(part 4 continued)
What do I do with my commander?
. . . . Aggression or Engineering?
Without upgrades, your commander is roughly equivalent to 20 T1 tanks (that’s about how many it can beat in a straight-up fight) and 2 T1 engineers (it builds exactly twice as quickly as a T1 engineer).
With or without upgrades, you can use your commander aggressively (to secure territory, and to deal and tank damage) or defensively (to build up your base, and to be there in case enemy units show up to raid your base).
At the very start of the game, you need to build at least 1 factory. Depending on the map, you might be better off staying to build 3+ factories and protect your base, or you might get the most value out of leading the charge.
If you send your ACU away from base, you are giving up about 100 mass (because it costs 100 mass to make 2 T1 engineers to replace your ACU’s build capacity). If your ACU leaves the base, kills a single enemy tank (52 mass cost to your opponent), and scoops up what’s left (30-40 mass), you’ve already almost gotten the same value out of the ACU as if your ACU stayed home in base.
If you use your ACU aggressively, you WILL lose games when your ACU gets caught out by a larger force. That does not mean you should stay in your base. If you stay in your base, you will also lose games. Part of becoming a better player is knowing when and how far you can push your ACU to take the most advantage, and when and how to protect it. This is just something you need to develop over time by playing the game. Have units with your ACU; have radar or send out scout planes to see if the enemy has more units near your ACU so you aren’t surprised by a large force; know whether there is deep water nearby that your ACU can run to; and as the game gets on, have interceptors or flak so your ACU doesn’t just suddenly die to 8 gunships that come out of nowhere.
Eventually, the game becomes too dangerous to have your ACU on the front lines. The primary game-ending mechanic of SupCom is that, as the game goes on, the battlefield becomes a more and more dangerous place.
. . . . Commander upgrades
Upgrading your ACU to get T2, so you can build point defense, is usually the wrong move. Instead of doing that, upgrade a factory and make T2 engineers. It’s not much more expensive and it makes your army (or air force) more diverse. Your ACU doesn’t need T2 unless you’re planning to drop it into a danger zone, because you can build all of the same things with a T2 engineer. (Thanks, Farmsletje!) If your ACU is with your army, the gun upgrade is generally much more effective. As long as you don’t just walk into too much point defense, a gun ACU beats a T2 ACU, especially if the gun ACU can overcharge stuff that the T2 ACU builds.
One of the mistakes new players often make is being too passive. They want to build a bunch of T2 point defense to make a fortress that can’t be broken. But in Supreme Commander, there is no such thing as a position that cannot be broken.
. . . . Factory infinite build orders and factory attack move
One of the most powerful things you can do in SupCom is to set your factories with “infinite” build orders, so they will loop endlessly through a list of units to make. Rather than telling a factory to make “10 tanks,” you can tell it to make “3 tanks, a land scout, a tank, a light artillery, a tank, and an engineer, on infinite loop.”
You can, and should, give your factories move orders (or attack-move orders) so your units will rally out to some waypoint. If you don’t do that, when they come out of the factory, they will just stand around in front of it waiting for you.
When I have an infinite build order from a factory, making a mix of units, sometimes I like to have an engineer in the mix. (Maybe 1 engineer out of 10-20 units, I'm not talking about making a lot of engineers.) This is because when the units stream out with an attack move order, the engineer will grab mass along the way. If there’s a battle, reclaim will be left behind, and the engineer can grab it, which often pays for the engineer, and then some. If I think a location is important enough that I want to rally my units there, then probably it would be nice to have some build capacity there in case I want to put down some PD, or a radar, or factory, or whatever. Just having engineers around the map, reclaiming things, not only strengthens the economy but it gives flexibility when I want to build things.
. . . . What ratio of tanks to light artillery?
In general, 5:1. (Thanks, @JaggedAppliance!) If your commander is leading the charge, you can have more light artillery in the mix, because your commander is taking the place of 10-20 tanks.
Against Aeon, you probably want something more like 2:1 or even 1:1. (Thanks again, Jagged!) And of course you need to have radar or bring land scouts. This is because Auroras have such excellent range.
At the very beginning of the match, unless you are against Aeon, you basically don’t need light artillery at all. Pure tanks (with land scouts of course) might be the best option. If you are going to attack point defense, or if you want to attack factories, it is good to have light artillery. As the game goes on, and the map starts to get crowded (especially if it has narrow choke points) light artillery is more valuable for tank-vs-tank fights. This is because if light arty is shooting at 2 moving tanks, it will probably miss, but if it is shooting at 20 moving tanks, it will probably hit, and it will do a lot more DPS than a tank would. So it can make sense to start by making close to zero light artillery, and as the game moves on, increase the amount.
. . . . Do I even make mobile anti-air?
Every mobile anti-air unit you make could have been a tank. If you make MAA, you will lose fights where you just didn’t have quite as many tanks as your opponent. But you need some kind of anti-air. Your opponent could surprise you by suddenly shifting into air production and making bombers. If you rely on interceptors for anti-air, you run the risk that you will “lose air” (that your opponent will have more interceptors than you, and kill all of your interceptors in an air fight). I don’t have a good answer on this, but I will note that high-rated players often skip making MAA until they need it.
