Supreme Commander Strategy: Logistics
By: Rapier7

  1. Foreword
  2. Total Annihilation and Starcraft
  3. Supreme Commander
  4. Final Words
    As a matter of principle, I’;d like to thank the guys at SCU for considering this article. I put a considerable amount of thought and time into it, and I’;m happy that they let me put it in the articles section instead of dooming it to even more obscurity in the General Discussion forum.
    Well, for all the strategy newbies out there, let me define logistics first. Logistics is a branch of military strategy that deals with the creation, distribution, and maintenance of material. To simplify it even more, let me put it into an analogy. Let’;s say I’;m currently the quartermaster of a battalion. I’;m responsible for putting in requests at HQ for food and supplies. After I request the supplies, I then have to hand it out to the rest of the battalion. And it isn’;t a one time job, it’;s my sole purpose. I must continue to supply my battalion with all the supplies they require.
    Practically every RTS out there fails to implement logistics properly. It’;s not necessarily a bad choice, but logistics makes up the majority of any military strategy. Without properly implemented logistics, instead of Real Time Strategy, it goes in the realm which Chris Taylor correctly names as Real Time Tactics. For example, let’;s take Starcraft into consideration. The fastest unit in the game is a land unit, maps are small, and it’;s extremely easy to move your forces from one side of the map to the other. Also, there are no real “super units”. The battlecruiser might be extremely powerful, but it is by no means something truly irreplaceable and integral to victory. First of all, it can be mass produced. Second, it is essentially useless unless in numbers. This effectively simplifies logistics into a few simple tasks:
  5. Creating the d#amn units in the first place.
  6. Point clicking said units to the other side of the map.
    Since there is no real crux of your army or base of operations, maintenance is somewhat moot. You can replace anything with general ease, it’;s more of a hassle to repair existing units than to just let them die and replace them.
    Total Annihilation was a step in the right direction. There were true “super units”. Nuclear missile silos, Long Range Plasma Cannons, and so on. Secondly, many units took considerable resources and time to create. It was more in your interest to carefully supervise your fleet or air force because it would be too costly (both resources and time) to replace if they were destroyed. Similarly, Big Bertha and Intimidator cannons were extremely important and couldn’;t be replaced just like that. They took massive amounts of energy and metal to build as well as time. If your Bertha was destroyed, you’;d have to reclaim the wreckage then build the Bertha (preferably in another area) with a legion of construction units that would otherwise be servicing other needs (repairing, reclaiming, and building other buildings). Also, the Bertha on itself was useless. It took a considerable amount of energy to fire one shell. You also have to consider the fact that units were considerably “slower”, or at least, the maps were larger in comparison to Starcraft’;s. Moving your army of storms and slashers to the other side of the map was a bit more complicated than point and click (unless you were clearly winning the fray). It was possible to hit your enemy at a less defended point because TA had no clearly defined base. Instead of “islands” of save havens and build points, you had an “empire” of resource/unit production buildings scattered across the entire map. If your army was concentrated on the other side of your base and the enemy hit your flanks, the enemy would do some serious damage to your infrastructure before you could begin to retaliate. In Starcraft, it’;s slightly different. Units were fast, really fast. And there was a clearly defined territory that you would label your “base”. Indeed, all the maps in Starcraft took an “island” approach. For example, a popular map called “Big Game Hunters” in Starcraft consisted of 8 “havens” which only had one entrance. You could simply defend that entrance and unless the opponent had air, they would have no choice but to force their way through that chokepoint. Strategy is diminished at this point. Why? Because there are only three possible ways of attacking your base: By air, by assaulting that one chokepoint, or by loading up your land forces into dropships. It’;s pretty cut and dry.
    In Total Annihilation, it’;s a constant battle of expansion, holding your territory, and then fighting over contested territory. That contested territory could be a simple WWI’esque “No man’;s land” where artillery covers the majority of the contested area along with your other units or simply un-colonized territory by which you can march your army through to go into your enemy’;s territory. Radar coverage was a must; otherwise you would never know where your enemy would attack until they were already attacking.
    I hope I’;ve explained logistics properly enough and now we can continue onto logistics in Supreme Commander.
    Forgive me if I’;m echoing a few words of Chris Taylor’;s or Gamespy’;s coverage on Supreme Commander, but let’;s get a few things straight:
    Maps are huge.
    Land units are slow.
    From the looks of it, Supreme Commander puts a heavy emphasis on logistics. Already in some screenshots, we see massive dropships capable of carrying 7 tanks or 14 infantry bots at a time. The reason is obvious: those dropships are much faster than those land units. Getting your army to its desired waypoint is half the battle. In Chess, there are three defined areas of gameplay: moving your pieces onto the battlefield, exchanging units, and going in for the kill. Notice the first step. Moving your pieces onto the battlefield. Your army won’;t be able to do anything if they can’;t go anywhere. Let me give you a scenario:
    I have 10 tanks guarding a crucial bridge. You have 20 tanks trying to take the bridge. Due to proper positioning and common sense, all of my tanks are able to fire at every point on the bridge. Due to poor planning on your part, your tanks go in at a straight line, one tank behind the other. My 10 tanks focus on one tank, eventually tearing your squadron one by one, because you weren’;t able to deploy your forces in a way where they could operate at peak effectiveness. A smaller force can overcome a larger one if the smaller force is deployed better.
    Similarly, a smaller force can destroy a base if they encounter no opposition. If one general decides to spend most of his resources on tanks and infantry and the opposing general decides to have enough dropships to carry his smaller army, then the opposing general can dictate the flow of battle. For instance, he can decide to carry his army into the opponent’;s base, forcing the opposing general to recall his forces so they can defend the base. Also, since the general with the larger, slower army takes more time to move his forces to their destination, the general with mobility can have time to deploy his forces in the best way to stave off the oncoming threat. Refer to the little tank scenario above, and you’;ll know what I mean.
    Aircraft will probably have the most obvious logistics: They can’;t fly forever. So what does that mean? You’;ll have to build landing strips closer and closer to the enemy base before your aircraft can hit the enemy. You also have the choice of building aircraft carriers which can position themselves anywhere on the map as long as it’;s on water. Aircraft would be too powerful otherwise they’;d be able to dictate the terms of battle against land units all the time. They can whittle away the land based army by doing hit and run without relenting and giving the land army time to regroup and repair. A land based army without adequate air defense would be easy prey to an airforce if they take out the anti-air units first. It might take some time, but if you destroy the entire AA first, then the opponent has to quickly reinforce his army with more AA (which takes time, time that you can use to destroy the army) or just give up and deem the army as lost. But since they can’;t stay up in the air forever (or at least they have to be within the range of a refueling station), it gives the army time to regroup or a chance to destroy the refuel pad that the aircraft rely on.
    Final Words:
    As it’;s still too early to hazard any more guesses on Supreme Commander’;s take on logistics, I took more time explaining logistics in Starcraft and Total Annihilation. Most games in the RTS genre place very little emphasis on logistics. Maps are small enough or units are fast enough so that moving your units to their intended destination requires minimal thought and is taken for granted. Most games put an emphasis on the actual battle itself. This means that most Real Time Strategy games focus more on tactics than strategy. Strategy is what you do before the battle. Tactics are what you do during the battle. I’;ll be frank this time, while I do laud Chris Taylor and the Gas Powered crew on putting more emphasis on strategy, unless they implement it properly, logistics will detract to the gameplay, as it could simply just be an extra, onerous burden instead of something that requires thought and strategy on behalf of the would-be general.