When Gas Powered Games supremo, Chris Taylor, announced that Supreme Commander was in development way back in August 2005 (that’s two years ago in theory) many RTS fans soiled their underpants in anticipation. The God of the genre, creator of Total Annihilation, promised something special with Supreme Commander. Now it’s time to see how close he is to delivering.
Just to clarify, this isn’t going to be a traditional list of features for the new game, this, my friends, shall be a run through of my experiences playing with the closed beta. My thoughts on how easy it was to play, how well the game is shaping up and, most importantly, whether it’s actually any fun.
The first obstacle in the way of my playing the game was the absolutely massive download. Fileplanet duly obliged and an hour later I was finally installing. Supreme Commander’s multiplayer works through a Steam like program called GPGNet (I assume that means Gas Powered Games Net). This system, however, seems to suffer from many of the bugs and problems commonly associated with start-up digital distribution services (see Steam’s start-up and more recently EA's Link).
What do I mean by this? Well, first of all, the system doesn’t work as smoothly as one would like. Since releasing the original beta the team has struggled with cracked versions of the game, where players were able to play skirmish games without a code. To counteract this, the boys at Gas Powered Games have had to release lots of patches. Thus, before even getting involved in a game I am forced to download a whole host of updates.
This process was by no means quick but was dwarfed by the absolutely horrendous amount of time it took to actually install the downloaded patch. RT Patch, the same program used to update Battlefield 2, is disastrously slow, so much so that I was able to leave my PC for 2 hours and the game still wasn’t updated. Of course, this is only a beta and as such it wouldn’t be fair to judge the game's patch-install speed at the moment - but unless this issue is addressed in the final version then there will be a lot of annoyed people.
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Once everything was installed I decided to investigate the GPGN service. The initial splash screen displays news, including updates, as well as online statistics telling you how many players are logged on, how many game sessions there have been and other information you'll probably have no use for. Along the bottom of the application are a series of options which allow you to host a ranked game, a custom game or just simply jump into the next available game. There’s also an IRC-esque chat room if you fancy moaning about the bugs in the game (which is what everyone seems to be doing).
I joined a quick match to actually test the meat and veg of this anticipated game, to enter the theatre of war and give birth to some good old fashioned death and destruction. I was pumped up, my fingers gorged with blood, gripping my mouse as tight as a man can grip, my eyes so focused I'd actually gone cross-eyed, veins fit to burst as they explode blood around my temples. I whispered to myself in a voice not dissimilar to Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen) – “I am the Supreme Commander!”
Then, just as the game had finished loading and I began to wonder how the hell I actually go about playing (“what is this big robot thing in the middle of my screen?”) I received an error message. The host player had disconnected. Great. It had taken nearly 3 hours to get the game going and my first experience was of some cowardly General just leaving. That’s not a good omen.
You see, the trouble with any multiplayer game that's one versus one, is that you’re relying on an absolute stranger to play the game through. If you’re annihilating someone else’s army then there’s very little incentive to keep that person playing and to stop them from leaving. Apart from the cowardice issue, it's also true that your opponent's mother doesn’t care one jot if you’ve been playing for three hours and have built up the greatest army the world has ever seen - if it’s dinner time, then by God, it’s dinner time! “Dennis, get down these stairs right now - your food is on the table!” “Coming Mum!” – queue my second opponent logging out, and one very angry and annoyed Ryan Garside.