This chapter will covers the basic information about the game, either for those who want to know more before acquiring it, for those who are interested in information about the game which isn't obvious while playing it, or those who just like to read about computer games.
It will not cover the controls, or basic gameplay - if you've lost your copy you can download it from atari in any of 3 formats: PDF, Windows Help or plain text file (the last will not have images of units and controls).
it is assumed that you own or intend to get a legal copy of the game, and so will have the instruction manual, either in paper form or as a PDF.
This particular page provides background information and guidance on installing the game. You can reach the other "Getting started" sections via Total Annihilation/Table of Contents.
Total Annihilation was released in 1997 by Cavedog, with most of the inspiration for the game having come from Chris Taylor. At the time that it was released it's engine and gameplay concepts were revolutionary, although it never gained the popularity of other games released at the same time, such as Starcraft, because it was not extensively advertised.
In 1999 Cavedog folded and Total Annihilation was acquired by Infogrames, who, at some point (which may have been before Cavedog folded) renamed themselves Atari after buying the trademark. Which basically means that Total Annihilation is now the property of Atari, although they aren't actually doing anything with it, other than providing a forum. Two expansion packs were released for Total Annihilation, "The Core Contingency" which was much like an expansion pack in the traditional sense, in that it provided new: maps, tilesets and units. i.e. new content.
The second expansion pack was called "Battle Tactics" and rather than featuring new content like traditional expansion packs & The Core Contingency it contained extensive single player missions to try to teach tactics to the player, as opposed to the more crude 'throw more units at the enemy than they throw at you' approach. It was mostly aimed at more experienced players as it assumed proficiency in actually playing Total Annihilation. Unfortunately, most of the experienced players either had small-scale tactics organised already, or had perfected the brute force method and didn't really need them.
This is mostly covered in the instruction manual, so it will only be briskly covered here. In a large, technologically advanced society, the armed forces decided the to make their weapons, vehicles, 'k-bots' (units, in general) more effective, by reducing the need for controls & life support and reaction times, they would integrate the consciousness of their pilots into the machines themselves.
A rebel group started a violent rebellion to stop this practice, preferring traditional methods of piloting their various machines, and cloning their best pilots to make up for the lost advantages from consciousness-transfer.
This spilled over into a full-blown war, which lasted a very long time and exhausted all the resources of an entire galaxy. Total Annihilation is set in the aftermath of this, with the once-mighty armies slugging it out for final victory using whatever weapons and machines they can scrape together.
The two sides
The government/military forces (the people who support consciousness-transfer) are called the Core, the rebels (the people who don't support consciousness-transfer) are called ARM. The two sides' early-game units are generally similar, for instance, each side has a basic infantry k-bot, a fighter, and a medium plasma battery. ARM's advanced units tend to be smaller, lighter, faster and cheaper than Core's advanced units, which favor a "Bigger is Better" philosophy. This will be discussed further in the Units section.
Slight differences in the costs and capabilities of the two sides' early-game units mean that ARM has the advantage in the early game while Core is meant to have the advantage in the late game if it survives and has managed to hang on to a decent share of the map's resources. But some of the units that Cavedog produced for downloading after the CDs were released appear to have reduced Core's advantage in the late game, for example: the ARM Maverick has the greatest firepower of all land units relative to its production cost; and ARM's Pelican amphibious unit has a similar advantage in sea combat. As a result some players think "ARM is for pussies" because its advantages are so great. This comment applies mainly to multi-player games between human opponents - a Human playing as Core should usually beat an AI playing as ARM, because the AI does not manage its economy as efficiently as it could.
Enthusiasts have produced various mods for the game, most of which introduce new units as well as tweaking the old ones. The best-known mods aim to make the game as balanced as possible, but several mods contain "super-units" that can give one side or the other a decisive advantage.
Getting a copy
Total Annihilation was, for a time, released on the 'Replay' label and it's having been released earlier means that copies of the original Total Annihilation are much easier to find than copies of Battle Tactics or The Core Contingency, this means that the two expansions packs are rare, and expensive when they do become available, as they are no longer being produced.
The game is available on both Steam and Good Old Games with both expansion packs included.
Installing the game
The original Total Annihilation installs without trouble on current operating systems. But you need to install expansion packs, patches, maps and mods in this order:
- Normal Install of Original Total Annihilation
- Multi-player spawn install over the normal install, if you want to play multi-player games.
- Core Contingency (at least units & features & maps)
- Battle Tactic (at least maps)
- The 3.1c patch. Use the version at fileuniverse or atari rather than the one on the CD, as the one on the CD does not enable you to use the Core Contingency units.
- The final 6 units and 14 maps produced by Cavedog, from fileuniverse
Then take a back-up before applying any mods.
Total Annihilation copy protection
Total Annihilation requires a TA CD to be in a drive in your PC at start up. The CD can be in any drive mounted at any drive letter, so it is possible to install the game from one CD drive and play the game using a CD in another drive. If your TA install is a regular install then some files required by TA are stored on the TA CD. If your install is a multiplayer spawn then all required files for internet multiplayer are in your TA install directory.
A TA directory can be copied from one PC to another without any apparent problems. This can be useful for backing up a 'clean' TA install before installing a mod, or distributing a modded TA install.