All together now: a look at micromanagement gameplay

A lot of games have you taking control of dozens – or possibly hundreds – of units at a time tasking you with overseeing them all like some omnipotent being from on high. Being able to move from one part of the map to another, then back to where you were to ensure your squad is not destroyed while you tell your peons to collect more gold has been a standard gametype and gameplay mechanic for years on the PC. Some might say that it has been used well enough on consoles with games like “Starcraft” and “Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring.”

In “Pikmin 3” you’ll get to choose specific areas in which to launch your Pikmin.

Few remember “Pikmin,” though. One of the flagship titles of the now ancient Nintendo GameCube, it was quite possibly one of the most innovative and impressive titles to ever be a console launch title. The sequel, which was released in 2004, marked the last time we would see any of the adorable little plant-like creatures jumping on top of larger animals in a mass of color to overpower and destroy. No more would we get the pleasure of watching their flowers bloom to show their strength level, and gone were the days of enjoyable item collecting with the quirky little aliens.

Yet at E3 2012 the world was given a chance to once again return to the strange planet that fostered these adorable creatures.

In the eight years since “Pikmin 2” there haven’t been many other games like it. The only one that springs to mind out of sheer similarity and startling hilarity has to be “Overlord” and it’s own sequel. The game had players commanding minions of different color and ability and having them parade behind you until you thrust them upon unwitting settlers or elves in a cacophony of fire and Cockney accents.

The idea of commanding squads like this into battle is – as I said before – nothing new, but what is still fairly new is the idea of commanding them on the field of battle alongside your soldiers. Over the shoulder views can only grant you so much of a perspective as there still is no real danger to yourself. Squad-based combat systems like the ones used in “Star Wars: Republic Commando” and “Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway” are closer to what “Pikmin” and “Overlord” achieve, though.

How many of you actually remember “Overlord?”

What I’m talking about is the idea of being in command of larger groups (20+ individuals) while still having to worry about your own safety and fighting the enemy with them.

“Overlord” allowed you to upgrade your magic and weapons so that you would truly feel like an all-powerful badass surrounded by scores of equally frightening critters. “Pikmin” was more toned down, but focused heavily on the strategic use of the Pikmin themselves whilst also protecting yourself from mortal danger.

In one word: Presence. That’s what these games developed for the player, and that is sometimes what a game is lacking. The player often doesn’t feel a part of the world, and there’s no sense of danger or consequence when micromanaging. Just take the viewpoints as an example: over the top, distant, looking down on the action. “Pikmin” and “Overlord” put you toe-to-toe with monsters like other third-person role-playing games, but also gave you a ground perspective of the work you were having done. It’s also a level of realism and survival that you normally don’t see in a real-time strategy game.

Being present and aware of your surroundings while making sure something is collected. Constantly on the alert for what may lurk around the next corner, or what may even be stalking you at that very moment. That’s good gameplay.

With “Pikmin 3” coming out for the Wii U, there’s no doubt that the Vault will be taking a crack at it and seeing just how well Nintendo has perfected this style of gameplay.

When making your own games, don’t forget about presence, and whether or not it matters to the gamer. See what you can do to make them feel invested in the environment instead of just the enemies and the goal. Make them fear for their safety as the character instead of knowing that if they just hide behind some rubble they’ll be okay.

How much more dangerous and intense would any of the “Call of Duty” games be if you actually had to command the troops around you while fighting? What about leading troops into battle in “Skyrim?” Think about it.