Real-Time Strategy “Level Design” II

Several months ago I wrote a piece called Real-Time Strategy “Level Design”, which received a very favorable reception. As such, I’ve decided to expand the series with at least two more posts. This post will be looking at three more levels from the original Command & Conquer – all from the “Covert Operations” expansion, as that generally has the most interesting levels – whilst the third part to be published in the future will examine three levels from Tiberian Sun, the next game in the same fictional universe which Westwood released several years later. Whilst Tiberian Sun is otherwise a very strong game, many of the levels are less like “puzzles” than those in the earlier games, so fewer of them merit the level of analysis I’m aiming to deliver. Due to the latter game being rushed out to release, the balance is not quite as tight as the original, and whilst many of most interesting original levels rely on using the unique abilities of particular units, this aspect is somewhat lost in the sequel. Nevertheless, today we’re sticking with the original classic and looking at three more interesting puzzle levels.

The first level is called Hostile Takeover. The second half is standard build-up-your-base-and-crush-your-foe fare, but the first half of the level is an interesting sequence for the player to puzzle out. You begin the mission with a flame tank – deadly against soldiers, and also quite effective against buildings, though an aspect easily forgotten – and four rocket soldiers. You need to reach the white X in the top left corner. The first part is simply choosing the best units for the situation as the player sends the rocket infantry forward to destroy the tank whilst keeping the more fragile flame tank in reserve (though it can be committed to the battle as well if you’d prefer). In this mission you play as the Brotherhood of Nod, and heading north finds you a ruined Nod outpost – a barracks and a communications centre, circled in yellow. At this point the game plays a rather clever trick on the player. When the ruined base is revealed, the player can just about see two of the three tanks blocking the route ahead. Making sure those tanks are within the player’s sight at the exact moment you gain control of the buildings seemingly sends an obvious message – here are the units you have to kill, and we’ve just given you the buildings with which to kill them. At this point the player has $0. Selling the communications centre will yield exactly $500 which can be spent on five minigun infantry or one rocket soldier and two minigunners. Either way, any force assembled here is going to be inadequate to deal with the tanks parked in the pass which, seemingly, you need to kill. Indeed, the AI of these particular tanks is set to hold ground – they cannot be lured out to be killed one by one, nor can they be easily pulled out of position to slip past. The only way to persuade them to move is by placing troops on the tile directly in front of them, triggering the “run over this soldier!” AI state, otherwise they will not pursue anything you send at them. The player might end up trying half a dozen different ways of getting past those tanks, but even if a unit or two manages to sneak past the onslaught – very unlikely – there is another Mammoth Tank blocking another bridge up ahead.


A different strategy is required. Once the player realizes there is no way to push past those tanks, they may explore down to the south-west and find a selection of Chinook helicopters behind a pair of guard towers. These are unique among all units in the entire game because they can be captured by engineers… and engineers cost exactly $500. Instead of offering up your troops to be crushed beneath the treads of the tanks blocking the pass, the player needs to sell the communications centre, use all the money on a single engineer, break through the fence to the south-west, capture a Chinook and fly to the desired location. Unlike other levels where the player is only given a single way forward, this level gives the player two ways forward – a false way and a real way, and the player has to realize that blasting through things in your way isn’t always the best way forward, even when such a route is seemingly handed up to the player. Many other levels in the game have similar (though less crucial) situations where capturing a building or sneaking instead of fighting can either help you, or open the possibilities for other tactics beyond open combat. As with many levels in the expansion pack, the player is given only what is required – a player who has learned this lesson in the game’s design may quickly question the presence of a communications centre that seemingly serves no purpose…

One other thing to note about this level. If we take a closer look at where the player’s units start there is a large civilian building on the other side of the river. When the level starts and most of the map is shrouded, you are just about able to make this out. By this point the player will have learned that these buildings always have crates of money inside them. Having acquired the Chinook you can then take a few units over there, destroy it, and retrieve the crate, whereas accessing it via the bridge – which leads into the opposing base – is impossible until you’ve finished the level anyway, at which point the value of an extra few thousand dollars is zero. It’s a nice little addition – most Chinook missions give you a single thing to use the Chinook for, whereas this mission supports a little observation on behalf of the player as a method to acquire a significant amount of extra starting resources.


