time simulator

Real-time tactics

Real-time tactics (RTT) is a computer game genre of tactical wargames played in real-time simulating the considerations and circumstances of operational warfare and military tactics, as opposed to the micro-management of resources in typical real-time strategy games. The RTT genre is less commonly called military strategy or real-time combat simulator. While the genre is growing in popularity, most popular games in the genre are still marketed under the broader label of "real-time strategy."


Real-time tactical gameplay is characterized by the expectation of players to complete their tasks using only the combat forces provided to them, and usually by the provision of a realistic (or at least believable) representation of military tactics and operations. This contrasts with other current wargame genres: for instance, in large-scale turn-based strategy games battles are generally abstracted and the gameplay close to that of related board games, and real-time strategy games de-emphasize realism and focus on the collection and conversion of resources into production capacities which manufacture combat units thereafter used in generally highly stylised confrontations. In contrast, real-time tactics games' military tactical and realistic focus and comparatively short risk/reward cycle usually provide a distinctly more immediate, intense and accessible experience of battlefield tactics and mêlée than strategy games of other genres.

As suggested by the genre's name, also fundamental to real-time tactics is real-time gameplay. The genre has its roots in tactical and miniature wargaming, the recreation of battle scenarios using miniatures or even simple paper chits. These board and table-top games were out of necessity turn-based: Only with computer support was turn-based play and strategy successfully transposed into real-time. Turn-based strategy and turn-based tactics were obvious candidates for computer implementation. As computer implementation eventually allowed for ever more complex rulesets, some games became less timeslice-focused and more continuous until eventually "realtime" play was achieved.

Compared to other strategy games, games of the real-time tactics genre often have distinctly detailed and complex environments due to the tactical implications of elevation, hard cover and true line of sight. Due to the demands of realism units in real-time tactical games also often have a significant degree of autonomy over their actions within the context of their orders compared to the relatively or fully passive units of other strategy genres (e.g. units in MechCommander 2 are remarkably autonomous).

Further, in many real-time tactics games a player's force is maintained between battles. This allows units to become more proficient as they gain more battle experience and can even encourage an affinity between the player and his or her troops, breaking down the stereotypical anonymity of the expendable, mass-produced units found in strategic games. To this end Bungie Studios' Myth series gave each soldier a unique name, and in Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat and Warhammer: Dark Omen units were individually named and under the leadership of their own captains with distinct visual and vocal feedback.

Genre classification debate

The genre classification of real-time military computer games has been, and to a limited extent still remains, a topic of dispute. Both "real-time strategy" and "real-time tactics" are used to describe this genre, and could reasonably be considered equally correct. However, the RTT term refers only to games meeting the more particular definition as explained elsewhere in this article.

There are those that feel that the RTT genre exists wholly outside the RTS genre. The debate spawns from the fact that certain conventions within the mainstream RTS genre, begun by Dune II and continued by popular series like WarCraft and Command & Conquer, have become so dominant that they have become nearly synonymous with the term "real-time strategy." These games are characterized by the player exerting direct control over individual units, resource gathering, base and unit construction, technology development and micro-managing a production economy.

Typical real-time strategy titles generally encourage the player to focus on logistics and production as much as or more than combat, whereas real-time tactics games more commonly do not feature resource-gathering, production, base-building or economic management, instead focusing on tactical and operational aspects of warfare such as unit formations or the exploitation of terrain for tactical advantage. The expectation of players to finish an engagement with set resources radically veers gameplay away from the standard real-time strategy form.

Relatively few developers or publishers use the terms "RTT" or "real-time tactics" in marketing, though one example is Massive Entertainment, which explicitly described its game Ground Control II: Operation Exodus as real-time tactics rather than a real-time strategy title (which is ironic in that the title veered toward a real-time strategy mode by introducing resources and in-battle reinforcements unlike its predecessor); David Heart of Matrix Games describes the Close Combat series as "the overall tone emphasized realism, and modelled the emotional state of the units under your command, including panic, desertion, and surrender. Close Combat was never an RTS in the classic sense since resource gathering and other typical factors played no part in the game. Close Combat was far more of a tactical simulation and would be better described as a RTTS (Real Time Tactical Simulation)" and f.i. Close Combat: Modern Tactics is sold as a "real time tactical warfare" game on their site; and Namco Bandai announced the "Battle March" expansion to their 2006 title Warhammer: Mark of Chaos as "tactical real-time". While some publications do specify "RTT",,, others do not. Nonetheless, there are often efforts to distinguish these games from the classic perceptions of the "RTS" denomination; titles of the genre has been described as "real-time combat simulators" and "military strategy" games, Nexus: The Jupiter Incident was called a "tactical fleet simulator" by its developers, and Blitzkrieg II was somewhat verbosely called a "real time simulator of WWII battles on company regimental level" rather than "real-time strategy" in a review.

