Starcraft, Too

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Here are the things that make StarCraft II great: it is an improved StarCraft, adapted to modern technology and paired with a superb matchmaking service, and bolstered by a huge player base. It is also a very much aimed at sustaining the original game's success as an e-sport.

Those virtues are also problematic when I try to render a critical judgment. StarCraft II does not feel like a new game, but a lavish new edition. Thanks to StarCraft II, I'm playing StarCraft again, and for that I'm grateful. But when I look at its accomplishments as a design, I mostly see achievements Blizzard attained twelve years ago.

I admire the skill with which Blizzard has updated and improved a classic game without yielding to the temptation to fix what was not broken. StarCraft needed restoration, not re-invention. But that also leaves StarCraft II without a distinct identity. It comes wearing hand-me-down greatness and the thick coat of polish that Blizzard has always used in place of daring.

Re-creating a classic 1990s strategy game also required imposing some painfully artificial limitations. Though I've gotten used to StarCraft II's claustrophobic zoom-level, I still find myself vainly spinning my mouse wheel in an effort to get some distance on the action. Armies move and fight like the Keystone Kops, shambling around in disorganized hordes and coming to a dead stop when engaging targets, leaving trailing units bumbling around out of range. I've had 10 years to get used to RTS armies moving and fighting in formations, and doing battle with some rudimentary common-sense. StarCraft II forces all that unwelcome micro-management back into my hands.

This is not a stand against over-simplification. StarCraft II is not any richer for making the player directly responsible for the actions of every last zergling. In point of fact, combat in StarCraft II is less complicated than you find in many other RTS games, and features commensurately reduced tactical variety. StarCraft II's conspicuously primitive controls and unit AI are not really about game design at all, but a familiar battle between technology and sport.

A few years before StarCraft came out, Formula 1 racing was at its technological pinnacle. Active suspensions adjusted the car setups during races, responding to feedback thousands of times a second to provide the best handling possible. Traction-control and anti-lock brakes smoothed away the rough edges of drivers' techniques. At the start of each race, launch-control managed the power to the wheels, so that everyone left the line smoothly. This was F1 at the forefront of computer-assisted racing—and there was a huge backlash. The next ten years were about taking tools away, forcing drivers to manage tasks that a computer could handle better. It remains controversial. On the one hand, the point of sport isn't efficiency, but skill. On the other hand, sport is also about performance, and artificial challenges can impose frustrating limitations on what is possible.

StarCraft II struggles with that dilemma, and errs on the side of caution. Its interface and controls are designed to fight back rather than facilitate mastery. It cannot be more user-friendly than it is, because all that endless multitasking is the source of its depth. It is the skill that competitive StarCraft is meant to exhibit. Ungainliness is part of the sport. Still, a good sport does not necessarily make for a good game. Designed to be a platform for high-level competition, StarCraft II has become less satisfying as recreation.

StarCraft II still provides a great multiplayer experience, but I'm unconvinced the game deserves credit for that. The Battle.net interface and matchmaking are excellent, but ultimately StarCraft II's strength derives from the sheer number of people who are playing it right now. The community that Blizzard won over in the late '90s has re-coalesced around this game, and it is that community that ultimately makes StarCraft II a multiplayer joy. How could it not be, when I can log onto Battle.net and see a half-dozen friends waiting to play? But if another RTS, say Rise of Nations or Dawn of War had such a community, I suspect I would be playing that.

Nevertheless, I suspect StarCraft II's community is likely to thrive in a way few other RTS games ever have, and for that Blizzard will deserve full credit. A couple months ago on Three Moves Ahead, Julian said he didn't think most game developers "believe their games are long-lasting enough or important enough." He pointed out that while people will be playing chess a hundred years from now, nobody will be playing StarCraft.

I replied that I wasn't sure, because "we are seeing an RTS begin to develop the sort of community and the sort of existence as an intellectual pursuit that I really only see reserved for games like chess. So for the first time, we're seeing bodies of work develop to explain and deepen the game." Having seen the finished product, I think I was right.

Blizzard created a game and service that invites, encourages, and practically demands that players take part in competition. With just a few clicks, you are playing ranked matches in StarCraft leagues. And when you're done, for good or ill, you can reload the game film and analyze every aspect of a match. You can review film from other matches. If Blizzard sacrificed some of the gameplay in favor of creating a competitive sport, they also made something that makes sportsmen out of gamers.

StarCraft II has many facets, and they are not all complementary. I thank heaven I don't have to review it or assign it a score, because I have no idea how to weigh the factors I outlined above. But one thing, I think, is clear: StarCraft II is the product of awkward compromises and contradictory goals. As such, it is not and never could be an unqualified triumph. It had too many constituencies to satisfy. Ultimately, how you feel about StarCraft II comes down to how you feel about the bet Blizzard made: Are strategy gamers ready to get off the sidelines and onto the playing field?

