Released in May of 2003, Rise of Nations mixes turn-based elements into a real-time strategy game. The development was led by Brian Reynolds, one of the designers behind turn-based strategy games Civilization II and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Play as one of 18 different civilizations throughout 8 ages of history, and even try to take over the entire world in the attached single-player campaign.
Never expected French military victories, did you?
I spent plenty of time with my Mega Man X Command Mission comments, so I'll be a bit more brief about this game. But only a bit - I do believe, after all, that this is the first full-game single-segment RTS run on SDA.
I reacquired this game for $10 not too long ago, having played it quite a bit in my freshman year of college. Back then I never had any thoughts of even playing the Conquer the World mode, much less speedrunning it. But when I got the game again, I played through the Conquer the World scenario and determined that it was, in fact, speedrunnable. Not only that, it was doable in a single segment and could easily be tracked separately as such, unlike so many other RTSes, which can be separated well into individual levels and thus would be a bit tougher to prove single-segment runs for. (Warcraft 3 is kind of like this too - though I'd love to see anyone TRY single-segment with that.)
When I determined the fastest strategy for winning battles (on a whim), I admit I was.... rather scared. I did not expect the tiny starting force to be good enough to take a city, let alone force a map victory. However, this level of rushing tactic (the way I remember most RTSes, you don't get military units right at the start) is apparently not new to the RTS world; when I brought it up on the forums, Pendrokar relayed his story about rushing tactics in Emperor: Battle For Dune, which calmed me down a bit.
Let's put it simply - I'm an RTS noob (spelling intentional) and (if you couldn't already guess by now) I know it. So my strategies are likely far from optimally done and could be a target for future improvement. (Hell, I probably improved my RTSing ability by 300% just doing this run.) However, knowledge of hotkeys and perfect placement everywhere is much less important in this run than in runs of most RTSes, at least on Easiest difficulty, and if you watch just a couple of battles it'll be clear why. Also, these comments were written about a week after the run, so there's some regrets I have now upon watching it again. However, the insane luck I got makes me not want to attempt this again just yet.
If the video looks hard to watch, that may be because instead of using FRAPS like every other PC game speedrunner, I use a DVD recorder. Unfortunately, due to hardware and money limitations, I was forced to use composite as my transfer medium. Because of this, it'll be easier to follow the run if you use the higher-quality versions, even though Nate (who's got his stuff set up to eke out just about every drop of quality in the lesser versions) did the encoding on this one.
Mike has his IFAQ, Enhasa had his AAQ, so let me quickly address a few LAQ (Likely Asked Questions) regarding this run:
Q: Why the French? Their military is only good at surrendering.
A: Silence your tongue, heathen! The French are among the best-suited nations for a fast Conquer the World run for a few reasons:
- Increased Timber harvesting in general. Timber is required for a lot of important buildings, as well as being one of the two key resources for siege weapons (the other being Metal).
- Speaking of siege weapons, French siege weapons are built faster, cost less, and, most importantly, move faster (so I can put them to use quicker).
- Supply Wagons heal my troops (must be something in the wine). Not much of a difference but it can matter when the armies are otherwise evenly matched.
- While the French position on the map puts a player at risk for a gangbang right at the beginning, if they survive the initial few turns, they're in good position to take out or fence in a lot of rivals at once, getting their 'fealty' cards for later use.
I don't put the 'leadership' benefit they get (one free General upon finishing each Fort) to use because Forts take forever to build. It's a shame because leadership is what the French always had. Do a search on Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, or Napoleon to see what I mean.
There is the slight possibility that another nation might be better, but the only one I can see as better would be the Germans, due to their better Heavy Infantry in early ages and general resource-gathering benefits (they can get Granaries, Lumber Mills, and Smelters - the buildings that amplify the gather rate of gathering buildings within a city - sooner than usual; Refineries don't matter in a speedrun), plus having a similar map position to what the French have.
Q: Why no random placement of anything? That could certainly yield a faster time.
A: Four reasons:
- Random placement of nations almost certainly ruins a major advantage the French have.
