Cover art of Total Annihilation
Total Annihilation is a real-time strategy video game created by Cavedog Entertainment, a sub-division of Humongous Entertainment, and released on September 30, 1997 by GT Interactive for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS. It was the first real-time strategy game to feature 3D units and terrain. Two expansion packs were released, The Core Contingency on April 30, 1998 and Battle Tactics on June 30, 1998. After the closure of the Cavedog Entertainment Studios in 1999, the intellectual property fell to Infogrames (now Atari).
Total Annihilation is no longer officially supported, due to the closure of Cavedog. The Cavedog team ended, but ex-Cavedog and lead designer Chris Taylor, went on with Gas Powered Games to create Supreme Commander in 2007, popularly considered the "spiritual successor" of Total Annihilation. The creators of XTA, a mod for Total Annihilation, independently developed the open source 3D graphics Spring game engine. The Total Annihilation 3D project was begun in the summer of 2006. Other ex-members of Cavedog, including Total Annihilation's game engine developer Jon Mavor, later went on to develop Planetary Annihilation in 2014, another game in the same vein as Total Annihilation.
Total Annihilation is set in the far future in the midst of a galactic war, with battles taking place on the surface of planets and moons. The efforts of the player are centered around constructing a defensive base and an offensive force, and conquering opponents. The player is also concerned with gathering resources, reconnaissance and stealth, and evaluation of units and terrain. Battles take place against AI in a story-driven campaign, with the option of playing against other players in a skirmish mode.
Normally, the player begins with the unique Commander unit, a mech with the ability to create structures to form a base and, by extension, a military force comprising a range of mobile units. The Commander, in addition to being a powerful combat unit, is vital to the player because of its ability to quickly construct units. This makes the loss of a Commander a critical event in any game. Construction is governed by the possession of the game's two unlimited resources, Metal and Energy, and can be undertaken by factories or mobile construction units. Every unit belongs to a level of technology (tech level); the higher the level, the more advanced the unit and the more resources and thus time required to construct it. A feature of the game is the ability to easily "queue" the many commands for a unit or group of units, with types of commands including patrolling a route, constructing a defensive group of structures and attacking enemy units. Once given its commands, the unit will go about them automatically thus minimizing the need for the player's attention to small, repetitive tasks. The victory conditions of a multiplayer game generally involve the elimination of all enemy units, but the aim of single player campaign missions can be more specialized.
Resources in Total Annihilation are handled in a manner different from other real-time strategy games of the day: they are "streaming", meaning that they are accumulated at a constant rate rather than in small batches; and they are limitless. In addition, all units and structures have a fixed cost, but they build at varying rates depending on the unit constructing them. A Commander, for example, will build a structure three times faster than a construction vehicle. Of course, the faster a unit or structure is built, the faster the cost thereof is deducted from the player's reserves, competing with the rate at which resources are acquired. Thus, the commander is a double-edged sword, being able to build units and structures quickly, but at rates that quickly become unsustainable in the early game without sufficient reserves. If the rate at which resources are used exceeds the rate at which resources are acquired, then the player's reserves will begin to be depleted. If a player's reserves are entirely depleted, the player's production across the board will slow to a rate proportional to the amount by which outflow exceeds income, this is known as "nanostalling". In addition, if the player runs out of energy, power-dependent structures such as radar towers, metal extractors, and laser towers will cease to function. This adds an element of economic complexity unparalleled in most RTS games of the time period. When units and buildings die, they leave behind burnt metal frames, commonly referred to as wrecks, which can be reclaimed by commanders and construction units. When a wreck is reclaimed, the reclaiming player receives the metal in a lump sum. Players need to be careful when attacking, because if they leave behind wrecks, and don't do much damage, they will give the enemy a boost of metal. This is commonly referred to as 'feeding' the enemy.