Comments

Scratched wrote:

What I'd be curious to see is what they would make if unshackled from all their previous games and given a blank sheet of paper[...]

Someone else's game polished to a night, bright sheen.

Scratched wrote:

What I'd be curious to see is what they would make if unshackled from all their previous games and given a blank sheet of paper, but it's going to be the other end of the decade before that's likely to happen.

I think we've seen, actually, except for the bit about the game being unrelated to their previous properties. Warcraft 3 was originally supposed to be completely centered on the heroes, a combat was supposed to take more of a Brutal Legend form. It was a bold direction and nobody was sure if it could work... and then Blizzard gave up on that and went in a more conventional direction.

The Warcraft adventure game, starring Thrall? Canceled.

Ghost? Same fate.

Blizzard gets a lot of credit for these cancellations. They are used as examples of the studio's extremely high standards and commitment to quality. And perhaps that's true. But they're also indicative of a studio that once wanted to do more, to be a little bolder, but never quite managed to move from its turf. I've always found that to be a little sad, and sadder still, that Blizzard no longer even try to make these forays into other genres.

Rob Zacny wrote:
Scratched wrote:

What I'd be curious to see is what they would make if unshackled from all their previous games and given a blank sheet of paper, but it's going to be the other end of the decade before that's likely to happen.

I think we've seen, actually, except for the bit about the game being unrelated to their previous properties. Warcraft 3 was originally supposed to be completely centered on the heroes, a combat was supposed to take more of a Brutal Legend form. It was a bold direction and nobody was sure if it could work... and then Blizzard gave up on that and went in a more conventional direction.

The Warcraft adventure game, starring Thrall? Canceled.

Ghost? Same fate.

Blizzard gets a lot of credit for these cancellations. They are used as examples of the studio's extremely high standards and commitment to quality. And perhaps that's true. But they're also indicative of a studio that once wanted to do more, to be a little bolder, but never quite managed to move from its turf. I've always found that to be a little sad, and sadder still, that Blizzard no longer even try to make these forays into other genres.

It's hard to say they haven't made any forays into other genres when they came in and completely dominated the MMO space. WoW was fairly bold and different for them at the time.

It's hard to say they haven't made any forays into other genres when they came in and completely dominated the MMO space. WoW was fairly bold and different for them at the time.

And if the rumors of the "totally new IP MMO" are true, we may see them do it again. One can always hope, anyways. I don't think Blizzard has completely given up doing non-sequels. I also don't think Blizzard has ever been particularly innovative.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:

Have you guys played SC2 multiplayer much? From the sounds of it, either you haven't, or you have but with a very firm set of preconceptions. Yes, there are people that click quickly. Yes, that can be valuable. Yes, you can kick the sh*t out of fast-clickers with a solid gameplan.

Now, obviously, when you're dealing with two people of identical skill level, whoever has an edge in some other factor will win, but that's not the way the real world ever works. SC2 is about awareness, not about clicking fast. If I know when my buildings finish, I don't need to hop around the map like a jackrabbit on PCP. If I understand where my army will be in relation to his in 7 seconds, I don't need to check each unit individually - twice. I can do a lot at 60 APM (actions per minute), or 40. If my 40APM are meaningful, and your 200APM are a whole lot of extraneous clicking, you're not winning.

The lack of unit formations and map zoom-out both require a certain level of awareness. If you have it and your opponent doesn`t, physical skills don`t matter much.

I haven't played either SC or SC2 in competitive multi player but I have had many hours of vs AI. I think it is more of the style of play that I don't like and don't really want to play 30 minute skirmishes. I guess Sins of a solar empire spoiled me. When I played SC with some friends, they used to complain that I would set the game speed to normal. I really don't like playing games on fast or fastest, but from what I can tell, you can't set the game speed in SC2.

To address the issue of "awareness" most modern RTSs don't put as much emphasis on awareness as SC does. Some of my favorite RTSs let you queue units even if you don't have resources and when the resources become available the unit gets built. Then I can queue my next 30 units and move onto other things. This is why Total Annihilation is 10x better then SC can ever be IMO.

Ah cheers, Rob, for coming into the front page

And with Chris Remo on TMA this week, it seems crossover land is happening. Cool!

I think strategy in SC2 only starts to happen once you learn (and by learning I mean teaching your muscles to do stuff) most of the mechanic part of it.

What makes SC so attractive, to me, is the great balance between planning and execution. Not only must you have good awareness of what's going on and where do you want to be in the next 5 minutes, but also have the chops to get it done.

I agree with Rob when he says that SC2 deliberately makes strategizing hard, thus making it better as an e-sport. And that's what makes it so appealing, even from the spectator's perspective. You can appreciate control, timing, awareness and line of reasoning. It's very complete in that sense.

kaostheory wrote:
Rob Zacny wrote:
Scratched wrote:

What I'd be curious to see is what they would make if unshackled from all their previous games and given a blank sheet of paper, but it's going to be the other end of the decade before that's likely to happen.