- Random resource placement can ruin my in-battle strategies (especially early).
- I believe random placements would count as a separate category.
- There's enough luck involved in this run as it is.
Q: Wait, 'enough' luck? What kind of luck do you have to get?
A: I was hoping you didn't have to get me started on this. But in the interests of completeness I'll mention some things that needed to go my way:
- I must not get a Barbarian Rally when taking the Alps - it MUST be a Field Battle. From my experience this seems to be pretty balanced, but I mainly say that because I got stretches of both types. Not so bad because it's the first turn.
- The Germans, not the Greeks or Russians, must take over the Balkans (the territory above the Greek capital) on the first turn. Aggravating if this doesn't happen right after a good Field Battle, and bad luck only gets more irritating from here.
- The British need to get adjacent to the Russian capital by the end of the second turn. I'd say that combined with what's necessary before this, a good 85% of my attempts did not make it past the end of the second turn.
- I need the Incas to take over the Americas before I get to going there.
- I need a single nation in control in both Africa and Asia. (Most ideally, it'd be the Bantu or Egyptians in Africa, and the Chinese or Mongols in Asia. I got the Nubians in Africa and the Japanese in Asia, which are the worst cases, but this is offset by other luck.)
- The nation who attacks me both times needs to not be one I'm about to focus my efforts against.
- I need to be able to buy useful cards. Useful cards would include Treachery, Sabotage, any of the Eureka cards, and Mercenaries. (Most of the stuff that got past the first two turns was ruined by this factor.)
While my luck in this run was not perfect, the vast majority of this stuff lined up, and the times it didn't line up, I was able to use other luck to work around it.
To answer the rest of my LAQ, I'll give some insight into my strategy and planning.
Turn 1, World Map
- I take over the Alps first mainly for the Supply Center, but that area also holds Gems, which will be my only source of Knowledge (necessary for second-level Commerce or Science tech, if I go for it in a given map) for a while.
Turn 1, Battle
- Separation of my military into cavalry and non-cavalry is a recurring theme in this run. Here the cavalry are there for distraction (and the general's Forced March ability shaves a few seconds if I use it right) and then to assist.
- In Rise of Nations, grouping is really obvious - there's a tone and the appropriate group also has a title. This may make things easier to follow.
Turn 2, World Map
- The Germans and British cooperate, taking the needed territories.
- You'll notice that I send my troops from France to take over Germany and tell my troops in the Alps to go back to France. Could I have used the reinforcements? Maybe, but commanding the extra reinforcements is distracting, does not save enough time to justify it in single-segment (even this early), and may cause me a bigger mistake than I can make up.
- Also, I could not just send from the Alps because all my training with this part is from France to Germany and not from the Alps to Germany.
- Lastly, by shifting my armies around, I can put my new one from taking Germany (since whenever you eliminate an enemy nation you get all of their claimed territory) in the Balkans, to try and dissuade certain nations from attacking.
- I hold onto my Skill Bonus card - it's not useful enough in this battle.
Turn 2, Battle
- The Germans have better building completion bonuses, and earlier access to resource-gathering enhancement buildings, and their cities gather more Food, Metal, and Timber than usual. But most importantly, they are in the most threatening position for me early on.
- The Scout goes on Auto Explore because enemies on Easiest difficulty are not smart enough to use Spies.
- I send someone to build a Mine because its completion bonus gives me just enough Metal to research Military level 2, and the continued Metal income lets me make siege weapons (which take Military level 2 to make). Unfortunately, it winds up not mattering because I build my Siege Factory too late to get my siege weapons over there before my units take over the enemy city.
- I build more Farms to get more Food income, which lets me make more Citizens to put in my Woodcutter's Camp and Mine.
- The moment I see enemy troops, I pull back my cavalry because they have a much more important job.
- See that Citizen sneak by to start building another City? THIS is why I need my cavalry separate - the major timesaver in this run is getting to the enemy before they can build a second city. This is because taking over all completed enemy cities ends the map immediately, which is faster than simply holding the capital for a while.
