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The Value of the Soldier

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Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012
For all the game's effort to be like StarCraft, one of the most unique things about Tryst is how valuable each individual unit is.

More than most game genres, the RTS has developed its own lexicon over the years. To “one-A” in an RTS is to clump all the player’s units into a single control group, to press the “A” key and click on the map roughly at the enemy base location. This tells all the players’ units to move to the enemy’s base and attack every enemy along the way. It’s generally considered a noob strategy because the only skill involved is turtling (another RTS term) in one’s base long enough to amass an unstoppable army and jamming that army down the enemy’s throats. The strategy’s effectiveness is based on the opponent’s skill, as it it pretty much only works against an easier AI or a player that isn’t as good at turtling. It’s a blunt force strategy with no regard for each individual soldier and one that interestingly doesn’t really work in the RTS Tryst.


For all the game’s effort to be like StarCraft, one of the most unique things about Tryst is how valuable each individual unit is. Every single unit in the game has their own special ability, either an attack or some buff that helps surrounding friendly units. Coupled with the deep upgrade system that further personalizes an army, it makes each unit more individually competent and grants them a value beyond their cost in resources. On their own, each unit isn’t worth a whole lot, but even in small squads of five to ten, their worth begins to soar. Obviously, more troops are better, but in Tryst a handful of properly upgraded specialists deployed in a well executed attack can rip through an army twice its size or larger.
  
This doesn’t happen with the three race’s basic units in StarCraft. Zerglings work only in swarms. Terran marines advance like musket lines, clumping, firing, and dying en masse. Even commando drops reque at least fifteen disposable troops to be effective. Protoss zealots, while they’re individually more costly and effective than the other two race’s basic troops, have limited utility as slower moving, melee troops and become obsolete as more units open up later in the match. The basic units of StarCraft are designed to be disposable. We aren’t supposed to care about their loss. A swarm of zerglings can be easily replaced, the marines are fearless, drugged, lobotomized criminal psychopaths that would probably be better off as grease stains than left alive.  The zealots proudly proclaim how they “long for combat” and how willing they are to give their lives for their home planet of Aiur.  These soldiers want to die; they’re designed to.


The player isn’t supposed to care about a few dozen (or hundred) soldiers, if that player is playing right, more can be easily dispatched. Tryst doesn’t operate on this level. Because income is produced so much more slowly and the population cap is so much lower in Tryst than it is in StarCraft, every unit is important throughout the entire match. Units becomes more important as they become more specialized. The player/general doesn’t want to keep their troops alive because they all seem like really great guys (even though the campaign does offer a squad-based mission featuring some really great guys).  They want to keep them alive for their strategic value.


It’s a great direction for an RTS to take. It’s great to want to keep every soldier under your command alive, even if for purely pragmatic purposes. It’s a new way to think of strategy. Each soldier isn’t a hero commanding extraordinary power as in games like League of Legends or WarCraft 3. But they aren’t a nameless, faceless grunt with almost as much value dead as alive as they are in StarCraft or even as the multiplayer characters that the player commands in Call of Duty or Battlefield. Rather, they’re a perfect compromise: trained experts with a specific combat role, each valuable to the effort.


There’s nothing wrong with StarCraft’s approach to strategy (I can’t count the number of zealots that I’ve thrown into an entrenched expansion just to free up supply and move an enemy out of position), but at the very least, it’s a great deal more callous than the warfare simulated in Tryst. For all that Tryst seems to want to be like StarCraft (and it really seems like it does), it takes a far more cerebral approach to army-building where the general has to maximize the use of every grunt under their command to win. But what’s most interesting about it is that it forces the player to care about those grunts without even making characters out of them.

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