My thoughts about Grey Goo

I consider myself a long time fan of Petroglyph games. I put possibly upwards of 100 hours into Universe at War, and was perhaps one of the only people who signed up for Games for Windows Live solely to play ranked multiplayer in the game. I was in the beta for aborted games Mytheon and End of Nations and was in fact one of the most outspoken proponents of this latter game. But the bitter taste left in my mouth by End of Nations’ demise left me jaded at best when it comes to supporting games and, sadly, especially those by Petroglyph. Getting worked up about a game, only to have it die before ever seeing the light of day, is exhausting.

So, when Grey Goo came along I was ambivalent at best. As I never seem to tire of mentioning, I have happily been living in the world of tactics and wargames for the past couple of years, and considered myself above the more abstracted and gamey approach of old-school real-time strategy games of the Blizzard and Westwood lineage. The genre needs to evolve, I said, not return to the mechanics of 15 years ago.

Well, whether or not I was correct with that assertion, actually playing Grey Goo has softened me to the idea of returning to ‘roots of the genre’. The game is undeniably fun and incredibly well polished, and despite having some deep reservations about some of Petroglyph’s choices, I’m now looking forward to laddering in this game. As to whether it’ll enter my regular rotation, only time will tell.

Factions

Far and above, the most interesting thing about this game are its factions. However, I feel that it’s tedious at best to describe them blow-by-blow for any potential readers – there are already excellent videos that describe many of the core tenants of the Humans and Beta on Grey Goo’s official YouTube Channel. For brevity’s sake, I’ve included these videos below, along with some of my thoughts about each faction.

Humans

Let’s now discuss some of the implications presented by the Humans’ toolbox of units and features.

Humans have been specifically and intelligently designed to be a defensive faction. They have virtually no ability to offensively place production facilities, which means that their armies will always have the longest travel time to the production and resource harvesting operations of their opponent. To counteract this, they are able to dynamically and quickly re-configure their entire base layout, allowing them to teleport defenses into place in response to an attack, and simultaneously teleport production or economic structures away in order to avoid losing them. The Humans are the only faction with actual dedicated turrets, which means that a higher percentage of their population can be devoted to attack than that of other races (unless a Goo player is going all-in, in which case technically their structures are aiding in the assault). The Beta faction, on the other hand, must dedicate units to wall hardpoints in order to have durable defenses (important if Goo forces are swarming with Protean units)

The Humans are also incredibly flexible in many ways: since hardpoints can be teleported at a whim, Humans can quickly re-purpose factories to produce different units, allowing them to ‘tech switch’ perhaps more easily than any other faction (I’ll go into this a little more in the Goo and Beta sections). Their scouts are some of the most advanced in the game, with their air scout having the longest vision radius in the game, making their offensive teleportation very hard to effectively stop.

HumanBaseVSBeta (7)

Also not noted in the video is the reality that, out of the box, Human units cannot be repaired. There is tech that allows some structures, tanks or air units to be repaired (or auto-repair) but unless this tech is researched, human forces can be whittled down over time. This puts them at a disadvantage compared to the Beta with their repair pads or the Goo with their self-repair abilities. And you thought Protoss had it bad – at least they have shields. This actually underpins another reality about Human play: they are forced to be incredibly proactive. If a Human’s defenses are cracked convincingly, they will have a heck of a time coming back from it.

Humans

  • Far and above the best defensive options in the game, including 1-directional walls that only stop incoming movement and fire
  • Flexibility to change up what they can produce at the drop of a hat
  • Able to teleport offensively, as well as move their structures to their advantage
  • vulnerable to economic harassment in the mid and lategame
  • limited self repair options that come at an opportunity cost
  • confined to a single area of the map for production and construction

Beta

The Beta might be termed the ‘generalist’ faction, but it’s a misnomer. The beta rely on sheer firepower and economic overdrive to win games – seriously, they tend to be able to mine the most resources and produce the most units in the shortest amount of time. Beta rely on numbers and having the right tool for the job to win the day. They have a variety of offensive and defensive options that make them quite flexible, but find that their very diversity and wealth of options can do them harm.

The Beta are, quite simply, the simplest faction to play. They are the most straightforward, without a reliance on power conduits and extreme defense like humans, or being slaves to their race’s own benefits like the Goo (more on that in a moment). The Beta have the most unit types, and few outright weaknesses. Their units are light but plentiful, and they can set up production or harvesting operations wherever on the map they want, making them in some ways a midpoint between the immobility of the humans and the structureless nature of the Goo.