. . . . Learn how to use the Replay Vault
The Java client for FAF has access to a vault with information about just about every FAF game ever played. It is in the vault section, and it is called “online replays.” Some of the replays don’t work, but most of them do.
You can filter the replays to search by player name, player rating, map name, and other factors. So you could search for all 1v1 ladder matches ZLO ever played on the map Loki. And then you can watch a few replays and steal his build orders.
Using filters, you can search for all replays with “game mod short name” “contains” “ladder” and “one of the player’s ladder ratings” “is greater than” “1900” which will bring up the most recent high-level ladder matches.
. . . . Comeback Mechanics
Every good RTS has comeback mechanics. So how do you come back, when you are behind? And on the flip side, what do you have to worry about, when you are ahead?
The three main comeback mechanics in SupCom are: (1) reclaim; (2) eco snipes; and (3) commander snipes.
Sniping the enemy commander (killing them with a surprise attack) is straightforward enough that I don’t need to explain it. A lot of players (and I am guilty of this) only look for commander snipes when we are losing. When you are ahead of your opponent, you might overlook the chance to take out the enemy commander.
Eco snipes are when you target down important economic structures, namely pgens or upgraded mexes. If you land a T2 transport carrying 14 lobos, or 16 zthuees, behind your opponent’s base, and crush 4 T2 mexes, that can be so much damage that suddenly, you’re not losing any more. Or perhaps you build a TML and use it to kill some T2 mexes. Two nothas can kill an unshielded T2 pgen in one pass.
Reclaim is so complicated and important that it needs its own chapter.
. . . . Energy Reclaim
Energy reclaim (from trees) is mostly only important in the early game, and when it is available it is usually part of the build order for a particular map. After you are done carrying out your build order, energy reclaim is probably not going to be very important for the rest of the match (but keep it in mind if you have energy problems, it can provide a short-term fix).
. . . . Mass reclaim at the start of the match
Mass reclaim (from rocks and dead units placed at the start of the match) is important to early build orders, because it can give you mass so much faster than you get from T1 mexes (which produce 120 mass per minute, but an engineer can pull that from a wreck in seconds), and because it costs so much energy to build T1 mexes. Every good build order takes into account where there is mass that can be reclaimed early.
. . . . Reclaim fields are strategic objectives
Every mass point is strategically important, and when multiple mass points are grouped together, obviously that is even more important as a strategic objective. New players tend to overlook that reclaim fields (either placed on the map by the mapmaker, or the result of a battle) can be equally important, because they can provide just as much, or more, income as mexes, albeit a finite amount. But you are only going to get a finite amount of mass from every mex: the only way to get infinite mass from a mex is if the match never ends. Unless you plan to play only 1 more match for the rest of your life, you need to stop looking at mex income as “infinite.”
When you are watching a replay, you can look at the mass income each player has. You can also look at the total amount of mass they have gathered during the game. And you can look at the total amount of mass they have reclaimed during the game. You should pay attention to this while you are watching replays. There are many games where one player with less income from mexes uses reclaim to keep up with or even surpass their opponent in terms of total mass. This is why reclaim can be a comeback mechanic. Even if you are behind in mexes, reclaim can keep you in the game or even give you a winning edge.
This also makes the game more interesting because (1) it punishes players for failed attacks; you don’t just lose units but you give reclaim to your opponent, which is called a “mass donation”; (2) it dynamically creates new strategic locations on the map. Chokepoints don’t move, mexes don’t move, but every time you play a map, and as the match goes on, the reclaim fields can be in completely different places. The strategic “shape” of the map changes dynamically as the game progresses, which makes this game really special compared to most RTS games.
. . . . See the reclaim
To see how much reclaim there is, press Ctrl-Shift. Very small amounts (less than 10) do not show up, but otherwise, the amount of each piece of reclaim is shown as a number on your map. You should be doing this throughout the match.
. . . . Take the reclaim
The most APM-efficient way to get reclaim is with an “attack-move” order (alt-right click) or patrol (a unit on attack-move behaves the same way as on patrol, except they stop when they reach their destination and run out of things to do). You can give an attack-move order in a fraction of second. But the engineers will not scoop efficiently: if there are small wrecks, or single trees, the engineers can scoop those before scooping the important stuff.
The most efficient way to quickly get reclaim can be “manual reclaim” which is where you select an engineer and for each rock/wreck/tree clump that you want them to reclaim, you give a separate order (a separate mouse click while holding down the shift key).
You have to balance your need for APM with your need for getting mass quickly.
You can build a factory next to a reclaim field, set an attack-move order for units coming out of the factory, and have it build engineers. Engineers on a “factory attack-move” order have double range when they are reclaiming things, for some reason. (This is a game engine bug, but it is not considered an exploit.) You will see good players build factories next to reclaim fields just so they can make engineers to grab reclaim, even in the middle of the ocean. You will see players use transports to drop engineers into reclaim fields, so they can grab the reclaim, or so they can quickly build a factory to get factory attack-move engineers into the field.
