Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What is a good game for the casual gamer?

This posting is both a follow up to a rant I posted on Dailyrush.dk (sorry it is in Danish) and a question Mike asked of me on his blog.

The easy answer is of course: whatever you think is fun playing. But that answer is just too easy. I won't go into details about many different type of games, because I think it is obvious that some games are story driven and you pick them up to play for a while and that is it. But other games are games you pick up to play for years. I am not into first person shooters myself and I am also confused by the enthusiasm for the grind offered by MMORPGs today. So this is about strategy games.

When I was a small child no one had computers at home and I played board games. I even played chess in a club during my high school years (and no, you don't pick up girls there). For me strategy games with no real time part of it, was the start. Over the years I've played and liked Dune2, Warcraft 1,2 & 3, Dark Reign 1 & 2, Total Annihilation, Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, Age of Empires, Command and Conquer (In different versions, Tiberian Sun stank), Dawn of War, Red Alert and of course Starcraft.

I must admit that there are newer strategy games out that I probably should have tried, but some of them require quite modern hardware and I don't update my rig as often as I used too. Finally I realized that Blizzard knew how to do good strategy games and that mastering one game was more interesting, than sucking at a new one.

So what makes a good real time strategy game? A fine balance between arcade style action, economy and map control. And most importantly a community of enthusiastic players around your own skill level.

Starcraft has all the first aspects and only due to its age is lacking the last. The game it self has big bright units that are easily identifiable and reasonably easy to click on. Realism is sacrificed in favor of units of clearly defined roles. The game has a timeline, that changes the game as you tech up from basic units to more advanced ones and so on. Other games has of course had a similar system, but few others have had quite the board game like simplicity that Starcraft have, combined with the endless possibilities that the different special skills and upgrades that Starcraft offers.

You can study game openings like in chess and have to balance your time between different aspects of the game at the same time. If you suck, like I do, this might be a bit too much and maybe the game would benefit some if it was slower, but over all Starcraft balances these aspects better than any games in the above list.

But games are hard to learn, and if you are older than 15, your reflexes might not quite be up to the level required to play. There are techniques to help you improve, but maybe you don't want to invest your time in that? I can understand that and then maybe it is better for you to play one of the newer games where - at least the first 3 months after release - everyone sucks and you can get the thrill of winning. I don't deny the attraction of that, but I don't think it offers the same level of satisfaction as learning something at a deeper level.

I look forward to Starcraft II because it will give me that cheap satisfaction and hopefully an infusion of newer players. I actually like Blizzard's plan to release 2 sequels as I think it will keep the casual gamers online for a longer stretch of time and bring innovation to the game after it is released. But at the same time I hope my Starcraft: Brood War skills will carry over and that I can get to that next level of understanding in Starcraft II.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Byzantium II

I would not have thought that I would like this map. For one it is just to big and I like small maps. I might have thought that it would be a cool 2v2 map, but for 1v1? Not a chance.

But I had decided that it was time to get back into ladder play on iC Cup and a quick /motw revealed that I didn't like any of the current maps. So I decided to study this one as I do like the twilight tileset a lot. So I played it a bit against the Entropy mod and finally ventured online to play.

So far I have played 3 real games on the map and won the 2. Such a win ratio is due to the fact that I do ban players, that obviously is better than me (C+ Players joining a game called something with D- are just rude) and luck. My first win was against a Zerg, that did insist on going mutalisks even after he saw my 6 corsair. If I were him I had either gone scourges or simply expanded and gone for a late game defiler and ultralisk combo. But he sure did like his mutalisks.

My loss was entirely my fault. I had over estimated the distance between to starting positions and was raped by a guy who went 2 gateways and pumped units. 4 zealots and 2 dragoons beats one dragoon with no looses. Embarrassing defeat I would say, and I know I suck, but not making units is just plain dumb.

image Yesterday I won against a Terran (Around level D, rating 1850) despite making a lot of mistakes in the early game. For instance I made two robotics facilities rather than one and a support bay. This seriously delayed my attack, but on the other hand I got two reavers for my drop rather than one. I also learned that reaver bombing is more expensive and less effective than zealot bombing and I think I finally understand the value of keeping the shuttle and the reavers alive!

Now his push came. I spotted an scv trying to built a turret close to image my natural expansions several times and killed it, but the push was still coming towards me. We met for the first time in the middle of the map and he narrowly won that encounter. Probably because his unites were together and mine was more spread out.

