Total Annihilation and the four hour adrenaline rush

Posted on 11th Feb 2013 at 07:20 by David Hing with 23 comments

David Hing
Starcraft 2 is probably my favourite game that I never play. I fell for the original thanks to a decent demo that captured the feel of the single player game and I loved the campaigns, despite being so unbelievably terrible at the game to never really grasp how to progress into even the later Terran missions, let alone the Zerg and Protoss campaigns.

When the long awaited sequel came out, I threw myself into the notorious multiplayer, which was something I had never had the option to do with the original thanks to my thoroughly rural internet connection that might very well have been carried on the back of cows and a friendship group that consisted of non-LAN compatible Amiga owners.

The multiplayer clicked and resonated with me, although the joke is that just because you understand something, it doesn't mean you can necessarily do anything about it. I always know exactly how I die and am defeated, I'm just not fast enough to fix it. Nothing really surprises me, I'm just not mentally able to keep that many plates spinning and not being eaten by zerglings.

Total Annihilation and the four hour adrenaline rush *The four hour adrenaline rush
Understanding, check. Competence, maybe not.

I found myself instead watching a lot of pro matches and playing occasionally before sliding into watching pro matches occasionally and half-heartedly attempting to launch the game very rarely, only for my resolve to fizzle before the launcher has finished patching. While the 30 minute adrenaline high that the matches bring forth can feel amazing with my rare victories punctuated by me actually jumping out of my chair, one has to be in the right mood for that particular hit. My poor vascular system can only take so much without the reward of not being humiliatingly defeated.

However, the experience of the adrenaline high I’ve felt with multiplayer sessions of Starcraft 2 is something I have experienced once before in another real-time-strategy title, and one that was released around about the same time as the original Starcraft. This was Total Annihilation and instead of a 30 minute burst, this lasted a full four hours.

Total Annihilation and the four hour adrenaline rush *The four hour adrenaline rush
The box art featured the commander, the most amazing unit in any RTS. Unfortunately, losing him normally meant losing your match, sometimes literally depending on your settings.

Total Annihilation was marketed hard as a 3D RTS where placement of units really counted and the shape of terrain affecting strategy and tactics. In practise, it tends to be the case that you win if you out-produce your opponent and don't do anything stupid, but the terrain does indeed affect fire and at higher levels of play that sort of micro-management tactic does pay off.

At the time the visuals looked stunning and when held up alongside its lower-resolution peer Starcraft it truly shone out. I’ll freely admit however that when first playing it, I was disappointed. Having swallowed the hype and expecting the triumphant return of RTS-Jesus, who gathered resources and spent them on an army for our sins, the whole thing felt much looser, was nowhere near as well paced as its Blizzard-polished rival and something just felt off.

Of course, at this point I was comparing single player campaigns and single player campaigns were not where Total Annihilation’s strengths lay. This particular RTS instead excelled in one-shot battles against an AI, or even better, against multiple human opponents.

I used to live in a house of six where five of us had an interest in, if not the same level of competence with, Total Annihilation. This resulted in the occasional enormous battle of epic proportions that lasted for almost full days. I say occasional, because the issue with a five-player pitched battle is that ultimately, it will whittle down to only a couple of players, normally leaving the two that have been turtling up quietly, resulting in an endgame that is not really epic as it is a re-enactment of the Cold War with overly cautious robots.

Total Annihilation and the four hour adrenaline rush *The four hour adrenaline rush
You know what, you can keep your Supreme Commanders, Total Annihilation still looks great.

When all of us were in fact in the mood for spending an entire day playing a 10-year-old, slightly buggy and haphazardly modded RTS, it was clear that each of us had developed a unique play-style. One would forgo all kind of base defences and use those unspent resources to just pump out more units instead, resulting in a nomadic empire that could simply walk up to you if you weren't paying attention. One would build the most intricately designed base with layers of walls with built in killing floors for the turrets to cover. I would end up trying to mess around with cloaked units and bombing strikes and at the start of the game, one unfortunate soul of our number would see a mass of yellow appear from our fifth opponent who would reliably throw as many cheap units as he could at his closest rival within the first few minutes of play so he could go back to drinking his whiskey.

A few of us started really honing our tactics and really becoming quite effective in general. When you are invested in a match that has already taken an hour and shows no signs of slowing down, you start pouring more effort into your actions and start becoming even more engaged and absorbed in the game. Several of us reported stepping away from the computers out of breath, buzzing and generally baffled that the day had vanished. I'm not sure I liked the feeling at the time, but I have to confess that I miss it in a way.