I think we've seen, actually, except for the bit about the game being unrelated to their previous properties. Warcraft 3 was originally supposed to be completely centered on the heroes, a combat was supposed to take more of a Brutal Legend form. It was a bold direction and nobody was sure if it could work... and then Blizzard gave up on that and went in a more conventional direction.

The Warcraft adventure game, starring Thrall? Canceled.

Ghost? Same fate.

Blizzard gets a lot of credit for these cancellations. They are used as examples of the studio's extremely high standards and commitment to quality. And perhaps that's true. But they're also indicative of a studio that once wanted to do more, to be a little bolder, but never quite managed to move from its turf. I've always found that to be a little sad, and sadder still, that Blizzard no longer even try to make these forays into other genres.

It's hard to say they haven't made any forays into other genres when they came in and completely dominated the MMO space. WoW was fairly bold and different for them at the time.

For them, sure. But the great breakthrough award remains with the original Everquest. They proved there was an Everquest killer, and thus inspired the competition to do the same with WoW. They rarely come in first, but make a point to not be forgotten.

EDIT: kazar, you can set the game speed before the game starts. I know Sins allows it midgame in SP, but it's better than nothing.

kazar wrote:

Some of my favorite RTSs let you queue units even if you don't have resources and when the resources become available the unit gets built. Then I can queue my next 30 units and move onto other things.

Interestingly, I don't think I would do this in SC2 even if I could, for two reasons: 1) I don't know what my next 30 units should be, and 2) how would I prioritize between the next worker and the next siege tank?

PyromanFO wrote:

Blizzard (and the SC community) really didn't consider Brood War this balanced till about 6 years after it's release. It blows my mind to have a video game that has that kind of staying power.

When I read things like this, I get worried that we might see this delicate and precise balance thrown off when the the SC2 expansions/version come out. It's a great game as it is... will they make it even more complex by adding more units/powers/bells-whistles when the Zerg and Protoss expansions come out.

Foo_Dog wrote:

When I read things like this, I get worried that we might see this delicate and precise balance thrown off when the the SC2 expansions/version come out. It's a great game as it is... will they make it even more complex by adding more units/powers/bells-whistles when the Zerg and Protoss expansions come out.

I think there would be an awful lot of backlash if they didn't add new units and abilities. As if Blizzard didn't already get enough flak for making a prettier version of SC1

I have to say that I agree with the basic premise of this article but pretty much none of the content. I think if you changed the topic from Starcraft II to Civilization V then your conclusion would be the complete opposite. Honestly I think you're deluding yourself into thinking that you don't dislike Starcraft when in fact you can't find much nice to say about it.

Judging a particular game for what it's not is the completely wrong way to go about it. StarCraft 2's gameplay is great for what it was built to be. I think rewarding a skill can never be a bad thing, and of two equally skilled tacticians, the "faster" should win. (it's not actually APM so much as having meaningful and timely clicks)

So you prefer a game that doesn't reward manual dexterity as much -- fine. That doesn't make SC2 bad or TA better. (I actually don't prefer TA/Supcom -- meaningless hordes of units)

"Love the game, not the product."

PseudoKnight wrote:

Judging a particular game for what it's not is the completely wrong way to go about it. StarCraft 2's gameplay is great for what it was built to be.

That last sentence seems to be just a stone's throw away from being a tautology. We can only judge the game based on what it's ambitions and objectives were? Any criticism can be answered with, "But that's not what they were trying to do."

I think intent matters, but only up to a point. At some point you have to spare a thought for the broader context and the audience, not the ideal for which the developer was striving.

It's a good game for you if you like StarCraft and games very much like StarCraft. It's not a good game for people who are looking for something like croquet.

Very true. Which is why I'm so glad we cut that, "Where the hell is the croquet?" paragraph from this piece. That would have been the wrong direction.

wordsmythe wrote:

It's a good game for you if you like StarCraft and games very much like StarCraft. It's not a good game for people who are looking for something like croquet.

And that's basically a point I made elsewhere.

When Starcraft 2 was announced how many people were hoping for an innovative RTS, and how many were hoping for Starcraft with better graphics? I'm pretty sure most people fell into the latter group.

It's perfectly fine to not like Starcraft 2, but I don't understand criticising the game because it's Starcraft.

Again repeating myself from elsewhere, would it make sense to complain that Dragon Age isn't like Dungeon Siege?

As a strategy gamer, not being able to see the frigging map is not a test of skill, it's an obnoxious limitation to create yet another artificial obstacle that must be overcome. Where other games try to make it easier to survey the battlefield and get your troops doing what you want, aka strategy and tactics, Starcraft II adds a new layer of challenge just in order to see what the hell is going on.

