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Headscratchers: Supreme Commander
  • Is it really true that all the units except the ACUs in Supreme Commander are piloted by AI? When I look at a lot of close-ups of units and buildings—especially on the UEF side—I see cockpits, windows, and bridges with bridge lights (in the case of naval units). Is it explicitly stated somewhere that all the non-Commander units are just drones?
    • Well, I can't really provide a quote from the manual or anything like that, but the events in each game would make much less sense if the armies were actually manned. Why would an entire Commander's army defect with him when he does, and how are they bringing personnel into combat to man constructed units when quantum teleportation gates only drop in one ACU at a time? Where's the chain of command? Also, at the level of detail we get with the closeup, your "cockpits, windows and bridges with bridge lights" could just be sensor pods, radios and normal lights.
    • "Also, at the level of detail we get with the closeup, your 'cockpits, windows and bridges with bridge lights' could just be sensor pods, radios and normal lights."


      You don't have to be rude, man. You could be right, but it doesn't make sense from a design standpoint. Modern unmanned combat vehicles don't have sensor pods shaped like cockpits. Compare Boeing's Phantom Ray to the UEF's T1 Interceptor, the Cyclone. The Phantom Ray has nothing that looks like a cockpit on its body, and in fact has an intake where the cockpit usually would be on a manned aicraft—this is typical of UAVs and UCAVs. On the other hand, the Cyclone has intakes on either side of its fuselage, but it appears to have a cockpit where most manned aircraft have one.

      Also, look here at the UEF T3 Battlecruiser. What's the point of designing a drone battlecruiser with rows of normal lights that look more like lit bridge windows?

      In short, saying that all the non-Commander units are drones raises a lot of Fridge Logic, especially for the UEF's units, which exhibit the "manned" appearances more clearly than the other sides. Maybe most units were designed by GPG's artists before the story was finalized, but it seems rather odd to design units look like they are manned yet say they are not.


      "Why would an entire Commander's army defect with him when he does?"


      That's not so absurd or out of the ordinary for an RTS game. Entire groups of units defecting with their commander happens in single player campaigns of other Real-Time Strategy games—and in those cases, they're games where units are clearly manned by living people. Commanders and their armies going rogue happens multiple times in the campaigns of various games in the Command & Conquer series. Edmund Duke and his entire Alpha Squadron division of the Confederate military defect to the Sons of Korhal after Acrturus Mengsk rescues and convinces Duke to defect in the first Starcraft). Entire units defecting with their commanders can an does happen in Real Life, though at the moment I can't name examples.

      Now, I don't doubt that there are unmanned units in Supreme Commander—because some units are explicitly stated to be drones—but why would they go through the trouble of pointing out which units are drones if all of them are unmanned?

      There's also some oddness concerning the casualties. The Infinite War has supposedly claimed billions of lives, according to the game's introductory movie. A typical battle in Supreme Commander would have several thousand casualties, depending on the tactics employed and just how many crew it would take to man the various units. But if every single last unit save for the Commanders are drones, then the Infinite War would be way too bloodless to account for billions of lives, even when you take into account that it's been going on for a thousand years. I suppose orbitally bombarding conquered planets and killing off all the civilians from another side would account for that, but ...

      The Supreme Commander Wiki's article on ACUs reinforces the statements made here on TV Tropes, but the reinforcement comes from a lack of evidence rather than any quoted dialogue or text in-game, or any information from supplementary material. There's also some instances where other units are shown to be manned in the single-player campaign. One of the Cybran missions involves liberating symbionts held at a UEF facility. They flee in civilian trucks, and one of them—Jericho—contacts Dostya from a truck.