The second level is called Blindsided, and starts the player with just a single commando (instant-kill weapon against soldiers, C4 charges which instant-kill buildings if successfully planted). The map is divided into two halves by a river. What happens in the second half is, like the previous example, less to with level design than the first half as there are multiple possible solutions to it. The first half, however, takes a leaf out of the same book as the first level, as well as one of the levels examined in the previous entry. The side of the map you start on (the bottom) has a Nod base on each side (you play as GDI, the opposing force). The base on the right which we’ll come to shortly has an Obelisk of Light guarding it (a deadly base defense) whilst the one on the left has just a single turret with some troops. Your first move is to kill off the turret and the surrounding soldiers, and then to refer back to the mission briefing. The briefing for this states that you must destroy the SAM sites (the orange circles) – once done, a helicopter will arrive with five engineers, and then depart. Which five buildings to capture? One’s inclination may be towards the airstrip in order to bring in tanks, but what you need here is the quantity of units, not the quality. Remember that mission last time where a meat-shield of units was required to let the commando get through safely? A similar tactic is required here, but with a twist.


You need to capture the five buildings marked and sell all but the barracks (#1) in order to build up enough of an army to rush the other base – that much is clear. In the mission from the previous entry the player had to take account of one extra issue – the gunboat patrolling down the middle of this map. This time, by contrast, the player has two extra issues to contend with. Firstly, the harvester, highlighted in the white circle below. This unit is ordinarily only for gathering resources, but under computer control has a very specific piece of attack code – when shot by a soldier, it will hunt that soldier down until it runs the soldier over. In other missions this can be used to lure harvesters into traps, but in this instance when you only have troops, it’s a problem. If multiple soldiers shoot it, it appears the harvester unit stores a list of those who have attacked it and plans to crush them all. This is an issue for two reasons – firstly because your horde of units is going to have to stand still to kill the Obelisk as fast as possible, which means you don’t want to worry about them being run over instead; and secondly, you need to keep the enemy harvester alive in order to subsequently capture the refinery (blue circle) and claim it as your own.


The second complication is the selection of normal soldiers inside the second base. When you attacked the first base, you could take your time – none of the soldiers would attack you unless you came close and triggered them, so your commando can safely pick them off one by one. No such luxury is possible here, however – once you have committed to battle several of the troops within the base will attack your soldiers, including potentially several wielding flamethrowers which will decimate your stack of troops. What this means is that the player has to control their troops not just to destroy the obelisk – undoubtedly the primary objective – but to also avoid firing even a single bullet at the harvester, whilst also drawing fire from the turrets so that the commando can finish them off, whilst also dealing with the troops that emerge from the base to defend it. Careful use of the commando is essential – I would recommend using him to pick off the individual soldiers – but your entire army must be carefully managed to ensure that which must die dies, and that which must not doesn’t take a single bullet. This a demanding section of micromanagement, especially if the commando took damage earlier, and especially if you try to make sure to keep the commando alive (a useful though not vital unit for the rest of the level). Many players seem to mark this one down (along with Twist of Fate, a level I haven’t examined here) as one of the trickiest in the expansion. Like the level before, this level gets the player thinking about factors they might not normally consider – in the first case the sale value of a single building was the key to cracking the level, and in this case keeping an enemy unit alive and carefully balancing what you attack and what you don’t is the way to make it through alive.

The third level from the original we’re talking about today is Death Squad. Unlike the above two, this is a mission with a number of possible solutions, but the one I describe here is one which allows you to keep the highest possible number of your own units alive, and indeed – if done perfectly – this mission can be completed without losing a single unit. When you begin, you are given nine units. Many of them are not particularly important for this strategy (though are useful for others), but the useful units are as follows. #1 is a commando, a unit we’ve seen a lot of in these analyses. #2 is a buggy – fast and weak. #3 is a pair of stealth tanks which can cloak and remain hidden, but must be visible to fire. This is only one way this level might be completed, but the method that requires the fewest units, keeps all your units alive, and hopefully shows the extent to which some of the level design of this game enables something close to an ideal of “perfect play”.