The player can command a variety of units including infantry bots, vehicles, ships, hovercraft, aircraft, powerful stationary long range weapons, and even a giant mecha known as the Core Krogoth. Units can vary in size, speed and the ability to give and take damage, generally depending on their tech level. The strongest units take longer to build as well as cost more resources. Each unit has strengths and weaknesses, optimal styles of use, and corresponding units against which it is vulnerable or well-suited. Effective play is usually characterized by consideration of these attributes, as well as efficient resource management, strong defenses, and knowledge of the opponent's strategies. The game's interface consists of construction and command buttons (depending on the unit selected), unit status information, resource information on the production of Energy and Metal, and a minimap which gives an overview of the game's battlespace— the visibility of which may be hindered by fog of war, necessitating the use of radar or scout units. There are a few highly advanced units which are invaluable combat-wise, such as nuclear missile launchers which have enormous range and very high damage, as well as long-range artillery that have enough range to attack any point on smaller maps. There are two story-related factions, Arm and Core, which have comparable sets of units (one side a little bit faster, other one a little bit tougher etc.), but are aesthetically different. Generally, the Arm have faster, sleeker units while the Core units are built to take slightly more punishment. This is shown exceptionally well by the Arm being able to build an extremely fast Kbot known as the Zipper, while the Core can build an armored Kbot known simply as The Can. When playing amongst experienced players, subtle differences between the two factions put Core players at a disadvantage. The most noticeable differences are as follows: The level 1 Arm fighter aircraft is 1.7x more maneuverable than its Core counterpart, the Arm commander walks 1.12x faster than the Core commander, amphibious Arm kbots float above water, making them faster and more useful than their submerging Core counterparts, Arm players can build Farks, fast assistant repair kbots which can be crowded around labs and structures to dramatically reduce build times, and level 1 Arm tanks are equipped with superior weapons. Core has some distinct advantage as well, such as superior naval units, level 1 bombers that drop more bombs, and less conspicuous nuclear facilities. These advantages, however, are overshadowed by the Arm advantages in most situations.
Total Annihilation was one of the first RTS games to feature radar that caused enemy units within its radius to appear on the minimap despite being covered by the fog of war. This added an additional element of electronic warfare to the game: players could construct radar jammers that prevented units in a small radius around them from appearing on radar. Mobile radar jammers could be used to create surprise attacks, necessitating the deployment of scout units on a regular basis to reveal said units visually. In addition, radar jammers could disguise the presence of visually cloaked units, such as the commander or land mines. Radar fields rendered cloaked units detectable; a radar jammer could make said units undetectable until the radar jammer itself was destroyed. Total Annihilation was also one of the first RTS games to point the way towards battlefields with hundreds and thousands of units. Previous games could field a hundred units or so. However, Total Annihilation initially permitted 200 units per side which was later patched to 500 and then to 5,000 units per side.
The game features a physics engine which governs projectiles, explosions and wreckage. The terrain is strictly 2D but contains height values which allow it to act as a 3D surface. Hills obstruct artillery fire, and, depending on the "line-of-sight" setting, height enhances units' visual and firing ranges. If terrain is steep and jagged, units tilt and turn to meet the face of the ground. Structures can be built on steep terrain to protect them from artillery fire and to create choke points. Artillery shells are affected by gravity, which is actually variable on different planets- particularly on lower-gravity moons. Units that achieve five kills receive "veteran" status which increases health and damage, as well as giving the unit the ability to lead moving targets. This effect grows with every five subsequent kills.
The game's start-up credits give a summary of the game's narrative:
What began as a conflict over the transfer of consciousness from flesh to machines escalated into a war which has decimated a million worlds. The Core and the Arm have all but exhausted the resources of a galaxy in their struggle for domination. Both sides now crippled beyond repair, the remnants of their armies continue to battle on ravaged planets, their hatred fueled by over four thousand years of total war. This is a fight to the death. For each side, the only acceptable outcome is the complete elimination of the other.
In the far future the galaxy is ruled by a benevolent central body of humans and artificial intelligences called the Core (a contraction of "Consciousness Repository"). The Core's technological and economic triumphs have allowed humanity to colonize most of the Milky Way and enjoy peace and prosperity. However, the balance is broken by a technological breakthrough which allows the consciousness of a human being to be reliably transferred into a machine, thereby granting theoretically indefinite life in a process called "patterning". Following a mandate imposed on humanity by the Core requiring everyone to undergo patterning as a public health measure, a rebel band is formed out of colonies from the edges of the galaxy (hence named the Arm), whose members refused to leave their natural bodies to join the Core's machines. A war lasting four thousand years followed, with the Arm mass-producing clones as pilots for its vehicles and the Core duplicating consciousness-embedded microchips to pilot its own machines.
The game's two campaigns focus on their respective sides' military leaders, the Commanders. The story of either the Core or the Arm starts with an effort to defend the protagonist's homeworld and initiate a turning point in the overall war. The player then fights a series of battles on a number of planets and moons, as transported to through Galactic Gates, a fictional form of faster-than-light travel. As the player progresses, more units become available for construction, either through the course of background story or upon completion of a mission centered around the unit in question. Mission objectives include protecting a vital structure or area, eliminating all enemy units, or capturing a pivotal enemy unit. The worlds upon which the player wages warfare force the player to adapt to different strategies; for example, deployment on a world whose surface is entirely composed of archipelagos necessitates the construction of an effective navy. Some have occasional weather conditions, such as meteor storms. Both campaigns include 25 missions, the final mission ending the war with a final strike on the enemy's homeworld — either the Arm's bucolic Empyrrean or the Core's artificial Jupiter Brain world of Core Prime.
