Battling the Bentusi and the Value of Death in RTS Games

Battling the Bentusi and the Value of Death in RTS Games

If there's one thing many RTS titles share it's a hefty body count. That said, how do you make digital casualties matter and why did Homeworld get it so right?

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I believe the frigates dying in seconds later in the campaign is a bug.
There is a mod out (Remastered Rebalanced v0.32) that points out that the armour penetration effectiveness of the Heavy Cruiser ion beams is set to 100 (ie. it ignores ship armour entirely), where in the original game it was 50.
With the very high base damage these ships have they'll essentially vaporize frigates left and right, where in the original they'd generally need at least 2 shots to get the same effect (and their ion cannon have substantial recharge time).

A quote from the Mod patch notes:

Major Balancing:

- Taiidan and Kushan Heavy Cruiser Ions fixed. These were doing twice as much damage to frigates as they were meant to in the new engine. Penetration vs Medium Armour from 100% to 50%

- Taiidan and Kushan Destroyers Ions fixed. These weren't overperforming to the same scale as Heavy Cruisers, but were outputting roughly the health value of two whole assault frigates in damage per shot. Penetration vs Medium Armour from 100% to 60%

Yeah, the speech from homeworld cataclysm was probably some of the best voice acting and writing I'd heard in a game up to that point, and still remains as top notch even today.

I was almost able to quote it word for word before I read your transcripted version of it.

Honestly I think one of the best things about cataclysm was the dialogue. The different advisors/sector commanders arguing with each other, the chatter of the ships as they fought. It was all really, really cool. And the beast becomes a unique enemy to fight.

Its been many years since I last played Cataclysm, something I should remedy really since I still have the disks. None the less I still remember the amazing voice acting throughout the game. Another moment I remember quite vividly is an early mission where you have to

The desperation and regret from the guy yelling at fleet command really sells it.

Controlling cannon fodder is one of the reasons I dislike most RTS games. And games like Heroes of Might and Magic. I want to care about my units. I don't want a disposable pawn with numbers attached to it. Even simple kill counts or units that level up, like in Tiberian Sun or Red Alert 2, help in making me care about my units. The way Homeworld does it is great, too. If that first destroyer I captured dies, I'll feel genuinely distressed if it has survived many battles. If it's just one of several I just built for a suicide assault on a heavily defended carrier, I just won't really care about it beyond its cost in resources.

It's sort of made the old Dawn of War game's persistent corpses so endearing, we threw lives away without thinking, but the remains long scared the battlefield afterwards. It was an interesting blend of expendibility and death (as per the theme of 40k) but lasting impact from their deaths.

To be honest this is sort of the point of playing a game as a commander. In real life to be a leader in the military you need to be separate, and somewhat aloof from your men, you need to be able to take care of them, but ultimately be willing to send them off to die as part of a greater plan. This is why so much effort is made to separate officers from the enlisted a lot of the time. As nice as it is to read about some heroic commander caring about their men, and respecting them as individuals, as opposed to someone who say spends their lives easily, in the real world that's not practical or expedient. Being able to send hundreds if not thousands of people to their deaths without them knowing why without becoming a complete sociopath is one of the reasons why being a commander is so hard. At the end of the day as a commander your troops are an extension of your will, your weapon so to speak, and once you start worrying too much about your weapon as opposed to winning it guarantees your going to lose, sort of like someone in personal combat who becomes so worries he might ruin the polish on his sword that he gets himself killed by taking too much care of what is ultimately a weapon that can be replaced.

Video games ultimately do a good job of showing the realities of war from a number of perspectives. In a small scale game with adventurers you of course tend to empathize with them and form strong individual opinions. When you move up to squad level such as X-com you can also empathize with your troops, but ultimately understand that any individual is ultimately disposable and realistically your going to take losses to succeed. Losing a favorite trooper can thus cause some reaction, but in well designed squad games your going to carry on after your victory and accept that loss as the price of warfare. On a grand strategy level where your moving squad, task forces, armies, and fleets, you of course have to be entirely detached from your troops as individuals.

In a game like "Homeworld" at the end of the day you have a very specific objective, while you want to preserve as many troops as possible, everyone and everything is expendable in the scope of the overall objective. Basically if you can't accept that, you don't belong in the Commander's seat.

That said there is such a thing as being a responsible commander as well, but that can't be confused with empathy, since at the end of the day as the commander your inevitably going to have to say order a bunch of people unknowingly to suicide in one area so you can say come around the back with another unit, or distract the enemy while you do something else, or simply soften up targets with less impressive units like infantry so your more valuable units like armor can carry the day.