There's a map in the bottom left corner.

Are you suggesting that zoom should exist as well or instead of the mini map? Replacing the mini map with zoom would suck, I want to be able to see what I'm doing (like managing a combat) and monitor the map situation at the same time (is my mineral line being attacked while I manage this combat?).

SCII's design purposefully includes a significant amount of micro control of battles. Zooming out would make micro control much more difficult and so there is the mini map which allows map visibility without taking away microing possibility. If you don't like it that's fine, but to say it's an "obnoxious limitation" and an "artificial obstacle" is wrong IMO. It's a specific design decision that doesn't cater to your tastes in strategy games.

I think of the hundreds of ideas that must have been left out when developing Starcraft II and it makes me very sad.

So many games have come out that have done so much to reinvent the genre and this is what we get? I understand the decision and fully agree with this article but I can't help think what game it could have been and weep a little.

interstate78 wrote:

I think of the hundreds of ideas that must have been left out when developing Starcraft II and it makes me very sad.

So many games have come out that have done so much to reinvent the genre and this is what we get? I understand the decision and fully agree with this article but I can't help think what game it could have been and weep a little.

But why? This is a question I've kept asking and I haven't received an answer yet from anyone. There are other games besides Starcraft, so why criticise Starcraft for not being one of those other games?

If you want a different game, play a different game.

Oh, and a point I missed.

Rob Zacny wrote:

I think intent matters, but only up to a point. At some point you have to spare a thought for the broader context and the audience, not the ideal for which the developer was striving.

I think Blizzard made exactly the game their audience wanted. Their audience is Starcraft fans, not the wider strategy market. If anything Blizzard was excessively focused on their audience.

LuaChunk wrote:

There's a map in the bottom left corner.

Are you suggesting that zoom should exist as well or instead of the mini map? Replacing the mini map with zoom would suck, I want to be able to see what I'm doing (like managing a combat) and monitor the map situation at the same time (is my mineral line being attacked while I manage this combat?)

It's not an either / or proposition. In fact, most RTS's use a map zoom in conjunction with a mini-map. It's all about being able to set the viewing angle and level to the position that works for the user, something that Starcraft II doesn't let you do.

interstate78 wrote:

So many games have come out that have done so much to reinvent the genre and this is what we get?

I keep reading this, yet I just don't see it. So many games have come out and reinvented the genre, yet none of them are as engaging to me as SC2. I guess some of you would call me a masochist, but the dexterity and muscle memory required to play this game well make each match all that much more tense and exhilarating.

Many of the "innovations" to the genre over the past decade have caused my interest to gradually diminish. The added automated functions make me feel like I'm doing an awful lot more watching than participating in affecting the outcome of a battle. If SC2 would have played similarly to DoW II, I would have probably thoroughly enjoyed the single-player, dabbled in multi-player, and then not touched the game again until the expansion, as I have for every strategy game since the original Starcraft. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be playing SC2 until the first expansion comes out. It feels like SC2 was made specifically for me. Get your fancy new strategy innovations off my lawn! This is what we got, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

One other thing that I don't think gets nearly the credit it deserves: The multiplayer match-making system in SC2 is absolutely superb. I'm currently one match away from the advertised 50% win ratio. I haven't had a match since my 5 placement matches that I've felt I (or my opponent) had no chance of winning. This is a huge part of the multiplayer appeal. Anyone can compete in SC2 multiplayer if they're willing to lose a handful of initial games to be placed in the appropriate bracket.

Well, they could have gone the Dawn of War II way and done A compelling SP and a standard, old school MP.

It's true that it's useless to criticize SC2 for what it's not though.

I think criticisms of Starcraft being Starcraft misses the point of what much of Starcraft is. I find that many such criticisms aimed at SC2 don't tackle the points that make SC2 the game it is.

Dyni here make an interesting observation. All of these other RTS games are supposedly "better" in some or many ways, and yet they fail the test of time. There isn't a competitive community formed around them. They're not considered as balanced. They're not considered as good as the market proclaims Starcraft and SC2 to be, even with all these "innovations." Could it be that these "advances" are, in fact, regressions?

Speaking from a competitive perspective, let's talk about map zoom control. Is it really a good thing?

From where I'm sitting, I'm thinking that it's mainly a wishy-washy solution. The minimap gives you a lot of information that you would want from a zoomed-out view. Having a zoomed out view on the main screen and on the minimap is redundant. You might say that you can zoom out and zoom back in quickly by way of map navigation, but you can do that better by just clicking on the point in the minimap that you want to focus on, and SC has always allowed you to do that.

Thing is, it's hard enough to micro a game like SC2 without having to fiddle with map zoom as an additional factor in the game. And yes, if this is a real time strategy game, then fiddling with map zoom takes away from the strategic game in favor of fiddling with an interface, which I don't feel is much of a sub-game system.

