Game Development Reference
called “protagonists,” from the Greek roots proto meaning “first” and agoniste mean-
ing “competitor.” In that, the RTS game type is the ultimate dramatic fantasy, al-
lowing the player to be an epic protagonist on the scale of Alexander the Great or
Developers of RTS, in creating these virtual domination fantasies, seem to be
caught in a strangely reminiscent competitive game, attempting to conquer one an-
other perpetually to define the RTS game type.
In the years that followed the release of Dune II , the battle to “one-up” each another
ensued. Resource types, unit types, new races, better artificial intelligence (AI), it was
all a bit of a mechanic's shop. 1997 saw the release of a game called Total Annihilation ,
arguably the birth of second-generation RTS from a mechanics standpoint. It wasn't
until the next year that storytelling would see second-generation content, with the
release of a well-known science-fiction title, StarCraft , from Blizzard Entertainment.
The storyline was epic in nature, covering three eons, or episodes, which dealt with
the rise and fall of three races. Though at first blush not more than an evolved Dune
II , what was most interesting about StarCraft was the fact that playing through the
entire single-player game required the player to assume control of three very different
sides in the conflict. And each episode of gameplay reinforced the abilities of the race
to which it was ascribed.
The next year, 1999, a little-known Vancouver developer, Relic Entertainment,
released its launch title Homeworld . Though in play mechanics the game built on
the foundation of RTS, it created a new expectation for an engrossing storyline.
Since then, RTS evolution has centered again on technology, as evidenced by Blizzard
Entertainment's 2002 release, the ever popular Warcraft III , and Ensemble Studios
Age of Mythology , being works that crossed us culturally into third-generation RTS.
Stories and battlefield realism were becoming key to the RTS experience, and fans
In 2006 and 2007, Relic Entertainment became one of the top RTS develop-
ers, with the release of Company of Heroes and Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
( COH ), games akin to Avalon Hill's Advanced Squad Leader . COH brought the RTS
game type to a new level of realism with tactical gameplay and dramatic story previ-
ously unseen in the RTS genre. With top-notch multiplayer and single-player design,
riveting storyline, rich characters, and the beauty of the game engine Essence, COH
created a new standard by which to measure third-generation RTS.
As the RTS game type crosses into the fourth generation, game makers would
be apt to study what makes an RTS storyline and how to better craft it. I have had
the good fortune to work on and around a few of the largest RTS franchises to date,
Command & Conquer , Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth , Wa r hamme r
40,000: Dawn of War ,and Company of Heroes . While at Relic Entertainment, THQ's
internal development studio, I held the position of Narrative Designer, releasing my