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

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 or Company of Heroes.

JUST to keep the skill ceiling high? In what way would that be? Would you mean that it introduces new skills to employ, or just obstacles being obstacles. Rob and you, oMonarca, make the point like it's just the latter, when this is actually not the case.

For instance, do you want your Zealots in front of your "ranged units?" It depends. If I had all the time in the world to micro them, I would not always place my Zealots there. Sometimes, I want them off to the side to charge in after my ranged units have engaged. Sometimes, I want them behind because I'm just drawing the enemy's aggro and I don't have the Zealot attack AI kicking in.

Having an automated Zealot thing that automated all battles in just such a fashion reduces the richness of the tactical game within SC2. If that's our argumentation, then why bother with a tactical game at all? Why not just have all forces automate a particular way on a particular segment of the map? This is "easier to control" because you just lopped off a whole segment of very valid gameplay.

All of these, are in one respect or another, aspects of this. Why are build queues the way they are? Because you want to time particular orders in a, well, particular order - and you will vary the timing according to your strategic needs. Having the AI manage the timings removes that segment of play.

Why can't you just queue everything at once? Well, because sometimes you want to build so and so unit at THIS building instead of that. This is not particularly important for WarpGates, so not grouping them automatically doesn't introduce a strategic aspect.

Why can't you select all ground units?

Well, the only strategic use this can possibly have is if you're somehow losing units on the map despite having a minimap that tells you where all your units are. It probably makes the game more accessible to the newbiest of newbies, but it's not really that important of a function.

In many of these cases, "conveniences" that other games have "innovated on" in introducing to the genre aren't actual control conveniences, but gameplay removal. Obviously, if you remove segments of game from a game, then it becomes simpler and easier for newbies to apprehend, but it also shortens the game's life and lowers the skill ceiling.

I contend that SC2 is easy enough for newbies to play against other newbies that it needs no such "conveniences" forced in competitive play. The game isn't archaic. It simply refuses to remove gameplay from the game.

I passed on Starcraft 2 because of its traditional gameplay, as well as its competitive multiplayer focus, I find interesting that you link both together. Good read, thanks!

While I agree with all your points, I understand the frustration people who enjoy Starcraft 2 must feel when reading your article though. I've seen similar comments on rockpapershotgun about the Curse of Monkey Island remake : people criticizing the game for being too old school, professing their hate for the frustrating puzzles and considering it a poor story telling medium, while it is precisely what they dislike that I enjoy about those. Bashing Starcraft 2 is pretty much attacking the purest incarnation of a genre which has been dominant for many years.

I too worry that again Blizzard's commercial success might stifle innovation in the genre. It's not their fault, it really isn't, but well, that's how it works, I hope we won't see too many "me too" RTS games in the future.

JUST to keep the skill ceiling high? In what way would that be? Would you mean that it introduces new skills to employ, or just obstacles being obstacles. Rob and you, oMonarca, make the point like it's just the latter, when this is actually not the case.

No, I actually think that higher skill ceiling = new skills to employ, or rather, to master.

So, after reading most of your post, and to understand it well, clarify me this please: you disagree with the auto-harvest/rally point thing on the workers, right? Because by your standards it''s taking away gameplay: no need to look at the base everytime a worker is out to send it to the mineral patch on time.

It comes wearing hand-me-down greatness and the thick coat of polish that Blizzard has always used in place of daring.

That is why I enjoy Blizzard games, but rarely hold them in high regard the way some folks do. SC2 is fun, but the RTS genre just has more interesting games these days. I will still play through this game, then buy the other two.

Does it really matter that I am not crapping my pants with excitement over SC2? I would imagine what is more important to Blizzard is that they have my money.

It will be interesting to see if they do the same with Diablo III. Will they maintain the same frustrating game-play of the first two games? Or will they borrow features from newer Action-RPGs to make Diablo III a modern, easy-to-manage click-fest? We shall see.

oMonarca wrote:
JUST to keep the skill ceiling high? In what way would that be? Would you mean that it introduces new skills to employ, or just obstacles being obstacles. Rob and you, oMonarca, make the point like it's just the latter, when this is actually not the case.

No, I actually think that higher skill ceiling = new skills to employ, or rather, to master.