Moreover, it's not true that SC2 is SC1 with better graphics. The units and races are superficially similar, but they are profoundly different. The main thrust of the game's actual design, as opposed to interface options, is actually rather innovative.

What do I mean?

Well, let's talk about some games first where dexterity is unimportant. Say - Magic. When we talk about game design in Magic, we don't talk about interface or zoom level or macro. We talk about how the game works and how the cards interact in a broader sense.

From my perspective, SC2 is designed in such a way that it's relatively easy to tweak any unit interaction such that there is a more robust strategic game at each tier and each period of the game compared to other such games, even SC1.

For instance, SC1 is based on unit vs, unit counters. While this works on a theoretical level, it fails on a strategic level. Players don't use only one unit in their armies, and each unit has time valuations in addition. Aside from that, each matchup has to match to other matchups. It's a very complicated design.

The upshot of this is that in SC1, about the only option a Zerg player has against another Zerg player on a strategic unit mix level, is Mutalisk+Zergling. Anyone who uses anything else is just planning suboptimally.

Many "strategic" games suffer from this design limitation. The designers cannot really foresee everything MP gamers are going to do with the game design and ultimately something comes out that's "broken." This is a problem in Magic as well.

SC2, I think, is designed such that there are at least two options for you to pursue in terms of broad strategy and unit mix and such, and unit counters are designed around the assumption of a multi-unit and multi-structure composition. More impressively, there are individual tweakable "upgrades" available to pretty much all the units that can allow developers to control "broken" strategies as they emerge.

What I'm saying here is that I wish more people would get past the interface and get to the game before saying that Blizzard is ignoring innovation. Having a friendly interface is all well and good, but if the game under that is all about just clicking without meaning, then what does it matter?

Larry, everything you say is right. I guess one way of saying it is that SC2 is the best SC2 game there is, but, there are other ways to approach the RTS gameplay. There is not one 'best way' for everything.

Being less objective about it, I also think that Bliz and their games are where they are not by wholly by their current games, but by standing on the shoulders of their previous games. If not for SC1, SC2 wouldn't have been the hit it was in the first few weeks. They trade a lot on their old games, only with time can you see if their new games are as good.

Spoiler: Since Rob used F1-Racing in his article, I'm going to use an automobile analogy in my response as well

A few days ago, a friend of mine comes over, and sees the Collector's Edition box on my house-office desk. Instantly he's impressed and asks me to fire up the game, "I want to see what's new since my college days 11 years ago?" So as I load a quick 1on1 against the AI (I'm Terran, computer is Protoss,) and begin to play. At no point did he ever show any excitement above the level of excitement at the collector's edition's box design. And god bless him, my friend Chad has no problem trying to make his friends feel like an idiot when he disagrees with a computer game purchase (Thankfully I had my protoss energy shields up, his attacks did not hurt me, but if he went on any longer, I would of pulled my yamato gun out of the gun-locker.)

I know a lot of people are like chad, and feel that this game is nothing new. There are no level-able hero units like Warcraft III, and you still have to build bases like Dawn of War 1, Dawn Of War 2 eliminated that. But to me Starcraft in the late nineties, is like Datsun introducing the 240z in 1970. Here we had a car that brought affordability and ease of access to the common American who could not afford a Porsche, Ferrari, or other uber-priced European luxury two-seater. Starcraft had gameplay and features that were themed around space, and OMG, it was not a Masters of Orion turn-based interface. Sure Warcraft existed and one can say it is like a Warcraft mod, but the fans and support it generated was phenomenal. The nation of South Korea has embraced this game as a new national-past-time and is a strong part of their economy and pop-culture. Wonderful, now let's fast forward about a decade and here we are wondering what is Blizzard going to pull out of its Pandora's Box? It's been over ten years and I'm sure everything is going to be different.

Well in 2002, Nissan unveiled the 350z....a return to excellence by bringing back the Z-Car family to the Americas. Their goal was to improve on the old Z-line from the 70's and a lot of design characteristics were there, the exterior back half of the car, the interior, the dash design, the fun, and the affordability. Sure there were performance and technology enhancements, what do you expect over a 20 year period. But it was a nostalgia trip for a lot people who had the original Datsun Z-Cars. My father almost cried when my friend's new 350z reminded him of his 1977 280z (which I came home from the hospital in, strapped to the luggage compartment, between the driver and passenger seats.)

Starcraft 2 is the 350z...it has all the enjoyment of the first game, plus a great campaign with branching options, unit upgrade system, navigation interface (i.e. hyperion between missions,) mission-objective layout, battle.net integration including saving single player progress, better graphics, etc. etc. etc.

Thank you Blizzard-Activision for bringing back my Starcraft and making it better, and to all the Chad's out there...you can kiss my baneling!