- I target the Siege Factory near the enemy before construction is complete because with the French, the moment a Siege Factory is constructed, I get a free Supply Wagon. This is where my siege weapons would have also gone had I not completed the battle before they could get there.
Turn 3, World Map
- Britain cooperates nicely, getting right next to the Russians for me.
- With Britain in place, I can go eliminate them. I also send my troops in Germany back to France to set up the next turn, since otherwise I would have to take my army earned from eliminating Britain and put them there, which puts me at a penalty when it's time to fight Russia.
- I use my Skill Bonus card from doing well enough in the Alps here, to reduce the amount of time I have to spend gathering resources in the beginning.
Turn 3, Battle
- The British get more benefit from Taxation, a slightly higher Commerce limit, and superior archers. Their position is trouble because it's an early sea battle (that's another thing the British have going for them - faster ship-building).
- Civics is first this time, because I need to expand my National Borders far enough to reach the coast and build a Dock. Commerce and Science are needed to get the Dock and transport units over water, respectively.
- In most attempts, I'd just have one or two Citizens building the new city and Dock. Coincidentally, the British would have two or even three cities by the time I invaded. This time, I decided to try sending all five of my starting Citizens to build both the new city AND the dock, abandoning my resource-gathering. Something wondrous happened as a result: I made it to the British territory as they were building their second city, and I was able to stop its construction. I reckon this saved me some time - I just don't know how much.
Turn 4, World Map
- As I said, I place my new army near the Russians. However, I do not attack them yet.
- First thing I do is scope out the Spanish position. They turn out to be in an awesome position - near where the Bantu used to be (turns out the Nubians already wiped them off the map) and not on American soil yet.
- I'm not entirely sure why I move an army into France. Might just be to put them in position to dissuade the Romans.
Turn 4, Battle
- The Spanish get exploration bonuses, and they start with the map revealed. Also, taking them out allows me to reach Africa and America easily.
- Back to Military research first. Building the Mine isn't critical, because my takeover of several territories now provides me with Metal-increasing resources, but it sure helps.
- Since apparently the Spanish haven't even started their second city yet, the job of my cavalry is to scout around to find the spot where they're most likely to build it. It's not until I check on my cavalry again that I find the spot - even in fog of war, you can tell when new buildings are being made in areas you've explored by watching for terrain changes. In this case, from grassy terrain to bare dirt.
- Again, my siege weapons come too late to help.
Turn 5, World Map
- Now it's finally time to eliminate the Russians. I need to take them out before too long for one simple reason: They are the masters of attrition (it's due to the Russian winters, and I believe both Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler made the mistake of not factoring in Russian winters). The way it works is, if the enemy has attrition researched (which is at the Tower), then any units in enemy territory who are not in range of a Supply Wagon slowly take damage. The Russians get some attrition damage as part of their national powers, plus they get attrition upgrades for free.
- Still holding my fealty cards here.
Turn 5, Battle
- As I said, the Russians are masters of attrition. What I didn't mention yet is that their cavalry are even better at taking out supply and artillery than usual (not a factor because I'm levelling them before they manage to get cavalry), plus their borders expand with age improvements as well as Civics tech.
- Now I've gotten into my groove as far as initial building, so from here on, I'll only detail it if it's different - otherwise I'll say "business as usual".
- The moment I reach Russian territory (which I can tell by the 'attrition' warning tone), I pull back my troops a bit, to let everyone get close so my starting supply wagon can cover my army for a bit. Then I go back and start the Siege Factory, but the Russians research Civics tech while I'm out, putting my troops back in attrition range.
- The initial location of their second city turns out to be a red herring - maybe that's where the Citizen I killed was going to start it? I eventually find it, and manage to stop its construction in the nick of time.
Turn 6, World Map
- The Nubians, a bit peeved at my rampant takeovers, declare war and try to attack me. But I've saved up plenty of tribute, so I bribe them. Now, bribing takes half your total tribute, no matter how much there is, and due to the sizable penalty of breaking a truce, you basically can't attack the enemy for 3 turns. In normal play, I would not advise bribing. However, in a speedrun at this difficulty, it is an absolute must.