Beta’s wealth of unit options and catch-as-catch-can Hub production model leave them open to be defensive or offensive, macro focused or aggressive, but the nature of their hubs makes it an expensive and time-consuming process to switch out their tech. Hubs have limited slots, and structures attached to them must be sold back and then rebuilt to be re-configured, meaning that there’s an actual loss of investment if the player makes a mistake with hub design, or if changing battle conditions necessitates a tech switch. Similarly, their walls are clunkier than that of the Humans, since gates must be manually constructed and cannot be freely passed and fired through. However, individual wall segments can essentially turn any patch of ground into a turret farm, with enemies being forced to take out a wall segment before being able to kill the unit atop it.This has a number of interesting tactical applications including, offensive turreting.

GreyGoo_Dec_Screen4

The Hand of Ruk is the literal embodiment of the Beta’s combat philosophy – artillery, brute force, and production.

The Beta

  • Have the most unit options, tempered by the fact that tech switching is the hardest of the 3 factions
  • Option to have the most mobility in the game with many units having upgrades that let them fire on the move
  • Can build anywhere, but are forced to spend units to have static defenses
  • Strong economically, but can be forced to spread their army out to defend multiple production or resource harvesting operations

Goo

GooEpicVSBeta (5)

The Goo are… interesting. Instead of resources, they rely on the hit-points of their only structure, the Mother Goo. Mother Goos gain hitpoints as they sit atop resource nodes, and have 4 possible ‘tiers’ of HP atop their core pool. Each time their HP grows to a new ‘tier’ they can spend it to produce a unit called a Small Protean, or to buy a new technology for their faction. At 2 tiers, they can spawn another Mother Goo. At 3, they can produce a Large Protean, which can turn into their higher tech units. Technically, nothing is stopping the Goo player from immediately accessing their high tech units from Large Proteans – only common sense might dictate that waiting to get these units right out of the gate might be a bad decision. The Goo have no real tech tree as such, as at any given point only the “cost” of Mother Goo HP restricts their actions.

The implications of the hit points of what would otherwise be their ultimate weapon (Mother Goos do nasty damage if they manage to catch anything) should not escape you – this severely limits the abandon with which players can commit Mother Goos to battle. Losing HP is equivalent to losing the ability to produce more army units. This is the hard choice the Goo player is forced to make: do I use the Mother solely as production, leaving it away from the frontlines to produce my army, or do I commit them to the fight, and potentially lose a significant portion of my production capabilities? This is the type of choice I live for in these games, the seriously non-trivial, the hard choice.

Small and Large Proteans themselves are combat units – Small Proteans are fast but do light damage in a melee area around themselves while Large Proteans are slow and do heavy damage. At any point these units can be expended to turn into a fixed number of units. This allows the Goo player to keep many or most of their units in the form of Proteans until literally the moment before the Protean dies – the resulting units will always spawn with the same amount of health.

However, when Goo units spawn from Proteans, they do so at about 60% health, which means that if they spawn in combat they’re more easily killed. The Goo is a constant dance on the knife’s edge of power and defeat, options and oblivion.

Goo_Screenshot_05-noscale

The Goo

  • Must always be juggling the position and use of their Mother Goo – losing one is akin to losing 1/10 or more of their entire production capability, but their armies are generally too weak to defeat prepared forces without Mother Goo intervention. Mother Goos are formidable, but slow and must be defended
  • Have no air units and limited anti-air options
  • Have the incredible ability to wait until the literal last second before building exactly what unit they need in any given situation
  • Are entirely mobile, which leaves their opponent guessing and often scared, but at the cost of losing out on production time
  • Their units are fragile, but self-heal when not in combat

StarCraft

Comparisons to StarCraft 2’s factions are inevitable, but deeply flawed. Let’s take the Goo as an. Obviously, one might say, the Goo are this title’s equivalent to StarCraft’s Zerg race, right? No, not even close. The goo, mechanically, possibly couldn’t be further from the Zerg in function. Let’s look at a quick bulleted list to clarify