If you can encourage a four hour adrenaline rush from a video game, I think you've found something that truly resonates with you. In my experience, it is hard to find these days. I have a propensity to mutter things along the lines of "it's not like it was in the good old days" but in this case, it really is nigh-on impossible to find a game that will allow for this level of immersion without breaking the tension into much smaller chunks or throwing you out with an ill timed tutorial prompt or required plod through menus to either equip or craft equipment of some kind.


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Harlequin 11th February 2013, 07:28 Quote
Now - go get Planetary Annihilation when its released and that 4 hours turn into 10 hour galatic war!
Xir 11th February 2013, 09:11 Quote
I had similar experiences with AoE and some of the C&C's.
Similar playstyles seem to emerge in every RTS game though.
Those Starcraft guys are just too quick for me though, I hardly manaeged to get through the single player campaign.

Most RTS have this quirk, where the units do very well when micromanaged, but very poorly if left alone. You need one guy to watch the base and one to micromanage the assault really.
(but I don't think any game offers this)

Oh, if you like the surroundings to affect the outcome, you might give this ancient game a do "Ground Control".
Line of sight, line of fire, hiding in grass, different hitzones on vehicle's, friendly fire, all in a game from 2000 (and it's free, too!)
Graphics are good if you set the visuals accordingly.

Never got into the second part, something is wrong with the controls. :|
Phalanx 11th February 2013, 09:16 Quote
Originally Posted by Xir
Most RTS have this quirk, where the units do very well when micromanaged, but very poorly if left alone. You need one guy to watch the base and one to micromanage the assault really.
(but I don't think any game offers this)

Total Annihilation does. :) So does Dawn of War.
impar 11th February 2013, 09:34 Quote
Originally Posted by Xir
Oh, if you like the surroundings to affect the outcome, you might give this ancient game a do "Ground Control".
Yep, Ground Control, that was a terrific game! ;)
Skill3d 11th February 2013, 11:32 Quote
Nice to see some golden oldies. Still running TA along with some friends at the uni. I believe they're bringing out a new patch (3rd party) for it as well.
blinkieleblind 11th February 2013, 17:52 Quote
OMG I loved this game sooo much. Probably my favourite RTS from way back when..... ahh good times.
Eiffie 11th February 2013, 18:48 Quote
Sinking a full five or six hours over a weekend into one sins of a solar empire game is one of the best feelings ever and the pace of the game never goes too fast for me. It really lets me play how I want to play and not just rush units from one base to the next.
dolphie 11th February 2013, 22:34 Quote
I have TA installed at the moment, and SupCom, and Forged Alliance. I like them all. There is even a mod that adds TA units to SupCom! You should check it out, I'll link it below. It's not 100% complete but it's worth a try.

Personally I mostly like playing single player campaigns in RTS's. I find that with multiplayer I run in to the same problem you had with Starcraft 2. It's like mudflation and it happens in a lot of games unfortunately. What happens is that 'noobs get pwned' by elites, and they then go on the web and study other peoples build orders and strategies so that they too can be elite. And then you end up where noobs get beaten by elites AND other former noobs. Then it becomes like an arms race where even to just about get by, you need to at least have spent SOME time studying guides and whatnot. And of course, in an attempt to foster community or whatever B.S, they started adding clans to games which in fact just makes everything worse because it territorialises (is that word?) the community. New players immediately look for some elite guild to help them get a leg up in the world, elite guilds look for fresh blood to bolster their ranks, everyone on the whole gets more and more elite, and look for fights with other elite guilds. Etc..etc.

I don't really like that. I miss the casual old days of playing with a few mates who were all the same kind of level as me, and we got so hooked on the game, we developed our own tactics and didn't need online guides. But this is an issue not just limited to RTS's.

It's partly for this reason that overall, I would say my favourite RTS of all time is Tiberium Sun. (Which is now free by the way). It's possible to be elite and pwn newbies, but the game is a bit more brain based and a bit less based on spamming out massive tons of crap and copying someone elses build order. People can do that and can sometimes win, but against a good player you can just respond with a big EMP which disables their huge army, and then quickly send out a few rocket men and stuff and wipe it all out. Or if someone turtles they will run out of money because the tiberium is in fields that you have to go out and devour. Or if someone sends massive amounts of little units to swamp you, one good Cyborg Commando or something can take care of them all.

