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Real Time Strategy (Games) Entertainment Games

Examining the Beginnings of the RTS Genre 135

Edge Magazine is running a story about the development of the real-time strategy genre. They credit Dune II: the Building of a Dynasty with establishing the basic concepts that led to more popular titles like Command & Conquer and the original Warcraft. "[Westwood Studios co-founder Brett] Sperry describes Dune II's core challenge as 'combining combat, exploration and production at a particular pace and rhythm to make it all exciting and almost out of control. That was a key part of what made it so addictive.' Indeed, the experience was quite unlike more staid turnbased strategies, where success or failure rolled in slowly rather than rushing over sand dunes at the speed of an action game. 'You had to think and respond fairly quickly, and in realtime, or else your base and forces would all be overrun. And as we developed the game further, it became clearer how the pacing and battle scenario design were all a delicate balance.'"
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Examining the Beginnings of the RTS Genre

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  • TFA sounds more like; "Yeah, there was this really cool game a long time ago that did it right. Most of you probably never heard of it, so we are more 'leet' the you. It rocked! We hope we can do the same thing now, but better."

    Yes Dune2 was kick-ass. (It still is too!) Most RTS now depend on who builds the most grunts the quickest, wins. That removes the whole 'S'trategy aspect of the game.

    • by Hinhule ( 811436 )

      Very true.

      Personaly I think Company of heroes took RTS to the next level with squads and cover. That said, t still needs some more balancing, but overall it's pretty good.

      • Company of Heroes wasn't the first RTS to use squads and cover. The Close Combat series was using it close to a decade ago, to great effect, along with limited supply of ammunition and a morale system.

        • by KDR_11k ( 778916 )

          Yeah but sometimes things need to be stripped out (like ammo and complex morale systems) to make it approachable again. When you see a later product take some of your ideas and become huge with them (while you didn't) perhaps you should have designed them better.

    • by fitten ( 521191 )

      Most of you probably never heard of it, so we are more 'leet' the you. It rocked!

      I played the heck out of Dune2 in college. Woohoo! I'm finally 1337!

      • I played the heck out of Dune2 in college. Woohoo! I'm finally 1337!

        Finally? Don't you understand, grasshopper? You were 1337 all along!

    • TFA sounds more like; "Yeah, there was this really cool game a long time ago that did it right. Most of you probably never heard of it, so we are more 'leet' the you. It rocked! We hope we can do the same thing now, but better."

      I'm not sure who they're even "leeting", because if you check around, there are countless articles going back years talking about Dune II's influence on the RTS genre. This is more like a "hey, let's look at a Wikipedia page [] and ape it for some page views" article. There's never be

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I agree about modern RTS's, which I can't even play online. I prefer playing them offline where I can play at my own pace.

        That's why I love playing Spring -- you can pause a single-player game against AIs in midstream, spend several minutes scanning the map from all angles and queueing up orders, and then let it fly again.

        Not only does it slow the pace down, but it helps to negate some of the reaction speed advantage that the AI players have. You can stop at any point and analyze the situation in great

        • I'll have to check that out. I've not played any RTS since Dune II, mainly because I found the idea that my units would not be able to patrol a route, engage whatever they find, notify me about said engagement, and return home incredibly frustrating - like the stage of Civilization (the original one) just before your spaceship lands, when you spend all your time selling off city walls or some such. I gave up when I realized I couldn't possibly be everywhere at once, but the AI could.
        • I just realised The Settlers could be counted as an RTS, but it's the only one I've ever enjoyed. It did ultimately involve destroying your opponents as there wasn't much else to do after setting up your villages, but the game itself was just fun. I haven't ever really enjoyed any other RTSes. I prefer to be working on something directly rather than managing other entities. Having said that I enjoyed Operation Flashpoint where you basically worked up from a grunt to being a general with tanks and infantry s

        • Spring looks really good. I haven't played any RTS (nor any games really) since Dune II or C&C II: Red Alert, as they became far too fiddly for a normal person to play.

          Seems that Spring has lots of "sub games" - I've looked over the website and there's no pointer to a basic, fun game. Should I download Complete Annihilation?

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      "Most RTS now depend on who builds the most grunts the quickest, wins"
      That only works when everyione is trying to rush.

      A proper defence is the correct startegy to use when playing people like that.

