Archive

Archive for March, 2010

Starcraft II – surviving patch 6

Beta Patch 6 was rolled out in Starcraft II a few days ago and with it a complete account reset. I had returned to the number 1 spot in my Copper League the previous day by returning to tried tactics like running Marines and Marauders. Backing them up with Medivacs, Ravens, Ghosts en Siege Tanks where necessary. My experimentation had left my win/loss ratio a total mess though.

I jumped into my placement matches with enough confidence. Five losses later,  I was in Copper again. The increased build time for marines and reactors ensured that it was slower to get a force with critical mass and other races had much better defenses up. It did not help either that I had to play twice against the same person who was much better at the game than I. Although it’s Beta, I still believe that it was a mistake to combine a patch with significant changes with the reset. It would have been better to let people get used to the new balance before resetting the records.

Since my record was wrecked anyway (and it’s still beta!), I switched to Zerg. I wanted to try some quick rushes on different maps with various results (mostly disastrous), but at least I know how likely a Zerg rush is now: only the maps with a completely straight line are viable and it works best against other Zerg, since it is then possible to build a Spine Crawler on their creep.

Terran

The intention of the patch seems to be to make the Terran early game weaker. By reducing SCV health points, it is no longer viable to take them on an all-in rush, while the increased build time for marines and reactors significantly reduces the amount of units that can be produced quickly. The reduced cost for the Factory and some switches of Vespene gas costs to Mineral costs make it easier to a more varied force with more mechanical units. The shorter build time for Bunkers has made it even easier for Terran players to wall in. The reduction of the EMP range (Ghost) is fair in my opinion, since it was incredibly easy to strip Protoss groups of both shields and energy.

Protoss clearly has a stronger defense now against Terran early game, while it is less risky for Zerg to expand early.

Protoss

Contrary to the Terran notes, which show a clear intend to me, the Protoss notes seem to make little sense, except for the Stalker buff, which was necessary to help the weak anti-air of Protoss. Observer cost went up from 25 minerals/75 gas/33 seconds to 50/100/40. Observers are weak, slow units, easily countered by detectors, which can be up before the first Observer is launched. The opportunity cost of making an observer in early game was already high. For example, a Zerg opponent could be building roaches and then the Robotics facility should have been producing Immortals. On the other hand, the first Roach attack could have been a feint while a Spire was being built for Mutalisks.

The Colossus does less damage. While it is a devasting unit against ground forces, it is also easily scouted (specific building required) and countered by air. As such,  I think it deserves to be strong in its niche.

The increased build time for the Dark Shrine and making Dark Templars vulnerable to Light armor countering units seems silly, since noone seems to be building them anyway. I have lost to Dark Templars once and that was because I was trying an unviable build myself.

The Colossus’ damage was reduced. While it was (and probably still is) a devastating unit against ground forces, it is easily scouted (specific building necessary) and countered by air, even then, it is not particularly sturdy. As such, I think it deserves to be powerful in its niche.

At least Protoss has to worry a bit less about getting shield-stripped by Ghosts.

Zerg

Not much has happened for the Zerg. Roaches regen a bit less, but they are still a cheap and strong early unit. Banelings actually got a buff (they will do more damage to non-light units now). While the Baneling requires several upgrades and serious micro to work well, it was already a devastating unit against groups of weak units. The additional damage done to Marauders will make Banelings even more a no-brainer against Terran M&M groups.

Although the other races can get into a defensive position earlier, it is also safer for the Zerg to quickly expand and simply outproduce their opponents. Zerg vs Zerg is still going to be two Roach/Hydra forces clashing.

The Mutalisk is and remains the most effective unit in the game.

Feelings so far

Terran has been slowed down, Protoss has received a better early air defense, but a worse information gathering way. Zerg seems mostly unaffected by this patch. A cautious conclusion would be that Zerg came out on top this patch if the playstyle fits the player.

Categories: Uncategorized

Rushing to the top, experimenting back down

I hit the number 1 spot in my Starcraft II Beta league last week. Not really a great achievement since it’s just Copper level. Most of my wins were quick rushes with Terran. Ironically enough, getting rushed was what I was most afraid of when I started playing online. The high risk, high reward kind of play paid itself off, since winning yielded more points than losing. However, beta is for testing and I found my style getting style quite quickly. Ranking does not really matter now, it’s even going to get reset soon by Blizzard. So it was time for some experimentation. My failed rushes had often resulted in lost games. On the other hand, even when I am not really rushing my defenses against opponent’s rushing are pretty adequate. The key here is, of course, scouting.

Zerg played differently, but I found that rushing with them was easy as well. On the other hand, I was really impressed how quickly easy Zerg could change units: build the right building, pump out extra Larvae with the Queen and a whole new squad is ready. However, some units are simply too good not to build, like roaches and mutalisks. It took some time to get used to the idea that fast expanding (building new bases) is not only much quicker and safer than with other races, but also necessary to get enough Larvae from which to build units. I lost horribly to Terran until I started building banelings, while mutalisks seem a bit too effective against Protoss. Some of my fast Zerg vs Zerg wins were with six zerglings and a Spine Crawler (this is the drone I scouted with) built on the opponent’s creep. Cheesy and probably completely unviable in higher level play, but it was rather fun.

Now I am playing Protoss and I get more long games. Units are expensive and take long to build, which makes Protoss probably the least versatile race, but their endgame, if you can get to that point, is very powerful (at least in Copper). I’m thinking about just going for Random and see what happens. I have had some really effective Protoss rushes against me, but I have yet to try them out.

Carrier fleet with Mothership rarely happens, but if you can pull it off, it's pretty much game over

Lessons learned

While I did go down in points and got a pretty amount of lost games added to my (soon to be wiped) record, I was able to stay within the top 8. Here are some things I picked up:

  • Harassing is important. Even if you can not defeat your opponent, it’s really important to keep the pressure up. Any resources spent on fortificating an existing base are not spent on expanding or on attacking.
  • Unspent resources are bad. I lost some games with 1000+ minerals in the bank simply because I was too busy managing troops. I keep my main buildings hotkeyed these days so I can keep building and researching even in battle.
  • Always prepare for a raid on your workers unless you’re going for an all out rush.
  • The internet is already full of information. For example: Team Liquid and the Shoutcraft videos.
  • Many unit counters are hard. For example, a Protoss colossus will murder a squad of marines, while Zerg corruptors will quickly despatch Carriers.
Categories: Starcraft II Tags: ,

Starcraft II – My first five lessons

So I jumped into Starcraft II Beta last week. I had seen some video’s and read a bit on the site, but I had no idea how much had changed since Starcraft I and I had not played that for years anyway and never online. It shall be no surprise that I am hanging around in Copper League now, though in the top 8. Since it’s beta I have been experimenting with all three races and their units. That’s not something that’s helping my record on the short time either.

Still, I am having great fun. I have lost games I should have won and won games I should have really lost. The match-making is pretty loose to get fast games with the limited beta population, so everyone is fighting everyone. Personally, I think that losing to a better opponent is much more rewarding in the long run than stomping noobs all day. Only the games that were interrupted through crashes have really frustrated me. One particular game ended in a bitter crash. My opponent and I had been fighting for well over half an hour, which is quite long for SCII 1v1 matches. He was controlling his units better than I, but my Macro was better than his Micro. So I had the whole map under control and my army was ready to push into his single base. Then the computer crashed on my end. Bitter, indeed.

After more than a hundred games,  I feel confident to share some of the lessons I learned

Know the units

I knew the basic units from Starcraft I, but I had no idea what everything was doing. During my first games I often saw new units and I had no idea how to counter them. The best way to get some idea is to start-up a custom game against the AI. Only the dumbest (very easy) setting is available, but that’s fine. Build all units, look at all upgrades and see where the synergies are.