  • In StarCraft, the Zerg can potentially bring the most units to bear in the early and midgame due to batch unit production. While the Goo also have batch unit production, the reality is they actually struggle to produce units in the early and midgame due to the relatively slow rate at which Mother Goos generate resources i.e. hitpoints. This necessitates that the Goo be quite careful on how and where they engage in the early game, and/or that they take the enormous risk of committing one of their early and slow Mother Goos to the fight. This is actually more similar to early game Protoss play, with Mother Goos acting as proxy pylons. Of course, this breaks down too as the Mother Goo has no correlation in StarCraft whatsoever.
  • In StarCraft, the Zerg are the faction most restricted by terrain, especially in the early game. Lacking Reapers, Blink Stalkers and other terrain avoidant units and abilities, the Zerg faction prefers open spaces to allow their masses of units to get surrounds on unprepared Terran and Protoss armies. While the Goo also prefer to surround Human and Beta armies, they actually are the least restricted by terrain and actually rely on cliffs and other impassable terrain objects to allow Formless Goo units to get the drop on clumped up armies.
  • If you’re paying attention, this would effectively beg that the Goo be alternately compared to Protoss and Zerg armies, while any direct comparison would remain broken by the implications on having a mobile production facility that also serves as the faction’s primary source of area damage. Unit design aside, the StarCraft comparison is muddled to the point of meaninglessness by many of the Goo’s core faction design mechanics

protoss_tempest_01-large

Looking at the Humans in relation to the Protoss or the Beta presents similar frustrations, though being slightly closer comparisons in some respects. Ultimately, I feel that comparisons with StarCraft are reductionist and downright lazy. If anything, comparisons should be made to Command and Conquer 3 (though good luck with that as the Beta share similarities with both the GDI and the Nod, while the closest I can come to the Human faction are Universe at War’s Masari faction).

The one area I do feel like Grey Goo falls short compared to StarCraft is imagination. Grey Goo’s insistence on having no active unit abilities means that ultimately, you don’t see as many different things happening in a Grey Goo match. Units drop bombs, fire cannons, deal AoE damage etc, but there’s no Blink micro, no clutch Muta juking, or tense baneling/marine duels. Now, I’ve only had a handful of matches against other players to date, so it’s a bit early to tell the depth of strategic and tactical mastery that better players than myself will cook up. But this remains my largest remaining holdout – is there enough depth concealed in this streamlined game to keep people coming back after the initial headrush of learning and playing a new game wears off?

Gameplay

Far too many mainstream gaming sites produce nothing but uninformed tripe about the RTS games they cover, a perfect example being the utterly irrelevant Grey Goo preview posted to Rock, Paper Shotgun which had the utter nonsensical comparison of Grey Goo’s Beta faction with StarCraft’s Protoss as one of the least amongst its offenses. As a longtime but admittedly mediocre player of RTS games, I hope to be able to provide a more accurate picture of what Grey Goo is trying to do for interested readers.

Grey Goo(1)

Skillshots

When Petroglyph says they’re taking this game “back to the roots of the genre”, they’re not kidding. Mechanically, Grey Goo resembles a classic Command and Conquer title in many ways. First and foremost, unlike the convention popularized by Blizzard’s titles, no unit in this game has any activated abilities or skill-shots. No unit has a spell, psionic ability or MOBA-style line attack. Many units have unique characteristics or inherent traits but the StarCraft and Warcraft conventions of spellcaster units are not present in this game.

This is, in my mind, both a blessing and a curse. In RTS titles as diverse as Company of Heroes and StarCraft, one major determination of player skill is the counterplay of using and avoiding ground targeted abilities, be they Molotov Cocktails or Psionic Storms. A large part of the tactical aspect of these games is the managing of cooldowns, or the limited but renewable reserves of a unit’s mana pool. However, some subset of the RTS community does not view skillshots favorably – one major point of contention with Relic’s Company of Heroes 2 on launch was the incredible impact that grenades could have on infantry combat, a Gordian Knot type solution that broke down what was in the minds of some players the superior infantry combat model of the first game.

So, the lack of skillshots or spells of any sort is likely to be viewed favorably by one segment of the RTS community, while gamers who grew up playing Blizzard’s titles are likely to miss it.

Goo_Screenshot_01-noscale

Micro + Macro

Much of the game is slower-paced that what many modern RTS gamers might be used to. The early game in Grey Goo has been intentionally slowed down, and large armies don’t really start appearing off the bat. Part of this is the high cost of bringing additional resource refineries to bear, and part of this is the fairly sedate pace of armies as they cross the map to attack enemy positions.