      That's why I find it funny when people think a 'zerg rush' is the only strategy to use in Star Craft.
      I just giggle while I watch there resources get sucked up.

      It's natural to fall into that trap. My 10 year old son, and 8 year old daughter have just started playing and try that as well. They get a little frustrate

      • by KDR_11k ( 778916 )

        Does the game really rush or does it just play on a tight schedule and a player who's not doing the same ends up being overwhelmed by the enemy force while he's floating huge amounts of resources or has reached late tech tiers with no units to show for it? That's what I see with most players who scream "rush", they just don't do things fast enough and end up getting steamrolled by a regular attack because they are so behind on production and everything.

      • And how long does it take you to build that proper defense? If you aren't building as fast as you can click, are you actually prepared when they swarm in?

        No, Zerg Rush isn't the only strategy. However, raw speed of micromanaging is a necessary component -- until you have that, it's very difficult to win on strategy alone.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by KDR_11k ( 778916 )

      That's one part of the macro, obviously more troops = better. The other parts are when you get what troops since tanks aren't going to do you a whole lot of good when the enemy is going with helicopters, how you plan to develop your economy (invest a lot, possibly reaping huge growth but also being left defenseless if your enemy attacks before you got your econ going?), when you attack (try to off the enemy with an early attack but be pretty much fucked if he defends? Run a raid on one end of the map and wh

    • This attitude really comes through about two seconds in:

      But going back to Dune II today is an eye-opening experience, as it becomes clear how very little the genre has moved forwards in the last 16 years â" like finding out Halo had really been released in 1982.

      It was released in 1993 -- as Doom. And Dune II wasn't 1982, it was 1992, only one year before Doom.

      Granted, there have been significant improvements in gameplay and visuals since then -- there's no equivalent to Halo's melee weapons, or melee use of a weapon -- but the fundamentals are the same.

      That's also true of Dune II, if I remember -- Starcraft is years ahead of it, if only for the ability to select multiple units at once and direct them at a tar

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      I tried playing Dune II recently. I couldn't do it. I love old games, and I have a lot of patience for them. But I can't deal with Dune II. There's no queuing of units, and there's no selection of multiple units. That means all my time is spent clicking a single unit, and sending it to its target, and repeating over and over again. While I do that, my factories are sitting unused. When my factories are being used my units are being decimated.

      And then there's the problem with harvesters. If there's no

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mujadaddy ( 1238164 )
        "Micromanaging units" is playing the game.

        I remember when the first C&C came out... you could drag out a box to select multiple units!!! It was revolutionary.

        Unfortunately, it wasn't as fun as Dune II...
  • by greggman ( 102198 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:24AM (#26072957) Homepage

    There was an RTS on the Atari 800

    (yes, REALTIME not turn based) []

    • It definitely seems like a strategy game in real-time. But Im not sure it has any of the other characteristics typically associated with an RTS, notably any sort of production to pace the game.
      • As if a genre is defined by production units, sorry you are mislead.
        Problem is nowadays that if a game has 100 clones it becomes a genre. But it still is not in my opinion it simply is 100 clones or copies of a game.
        This goes for shooters almost 10 - 15 years the entire so called genre simply was a copy of castle wolfenstein 3ds game mechanics!
        So basically it simply was 100 copies of castle wolfenstein 3d and that was not even the first shooter :-)

    • 1988 saw the release of Modem Wars for the C64 and DOS. Most of the elements of RTS were there as well as network play.

      See []

    • by emj ( 15659 )

      Unix has, XBattle RTS released in 1991 [] networking by using X11.

    • Yes and my wife and I both played Cytron Masters an even earlier game on an Atari. I looked it up in Wikipedia and it is listed as RTS. Someone below mentions Modem Wars and that was definitely RTS. It is so often that these origins types of articles completely miss the earlier examples.

  • enough said!

  • Herzog Zwei (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Stonkers, on the ZX Spectrum in 1984 was also RTS.

    However, the 'modern' RTS genre (where production as well as combat was critical) probably started with Herzog Zwei on the Megadrive. Even the graphics style was carried forward through to Command & Conquer

    • by malf-uk ( 456583 )

      I rather liked Stonkers but it was prone to crashing []

    • Herzog Zwei is oft overlooked because it was on a console instead of a PC, but it's an amazing game even to this day. When my friends and I were in high school we would play HZ for hours on end, mocking one another as we captured a base. Ah, the memories...

