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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

StarCraft vs. Total Annihilation

You read correctly: we're bringing back the 12 year old argument.  This might seem irrelevant to some, seeing as both games have essentially had sequels (StarCraft II and Supreme Commander), but it should provide some insight into how we should view Starcraft II nonetheless.

Let's begin with a quick history lesson.  Total Annihilation (TA) and StarCraft (SC) were two of the biggest and best RTS games in the first ever (official) decade of the genre, the 90's.  In 1992, Dune 2 was released by Westwood Studios, who you may recognize as the makers of the Command and Conquer (C&C) games.  The genre 'RTS' was coined at this time, although there had technically existed RTS games in the 1980's

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans was released by Blizzard Entertainment in 1994, followed by Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness in 1995.  The first C&C came out in the same year.  This competition between Blizzard and Westwood led to a boom in the RTS genre, and gifted us with some of the most intense PC games of all time.

In 1997, two great RTS titles were released: Total Annihilation, followed by Dark Reign.  Haven't heard of Dark Reign?  It's a critically acclaimed game that received very little attention due to the release of TA.  The following year, of course, came 1998's StarCraft, which rocked TA in terms of popularity.

StarCraft was huge.  Ginormous.  It generated so much attention in South Korea, in fact, that it led to a professional gaming circuit.  The game is still being played 12 years later by a large number of people; a significant feat.

So what happened to Total Annihilation?  Why didn't it succeed in the same way that StarCraft did?  Let us compare the games, and find out where TA went so, so right, but fell short of becoming a cultural phenomenon like SC.
 Let's start with some main points for both sides.  If anyone has any opinions, shout them out and we'll cover those aspects of both games in more detail.

Points for Total Annihilation
1) TA has more units and buildings than SC.
2) TA has more interesting, less contrived maps than SC.
3) TA has a 3D physics engine; projectiles pass through space and may hit other targets, or trees, or simply miss altogether.  This adds the importance of terrain and more accurately portrays the advanrages/disadvantages of weapons.  (Eg. lasers > artillery fire in flat areas; artillery > lasers in rough terrain)  SC is 2D and bullets automatically hit.
4) TA more accurately portrays scale; the largest artillery pieces can shoot across maps, but are highly inaccurate.  In SC, the range difference of different units is minor, meaning that range is a statistic that counts for less (since marines can simply walk up to a siege tank if they notice it is shooting at them).
5) TA has a more elegant economic system (ie. rate/drain system versus workers carrying back resources).
6) TA is easily moddable; in fact, for the first 10 or so weeks after it came out, Cavedog Entertainment added a new unit to the game to be downloaded and used online.  SC could only add units through expansion sets because the units were hard coded into the game.

Points for StarCraft
1) SC has a far better story than TA.
2) SC has a far more user friendly map editor.
3) SC has three very distinct, well balanced factions (after expansion).  TA has two very similar factions.

I'll leave it at that for now and add more in the upcoming days.  I'd like to hear what people think about the two games.  Or if you're just a StarCraft junky, then let's hear what you love about the game.

- DR Moniz


  1. Awaiting a review of SC2 lol I'm curious to see your personal comparisons between it and the supcom franchise.

  2. You missed another point:

    TA has no real skill required. I was a amateur/pro gamer of SC. Spent 2 days looking at TA replays and then went on to beat any TA player who thought SC was awful. :) These people had been playing for years...

  3. Your reasons for TA not requiring skill aren't logically valid, Rob.

    Consider that TA didn't receive as much attention as SC, so it's unlikely that the truly skilled players would have been there to play against.

    Also, just because you've played something for years doesn't mean you improve. If you're a scrub playing against scrubs, there's not necessarily motivation to improve.

    Lastly, it could just be that you're really good at RTS games!

  4. Yeah, I don't really get the lack of skill comment. TA is just as busy as Starcraft. There are always more things to do. You can micro your units if you want to, ie. if you deem it more of a priority to win a specific battle than to expand your base or work on some other macro element.

    There were a few SupCom pros who were masters of Total Annihilation back in the day, and it's pretty clear that their skills transferred nicely. Unless you're going to tell us that SupCom doesn't require skill either...

