Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Sometimes I like it a little rough…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 23, 2015

Total_Annihilation_Coverart… I’m talking about game polish, of course.

What did you think I was talking about?

By way of explanation – polish is important. Polish is something that removes the barriers to a player’s enjoyment of the game.  It’s a good thing. But there’s also something to be said for a little bit of rawness, a few rough edges that give the game some character.

My favorite go-to example of this is probably not the most popular, and it goes back to some ancient titles – Total Annihilation vs. Starcraft. Both are known as classics, but Starcraft was by far the most popular. It was also clearly the more carefully polished and balanced of the two games. Blizzard took everything they learned from the Warcraft series to that point and honed it into a tightly-tuned machine.

By contrast, Total Annihilation was designed to be something in the vein of Command and Conquer, by experienced game developers who didn’t have experience in the still somewhat new RTS genre. It was more raw, clumsy, and a little bit of a victim of “kitchen sink syndrome” with too many ideas thrown in. In fact, developer Cavedog released a new unit on a weekly (?) basis for a while to expand the game… and often the new unit was designed specifically to counter a “cheap” tactic that players had discovered in the course of regular play that had been missed by the designers. By the time the units and game changes were compiled together in the expansions, the worst of the “cheap” tactics had been removed, but the game was still a maze of wild, squirrely approaches to victory.

And the fans loved it.  Those rough edges and tons of units led to a very organic feel of gameplay. It was “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Spock, Lizard” to the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” of most RTS games. Whether intentional or not, there were tons of weird, ‘exploity’ kinds of opportunities for players to turn the tide in what could sometimes be a protracted slugfest. There were all kinds of clever, weird things that you could do. Some – like using your own air transport to pick up an enemy commander – were extremely clever but also considered cheating by most players. Others were often clever ‘spoilers’ for the common, straightforward tactics of other games.

It’s hardly alone. My attraction to the ARMA series partly stems from the same idea. And indies – well, indies sometimes fall into the realm of too little polish, of course. Bugs and unwinnable game states and crap like that never belong. But for me, finding the little imbalances and the quirks of gameplay can be half the fun. For that matter, I often enjoy some weird, experimental gameplay elements that may not always pan out. I want just enough bumps and flaws to let me feel the person or people behind tha game.

I want games with personality.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Cuthalion said,


  • McTeddy said,

    ^What he said^

  • Xenovore said,

    I’ll agree I want games with personality. But I don’t want that “personality” in the form of lack of polish.

    In my experience, lack of polish equates with things that distract from the fun: bad UI, bad visuals, bad audio, bad AI, bad game mechanisms, bad action feedback, bad story, etc.

    Total Annihilation: Sorry, but that game sucked. After playing Warcraft and Command & Conquer, Total Annihilation just came across as dull, soulless clone made by people that had no idea what they were doing. It just wasn’t interesting. (And I had much the same feeling with it’s spiritual successor, Supreme Commander; just an overarching “Meh, who cares. Next.”)

    (I don’t think emergent gameplay can necessarily be considered “unpolished”, as long as they are fun and don’t unbalance the game, e.g. Quake’s rocket jump.)

    For me, good game “personality” comes from a combination of “unique”, “new”, “interesting”, and definitely “polished”. That applies to visuals, gameplay, sound, and especially UI. I want my UI polished to a gleam, i.e. intuitive and unobtrusive. With a good UI, I can generally ignore minor blemishes in gameplay, story, sound, or visuals. Bad UI… doesn’t matter how amazing the rest of the game is.

    TL-DR: In the best games — games considered to be highly polished — the individual parts synergize: nothing detracts from anything else and the whole is greater than the sum. That’s great game personality.

  • Burt said,

    Total Annihilation was the only RTS I played more than a few rounds of. Just not a fan of the genre. I think I was drawn to TA because it was more realistic compared to the cartoonyness of Blizzard games.

    And then there was the soundtrack. Early Jeremy Soule. That was the true draw for me I think. I used to pop the TA disc into my stereo, skip the data track, and just listen to the epic soundtrack.

    In high school I would carry around my book of music CDs with me wherever I went, overwhelmingly full of metal albums. But in the back I kept a few game discs for their soundtracks – Total Annihilation, Quake 2, and Interstate76.