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RTS - Real Time Strategy

Most real-time strategy games force the player into the role of "general" of a battlefield, or some kind of supreme commander position. Early games have you managing small armies in battles or wars, each one of which takes place as you tell your units where to stand and who to fight. You command a set number of units and try to defeat an opponent with similarly set resources. This is the model for the Ancient Art of War, Syndicate, BattleTech: Crescent Hawk's Revenge, Myth.

Other, later RTS games featured "resource management" where you were responsibly for gathering resources and turning those resources into military might to turn against your opponent. This is the model pioneered by Dune II, and picked up in earnest by Warcraft, Command and Conquer, Total Annihilation, Age of Empires, Starcraft and Homeworld. When most gamers think of RTS games, these are the types of games they imagine.

There have been wargames for centuries. RTS games are different because the game progresses without interruption so you can't pause to take stock of the situation.


In the resource management types of RTS games, there is seldom an idle moment. To win, you must be constantly clicking between the resources, the factories and your units to keep the process you're managing efficient. These games are efficiency simulators, where the results fuel some tactical battle simulation. In a two player match, the more efficient player can make more units. But they must make the right balance of units to beat the other player. Often in early games these matchups took the familiar form of Rock Paper and Scissors; in the Ancient Art of War, "archers beat swordsmen who beat barbarians who beat archers, and really, only archers could take or defend a castle." (Handlebar Pete, User Review, Gamers.com, 12/16/99). These games trade on unit specialties.

Year Squad or Resource Game Title Significance
1984SquadAncient Art of War Very early RTS featuring simple squad based battles. Could you generate units? Can't remember.
1992ResourceSim City City management Sim enlarged the field of gameplaying with the city-building form, and brought in many new players.
1992ResourceDune II: The Battle for Arakis First breakthrough RTS coordinating three balanced army-types and in-game resource management.
1993SquadSyndicate Squad based RTS in Cyberpunk
1995ResourceWarcraft II Lots of LAN play in colleges
1995ResourceCommand and Conquer First game to be played online extensively.
1997ResourceTotal Annihilation Introduced the command unit.
1997ResourceAge of Empires First big historical RTS
1997SquadMyth RTS featuring flexible user cameras over 3D terrain
1998ResourceStarcraft Wildly popular RTS game that became the basis for professional RTS gaming. A breakthrough hit, making RTS games popular to a mainstream audience.
1999ResourceHomeworld Fully 3D RTS staged in space, where you can rotate around the pretty ships.
2000ResourceMajesty Fantasy RTS that abandoned unit control for a system of incentives.

Was MULE an RTS?

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