The real-time strategy gaming genre is filled with enthusiasts who both pursue and embody the focus of their obsession: war. Fundamentally different approaches to programming a real-time strategy game have led to two very different groups of gamers, each believing that their games are more fun and/or more realistic. I shall distinguish these two groups by the game series that they champion: the partisans of Westwood and the Command and Conquer series, and the disciples of Blizzard, they of the 'Crafts (Warcraft and Starcraft).
Although confusing to the uninitiated, the war of the war gamers can be broken up into several major points, or theaters, thusly: construction, resources, and units. I shall address each of the points and their sub-headings in turn. But first, a little background on war games in general and real-time strategy in particular. After all, as Sun Tzu said, “Know thy enemy and know thyself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.”
War gaming is a hobby in which the players re-create old battles or make new ones, honing their martial abilities on fictional battlefields. An outgrowth of the training of officers and leaders in ancient times for command of flesh-and-blood troops, war-gaming has probably been around for about as long as war. As such, the number of possible ways to simulate a war are myriad, from the low-tech Chess or Risk to the recent computer game Command and Conquer: Generals.
Real-time strategy games, or RTS games, are one of the many benefits of using computers for one's war-gaming needs. There is no stuttering progression of the fight with, “I'll hit you... ok, now you hit me back,” that limit the reality of turn-based games; one player's tanks can be rolling into an enemy supply depot at the same time that the second player's helicopter gunships are shredding the first's supporting infantry in another part of the battlefield.
The player in a real-time strategy game acts as a general who carefully gathers his supplies near the field of battle, builds his armies, and tries to adapt his tactics and units to fulfill certain missions in given situations. Although this may sound simple, it can actually be quite complex, requiring much thought and re-loading of saved games.
Since war-games in general and real-time strategy games in particular continue to be popular and are enjoyed by many (for instance, when C&C: Generals came out in February 2003, it sold over a million copies in two months), many game-programming companies want to get in on the action. Two started the whole 'real-time strategy' game craze in the first place. First was Westwood Studios with Dune II and then the original Command and Conquer: Tiberium Dawn, followed quickly by Blizzard Studios and Warcraft. The two companies and their respective games set the tone and, as mentioned above, tended to polarize war gamers into two major groups. Why is this? With slightly different approaches, Blizzard and Westwood created, plot and graphics aside, two very different gaming experiences.
Now that you're well-armed with a background on the opposing forces in the war, let's take a look at their theaters of operation. First up is methods of construction. The two sides have radically different ways of building structures, each with its own merits and downfalls.
Westwood uses an interesting, if ridiculous, way of constructing buildings usually only seen in the case of tents. First the building is made, which takes time, and then it gets placed and sort of grows out of the ground like a plant. Referred to as the “toaster method,” this way of building structures requires the presence of a central construction yard. Once that building is there, the player can make one structure at a time and place it somewhere in close to his other structures. This means bases are very centralized, so it's easier to find the opponent's home; when a player finds one structure, the main…