So, after reading most of your post, and to understand it well, clarify me this please: you disagree with the auto-harvest/rally point thing on the workers, right? Because by your standards it''s taking away gameplay: no need to look at the base everytime a worker is out to send it to the mineral patch on time.

Rally points have been part of Warcraft 2 (not sure), Starcraft 1 and Warcraft 3. For the former two, you had to click a button (or press "F") and then choose the destination. With Warcraft 3, setting the rally point via right-click was introduced and workers also started gathering automatically when the rally point was a gold mine or tree.
What they actually did is change the default command of a unit after spawning from "attack move to rally point" to "right-click where the rally point is". The positive side is workers starting to mine the same way they would if you select them and right-click a node. The downside is combat units will move to the selected destination without defending themselves while attacked en route. Which means players trade one advantage for another one.

oMonarca:

Automating the workers means that you also automate the ratio of minerals to gas you mine at any particular base at all points in the game. It also means that your prioritization of workers over units is unchangeable. This is important for all races, but particularly for Zerg.

Rally pointing isn't the same. At no point in the game does it become automatic. It only automates putting the Worker to the mineral patch if you choose the mineral patch as a rally point, which isn't really something you will opt not to do.

There's a difference between streamlining non-gameplay tedium and streamlining out valid gameplay moments.

LarryC:

It's a matter of perspective then? Because I remember people being very adamant on that sort of thing, to the point of hearing talk about a pro-mod for SC2.

Streamlining non-gameplay tedium for you, streamlining out valid gameplay moments for them?

Luggage, I did not knew about that subtle change. Nevertheless, I don't see coming out of the production facility with attack move as a particularly helpful thing. If it's a big unit or a big enough group coming from several close by facilities at the same time, maybe then it's cool if they intercept a small enemy attack group. But in most cases, it's better to rally somewhere safe, attack-move or not, which kind of takes away the point in the idea of a trade-off. Literally it's there. Practically? It's so situational.

burntham77 wrote:

That is why I enjoy Blizzard games, but rarely hold them in high regard the way some folks do. SC2 is fun, but the RTS genre just has more interesting games these days. I will still play through this game, then buy the other two.

Fair enough. I can totally get behind Starcraft 2 not being the King of the Hill when it comes to RTS. But I am not a big fan of the whole "why isn't Starcraft 2 more like DoW2/C&C/CoH/SupCom?", because it's pretty dense. Why doesn't Sushi taste more like Hamburgers?

I personally enjoy playing the THQ games on the private LAN parties I attend because they allow for faster and more balanced games (by player skill, not actual game balance) than say Warcraft 3. The Blizzard RTS' never resonated that well with those guys, because they were overwhelmed by either macro (SC1) or micro (WC3) and the focus on early game. And I know I will continue to do so unless Ubisoft or Activision should decide to allow LAN play for RUSE or Starcraft 2.

Edit:

oMonarca wrote:

But in most cases, it's better to rally somewhere safe, attack-move or not, which kind of takes away the point in the idea of a trade-off. Literally it's there. Practically? It's so situational.

Correct, it's situational. They decided to change it in favor of economy and people had to adapt by using rally points differently. But in my book this is by no means comparable to automatic hotkeying of units or buildings, "smart" resource spending or automatic micromanagement of your army.

oMonarca:

You're talking about better auto-harvest rally pointing and splitting, particularly at the start of the game. That's not auto-harvesting. To be quite frank, the point of argument the naysayers were projecting turned out to be false, and those who were adamant about bad splitting at the start were fighting for literally 10 seconds of gameplay that was purely about dexterity.

Whether or not you are for or against these 10 seconds is a matter of taste, but I think that the general consensus is that it doesn't really matter.

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.

Rob Zacny wrote:

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.

Important, related note: Croquet's really only fun in very specific circumstances unless you're a very specific sort of person.

So, LarryC, that means that only after seeing it implemented and playing with it were people able to dismiss that as a game breaker. I guess it was the same with auto-cast abilities.

It's seems Blizzard tried it's best to introduce convenience that wouldn't take away skill, and in the cases it might, introduced new mechanics (like Chrono Boost, Queens and MULES) to even it out.

