(This article originally appeared on the MacGamer web site in September 2010.)
Virtual Programming has shipped the Mac version of Supreme Commander 2, and Gas Powered Games’ Chris Taylor sat down with me — in a virtual sense; we talked by email — to discuss the game. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that this popular real-time strategy game came to the Mac: just the week after it was released, Taylor was at the 2010 Game Developers Conference gushing about Valve’s move to support Macs. He even described the Mac’s market share gains as “super exciting.”
Still, I was legally obligated to ask Taylor how he felt about Supreme Commander 2 arriving on the Mac, and he replied: “I love it. I’ve been a Mac fan for years, and have always been a big supporter of our games on the Mac. It’s a great platform, and made especially so because Macs use Intel processors. Macs are fast and a lot of people have laptops, which should be able to run the game great.”
Focusing on What’s Important
Supreme Commander 2 is part of a new generation of strategy games where sometimes more can be less: advances in technology have enabled the implementation of bells and whistles that were mere pipe dreams years ago, but if developers don’t keep their eye on the big picture, the end result can be unwieldy and frustrating to play.
That’s why Taylor said that the biggest lesson learned from the original Supreme Commander and its Forged Alliance expansion pack was “that creating a big game means really needing to focus on what’s important. We were very ambitious, and that meant we wanted a huge list of features.”
One example of the way they winnowed that list was the decision to go with fewer units this time. “That was part of our goal to have more production polish, and units that had more meaning throughout the entire game,” Taylor said. “Fewer units meant we could spend more time on each one and create more interesting relationships between them.”
He also pointed out that his development team tried to not get crazy with the units’ physical designs: “It’s a fine line between outrageous and, frankly, outlandish creations, and things where people can go, ‘Got it, that makes perfect sense, I know what that unit does on the battlefield.’”
Of course, fewer units means each one needs to carry more weight, and Taylor explained how that tied into another lesson learned from the first game: “One of the challenges in Supreme Commander was how the Tech 1 units would not be useful at the end of the game, so we came up with the tech tree idea [for Supreme Commander 2] to allow those early units to continue to upgrade and be useful.”
So, what’s Taylor’s personal preference for unit management in the game? “I like to build Rock Head Tanks,” he replied. “From the very first unit produced, you can build a powerful army and upgrade them like crazy using the tech tree. There are so many great strategies now, like the Cybran engineer army, but when we were in development, I liked my strategy because it stress tested the design theory.”
The LAN’s the Thing
This year’s major strategy release, Starcraft II, hit the shelves with big sales numbers: 1.5 million copies moved in 48 hours, according to PC World. However, it also has one glaring omission: a lack of support for LAN play, which has some Starcraft fans up in arms.
Asked about LAN play in Supreme Commander 2, Taylor responded: “Well, we know this is a very important part of the way RTS games are played, and despite the fact that games are moving online, we know there are many cases where LAN gaming is still very popular. Our LAN play requires Steam authentication, but it’s pretty seamless.”
Yes, those who purchase the Mac version of Supreme Commander 2 also receive Steam codes, giving them the necessary authentication for LAN play. They even get a free copy of the PC version too, which is a nice bonus.
As the conversation wound down, I asked Taylor about the idea that the Supreme Commander games are spiritual successors to his Total Annihilation series. “I think they are indeed the spiritual successors, because of the way I approach RTS design,” he responded. “I don’t like a lot of rules, and I like big, open worlds. Some might say the economy systems play a role in that, but I think it goes much deeper than that. I think many folks will see our upcoming Kings and Castles game as a continuing extension of those previous RTS titles.”