Out4Blood & El_Cap's Rise of Nations Strategy

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Improving your micromanagement skills
So what makes a good player good? And how does one improve? My view is there are three basic categories of skill that determine a player's potential.
  • Micromanagement skill (Military and Tactics)
  • Macromanagement skill (Economy and Overall game view)
  • Strategic sense (Making good decisions)
In the first of what will probably be a series of posts, let me discuss how to improve your micromanagement skills.

Improving your micromanagement skills
The conventional wisdom says that, unlike FPS games, RTS games do not usually revolve around reflexive action, but rather strategic decisions under time constraints and proper execution. But it's the execution we're talking about here. Good strategy is not likely to win out if you can't micro very well, but you can micro your way back from bad strategy. Head to head, all else being equal, the better micro player will win the small initial battles and begin to build a macro lead. Further micro play will just reinforce that. A great example of this is raiding. A good micro player will be able to raid, kill individual targets, avoid tower and city fire, and run away from dangerous defenders, all while managing and improving his economy. A bad micro player might get the raid started at the same time, but will likely lose his raiders to the defenses and not cause much damage. Also, a better micro player can win battles with smaller forces, leaving the option to manage two separate forces or to apply the extra resources toward economy. So what steps should you take to improve your micro?

1. Learn the hotkeys and shortcuts. This is the easiest way to improve your ability to multi-task. Hotkeys and shortcuts vastly reduces the amount of time required to perform actions like queuing villagers and building buildings. Leaving more time for other things. Hotkeys are good for:
  • Queuing troops (e.g., 'KHQ' sets up an infinite queue of HI. You can also easily set up a queue of HI, LI, HI, LI, etc.)
  • Building buildings (e.g., 'BF' creates a farm
  • Researching technologies
  • Employing special abilities (e.g., CI, snipe, or bribe)
  • Setting waypoints for villagers (e.g., 'A' sets waypoint to all resource buildings)
2. Use control groups and hotkeyed locations. Scrolling is a slow way to move around the map. Control groups allow you to instantly move to the specific location. In the early game, for example, I set my scout to '1'. (Yes, he's got a hotkey, but I use this for other games as well, so it's easier to remember. And if you make multiple scouts, you might want to hotkey them both separately.) One tap selects the unit, but double tapping centers the screen on that unit instantly. You can also assign map locations to quickly get you to and from key places on the battlefield.

3. Use the minimap. In addition to control groups, the minimap is very handy for centering the screen on a specific location. The best players all have excellent "minimap awareness." They'll immediately react to any enemy color or movement on the minimap. You can also use the minimap to general your troops, setting waypoints for scouting or movement.

4. Learn the hotkeys for attack moves, unit stances, and formations.And know when to use them. Properly controlling your military is essential to successful play. You want to be able to quickly change stances to react to changing conditions on the battlefield. I usually keep my troops in defensive stance, but use 'SHIFT+A' to instantly set them to aggressive when I want to press an attack. Also, one note for experienced RTS players: do not focus fire. Success in other RTS games was all about focusing fire and killing off targets one by one. In RON, there is a sizable penalty for focusing all fire on one target. In normal battles, you're much better off using the attack move command and letting the units' AI choose the targets.

5. Practice rushing and raiding. I firmly believe that new players should focus on rushing and early conflict. This forces them to develop micromanagement skills that will be extremely valuable later on in their gaming career. When rushing, you are virtually forced to micromanage individual troops. When raiding, divide your raiders into separate groups. You'll kill more quickly because of the focus fore penalty, cause more headaches for the enemy (who might respond to only one of your attacks), and you'll be improving your micro skills. Rushing and raiding will also help you develop the skills to defend against these attacks yourself, as you'll quickly learn what works and what doesn't work.

6. Learn how to effectively micro the special abilities of generals, spies, and commandos. This will have a tremendous impact on your success in combat, as the commando can snipe at enemy generals killing them off with one shot, while the spy can do even more damage by converting enemy units to your side. Care must be taken to use them properly. First, make sure you have UNCHECKED the option box "use abilities as a group." This prevents all your spies from expending their craft bribing one unit. Now you can use the home key (or better yet a control group!) to select all spies or commandos and quickly target enemies in rapid succession. Grab a friend or the AI and conduct battles where you primarily focus on making use of your spies and commandos to kill off or bribe the enemy. One note: planned changes in patch 3 make the commando CI ability automatic, so you'll want to send the commandos forward first to snipe enemy explorers and then bring up the spies for bribing. If you want to see some expert play at this, watch some recorded games of Shadowz (here's one). He's very good at utilizing commandos and spies as a combat multiplier.

7. Practice, practice, practice.

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