All those conveniences I talked about would diminish SC2 overall depth and skill ceiling, there's no arguing that. However, it would make the application of strategy easier for more people. Like the melee-box-around-ranged question I made. In Age of Empires 2, that formation was viable, and you could still have a secondary melee group on the flanks, ready to pounce. For most players, that was actually pretty feasible. Group 1 is a mixed squad in box formation, Group 2 is pure cavalry, go go go.

In SC2? By the time most guys, that aren't super deep in SC, are done with managing the wall of melee in group 1 to protect ranged, the fight might be already over. And the CC might not be producing workers for a few precious seconds ago, because you might not want to queue, but were so focused on the battle.

So, as I player, I would have think "damn, it would be so cool if I could do all that better but I just can't execute quickly enough, or with enough precision. I must train more." And this is part of the fun in SC. But, as a general strategy gamer that wants to see the execution of tactics and strategy, this is an obstacle, because there's all that stuff that you must master before you start getting to the part you want to see. Hence the reduced recreational value (if by recreation Rob means executing good tactical maneuvers), or in better words, the increased distance towards it.

wordsmythe wrote:
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.

Rob Zacny wrote:

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.

Important, related note: Croquet's really only fun in very specific circumstances unless you're a very specific sort of person.

Like a Heather?

In Age of Empires 2, that formation was viable, and you could still have a secondary melee group on the flanks, ready to pounce. For most players, that was actually pretty feasible. Group 1 is a mixed squad in box formation, Group 2 is pure cavalry, go go go.

This isn't really necessary in SC2, though. Unlike AoE2, ranged units don't lose anything when they get into melee. They still output the same damage, and in many cases, have more HP than pure melee units.

Again, it's a trade-off question. Do you add that aspect to SC2's combat (ranged units ineffective in melee) while allowing box-formations, or retain the current simplicity?

In this theoretical case, a control simplification (auto-formation inside a control group) could allow room for a combat system with more variables to consider. Less about execution and more about planning.

Glad to see you're (finally) aboard, Rob! Its been a lot of fun following you as one of the few games writers that actually knows what the term 'wargame' means.

Concerning the article, I too disagree with your main thrust but do understand where you're coming from. To me the UI difficulties that it has to some degree compared to other games end up playing a very similar role to outdated graphics in a classic game in that for the first hour or two I notice them, but then they melt away and I'm able to concentrate on the actual game that is before me.

Things such as this are obviously all about personal preference, but I know that I get much more satisfaction out of the micro and macro elements of SC2 where I'm directly controlling the outcomes and results compared to something like Dawn of War II. Throwing in the inherently two dimensional level of play for SC2 (combat and econ) vs the one dimensional way of Relic's RTSs (mostly just combat) is also preferable to my tastes since it means that in most cases I will have more options to consider when I try to overcome a strategy that beat me in a previous match.

In any case, thanks again for the article. Hope you still come back after this somewhat harsh welcome!

great article. i agree with your take on SC2. i'm glad a big RTS can be successful and i hope it has spillover effect so developers keep making them. however, i prefer the gameplay of many other RTS's over SC2. Company of Heroes, Rise of Nations in particular I feel are superior to SC2. maybe blizzard will make Warcraft 4 and they take some design chances with that one.

oMonarca:

It's a more difficult question that you're proposing, and at that point we're not really discussing whether or not to make SC2 into a game that's more friendly to newbies. What we're discussing at that point is whether we want to make it more friendly to wargamers, and that's an entirely different question.

Having to put units into formation, and knowing which formations are effective against which other formations - that's another subsystem entirely, and it factors directly into the tactical subsystem. IMO, requiring more clicks in a self-evident relationship with simple units is actually both more friendly to newbies and more friendly to spectators.

There's also significantly less factors to consider in simple units, so it's easier to balance stringently. A game with lots of units that go into lots of formations that may or may not be combined with other units in the same or different formation, with terrain considerations - and three factions - that's a mighty daunting balancing challenge.

So, what we end up doing is not to make the game more friendly, but to make it less friendly (albeit less dexterity oriented) or about as friendly, while also needlessly complicating the balance scenario. I don't know whether such a design can be said to be superior.

oMonarca wrote:

So, as I player, I would have think "damn, it would be so cool if I could do all that better but I just can't execute quickly enough, or with enough precision. I must train more." And this is part of the fun in SC. But, as a general strategy gamer that wants to see the execution of tactics and strategy, this is an obstacle, because there's all that stuff that you must master before you start getting to the part you want to see. Hence the reduced recreational value (if by recreation Rob means executing good tactical maneuvers), or in better words, the increased distance towards it.