Welcome to the front page, good Sir.

Now that we have that out of the way, you Sir, are WRONG! (On the internet, omg!)
I selected one of your replys to refer to, since it captures the points I disagree on better.

Rob Zacny wrote:

But I'm not learning so much as I'm building muscle memory and routines for playing Starcraft II. I haven't learned very much about how to better employ my units and resources, but how to more efficiently queue them up, give them the appropriate orders in combat, and trigger spells. By this standard, any game can provide this joyous learning experience simply by cranking up the speed and making it difficult to do simple tasks.

This point is a very polemic point. Show me one (1) PC RTS, where your first steps are not learning the controls, getting to know the economic side and making your first experience in combat. To criticize the game because YOU haven't gotten beyond that point is like saying that winning the Tour de France isn't much of an accomplishment because your haven't mastered riding your bike yet. Blizzard games since Warcraft 2 have followed the concept "easy to learn, hard to master". Teaching you the basics of an RTS is a feat every other game may accomplish, yes. But giving you the chance for nigh limitless improvement post the "getting the mechanics down" phase is what most, if not all, other RTS games between SC1 and SC2 failed at.
Your comments regarding the "dumbed down" state of Starcraft 2 are pretty much in line with those of people who didn't even bother giving the game a chance during beta and already called it noob-friendly and DOA. Needless to say that players like Tester, TheLittleOne and Masq have proved them wrong time and time again.

Rob Zacny wrote:

You are totally accepting the definition of skill created by the sport that has grown up around Starcraft. As a strategy gamer, not being able to see the frigging map is not a test of skill, it's an obnoxious limitation to create yet another artificial obstacle that must be overcome. Where other games try to make it easier to survey the battlefield and get your troops doing what you want, aka strategy and tactics, Starcraft II adds a new layer of challenge just in order to see what the hell is going on.

So on the one hand you critizice Starcraft 2 for being to simple and then you go on to tell us that scouting and information gathering is not a part of strategy games? I am sure as a board gamer you are familiar with at least "The Art Of War" by Sun Tsu, who talks at lengths about the importance of reconnaissance and the tactics to employ regarding recon. Starcraft 2 builds on that. The game makes you work for your intel and it also rewards you for organizing your game plan and your mechanics in a way that helps you manage several fronts at the same time with as little effort as possible.
In addition, Starcraft 2 operates on an entirely different basis than say "Supreme Commander" or the "Total War" games. You may have more units than in Warcraft 3 and DoW2, but in general two 200 supply armies will just about fill your screen. There is no need for zooming out other than "but game xyz did it" and a strange sense of convenience.

Rob Zacny wrote:

There are several problems here. First, you're putting words in my mouth. I never even came close to saying that a game has to satisfy everyone to be good. But a game that's trying to be accessible and enjoyable, but also competition-ready, is at war with itself and I don't think it offers a lot to the people who aren't willing to make Starcraft II a rather serious hobby. That's a problem, because that's not the relationship most of us have with videogames.

In a recent interview or GDC talk, Rob Pardo said, that their core philosophy for Starcraft 2 was "design it for the hardcore crowd and then make it accessible to casuals". And thats exactely what they did. I don't know what boards you are readying and which people you are talking too, but the prevailing feedback people are giving regarding the singleplayer campaign is very positive. And why wouldn't they? There are no text or slideshow briefings that last for minutes, there's some progression build in between missions, you have a few smaller storylines, there's some degree of freedom and they used their engine pretty well to keep most of the missions from falling into the category "build a base here, pump out units and go destroy the bases over there and yonder".
But even beyond the SP mode, there are a lot of people diving in and playing online on the lower tiers of the experience level, who never dabbled in online RTS play before. It doesn't matter if the compstomp the first few weeks or only play custom games 1v1 or 2v2, people love the game and its mechanics enough to overcome the fear of being steamrolled against human opponents.
I'm very curious, what you base the "it doesn't offer much to non-hardcore players" on, because that's basically completely detrimental to Blizzard's design philosophy in recent years.

Rob Zacny wrote:

And just because a game is great at satisfying niche tastes doesn't make it a great game. We can only judge a game on how well it delivers on its own objectives? So Starcraft II is artificially difficult to control, has simple combat that's challenging only because your tools are bad, and is really designed for serious competitive play. But it's a great game, because people who love artificially difficult controls, simple, click-heavy combat, and competition will love Starcraft II! So any criticism that doesn't accept this premise is invalid?