Scouting is not something you do once

Knowledge is power. Units have some pretty hard counters and knowing what your opponent is building, will help you setup the perfect counter force. Of course, trying to prevent your opponent from scouting you is equally important. During the first few minutes of each game it is vital to know if your opponent is trying to rush an attack, tech up or expand early. Sending out your eight or ninth worker to find and map the opponent’s base may cost you some resources, but the knowledge gained is often invaluable. Especially if he is not building enough defense is the moment to try to put pressure on him. Many new players are simply not aggressive enough and let their opponents take control of the map. The Zerg use Overlords and Overseers as well as buried units to scout. Flyers and detectors take or keep them out. Protoss relies on observers, cloaked units built from the robotics bay. Terran has the powerful sensor sweep from the upgraded Command Center, but it costs energy. Building a few specific buildings away from your main facility can definitely put a Terran player on the wrong foot.

It’s all about resources

Everything is driven by resources. Get too few and your opponent can overwhelm you. However, only building workers during the first phase of the game will leave you with weak defenses. Every crystal clusters support up to three workers (a fourth will give only a minimal increase in income), but there should be at least two on each cluster, while geysers support three if the distance to the gathering building is minimal. I often built too few workers during my first games and that cost me in the long run. Now I basically never stop with building workers unless everything is really over saturated. In the worst case the extra workers can be moved over to an expansion.

Some units excel at quickly killing workers, but they can be easily countered with scouting. On the other hand, if you see the opportunity to kill a group of workers it is possible to set the opponent back a lot.

Timing expansions is crucial

Building an expansion is expensive for both Terran and Protoss but it will give a serious boost to income if you can pull it off. It is cheaper and necessary for Zerg to get enough larva to spawn from which to build units. The cost of an expansion can be great if it necessary to put many defenses up, but a defensive opponent can be outfought no matter how many defensive structures and units he puts up if you win the economic fight.

Learn the maps

All starting positions have ramps that can be blocked or defended (Terran should always block the ramp asap). An undefended ramp can allow a suicide force to get to your workers. However, air units can simply bypass it as well as the Protoss Colossus that is so large it can step and down ramps (note that it only attacks ground while being big enough to be attack by air-to-air attacks).

Some maps have islands that can only be reached by air. Terran can fly buildings there. Other maps have destructible rocks that can allow sneak attacks right into the back of your base. Some maps have high positions that are perfect to place siege tanks on or launch nukes from. Some allow for safe approaches from air, while a ground assault is more risky. Gold crystals yield more cash than the blue ones, but they are often found in a less defendable position. Scout towers give a wide view of the map. Et cetera, et cetera.

Every map has its own specifics and learning those is crucial for victory.

Starcraft II zerged my post

My plan was to dedicate this post to why I dislike beta’s and test realms. However, I received a Starcraft II Beta key right before I started to write and I do not want to look like a complete hypocrite. I have not been playing non-stop because of some RL issues, but otherwise I would have. Strategy games have been first computer game loves with Dune 2, UFO: Enemy Unknown and, of course, the Warcraft series and Starcraft. The only reason I ever started with World of Warcraft was that I wanted to see how the story would develop (quick summary: all interesting characters from the previous game either get sidelined or go insane and get killed. Illidan even gets sidelined, goes insane and gets killed). My absolute favorite of these games was Starcraft, both for the story and the gameplay.

Starcraft II Beta turned out to be less familiar than I had expected for one simple reason: the test is for multi-player. I only got internet at my house when WoW was released, so I never really experienced RTS’s online. As such, even though I was used to play on the highest difficulty levels against the computer, I have been dealt some pretty harsh defeats. Still, I’m learning and enjoying the learning curve. It did make me appreciate how units are made available slowly from mission to mission in the single player experience, because a beginning player sees a lot of possible buildings and units to start with. Select the wrong one and you have lost. Luckily there are plenty of resources on the internet, ranging from the Beta forums to the excellent video series ‘I suck at Starcraft II’ on the Cynical Brit website. However, the most important teaching tool are replays. The game saves a replay of every game played and by studying those it is often easy to notice what went right and what went wrong.

To be honest, I am still looking forward more to the Singleplayer campaign, but multiplayer has grabbed my attention as never before. There’s much practising to do!