While the game starts off more slowly economically, by the time each player has 4 or more resource gatherers, large armies start coming out and you’ll realize that some damage sources in this game are straight up unforgiving. Some bombers can literally wipe out entire attack forces in 1 or 2 passes, making air dominance in the case of Betas and Humans a not inconsiderable advantage. Human artillery is in the form of invisible ‘mines’ which can be triggered several seconds after they land, further dealing damage and punishing aggression.

In classic C&C faction, knowing what units to build and where and when to engage are incredibly important. Grey Goo works hard to minimize the more tedious parts of RTS play – especially economically – but does not aim to skimp on the strategy. Many decisions, both on the tactical and strategic level, are nontrivial, coming with an opportunity cost or severe consequence for misreading the situation, or both.

HumanEpicVSGoo (10)

Conclusion

To me, ‘depth’ in an RTS boils down to the essential question of – how many meaningful options does a player have to execute different strategies, to respond to their enemy, and how nuanced and meaningful are the interactions between a player’s own units and those of their opponent? Ultimately, I’m not sure if Grey Goo provides enough… nuance, though in my opinion it surely delivers on fun. This, as an admittedly middle of the road RTS gamer who’s perhaps easily impressed.

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15 thoughts on “My thoughts about Grey Goo

    1. I’d like to know more about “I’m not sure if Grey Goo provides enough… nuance” – why do you come to this conclusion? I fully support your opinion on depths, thus i’d like to know more on your reasoning.

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      1. I feel like I tried to cover this in my article, but here are a couple of my reservations

        1, Factions have few unit types with fairly rigid purposes. My fear is that this will lead to a paucity of choice in the number and variety of strategies players can implement

        2. WIthout units having ‘spells’ or superweapons or other ‘skill shots’ or activated abilities of any type, I worry that unit interactions (combat, or units on a single team supporting each other) may not be as deep or satisfying as in many other RTS games.

        I have these concerns, but it’s hard to prove them either way without seeing what players do with the tools Petroglyph is providing them. Only time, in my humble opinion, will tell if this model will pay off in the long run

        Hope that helps 🙂

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        1. Thanks for your answer. I can understand your point. From my perspective, there is nothing bad about removing abilities from units, but the gameplay has to focus on something else to not to bore the player. An example for an awesome game without clickable abilities would be supreme commander. Your focus is on macroing the whole battlefield, with 100s of units. There is no reason for distracting abilities.

          If you can’t do alot through formations and flanking, grey goo could become very soon very boring :(.

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          1. You’re 100% correct – Supreme Commander’s gameplay was interesting because of the dozens(?) of unit options the player had, and the huge variety of choice and complexity involved in managing an economy with hundreds of units and structures.

            As I’m sure you are aware, however, Grey Goo doesn’t operate remotely like this. Grey Goo is more comparable to Command and Conquer or Age of Empires or WarCraft 2 in its scope, with a 200 population cap meaning the player will be directly controlling 80-100 units or so, and not the 700-800+ units involved in a SupCom match.

            Typically in a game on the scale of Grey Goo, managing unit abilities is an included skill factor when engaging in combat. Not saying it won’t work, just that I have some reservations as to how long the gameplay will keep people interested

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  1. I asked myself what are the differences between grey goo & CNC (RA3) – so i looked again into the wiki:
    unit comparision
    -grey goo (beta has the most units): 12 units / goo 9 units
    -RA3: Imperial 28 units (including constructor & Ore Collector)

    You have land, air & naval battles in CNC – while grey goo only offers land & air battles.

    The variety of available units differs alot from CNC and limits the player in possible variations. I think i am going to wait with ordering grey goo, it seems to be very shallow in its depth. There is no focus on base building/economics (like in supreme commander) nor the intense battles of CoH2 or SC2. There is no unique core game left if you look at it closely, grey goo seems to do no huge mistakes, but it also stripped out the depth out of the game.

    The missing depth is not only caused by the limited amount of units, it is also caused by the units itself. I am not asking for clickable grenades, but where are the stealth-tanks, mobile support shields, transporters(!!!), field robots and other funny mechanics? Stealth is only available to scout units, all other units are just about firing & moving – some are special because they can move & fire at the same time.