That's untrue. Normal and Slow Speed games can simulate more than enough APM for you to execute very complex tactical plans, while also executing strategic plans in the background. Tom presupposes that this will make the initial game too slow. Again, this is nonsense. I find myself lacking APM 15 seconds into every Fast or Faster game. That's a minute of relatively relaxed playing in a Slow game.

You can play slower games in Starcraft 2. That's still playing the same game. You won't be on the competitive ladder, but the competitive scene isn't the end-all be-all of SC2. We haven't even touched on the single player aspect of SC2, which deviates considerably from the more challenging competitive scene.

Are we now saying that it's not right to play Starcraft 2 at the optional settings that the game explicitly provides?

Sure you can play using different options, it's up to each player to play as he wants. However, what's being discussed here is playing the game as it was designed, which is on faster, preferably on the ladder.

As for the:

It's a more difficult question that you're proposing, and at that point we're not really discussing whether or not to make SC2 into a game that's more friendly to newbies. What we're discussing at that point is whether we want to make it more friendly to wargamers, and that's an entirely different question.

Now you are stepping into Rob's way of thinking, at least from what other stuff I read that he wrote and his opinions on TMA. SC2 is great for someone who hasn't a preconceived notion of how a battle develops. But for those that do know the value of formations, of high ground vs low ground (even with melee units in the mix), the weather, morale, etc, and want something closer to simulation (think the combat element in the Total War series) without becoming a simulation itself, SC2 is not only really lacking, but insists, by design, to keep away from that, but not too far.

Other games like Company of Heroes pushed the genre towards that more precise tactical direction, while games like Rise of Nations or Kohan simplified the controls enough so that the focus shifts towards higher level planning. SC2 sits somewhere in the middle.

oMonarca wrote:

Sure you can play using different options, it's up to each player to play as he wants. However, what's being discussed here is playing the game as it was designed, which is on faster, preferably on the ladder.

The game is designed to be played on all the speed settings. Playing it on Normal is still playing the game as designed.

Arguably, the game is better for newer players on Normal, which is probably why it's labeled "Normal."

oMonarca wrote:

Now you are stepping into Rob's way of thinking, at least from what other stuff I read that he wrote and his opinions on TMA. SC2 is great for someone who hasn't a preconceived notion of how a battle develops. But for those that do know the value of formations, of high ground vs low ground (even with melee units in the mix), the weather, morale, etc, and want something closer to simulation (think the combat element in the Total War series) without becoming a simulation itself, SC2 is not only really lacking, but insists, by design, to keep away from that, but not too far.

Other games like Company of Heroes pushed the genre towards that more precise tactical direction, while games like Rise of Nations or Kohan simplified the controls enough so that the focus shifts towards higher level planning. SC2 sits somewhere in the middle.

I don't find SC2 to be sitting in the middle so far as it's sitting pretty much by itself. It is its own game. We're starting to step here into the meat of Rob's objection. As far as I can tell, Rob is criticizing SC2 for not being another game. That strikes me as not being a very good criticism. We might as well criticize it for not being Street Fighter.

Latrine wrote:

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.

What do you mean about Civ V? I'm curious.

But as for me deluding myself, hardly. I explain exactly why I really enjoy Starcraft II in the second half of the piece, and I've totally engaged with it on the sporting level where it works best. If I want an intense, competitive experience, I'm going to Starcraft II. But if I want a fun strategy game, I'm probably playing something else.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
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.

Yeah, I think part of the issue is just because it's called real time strategy doesn't mean it's a strategy game--it's just a term coined to differentiate it from other games. RTS is a hybrid genre: the base building/unit production/resource gathering is 'strategy' but the combat is tactical. Squad Leader was a *tactical* game; Rise and Decline of the Third Reich was a *strategic* game.

Starcraft I guess is the pinnacle of tactical combat in an RTS. It can't be that while being other things, too. So why knock it for:

1) trying to be something specific;

2) that something specific being something a lot of people like;

3) succeeding really well at doing that specific thing.

If one want strategy, go play Vicky or EU! :- D

I think the answer you're looking for MrDeVil909 is that everyone wants Starcraft to be the perfect RTS for their tastes. It's a venerable IP, it's from Blizzard so you know it's going to be great, we're nostalgic for it, it's got such cool units, blah blah blah. It's the same reason people are in such fear of an XCOM FPS or the outrage over "Oblivions with Guns" or why people were so disappointed in the update to Colonization playing like a Civ4 mod. Sometimes people want a specific 'game' to play a specific 'way'.

Of course, considering this has been what Starcraft has been from the beginning, I don't find that a very sound argument. I can, however, sympathize with it.

+++++

One thing about what interstate78 said: I'm not sad those ideas were left out of developing SCII. What would make me sad if they were left on the cutting room floor. What I'd hope is that Blizzard creates the game it seems a lot of people are looking for where there combat is less 'tactical' and more 'strategic'. I remember playing Age of Empires II like it was a real time Civ: obviously that didn't work out too well! That would be a fun game though, and I think that's sort of the game people are looking for. An RTS where the S applies to the combat as well.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I think the answer you're looking for MrDeVil909 is that everyone wants Starcraft to be the perfect RTS for their tastes. It's a venerable IP, it's from Blizzard so you know it's going to be great, we're nostalgic for it, it's got such cool units, blah blah blah. It's the same reason people are in such fear of an XCOM FPS or the outrage over "Oblivions with Guns" or why people were so disappointed in the update to Colonization playing like a Civ4 mod. Sometimes people want a specific 'game' to play a specific 'way'.

Of course, considering this has been what Starcraft has been from the beginning, I don't find that a very sound argument. I can, however, sympathize with it.

A fair point, and if that's true then I can sympathise too. Although what we have here is the exact opposite of "Oblivion with guns." What we have is the Starcraft equivalent to NMA getting exactly what they wanted from Fallout 3.

If Starcraft had been overly influenced by other RTS' I would have been one of those guys bitching like mad.

I'm so glad I'm not a game designer.

Rob Zacny wrote:

What do you mean about Civ V? I'm curious.

Well, you seem to have two distinct criticisms of Starcraft II. One is that it does not feel like a new game and the other is that it feels more competitive than other games in the genre. I agree that in some ways both those observations hold merit, but not to the point where I find that they detract from the experience of playing the game.

First there's this expectation with the RTS genre that each new product have some big innovative mechanic. I think Chris Remo said it best on TMA that people are moving away from seeing video games as software development that must improve with each new iteration and rather as individual timeless designs that can stand or fall on their own merits. For example each iteration of Civilization is not really a dramatically different game but rather a slightly modified way of presenting the same core experience, yet those games are rarely criticized for this. People enjoy these kinds of variations on a theme, similar to the discussion of house rules and modding from last week's episode, but done on a professional level. Because this is relatively rare in the RTS genre it's more noticeable, but it's a common trend in other genres. Personally I wanted a new Starcraft six years ago, so I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth now. If developers only released games with landmark innovations then we wouldn't get new games for years at a time, or if they only focused solely on innovation then we wouldn't get games as solid at their core. I find that Starcraft II has enough new elements that might not superficially be apparent but do change the game enough that it plays differently at a deeper level. The perfect analogy I think is different varieties of poker. Texas Hold Em and 7 Card Stud have the same fundamental rules, but the slight change of how cards are dealt actually causes a large change in the strategic approach to both games. I'm looking forward to next week's TMA episode about bad games with good ideas because it should be filled with many counter-examples to this criticism.

Now to address the idea that Starcraft is more competitive than other games. It's true that Starcraft has an almost unique culture surrounding it with its popularity as a sport in Korea, and it is faster paced than other games. But I think this puts the blinders on how most people actually play the game. Most people aren't professionals with lightning fast reflexes, hundreds of hours of practice, and a solid understanding of most possible strategies. Most people play Starcraft the way they play any other multiplayer RTS, they come up with some strategy and try to execute it. If it works then they're just happy they won, if it fails then they either try to make some adjustment or come up with a completely new game plan. Thanks to the matchmaking system, even players in lower leagues are on average able to win a large portion of their games, so it's not like players are regularly slaughtered. People can play a local pickup game of basketball and have a good time even though the NBA exists.

