Archive

Archive for April, 2010

Starcraft II: Surviving patch 9

Aside from the addition of the map editor, not much happened in patch 9 of Starcraft II Beta, but at this point in time, there should be only small balancing changes. Patch 10 is out as well, but it just contains a few bug fixes.

Terran

The previous patch had toned down the Marauder by removing their standard slow ability and turning it to a research topic at the Barracks’ Tech lab. It took 100 minerals, 100 gas and 80 seconds, which made it pretty expensive. This patch reduced it to 50/50/60. Marauders were not suddenly weak without their slow and this cost makes it a no-brainer in many situations.

Protoss

Many people have been complaining about the unholy trio of Roaches, Marauders and Immortals, these three units are dominating factors on the field by their sheer strength. During the previous patch both Roaches and Marauders were weakened, but the Protoss Immortal was left alone. Early Protoss pushes with Immortals backed up by a mix of Zealots, Stalkers and Sentries became difficult to stop for the other races. Also, the Immortal’s protection against big hits while doing additional damage to mechanical units make it a very hard counter against Siege Tanks and Thors. By increasing the build time from 40 to 55 seconds the Zerg and Terran players have more time to prepare for the Immortal’s arrival.

Zerg

While the Infestor was not a really weak caster, it was situational and difficult to keep alive to actually apply its powers. Infested Terrans spawned by the Infestor got a damage increase, but their movement speed was reduced. The range of Neural Parasite (Infestor’s mind control) was increased and most importantly: Fungal Growth no longer has a travel time. Fungal Growth should now be much more effective against Terran bio-balls (Marines & Marauders).

The Queen was already slow off Creep, but she’s really slow now. Perhaps the idea is that every Hatchery should build its own Queen?

The Spine Crawler is attacking a bit slower. It was pretty powerful, but it did not seem to powerful to me.

Conclusions

By nerfing the Immortal and increasing the utility of the Infestor there should be more room for a varied force. However, investing in Marauders/Immortals/Roaches is still very much worth it. I do not expect great strategy tweaks from this patch. At least people will still not be building Ultralisks.

Categories: Starcraft II Tags: ,

It has been in Beta, so it is fine

April 18, 2010 1 comment

Almost every piece of software has a public Beta phase these days. MMO’s have continuous beta’s by running test realms with future patches of the game. It is understandable, because applications have grown so large that it is almost impossible to test every aspect thoroughly. Beta’s gather large amounts of statistical data and allow players to give feedback (often through forums, but also through in-game bug reports). Simulating the actions of a very large number of people logging in and playing from many different countries is possible, but impractical compared to actually letting those people log in. Participating in betas gives gamers a chance to help make the game they will pay for later a better product.

Where things go wrong, however, is in assuming that a large amount of data is automatically valuable. Testing is a specialist job. Even programmers, or perhaps, especially programmers, are bad at testing. For one thing, a tester will try to cover as many different aspects as possible. Non-professional users, on the other hand, will spend most of their time on things they find interesting as if the beta is a free trial. Since ‘finished’ parts of a game will appeal most to the majority, these aspects will be played most. For example, if crafting is poorly implemented, a few hardcore crafters will complain about it on the forums, but most people will be out playing Dungeon X which is 99% finished and polished and thus fun. This means that most statistical data will be gathered on the parts of the game that need it least.

In Starcraft II Beta the Ultralisk is barely used according to the forums. While the posters in the forums can qualify why, statistical data is necessary to validate the reasons. And the question is if enough of that is gathered if “noone” is using them.

Betas (and testrealms) can be misused by developers to simply try things that have no basis. Or apply a nerf and then tone it down later after the forums have been stormed by raving players. The toned down nerf, still a nerf, is easier accepted then. The worst offense, however, is not planning enough time to actually do something with the Beta feedback. This leads to infamous patches like at the launch of Champions Online. While the patch was necessary to keep the game a bit challenging, the timing could not have been worse. Such major problems should already have been found and fixed in an earlier stage, or rather, there should have been more time between beta and launch.

Content that has been in beta is not automatically ready. The paid developers keep responsibility, not the paying players who are basically just helping out.

Zerg week II

This posts continues the discussion of basic Zerg concepts in Starcraft II from last week. While patch 8 had some positive and negative effects, the concepts below remain valid. That said, I have played enough Zerg for now. I really want to try some Terran and Protoss strategies that were employed against me.