In this mission you need to destroy an “Advanced Communications Centre” at the back of the GDI base (the building circled in white in the picture below). Between your little force and the objective are five distinct obstacles, each of which can be navigated without losing a unit. The first is the exterior base defenses; the second is a commando; the third is a group of grenadiers; the fourth is a Mammoth Tank, the strongest unit in the enemy arsenal; and the fifth is an Advanced Guard Tower (AGT), which will decimate the player’s troops and easily kill most of the light vehicles the player’s been given for this mission. Firstly the player can send stealth tanks around the corner, followed by a unit as bait. All enemy units have a certain radius in which they’ll detect your units and pursue – sending something visible will cause the commando to come out and fight (the dark red line). It can then be quickly disposed of – if their commando remains alive, your commando may be killed, and that makes this strategy impossible to complete. The stealth tanks can then destroy part of the wall shown in the dark green circles, at which point the buggy can be brought up to join them.

However, giving the player stealth tanks in this mission is a clever move on the designer’s part. As above, all the enemy units have a radius within which they will attack any units – any visible units. Bringing the buggy up too soon will trigger the Mammoth Tank to close range and the grenadiers to close in, and your stealth tanks, buggy and commando cannot hold off that kind of force. Even if the enemy units cannot pursue your cloaked stealth tanks, they can pursue visible units next to the cloaked stealth tanks, thereby forcing the player to carefully place their stealth tanks to ensure any enemy units moving around the map don’t stumble upon them, something made trickier by the small amount of room you have to maneuver down the right side of the base (see the picture below). Once the wall is open sending through your commando will trigger the grenadiers and the Mammoth Tanks, but backing off will return the Mammoth to where it started – the grenadiers can be picked off by your commando pretty safely. At this point, things get a bit hectic – you want to send the buggy (the dark green) through to trigger the Mammoth, get its attention, then start running circles around the guard tower and the Mammoth both. Once their attention has been grabbed (and the AGT is firing away from the objective, as shown by the black arrows), it’s then simply a matter of running the commando (light green) up to the Communications Centre and destroying it.


This level gives you a selection of different units with a selection of different potential strategies. Any kind of all-out assault is bound to fail, but the map is full of possibilities. You have commandos that can instantly kill troops; you have stealth tanks which can navigate their base unseen; you have rocket troops that can even attack their helicopter gunship, if you choose to attack through the other side of the base. Although large in size the GDI base is very sparsely populated – it seems clearly designed to allow you to use your units carefully and cleverly to overcome obstacles one at a time. At the same time, although the player has a lot of choice over the early stages of the level the final challenge – the Mammoth Tank and the AGT – must be dealt with no matter how you approach the level. You lack sufficient firepower to handle them without significant (or critical) losses, so the player has to find a strategy to either handle or negate the effect of both. The placement of the sandbags on either side are an interesting choice – did the designers mean to allow you to shoot through them and rush around the Mammoth? Sandbags are destroyed from a single explosive hit, so maybe that was the intention. As I mentioned before there are multiple solutions to this mission. A quick search of Youtube will find others, including one version where the majority of the player’s units are sacrificed to lure the Mammoth Tank away, after which your two stealth tanks are placed to the south-east of the objective and are just about able to snipe it without the AGTs damaging them. The solution I presented here was one which uses the units you’re given carefully – rather than just as cannon fodder – and is, I think, the most elegant solution to the level and hopefully showcases the depth of strategy possible with some of the level designs in this game.


