May 5, 2007

Supreme Commander Technical Review

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After participating for months in the beta program, I picked up Supreme Commander the day it came out. Since then, I’ve played the game both casually and competitively for hundreds of hours. I can confidently say from personal experience that the game is truly revolutionary in the real time strategy genre.
By stepping up the scale of the game, Supreme Commander gives you more of everything, action included. The larger scale also allows new things, especially strategies, to be feasible. For first-time players, it will be like transitioning from rock-paper-scissors to chess. The game’s user interface has evolved and grown to accommodate this expanded style of play. Many low-level actions can now be automated by the game’s artificial intelligence. Also, one of the most hyped features is the ability to zoom all the way out to a large map view using your scroll wheel.


This viewpoint is very suitable for inspecting the intelligence you’ve gathered, planning your strategies, and giving movement commands. It may take some time to get used to all the different symbols, but that’s part of the learning curve of this hybrid genre, in which economy, intelligence, and logistics are more important relative to their roles in classical real time strategy games. Due to the increased complexity of the game, many more strategies become practical. This leads to rich, diverse, and ultimately fun gameplay.
Supreme Commander’s graphics engine utilizes extremely aggressive line-of-sight culling and level-of-detail systems to keep the frame rate as high as possible. The rendering is very sophisticated and detailed considering the size of the maps and the amount of units allowed. However, the artistic style is not for everyone. It forgoes flashy effects and complex, high-detail models for speed, simplicity, and utility. A DirectX 10 patch is in the works, though, that promises to boost rendering quality.


Supreme Commander’s physics engine is also extremely sophisticated, performing fairly accurate path simulations for all projectiles. This allows players to use terrain and unit micromanagement to gain advantages in battles. The path-finding system is also quite ambitious: units will prioritize their targets and will attempt to form into sensible formations when commanded. It still needs some tweaking, because large groups are slow to respond and occasionally split up, get stuck, or take incorrect paths. Fortunately, Gas Powered Games is dedicated to the game and regularly releases patches and solicits opinions from players.
The community has already begun releasing modifications and maps to play, even without official tools. The game is easily extensible, thanks to its use of the LUA scripting language for content. Recently, I have been enjoying an adaptation of the “Footman Frenzy” mode from Warcraft 3 called “Mech Marine Mania.” As history has shown with many games, community-created content can be responsible for a large portion of a game’s popularity, and I have no doubt that this will be the case for Supreme Commander.