There's so much wrong with this paragraph, I don't know where to begin.
"Artificially difficult to control" makes me wonder what exactely is your RTS background is? It's certainly not harder to control than your averade C&C, Company of Heroes or the other THQ RTSes. Let alone SOASE. There's autocast for basics like Repair and Heal, the hotkeys use reoccuring keys mostly limited to the left side of the keyboard and there is a grid for placing buildings. Let alone that you could play an entire match with mouse only.
"Simple combat that's challenging only because your tools are bad". Let's assume the controls WERE bad. Simple combat? 20 Zerglings die to 10 Marines without speed upgrade. With Speed upgrade, the same 20 Zerglings beat 10 Marines. 4 Marauders vs 4 Roaches. If the Terran player has the Concussive shell researched, he can kite the Roaches to death (with a few mouse clicks only). If the Zerg player has Burrow researched, he can spread the incoming damage well enough, that he ends up destroying the Marauders. If neither player decides to micromanage, which most people on the lower league levels should, it's a highly strategical game which is decided by experience and *drumroll* intel, which are both factors who have nearly nothing to do with controls being good or bad.
I also fail to see the point why the game being "designed for serious competitive play" while at the same time allowing players with little to no experience to have an engaging gaming experience is a bad thing.
"But it's a great game, because people who love artificially difficult controls, simple, click-heavy combat, and competition will love Starcraft II!" Again with the controls. Starcraft 2, just like Starcraft 1, can be played with 200+ actions per minute, no doubt. But like with it's predecessor and Warcraft 3, 99% of the playerbase would not be capable of utilizing everything beyond 80-100 APM. I don't know if you are aware of it, but despite the APM fetish of SC1 and WC3 players, there was a good proportion of players continuously playing in the highest tiers with well below 100 APM. This point, among others, makes me again wonder whether you actually gave the skirmish part of Starcraft 2 a chance or had it flagged for "hardcore gamers only" right from the start.

"So any criticism that doesn't accept this premise is invalid?"
I know my post will play right into that statement, but I tried to provide my side of things instead of simply calling you out on measuring the game with the wrong scale and reference in mind. A lot of the things you wrote read like the typical misconceptions that were posted all over the internet prior to SC2 release.

My problem when reading the article was that I had trouble finding any indication that you went through the trouble of getting your toes wet rather than re-telling a lot of unjust criticism that has been disproven before.

Edit: Lastly, I'd like to say I am very intrigued to see how many people still go on the "why isn't this like game X or Y, which came out recently and which had mechanics Z and Q, that prodived a fresh breeze to the genre" rant. Thankfully, people have stopped doing that for most of the other big genres like FPS, RPG and action games. Why people think that incorporating the hero concept of WC3, the squad or control point concepts of THQ or the general imbalance and cheap tactic friendliness from C&C into Starcraft 2 would have made for a "better" game, is beyond me. It's almost as confusing as the "it's Starcraft 1 with better graphics" argument, which anyone who has played five compstomps against an easy AI could discard. But because some people refuse to see it, here's a few things: yellow minerals, Xel'Naga towers, Reapers, buriable supply depots, multifunctional building addons, Blinkstalkers, Warpgates, Colossi, "Stealth" Roaches and Infestors, redesign of the Queen, overhaulof the Creep mechanics.
The game went through just the right amount of evolution and turned out more beginner-friendly and way more balanced than SC1, Warcraft 3 or a lot of recent RTS game ever were on release.

But you have got to agree, there are some control hurdles that are just there to keep the skill ceiling high, right?

Like, for instance:
- how can I select all air/ground units on the map (not screen)?
- how can I select all buildings of type x, without constantly managing my control groups? With the exception of Warpgates, you have to update your control groups everytime you get a new building of type x.
- why do my resources get instantly spent if I resort to queues?
- why is it that, in a blob of units, my melee guys don't attempt to encircle my ranged guys?
- why doesn't the minimap highlight my unit/building currently selected?

These are all simple conveniences that other games have dealt with, and don't interfere with the overall strategy needed to play the game, only with the execution of said strategy. I don't see any other reason other than to keep the skill ceiling higher, to artificially give something more to master. Much like what happened with F1 in the later years, it's placing more responsibility on players hands while neglecting technical and technological improvements.

I mean, Blizz implemented automated workers if you set the rally point on resources, and someone in the hardcore community complained that the game was now too easy. I think this is the reasoning most hardcore strategy gamers (turn based, board, real-time, whatever) have issues with: why does making mechanical stuff more demanding make the strategy in RTS better? It doesn't. But it does deepen the skill required to master the game, which makes for a more entertaining sport.

I think this was Rob's point, which I agree. It doesn't diminish SC2's value in any way to the SC fan, but to someone who looks at a broad spectrum of strategy games, SC2 isn't as impactful as the first or as others that have come since, like Rise of Nations or Company of Heroes.

Good article. Very interesting read. It sounds like Starcraft's familiarity is it's strength, above all else. I know that I don't find constant micro-management fun, but that's the way Starcraft players like it. I must admit that I had sworn off this game in favor of DoW and CoH, but the very vocal and active community are the big draw that has me checking for Amazon sales. For some reason Blizzard gets a pass for keeping the gameplay "classic," but any other franchise would get slammed for such a thing. We all know it will be a huge success, but I fear that it's success may stifle future innovation. After all, if you can make a butt-load of cash off old gameplay, why innovate? For all the praise Relic got for innovating in the genre, did it make them any money? Interesting to see how Starcraft's success plays out.