. . . . Reclaim your own losses
In team games, it is obvious that you should reclaim the base of a dead teammate to quickly boost your economy so your team does not fall too far behind. You can also cannibalize your own base in a 1v1 match. You have to decide between scooping and rebuilding. Sometimes, the smart move is to scoop the mass, and use it to keep your war engine running.
If there is a battle between 20 T1 tanks, 10 of yours and 10 of your opponent’s, the reclaim field might have 700+ mass in it. That is enough to rebuild your 10 tanks. That is enough to run a T1 land factory for three minutes. That is enough to build a pgen, a T1 land factory, and run it for over a minute. That is almost enough to upgrade a T2 mex. Even a small engagement can leave behind enough reclaim to make a real difference in the match.
. . . . This guy scoops
Your ACU does not just fight, it also scoops. After (or even during) a battle, you can give manual reclaim orders. Or you can put the ACU on patrol (just make sure it doesn’t wander off). One of the benefits of having your ACU out on the map is not only that it helps you to win fights, but you can scoop the mass afterwards.
More important than controlling units is to control yourself.
. . . . Pay Attention, but not Too Much
“Tunnel vision” is when a person focuses on one thing only, and fails to notice other things on the map. When there is a fight going on, it is normal to want to watch it, to see how it resolves, and to see if you can control the units a bit to increase their chances of success. That might be the best use of your attention. But maybe not. You need to decide where to focus your attention.
Good players don’t just watch things happen. If they’ve got a transport that’s trying to unload units but is under attack from interceptors, they might click away to a different area of the map, give some orders, then click back to see if the transport unloaded the units or not. They don’t just stare at it to see whether it will survive. Whether or not that transport unloads the units might be extremely important to how the match develops, going forward—but staring at it doesn’t change anything.
Don’t be a “looky-loo.” Don’t miss opportunities to control your entire army because you’re waiting to see what happens to three units. Keep everything moving. You have a mighty war engine, with many moving parts, and they all need your attention.
In order to see the big picture, it is as simple as looking at the big picture. Zoom out! And glance at your minimap often. FAF has nice graphics. The units look nice when you are zoomed in. The strategic icons don’t look so nice. But you’ve got to zoom out so you can see what is happening.
According to Zock, even if a battle is important, you should not just stare at it. You should give some orders, then look at some other part of the map, so you can give orders there, before you move your vision back to the critical battle. In the example, he was talking about a player whose ACU was dying. So no matter how important a battle might be, you can probably pull away briefly and then come back to it.
. . . . Attack Your Opponent’s Attention
When you are aggressively attacking, you force your opponent to respond. Even just sending a mantis behind their base takes their time and focus. @JaggedAppliance talks about a “@ZLO bomber”: a bomber sent out to some random part of the map, which is not really targeting any particular unit, but which is targeting the opponent’s attention, because players have to react when they see a bomber. Don’t let your opponent get comfortable. Harass and disrupt their plans.
Zock describes it this way: losing takes away your attention. Losing makes you busy because you are losing things everywhere. Winning is much less stressful than losing.
. . . . Be Reflective
Watch replays of your games. If it hurts too much to watch a game you lost, skip it. You’re probably making the same mistakes in games that you win. You will see so much in the replays. Switch between the three perspectives (the overview, what you could see, and what your opponent could see). If you don’t watch your replays, to see where you’re messing up, you will miss major opportunities for improvement.
. . . . Sentimentality is Weakness
Because of the reclaim mechanic, there are times when bringing a unit home and suiciding it, so you can scoop out the mass, is better than sending it to die on your opponent’s doorstep (where your opponent can scoop the mass). This happens most often in team games that reach the T4 stage.
If you make a TML (tactical missile launcher) and pick off a few of your opponent’s mexes, and then your opponent starts building TMD (tactical missile defense), your best move might be to suicide the launcher (select it and press ctrl-K) and scoop up the mass. You will immediately get back hundreds of mass, instead of having an “anti-T2 mex” costing you 6 mass per second while it builds missiles that you might never get to use.
If there’s an enemy bomber coming for your base, you can stop a unit in partial production in order to start making a mobile anti-air. If you press “s” to stop a factory that is 80% done making a tank, you will lose about 40 mass of investment. But if you get a mobile anti air unit out faster, you might save an engineer from dying (52 mass). It’s a mistake to worry too much about half a unit when you need to be paying attention to the big picture, and you need to budget your time/attention efficiently.
If you start making a building that you don’t need, you can reclaim it. (Thanks, @Death_Squad!) When a building is fully built, reclaiming it takes away health and does not give you mass (until it dies). But when it is under construction, reclaiming it gives you back some mass and energy. So if you start making a T2 pgen, and you decide that you don’t actually need it, stop building it, and start reclaiming it.
. . . . Be Persistent
When stuff gets destroyed, rebuild. When you lose mexes, retake them. And if you lose them again, retake them again, again and again. Even though the battlefield gets more dangerous as time goes on (which means, among other things, that it is harder and harder to hold mexes in the middle of the map) it is still worth it to build T1 mexes wherever you can. Don’t be a quitter and don’t get discouraged. Stay in the fight until the other guy quits.