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Supreme Commander Tactics Overview
As the spiritual successor to the groundbreaking Total Annihilation real time strategy title of the late 1990's, Supreme Commander was expected to be big in every sense: big maps, big units, big campaigns. And the title largely delivered. While hardcore TA gamers did feel slighted by the lack of a direct link to the ARM and CORE of yore, all in all Total Annihilation has a worthy successor in Supreme Commander.
Tactics are all the rage in most real time strategy games, but TA and Supreme Commander both focus heavily on the strategic side of combat. While micromanaging small unit formations is entirely possible, Supreme Commander focuses on offering players numerous paths to victory. Nuclear weapons, long range artillery, and experimental units that seem to have grown out of the Core Contingency era Krogoth Kbot mean that long games in Supreme Commander take planning and creativity in order to prevail.
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Strategy and Tactics - Supreme Commander Synergy
The focus on strategic options actually serves as a driver for Supreme Commander tactics innovation. While it may seem counter-intuitive, a strategic focus actually opens up a wider variety of tactical options than might have been otherwise possible. RTS games that have strict unit caps and aim for battles that last half an hour to an hour are meant to force two sides to engage one another early and often. Evidence of this can be seen in the resource battles that define many RTS titles like the Starcraft or Command and Conquer series - once all the resource expansion points have been taken and exploited the game comes down to which player can outnumber or out-micromanage the others. Strategy on a resource restricted map becomes one dimensional: get resources and build units to get more resources and build yet more units. Tactics become similarly restricted, chosen almost entirely by which units the player has managed to pump out by the time resources run tight and which will counter the opponent's unit choice.
Supreme Commander tactics are far more refined. Resources are infinite, their rate of extraction the only economic advantage one player can maintain over another. While expansion can be advantageous, a well planned economy can be entirely self sufficient within a small section of the map. Players are not immediately drawn into conflict, and can plan out their desired strategic path. The ability to choose from several paths means that the various unit combinations that can be formed and technologically demanding weapons that come available at higher tech tiers in turn result in a proliferation of tactical options.
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Supreme Commander Tactics: Defensive Options
The ability of a player in Supreme Commander to pursue a strategy of building a self contained economy in a small region, usually done on the way to teching up and building experimental units, nuclear weapons, or long range artillery, means that defensive tactics uncommon in modern RTS titles are plentiful on most maps. The units included in the game support defensive strategies far more than in most contemporary games - unlike Warcraft III where each side pretty much has one basic defensive structure, Supreme Commander boasts several at each tech tier.
The inclusion of static and mobile shield emitters, mid ranged tactical artillery and missiles, and an assortment of traditional towers armed with anti air, anti ship, or anti land weapons make Supreme Commander defensive tactics not only viable but even dominant on many maps. Supreme Commander tactics that rely on defensive units must be well thought out and geographically oriented - building a defensive fortress is a resource and time intensive process that befits more cerebral players, and makes Supreme Commander an extremely rewarding title for gamers who like long, drawn out matches.
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The Supreme Commander Defense Build: First Steps.
Building a defense oriented base that can survive waves of enemy units takes planning and a certain element of guile. Like TA Maps, Supreme Commander maps tend to be large and geographically diverse. The Supreme Commander Defense Build relies on a careful, measured approach that holds terrain that is economically or positionally valuable.
As soon as you can get some cheap scouts out of your factory, methodically scout the area and clear away the fog of war to assess the terrain. Note the locations of metal patches and geothermal energy sources, and start planning a perimeter. While this exploration is underway, build some scattered air and ground defense structures with slightly overlapping fields of fire to counter any early scouting or rushing.
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Build Firebases: Supreme Commander Defense Build Fundamentals
Once you've scouted the general area its time to select the location for your first firebase. In all likelihood you will not be in a position to build tier 2 defensive structures at this point - and this is fine. Tier 1 structures will most likely be capable of defeating an early rush.
Select a firebase location that is relatively close to the core of your base but far enough away that attacking units won't be able to attack your factories or productive structures without passing the defensive emplacements. Make sure the firebase is between your main base and the likely axis of enemy attack - if you don't know where your opponent's base is act as if it will be on the opposite side of the map from you. Next, build 10-12 tier 1 defensive towers weighted to a roughly 2:1 ratio of land and air defense structures. While this construction is underway, make sure you're building at least a few tier one units, an additional factory or two, and expanding your resource base. And get one of your factories teched up to tier 2 as soon as possible!
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Once you've pumped out your first tier 2 engineers look at the map again. Ongoing scouting, resource expansion, and unit production efforts should have left you with a small tactical force. The Supreme Commander Defense Build relies on mutually supportive strategic and tactical efforts. Maintaining a quick reaction force of mobile units can hit from behind an enemy force that tries to bypass your defense emplacements.
Under the aegis of this reaction force and your first firebase, its time to expand your perimeter. Much of the map should now be revealed, and you should be able to pick out relative choke points or at least a solid direction from whence enemy attacks will come. Select several locations that are far enough apart that they cover a broad front, but also close enough that mid range weaponry can be mutually supportive. Now begin building tier 2 defensive structures at each - simultaneously if possible, and as with your first firebase maintain the 2:1 ratio of air defense and ground defense towers while building a total of about 9-12. Add some artillery and tactical missiles launchers into the mix as well. When you get the chance to upgrade to tier 3, do so. Build shield generators as soon as feasible, and especially tier 3 air defense structures and tactical missile defenses.
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Supreme Commander Defense Build: Defense in Depth.
Once you've covered a large arc in front of your base that your opponent has to pass through, its time to build a defense in depth. Here firebases are not as necessary as are scattered defensive structures that can cover each and every sector of your base with, at a minimum, anti-aircraft fire. Just building a perimeter is not enough - make sure that even if your opponent manages to overrun a firebase or two that there'll still be more defensive structures to fight.
The Supreme Commander Defense Build does not win the game on its own. The goal behind it is to expend resources building an effective wall of fire behind which you can build tier 3 aircraft, nukes, artillery, and experimental units - and withstand any your opponent throws at you.
A worthy Total Annihilation successor, Supreme Commander continues its predecessor's innovation in RTS gaming