Supreme Commander Interview (PC)
Chris Taylor opens up (a little bit) speaking about his new RTS and the future of the genre.
By John ‘;Warrior’; Keefer | July 8, 2005
Chris Taylor had been in the gaming industry for a few years before moving to CaveDog to start working on the game that would secure his name as one of the young guns of the game design scene. Total Annihilation was not a runaway best seller, but it and the two subsequent expansions sold more than a million units. The game developed a strong community with mapmakers and mods that is still thriving today. To many is is arguably the best RTS of all time.
So it is with some anticipation that fans are looking forward to his next RTS. He makes it clear that he is not making Total Annihilation 2 and makes every effort to distance himself from that name. But he is going back to his roots, to a genre he loves. So we cornered him to get more on his next futuristic wargame.

GameSpy: Take us back to the concept phase of Supreme Commander. You always wanted to do a Total Annihilation 2, but that didn’;t work out. What was the thought behind moving to a “spiritual successor?”
Taylor: As a game designer I have my own view of what I think an RTS is all about. When I sat down to design Supreme Commander, I tried to visualize the experience in fresh and interesting new ways. The first was my realizing that although we call this genre “Real-Time Strategy,” it should have been called “Real-Time Tactics” with a dash of strategy thrown in. The goal with Supreme Commander was to really deliver the strategy, by opening up the game to an enormous theatre of war, with some incredible, never-seen-before Super Units, that absolutely require the player to think strategically before attempting to deploy them into the field.
GameSpy: Can you talk about the attempts to get the license from Atari? It must be a bit frustrating to want to do a sequel, but not be able to get the rights.
Taylor: Well, I can speculate on that a bit here, or I can say that the way things worked out were almost perfect. Leaving TA behind forced me to create a new game from scratch, and to move ahead unencumbered. This is what I should have been doing all along.

GameSpy: What do you know about the aborted attempt at TA 2 by Phantagram? Didn’;t they approach you to help with the project?
Taylor: I really don’;t know that much about the project that isn’;t already public. Early on I was contacted by the folks at Phantagram, but we didn’;t get too deep, we made introductions and lightly dabbled with the notion of working together … things didn’;t go much further than that.
GameSpy: Enough about the past. Tell us what Supreme Commander brings to the RTS genre. What does it do different or how does it expand on existing RTS fundamentals?
Taylor: As I mentioned above, we wanted to bring strategy into the genre in a big way. In order to do this, we needed to rethink the way the player visualizes the world. The ability to zoom in and out, to any level, made a lot more possible. Our units can be absolutely huge, and can have a huge number of weapon systems, and have crazy new levels of functionality. Fundamentally speaking, we aim to change the definition of RTS games.
GameSpy: What did you learn from Total Annihilation with respect to how it is influencing the design of Supreme Commander? In other words, what worked well and what still needed work?
Taylor: I learned a lot when I designed Total Annihilation and many games before that. However, I also learned a lot about what not to do. As a designer, it’;s my job to evolve on both fronts, and also adapt to what I see happening in the market today. It’;s not just about one or two games, it’;s about every game that has been released in the genre (and some outside the genre), and how people have reacted to them. The thing I like to push is the feeling of player freedom … you know, when players can experiment, try different things, and not feel like they are inside the designers “box.”
GameSpy: The story seems a lot more involved this time around. What was the thinking that went into the story and the creation of the three factions?
Taylor: I went to my whiteboard, and started by taking the world’;s culture today, and broke it down into different core beliefs, because as a goal, I wanted every player to feel a strong connection between themselves and a faction in the game. I didn’;t want to have humans vs. crazy gooey aliens that left players feeling like they were either on the good side or the bad side. Three “factions” accomplished this goal nicely, with each one having a very different cultural, spiritual, and ethical spin on them.
GameSpy: Talk about the campaign. How will the player be pulled into the game and become familiar with the various factions?
Taylor: It all starts with a compelling backstory. The player is introduced to the fiction with a story sequence which brings them up to the present day (which is in the future). It turns out, the player is a “Supreme Commander,” and is called to duty with a very tall order to fill: start winning this war! More on the details of this introduction as we get closer to launch!

