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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.

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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.

Global Agenda: PvP Tanking

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Always keep an eye on the healers.

Global Agenda is a combination of MMO and Shooter and it shows in the survivability of the classes. The Assault is the only class capable of tanking, but its ability to withstand fire relative to other classes is a lot less than, say, the survivability of a protection warrior compared to a mage in World of Warcraft.

Basics

Tanks have to do two things: ensure that the opponent attacks them and be able to survive those attacks. Computer controlled opponents typically attack the person that is doing the most perceived damage to them. Of course, if tanks did the most damage and were able to survive best, then no one would play a pure dps class. Therefore tank attacks do more perceived damage (called ‘threat’ or ‘hate’) than actual damage. Human opponents are, of course, not fooled by this trick. It takes more effort to convince them that they should attack the tank and not the easier target behind him.

Building

A great planning tool for skill point allocation can be found at hexagenda. Changing skill points costs nothing in GA (contrary to most MMO’s), which invites experimentation. Although it is tempting to start with the Tank tree, the first points should really be spent in the Balanced tree. It takes a decent amount of skill points to become tanky at all and the levels to get there should be enjoyable als well. Jet Pack Power and Power Pool Increase greatly increase mobility and sustained fire rate, so I would always take those before going into the tank tree. Super Tank is the final skill in the Tank tree and it is something to strive to get as well, since it removes the movement penalty on shield use. Where points are to be spent, is mostly a matter of personal preference. However, I would always go for passive protections above shields. A decent example build is this.

Which weapons to take depends on the map, but in case of doubt: take the mini-gun. It can be fired for a long while, it pushes people back and it does additional damage to Robotic constructs. The inferno rocket is a good choice as well: while it is power hungry, it does massive AOE damage and it leaves a fire DOT on anyone hit.

Off-hands are matter of personal choice and the map. I always take the EMP-grenade to stun mechanical constructs and the Ranged shield, because these are useful in about any match. Perfect Target can be quite powerful, or a complete waste of time (see tactics, below). The knock-away grenade is pretty effective on some maps, especially near deep drops.

Tactics

All maps in GA are about getting control of a circle. Being in the circle makes one a target and even if a player is not directly targeted, AOE damage will still hit him. Therefore standing in the circle is by far the easiest way to build threat in PvP. If the opponent wants to take control of it, they have to go through you first!

Protecting healers is another and it has the bonus effect of getting healed (most of the time). As said before, the Assault’s survivability is not that much higher than for other classes. However, healing  is potent in GA. An Assault that is getting healed by two medics is nearly unstoppable as long as the medics are alive. The Assault can protect Medics and other squishies fairly well from direct fire by standing in front of them, or pushing opponents away with the Mini-Gun. However, snipers and long range turrets (e.g. Rocket Turrets) should be dealt with by Recons.

It's OK to find a safe spot while the point is under your team's control, but be ready to jump back on it at any moment.

While most opponents in PvP are human, the Robotics class creates turrets and drones that are computer controlled. The Perfect Target off-hand ability forces these to attack the Assault, while the Assault is invulnerable. The Assault cannot attack during PT, but the team is free to deal with the turrets. Note that someone under the effect of Perfect Target is counted for point control. It’s possible to hit Regeneration before PT to ensure that you’re at full health when PT ends. While PT is a strong ability, it is solo merely a break in the action and thus it is most effective while in a team.

A team of Assaults pushing the point together is a force to be reckoned with, but it is also a prime target for Recons dropping bombs and other AOE attacks. Be sure to spread out.

Standing still allows one to fire the Mini- and Inferno-gun longer, but stationary targets are easy prey for snipers. It is also not necessary to stand on a point that is under control at all times. bit be ready to jump back on it at any moment!

Categories: Global Agenda Tags: , ,

B.A.S.H. Talk

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

All action is happening in the chat box this time

PvP’ers tend to be more competitive than PvE’ers. Of course, there are the guilds that vie for ‘World First’ boss kills in World of Warcraft, but in general PvE’ers have less drive to prove their superiority to other human players than PvP’ers. On the other hand, programmed routines are easier to deal with than other humans when you get to know their pattern. While people do follow patterns (conscious or not) they are able to change them and adapt on a level that cannot yet be reached by Artificial Intelligence.