Brief history and background

Wargaming with items or figurines representing soldiers or units for training or entertainment has been common for as long as organised conflicts: Chess, for example, is based on essentialised battlefield movements of medieval unit types and, beyond its entertainment value, is intended to instill in players a rudimentary sense of tactical considerations. Today, miniature wargaming, where players mount armies of miniature figurines to battle each other, has become popular (e.g., Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40000). Though similar to conventional modern board wargames (e.g. Axis & Allies), in the sense of simulating war and being turn-based, the rules for miniature wargames tend to lean heavily towards the minutiae of military combat rather than anything at a strategic scale.

Though popular as table-top games, tactical wargames were relatively late in coming to computers, largely due to game mechanics calling for large numbers of units and individual soldiers, as well as advanced rules that would have required hardware capacities and interface designs beyond the capabilities of older hardware and software. Since most established rule sets were for turn-based table-top games, the conceptual leap to translate these categories to real-time was also a problem that required time to overcome.

Avalon Hill's 1982 release Legionaire for the Atari 8-bit was a real-time wargame of Romans versus Barbarians which, while featuring constrained tactical diversity, can be argued to qualify as an early real-time tactics game. Likewise, Free Fall Associates' 1983 title Archon can be considered an early real-time tactics game, built upon Chess but including real-time battle sequences. Archon was highly influential, and, for instance, Silicon Knights, Inc.'s 1994 game Dark Legions was virtually identical to it, adding only to Archon's concept that the player, as in many table-top wargames, purchases his army before committing to battle. Another predecessor was Bits of Magic's Centurion: Defender of Rome (published for the PC by Electronic Arts in 1990), in which, similar to the recent Rome: Total War game, the game took place on a strategic map interspersed by battle sequences. However, though the battles were in real-time they were of small scope and player interaction was limited to deciding the initial troop disposition.

Establishing the genre: the late-nineties rise in popularity

Perhaps the first game that can be recognised as a qualified exemplar of the real-time tactics genre was Fields of Glory, released in 1993 by MicroProse. The game was a purely real-time tactical wargame that attempted to realistically recreate several of the major battles of Napoleon Bonaparte's Waterloo campaign. Though meticulous and ambitious it suffered from the low-resolution graphics of the day and had to compromise with the visual presentation of its large-scale battles and abstracted away low-level battlefield aspects.

Around 1995, however, computer hardware and developer support systems had developed enough to facilitate the requirements of large-scale real-time tactical games. It was in 1995 that the regimentally focused wargame Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat was released, groundbreaking not only in that it focused purely on the operational aspects of combat (with all aspects pertaining: regimental manoeuvring and formations, support tactics, terrain, etc.), nor only in that it was entirely real-time, but also that it introduced zoomable and rotatable 3D terrain. In 1997 Firaxis Games' released Sid Meier's Gettysburg!, a detailed and faithful recreation of some of the most significant battles of the American Civil War that introduced large scale tactical battlefield command using 3D.

3D visuals only became established in the real-time strategy genre around eight years after their advent in real-time tactics; it could be argued that the nature of real-time tactics games and the genre's focus lends more naturally to 3D representation, for instance to check line of sight, while the faster pace, rapid-click, highly stylized nature of real-time strategy games were better presented in 2D. Real-time tactics games need not be in 3D however: the Close Combat series as well as Sudden Strike, both successful titles, functioned in two dimensions. Released in 1996 by Atomic Games, Close Combat is a simulation of squad- and platoon-type World War II combat tactics which introduced a higher degree of operational realism than seen before. Combat Mission went even further. Further, as Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat was a translation of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle table-top system, FASA Studios' MechCommander from 1998 was a translation of the BattleTech boardgame into a 2D computer game format.

In 1997, Bungie released Myth, which introduced radically larger battlefields than ever before, and in 2000, Creative Assembly created Shogun: Total War taking map sizes even further as well as introducing historical and tactical realism on levels until then unheard of in real-time computer games. Ground Control was also released in 2000, gaining much attention for its luscious visuals but earning developers Massive Entertainment few sales.

Eastern Europe

Recent years have seen a slew of tactical simulators being developed in Eastern Europe. Examples include real-time tactics games such as the Blitzkrieg series, the Sudden Strike series, the UFO series by ALTAR Interactive (not to be confused with UFO: Enemy Unknown by Microprose, the first title in the X-COM series), Nexus: The Jupiter Incident, Joint Task Force, and Codename: Panzers, as well as turn-based tactics games such as the Silent Storm series, UFO: Extraterrestrials (by Chaos Concept), Jagged Alliance 3 (currently in development), and Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin. These sorts of games have been described as difficult to develop in the West.


Historical and Contemporary settings

Real-time tactics games with historical or contemporary settings generally try to recreate the tactical environment of their selected period, the most common eras and situations being the American Civil War and European Napoleonic warfare, though ancient warfare and World War II settings are also common. Numerically they make up the bulk of the genre.

While the degree of realism is uniform, the scale of command and precise mechanics differ radically according to the period setting in keeping with the tactics of that period. So for instance, titles set in the Napoleonic Wars are often played at a company or battalion level, with players controlling groups of sometimes hundreds of soldiers as a single unit, whereas recreations of modern conflicts (such as the Iraq War) tend to offer control down to squad or even individual level.


