Warcraft II Tides of Darkness is a Real Time Strategy game focusing on the war between Orcs and Humans. Originally released for PC in 1995, an expansion "Beyond the Dark portal" followed shortly after, which included new Hero units and an additional 24 levels. In the PSX version, the game includes both the original and the expansion, and instead just goes under the single title "The Dark Saga". This means up to four potential runs could be made for this game, with this particular one completing the original 14 Orc levels.
Full details of the game can be found at http://war2.warcraft.org/strategy.shtml
, but here are some noteworthy tricks.
Characters can move to any adjacent square in a single move, even though intuitively a diagonal move seems to have displaced the piece more. This type of distance measuring is called a supremum metric, and makes it a lot easier to map out paths. It means a horizontal path can waggle up and down, or vertical ones left and right without affecting the time it takes to reach the end. This means there's a multitude of different paths to get from A to B, all of which equally fast, so optimising movement is somewhat easy.
In spite of this however, units don't have the best AI in the world. Often units will block each other when they cross paths, or will persistantly change their mind on which route to take, according to which squares are occupied or not. This means plenty of micromanagement has to be done here, making sure to do it in as few clicks as possible since each new order will pause the unit for a brief moment.
While a peon is constructing a building, due to the fact it hasn't gotten to 100% hp yet, you can use other peons to 'repair' it. This will increase its hp, effectively shortening construction time at the cost of resources. Generally speaking this is a bad idea, since it wastes precious lumber and occupies a peon who could be doing something useful elsewhere; but once your income rate is sufficiently high you can begin to use this.
Attack units have a strict hierarchy on who to kill first, favouring more powerful ones which are in range. Moving units in/out of range will confuse an enemy, which if done correctly can be used to kill him without him ever landing a single hit. And in fact, often these attacks can be evaded anyway. Powerful units like ships, catapults or cannons towers can do quite a bit of damage; but have slower, less accurate aiming as a result. A moving target can quite easily dodge these attacks, or for an even bigger challenge can manipulate them into acting as friendly fire; having a human unit move into splash zone and taking the hit instead.
The game can lag quite easily, most apparently so during Level 4. For some reason having the camera positioned along the top or left edge causes constant slowdown, which makes it harder to control combat along those areas. On simple escort levels where there's nothing better to do, I must admit I tried to remove a few small lag frames. Sadly that just means the 'stare at black screen' tactic, which in hindsight was a bad tradeoff, so for that I apologise.
1 Zul'Dare 1:57
Despite being the first level, it's certainly not the quickest. It is however the level with the least to be done though, which means quite a bit of downtime needs filling. A brief tour of a peon's abilities should be keep you occupied for now. Enjoy the calmness while it lasts though, since future levels demand so much attention that there's never a moment to spare.
2 Raid at Hillsbrad 0:55
You can't just tell Zul'jin to go to the exact spot where the Circle of Power is, considering units won't know how to navigate efficiently if you tell them to go into unexplored territory. Trying to guide Zul'jin step by step will mean a delay each time you give him new directions, so a neat trick here is to just give him a single command: to follow a grunt who's further ahead. Then you can guide the grunt all you want, and not worry about his little pauses slowing down Zul'Jin himself. Destroying his prison from above may save 1 square worth of walking, but nothing significant.
3 Southshore 4:32
Levels like this are always a head scratcher, trying to balance peon numbers with income rates. Could more peons mean building things faster? We'd need more farms, but would they pay for themselves? Could more income mean building another oil tanker, or another shipyard closer to where's needed? Variables, so many variables, but in the end a rather comfortable solution I reckon. Just remember that with a goal of 4 oil platforms to be completed, it's only the time of number 4 which truly matters. Feel free to build platforms 1-3 when you want, since it won't affect your income rate and thus when platform 4 can finally be afforded.
4 Assault on Hillsbrad 7:21
OK, the first decent level now, where we finally have the freedom to transverse seas and attack at will. Well, once we get enough grunts that is. Sadly we don't yet have access to anything capable of doing significant damage to buildings, so it's gonna take a while to do it with grunts alone. It's also the only real time to take advantage of the repair glitch, since at this early stage of the game there's nothing better to spend resources on. There's no expensive upgrades to save up for, nor second tier of advanced buildings to make, so that's about the best use for our peons for now. Well, that and sending us a jolly message.
5 Tol Barad 8:33
Having survived the first attack, we now have a bunch of nearly dead grunts who sadly cannot fight anything without their life hanging in the balance. This means the attack on Dun Modr needs to be much more conservative. Got to be really careful what we attack, as to not draw the attention of the entire island; and got to rely on the catapult to perform our kills. Kinda easy though given it's a TAS, just watch how the Attack Ground option can be used to anticipate enemy movement for a rather amusing killathon.
6 The Badlands 0:36
This is supposed to be an escort mission, needing to destroy your way through half a dozen Alliance camps, each of which protected by thick walls and swarming with enemies. Yet for some strange reason, there's a convenient path running around the lower edge of the map which is free from all roadblocks. This means it requires only Cho'gall to make a heroic dash for the end, for a rather quick finish to the level.
7 The Fall of Stromgarde 7:15
Quite a generous level here, the starting army alone is enough to kill pretty much the entire alliance base, that is of course all except for one Guard Tower. By the time the rest of the base is destroyed, our army simply cannot take any more, and would just be marching to their deaths should they attempt to destroy it. So this means our peons have to work hard building an entire base just for the sake of training a single catapult, since there's no time to make anything else after.
