The Real-Time Strategy (RTS) genre was once a force to be reckoned with in the video game industry, and rightly so. In its heyday, the genre produced a number of popular games that followed a huge tradition, helping to establish its legacy in strategic war games to this day.

But what exactly is an RTS game? Let’s find out now, the genre and some of its most notable titles.

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Real-time strategy games, explained

Real-time strategy games are characterized by how players progress through the game at the same time, as opposed to the turn-based approach of most strategy games. Due to their intuitive mechanisms, such as their real-time approach and real-time approach, the genre has become a favorite among war gamers.

The idea behind RTS games is quite simple. The game takes place on a world map where two or more players are pitted against each other. To move forward in the game, players must manage resources, military and non-military units, building construction, new technology inspections, and subtle management of diplomacy.

Also, in contrast to the grand strategy games that emphasize diplomacy while representing military battles as abstract values, RTS games primarily reduce diplomacy, opting to focus more on military action. In addition, the player’s actions occur, of course, in real-time, adapting to action-packed skirmishes and fast gameplay.

The main gameplay mechanics of real-time strategy games

Like any other video game genre, there are some gameplay mechanics that are either related to real-time strategy (or even considered original). These include:

Resource management

Resource management is a big part of the RTS style. Resources are found mostly distributed in the game world or produced by buildings. Resource management often involves finding, extracting, and allocating, so you choose how you spend your resources.

Building management

Building management involves building construction, allocation, and upgrading. This usually involves at least two types of buildings: military and civilian. Building management is central to the RTS game as new buildings give you financial and defensive benefits as well as access to new and better units.


Military buildings typically include the production of military units and protective buildings, while civilian buildings may include government, resource mobilization, housing, and technology-research buildings.

Unit management

Units are usually divided into civilian and military units. Civilian units are used to construct buildings or to gather resources, while military units are used for offensive purposes.

Unit management adds a layer of strategic game thinking to the real-time strategy style, although this aspect is largely reduced to the strategic side. Military units in the RTS game are classified into different types that cancel each other out in a rock-paper-scissor manner.

If building management is central to RTS games, unit management is crucial; Unit management is a way of micro-managing your battles and proving your military prowess.

Technology research

Tech trees are often present in the RTS style, but not always. Even so, gameplay mechanics are often embedded in the game’s building management in such a way that you have to build a building to access other more advanced buildings, even when there is no tech tree in the game. One or more good units.

Technology research adds a good level of strategic thinking to the game, as you have to decide whether the benefits provided by advancing the technology tree are worth the resources spent on it.

History of RTS Games

Although the real-time strategy genre is still very popular among gamers in 2022, it has been around since the turn of the century. Considering the gameplay mechanics we’ve just seen, we’ll find that the genre is at least from the 1980s.

However, since the term real-time strategy was coined by Brett Sperry to describe the 1992 video game, Dune II: The Battle for Aracas, we consider it the first RTS game. In the end, the term was only retrospectively applied to previous games, and it was Dune II that became the template for what all future RTS games would look like.

RTS pioneer

Dune II: The Battle for Arakis was the first video game to be branded as a real-time strategy, featuring all the main gameplay mechanics related to the genre. In the game, you can choose from three different noble houses, Atreides, Harkonnen and Ordos, each with its own unique units, adapting to different strategies depending on the group you choose.

To get ahead in the game, you need to collect spices, which serve as the main resource of the game-world and convert it into credits using the refinery. Credit is used to build more buildings and military units to attack your enemy.

Command & Conquer followed suit, as well as produced by a development team like Dune II, so many of its gameplay mechanics remained the same. There are two groups to choose from, the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nodes, each with specific characteristics.

Unit production and building construction are funded by the harvest of Tiberium, which serves as the game’s sole resource and converts it to credit through a specific building.

The golden age of RTS games

The first RTS game to reach the mainstream audience was StarCraft, which became the best-selling PC game in the year of its release, ushering in a golden age of the genre.

Starcraft is considered groundbreaking to introduce three different, well-balanced, races: Protos, Zarg and Terrence, each with completely unique units. Although all units are unique to their respective races, all of them have a comparative advantage over other races, which helps keep the game balanced.

Ultimately, races use two resources to sustain their economy and military: minerals and vaspas gas. Minerals are used for all units and buildings, while Vespas gas is used for advanced components.

Then came Age of Empires II, which to some extent became a feature of the RTS genre. Set in the Middle Ages, Age of Empires is probably the best known RTS game out there. It has 13 playable groups and, although they all have access to similar units, infantry, cavalry, archers and siege engines, each group has access to unique high-rise armies and buildings.

The game also presented four different resources: food, wood, gold and stone. These can be found distributed on the world map. These resources can then be used to build buildings, build armies, or conduct research on new technologies. Age of Empires II also has a diplomacy system, although it had very little in it.

Modern RTS game

Modern RTSs are taking a more strategic approach to the game genre and, like modern RPG games, adapt to the action-packed gameplay. However, they have not yet removed the strategic level.

Based on WWII’s historical setting, The Company of Heroes series takes in a bit more information on tactical aspects of warfare than most RTS games. However, he implemented a supply system that adds a good level of strategy to the game.

To collect resources you need to capture specific sites scattered throughout the map that collect munitions and fuel, for which you need to build units and buildings. The interesting part is that the newly captured sites need to be connected to the rest of your territory, in order to start producing resources, by mimicking the supply lines.

Iron Harvest is another great example of a modern RTS game. Iron Harvest is a diesel-punk, mecca-RTS game set in an alternate version of history where our first world war did not take place and instead a separate war ravaged Eastern Europe. The game has three different groups, Polania, Rusviet and Saxony, each with their own unique units.

Company of Heroes has some influence on the game, and from capturing and upgrading revenue structures on the map to just collecting the game’s two resources, iron and oil.

Real-time strategy: a timeless genre

With its fast-paced and action-oriented gameplay, RTS Games has earned a place in the gaming industry’s mainstream audience, managing to deliver some of the most memorable war game titles to date. The genre has come a long way since the release of Dune II.

Although RTS games no longer dominated the market in their golden age, the influence of the most popular RTS games still remains today.