Supreme Commander

A diary of dirty tactics in Supreme Commander

Tom Francis at

Supreme Commander - Brick Pickup

I still play the original Supreme Commander a lot. Partly because of the huge scale, but mostly because nothing else has this many different types of exciting robots, and if something did, they probably wouldn't explode so perfectly.

It also has unusually good AI, and this is a story about that.

The Fields of Isis is a map split by mountain ridges. One in the middle divides your possible routes to the enemy base. Two outside each base concentrate all incoming forces into a tight chokepoint, making it easy to defend. I'm fighting a single top-level AI, and I have a plan.

The quickest stuff to build in Supreme Commander is Tech 1: basic tanks and planes, stuff you can pour out of 10 factories at once without your economy flinching. To build anything higher tech takes a major investment to upgrade your factories, but Tech 2 is a hell of a thing once you reach it. You've got dozens of weird and interesting things you can build, and it's all brutally efficient: units that cost 3 or 4 times as much are 10 to 15 times more powerful, and that's incredibly satisfying to see in action.

Tech 2 turrets, in particular, are amazing. SupCom's not usually a game about rushing, so defensive structures are vastly more powerful than offensive ones of the same cost. If you get to Tech 2 before your opponent, and you build turrets instead of units, they will obliterate everything.

That's my plan. But I'm not going to make my chokepoint into a killing field, I'm going to do it to his.

This is basically impossible: you can't get to the enemy's chokepoint before he leaves it, and if you upgrade to Tech 2 straight away, you can't afford anything much to defend your own territory. Apart from anything, Tech 2 turrets take time to build - your engineers would get shredded by the enemy army long before they finished one.

If something's impossible in Supreme Commander, you get your commander to do it. He can take on a small army alone, he can explode with the force of a nuclear bomb, and he happens to be an engineer on the side. But it's a big map, and the commander isn't fast. By the time I walked him over there, and got the resources together to upgrade him to build Tech 2 stuff, the enemy would have an army easily capable of shredding him. And I'd need him at home to help upgrade my factories anyway.

So my actual plan is a bit ambitious. I keep my commander at home, build an air factory, and get it to Tech 2 as soon as possible. That lets me build an air transport big enough to carry him, and tough enough to survive any Tech 1 interceptors that try to bring it down. While that's building, I upgrade the commander himself to be able to construct Tech 2 stuff. That finishes around the same time the transport completes, so he hops in and flies out to the enemy's front door to build a forward base.

It's tricky, but the economics of it just about work out. My commander finishes upgrading a little early, which frees him up to help build the transport. The enemy has taken a terrifying amount of the map by this point, but he's still only churning out Tech 1 tanks. He'd have to send them all at once to damage my turrets faster than I could build them. So the transport finishes, my commander climbs in, and it carries him out to the front line. This is actually kind of cute, it holds him the way a cat holds a kitten: dangling limply by its neck.

The moment he lands, I change my mind. I don't want a turret first, I want a shield. They're slightly quicker to build, and once up, I can build turrets inside their radius without anything punching through to stop me. They drain a lot of power, but I think my engies at home can ramp up their generator production to handle it.

Again, the economics just about work out. I've been playing Supreme Commander for so long that I've actually started to read the tooltips about how much things are going to cost me, so I crash my economy less these days. The second the bubble pops up around my commander, I have him build a line of Tech 2 turrets right at the barrier.

It works spectacularly. The range on these things is huge, so most stuff doesn't even get close enough to trouble my shield. I build two more shields just in case, and one anti-air turret, then start building factories. I'm not going to use them yet, just upgrade them all to Tech 3 so I can eventually build an army tough enough to punch through the enemy's own defenses.

I even take some risks, upgrading my commander with some combat improvements and having him stray into the enemy base to take out a few minor buildings on its perimeter. Appropriately, that's when I notice my base is gone.

I had wondered why my economy seemed to be going down rather than up, and the explosion of my biggest power generator helps explain it. Most of the rest of my original territory is populated by blackened wrecks or enemy structures. One engineer - one! - got past my anti-air turret in an air transport, landed, and built a Tech 2 turret in my base. It's still merrily destroying - there's plenty to shoot at in its vast range.

This would be embarrassing enough if it wasn't the same tactic I'd just used on them. And it would be bad enough even if I had built a few basic units for emergencies. I have nothing. The only way I can get my economy back is to march there myself - using my commander - and take on that turret in person.

My upgraded commander does beat a Tech 2 turret, but it takes him a while to get there and clean up all the mess. I still have almost all of the map, but my base was the backbone of my economy, and rebuilding is slow. It also takes up all of my attention. So ten minutes later, I'm somewhat surprised by what comes out of the enemy base.

They've built a Galactic Colossus. It's the toughest thing in the game. It's a humanoid robot the size of a skyscraper that shoots lasers from its face and sucks tanks into its crushing hands. Three Tech 2 turrets and a few shields are not going to stop it.

I have ten Tech 3 assault bots out by this point, so I send those at it too. But realistically, I know nothing I have can take this down. I try telling my factories to send their units to the other side of the map when they come out, to group up there, but it's not long before the thing's face-laser has melted the factories too. The enemy didn't have much to work with, but they put it all into this one gambit, and it's going to work.

Wait, am I the bad guy here? The story of this war is an amazing tale of resourcefulness and heroism - for the AI. It kind of paints me as the vast oppressive empire, bullying them and stealing their land. The plucky rebels used my own dastardly tactics against me, and did the impossible. They distracted my forces while they built their last, best hope of victory, and won.

I've lost, and I think I might have deserved it.