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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.