    • by Zeio ( 325157 )

      Herzog was the first RTS I remember playing.

      It was also a really really good game for the Genesis (Megadrive).

      If you haven't played this game get an EMU and a ROM and do so immediately.

      Its historic and quite a fun game.

  • C&C FTW! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Toreo asesino ( 951231 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:03AM (#26073155) Journal

    The original C&C was huge though not just for gameplay, but because it was one of the first games to use full-screen video, you could play as the baddies or goodies (each with their own very distinct units), had an awesome soundtrack, and to this day had the best setup program ever!

    Oh, and for the NOD missions you could choose your ending.

    They don't make them like they used to!

    • It was also very much based on Dune II.


      • by jandrese ( 485 )
        Although C&C added some features that made it a massive improvement over Dune 2. For instance, you could hold your mouse button down to draw a rectangle on the screen to select a group of units. Units would also tend to fight back when shot at without explicit operator intervention. Dune 2 (was there ever a Dune 1?) had some great elements, but the interface was terrible really. That's why so few people remember it, it was a game that had the makings of a great game, but lacked the polish to be a su
        • Dune 2 was a great game. There was a Dune I, but I believe it was more of an adventure type game (I never played it). I played and beat Dune 2. Yeah, the controls weren't the best, and the graphics were horrid. I was really glad when Westwood re-released Dune 2 as Dune 2000. It was basically Dune 2 with the C&C/Red Alert engine. It really made the game a lot easier. But I can tell you this, there wouldn't be a C&C without Dune 2.
        • Dune was an awesome adventure/strategy game. Combat was strategic rather than tactical however, and turn based. It also had the best MIDI game music ever produced... sounding by far the best on a Soundblaster.
        • by raynet ( 51803 )

          I recall that in Dune II it was only the Harkonnen forces did fight back when shot, it was one of their specialities.

        • That's why so few people remember it, it was a game that had the makings of a great game, but lacked the polish to be a superstar.

          Dune II was one of the few games back in the day that I actually had the interest to finish. I have to say that and Star Control 2 are two of the most memorable games from that era. Yes, C&C did improve on things in a number of areas but they were more of an evolution on Dune II's elements.

          And I thought that so few remembered it because they weren't born yet. And with that, my lawn is now fair game for kids to trample...

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      I have to agree, C&C is my favourite RTS of all time. Nothing has ever really come close, I don't think you can pinpoint one thing that made that game stand out it was everything, from the effects of the napalming A10s and the obelisks of light to the pleasing explosions of grenadiers to awesomeness of getting your first mammoth tanks.

      I think it was immersive, more so than most games of it's era- the music and video as you saw managed to draw you into the rythm of the game really effectively, the missio

      • by Endo13 ( 1000782 )

        Red Alert 2 was pretty good too. But EA for the most part screwed over the franchise. Even Generals was mediocre compared to the Westwood games. Red Alert 3, I have no idea - not even worth my time playing the demo.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Actually, to be brutally honest with you, the only other game that knocked me nearly as flat as the first glorious C&C sessions has been Generals Zero Hour (which perfected the vanilla generals).

        Generals ZH was all about battle gameplay though; it had really well thought-out units that were few enough that complete n00bs could get into a LAN game without too much confusion, and again each side was distinct, but this time that the generals had different strategy emphasis which added lot's to the game-pla

      • Actually I rather disliked generals - I thought the 'income' mechanic didn't really work very well, in a game where tech and superweapons scale so rapidly.

        Red Alert 3 was something of a disappointment, but for me primarily just because it didn't have enough depth to it. Game was finished in a weekend or so, which really is unsatisfying.

      • Personally, besides the points you mentioned, I think Generals really stands out for the skirmish mode. On most other C&C titles the skirmish mode was pretty bad, with a particularly nasty AI even at the easiest levels. With Generals you could tone it down until you got used to it and then start cranking it up to get a real challenge. Having a real difference between the way you had to play with each faction also helped quite a bit (and the expansion made good use of this with the inclusion of the choic

      • Re:C&C FTW! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Haeleth ( 414428 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @04:54PM (#26080899) Journal

        C&C also had the best exploit ever -- the AI didn't know how to destroy sandbags, so you could just build a line of sandbags to the enemy base, extend it to a wall around said base, and then get on with building your Mighty Army of Doom while the enemy sat around wondering how it was ever going to get a harvester out with all those sandbags in the way.

