Art Perspective: The Art of War

Before video games came along, the closest you could get to strategically waging war against the world was by playing a board game.

Before video games came along, the closest you could get to strategically waging war against the world was by playing a board game. There was Risk, Axis and Allies and many more, but long setup times and no actual fighting makes you look back and wonder why they were popular. Well, because they didn€™t have awesome video games in those old-timey days. You could always be in a war to get your tactical fix and we still have loads of them in our superior modern worlds€“but that doesn€™t sound like much fun to me. The problem with real wars is that if you make a mistake, you die, or other people die, and I guess your aim is to make the opposing side die. All in all there is a lot of death in real war, and death is popular were I€™m from.

We can thank the humble strategy game (or strategy video game, if you haven€™t worked out the context yet) for allowing us to become the leaders of an army without getting hurt, a dream that has been around since the dawn of time. This column will discuss various aspects of the Real-Time Strategy game from the usual arty perspective. We are going to skip the plethora of sub-genres and stick to the most popular€“the RTS. So shut up Grandad, stop talking about those wars you fought and old board games, because the Strategy game is king.
One of the forerunners of the RTS (although it did not involve fighting) was Utopia (1982) and was developed by Don Daglow. Yep, one guy. In this one you and a friend strategically mess around with islands to try and get the highest points. The brilliantly titled Stonkers (1983) was one of the earliest combat RPG€™s others included The Ancient Art of War (1986) and Nether Earth in 1987. Although these classic titles lead the way to the RTS€™s we know today, they weren€™t much better than playing Risk with your dad. The genre still had a way to go before it would invite mainstream appeal.
It wasn€™t until the often superb Westwood Studios and Blizzard Entertainment tackled the genre that it became a must play for PC gamers. Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty from Westwood was one of the first games that looked and played anything like todays RTS€™s (and yes, it was based on the 1984 film€“proof that not all film to game adaptations are rubbish). Dune II was successful enough to encourage other developers to try out the genre, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was Blizzards fantasy style game. The first real big boy on the scene, the one that everyone played was Command and Conquer, a truly brilliant game which started a series that is still around today. This game really bought the idea of controlling armies, collecting recourses, and building bases to the masses. The great thing about C&C was that it was a ton of fun with its story driven alternative take on history and full-motion cut scenes. This rise in the popularity of the genre paved the way for a number of titles that have since become household names, if you live in a cool house. Command & Conquer: Red Alert and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness saw the Westward and Blizzard to battle, with Red Alert proving to be more popular. Other companies followed withAge of Empires, Total Annihilation and the Korean master of the RTS: StarCraft. Blizzard arguably holds the title of most popular RTS as StarCraft has become a national sport in South Korea. The game is even televised and watched by millions!
In this brave new world of console gaming in which the PC has been thrown to the sidelines, the play thing of only the most dedicated of gamers. What does this mean for the popularity of the RTS game? Well, on the PC the genre is alive and kicking, for those who haven't given into the ease and stability of the console market. There are some great games out there, most recent being StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, World in Conflict, Dungeon Keeper, Rise of Nations, Black & White, Age of Mythology, Rome: Total War and many, many, more. You could ague that this says something about the human race, that we want to wage war in games, but thats an argument for losers, don€™t get involved. The RTS is a brilliant example of gaming as a medium, a medium in which anything is possible. The ability to control and command armies is something that can not be achieved with film or visual arts or sculpture. It is the interactive nature of gaming that means the player can be completely emerged in their playing experience, allowing players to practice the practice of the art of war.
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