    The other rts which is coming out this month (etherium) seems to be in a even worse state.

    It’s very sad, that developers are failing at creating a good rts, besides the giant Blizzard with its very apm-heavy SC2.

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    1. I understand what you are saying, I do.

      As far as responding to your latest comment, I feel that I have given a pretty fair look at both the good and the bad I see in the game in my article, and don’t feel like summarizing the article here.

      I have already decided to purchase and play this game for myself and expect to get my money’s worth even if I stop playing after 60-70 hours. I think if nothing else this game could be an excellent introduction into the RTS genre. If you have made up your mind as to the quality of the game without playing it, that’s fine as well

      I’m of the opinion that ‘more’ isn’t necessarily ‘better’ and as an example point to that timeless classic, chess. I’m reserving my opinion on the game’s depth until I get the opportunity to see, or indeed play, more than a half-dozen matches against other people

      EDIT –

      I also would like to mention that very few RTS games incorporate naval combat and even fewer incorporate it well. It’s not something I actively look for in RTS games by any stretch of the imagination

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    1. I have an advantage here as I am quite judicious with both 😉

      I basically only play RTS games first of all, and mostly those whose focus is competitive. One reason I’m blogging in the first place is to help other gamers understand RTS better, and/or to help decide if any given RTS is right for them

      ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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  2. Hi great blog. And very nice summary of Grey Goo, is actually the best preview around is milles better than the ones on pcgamer, ign and rock paper shotgun.

    But you have to undestand the general view of the people saying that it looks like a Stacraft clone. You provide great points to refute that. But theres no demo around and just a small amount of real game match videos to really see the difference for ourselfs. We humans a are a very visual species so if we see some patterns emerge with juzge inmediately baesd on orior experiences.

    You can denny that the beta visually looks like a poors mans protos (prottosi aliens with SC human dominion tech) and the humans are exact opposite (high tech like protos). And the goo is a rush race so even if is visually distinc to the zerg people call them “zerg like” because the 2 other factions compare well to the starcraft ones.

    Again grest blog and hy the way i actually planning to get the game because we more RTS games. Cheers!

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  3. Hi great blog. And very nice summary of Grey Goo, is actually the best preview around is miles better than the ones on PC gamer, IGN and Rock paper shotgun.

    But you have to understand the general view of the people saying that it looks like a StarCraft clone. You provide great points to refute that. But there’s no demo around and just a small amount of real game match videos to really see the difference for ourselves. We humans are a very visual species so if we see some patterns emerge with judge immediately based on prior experiences.

    You can deny that the beta visually looks like a poor’s man’s Protoss (protossi aliens with SC human dominion tech) and the humans are exact opposite (high tech like Protoss). And the goo is a rush race so even if is visually distinct to the Zerg people call them “Zerg like” because the 2 other factions compare well to the StarCraft ones.

    Again great blog and by the way I actually planning to get the game because we more RTS games. Cheers!

    (Please admin, if you can’t please delete the comment below I was written from my iPad and the orthography was horrible)

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  4. I agree being an original RA players way back all the wee units made the game. The barracks made more units than a whole side in Goo and that very disappointing. Part of the fun was the diversity wither it was needed or not. I’m not saying Goo should have guard dogs in it but its almost like Goo is saying we don’t have spy units so we don’t need X. been out of games for a while almost seven or eight years and played through all the RA games and the C7C titles up to including Generals. Its like the game has just been built to do enough. Seriously when I found out the WW guys were back before reading into the game I thought fantastic, now I feel they have let themselves down by producing what will be a solid game that will get boring real fast.

    No transport and support units really suggest small maps when I wanted them to push the boat out and go large. Wait and see some idiot will have come to the conclusion us gamers don’t want long games only 30-50 Minute MP rounds etc. Let us decide! Used to have epic battles on RA that lasted well over an hour. God used to play rounds of near two hours in BF1942. So can we expect buildings to have uses like Radar and I see no special weapons like the old Nuke etc. I used to love combining all the super weapons waiting for them to power up in support for a mega attack on a brilliantly tight base defence set up by the other guy. Gray goo to me only reading a small amount seems to be settling for a lot less than they could do and I’d not be impressed if other units came out as DLC fleecing the gamer even more. The tide is turning on paid DLC.

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