Emotions tend to rise in competition, turning mild-mannered people in real life into screaming maniacs when they lose. Especially in the safe anonymity of the internet. Not so in Champions Online PvP. While the PvP community has shrunk over the past months, it has also grown tighter. My last B.A.S.H. game before the holidays was spent talking to several people about a variety of topics including which red wine should be bought for an X-mas party. This is not the first time it happens. B.A.S.H. is a great place to cross swords (because almost everyone has a sword to apply swallowtail cut), but also for a chat or asking about builds and play styles.

Sure, people will lose their temper in CO like in any other game and most of the regulars will have at least a few broken or overpowered powers (we do like to win), but I have seen very little true abuse. Of course, seeing someone throw a tantrum is just a form of entertainment as well.

Cryptic’s decisions over the past months have caused the community to shrink, but I expect that a friendly group will be better in retaining new people than a bunch of cursing CAPSLOCK addicts. The general laid back and friendly atmosphere in CO gives me good hope for next year.

The low cost of freedom

November 8, 2009 Leave a comment

buildshop01Whatever Cryptic does, there will always be Flavor-of-the-Month builds in Champions Online. Even if all powers would be perfectly balanced against each other, there would still be combinations of powers that would have a more than average synergy. That said, the FotM builds need not be that much more powerful than all other ones. To achieve this, three things have to be done: broken mechanics have to be fixed, broken powers have to be fixed and the cost of cherry picking the best powers from every framework needs to be higher. Cost is the main topic of this post, so I’ll keep it brief on the first two points.

Broken Mechanics and Powers

Some mechanics that are said to be implemented simply do not work (well). A good example is the knock up/back/towards mechanic. With enough endurance I can easily uppercut someone, haymaker them away, while throwing some force blasts after them that makes them bounce around as well. The resistance that should be applied is not there or too weak. An often abused power is from the Shadow Framework: Shadow Embrace with Fatal Allure, which can juggle someone for the full duration of the power.

Another is buff/debuff stacking. Types of (de)buffs stack with each other which results in the oneshots by Chest Beam and Force Cascade after some minor setup.

Some powers are broken into themselves. Swallowtail Cut remains the best example. It is the only ability doing percentage based health damage, so it may even be a fundamental problem in the engine. Imbue may be too powerful as well, but it may be brought in line if stacking is fixed.

Freedom should not be free

When building a powerset in Champions, we’re nearly completely free to pick whatever powers we want. That is one of the things that sold me on this game. However, I had not expected that we could do this would any significant cost. If someone wants to have weird combination of powers, say Uppercut, Invulnerability, Freezing Breath and Eye Beams, then he’s basically as powerful as someone who’s going full Might and he even has more versatility. Some powersets already have synergies like the Negative Ions in Electricity and the ability to trigger Id blades in Telekinesis, but after taking a few of these fundamental powers, there are plenty left to pick from. Staying in a tree should reward players without taking away the worth of powers outside the main tree.

There are many ways players could be given the incentive to stay within a tree. I will give two examples below: Bonus stats and Scaling with stats.

Bonus stats

I think that there should be passive bonuses for powers taken from a single framework, for example: five powers from Force would give 5% damage increase on all Force powers. Less than five powers would give no bonus at all and more should perhaps give another bonus, like 10% at 8 powers, These are just numbers I came up with. The bonuses do not have to be damage, there can be a healing increase, endurance cost reduction, increased damage reduction et cetera.

So let’s say player one stays within two frameworks. He gets five powers from Framework A(damage) and gets 5% damage bonus. He gets eight powers from Framework B(healing) and gets 10% healing bonus.

Player two takes powers from all kinds of sets. His A and B powers are less powerful than those from player 1, but he’s more versatile.

Player two has paid for his versatility.

Scaling with stats

Superstats define damage done and I think this is a great example of freedom implemented well. However, that means nearly any power will work well with any superstat. Healing depends on Presence, so a heal ability used by a Dex/Ego character is already weaker than one by a Presence character. There could be more powers that explicitly scale with certain stats. Someone who would cherry pick powers would get the benefit of versatility, but he would have to make stat choices that would leave all his powers weaker than someone who sticks to a focused build.