        Of course, those of us who played it that way also had big problems on the baseless missions, where we were forced to play fair and generally got slaughtered in consequence. :)

        • by Xest ( 935314 )

          I have to admit I actually fell into that category, I too discovered the sandbag thing and when I had them would just sacrifice orca after orca to take their base down on the later missions ;)

          I played C&C through again about a year or two back when that "C&C: The Last Decade" pack came out, the game was much easier and shorter this time round- I did NOD and GDI in a weekend without needing the sandbag tactic!

          It's funny how much a game can change without changing at all, but it didn't change in one a

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      You can choose the GDI ending too. If you destroy everything in the last GDI mission but the Temple of NOD and then raze it with an ion cannon strike, you get the secret "canonical" ending. Otherwise you get the boring ending.

  • Herzog Zwei anyone? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That is the granddaddy
    • by skam240 ( 789197 )

      Yeah, I played this one. I think what the article is going at though is the beginnings of the modern "base building, exploration, military conquest" RTS genre, played from a god like perspective which is what allot of people think of when they think RTS. Herzog Zwei really only had the military conquest part of this although it did do this very well for the period. Plus the interface was radically different then the target sub genre of RTS' the article is getting at where in Herzog Zwei you interacted with

      • by j33pn ( 1049772 )

        I still have a functioning copy Herzog. My 6 year-old was playing with my old Genesis over the summer, so I've actually played it in the last year. That game has intense PvP.

        It's definitely an RTS, even if you control the main unit on the board directly. I'd say it's more similar to the C&C style games than it is different. Most of the differences are b/c it's a console game instead of PC. You get money by taking over mini-bases, make and command units, and win by destroying the enemies base.

        Dune 2

        • by skam240 ( 789197 )

          I think the difference in interface is huge and creates a big difference in game play between Herzog and Dune 2. Dune 2 has a much greater resemblance to the most successful war/base building RTS games of today then Herzog has to Dune 2.

      • by Jack9 ( 11421 )

        I have my original copy I played long ago. It had supply trucks to restock ammo and some good AI to govern how they pathed around to supply low turrets and such. Dune2/C&C harvesters exhibited a simpler version of the AI, looking for their appropriate fields and returning.

    • Please mod up.

      A co-worker Game Designer showed me gem a few years back. Definitely one of the first RTSs.

  • by aapold ( 753705 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:28AM (#26073309) Homepage Journal

    I had played Dune II on the Amiga, I think the biggest difference between that and later games is you had to click over on the actions buttons ("attack", "move", etc) instead of it being context-based on what you clicked on next (e.g., enemy = attack, ground = move to).

    But in terms of influence the second I played C&C I felt that their whole concept of the Tiberium resource was taken directly from the Spice in Dune II. It almost even looked similar...

    • Dune II was awesome until you got clobbered by those goddam ornithopters. Never did work out the right tactics for that one scenario.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If it wasn't for a spelling mistake in the original data files, you could have built ornithopters (or "ornithipters") yourself from advanced tech or starport buildings.

        I think that's why a lot of people grew up to be grammar Nazis.

    • yeah man, ill never forget playing dune II for the 1st time on my amiga 500...i think it was the 1st time i stayed up all nite till dawn playing video games... and yeah, c&c was a ripoff no doubt...
    • But in terms of influence the second I played C&C I felt that their whole concept of the Tiberium resource was taken directly from the Spice in Dune II. It almost even looked similar...

      Yeah, that happens quite a bit when the same people are involved in making the games, especially when they turn around from Dune II and make C&C right after it.

    • The bigest difference was that you could only select one unit at a time.

      I remember the physical pain caused by ordering a larger group of tanks to attack

      "You (click on top of screen) go (click on left of screen) there (click on botton of screen)" x 20 for each move

    • With one improvement: You could let Tiberium mutate trees so that those mutant trees would become an infinite source of Tiberium. Other than the pre-created spice blows, there was no way to mine more spice, so I often waited until the enemy ran out of money.
  • If I hadn't played that game, and hated the gameplay style when it first came out - I would have wasted hours and hours playing all its game-play clones.