These three levels all need the player to think carefully about the unit’s they’re facing and the units at their disposal. The first level cleverly subverts the player’s expectations about how the game teaches you your objectives – it shows one way to do the mission, but that method is only a trick, and you need to explore the rest of the map (and think carefully about the value of the buildings you’ve been handed) to find the right way through to your objective. without killing the tanks in the way. The second mission needs you to distinguish between units that need killing and those which don’t – in rushing the secondary base you need to keep the harvester alive – and again subverts the RTS norm of kill-everything-in-sight (something the original C&C often does well in its more puzzle-like missions). The third mission has a variety of solutions but a map carefully designed to allow for careful tactical play, including a deathless victory, and gives you a base that is near-impenetrable with a full frontal assault yet very exploitable by using the AI and the units you’ve been given. In the third part of this series I’ll be moving on to Tiberian Sun, the narrative sequel to the game, which has a variety of missions that both serve as tricky puzzles and reward players who figure out complex sequences of actions (much like these), rather than simply killing everything in sight.

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33 thoughts on “Real-Time Strategy “Level Design” II

  1. Some interesting notes:

    Hostile Takeover: the village where you can find the crate actually provides a weakness in the enemy base which you can exploit later: if you manage to keep the helicopter alive (though, there are two spares available if you lose it), dropping off soldiers there to take out the enemy guard towers allows you to strike against their power plants and knock out the base power. You can even begin an engineer incursion there, and capture their most vital buildings.

    Blindsided: “You need to capture the five buildings marked and sell all but the barracks (#1) in order to build up enough of an army to rush the other base – that much is clear.” – Actually, it’s strongly advised to leave one power plant, since producing units without any power multiplies the production time by a whopping 22.5.

    Death Squad: “and indeed – if done perfectly – this mission can be completed without losing a single unit.” True. Sadly, Nod’s ‘efficiency’ score seems to go down for every enemy building you destroy, meaning the maximum score is only achieved if you make sure the ONLY building you destroy is the target. Since you NEED to destroy that, a score of 100% is impossible to achieve… as it is in most missions, given the nature of the logic and the game.

    “At the same time, although the player has a lot of choice over the early stages of the level the final challenge – the Mammoth Tank and the AGT – must be dealt with no matter how you approach the level.” – This is actually not true. Not ENTIRELY true, anyway. The AGT doesn’t need to be dealt with at all. If you park your two stealth tanks to the top and left of the rock you see at the bottom-right of the AGT, they can fire on the Advanced Comm Center without getting in range of the AGT 🙂

    I usually open up the right-side wall with my stealth tanks, then use my other units to destroy the guard tower at the base entrance to send the enemies into a frenzy, and then move those units all the way down to lure everyone away, including the Mammoth Tank. While the enemies all focus on them, it’s not hard to slip the Stealth Tanks into position and take out the Advanced Comm Center.

    That just proves, again, that there are multiple ways of beating the level, though.

    I really enjoyed this article. Thanks for writing it!

    • Thanks for the detailed comments! In order: ah, that’s true. I hadn’t thought about using that attack route in that way. That’s true about the power plant, I didn’t think to write that though I would always do that (then sell it and knock up the game speed for the final unit or two!). Yeah, the way the game figures out the efficiency score is very strange. It seems to me logical that it should only include units lost, or maybe units lost/built or lost/killed, rather than including buildings. Very peculiar. Though, for that matter, I’ve often found score systems in RTS games to be generally a bit dubious and very easy to “game”, as it were. Interesting re: AGT! You’re welcome, I’m very glad you enjoyed reading it : )

  2. Hi Mark,
    That’s some cool articles you got here. I’m an RTS enthusiast and obviously mind-taken by Tiberian Dawn. I have seen a lot of stuff made by fans, more than 600 missions and if you’d be interested to analyze some of them, contact me in skype and I’ll lead to interesting missions.

    I have this preference too about scarce management, where the resources you have available apparently doesn’t match the goal set. At least it teaches us that we can change the way we think. I also like when the mission is connected to a backstory, like Nod just having a bunch of guys and is bold enough to go get the things they need anyway.

    I hope you come to elaborate on Covert Ops “Twist of Fate” mission, but I know it was built upon impact and crisis management, rather than anything else.

    Keep it going.

    • Hi Chimas,

      That’s very interesting – I had no idea there was a community for custom-made missions! Is there a core website or forum or something for this? I’m definitely interested; can you send me an email on mark @ this domain with some suggestions?

      I fully agree with your second paragraph; those are almost always the missions I enjoy the most, when it seems like there’s just no way to carry out your objectives at first with the meager resources you’ve been given. Ah, “Twist of Fate” – I debated writing something on there, but I felt after the impact & crisis management bit (excellent description) the strategy was pretty standard, and I think there’s a lot of ways to survive the opening anyway. Thanks again : )

      • Back in the days when the internet was a rare and mysterious thing to a lot of people, but those who had access to it uploaded tons of creative content, some unscrupulous people downloaded tons of C&C1 missions off the web, pressed them on CDs, and sold them as “unofficial addons” to games.

        Thanks to those people, hundreds of missions were saved when the websites that originally hosted them disappeared.

        There aren’t many mission makers left these days, but most of the current C&C1 community is in the Command & Conquer Communications Center website, which has a pretty active forum community, too:
        Most of its activity is thanks to the online play project, CnCNet, though.

        Anyway, Chimas’ project can be found on the forums too, right here:
        The mission count currently seems to be around 600 🙂

            Their little homepage text sums it up pretty well 🙂

            “Who knew that the companies looking for a quick buck through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with “Shovelware” CDs would become the unwitting archivists of the BBS age? No one did, but here we are, looking back, muttering thanks to these soulless con artists as we plunder the very data they themselves took from a time now past.”

            I’ve personally found many lost treasures on that site 🙂

          • The only saving grace of human knowledge is piracy. Any one library will eventually burn—knowledge must be spread to as many libraries where people can copy them again. And eventually find the value hidden inside. Doing so consensually with the creators is not always possible—hats off to attribution-only licenses—, but is as necessary as ever.

    • Much obliged! I’m glad people like the occasional game design entry – if I ever make these more common they’ll probably be as well as URR posts, rather than rare replacements…

      • It will be nice indeed, I like to read game-design papers, how to love video games without being interested in its creation process? Or even the ideology/thoughts behind it?
        I wanted to ask you a question : what do you think about other RTS games, Age of Empires 2 (or even Age of Mythology if you have an opinion on it) in particular?

        Also subsidiary question : Will your PhD be readable on the internet when you’ll achieve it? I’m studying sociology myself so it kind of interest me. I’m aware it could be in a very long and maybe you didn’t think about it but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

        • I couldn’t agree more – game design is a fascinating area and something a lot of gamers overlook, or rather, people often struggle to separate their experiences of playing a game from its overall design. I haven’t played enough AoE2 to comment (and no AoM!) – although I deeply love the early C&C games, I’m not generally much of an RTS gamer. This is especially true in recent years when designing RTS games *for* competitive play, a la SC2, has taken a lot of the interest out of them for me rather than, like the C&C games, simply allowing the players to develop the strategies and high-level play themselves.

          Subsidiary question: it will! It will be automatically added to the “White Rose E-Theses Repository”. Excellent subject choice! What particular areas? Assuming it is uploaded once you pass your viva (the oral defence of your thesis), it should be uploaded by the end of the year!

          • I’m more in the organization/work/company/administration side of sociology, I’m currently in a Master degree, it’s my last year of study. Contrary to you, I will not try to go for Doctorate degree, my degree is based on applied sociology mostly and is not research-oriented which imply to do a year more in another degree of sociology to candidate for doctorate cycle…and for various reasons, I don’t want to go any further in terms of university study.
            I certainly picked the wrong degree^^ I’m more interested in network (in sociological terms), video games, history, myths, music and everything as cool as that… but I don’t think i’m suited for a doctorate of any kind…Despite that fact, I’m always interested in sociology and social/human sciences in general so I like to read thesis, books, papers about everything and anything =)

            Well about RTS, I asked you about age of empires because some of campaign missions follow the logic that you developped in your paper : slash your way and reach some waypoints carefully using few units that you have to micro in order to succeed but maybe it is not as puzzly and challenging as C&C.
            But yeah I see your point about competitive design and I agree with you. Even if SC2 campaign is entertaining, it is not as interesting as AoE or C&C in your case can be. Everything in SC2 is multiplayer-oriented, it’s a bit sad. It’s a game about duel. In my case, I always was a solo player (but I have nothing against a little friendly-battle sometimes)!
            You should try AoM if you have the time, it’s a lot of fun he he
            Anyway, about game-design you can dump all you got because I’ll read most of it =)

            Another question: How did you learn to code? Did you do it by yourself? With what language?
            What can you recommend to an absolute beginner to begin with? I’m really interested in coding (someday…) but I can’t figure where to start and what to do first…

            Thanks to answer to people commenting here, it must be really time-consuming…It must be a conspiracy to slow down URR development, that is !

          • Ah, cool – you’re definitely right, the problem with a doctorate is that you have to focus on a single topic for the entire period. Yes it’s a big topic; yes it’s something that you should be an expert in by the end of it; and yes, if you’re lucky (like I was) you get free choice of your topic, but it’s still a single topic. I’ve found my doctorate interesting but I’ll be glad when I can move onto other research. A lot of the interests you’ve listed are ones that definitely interest me! Though it’s sadly hard to study such a range of things, though I think (and hope) moving into game studies might give me that kind of chance…

            Then I shall have to give AoE a look some time, as it is those missions I enjoy the most. One thing that always bugged me about AoE – and I stress, I have not played it extensively – was that there often seemed to be minimal differentiation between units. Many units seemed similar and roughly interchangeable, whereas the early C&Cs I felt had a range of very different units that were amazing/terrible in different situations. Haha, thank you, I’m glad people like my game design entries as well as the pure URR updates. The blog is obviously primary for URR, but there’s so many other things I feel the need to write about I think it’s a good outlet for getting feedback on them.

            I learned to code first by looking at the “Python Roguelike Tutorial” which you can find on Google! I had never coded a line of anything before. Once that got me sorted with the absolute basics I proceeded to try fiddling with and editing the code, and that grew into URR (which is the first game I’ve ever made). For an absolute beginner, I have to recommend what I did – find an incredibly simple tutorial for a game you’d like to make, follow it, and then start fiddling with the code and you’ll come to understand how the different aspects of the game’s code interact with each other. Ha, it does take a while, but I’m really happy with the little community I’ve built up here and I like getting all the feedback and the discussions we sometimes get going in the comments. Makes me think I must be doing something right!

          • Thanks for the advices about the “Python roguelike tutorial” I’ll definitively check out that !
            It’s always a pleasure to see this blog so active, seriously get some sleep ahah

    • Thanks! Ah, that’s a good thought. I haven’t done so since URR entries are 99% of what I post here, so I think it would make more sense to have a game design/crit tag instead! I’ll think about adding one though, especially as I’m thinking of doing more entries like this in the future.

  3. Wow, I’m so glad I found this…. Command & Conquer has been my favorite game since I installed the DOS version on my crappy old 486 in the mid-90’s. Fast forward 10+ years later after my cds had long since vanished and I was overjoyed when I learned it had been updated to run on modern systems. Even more overjoyed when I learned it was freeware. I had always aspired to make my own missions, but as a teenager I was unable to decipher the Greek that was c&c mission scripting. Now as a more patient adult I dove into it with unwavering determination and have made over 30 missions; with those worthy enough posted to the c&c comm center website, ( ) one of the last remaining bastions for TD left on the web. Eventually I even undertook the (seemingly insane) task of replacing all 50 original campaign missions. So far I have about 15 complete and I happen to stumble upon this article. It truly distills what was so great about the game and allows me to look at my creations in a new light; some I believe live up to the standards written about here, while others really are “build, find & kill!”

    • Thanks for the comments! Heh, I never actually tried making my own missions, though I’m sure I would have run into the same problems (I did for RA2 though, I made a bunch of massive and, if I say so myself, surprisingly decent campaigns when I was a teenager). I’ve been on the C&C comm site before, it’s really impressive, and I’m so glad you liked the article – and I totally agree, I think the puzzle missions were often the very best (not that there’s anything wrong with a good “kill ’em all!” objective either).

      I’m also hoping to have something *absurdly exciting* to announce about Command & Conquer in the next few months, though I’m still in talks/discussion over it… all I can say is, stay tuned to the blog! If C&C is your most beloved game, you’ll like this announcement if/when it comes!

  4. Nice article; although I’m more of a player than content creator, the ideas you mentioned are relevant no doubt. I find that in most TD missions there’s a general set of AI exploits than can be manipulated regardless of the units at your disposal, such as distracting it or preventing it from rebuilding a fallen structure. You’re right though that the ideas presented in these 3 missions (choosing what unit to use, what and what not to destroy) are the building blocks that each mission designer wants to utilise, and without these tactical objectives, a mission would be somewhat boring regardless of the tech level or fancy superweapons.

    An example of my games on these missions using AI exploits or other tactics:
    Nod Death Squad where I destroy not just the Adv Comm Centre but in fact every single unit, barrier and structure:
    Blindsided where I cut the game short by creating vision in the north base via airstrike:
    Hostile takeover where I enter the enemy base via the south without doing much on my original base:


    • Thanks for the comment! Glad you enjoyed it (and sorry about having to wait until I woke up for verification – WordPress automatically blocks many-link posts). When I was young and played it, I certainly found the obvious sandbag/wall tricks, how strong a tactic basewalking is, that airstrikes always target your upper-most unit, the ability to capture/sell/re-capture/repeat silos, etc, but those are some really, really interesting videos. Thanks for posting them!

  5. Greetings, Mark.

    I stumbled upon this level design conversation only now. And I decided to throw in my two cents. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the GBA game called Advance Wars. I know, it’s a TBS, but the point is that this game is marvelous. Both in terms of balance and level design.

    This game has a separate ranking for how fast, efficient and resourceful you are. And a big majority of levels have different ways of completion. Logically, the game rewards you for less obvious route. Some of the levels also have a sort of logical “traps” – when you think the level design tries to tell you what to do, but instead only makes the situation worse. Abussing the AI is also present(like in any good strategy game) and sometimes it’s the ONLY way you can compete the level. And did I mention that you can choose from 3 different SOs of your army for each level and the level itself can change depending on your SO?

    The best part is that there are GBA simulators on smartphones, so you can play something like AW on your phone when you have a spare moment. Gotta love today’s technology.

    • Forgot to mention that this game also has a fog of war mechanic. Although, they’re rarely present in the campaign. Those missions are the best from the masochistic point of view. Because the only way to at leat know where is the enemy is to fail the mission itself a couple of time. And also when you’re about to finally finish the mission you find out that there are still 2 enemy battleships present on the map(they have the biggest fire range amongst the moving units I believe) and both of them have a clear line of fire on their HQ – it means you can’t cut the mission short by capturing it and deal with this nonsens once and for all.

      Surprise battleships in AW are the best.

      • I am indeed familiar with it! I’ve never actually owned a handheld, but I played AW with a friend quite a few times when I was much younger (maybe the first release? The GBC release? I don’t know how many releases there have been or the history of the series) and I was really impressed by it. I’m not a phone gamer at all – whenever I’m in a situation where I might phone game, I prefer to read a book (on a train etc) or just listen to music and relax a bit – but I may well give it a look. Abusing the AI is sometimes the only way you can complete the level? Heh – I didn’t know there were other games designed in that way (though I suppose there is obviously a subjective line between abusing the AI/playing-against-the-AI-very-well which a lot of very high difficulty levels in some games blur). Either way, thanks for the thoughts! Although it might have been the best part of a decade since I played an Advance Wars game, it really impressed me at the time.

        • You’ll be surprised(or not) to hear that the map-making community is blossoming. The guys out there even made whole campaigns in AW: Dual Strike, besides the >9000 good multiplayer maps. And just like any good game it’s never late to get right into it.

          P.S.: It’s fun to realize that literally all my posts here so far have some major grammatical and semantic mistakes. And that’s coming from a guys who writes serious stories in English. Almost feel embarrassed for myself. Almost.

          • How interesting! That’s cool, I’m glad to hear it has such a following. Re: P.S., heh, not to worry. I do proof my posts on the blog once, but I obviously don’t proof them quite as assiduously as I would academic/magazine work, so I know I let the odd typo slip in. Such is life!

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