Pitbull's hit single "Fireball" is a high energy party anthem from 2014. In it we find what appears to be a song about drinking, dancing, and passions of the night. But what can this song tell us about designing a real time strategy game? It turns out, quite a lot.
1. The Importance of Immediacy
In a cheeky announcement of design wisdom Pitbull sings "I saw, I came, I conquered, or should I say I saw, I conquered, I came." This lyric is a mashup of the phrase Julias Caesar himself popularized with Veni, Vidi, Vici. However, Pitbull reorganizes the words to show the importance of conquest in a real time strategy game. Players should see their opponents, conquer them, then feel the joys that go with that victory without wasting time on the logistics of real warfare. To do this the units under a player's command should move with a sense of urgency and immediacy. Long delays between action delivery and unit response make the player feel less powerful, especially when accompanied with slow moving units.
2. Rewarding Skill and Focus
One hallmark of a good strategy game is the ability of a player to pounce on the mistakes of an opponent to gain an advantage. Pitbull knows this. When he sings "They say the Chico on fire and he no liar. While y'all slippin’ he runnin’ the game." He literally means that Chico is taking over the game when he catches an opponent slippin'. When designing a competitive RTS, this is extremely important. Look for any opportunity to let players take risks and capitalize on successfully countering these risks.
3. Fire and the Aesthetics of Destruction
Real time strategy games done well make the player feel powerful and strong. In a competitive battle setting this often translates to defeating opposing units and destroying their buildings. But just as Pitbull's classic punctuates his chorus with a loud "FIREBALL" so too should your game emphasize destruction with fire, explosions, and other visual effects. These provide powerful reinforcement for the player's successes and reward them for their progress. As a player progresses through the game and creates more advanced units, you can build this sense of power by having even more powerful explosions and yes fireballs.
4. Usability and Pathfinding Through Fog of War
In his own way Pitbull has a lot to say about prompting units and letting them lead the way forward when the path is unknown. He belts out "I gave Suzie a little pat up on the booty, And she turned around and said, Walk this way". Likewise the units in your game should respond to orders from the player with intelligent movement through the map. If a player directs their troops into the fog of war of a map, make sure your pathfinding system makes the units appear to find intelligent paths through. If they get stuck on walls or in a group of trees, it will destroy the player's confidence in their units. This detracts from the player fantasy of being a strong commander or general.
5. Don't be Afraid of Sequels!
Towards the end of his dance-floor scorcher, Pitbull chants "we're bringing it, we're bringing it, we're bringing it back" because he's not afraid to bring back what's great. Many of the best real time strategy games built on the successes or earlier titles in their franchise. Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2, Age of Empires 2: The Conquorer's Expansion, Starcraft: Brood War, and Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne were all expansions, sequels, or both and are widely acclaimed. Each of these perfected the gameplay that came before to create widely popular and beloved titles. So when working on your next project don't be afraid to expand on past works.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully I was able to pass some of Pittbull's wisdom onto you for your next big RTS project, good luck out there!