    The only RTSes that I've ever liked, were the ones that took cues for Dune 2's predecessor - Crescent Hawk Revenge... those being Mechcommander and Mechcommander 2. Real time play with no resources to worry about. Just units. And salvaged units between missions.

    Actually scratch that - I did like Sins of a Solar Empire. But that one is dune 2 crossed with ci

    • by Reapman ( 740286 )

      I just had to respond since I've never met anyone else that's ever played Crescent Hawks Revenge... that was an amazing game, especially for it's time. Although a part of me actually wished it was more Turn Based style :p

      • by dtolman ( 688781 ) <> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @12:55PM (#26076661) Homepage

        One of the benefits of PC gaming is that, assuming you keep your mitts on all your bits, you can whip out old games and replay them years later. I did a full replay of CH:R about 10 years ago, and did a partial replay 2 years ago. I'm actually working my way though mechcomander 1/expansion/2 right now... great games. Always loved the whole idea of battlefield salvage as your primary resource, not to mention the fun in mixing-matching-and customizing mechs.

        Also - you're right that its a shame about the real time. To this date the ONLY turn based AAA battletech title ever released was the Crescent Hawks Inception - a fantastic RPG/tactical wargame hybrid - one that I replay much more often than its sequel.

  • Dune II was probably the first game I was truly addicted too... first I pulled all nighters playing anyway.

    There may have been previous real-time strategy games, but this was certainly the one that got the genre started. Not long after that, Blizzard released what was essentially a fantasy clone of Dune II with Warcraft. And once C&C and Warcraft II kicked in with online multi-player, the genre was huge.

  • I call bullshit. There was a game Nether Earth on ZX Spectrum, which was real-time strategy game, and had all the concepts as Dune 2, and even more.

    In the game, you could build your own robots, you needed to capture factories to get parts for the robots, and you could even send robots to a mission and they worked by themselves depending on the orders you gave them. All this in 48kB of memory in 1985.

  • Herzog Twei (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zwets ( 645911 ) <[jan.niestadt] [at] []> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @09:04AM (#26073553) Homepage
    Herzog Zwei [] came before Dune II.
    • [] came before Herzog Zwei ;) but... yurk!!
    • by dtolman ( 688781 )
      Utopia came out long before that on the Intellivision console. And Ancient Art of War (plus its sequels) came out soon afterwards on the PC.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Madsy ( 1049678 )
      Herzog Zwei rocks, and I still occasionally play it. It's kind of strange that no one has taken the concept further. To play as a unit instead of using a mouse is ingenious. And would fit perfectly on today's TV consoles as well. Sounds like a nice little XNA project to me.
  • C&C 1 is free (Score:3, Informative)

    by Farmer Pete ( 1350093 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @10:32AM (#26074459)
    I just thought this was a good time to remind people that for the 12th aniversary, Westwood started giving away C&C I gold edition free. I can't find the download on their website any more, but gamespot [] has it mirrored.
    • I can't seem to get into old games. I think it's neat until I start to play it and then realise that I can get the same experience with better graphics in a modern game. Perhaps I'm just not very nostalgic.

  • In 1989, Westwood released a little-known game called "Battletech: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge." This game developed a lot of the ideas that would later be polished in Dune 2 and, in my opinion, deserves more credit for really kicking off the genre than Dune 2 does: Dune 2 really just took the same ideas and refined them into a more successful game.'s_Revenge []

    • And a damn fun game it was as well.

      That said I found it incredibly difficult. Some of the scenarios I had to play like 5 times to get through.

      But for a Battletech fan that game just rocked.

  • In the early 90's Infocom released the Crescent Hawk's Revenge. It was an RTS, no resource harvesting or manufacturing but it played out in real-time as you moved your units around and shot at stuff. Extremely primitive by today's standards but fun back in the day. That game royally kicked my ass.

  • you mean RTT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NuShrike ( 561140 ) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:26PM (#26083561)

    RTS means you send units out to some location and let them sort it out while one plans the bigger picture of the war -- not the individual battles.

    RTT is where you send units out to some location and micromanage each battle out. Most of the "RTS" games are really only RTT.

    Also, Herzog Zwei predates Dune II and better qualifies as one of the first RTT games.

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner