You need a plan to succeed at real-time strategy games. Advice for newcomers to the genre:
• Do your homework. If you are a complete newcomer, play through the tutorial —Halo Wars has a basic and advanced tutorial — before starting. And newbies should not jump directly online into multiplayer battles. "The single player (campaign) is very effective at teaching you those basic commands, and they are pretty good at teaching you all the different units and armies," says Rob Pardo of Blizzard Entertainment.
• Be resourceful. The first few things you build are key, says Halo Wars producer Jason Pace. At the outset of playing Halo Wars, he says, "I always build resource plants first. Resources are the biggest limiting factor in the game, and you want to get those going quickly. I always build two or three resource plants immediately before I do anything else."
• Embrace the military-industrial complex. New players often ignore this tip to their detriment. "Just go crazy with your economy and get it really ramped up and huge, much bigger than you think you need," says Bruce Shelley, co-founder of Ensemble Studios, which developed Halo Wars for Microsoft and created the Age of Empires games for PCs. "You are going to lose military units over and over again," Shelley says. "Often the winner is the player who can replace them faster." Also, Shelley says, "when you go into fights, go in with a lot of stuff. Don't piecemeal any kind of battle. Go way in. Just go all in."
• Smell the roses. In the Halo Wars single-player campaign, don't be afraid to strike out on your own occasionally. During the testing of the game, newcomers to RTS games tended "to proceed very linearly through the maps," Pace says. "They follow the objective arrows and they don't deviate from that path. Each of (15 campaign) maps is pretty big, and if you just go straight through and follow your objective arrows, you will miss an entire range of really cool scenery and bonuses, and sometimes you can get extra troops. There are lots of hidden goodies. I would encourage people to get out and explore."
• The little stuff matters. Keep in mind a grand strategy while you are doing the small things, says Kieran Brigden of The Creative Assembly, which developed Empire: Total War. "There is an old Japanese saying: 'Look after the small things and the large things will look after themselves.' And it's very very true," he says. "Winning all the small engagements in a larger battle will eventually turn the tide of the whole thing."
• Multiplayer tips. Online matches are much faster-paced, and players may be more aggressive than the artificial intelligence built into the single-player game, so moving up to multiplayer matches is a big challenge, Pardo says. To get your game up to speed, play the "skirmish" mode featured in most games. "The skirmish AI within the games plays a little bit more like a multiplayer person," he says. "What I notice is that newer players spend a lot of time in their base and they will build up towers and they just want to resource and get a lot of money and get to the top of the tech tree to get the very best units. That's usually how they play. And when they go on to multiplayer, they get creamed in the first two minutes."