One of the big reasons why I would never join the US military today is because I do not believe the current command is worthy of my life or service, mainly because of the way it's been unable to stand up to left wing politicians. Some people wonder at the ease of which I talk about wiping out thousands or millions of people at times as part of total war strategies, and that is in part because I believe the military has a responsibility to our own troops to fight as effectively as possible to minimize our own casualties even at terrifying cost to enemy cultures. Basically if we have a target, and a bomb that can destroy the target but will kill a thousand enemy civilians and a substantial part of their local infrastructure, I believe the military has a moral responsibility to it's own men to use that weapon. After all if you send in a bunch of troops in hummers with maybe a bit of limited capability air support to take the objective your going to lose people, people who would not die if they weren't being forced to fight gun to gun with the enemy when the option existed to win the battle with the push of a button (so to speak). Men and Women who volunteer for national service, or are drafted as a part of national responsibility (which hasn't happened in the US for a very long time) should be respected, and that means while you might have to send them off to die, you don't do so when you have any other option and other tools at your disposal. When you start putting other peoples above the lives of the people pledged to nationals service, for ANY reason, I view that as being a problem. Of course one of the other problems with American engagement policy is that our incompetent techniques are such that they inevitably lead to our own people empathizing with the enemy and the surrounding culture, and that represents a problem for warriors who should be ready to kill people and break things at a moment's notice. Empathy is for the diplomats, once the fighting starts it's a weakness. Historically speaking the most well conditioned and brutal militaries have tended to prevail, oftentimes the end of entire empires coming about when the military goes emotionally soft, and then runs into an opposing force that is as hard as steel. Sometimes being ironic when an empire carved out based on merciless military action falls because it became as soft as those it defeated, while their conquerors or destroyers are hard the way they used to be.

All of the above is of course debatable, but that's my opinion on the subject, basically if I was in the military I'd accept that I might have to die being thrown against some fortification if no other options were present. I do not accept being blown up by an IED or by some dude firing from a crowd while patrolling around in an area where such things are only occurring because some moralist decided to "humanely" try and secure the area rather than using all of our tools to render it safe even if that means killing everyone. I am not going to get my own head blown off so some politician and his pet generals can sit back in an easy chair, sipping ice tea, and making statements to the media and anti-war crowd about how nice we're being during this whole thing. I don't care if they also talk about great respect for the troops, it's not respect when you see these same things happening again and again while the military hold back, and some "leaders" even talk about wanting our troops to not carry loaded weapons at times.

In a RTS game it would be like me refusing to use artillery or actually attack the enemy base on a very easy map, and then just making firing lines of infantry, causing endless deaths on both sides while nothing is resolved and the bases on both sides endlessly perpetuate the conflict with neither side being willing (or in the case of this AI able to) to put an end to it. Sitting there as the player I could empathically proclaim "OMG, I don't want to kill the poor factory workers we can't see within those buildings, for all the soldiers running out with guns inside someone is obviously working in the mess hall and I can't kiiiill them". That by definition making me a crappy commander, and also represents an oddly accurate picture of US military politics.

Therumancer:
Snip.

It's certainly a balancing act that not many are capable of. What's nice about games like Homeworld and Total War is that they force their commanders to play both the 'short' game and the 'long' game.

You have to get VERY used to the idea that people under your command are going to die, but you won't be served by just throwing lives away.

I'd argue that a good commander avoids engagement unless he can give his command the best chance of success in battle and success afterward. This is why it's poor form to raze every city you conquer in Total War... while you get a temporary boost to your wealth, you'll just be dealing with a rebellion a few turns later. And for some reason, when one city rebels; more than a few tend to go with it.

The best military officers make sure they never have to fight over the same ground twice.

With that in mind, I can appreciate the mindset of certain attitudes in modern military campaigns...but I wish they would realize that it can only be served to a point.

senordesol:

Therumancer:
Snip.

It's certainly a balancing act that not many are capable of. What's nice about games like Homeworld and Total War is that they force their commanders to play both the 'short' game and the 'long' game.

You have to get VERY used to the idea that people under your command are going to die, but you won't be served by just throwing lives away.

I'd argue that a good commander avoids engagement unless he can give his command the best chance of success in battle and success afterward. This is why it's poor form to raze every city you conquer in Total War... while you get a temporary boost to your wealth, you'll just be dealing with a rebellion a few turns later. And for some reason, when one city rebels; more than a few tend to go with it.

The best military officers make sure they never have to fight over the same ground twice.

With that in mind, I can appreciate the mindset of certain attitudes in modern military campaigns...but I wish they would realize that it can only be served to a point.

Well, it depends on the game your playing of course and what strategy your using. I've oftentimes felt that the guys who do "Total War" don't know what "Total War" actually is and meant it more in the sense of being a "Totally complete wargame" than the actual military concept of Total War as opposed to limited war. It also seems to be limited by using historical campaigns, and I suspect the mechanics are intended to keep things somewhat within that context, entirely wiping out anyone in those games seems to be difficult as the RNG tends to mess with you more and more as you do that to encourage a resolution more akin to what happened during the period being fought in.