- I notice that the Incas have only taken out the Mayas at this time, and that the Aztecs are still alive. Having exhausted my other easy enemies, I rotate my troops to get into position for when the Nubians' truce is over while still ready to take on the Incas.
- By not fighting in a given turn, you gain some bonus tribute. The bonus starts at 25 and goes up by 25 every turn you don't attack. The streak is broken, however, if you attack. I only do this when I must.
Turn 7, World Map
- I scope out the map (since it's single-segment, I just can't do it ahead of time - I have to do this on the fly) and see that not much has happened in Europe and Africa. In America, however, the Incas have completed their takeover and I can now set upon eliminating them.
- I was hoping for a Tactics scenario here - however, I believe the chances of each scenario type are determined by the strength of the target territory. I suspect only a weak territory can generate a Tactics, Field Battle, Ambush, or (on defense) Surprise Attack scenario - anything stronger is likely to grant Conquest.
- Because this grants Conquest, I start using my fealty cards (which I earned taking out enemy nations). I use the German, Russian, and Spanish cards (using the Spanish one now may have been a mistake, seeing how I know this map pretty well), saving the British card for later.
Turn 7, Battle
- The Incas get a lot of Wealth income (their mines make Wealth as well as metal) and they get a partial refund when their units are killed. They are also the fastest of the American nations to take over, requiring just two turns compared to the minimum three for the Mayas and four turns for the Aztecs.
- Having learned from my encounter with the British, I go right to Civics and get all my Citizens to build the next City. However, I do make a newbie RTS mistake here by making my Citizens go the wrong way while waiting for my Timber to reach the level needed for a Dock (I believe I merely overestimated the time it would take to reach 70 Timber and was trying to hit a Ruin to compensate).
- I get back into my normal groove quickly, and this is the first time I put Markets, Caravans, and Merchants to use. Caravans are the best source of Wealth income (though they do not show up in the Commerce Cap). Merchants harvest rare resources on the map, such as Relics and Spice.
- Unfortunately, about the time when my army encounters resistance, I hit my population cap and my Merchants can't yet be made. I have to wait a bit while my Food gets high enough to research Military (which also increases population limit).
- This map also marks the first (and last, I believe) time where my initial takeover does not immediately end the map. I believe this is partly caused by my mistakes earlier in the battle, but the enemy is far enough away that this might have happened even if I acted perfectly. I leave a unit behind because if your military presence is gone from a city right after capturing it, you immediately lose that city. (You need to wait a couple of minutes for the city to assimilate before it really counts as yours.)
Turn 8, World Map
- The Nubians cut off the Romans from the rest of Africa and eliminate the Turks, thereby removing some more of the dirty work I must do.
- You'll notice that after I direct my troops to the Incan capital, I buy a Wonder of the World card and use it to build a Terra Cotta Army. Why? Simple - if there is any wonder I do not want the enemy to have in their capital, it's that one; it provides free troops. Taking a city that has that with starting troops is even tougher than crossing a water map before the enemy can make a second city.
- I use a card I won in the previous battle here, since I don't see much other use for it (I believe it was Timber Economic Boom, and I can get plenty of Timber income as it is).
Turn 8, Battle
- Time to finish off the Incas once and for all. Kind of strange that they have the Pyramids in this playthrough, isn't it? Nations don't generally build wonders that correspond to what they historically had, although occasionally they do get the right ones.
- Business as usual.
- It's now the Gunpowder Age, which means to me as I'm playing that artillery becomes increasingly valuable from here on out. In any age, decent artillery can make a siege go faster, but in later ages (without extra troops) it's pretty much necessary because of how strong the larger cities are.
- This map also marks the first time that I have to take on a tower. Towers continually fire at my units, so ignoring them is a quick death sentence. Of course, once it's gone I can go right for the city because the enemy's military (because this is on Easiest) suffers from the "Maginot Line effect", where they're just massed in the wrong spot to do anything.
- Sadly, my Bombards get diverted and don't make it in time to help.
Turn 9, World Map
- I get tribute bonuses because now both North and South America are all mine. I also get a couple of extra armies - and find to my delight that I now have territory in Asia.