  • Total War series (by The Creative Assembly), exemplified by the first title, Shogun: Total War (2000) are widely-recognised examples of large-scale tactical recreations of battles. Units are organised and controlled in regiments, frequently of several hundred soldiers, and the games are built to encourage the use of authentic tactics. Rome: Total War (2004), has however been criticised for violating realism and several mods have been made to correct this). Battles are freeform and generally take place in open country; there are no plotted side-missions like in the Warhammer games discussed below.
  • Sid Meier's Gettysburg! (1997) and its sequel Sid Meier's Antietam! (1998) (by Firaxis Games) set in the American Civil War are the most well known examples of Napoleonic style simulations. Common to these games is the recreation in detail and scale of a particular set of significant or well known battles. Using the same engine Firaxis and BreakAway Games also released Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle which recreates Napoleon Bonaparte's last and most famous battle of 1815. Also noteworthy is Imperial Glory (2005) by Pyro Studios which recreates the multi-polar conflicts of Europe between 1789 and 1830.
  • The Close Combat series (1995–) (by Atomic Games) are tactical battle simulations set in WWII known for a very high degree of realism taking into account limited ammunition, severity of wounds and the psychology and mental welfare of individual soldiers.
  • TalonSoft's Age of Sail (1996) and Age of Sail II (2001) are 3D naval real-time tactics games where you command sailing vessels in high sea and coastal battles. Beyond heading, aspects such as amount of sails and cannon ordinance can be ordered.
  • Sudden Strike (2000) (by Fireglow Games). In contrast to the Close Combat series, this title focuses on larger-scale operations and mechanised tactics rather than low-level details.
  • Faces of War (2006) (Ubisoft) is similar to Close Combat also being set in WWII. It offers individual units with greater autonomy as well as 3D graphics.
  • Full Spectrum Warrior series (2004–) (by Pandemic Studios) is set in a fictional country for all practical purposes identical to Iraq. The games revolve around a maximum of two squads of four soldiers each and offers engagements at a far more intimate level than the Total War series, and indeed the genre at large, and also emphasise story more than most real-time tactics titles. Despite a visual appearance similar to first person shooters the player does not directly control any character, instead only issuing orders to his troops and as such qualifies as a real-time tactical game. It is also distinct from the sub-genre of first person shooters known as tactical shooters that incorporate some tactical aspects, such as Ubisoft's Rainbow Six series or Gearbox Software's Brothers in Arms'').
  • Cossacks 2 is based on the Napoleonic Wars and supports battles of up to 64000 soldiers involved. It has a high degree of realism with its morale system, the fact that the player controls companies of certain number of individual units, and its damage calculation. Morale serves as a hit points-type component, which increases or decreases upon some events (soldiers being fired at, or firing on the enemy) and deprives the player of control over the company whenever it falls under a certain level. Soldiers in the Napoleonic wars used muskets, which do little damage over long distances and take a lot to reload, and this is incorporated into the gameplay as it takes a long time for a company to reload before it can produce another volley. Also, reloading costs resources and the food resource is constantly drained, depending on how many soldiers the player controls. The game has a "pause" button (~).
  • World in Conflict is based in 1989 as the Soviet Union invades Eastern Europe and the United States west coast to hold onto power when economic troubles threaten to cripple the country.

Fantastical settings

While most fantasy titles bear some resemblance to a historical period (usually medieval), they also incorporate fictional creatures, areas, and/or magic and suffer from few historical constraints.

The leading High Fantasy real-time tactics games are Warhammer Fantasy Battle titles. The loose series began with one of the earliest mainstream real-time tactics games, Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat (1995). While the games' depth of tactical simulation is similar to that of Total War it leans towards skirmishes over epic battles and features both unique hero characters and a tightly authored story. The sequel Warhammer: Dark Omen (1998) refined these aspects into one of the most representative real-time tactics exemplars to date, but was misunderstood by the press as an incomplete real-time strategy game and largely overlooked at its release. The very influential video game Myth: The Fallen Lords (1997) emphasised formation cohesion less than the Warhammer games and introduced extensive maps. In 2006, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos was released; a game of similar kind to the two preceding Warhammer titles, but taking game play away from their realistic focus and fidelity to the Warhammer rules to a more arcade- and micromanagement-oriented form. Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders and its sequel are complex and difficult games made in Korea mixing both elements of RTT and Dynasty Warriors-like action.

Futuristic settings

Games set in the future often combining elements of science fiction obviously are not constrained by historical accuracy or even limitations in current technology or physics. Ground Control
Its setting allowed innovative use of air units.Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy
An action oriented game based on Robert A. Heinlein's book Starship Troopers. It is characteristic for the smaller and more autonomous units.MechCommander 2
Notable for implementing a lightweight resource acquisition system without becoming an RTS. A player could earn 'Resource Points' during a mission, in addition to those awarded at the start, but they could only be expended on support tasks; save for repairs and plucky on-field salvage operations the system did not affect the player's combat force.Soldiers of Anarchy
A post-apocalyptic, squad-level game which emphasised a realistic environment scale, vehicles, and scavenging in the aftermath of battles.Nexus: The Jupiter Incident
Set in space, replacing as a result most genre conventions (not least of which terrain) with its own.

See also


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