Supreme Commander

E3: Sadly not a Diana Ross-based RTS.

Chris Taylor is a man with ambitions on a grand scale. It all started a decade ago, when he helped to create Total Annihilation - one of the most popular real-time strategy games of all time. Taylor failed to secure the rights to produce a sequel, but went on to set up his own studio, Gas Powered Games, which enjoyed a healthy amount of success with Dungeon Siege.

But the studio's next project is all about going back to Taylor's RTS roots. Supreme Commander has widely been referred to as the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation, and the similarities between the two games are clear from the first time you see SC in action. But what's also clear is that with Supreme Commander, Taylor is attempting to produce a game so massive in scale that it'll overshadow not only Total Annihilation but quite possibly everything else in the RTS genre.

To demonstrate this, Taylor starts off by showing us how the game's interface works. The maps are huge, and you'll have to deal with multiple battles at a time; to facilitate this, you're able to zoom out, and out, and then out some more, until you have an overview of the entire area, and your units are simply displayed as tiny coloured icons.

You can issue commands from this position, and so fight your battles from the ultimate vantage point - with a perspective on how your entire campaign is progressing. This offers many advantages, according to Taylor: "One of those being the ability to position and move waypoints in real time. And you can lay down paths, you can get estimated time of arrival, arrange a co-ordinated attack...

"This is a theatre of war. Traditional RTSes have been about battles - we bring you the war in Supreme Commander. We're trying to give you the kind of command and control that you've always wanted."

Close up and personal

transports

That'd be your transports in the foreground there. Very handy, they are.

That command and control extends to close-up warfare, too. Along with being able to view the action from far and away, you can also zoom in until you're right in the thick of it. Which means you get to see how battles are unfolding from a first-hand perspective, and are able to make adjustments to your strategy accordingly.

"This is a full 3D world, with depth - you can see right out to the horizon," Taylor says.

"We call this a spring look, so you can spring down take a look if you want and then go back; and there are full instant replay modes, so you can play it out to your hard drive and edit your own little movie if you like.

"Our goal is to make the visuals up close as exacting as you'd find in any RTS today, but you also get that experience pulled out at the same time. The technology has been engineered from the ground up to support this," Taylor says.

But just what are we going to be looking at, exactly? Well, Supreme Commander features three different factions, and each has their own unique set of units, battle tactics and even philosophical beliefs.

First up is the United Earth Federation, which appears to be the least technologically advanced of the three. Their units are the most traditional looking, so expect lots of wheels and caterpillar treads.

Then there's the Aeon Illuminate - like the UEF, they're humans, but they've nicked a load of alien technology to bolster their firepower. Their units are sleek and metallic in design, and many of them can not only hover but create a shield which makes them invisible, even to radars.

Fear factor

cybrans

The Cybrans are properly kicking off now.

And finally there are the Cybrans, which appear to be Taylor's favourite race, judging by the way he keeps banging on about them. "Cybrans are simple, elegant; their philosophy is, if you're really afraid of the other guys, you have to kill them... I know you've not heard of that. Just a little world politics there...

"The Cybrans are cool because they have this real can-do attitude. Their units can do anything," Taylor continues, demonstrating how the experimental Cybran spider unit can come in from the sea, sprout legs, run up the beach and head inland. The spider can crush whole tanks underfoot, and also comes equipped with a giant laser gun in case any should get away.

But the spider is by no means the most powerful unit in the game, nor the largest. Take the battleship, for example, which comes equipped with anti-aircraft guns, laser cannons and missile launchers which can attack units that are miles inland - and which is, put simply, bloody enormous.

"Scale's one of the big differentiators with Supreme Commander," says Taylor.

"What happens when everything's on screen is that your battleships become barely larger than tanks. So now, for the first time, we can actually have a battleship that's much larger, and you can see that the anti-aircraft guns are not too much smaller than the guns that are on the tanks.

"Finally we've got a scale that makes sense... You can do a battle with a tank versus a battleship, and you know who's going to win in Supreme Commander."

Despite its size, the battleship isn't invincible, since it'll take damage from subs and torpedoes, and will eventually get destroyed - in spectacular fashion. "When ships sink, they don't just go 'poof'. They break up into pieces sometimes, sometimes they go down, sometimes the turrets fall out; there are multiple different ways of dying. It's the power and majesty of naval combat that we really want to bring to the RTS genre."

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