8 The Runestone at Caer Darrow 1:52
Only the Castle needs to be destroyed to claim victory, which is conveniently reachable by our initial Juggernaut. Barely any skill needed here as we can just wait for it to get demolished by our most powerful unit; while a few suicidal ogres claim the Runestone for us.
9 The Razing of Tyr's Hand 5:27
Here we have another nice level, where you don't have to just destroy everything on the map to claim victory, but just do a bit of construction. Thank god for evasive manoeuvres, otherwise there's not much chance of our 2 ships managing to destroy all that stuff for us for us.
10 The Destruction of Stratholme 9:22
Well, got to destroy an alliance base, consisting of both land and sea units. Oh god, sea units; that means we'll have to spend ages constructing a base, considering our initial army can't swim very well. And with a mere 3 peons to work with, it'd be kinda silly expecting them to do all the hard work. More peons are only available once we have enough farms for our troops, and considering the size of our army that may take a while. Great, so time to "thin out our numbers" it seems; considering that base building is by far the bigger priority here. But all of this happens before the alliance base is even fully destroyed, which means we've got to return here later. But considering all of our cash is needed for ship combat, there's really none spare to get another land army, so to help finish off the land section a more unorthodox solution is needed. PS, a sapper takes out 5 units, gotta love that!
11 The Dead Rise as Quel'Thalas Falls 7:43
We start with a rather small army, and it's not like a few ogres can kill everything, especially considering how well guarded their base is. We can't compete with all the towers, archers and ballistas guarding the entrance; so rather than waiting for reinforcements a better idea is to just blow up the wall and sneak in through there. This bypasses most of their security, and gives us something to attack while we wait for the others. And lord only knows how badly we need those others, since not only is there the base to destroy, but also several archer packs scattered throughout the level. Sadly, you never get to actually see them though, since the amount of coordination needed here is just insane. Managing so many units all over the place means the camera is practically always in motion; but you can still hear screams plus see the occasional corpse nearby, so rest assured those battles went well.
12 The Tomb of Sargeras 7:46
And now we face units with magic, the biggest threat of all. Technically speaking the previous level should've had mages, but we managed to destroy the base before they showed up, so hah. Anyway, the first few Death Knights can be destroyed by sappers; but by the time you reach the later ones they've saved up enough mana to start casting spells, their favourite being Death Coil. This has huge range and lethal effects, and as always our poor army cannot withstand such demonic power. At this point there's no real counter to such a spell, our only option is to just go suicide somebody. At times like this, we need to call upon our greatest resource: peons. Peons only exist to serve their superiors, so they'll make a worthy sacrifice. LOK'TAR OGAR, GLORY TO THE HORDE!
13 The Siege of Dalaran 10:48
Finally, things slow down a bit, so you can actually see what's happening here. The slowish nature of this run stems from the fact that the entire place is littered with towers, which at this point can only be destroyed by our catapult. Around half of the buildings in here are towers, packed densely enough to gaurantee death to anything which comes in range. This severely limits progress, as there's very little we can do while those towers bar our way. There's the occasional Knight to kill, wall to demolish, or ballista to manipulate, but rarely enough to keep our army in constant battle. Plenty of time to do each section as wait for catapults to fire, and peons to finish making ship stuff.
14 The Fall of Lordaeron 11:14
And now for the climax, which is by far the most annoying, unforgiving and irritating level of the run. You spend ages carefully guiding your units into getting perfect shots, turn your back to help some other dope, only to turn back again to learn that your initial shots have now missed their target. Oh god the RNG is so stupid on this level, requiring so many reruns of each section before finding one that works. But you think that eleventh or so tactic works? Of course it doesn't, because everywhere is now mysteriously under attack from flying gryphons.
That's right, there's 3 gryphons flying around the map, whose attack patterns are not just the basic "attack stuff in range" commands; but are more along the lines of "attack at random times, for no reason whatsoever". This puts both our islands at high risk, not to mention our sea units too. How to manipulate that AI though? The simple act of moving any unit on the map seems to have a profound effect on it, making them change their minds on when or where to attack. This means pretty much every command issued in this level had to be carefully cross checked with the gryphons, making sure each one doesn't put us in any danger. Of course, the danger isn't necessarily immediate, since it may take up to several thousand frames for them to make their attack. So should we keep that input or not? Currently we'd die if they did attack, but then there's always the chance that by filling these frames by continuing the movie, the gryphons may not even attack at all. Or worse still, they may attack even sooner, who knows. So if it's not the outcome we want, which section should we try redoing?
Yeah, so in addition to controlling peons on three islands, lonely troops who were left behind, a low hp transport under heavy attack, current juggernauts who don't look for work, new juggernauts requiring orders, grunts insisting on chasing other units into an ambush, peasants who need manipulating into repairing and thus being in killing range, a mage who insists on slowing the catapult, a Paladin who tries to destroy it, and a ballista who needs manipulating into killing said paladin; this all has to be done in a manor which not only keeps us all alive and well, but also manipulates not one but three different gryphon riders into magically staying out of our way. Needless to say, that's quite the challenge.
In homage to watching so far, I offer you a sheep sacrifice to appease our demon masters.