He started to lay siege to my natural and I kept it away by regularily attacking with a lot of units. At one point I pumped zealots from 9 gateways at the same time and I had the feeling that I was seeing to few terran units. My scouts could see his scvs looking at possible expansions, but the only place that was not discovered was my 3rd expansion. I think that was pretty lucky and a key to my eventual victory.


I did manage to break out several times, but then his reinforcements would arrive and drive me back into my base. At some point my scouts spotted a new base in the upper right corner of the map and when I broke out of his siege I decided to continue up towards his new expansion rather than trying to hold the ground. I was a bit nervous about that decision, but in the end I think it was the right one. His expansion fell to my zealots easily and I decided to leave a couple of dragoons to make sure he didn't take it back.

Now I also needed to expand again as I was only mining from one image base. I quickly made two new bases in the lower left corner and the game changed. Now he was trying to raid my new expansions while I was trying to gain map control. But my advantage in bases and more importantly in production facilities was starting to make a difference and he soon surrendered after a little less than 30 minutes of play.

My heart rate had reached a new level of activity without any physical movement. Impressive.

Replay: duxx (Terran) vs me (Protoss)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getting back into shape

And I am not talking about Starcraft-shape, since I am obviously not going to go far there, but just about my physical shape. I have been ill a lot the past year and my physical workout schedule has suffered. Lately however, I've felt up to start again with some light running and a few weight lifting exercises. It feels great for the body, but it seriously impact my Starcraft playing abilities.

Last night I played a single game and my hands shook so much, that I couldn't hit anything with the mouse. From my opponents perspective I must have looked even suckier than I really am.

I really don't know what to do about this as I both love the game and want to take care of my (aging) body. I hope it is just a transition phase and it will pass. Time will tell.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hwangsanbul 1.2

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this map. It plays like something in between Lost Temple/Python and an island map.

I recently played a game as Protoss vs. a Terran on this map (replay).

At first I was nervous as I almost always am. Then I decided to expand and tech. So I mined away the 56 mineral patch blocking my one ramp and expanded while I tried to get out observers. If you go fast observers, then a reaver/shuttle combo is the logical follow up. Unfortunately I found my opponent the last place I checked and my drop was late and not very successful. At least I did not loose my shuttle. He countered with a vulture raid on my mineral line. Apparently vultures rape the chrysalis that block the other ramp up. I saved most of my probes and then his vultures ran into the new reaver just built in my base.

imageLucky for me, not so much for him. I wondered what to do then and expanded again while I pumped out more units. I tried controlling the center and even tried a direct attack with zealots and a few dragoons on his expansion. The narrow access to the expansion was good for his concentrated tank fire and bad for my units. I did succeed in delaying his second expansion and only later realized that I could have attacked his main the other way around. Silly me.


I was now in some kind of panic. His base seemed impossible to attack, but I thought I was ahead in resources and expansions, so I went hard carriers thinking that it was the newbiest thing to do. Something he would easily anticipate and counter. I tried to hold back my carriers until I had a lot of them, but he dropped my most recent expansion and I had to use my 5-6 carriers to defend it. I guess he then realized that he was in trouble and had to finish the game before I had more. A very critical battle took place outside my main and he lost all his tanks and vultures.

Then I went on a search and destroy mission with my carriers to take out his newest expansions. imageHe managed to get out a lot of wraiths and goliaths, but before they could kill my carriers I managed to destroy two expansions.

At this point he had only one expansion left and it was totally unguarded so I took it out with attack-moving zealots and the game was over.

Even though I won, I still know I sucked pretty badly. I badly misused my only stasis and I have to relearn how to use this spell. I also messed up badly in my production. As I got more and more units and buildings I lost track of what was hotkeyed to what and for long periods of time my gateways were idle. I also thought I was way ahead on expansions at all time and although I was ahead, it wasn't by nearly as much as I thought.

Finally, looking at the replay I realized that he had a higher unit count than me for a very long time. For once I was happy that Terrans are not as mobile as Protoss.

Monday, December 1, 2008

iCCup countdown?

I wonder what is going on over at iCCup. The front page has a counter going down to 10pm CET on the 6th of December. Pretty weird. I really have no idea as to what is going on!

  1. It could be that Blizzard (who know of iCCup) somehow have involved the site in launching the Starcraft II beta. That would be awsome!
  2. It could be a web design make-over. Probably with an aim to staying relevant after Starcraft II launches.

I would not put any money on a bet on (1), but  (2) is likely. 5 days till we find out.