A while ago, I was looking through some old computer games on my bookshelf, and I came across my copies of Age of Empires 2: Gold Edition and Rise of Nations: Gold Edition. I’d not played either of those games in many years, and suddenly remembered all the fun multiplayer matches I used to play with friends.
In my senior year of high school, I took a couple computer courses. One was a computer hardware course, and, since there wasn’t much actual course material (mainly because there was no formal final exam), most of what we did comprised of repairing computers from the school’s several computer labs. Those moments were not that frequent, so what did classmates and I do to waste time in that class? We played PC games. More often than not, we had LAN matches on Age of Empires 2 (using The Conquerors expansion). We had just enough time each class to just about finish a game, as class periods were 90-minutes.
This was back in the day when the real-time strategy genre was at its most popular. It’s been almost a decade since the genre began to fall from popularity, so, in case you’re not familiar with it, i’ll give you a basic summary. In Age of Empires 2, you play as one of several nations, and start with some villagers and a Town Center. From there, you create new villagers, gather resources, construct new buildings, research techs and upgrades, create military units, and wage war on opponents.
What really identifies these games as RTS, though, is (a) how long a typical game can take (upwards of at least an hour) and (b) resource gathering and ability researching. These are typically not quick games to play, and require focus on micromanaging all of your various units. Keep track of villagers at your base(s) as they gather resources, monitor your military units as they patrol the map, make sure you keep checking for available upgrades. It’s time consuming and requires a bit of focus.
So that’s basically how a real-time strategy game works. I’m not saying the genre has completely died out, just that it’s not as popular as it once was. Back in the day, we had franchises like Age of Empires and Rise of Nations, which were very popular. Thing with this genre, though, is that it works best on the PC. Some attempts were made to introduce it to the console, perhaps the most successful being the Pikmin games on the Gamecube.
In the Pikmin games, you foster an army of Pikmin creatures (three types in the first game, and five types in the second game), defeat enemy monsters, carry them back to base where they act as resources that spawn additional Pikmin. You then use your armies of Pikmin to retrieve lost objects and overcome obstacles. RTS games generally need keyboards so you can switch between units quickly, but the Pikmin games played out well enough with just a GCN controller.
Anyway, AoE2 was really my introduction to the franchise. After learning the mechanics of that game, I also discovered cheat codes, and my friends and I eventually banned those from our LAN matches (AoE2 offers the ability to disable cheat codes in multiplayer). Rise of Nations was released soon thereafter, and I started mastering that game.
I don’t know what caused the lack of interest in this genre, but after RoN was released, it fell somewhat out of popularity. We still have some RTS games, like Starcraft 2 and the Civilization games, and Pikmin 3 is in production for Wii U, but it’s not as it once was.
I guess another popular representation of this genre is League of Legends, at least what I remember of it. There’s not so much ability research that goes on, or manual unit construction. You play as a character accompanied by minions that automatically spawn from points at your base. These units cannot be directly controlled. Your main character gains exp. from the minions you kill (or the opposing champion, should you manage that), and you level up. You choose different abilities to boost from each level gained. Destroying certain enemy buildings causes your base to spawn more powerful minions. LoL is similar to older RTS games, but not exactly of that genre. Either way, LoL, Starcraft, perhaps Pikmin, those games are reminiscent of the RTS genre and are popular nowadays.
As I mentioned, I found my old copy of Rise of Nations, and decided to give it a try, for old time’s sake. The game still holds up rather well, but then again, I love games like that. The only problem I have is multiplayer. When RoN was installed, I noticed an icon for GameSpy Arcade on the desktop. I have no idea if GameSpy Arcade is even still a thing. It was a service launched in early 2000. The site still seems to exist, but I don’t know how much in use the service is.
The thing is, I’d like to play some multiplayer games of RoN (or maybe even AoE2) with friends. A quick Google search told me the best service to use for this is Hamachi, which I’ve only ever used for Terraria servers. The next problem would be to find other people who still have the game.
So yeah. RoN. AoE2. RTS games. Still a favorite genre of mine, even if it’s not that popular anymore.