Easy harass

Harassment forces an opponent to choose between losing forces/buildings or spending resources on base defense. A bunch of Speedlings (Zerglings with movement speed upgrade) can wreak havoc in a mineral line, but the king of harassment is the Mutalisk. A group of them can move quickly from weak spot to weak and destroy workers, buildings and whatever else is not well protected. Roaches moving underground with upgrade can also do surprise strikes, but most people are prepared for roaches these days.

Early defense against air

Zerg are vulnerable to an early rush by air units, because they have no regular anti-air till the Hatchery has been transformed into a Lair. However, an air rush with Banshees, for example, requires a signficant sacrifice for the opponent. If you scout an early banshee or void ray, simply build two Queens (you want one at each expansion anyway), because they have decent anti-air and they can heal each other. Two Queens should be able to protect the base until the first Hydralisks are spawned. A Spore Crawler can help as well, but it lacks the healing synergy. Still, it is useful as a detector later on.

Detectors

Detectors are vital to prevent a strike by cloaked and burrowed units. The Zerg have arguably the most vulnerable detectors in the form of Spore Crawlers and Overseers. They are necessary to prevent strikes from Terran Banshees and Protoss Dark Templars (rarely built though and easily scouted). Also, the main information source for Protoss is the Observer, a permanently cloaked flying unit.

On the other hand Observers and Ravens (Terran) can detect burrowed units and the static defenses (turrets and cannons) can as well.

Banelings roll in, while Zerglings have been drawing fire

vs Terran

The dominant strategy for Terran so far has been to wall in and mass Marines, Marauders and Medivacs, eventually with tank support. Even without healing the M&M ball is a danger to almost any Zerg force. The most effective way to deal with them is with Banelings. Unfortunately, they need both a speed upgrade and burrow to be really effective. The Terran player has several harassment tools: early air strikes with Banshees, Overlord harassment with Vikings (again making use of the weak early anti-air of the Zerg), running Hellions to the mineral line, striking with Reapers.

It’s important to keep the economic advantage against Terran while defending. Losing a force as Zerg is not a problem as long as the replacement can be paid for. Of course, if the opponent does not protect himself well, a group of Banelings can blow a Supply Depot at the block and let speedlings wreak havoc inside. Note that tanks in Siege mode do splash damage to all units, friendlies included. Mutalisk harrasment works well, but the Terran player has plenty of tools to deal with them in a real fight (Marines with stim pack, Vikings in number, turrets, even Thors). Ultralisks can plow through any ground Terran ground force, but they require many upgrades to be viable. The Brood Lord is much more effective as a game ender, but it needs protection from Mutalisks/Corruptors.

The Protoss player has been spamming cannons out of fear for Mutalisks

vs Protoss

Protoss own the ground, but their anti-air is weak. A sizeable group of Mutalisks will destroy the Protoss, but it is important not to get overrun by a ground force. Protoss are less effective against blocking their base than Terrans. An early attack is almost always worth it. Roaches were particularly strong against Zealots, but a bit less since patch 8. One unit to watch out for is the Sentry: it is an effective fighter against Mutalisks, it can deploy a shield around it that reduces ranged damage for all friendly units (including Roach spit) and it can spawn temporary force field blocks that cannot be passed: they can split or trap a force. Another is the Immortal: it’s shields reduce heavy hits and it does massive damage to armored units. Zerglings and Hydralisks can make quick work of them though, but they need protection from the inevitable Zealots accompanying the Protoss forces. A Colossus, on the other hand, will destroy just about any Zerg ground force, hit it with air before it gets close (Corruptors are especially effective).

While scouting the Protoss base, keep an eye out for Pylon placement. Sometimes it is possible to take out several buildings by destroying just one or two Pylons. This will set the opponent back a lot. Of course, it’s a beginner’s mistake, but it should always be exploited.

Just like against Terran, the Zerg should take the economic advantage. If the Protoss player is not pressured enough he will be able to make a Carrier swarm and that is very difficult to stop. Corruptors can do it though if managed well. If the game lasts till the highest tech level, than the Brood Lord (protected by Mutalisks and/or Corrupters) is the finishing unit of choice. Ultralisks are not really an option, because they get completely wasted by Immortals.

