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Beginner's Guide to Red Alert 3

By AgmLauncher - 26th July 2008 - 16:43 PM

This guide is for anyone who is interested in learning the fundamentals of playing an RTS game, and playing RA3 in particular. It will not go into advanced detail. Rather, it will touch upon the basic concepts behind RA3 and how to align your play style with what RA3 requires. It’s a “getting started” guide which will ease you into playing, and give you some exercises to practice.

Section 1: The Fundamentals of Real Time Strategy

First and foremost, the real time nature of this genre requires you to be fast. You have to think fast, and you have to play fast. That’s an inherent part of the gameplay. Some people like it, others don’t. Presumably if you’re reading this guide, you’re the type that enjoys not only being smarter than your opponent, but faster as well. Here are some tips on how to be both.

Thinking quickly

Here’s a basic example. What is 2+2? If you’re like most people, you instantly came up with the answer. You didn’t have to take out a calculator, or even count on your fingers. You just knew the answer. Now, what is 625x8? Chances are, you don’t know what that answer is, you have to figure it out, which I’m sure you’ve realized has taken you a lot longer than spitting out the answer to 2+2. But once you have figured out what the answer to 625x8 is, you’ll be able to spit it out as quickly as the answer to 2+2.

This is the difference between knowledge and reasoning. Reasoning can take a long time, but knowledge is instant. Thus the more stored knowledge you have of the game, the faster and more accurately you’re going to be able to make decisions. The advice? Study the game. Learn it. Do testing to figure out which units counter which other units the best. Test build orders to see how most efficiently to spend your starting cash. Test, test, test. The biggest misconception people have is that strategy is purely reasoning and that you should take time to think about every move. In fact, strategy is about knowledge, and how well you apply that knowledge. The more knowledge you have, the more effective your strategies will be.

Playing quickly

Playing quickly is the “athletic” component of RTS. Just like any activity that involves muscular reflex, playing an RTS game depends heavily on muscle memory and hand-eye coordination. The key to playing quickly is using both hands, which means using the keyboard’s hotkeys to do things faster than with just the mouse alone. Using hotkeys is vital to multi-tasking quickly and efficiently.

The best way to learn the hotkeys is to force yourself to use them. It may feel awkward at first, and you may feel like you’re doing things too slowly, but over time you build muscle memory for those keys, and you’ll be able to use them as easily as you’re able to type.

Understanding APM (Actions Per Minute)
APM is not a measure of skill by any means. However, having high APM allows you to multi-task more efficiently. A good way to develop high APM is to simply perform lots of "useless" actions during down time. Don't get lulled into slow performance. Instead, keep your APM level as high as it can be so that when the intensity of battles heats up, you're hitting the ground running.

The concept of build orders

A build order in C&C games generally refers to how you spend your initial $10,000 starting cash. What you spend this money on significantly impacts how you play out the rest of the game. Generally speaking, provided the game is designed well, there is no single perfect build order. Instead, there is a variety of build orders and many subtle variations of each that can be effective. The key to their effectiveness, however, is based entirely on how well you scout your opponent’s base. A build order (literally, the order in which you build things), also communicates strategy and intent. If you can see what your opponent is building, you can predict what he is planning to do, and you can adapt accordingly.

Avoid tunnel vision, keep your camera moving

Another important skill or habit to develop is to avoid getting tunnel vision. Sometimes you can get so wrapped up in a particular task, that you spend too much effort or too much of your limited concentration on it. Even something as simple as watching your buildings being built is a waste of time. Once you’ve placed the building, you should immediately do something else that requires your attention. Your camera should always be flipping back and forth between your base, your expansion points, and your units. Things can happen quickly and suddenly, and by not spending too much time on one thing, you have a far better chance of catching something before it can really cripple you.

Move the camera using control groups
A good way to keep an eye on all of your stuff is to assign control groups to your production buildings, and your groups of units. Then get yourself in the habit of double tapping the number for that control group to instantly snap your camera to it. Force yourself to cycle through your control groups to get in the habit of constantly checking them. It will pay off.

Rushing and Countering Rushes

"Rushing" (in this case, rushing is meant as harassment) is a fundamental part of any real time strategy game. Like it or not, the real time nature of the game means you have to play quickly, and do things quickly. The faster you do them, the better off you'll be. This includes playing aggressively, and damaging your opponent before he has a chance to completely defend himself.

For a complete guide on the nature of "rushing" in Red Alert 3, please see our guide on How To Stop Rushers & Rushing.