      Though, there is a statement in the timeline for the UEF that seems to point to the whole "unmanned drone army" concept:


      2316—The First Great Expansion begins. All colonies of the Prime Worlds begin their own colonization. The Earth government further refines its use of social, economic, genetic, and political programs to maintain order and control. To keep pace with the rapidly expanding empire, limited-capability military suits are derived from the exosuits used in colonization. Instead of nanofabricating colonization equipment, these suits create limited autonomous military units controlled by a human commander. As such, lower numbers of EarthCom personnel are required to enforce order compared to the older "human-heavy" systems. Throughout the colonization period, EarthCom is called on to quell all manner of disturbances ranging from colony disputes to full rebellions, with minimal loss of EarthCom life but the system was inefficient and manned units were superior and they soon returned to produce manned units.


      Maybe it's just a quirk of GPG's design process, developing art and unit appearances before finishing the story—and they never bothered to work the Fridge Logic out of the incongruity.
      • My bad, dude, didn't mean to be rude. Anyway, it likely is just a design artifact, but you could justify it via UEF units being manned designs with AI control converted to run solely on AI control. Alternately, each unit has passenger/pilot compartments and are designed so that they can be manned if necessary, but are usually controlled via AI.


        "Entire units defecting with their commanders can an does happen in Real Life, though at the moment I can't name examples."


        I don't doubt that it happens in Real Life, but none of the defectors in SC had the time required to bring their armies to their side. That argument aside, the logistics in SC make manned units impractical. The logistic effort required in moving personnel to the front and making sure they don't starve is quite... big. SC-style warfare would be logistically impossible if major units required manpower to operate. Quantum tunneling in SC is expensive in power terms, and there isn't a quantum gate in each factory, so I don't see how any units could possibly require manning.


        "Now, I don't doubt that there are unmanned units in Supreme Commander—because some units are explicitly stated to be drones—but why would they go through the trouble of pointing out which units are drones if all of them are unmanned?"


        The Engineering Drone is called that because it's an SCU aid, and not an independent engineer.


        "If every single last unit save for the Commanders are drones, then the Infinite War would be way too bloodless to account for billions of lives, even when you take into account that it's been going on for a thousand years. I suppose orbitally bombarding conquered planets and killing off all the civilians from another side would account for that, but ..."


        You're not taking into account the galactic scale of the war. Even a few thousand civilian casualties per planet would add up if there were, say, a million worlds in the conflict. Of course, we never see the true scale of the Infinite War, so that's a bit of guesswork.


        "There's also some instances where other units are shown to be manned in the single-player campaign. One of the Cybran missions involves liberating symbionts held at a UEF facility. They flee in civilian trucks, and one of them—Jericho—contacts Dostya from a truck."


        I'm not sure what you mean. Of course evacuation trucks are going to be manned. That doesn't necessarily mean the other units will be though.


        "Maybe it's just a quirk of GPG's design process, developing art and unit appearances before finishing the story—and they never bothered to work the Fridge Logic out of the incongruity."


        Yeah, probably.
    • Random note after the fact—I started playing through some of the SupCom 1 campaigns again, and I noticed the opening Cybran cutscene shows the Cybran player character flying to Dr. Brackman's facility on what looks very much like a T3 Revenant strategic bomber.

      That, combined with the part in the timeline I quoted about the UEF going back to using manned vehicles because the "robot suit controlling vehicles of limited autonomy" seems to point back toward most units in SupCom being manned. I guess the main question would be "how are all those people getting to the front lines."


      "That argument aside, the logistics in SC make manned units impractical. The logistic effort required in moving personnel to the front and making sure they don't starve is quite... big. SC-style warfare would be logistically impossible if major units required manpower to operate."


      I'm not sure about that. We are talking about a game where armies are fabricated from nothing but raw mass and energy, and that's a pretty big deal when you think about what it takes to build, say, a tank in Real Life. They're able to synthesize meterials needed with realtive ease just by using the very atoms and particles in a planet's crust, or from loose rocks and forests. They do this even at the very earliest stages of play.

