Know unit types or at least pay attention to what enemy units do most damage. When attacking massed enemy army you should target heavy weapons first with massed attack try to take them out the fight as quick as possible. Enemy AI will generally attack closest target where as you can target specific enemies targets with massed firepower. If yo massed army starts losing to enemy don't be scared to retreat, and save some units for next attack. Just re-adjust the composition of yo army to what was lacking to deal with theirs. Super hard enemy units may need to be identified and taken out with long range weapons first, before massed army moves up.

    Attacking enemy base
    Identify strong points of enemy base using scouts. By the time you are ready to attack base you should have good sized army and base and your economy humming along. Take out defensive positions at long range to make a hole. Then I like to send whole army through the hole to wreak havoc and just sit back and watch but this will fail if they have a army in reserve.

    Now this is a basic plan for you to start with BUT as in real war no plan survives first contact with the enemy. You have got to change and adapt to the specific battlefield conditions. Like the mission may have fight you your way to area to start yo base, or a forward base/objective so you have big army at start. In most last lv type missions you will be attacked heavy at start so you want to build and strengthen yo base first and so on.

    This is all just general stuff and for AI when you play against people all bets are off. But this should give you good start.

    Can someone confirm whether the AI still cheats? In CoH I was in the middle of a battle and nothing was happening on either side, but we had our units near each other in the middle. Way back behind my lines I moved some of my units to one position, then back to the original, and I saw from my front line, that just into my enemy's shroud, the AI was moving units away and back again to match each move I made. I did it a few times and watched in amazement. I hate games that cheat. The shroud is meant to be a shroud. No excuses.
    Will not get CoH 2 if this still happens.

    I think one thing which has been overlooked in a lot of replies is the concept of strategy. It is you vs an opponent. At its simplest form, think about it like you're racing a friend. To win a race, you could eat properly, train hard, meditate, etc and this would put you in the best form to win a race... but if your friend is competitive, they should be doing the same thing, and the odds of winning might be 50%. But what if you suddenly brought along a bag of marbles to sabotage their path, or glued their shoes to the ground, or tied their shoelaces together, or released your console without police state DRM, and $100 cheaper?

    I would recommend Warcraft 3 or Starcraft 2. It kind of becomes a more advanced game of paper/rock/scissors. If you send one unit to your opponent's base and you see that they are making rocks, you make paper! What people say about economy is very true; piece of paper might beat 5 rocks... but if your opponent has 50 rocks to your one piece of paper then you're in trouble. If you think your opponent is going to run out of resources and will want to expand to a second base to get more, and you can manage to deny them that while maintaining your own resources, you can win by attrition... even if you lose more soldiers, you have the ability make more while they do not.

    I can't comment on CoH as I haven't played it, but the concept should be the same. Also don't forget the Real-Time aspect of RTS. You know that paper beats rock... but can you realize and make the paper in time or is your opponent bludgeoning you to death already with that rock? The more you play a particular game, the faster and more efficient you become.

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