Rock, Paper, Spartan and what it means in Halo Wars

Published Wednesday, April 15, 2009 4:35 PM by Aloysius

Tim "Timotron" Deen, Lead Technical Designer on Halo Wars, is here today to give more insight on the "Rock, Paper Scissors" aspect of the Halo Wars combat system.

Coming into any RTS (and Halo Wars is no exception) can be a daunting task for new players as they learn the relationships of the game units, especially game units that are not direct counter or game units that are just soft counters. As such this article will attempt to delve into a more detailed look at the Halo Wars counter system and dissect it for the players into a set of discrete rules and show how the rules apply to the game. Finally before we start a term used often in this article is “RPS” which is shorthand in a RTS for “rock paper scissors” and is used to describe the rule sets that govern which units win fights.

Now then a detailed look at the Halo Wars RPS reveals that it is a layered system of 3 RPS systems with a specific order of priority in application. Also each RPS system provides a different flavor to the game and serves to provide a specific combat flow purpose. Additionally the RPS relationships are split into the two separate buckets of “soft kill” and “hard kill”, “soft kill” relationships are where the units have a medium advantage in combat and “hard kill” is where units have a very strong advantage in combat.

  • Highest priority RPS
    • Counter unit RPS
      • Counter units hard kill their countered unit type
      • Counter units are soft killed by mainlines that they do not counter
  • Mid level RPS’s
    • Scout unit RPS
      • Hard kill counter infantry
      • Soft kill air
      • Soft killed by mainline infantry
      • Hard killed by mainline vehicles
    • Spartan RPS
      • Limited hard kill normal vehicles and air
  • Lowest priority RPS
    • Basic unit RPS
      • Infantry beat Air
      • Air beats Vehicles
      • Vehicles beat Infantry
      • Mainlines are better than counters against buildings*
Note: * the cobra and wolverine has a minor siege counter role as a special bonus for UNSC.

The counter unit RPS provides hard counters to punish players who attempt to run a single unit army and is the highest priority counter system. Next the scout unit RPS provides balance in the early game against counter infantry and air before their main counters come online, while the Spartan RPS provides a specific counter to vehicles in tech level 1. Finally the basic unit RPS provides a low level bias to the combat so that the units not directly involved in a higher level counter system will still have a rule that applies to them.

The final item to cover in this article is to go over just what categories units fall into in halo wars for defining what they are. First all units have a role category assigned to them such as mainline or counter, and second they have a unit type assigned to them such as infantry or vehicle. The combination of those two items defines the unit’s base combat relationships to other units.

Unit Categories
  • Role
    • Mainline unit
    • Counter unit
    • Scout unit
    • Special unit
  • Type
    • Infantry
    • Vehicle
    • Aircraft

One caveat before concluding is that results will vary in actual game play due to players employing micro management of units and in situations where the opponent has superior upgrades or numbers. Now with that caveat said hopefully this article will give everyone an idea of how RPS design is expressed in Halo wars and why many of the units have the combat advantages that they do.

p.s. I included a handy chart of Hard and Soft Counters below. Click for huge:


And since the first one was so popular, here is the Covenant Chart: