Supreme Commander: Characters Drive the Story
Most recent strategy titles are character heavy, and for good reason. The older style of telling the story that drives the missions in a strategy game involves a simple narration of greater or lesser quality that provides a basic overview of the mission and its place in the overall game structure. Total Annihilation’s narrative took the form of a historian detailing the significance of each battle in the game’s story, and games like Warcraft II used a simple narration of the objectives of each mission.
Supreme Commander, like Warcraft III, Kohan II, and others continue the trend largely enshrined by Starcraft of having active characters drive the story, taking the player along for the ride as it were. Supreme Commander characters include the leaders of each faction - UEF, Cybran, and Aeon - as well as top military commanders for each faction.
Supreme Commander: UEF Characters
The UEF characters in Supreme Commander are pretty standard, much like the faction itself. A dominating, ruthless president named Allen Riley has led the UEF for ten years, and his objective is simple: Use a massive, planetkilling weapon built in Hawaii and termed Black Sun to destroy the primary worlds of both the Cybran and Aeon factions.
Although a former military commander, President Riley has apparently spread the UEF forces thin by insisting on fighting for every planet held by the UEF. The end result: the UEF is strong nowhere and vulnerable to an all out assault launched by the Aeon during the game.
President Riley’s chief officer is General Samantha Clarke, a thirty year veteran of UEF service and the primary architect behind the UEF’s military successes in the face of President Riley’s refusal to prioritize fronts or establish sustainable defensive lines. Overseeing the entirety of the UEF military effort as well as the Black Sun project, General Clarke serves as the primary commander for the player during the UEF campaign. Of all the Supreme Commander characters, she has the most battle experience by far.
Supreme Commander: Cybran Nation Characters
Dr. Gustav Brackman is clearly the oldest of the Supreme Commander characters to make an appearance in the game. Over one thousand years old, Dr. Brackman is kept alive by powerful computers and medical technology that have preserved his brain and allow him to interact with the rest of the world through a holographic interface. Dr. Brackman is the creator of the Cybrans - a fusion of Human biology and technology that retreated to the outskirts of the galaxy at the start of the Infinite War when the predecessor to the UEF, the Earth Empire, effectively enslaved the Cybrans using loyalty programs embedded in their technological components. Dr. Brackman leads the Cybrans as father and strategist.
His right hand is Elite Commander Ivana Dostya. A brilliant tactician, she has led the Cybran armed forces on countless raids to liberate enslaved Cybrans and strike back at the UEF. Rescued from slavery on Earth when a young woman, Dostya briefs the player alongside Dr. Brackman, and plays a vital role in th Cybran attempts to use a quantum virus to shut down interstellar travel, allowing the Cybrans to live in peace.
Supreme Commander Aeon Illuminate Characters
The Aeon Illuminate has produced the most fanatical Supreme Commander characters - Avatar Marxon and Princess Rhianna Burke.
Marxon is fanatical in a genocidal sense. Although Princess Burke leads the Aeon Illuminate, Marxon serves as the Avatar of War and seeks the utter annihilation of all opponents of the Aeon. He is willing to destroy entire planetary populations in order to achieve victory. While the player is initially briefed by Marxon in the Aeon campaign, eventually the player becomes Princess Burke’s champion and Marxon’s enemy.
Princess Burke is the most principled of the Supreme Commander characters. Her fanaticism is geared towards saving lives and ending the Infinite War, leading the Aeon on a path towards forging galactic peace. Indeed, Princess Burke can be seen as the true protagonist of the Supreme Commander storyline, and her desired use of Black Sun is not as a weapon or as a means of preserving physical isolation, but as a tool to communicate her desire for peace to all the galaxy.
Supreme Commander Maps: Different Perspectives
One of the more clever storytelling devices used by Supreme Commander is that of having each map in the single player campaign of one faction appear in the single player campaigns of the other factions as well. The starting location for the player will change, and the mission specifics as well, but the terrain remains similar and certain focal points, such as computing nodes, research centers, and Black Sun itself remain in the same location.
The net effect is to present the player in each of the single player campaigns with a bit of a ‘what if’ perspective. Certain mission elements on a particular Supreme Commander map will reflect the elements of a corresponding single player mission conducted under the auspices of a different faction. The Cybran nodes you were defending during the Cybran campaign will become your primary objective to seize during the Aeon campaign. And of course there’s the Black Sun Control Center in the final mission for each faction - no matter which faction you play, you have to own this piece of real estate in order to fire Black Sun and end the game.
Supreme Commander Maps: Characters In Different Guises
An excellent side effect of re-using the maps and mission focal points is that the player actually begins to feel like she or he is driving the events in the game, and determining who truly wins the campaign. Each of the Supreme Commander maps in the single player game usually has as its final objective the defeat of the opposing commander on the planet. Thing is, when the player is on the same map during a different faction’s campaign, the player is in the same position and has the same objectives as the computer commander they had defeated in a different campaign.
What this means is that the player gets to see different alternatives, different end states for the Supreme Commander universe depending on which faction they fight for. If you are the Cybran commander, you defend the nodes from the Aeon and prevent them from fully understanding Black Sun in time to use it as Princess Burke chooses to in the Aeon campaign. If you are a UEF commander attacking Dr. Brackman on Minerva Colony, you see efforts the Cybrans go through to successfully evacuate him.
In effect, the re-use of Supreme Commander maps in different contexts allows the player to feel like the choice of faction actually contributes to the outcome of the Infinite War, and that the choices made do not lead to an inevitable result one way or another.
Supreme Commander: Innovative and Enjoyable
Supreme Commander’s success as a real time strategy title is due in equal parts to its deep, expansive gameplay as well as the effort taken to make sure the story is both believable and immersive. The use of characters to drive the story forward and the re-use of certain maps where the player gets to fight out the battle from the perspective of the other side helps to make the player feel like choices made in faction selection don’t simply rubber stamp an ending decided in advance by the game designers, but actually alters the outcome of the Infinite War in a dynamic fashion.