- Now that I have America out of the way, it's time to pay a visit to those pesky Nubians. I decide to check my cards before I fight, and find a Treachery card. Takes me a little fiddling around to actually use it (don't know why), but once I do, I take a Supply Center territory right next to the Nubian capital. Once I start the attack, I get some more cards - I know I got Eureka, Treachery, and Mercenaries, and I believe the last two are both Science Eurekas.
- I spend a Science Eureka and my British fealty card for this battle.
Turn 9, Battle
- The Nubians get bonuses to the abilities of their Markets - they can trade resources right away (most nations need two Commerce techs to trade resources), they can build more Caravans than normal, and their Merchants are better gatherers.
- Business as usual.... mostly.
- Science research lowers the cost of all other Library research. Handy if you can get it right off, but the deduction is not big enough to be worth doing first.
- With my starting Science research, I see to the construction of a Granary to increase my Food income further. (I don't need to make a Lumber Mill, seeing as the French get those freely at the start of every map.) I wind up hitting my Commerce Cap for Food very quickly.
- At this point, I am seriously disappointed that I haven't been able to actually use my siege units.
Turn 10, World Map
- Unfortunately for me, the Japanese are the ones in control in Asia. And they decide to attack, making things a bit harder for me, because now I have to wait to make any moves on them.
- Thankfully, because of the earlier moves that I, then the Nubians, then I again made, the Romans were boxed in completely. They've been stewing here for a while, so since I'm unable to take the Japanese, I use this time to take out the Romans instead.
- I bought Civics Eureka and Military Eureka, and spent my remaining fealty cards (from the Incas and Nubians), although I might have wanted to save one of them.
Turn 10, Battle
- The Romans have better and cheaper Forts, cities that gather more Wealth, and get free Heavy Infantry when Barracks construction is completed. I attack from the north so I don't have to cross water.
- Right at the start, you may notice I immediately hit my Food, Timber, and Metal Commerce Caps without doing anything. Simply put, I am in control of so many rare resources from territories that, combined with the speed at which I take over cities, gathering my own resources is technically obsolete.
- When I see that I have to put up with another tower, I pull my cavalry back and start circling the enemy territory.
- Quite comically, as I'm going after the tower, I put my Supply Wagon too close to it and it gets wrecked. Not to worry - I had another one to work with.
- This map marks the first and last time in this run that the artillery actually managed to arrive in time to be useful to me.
Turn 11 and Turn 12, World Map
- One nation left to conquer, and we've JUST reached the Enlightenment Age. Amazing, isn't it?
- Unfortunately, the truce is still in effect, so I have to use Treachery to move forward. If I just had one more... Amazingly, I get Sabotage AND Treachery when card-shopping, and use them to get right into position and weaken the Japanese capital.
- From there, I just ride out the truce.
Turn 13, World Map
- The plan is simple - attack and use all I have left. I had several different Eureka cards and a Mercenaries card left over, as well as miscellaneous stuff.
Turn 13, Battle
- The Japanese have better farming and fishing, and their Barracks units hit buildings harder. Most Japanese advantages don't really come into play until the later ages though.
- Been a while since I've worked with this many troops. Because of this I forget to task more people on Dock construction.
- The rest is a pretty traditional strategy - make sure they only have one city, and seize it with all you've got. Kind of anticlimactic, but whatever gets the job done. I didn't think artillery would get there in time.
The strategies of this run were mostly the product of my own research. I do have to give credit to the people who posted in the game's topic, however - I may not have pressed on without them.
I may be tempted to try this run category again if I'm not beaten to it by the time I get a new TV (ideally, a TV with which I can use HDMI and component cables to really improve the visual quality), which would not be until September at earliest. Matching my own luck here (the part of running this game that I actually dread - simply put, this run took more resets than just about anything I'd ever done, all because of luck), and by enhancing my strategies and RTSing capability, sub-40 is a realistic goal. I doubt I'll switch from the French though - I'll just reapply my strategies using what I learned here, and maybe my artillery will actually be some use next time.