When someone tells me that most players don't play SupCom zoomed out, they lose a lot of credibility with me. I have thousands of hours playing SupCom over the years. The entire team here has similar experience. Most of the late game was spent playing zoomed out looking at icons.
Chris Taylor and I have discussed strategic zoom extensively over the years. I can tell you, for a fact, that the way a player base actually plays a game ultimately affects the evolution of its design.
The strategic zoom icon players lost out on a lot of actual strategy because of it. I'm not speculating, I'm telling you for a fact that things like LOS, better physics, better terrain handling, better balancing of reclaiming mass, more precise handling of the economy are all features that SuCom players lost out on in exchange for strategic zoom. Mike Marr (who was one of the main guys on FA) and I talked about all this a lot.
If SupCom fans want to sabotage the game because we're unwilling to make a clone of it, they'll find themselves unwelcome here.
Ok so there's a fear. Not quite sure why but there is a fear. Let's work on this : There's a good logic, but my rule always is, if the logic is founded on incorrect fact than the logic is flawed.
It's really a shame that I see happening often. I have to sit by on the sidelines in full (or partial) knowledge of whats going on and watch powerlessly as it occurs.
PA devs held the same argument. "Oh we wanna make the spiritual successor to TA" (this exact line has been uttered for 5 games now that we're counting AOTS also) it's starting to get comical how noone takes the time to take a step back and study trends with this.
Let's get down to more core information. You say things like the use of terrain and balancing of mass reclaim were lost out on because of the "zoomed out" design focus. Alright.
For use of terrain I'm going to go ahead and side with you mostly as I agree that alot of what we could have been worrying about much more concerning terrain at a small scale is now ignored in favor of the bigger picture (this of course, falls away at pro-level play, where pros pay attention to even the smallest nook and cranny).
You yourself said it was hard to compare what AOTS will be at release with what a game that had continued to be polished after release for as long as it was like supcom was. So you recognize the progress that has happened at FAF.
You do realize most maps such as white fire and setons have had their reclaim stripped down to a thrid of their vanilla SupCom version by the FAF community because players were making a too efficient use of it, throwing the balance off and they justly thought it was too much?
I think this illustrates that mass reclaim isn't taken lightly in supcom. I mean hell, we hover it up even on maps that have nothing but tiny rocks worth 4 mass like it's the best damn shake we ever tasted.
And well... the mods never stop : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGjYqpTLMOo probably this is more along the lines of what you had imagined?
Also take into account that some of the features that did not originally get to ship whether they where design choices or not, got to be added : such as wreaks in water (they are set to leave only 50% mass as ships cost so much).
Pushes with experimentals are thought out thoroughly to prevent making what we call a "mass drop" which would blow up in your face much worse than that experimental for the opponent.*
Pros describe SupCom as "a flow-based economy RTS which breaks the principle of mass conservation as economy is continually injected into the game from nowhere"
and as for a more precise handling of the economy, FA(F) players have developed the meta and refined the balance so much that economy has become so much more important than ever before. It's so complex I wager it represents 50% of the gameplay. With a bad economy you're as good as dead. Placing the 4 mass storage adjacency bonuses became a must. Heck things like mass generation are perennial to the sup com economy at a mid to pro level when t3 mass extractor is attained. For any other RTS player, why this can be so good will remain a mystery.
In the end I think your vision and that of Chris Taylor, at least for the strategical value of reclaim got to come true.
As for playing zoomed out
I admit that for the majority of the gameplay, once you've passed that state of awe, marveling at the beauty of everything. Basically once you stop toying around with sandboxing, wave-of-death-ing and playing versus the easy and normal AI, once you finally start trying out online (and it takes a loooong while to get there). Once you've reached that stage you start playing mostly zoomed out.
now let's be honest here : we do zoom in ....ALL the time and very close too, we check to see if a unit can shoot, we micro a group of units, often for a long while, ladder players have admitted to playing almost entirely at the view distance provided by battle-group double-tap, we basebuild using the cover of mountains and making sure our Point Defense has line of sight.
I am one of the few that also takes the time to admire the scenery while I am in a moment of lull, none of my own troops are engaged and am simply waiting for the next mass point upgrade.
Admittedly these moments are few, admittedly I am one of the few to do this, and admittedly this is not enough to justify spending months or years creating wonderous graphics which are the hook for most gamers.
But there's forcibly a middle ground. While FA ditched the appreciation of it's graphics (oh yeah, FA still looks great, IMO, FAF shaders have been keeping it looking baler) for gameplay, it DID get gameplay right.
And I fear for wanting to make graphics dominate over gameplay once again. As you might find amongst the gamer community at large, this is not a popular choice.
I can tell you, for a fact, that the way a player base actually plays a game ultimately affects the evolution of its design.
I get the premonition from this that you intend to somehow wrangle the way the player base plays the game through game design. A reversion of the process of sorts.
I'm almost sure I'm just getting scared over nothing here but just in case you do hope to do this : it can't be done.
Since you are a diamond starcraft player, you and I both know that it was the playerbase that invented micro. that invented what people see as "RTS gameplay" at large today. You and I both know that Blizzard never saw the way starcraft is played today coming and originally had a laid-back game in mind, then just rolled with the typhoon.
"stutterstep" "6-pool", the terran meta finally invented to counter zerg imba-ness on the broodwar ladder, heck the invention of a metagame period ect. Hate 'em or love 'em they were not Dev-made.
This, to me, brings some very obvious points to light :
- mirco is the players job, not the developers : Micro is something that you add to a game by the way you play it, not by the way it's made. So if the game already has some micro by the way it's made than there will be even more micro in the game because of what the players added to it on top of that by the way they play it.
- How "macro" the game is's determining factor or factors is/are hard to pin down and identify. From what I've analysed with the existing RTS games in the world, it has nothing to do with unit stats at large nor the size of the playing field, rather what percentage of it you exert control over at any given second.
- And lastly there is little to no control on "how the playerbase will play my game". It's not an exact science.
Heck on a FAF interview Chris Taylor did he told the fun anecdotal story of him setting up for a game of FA versus his son who he's playing against for the first time and he's feeling rather confident as he builds up his base with the no-rush option on and just after the no-rush counter times out, bombers swoop in and kill his commander and he exclaims "who built this stupid game!"
In light of this what to do?
I agree with you that : of course one would want to exert whatever control he can over making the game he dreams of! otherwise what is a game designer's job?" I can only agree with that, I think we both dream of the same game anyhow, we just use different words to describe it and our opinions differ on the prioritization of pitfall avoidance. Other than that we both agree. I don't think leaning more onto the visual aspect of the game so as to lure more people in is a bad idea. We just musn't lean on it to heavily, crushing the godlike, addiction of a gameplay that lies underneath. It's a scale. There's no way you can bring both arms up.
And by jove you've got a real moneymaker of a gameplay there. FAF, TA and Spring are proof enough that once you've bit the fruit, you'll stay for a decade. NO JOKE.
Anyways again I hope I'm not trundling once again on your experience but rather bringing a new perspective to this matter.