    There are people who play TA to this day. It doesn't mean they are good players; just that they love the format.

    The review is just about done. I do draw comparisons to Supreme Commander, but a full-on SupCom/SC2 debate is called for. I will work on that soon.

  5. the main drawback fo TA for me is the missing hotkeys for building. it's really cumbersome to move your mouse away from the battlefield all the time. i can imagine that this didnt suit well with anyone trying to play more seriously.

  6. I know I'm a bit late but I can give you a bunch of reasons why starcraft is better then TA.
    1) TA is so freaking slow and sluggish. It takes so freaking long to do anything
    2) Resources are junk, especially metal. Infinite energy with very finite metal and the building to gather each can be destroyed by a single shot of anything
    3)In TA if you lose the commander it's over, that's lame
    4)Story sucks (you covered this but it sucks so bad I felt I had to restate it) no depth of character and you have very little information about why you are fighting other then you are
    5)No way an IA should be that freaking good. It sees you at all times, knows where you are, knows where you are weak and attacks those weak spots
    6)The LoS is stupid limited in TA, You can't see crap but as I've stated before, the AI sees you completely while you have a very VERY limited LoS (line of sight)
    7)It is NOT balanced at ALL, and don't let anyone tell you it is. The core gets a huge freaking death dealing robot while the arm gets big bertha which is a huge turret but everyone gets better turrets then the arm's special. A big bertha can NOT defeat the core's special giant robot thingie. Turrets are basically crap anyway as almost everything you make can stand at a distance and snipe them.
    7)Most of the things your units fight in TA are out of your line of sight which means they shoot out of your sight so you have no idea what they are shooting at unless you move your forces closer. Let that sink in, your units shoot farther then you can see, that tell you how crappy your line of sight is

    I've given you 7 good reasons why TA is crap,

  7. To the poster above raging at TA: Sorry, but very ignorant and inaccurate on several accounts. I'm guessing you're not very familiar with either game.

    1) You can change the speed of TA. On the highest speed setting (+10), you will see large armies fighting each other in the same amount of time it would take for an initial rush in Starcraft.

    2) Metal is also infinite. There are structures called metal makers that convert it from energy. And of course, if the map itself is metal, then it is virtually infinite as energy itself. But this is moot, because we're comparing it to Starcraft where minerals are VERY finite (I've played dozens of games where I stalemated my opponent because we exhausted a map's minerals). Vespene geysers are depleted just as quick, and unlike in TA, there is no way to convert resources.

    3) Completely wrong. In singleplayer the game is over if you lose your commander, yes, but that's like how the game is over in SC if you lose ANY hero unit. But for multiplayer, there is an option to permit the game to continue after the commander dies.

    4) Yeah, TA's story sucks compared to SC.

    5) TA's AI can be pretty brutal. It tends to cheat more than SC, I'll give you that, but at least you could adjust the difficulty.

    6) Line of sight is also adjustable in the options when setting up a match. The only valid complaint is that the AI sees all, which is sadly true. But SC has the same problem, where the computer will know exactly which starting base to rush while you're still scouting the map.

    7) Actually, the point of the Big Bertha is not to destroy the Krogoth. It isn't a counterpart at all. What it does, is decimate the enemy's base and potentially snipe key targets like fusion reactors and commanders. Now, your point stands that Core has an edge with the Krogoth, but your reasoning is flawed because Core has it's own Big Bertha, the Intimidator. This is where fan mods like TAESC come into play.

    8) (Your second 7, I presume) Yes, many units can shoot further than they see. This is why radar, scouts (especially aerial units) and unit formations play such a big role.

    Now, some actual pros SC has over TA:
    Story is obvious, but balance is also a huge thing, as mentioned. Not only are the three races incredibly balanced, but so are their units. Pretty much every unit can play an integral role, whereas in TA, with its hugely impressive selection of units, you can probably go through a game without ever so much as considering to build half of them. SC also has a much better interface with sensible hotkeys and an easy way to utilize the many special abilities of its units. And lastly, kind of related, SC's units have much, much more personality than TA's lego armies.