The Core Contingency
Cavedog released The Core Contingency a year after the release of Total Annihilation. It features 25 new missions as well as 75 new units. It continues the story after the ending of the Arm campaign. The expansion also comes with the Total Annihilation editor, which allows users to create maps and missions.
A month after The Core Contigency, Battle Tactics was released, which includes four new units, 100 additional missions as well an experimental approach to Total Annihilation gameplay, with less emphasis on base construction.
Total Annihilation 3D is a fan-made 3D real-time strategy (RTS) game engine created with the purpose of directly moving Total Annihilation over to a three dimensional plain. The engine has a Microsoft Windows and Linux version, and is programmed in OpenGL and C++. While the engines focus is to recreate the engine and gameplay of Total Annihilation, the engine supports a range of mods. TA3D uses Total Annihilation's Original 3D game assets. TA3D is created under the General Public License (GPL).
The game has an original orchestral soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule and performed by the 96-piece Northwest Sinfonia orchestra. The music changes according to events: during a battle, louder and more frantic music plays. During post-war damage repair or idle construction, a more ambient and mysterious track is played. The soundtrack is in CD-audio format and can be listened to with ordinary CD players. An ordinary music CD can be inserted once the game is under way and can replace the original game music with its own tracks. It is even possible to program such custom CD tracks to the various battlefield situations (conflict, construction, defeat, etc.) like the default set.
The game was highly praised by critics and players, and won numerous awards, including GameSpot's Game of the Year Award for 1997. Total Annihilation is still played actively today, over 18 years after its release. It won Gamespy's Top Ten Real-Time Strategy Games of All Time  in 2004, leaving StarCraft in second place. It was also recently named to GameSpot's 50-game The Greatest Games of All Time list. The editors stated "It's not as famous as Warcraft or Command & Conquer, but Total Annihilation is arguably better than any other real-time strategy game to date." See Awards. Overall, Total Annihilation received metascores of 86 out of 100 from Metacritic.com and 88.85% from GameRankings.com.
Total Annihilation has won 58 awards, the list of which follows:
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- Kauzlaric, Clayton (2006-09-10). "TA-ncient History #.05: The Happy Layoff". Ton of Clay. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
- "GameSpot Total Annihilation page". Gamespot. Retrieved June 21, 2010.
- Total Annihilation Graphics Engine on Mavor's Rants (April 2012)
- "Total Annihilation: Core Contingency Review". Gamespot. May 15, 1998. Retrieved June 21, 2010.
- "Total Annihilation: Battle Tactics Review". Gamespot. August 7, 1998. Retrieved June 21, 2010.
- Supreme Commander Q&A at gamespot.com (2005)
- "The ''Spring'' Project". springrts.com. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
- "TA3D Game". Unknown. Retrieved February 18, 2011.
- Solo, Adam (2013-07-23). "Wargaming Takes Master of Orion, Stardock Gets Star Control". spacesector.com. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
- Nemir. "Arm Versus Core – which is the better race?". tauniverse.com. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
- TA downloadable units on cavedog.com (archived in the Internet Archive on March 30, 2001)
- "TA3D "TA3D Mods"". Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- "TA3D "What is TA3D"". Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- Total Annihilation Reviews at metacritic.com
- Top Ten Real-Time Strategy Games of All Time at gamespy.com
- Greg Kasavin (2004-03-26). "Armed to the Core: Total Annihilation". The Greatest Games of All Time. GameSpot. Retrieved June 22, 2010.
- "Total Annihilation: 86 out of 100 based on 10 reviews". metacritic.com. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
- "Total Annihilation scored 88.85% from 13 reviews". gamerankings.com. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
- "Top Ten Real-Time Strategy Games of All Time". GameSpy. February 2004. Retrieved June 22, 2010.
- "Game of the Year". Best & Worst Awards 1997. GameSpot. January 31, 1998. Retrieved June 22, 2010.
- "Best Strategy Game". Best & Worst Awards 1997. GameSpot. January 31, 1998. Retrieved June 22, 2010.
- "Best Multiplayer Game". Best & Worst Awards 1997. GameSpot. January 31, 1998. Retrieved June 22, 2010.
- "Best Music". Best & Worst Awards 1997. GameSpot. 1997. Retrieved June 22, 2010.
- Official website (archived)
- TA-ncient History, TA's development history from TA developer Clayton Kauzlaric (Part 0,5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6.1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 in 2006)