A studio helmed by StarCraft 2's multiplayer lead wants to create an RTS 'paradigm shift' with its unannounced game

Uncapped Games, a new Tencent studio formed in 2021, revealed itself to the world this week with a documentary from Noclip's Danny O'Dwyer (embedded above). The studio is working on an unannounced RTS game that it hopes will trigger a "paradigm shift" in realtime strategy by shifting the emphasis away from memorization and execution speed.

It's a lofty goal, but if you had to tackle the job, Uncapped's got the kind of roster you'd want. Its team includes veteran RTS devs who helped create genre classics at Blizzard, Relic, and Blackbird, with senior designers, artists, and engineers from games like StarCraft and Dawn of War. At the core of the game's creative direction is David Kim, formerly the lead multiplayer designer on StarCraft 2 and now Uncapped's senior game director, who's been refining the concept for the studio's soon-to-be-announced RTS for over a decade.

In March, I attended a behind-closed-doors preview summit at Tencent's offices in Los Angeles, where Uncapped presented the vision behind its three years of development on the as-yet-unnamed strategy game. Drawing a comparison to the impact World of Warcraft had on MMOs, Uncapped hopes to redefine the RTS by making the genre approachable to a broader base of players without sacrificing its depth.

While I spent two days playing the game alongside streamers and professional RTS players, I've been asked not to share any specifics about the game's design until its full reveal later this summer. I can say, however, that I was impressed by the thoughtfulness behind Uncapped's strategy for reimagining the RTS. The game could have the juice.

At the event, I had a chance to ask David Kim how he and Uncapped Games set out to trigger an RTS sea change. In short, Kim said, "I wanted to take a stab at designing a game that's just the most fun to play rather than the most challenging RTS ever made." It was a desire that stemmed from a nagging feeling that followed his work on Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm—a sense that RTS development had been hyperfocused on high-level play to the detriment of its playerbase.

"Take StarCraft 2," Kim said. "It's one of my favorite games of all time, but I often wonder, like, is this really a real-time strategy game, or is it more like real-time execution?" 

By fixating on the speed and precision of professional-tier competitive play, RTS development was overcomplicating its core gameplay, alienating players who might otherwise be interested, he thinks. "Why are we making an RTS game," said Kim, "where you have to be so good at like, playing the piano as fast as possible, as efficiently as possible?"

Concept art for Uncapped's first game.

Concept art for Uncapped's first game. (Image credit: Uncapped Games)

Instead, Uncapped Games is trying to design an RTS that champions approachability as much as it does strategy. "As one of the developers that's worked on RTS for so long, that statement has never been true—that they're easy to learn, difficult to master," Kim said. "We really wanted to take a stab at easy to learn."

To do that, Uncapped is deemphasizing the kind of gameplay design that lends itself to high-APM execution and build order memorization, which can be daunting to the general player. "We want to reduce or remove as much of the tedious clicks that are required to even experience the game," Kim said. Instead, the studio's putting a greater focus on the moment-to-moment strategic decisions—decisions like which units you want to deploy and when you want to expand—and less on arbitrary complexity in execution. 

However much Uncapped might break from the standard RTS model, the "core fun factors" to do with strategic decision making, Kim says, are still the foundation for the studio's design. "Those we don't want to alter, because at the end of the day, we're trying to make an RTS game," he said. "There's no way around it."

Uncapped Games is set to reveal its upcoming RTS at Summer Game Fest in June. We'll have more to share then.

Lincoln Carpenter

Lincoln spent his formative years in World of Warcraft, and hopes to someday recover from the experience. Having earned a Creative Writing degree by convincing professors to accept his papers about Dwarf Fortress, he leverages that expertise in his most important work: judging a video game’s lore purely on the quality of its proper nouns. With writing at Waypoint and Fanbyte, Lincoln started freelancing for PC Gamer in Fall of 2021, and will take any excuse to insist that games are storytelling toolkits—whether we’re shaping those stories for ourselves, or sharing them with others. Or to gush about Monster Hunter.