Luggage:

Building on your point, I think a substantial number of supposedly experienced strategy gamers are too hung up on interface to really appreciate what SC2 has to offer. With the iterations Warcraft, Warcraft 2, and SC1, Blizzard introduced progressively better interface innovations. I don't recall them ever getting proper credit for this. Beyond that, however, they have, with WC3 and SC2, proceeded to give more game design changes and tweaks.

The things I see different in games like SupCom, DoW2, and other such games are mainly interface upgrades or gross simplification of the genre. These are delightful novelties in their own right, but by themselves, they are not enough to sustain the interest of many enthusiasts. They are strictly novelties.

Not having a base building mechanic in DoW2 is an interesting novelty, but in the MP game, they did not replace that with a robust economic system. Base building is simply an analogue for this. As long as you keep that complexity, not having an actual base would actually be innovation. However, DoW2 does not accomplish this. It simply erases much of the game that's inherent in base building. Doing away with the strategic game of resources and tech is not necessarily innovation - it's just simplification.

Arguably, SC2 is like playing a turn-based strategy game with a time limit. This is actually much like competitive Chess or Go. You never have as much time as you like. You can always use more time. In SC2, you can always use more APM.

It is noteworthy that you do not have to play ladder games or competitive matches to play SC2. You can play it on Normal Speed and have enough time to do most of the things APM grants faster players at leisure. This doesn't mean you're no longer playing SC2. It's still SC2.

oMonarca wrote:

But you have got to agree, there are some control hurdles that are just there to keep the skill ceiling high, right?

Like, for instance:
- how can I select all air/ground units on the map (not screen)?
- how can I select all buildings of type x, without constantly managing my control groups? With the exception of Warpgates, you have to update your control groups everytime you get a new building of type x.
- why do my resources get instantly spent if I resort to queues?
- why is it that, in a blob of units, my melee guys don't attempt to encircle my ranged guys?
- why doesn't the minimap highlight my unit/building currently selected?

These are all simple conveniences that other games have dealt with, and don't interfere with the overall strategy needed to play the game, only with the execution of said strategy. I don't see any other reason other than to keep the skill ceiling higher, to artificially give something more to master. Much like what happened with F1 in the later years, it's placing more responsibility on players hands while neglecting technical and technological improvements.

I mean, Blizz implemented automated workers if you set the rally point on resources, and someone in the hardcore community complained that the game was now too easy. I think this is the reasoning most hardcore strategy gamers (turn based, board, real-time, whatever) have issues with: why does making mechanical stuff more demanding make the strategy in RTS better? It doesn't. But it does deepen the skill required to master the game, which makes for a more entertaining sport.

I think this was Rob's point, which I agree. It doesn't diminish SC2's value in any way to the SC fan, but to someone who looks at a broad spectrum of strategy games, SC2 isn't as impactful as the first or as others that have come since, like Rise of Nations of Company of Heroes.

A lot of the "why can't I..." points are valid in general, but wouldn't have Starcraft 2 a better game, but a worse one. You do not need to hotkey anything to be able to play in Bronze or Silver (watch replays, a lot of players do not use control groups). You also do not need to sort your units to have sturdier ones in the front and the glass cannons in the back to succeed on a low to medium level. In the same way it is totally valid to queue up more than 2 units for production when playing in those tiers. None of these points will negatively influence your game enough to prevent you from competing. But the degree of being able to manage them will divide player in the higher tiers of multiplayer gaming.

And that's the point I don't agree on with Rob. All these little things are not designed to inconvenience anyone, but to give players who are willing to put in the extra effort room for continuous improvement. Let's assume I was a player who would be able to work around all those things listed with ease but I neglected scouting completely, while my opponent always knows were I am at or what I am planning, and attacking me with one big unsorted MMM blob while I am teching to Immortals. Guess who's going to win the game. Tactics, strategy and scouting mean a lot in every strategy game, but to say the mechanics prevent inexperienced players from competing is a statement that can only be made by someone who is new to RTS gaming and hasn't witnessed the constant evolution of the genre since Dune 2.

Contrary to his assuming stance that the game offers little to the casual gamer, it does the opposite. It offers a lot to all kinds of gamers and does the trick of pulling in a high number newcomers despite having the reputation of being a highly competitive game. As someone who has tried various "replacement drugs" (which all were hyped as the next big thing in the genre) in the years since Starcraft 1, but intentionally skipped DoW2, I can say that is quite a feat in this genre.

PS: The minimap does color the units or buildings currently selected in a brighter shade of green.