Categories: Starcraft II Tags: , ,

Zerg week

April 5, 2010 1 comment

I dislike the Zerg. I really do. They were the villains of Starcraft and Brood War and I have never liked playing true villains. I dislike their insectoid look and hive intellect. I hate how creep covers the otherwise nice looking terrain. However, I really enjoy playing them in Starcraft II. In my post last week I concluded that Zerg was probably the strongest race in Beta at the moment. To be able to better combat them I decided to play Zerg and only Zerg for a week. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the play style.

Here is an overview of basic aspects of Zerg play. Links to unites ans structures are to the excellent Starcraft Wiki, which is much better updated and information heavy than the official site.

The Queen

The Queen is the most important unit of the Zerg. Her primary ability is to produce extra larvae at a Hatchery, which allows Zerg to quickly amass a large force. She can also spread creep over the map through creep tumors and heal other units. Furthermore, she’s the first anti-air unit that can be produced (she can also attack ground). Because she is intended as a purely defensive unit, her movement speeds off creep is really slow.

Fast Expansion

Fast Expansion (FE) is more a choice than an ability. The Hatchery, the Zerg main structure, costs only 300 minerals, which is significantly less than Command Centers and Nexuses. This allows Zerg to expand quickly with the least economic risk of all races. On the other hand, it is almost necessary, because Zerg are mostly limited by the number of larvae they can produce. An extra Hatchery with an additional Queen is necessary to keep competitive with Terran and Protoss who can operate from one base more easily.

Tech switch

Terran and Protoss build specific buildings to produce specific units. Complex units require additional passive buildings (e.g. Thors are built in the Factory, but there must also be an Armory present). A Terran player who wants to make a group of Banshees will have to build one or more Starports first and then produce the Banshees one by one. All Zerg, on the other hand, from the lowliest Drone to the giant Ultralisk come from larvae first, although some units can evolve afterwards as well (e.g. larvae are used to create Zerglings and Zerglings can morph into Banelings). Which units can be created depends on the presence of specific passive buildings. Thus after building a Spire, all present larvae can immediately be turned into Mutalisks.

This allows Zerg to quickly respond to enemy units, but it is also a vulnerability: if the base defenses can be breached and a building can be destroyed, the Zerg player can no longer make the corresponding unit.

The opponent tries a sneak attack by breaking through destructible rocks. However, the Overlord has spotted him.

Map control

The cheap Hatchery allows Zerg to quickly expand. Placement of creep prevents the build of non-Zerg buildings. By placing Overlords and buried Zerglings on strategic locations (like at mineral patches, so you can see when your opponent tries to expand) it is possible to safely view a larger portion of the map than non-Zerg. Winning with Zerg is winning the macro game: your opponent may destroy large portions of your forces, but multiple Hatcheries and Queens combined with a large amount of minerals and gas allow the Zerg player to immediately rebuild and attack again while their opponents has not recovered from the initial battle. In general, a Zerg player has to winning the economic battle to be able to win the game.

Harassing

Fortunately, the Zerg has also one of the best units to harass the opponent’s mineral lines: the Mutalisk. This fast Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground attacker has a bouncing attack that does damage to multiple units. A group of Mutalisks can quickly destroy a group of weak enemies. However, Mutalisks are relatively expensive. It is necessary to get a full gas production from at least two bases to get a sizeable group of Mutalisks without leaving your other defenses open. Mutalisks are not very sturdy. They have to be careful around static defenses until they are massed. The High Templar’s psi storm can be devastating to them, but their speed allows them to quickly move out of it. A group of Terran Marines with Stim-packs can annihilate a group of mutalisks easily, especially if they have Medivac support. The best way to use a small group of Mutalisks is hit-and-run: attack a mineral line, then attack another base. Either your opponent will: loose all his workers, have to leave units and multiple spots (and thus spreading his forces), build static defenses (and those resources cannot be used directly against you anymore).

The Mutalisks can destroy a significant number of SCV's at this unprotected base before the opponent can respond. Note that there is a barely visible buried Zergling just North of the Command Center.

There’s more

The post next week will deal with other basic aspects of playing Zerg, like how to deal with specific Terran, Protoss and other Zerg.

Categories: Starcraft II Tags: , ,