GameSpy: Talk a little about the art style. The UEF is pretty conventional, while the Aeons are metallic, sleek and almost sterile. The Cybrans have a rough edge to their design. What was the thinking in determining how a faction’;s units would look?
Taylor: We wanted each faction to have a unique look, but we also wanted the look to be a reflection of each faction’;s beliefs, cultural values, and history. At the end of the day, units in an RTS game have to look darn cool, so that design goal overrides everything else, but we still spent a ton of effort to make the pieces of this new universe fit smoothly together.
GameSpy: In actual gameplay, the land units of the UEF seem to focus on wheels and tracks, while the Cybrans have legs and the Aeons float or hover. Why such a clear delineation? In your first RTS, the units were different, but similar. This seems like a radical departure.
Taylor: I like exploring different approaches with each game design, and this time around we thought it would be cool to attach a specific type of movement to each faction (which then is a reflection of the deeper fiction of that specific faction). This is not a cut and dried rule either, as we do occasionally have crossover, for example, the UEF has units that are “legged.”
GameSpy: In a recent magazine article, you mentioned a new feature where the computer would register panic or multiple clicks on a particular unit and take that into account when determining attacks. Can you go into more detail about that?
Taylor: I’;ll give you an easy example. Imagine that you have a group of tanks and are approaching an opponent’;s base. If you have them all selected and issue an attack order in a traditional game, they will all attack the specified target, but this is not very desirable… as what you really want is a unilateral attack across the entire base. So, in order to take the command and control aspect of the game to the next level, we have three distinct kinds of attacks, all of which are communicated through the mouse clicks interface. A) One click - attack unilaterally, B) Two clicks - all available units attack a single structure but only fire enough to destroy it, C) Three clicks - It’;s Gary Oldman in The Professional yelling, “Get me everyone!!!”
GameSpy: There are only two resources in the game: mass and energy. How is “mass” defined and how will it be evident on a map? How will mass and energy be collectible and can destroyed units still be reclaimed as resources?
Taylor: Mass can only be detected by special construction units, and using a HUD (Heads-Up Display) directs the player to build a sophisticated mine structure at the designated location. Energy is generated through more conventional, albeit, high-tech means, usually nuclear in nature. The resources are collected and then spent on units, structures, and also used as ammunition to fire some of the more powerful weapons, much like you would expect. We will very likely create a next-generation style economy which allows players to collect wreckage, sometimes just for the raw resources that the wreckage contains (for re-processing) or to repair and rebuild back into a fully-functional unit or structure.

GameSpy: You’;ve unveiled three tile sets for the new game: tundra, redrock, and swamp. Are there any advantages or disadvantages to these types of worlds for a player? Are you planning any other worlds that may have the stark metal coldness of the TA Core worlds?
Taylor: These maps are three examples of the varying terrains we are including, but in all honesty, the strategic value won’;t come from the color, it will come instead from the topographical design, size, and combination of water and land. The metal worlds were very specific to TA, so we won’;t be exploring those for Supreme Commander, as this game has different fiction, and is not related to the fiction of the TA universe.
GameSpy: Tell us more about the world view of the Supreme Commander. With the maps being as huge as they are, there will be a lot going on with skirmishes and battles all over the map. The interface seems to be a key factor. How will the player be able to make sense of it all?
Taylor: Our goal is to make the whole interface intuitive, so that new players don’;t miss a beat when playing Supreme Commander for the first time. The ability to zoom in and out should be simple, and if we do our jobs correctly, most will have a hard time living without it. We’;ll provide a lot of good strategic level UI, so that players are given a “rolled up” perspective on what is happening. We want the player to not only be a Supreme Commander in name, but also in station, with a serious sense of command authority over the theatre of war.
GameSpy: Tell us about the “experimental” mega units in the game. You mentioned each side will have more than one. We’;ve seen the huge spiders and you also talked about a super-sub that doubles as an underwater aircraft carrier. Any other experimental units you can talk about?
Taylor: This is one of the most exciting aspects of the game, and an area that we’;ll reveal more about over time. It’;s also the kind of experience that is only possible when you build the game engine from the ground up with these goals in mind.
GameSpy: I guess the Commander is still the ultimate super unit and it appears to be even more buff than in your first game. We’;ve seen that he can be a walking aircraft hangar. What else can it do? Will its weapon systems allow it to go toe-to-toe with the other super units?
Taylor: The Supreme Commander is indeed a super unit. I don’;t want to give away too much here, but who said, “Short-range tactical nukes and a Supreme Commander don’;t mix?”
GameSpy: Will the game be modable and will you be shipping any editing or map-making tools or documentation with the game? Have you taken any cues from the Total Annihilation fans on what they liked and how they modded TA?
Taylor: Supreme Commander will likely be the most modable game we have ever developed here at Gas Powered Games. Some tools will ship in the box, and some will be available at after the game is released.
GameSpy: One of the things that helped establish TA in the community and build anticipation was the weekly release of a new unit that usually seemed to thwart existing strategies. Brawler rushes were countered with the Flakker, Flash rushes were countered with a new cannon. There were mine layers and mobile anti-nukes. Will you carry the weekly download through to Supreme Commander?
Taylor: It’;s a little early to say exactly what our plans are, but we definitely want to keep making new units after the game is released. The big question for us is, do we promise a new unit at some time interval or do we just surprise players with something every now and again. We certainly welcome everyone’;s input on our forums.
GameSpy: We’;d be remiss if we didn’;t mention multiplayer. Aside from skirmish mode against the A.I., what multiplayer modes will be available?
Taylor: In addition to all of the standard multiplayer modes that are available in most RTS games today, we are introducing a new cooperative-style mode which allows at least two players to play through the single-player campaign as a team.
GameSpy: Are there plans for an online service similar to the defunct Boneyards to allow Galactic Battles and rankings?
Taylor: We’;re still hammering out some of the details in this area … but we are pushing hard for some sort of meta-game, and at the very least, the support for a third-party ranking solution.
GameSpy: Finally, there is a dedicated fan base out there for Total Annihilation eight years later, mostly through mods and map makers. They probably have certain expectations from this spiritual successor. Anything you want to tell them about what to expect or not to expect?
Taylor: We are very excited to finally be working on Supreme Commander, and can’;t thank those enough who have been faithful supporters of GPG and that have patiently waited for us to get working on this new game. For all those interested, please visit us and share your thoughts on our forums at: Gas Powered Games and join us for the next year as we walk down this road together!