Ground- Naval- and Air-units in RTS

With all these thinking about RTS, you could almost think I don’t like them and that’s why I post so much stuff about them. Actually, it’s the opposite. The reason I find so much RTS-stuff to write about is that I’ve played them a lot through the years and have found things to note in some games that others have had or lacked.

In many RTSs, the developer wants to use all kinds of forces that are used on battle-fileds – ground, sea and air. Sometimes the developer succeeds in making all three viable and important aspects of the game, sometimes they don’t. As I’ve got no ideas of my own on the subject, I’ll take a few games as examples and note what they did and how that turned out. No offence to the people loving these games, the reason I remember them is because I like them, too.

I’ll begin with the Warcraft-series. In the second game, they used naval forces to conquer a special resource  and transporting units between bits of land. Air was only used as scouts. It all worked very well, the ships was a very important aspect of the game. In the third game, they went the Starcraft way and put in several flying units, including a buy-able Zeppelin to transport units. That worked very well, too. The trouble comes with the expansion, where they must’ve felt naval was missing from the Warcraft world, and made neutral docks to capture. But, the problem is, there was rarely much water on any map, the docks wasn’t a part of the factions’ arsenal, and it filled no purpose that the air-units didn’t already fill.

Another game, Empire Earth, had “ground, navy, air-power” as a selling point, the other being to play from the stone age to some sci-fi future. You started out in the stone age with only infantry, soon getting cavalry and ships a few ages later. So far, it worked well. Then the “Modern – WW1” age came along and introduced air-units. Although they had to be stationed at the air-port, they had so much fuel they could reach and patrol pretty much any area of the map. And, although the navy had carriers, I found myself using the air-force a lot more, and never the navy. I just didn’t see the point when my nuclear bombers could reach pretty much everything (and, there was no tech-tree, so building that bomber was faster then building a navy).

One game that did that balance very well is Rise of Nations. You quickly get access to naval power in the early ages, and you’d keep using it (on levels with much water) to the end. There was many reasons for this. They had resources in the oceans. There was many kinds of resources (food, wood, stone/metal, gold, knowledge, and later oil), where the two probably most important for the later ages, food and oil, tended to be plenty on the oceans. Another thing was that all ground-units automatically made themselves into transport-ships and could travel over water, but not defend themselves while traveling. So having a fleet outside your coast was the best way to secure yourself from sea-based invasions and to protect your own transports against enemy navy. The air-forces was docked to the closest air-port, which could only reach so far, and had to return after a while. But when the air-power was in action, it tended to be incredibly effective. So there was a need for both.

Another game which did the balance very right was Red Alert 2. Although a comparison just as unfair as WC2 (because Soviet, for some reason, had no air-units), you did need both (as allies). This was a lot to the nature of the air-crafts, which in old C&C-style had to be stationed at an air-port and only flew away to bomb and get back, so they couldn’t hold any ground by themselves. In addition, the naval-power had powerful and fast anti-air and some impressive artillery. If you are to be skeptical, you can also say the air-force was under-powered, but that wouldn’t hold when ground-units would take out some anti-air and the air-force get in and bomb some important building right after it.

Now to the conclusion I said I wouldn’t do: Naval and air-units have to be balanced (no kidding)! The naval units have potential advantages like protecting vulnerable transports and having special resources at sea, while air-units has to have some limited air-time and then return to the air-port to not render the others useless but good firepower to not render itself useless in the process.

That is, in case you must have all three of them.

5 Responses to Ground- Naval- and Air-units in RTS

  1. tobbas says:

    >The reason I find so much RTS-stuff to write about is that I’ve played them a lot through the years

    Really, then you would have noticed the things I’m about to point out.

    >Air was only used as scouts.

    If you actually played the game you would have noticed that there are dragons and gryphon riders in warcraft 2 , both of them do heavy damage and move quickly.

    While we are at it I also notice that you missed “KIROV AIRSHIP REPORTING IN” HOW CAN YOU MISS SOMETHING BIG AS THAT???? Kirov airships are one of the best units in the games and can destroy almost anything in its path, the airships are even in the intro to the game.

    >And, although the navy had carriers, I found myself using the air-force a lot more, and never the navy

    Well, you’r right if you play against a computer opponent on easy.

  2. johannessmidelov says:

    That last thing is an intended insult, but easy for me to counter without insulting you back. That tactic was highly valid against other players, as well.

    The other two points are good ones, though. I will have to adapt my paragraph on the Warcrafts. I mostly played to chapter 3 or something in the orc campaign and played one or so skirmish to try it out in the second installment. But, rather, the paragraph states the impression I got of them, and that’s what I can use for the analysis below.

    And, yes, how did I miss the Krikovs? The slow flying zeppelin that bombs stuff to bits once it’s over it and is a characteristic unit for the Soviet faction thanks to it’s gun-shaped appearance. However, that unit is a very high-tier unit and is, like, the only air-unit they have (apart from the artillery/ helicopter in Yuri’s Revenge, which is just a semi-air unit, anyway). My paragraph stays valid.

  3. tobbas says:

    It does not stay valid just because you won’t admit that you’re wrong :s .
    If wc2 have dragons / gryphon riders in the game , then there is dragons / gryphon riders in the game, they don’t dissappear just because you havn’t played that far.

    If someone played half-life 2 and didn’t get to the gravity gun part, then they can’t say:
    Me – ” There is a gravity gun? or to be exact “Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator”
    see what I did there?

    Anyway, you spelled kirov airship wrong…
    Either you have air units or you don’t have air units, 1 air unit is 1 air unit so don’t try and convince me that they don’t have any air units.

  4. tobbas says:

    Damn, sucks that you can’t edit posts, accidently added an e that came from nowhere to the word “not” in the first sentance.

  5. johannessmidelov says:


    I’ll let the paragraphs (plural) remain in the text, even if their invalid. That gravity-gun argument made that mistake quite heavy. It is wrong, but it’s a statement I’ve made and have to stand for.

    I guess I should avoid using games I haven’t seen all of. It’s just going to back-fire on me eventually.

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