In a more open game like "Master Of Orion" and some others, albeit we're going turn based here, razing planets and such tends to be a strategic decision more than anything. If you try and conquer every planet you come to and add it to your empire your going to wind up with some serious problems since unless you have technologies to say replace everyone with robots your asking for trouble, and can eventually wind up with multiple planets rebelling all the time all from being conquered. What's more especially early on wiping out planets and rendering them uninhabitable can prevent other races from using them as springboards for their ships, as they can only move X distance from their nearest colony. Conquering a colony that's a key springboard just means they will keep fighting over it and you'll wind up spending more time defending it and trying to build infrastructure than focusing elsewhere. You can do more damage by say breaking out the bio weapons and making it into a death world (inevitably everyone hates you anyway so who cares) or whatever options the game your playing allows.

I think we're more on the same page about needing varied tactics for different situations. The point of such simulations is that you have to sometimes be utterly ruthless both towards your men and especially towards your rivals. If you worry too much about the troops or the morality of what your doing, you will inevitably lose, or make things far more difficult for you. This does not mean you should throw troops away casually or destroy things without purpose. In the end every soldier you lose in one place is one you don't have to use somewhere else, and/or more time you need to spend producing a replacement and taking resources away from something else. Of course that's also why you don't screw around and do things as effectively as possible. After all the fleet you have depending a colony you just captured might be better used pushing the offensive elsewhere, so if I have the range simply razing a colony and moving on to the next one can be a better move, especially if I'm in the endgame and am working to annihilate a race as opposed to simply protect territory or whatever.

Homeworld conveyed a deep sense of loss, loneliness, and vulnerability. The Mothership and its cohort were all you had in the incomprehensible vastness of space. When ships stayed with you under such conditions, each one felt like a precious jewel to be cared for and preserved as long as possible.

Not once in any Homeworld game did I "just sacrifice a wave of whatevers to keep the bad guys busy" like you do in StarCraft. I had repair corvettes working behind my attackers at all times. I paused dogfights every few seconds to withdraw damaged interceptors. Not because it was good strategy (though I'm sure I came out ahead) but because I felt like every pilot mattered.

Remastered does a good enough job with this that I felt like a failure when I lost one cryo-tray (I was rusty). It does a piss-poor job of making ships last like they did in the original. Not sure why that is, but you're going to hear "frigate lost" every three seconds or so in any major engagement. You can't even get repair corvettes started on them, they're just dead, quicker than fighters in most cases.

Bentusi16:
Yeah, the speech from homeworld cataclysm was probably some of the best voice acting and writing I'd heard in a game up to that point, and still remains as top notch even today.

I was almost able to quote it word for word before I read your transcripted version of it.

Honestly I think one of the best things about cataclysm was the dialogue. The different advisors/sector commanders arguing with each other, the chatter of the ships as they fought. It was all really, really cool. And the beast becomes a unique enemy to fight.

Now you've gone and meta-ed up the thread.

thaluikhain:

Bentusi16:
Yeah, the speech from homeworld cataclysm was probably some of the best voice acting and writing I'd heard in a game up to that point, and still remains as top notch even today.

I was almost able to quote it word for word before I read your transcripted version of it.

Honestly I think one of the best things about cataclysm was the dialogue. The different advisors/sector commanders arguing with each other, the chatter of the ships as they fought. It was all really, really cool. And the beast becomes a unique enemy to fight.

Now you've gone and meta-ed up the thread.

Yeaaaaah

I like the idea of a space faring race that's highly advanced but has decided not to conquer the universe and instead focuses on just collecting stories because they know their likely to live forever and everyone else is not.

And if you do piss them off they just wreck your shit.

In fact the mission before this or the one before that you run into a bentusi tradeship that is just now encountering the beast, and they're like "psh yeah if they attack us they'll get theres" and then the beast hits them and they're like OH SHIT PANIC which sets off the mission he describes in the article. It brings them down from god-status and was a nice touch, especially considering how being infected by the beasts is even worse for the Bentusi then it is for other peoples.

Edit: Oh, and the Bentusi also act as a sort of 'worf affect' for the beast. Because they are EXTREMELY powerful and wipe out your fleet like it's child play, but even they are fleeing en masse. They are so afraid of this thing they are actually leaving the physical galaxy to try and escape it.

It wasn't mentioned how they went the extra mile to make you care about your units by giving units experience. Those stars above each unit's health bar tell you how experienced they are. Experienced units move faster and do more damage. It's incredibly heartbreaking when you lose your veteran ships because of the attachment and you have for them and the fact that they are actually more powerful. It's like they put a little bit of X-Com in my RTS and i love them all the more for it.

"Regret?! We regret the loss of the whole sand-cursed galaxy! Stop murdering us and help us kill the Beast!"

I have only played maybe three missions in any games ever which had that kind of emotional impact. Flinging your forces which you spent so much time caring for, building, advancing, at an enemy which couldn't be touched was really painful and your frustration and anger was matched perfectly by Command as he torched the Bentusi with his words. I still think Homeworld: Cataclysm is one of the best games ever made.

I've finished replaying Cataclysm last Sunday and that mission gave me the chills.

Also, "This is Somtaaw Warship Kuun-lan" in the final mission after the entire game of going as "Somtaaw Mining ship Kuun-lan" <3

 

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