      Sure, the gameplay mechanic itself isn't that much different from other RTSes. Warcraft uses a lot of Gold and Wood, Starcraft uses Minerals and Vespene gas, Command and Conquer generally uses Tiberium (unless it's Red Alert or Generals, where it's ore and supplies respectively). But in each of those cases, there's some justification for it, or at least handwaved. Many buildings and vehicles in Warcraft are made from wood (but they gloss over how they get the metals or stone for other things), units are recruited, trained, and hired via gold. Starcraft and the Tiberium series of C&C justify it by saying that the minerals/Tiberium/vespene gas are composed of most of the necessary materials needed to build a base, vehicles, or an army. In Generals, armies actually went out and got pre-fabricated supplies to build and equip their forces.

      But in Supreme Commander, none of the sides bother with mining something specific to get the materials they need. They just suck up whatever's handy, synthesizing trees, rocks, and planetary crust into war materiel. It's a justification for Easy Logistics that has very far-reaching implications about the civilizations that're fighting the Infinite War. If they can build entire armies on the spot, then they should have no trouble synthesizing the necessary logistics to support human-piloted armies, either.


      "Quantum tunneling in SC is expensive in power terms, and there isn't a quantum gate in each factory, so I don't see how any units could possibly require manning."


      Maybe they developed an efficient quantum gate technology for use inside Factories and other buildings to Gate people into the front lines after the Commander has secured a beach head? The Quantum Gates used to send Commanders, as well as the gates built by the Commanders to call in Sub-Commanders, are massive, and they have to be massive given the size of the Commanders. They're not just transporting the commanding officer to the battle front, but a Humongous Mecha that has the equipment to manufacture bases and armies the size of entire cities if given enough time. I don't doubt that they would require a lot of power to operate. For other units, though, maybe some of the power spent on building them is actually used to summon pilots and crew into the Factory via a smaller, lower-powered quantum gate inside the building.

      The Infinite War has been running for a thousand years, after all, so it seems plausible to me that they would improve upon Quantum Gate technology somehow.

      That's pretty Fan Wanky, I know, but I keep seeing all these hints that more than just Commander units are manned and it keeps bugging me.
      • That doesn't explain why Support AC Us (which are said to be manned units, I believe) need to be built from special Quantum Gateways rather than a simple T3 Factory, though.
      • Simple solution to the drone or manned question: units you build are unmanned, but are able to be manned which explains why they have areas for pilots and crew, especially the UEF, their units could easily predate the Infinite War and the ACU. Like Northrop Grumman's newest aircraft which can be either manned or unmanned.
      • Solution to all the lights and cockpits and such, the first units from all those years ago were orginially controls put in existing vehicles and such, and over the years they just keep designing them to look the same. Or, the designers were ADHD and decided there were not enough pretty lights to begin with.
    • Worth pointing out that the one unit we know to be human controlled (the ACU) is also one of the very few units that is uncaptureable, something not even most of the experimental have.
  • How stupid are the UEF to leave an island maybe what 10 miles away from their war ending super weapon completely unguarded?
    • Black Sun base has been under constant attack. That's why the other two sides can bring armies against a base located on the UEF homeworld.
    • Even if they did guard it, it's pretty easy to let 1 unit slip by, and considering that this one unit will most probably be an ACU, which is in no way weak (and is capable of taking the island either on its own, or by constructing a small army), I can see how it's possible.
      • If you play the UEF campaign you can see ruins of a base on the island to the south of the island on which Black Sun resides, so they were probably overrun.
  • Why did the UEF build Black Sun on Earth? Why not say deep space on a space station with the location heavily classified?
    • Then the Fridge Brilliance kicks in they built Black Sun on Earth because it has to fire into the gate network to function, which means that by building it on Earth, Earth can not be destroyed by the weapon.
      • Additionally, Cybran hackers were quite good so it was safer to build it on Earth where UEF's forces would be gathered instead of risking Cybrans getting hold of it because it wasn't guarded well enough in a "heavily classified" location.
      • It's on the UEF homeworld and it still came under attack, and all of the secret off-site development stations were overrun. The logistics of SC warfare mean that remoteness is fairly moot, and all it takes is one leak for your classified site to come under attack.
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