I'm not sure how much anyone is interested in what a game designer is thinking when putting a game together, but there are some subtleties to IOE that I hope will be discovered. Since I'm the psychotic nutcase who designed and programmed IOE, I thought I'd try writing some notes on various elements of the game so people could try some tactics that might not be obvious at first glance. Most of these discussions can be tried out with the free IOE: Ril'Cerat, though the advanced CRACK and ELITE unit types only will appear in the full game and might make for a deeper experience. It is assumed that you have either read the manual or viewed the tutorials available as a separate download, and thus are familiar with the basic concepts of selecting units and giving them orders.
This first discussion deals with a game element that has been mentioned in some reviews as being a bit difficult to grasp; the artillery or "Mortar" unit. I start with this because it is one of the fundamental reasons I believe IOE will not play like almost any other RTS out there. Of course, since I started designing games, I don't have as much time to play them (a tragic irony), so there may be one or two games I have missed that have this feature.
The Mortar unit is the only type that has a minimum range: 6 squares. Units closer than this minimum cannot be attacked, and since mortars cannot see 6 squares in distance, they are virtually useless without another unit to act as a spotter. The mortar's max range is 40 squares, and it can attack anything within that distance that can be seen by a friendly unit. It is the only unit type that can attack units it cannot see directly. I felt this "indirect fire" capability was a crucial element that was missing from other RTS's. I implemented this as a unit type (as opposed to off-board naval gunfire or the like) because I wanted players to be able to implement defensive countermeasures including counter-battery fire (fire aimed at destroying artillery units).
In my training as a Marine Officer, it became apparent early on that all tactical movement was focused on keeping your Marines spread out. It was precisely because of indirect fire that this had to be constantly on everyone's mind, and I wanted this same mental pressure to be on players of IOE. You should notice right away that helpless, panicked feeling you get when enemy artillery is walking in on you from some unseen firing position. Large, awkward formations of massed units a la Warcraft, will be immediately rewarded with massive casualties. This is much like conditions you'd find on the modern battlefield. Small, quick groups are much better adapted to survival in these conditions.
One suggested method for employing your mortar units is to use the unit grouping feature to assign your mortar a group number that can be quickly recalled later. Do this by selecting the mortar, and then holding down the control key while choosing a number from 0 to 9. I usually use zero for my mortars. In this way, when friendly units spot an enemy, you can bring "arty" raining down on them quickly by hitting the group number (zero for me) to select your mortar, and then either O (one shot), S (salvo of three shots), or A (continuous fire until stopped, retargeted, or out of supplies). Using the grouping feature keeps you from having to change the map view to go find your mortar when you need to fire quickly.
The resultant barrage will be noisy and devastating, as each shell plasters the square it hits and all eight adjacent squares. The more advanced Veteran, Crack, and Elite mortars will fire two, three and four shells at once respectively, which will totally pulverize large formations and buildings.
It is important to note that mortars require 2 supply units for each shell fired, so be sure to have your buildings set to automatically retrieve supplies (auto supply) to keep these hungry monsters fed.
With a little practice, you will become adept at this tactic (referred to as "Call for fire" in the military). You should try to master this as soon as you have access to mortar units as it will get you the high "kill ratios" necessary to discourage large formations that might otherwise prove devastating. In multi-player games, it will force your opponents to out maneuver you to have a chance of defeating you.
In the next article, I'll discuss ways to defend yourself from artillery. In the mean time, feel free to ask questions about anything I have mentioned here. I will try to respond as quickly as my ludicrous schedule allows!
"We have found the enemy, and he is us!"