In the end, it just seems a lot more evenly matched and more balanced to me. I miss Westwood :( Down with EA.

Anyway, here's that link:;37375
Parge 11th February 2013, 23:27 Quote
TA was the best RTS ever made in my mind. I'm quietly confident its about to be bettered by Planetary Annihilation.

Time will tell!
Skiddywinks 12th February 2013, 02:04 Quote
I also have a problem with watching SC2 more than playing it, but play it I do. The magnitudes of difference in play style from my old SC and TA days is absurd, and I had that hit home when I started playing the beta. That said, once I got in to it I was hooked. Nothing is quite like it.

I think between SC2 and FA, I have both possible kinds of RTS game I am interested in covered; one feels more about scale and huge armies, the other about crisp builds and micro. I loved the DoW2 campaigns, but found the multiplayer incredibly boring, and Last Stand was a massive, shallow pile of turd imo.

I would also like to wholeheartedly recommend Ground Control to any RTS fans who have not played it. That game was magical.

And lastly, wtf is Planetary Annihilation and WHY AM I ONLY HEARING ABOUT IT NOW
dolphie 12th February 2013, 05:15 Quote
It's on Kickstarter mate, join the revolution!
blacko 12th February 2013, 15:25 Quote
TA was/is my favorite RTS. i remember getting the disc/floppy free with a compaq pc i bought back in the 90's.

Can anyone remember the semi sequel TA:Kingdoms?
Phalanx 12th February 2013, 15:42 Quote
Originally Posted by blacko
Can anyone remember the semi sequel TA:Kingdoms?

Wash your mouth out right now! DO IT! And don't mention that word again! Ever.
Harlequin 12th February 2013, 16:07 Quote
Xir 12th February 2013, 20:19 Quote
Hmmm, the free version of Ground Control seems to have vanished from the net.
Anyone have a link?
lilgoth89 12th February 2013, 20:52 Quote
man i still love Sup Com, me and a few other folks still have large battles agasint the AI ( running a few mods as well ) and games can last a good few hours if your not carefull, and with a few specific unit bans a few of my friends and i had a game on a custom map that took an entire weekend ( all praise to the god who invented pausing multiplayer games ) it was just a sea of artillery, sheilds, and dead experimentals
impar 12th February 2013, 21:03 Quote
Originally Posted by Xir
Hmmm, the free version of Ground Control seems to have vanished from the net.
Anyone have a link?
Didnt try it.
okenobi 13th February 2013, 15:48 Quote
When I was in college studying computing A-level, we used to play Starcraft over the college LAN after lectures on Friday evenings. There were usually 6 of us and we had a FANTASTIC time.

Then one day, a mate of mine introduced us to TA. It completely took over and I totally agree with the four hour adrenaline rush. The number of times the cleaners/caretaker would kick us out was unbelievable! We were virtually always last to leave. A great game.

Maybe I got old, or maybe games just haven't been as good since. I don't know which it is. But the article is spot on!
Xir 13th February 2013, 17:06 Quote

Thx, I got it on disk, but can't get it patched, and it has audio glitches. I'll try this version.

Anyway, I installed from the disk, and lost 3 hours :D
Magick still works
rollo 13th February 2013, 18:36 Quote
TA was awesome but way too long. Me and a m8 used to play on the metal maps

Krogoth army vs army of sniper bots.

We used to battle 2vs 6 ai with custom Addons increasing the unit count, adding in modded units.

Krogoth was the ultimate weapon of doom though enough the ai was smart enough to relise a few nukes work wonders.

Wether PA can ever be as good I have my douts.
Xir 15th February 2013, 14:38 Quote
Heheh...lost a few hours playing Ground Control this week.
Benefit of an old game is the 800x600 resolution support witch makes it perfectly playable on a netbook :D
The download linked in this thread works fine, didn't require a key* or internet connection to play. And is patched to the last version (2004) ;)

*it says it does, but it doesn't, which is good as the free key service linked with the program has shut down.
Eldorado 16th February 2013, 23:31 Quote
Ground control was great, but I'm a RA2 sucker, still playing it now..
(Only decent game the work PC plays)
chriscase 10th May 2014, 01:53 Quote
I spent numerous gaming sessions in the 90s at LAN parties playing Battle Zone instead of TA. What was cool about Battle Zone was it had a lot of the RTS elements but it was also first person. And it had no AI so you had to go PVP which was way more fun.
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