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
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.
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."
It's not all about naval combat, although you do also get to play with cruisers, frigates, destroyers, subs and anti-subs. But then there's your air force, which will include fighters, bombers, scouts and gunships. On land, you've got support units such as radar jammers and shield generators, plus all manner of bots and tanks.
To get them around, you'll need transport - and as you might expect, the transport units in Supreme Commander offer something over and above those in other RTS games.
"Transports typically move units that disappear up inside; there's a little suspension of disbelief while these things disappear into a small space. We try to sustain a realistic view of transportation in the game, so that these units can actually mount up on special brackets and be fully functional in flight," Taylor explains.
"We've got a forward and rear air-to-ground assault cannon, and we've got forward and rear mounted anti-aircraft guns, so these transport units can defend themselves in flight; they can operate as a gunship as well as a transport unit. And by putting a mobile shield generator on one, we've also got a shield system - it's a way to create an emergent behaviour system where you can mix and match."
There's also a unit called a mobile factory, which can defend itself in between churning out yet more units with its mounted battleship cannons and the two air staging platforms positioned on its roof. "Just like in real life, where you take guns and put them on different units, we do the same thing in Supreme Commander," says Taylor.
"This is a full-on factory, so you can build units, but this thing of course goes along the sea floor as well, so you can invade from underneath the sea." Of course.
If all else fails, or if you just fancy unleashing even more devastation, there's always another option open to you...
"Supreme Commander supports a full complement of nuclear weapons - one for every occasion. I'm not talking about the little backyard nukes, we're talking about nukes that really take stuff out."
To demonstrate, Taylor fires one off - and for a second, the entire screen dissolves into a blaze of light. Then come the shockwaves, blasting units into nothing as they radiate outwards, leaving nothing but scorched earth and a giant mushroom cloud behind them.
"This is what a nuke does, so we may as well portray it properly in our game. It puts a crimp on things when you get one of those right in the face."
Of course, there's nothing more fun than shoving a nuclear weapon in the face of a friend, and Supreme Commander will have a selection of multiplayer modes accordingly. They're being kept under wraps for now, but it's previously been revealed that the game will have a co-op mode, too - and apparently it'll support up to eight players.
"It's fun to play an RTS game for 20 to 30 minutes, maybe a quick skirmish on what we call one of our 256 or 512 maps. But it's also a lot of fun to roll up your sleeves on a Saturday afternoon and play all day long with a friend, and go for the bigger, theatre of war engagement," according to Taylor.
It's clear that while Supreme Commander may be the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation, Taylor's team is attempting to offer a whole lot more with this game. From the sheer size of the maps to the options you have for viewing them to the range and scale of the battle units, there's plenty to get excited about if you're a TA fan. And, indeed, if you're a fan of RTS games in general. Supreme Commander is out next year.