Well, it’s certainly been a long ol’ wait. Time enough to expect a developer to be releasing their expansion pack, a good excuse to breathe life into any dying franchise – or, hopefully, increase the longevity of a still rather active one. Much to my surprise, at least, Gas Powered Games (Dungeon Siege, Supreme Commander) have announced that Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is going to be Stand-Alone; while still operating within the SC environment and time line.
The impression I got, and the conclusions I have reached, is that most of those behind the original SC project, who are overseeing this new Stand-Alone-Expansion, were somewhat disenfranchised with the first. Hence, one can expect that they’ve been more than eager to pull out all the stops, and tweak what they felt dubious, and add the features they wanted to in the first place. One very good example would be the game’s Artificial Intelligence. Chris Taylor, along with many of the programmers, has said in interviews that they (along with many players on the GPnet forums) were unhappy with the poor challenge presented by the AI - as a result, 3 entire teams of experienced RTS veterans were put to work in reworking the AI. Boastful as it may sound, the new ‘Hard’ AI is apparently able to vanquish the previous opponent of the same name, in under 10 minutes.
Paper Tiger: Disguised Expansion?
It could be said, for those who are rather cynical, that GPG are merely covering up the ‘generic expansion’-esque nature of this new game, by claiming that it’s got this new feature, and that new piece of technology. That is still to be determined. But from the release information alone, that seems to be a very unlikely scenario.
Taking place immediately after the end of the first game, the new storyline promises a lengthy single player campaign. Therein lies a new faction (The Seraphim), over 100 new units across the old factions, and a plot involving an alien invasion and a cult amongst the remnants of mankind who forge a secret alliance with these impressive invaders.
The essential additions have not been left out. We’re also promised new maps, and a completely restyled user interface; apparently sleeker and less intrusive, and unique to each faction.
Always one to push the boundaries
Not a company known for being all that modest during the pre-release period, it is understandable that we find an expansive list of technological developments made by GPG in the tweaking of SP: FA. This, sadly, implies that high-spec machines are the ones that are at the forefront of their concerns... and based on the reaction to the first game, this seems even more so to be the case.
The Fog of War (something I certainly didn’t expect to be a boasting point) has been reworked, presumably to work alongside the new unit shaders and refraction technology. The changes range from the expected re-rendering of the textures, to a change in the air unit flight dynamics. All of this is excellent news to those with a graphics card they bought the day before, and enough RAM to fly the Apollo mission, but I worry that low spec machines, as shown by the emphasis put on this by GPG, are slowly reaching their limit. They should be able to run it, but Chris Taylor will no doubt be rather upset that you’re not experiencing his “vision, of what Supreme Commander should be”.
Longevity through Competition
Even GPG must admit, somewhere along the line, that in a few years, even their new content is going to wear thin, erring them onto perhaps another expansion. In order to prevent this, some emphasis has been put into the multiplayer system. Players of the original can play online with the Forged Alliance players, as the new content is merely restricted, which is surely a relief for those who are out of pocket, and can’t fork out enough money for the stand-alone-expansion.
I am severely tempted to go out and give this expansion a try. If this prospect is enough to give someone who finds that RTS games tend to tire out once the campaign is completed, a new urge to play it, then I have a great deal of hope that it’s enough to breathe a great deal of life back into the game... especially for those who still swear by it, or replay the campaign even now. Gas Powered Games tend to take both their development, beta testing, and player feedback very seriously, and in this case, it looks like they’re definitely going to get the fruits of their dedicated labour.