Example:

player 1 has powers A1 and B which scale with different stats. The powers are very different

player 2 has powers A1 and A2 and they scale with the same stat. A1 and A2 have about the same purpose with a small difference.

Player 2’s A1 is a lot more effective than player 1’s, but player 1 is more versatile, because he can also use B.

Again, player 1 has paid for his versatility.

Summary

Versality has no real price in the current game. This allows cherrypicking which in turn makes FotM builds much more powerful than other builds.

Broken Powers – update

November 1, 2009 Leave a comment

Mindful Reinforcement was fixed in the Blood Moon patch, but there’s still no official reaction on the STC situation at all. The only viable conclusion is that it is working as intended. So with gritted teeth I went to the Millenium City pawn shop and picked up a rusty old blade. Suddenly I’m getting great scores in B.A.S.H., but I feel dirty.

I hope that the statistics of the huge amount of people having just one particular power from single blade with just one particular advantage will alert Cryptic.

Broken powers kill PvP

October 19, 2009 2 comments

PvP in Champions Online has the potential to be one of the most interesting and dynamic forms of any MMO PvP. In order to get there, a large number of good powers needs to be available as to avoid a single dominant build, the so-called cookie-cutter build. Unfortunately, there are two powers which are clearly broken and while one at least has been acknowledged as broken by the devs, nothing has been done about them yet. I hate to make Doom&Gloom posts, but, unfortunately, the state of the game calls for it.

The worst abilities

Mindful Reinforcement is a shield bubble with a limited amount of hitpoints. When it disappears, it heals the user for the amount of hitpoints still present in the shield. Only one application can be present at any time. At least, that is what it should do in theory and it actually works that way for tier 1. On tiers 2 and 3 on the other hand, the shield can be stacked and it will heal for full regardless how many hitpoints are left. As such, the only way to kill someone with MR2,3 who knows what he is doing, is extreme burst damage. The use of this ability results in long fights that will more often than not never be resolved.

Swallowtail Cut is an advantage in the Single Blade tree. Although all Martial Arts trees are in a pretty sorry state, buffing this ability was not the fix those trees needed. What it does is bleed someone for 55% of their health in 10 seconds. Blocking does not mitigate the damage, Invulnerability does basically nothing, Lightning Reflexes (which should be particularly good against bleeds) does nothing either and a heal ability like Bountiful Chi cannot even outheal the damage if someone has a decent Constitution. Only Unbreakable trivializes the bleed, but that ability is on a long cooldown. To add insult to injury, STC has no tree requirement so anyone can take it. Robots, aliens, gunslingers, everyone is also running around with a katana these days. Combine this ability with a hold and any other damage and any opponent will be quickly dispatched. A hold followed by STC and then a knock-up/knock-back effect is particularly dangerous as no abilities can be used while being hit around. Teleporting away immediately when the bleed icon appears under your portrait seems to be the only reliable defense.

STC is an ability that actually punishes someone for stacking CON. No other ability does the same thing for e.g. EGO or DEX. An ability that would do more damage based on your opponent’s INT sounds pretty weird, but that is exactly what STC does to CON. People superstat and stack CON for survivability, but they pay for that by having less pure damage/ utility.

STC is not only bad for PvP, it’s simply a bad design in PvE as well. 55% HP in ten seconds is just mediocre on a henchman, but it’s great on higher power villains. Of course, the real powerful ones cannot be affected by it. That the ability cannot function equally well for all kinds of enemies should have alerted the devs.

If nothing is done, all PvP arena's will be as empty as this one

If nothing is done, all PvP arena's will be as empty as this one

Fixes

Since I am a software engineer myself I know that seemingly easy fixes are not always that easy. However, there should be some reaction on the many forum posts that are constantly made. Or PvP will truly get flatlined as discussed in this post on the offical forum.

Positive note

I’m really looking forward to the Bloodmoon content. the PvE looks nice, the werewolf/hunter PvP is with fixed abilities and the Zombie survival map just sounds great. Also, the event is still far enough away that the broken abilities can be fixed.