Also I think it's a fallacy to say that Starcraft is actually more competitive than other games. Anytime you play a multiplayer RTS again other people then of course you're going to be competing. People toss around terms like skill ceiling and eSports, but that really only matters to a small fraction of players, probably less than 1%. Dawn of War 2 has just as much of a skill gap between its player base as Starcraft does, I've certainly gotten my ass kicked in that game. The reason I personally like SC2 more than DoW2 isn't because it's more competitive but because of the underlying design, but that's an argument of design and not competition. I think if you did play DoW2 in the same way you play SC2 then you might have the same complaints there as well. Sins of a Solar Empire was a great RTS game that completely devolved when played at a competitive level. So I think Starcraft's real achievement is that it's not more competitive but that it is still engaging when played competitively but just because it has this feature doesn't mean that it can't be played as recreation like Sins. In fact while competition may be Starcraft's natural mode, one common complaint for Sins was that it was difficult to find a way to play it that was enjoyable. Here at GWJ we actually had long running weekly sessions that usually played 4v4s that were kind of competitive but were mostly just a fun way to soak in the game before ending in a giant mess of a fleet battle. This is how I imagine you play DoW2 with your friends, but this isn't how I expect most people to play these games.

i think people's problem with what Starcraft II hasn't done is it's a bit like an aging worker with tons of experience that everyone goes to for answers but in the face of new technology that would make life easier in most people's eyes, he refuses to change, since that person has been doing it their way for so long that it would take time to re-adjust and they would be cranky the whole time doing it. SC2 is just the old master being stubborn. I'm dealing with this at work more and more lately from the guy I've learned under, and it drives me nuts that he refuses to even consider the advancements / methods that would avoid some problems.

CheezePavilion: To say that Starcraft is all tactics and no strategy is just wrong in my opinion. There are more tactical RTS games like DoW2 or Warcraft 3. In fact most people consider Starcraft to be a macro focused game, where a grand strategy can usually overwhelm cute tactical plays.

Also I don't think Blizzard needs to be the company that creates every game (although I admit I did once think that). Sins was a great lumbering RTS which actually did kind of play like Civilization in real time that someone else mentioned in this thread. Also the upcoming Ruse seems like an interesting and innovative game for the people who want that, and it seems like it'll no longer be crippled by the Ubisoft DRM scheme.

But if another RTS, say Rise of Nations or Dawn of War had such a community, I suspect I would be playing that.

I admire Blizzard for all that they do. And Starcraft 2 is a fun game. I was expecting more than I got however.

The RTS genre has moved forward with examples like Dawn of War 1 and 2 and Company of Heroes. Starcraft 2 did not. Heck it didn't even keep up in that regard.

Many people say that RTS's have moved forward similarly to Rob and Heretk have done. In my mind its not particularly useful compared to saying what features and such you wish it incorporated. Its not like the list is all that long.

For my money, I really like the set-up weapons teams in Relic's games. Its just a fantastic element that does a great job in making you think more critically about the terrain and disposition of the forces on the map. I also enjoy the callable abilities and hero commander stuff, but I wouldn't say they are necessarily appropriate for all games, such as StarCraft.

Between Relic's method for handling group of units (squads) and StarCraft's (control groups), I much prefer StarCraft's approach. Its a personal thing without a doubt, but its the type of thing I would probably characterize as merely a 'difference' rather than an entirely good 'innovation'.

The other big 'innovation' (or difference ;)) is Relic's, World of Conflict's, and other games' removal of bases and most of the economy aspect. I dislike the change because it removes a huge level of interesting choices and trade-offs and results (at least in DoWII's case) in 1v1 conflicts that feel and play much more like rolling skirmishes than battles with fronts and clearly marked zones of control and influence.

I think its perfectly reasonable to not like these and other aspects where StarCraft and other RTS's differ, but to dismiss everything StarCraft does as being 'old' without giving a reasoned consideration is not very useful for discussion. The idea that games are on some kind of one way path from 'antiquity' to 'progress' and therefore some mechanics act as a regression just doesn't sit well with me. I'd like to think that our chosen medium of enjoyment has a bit more depth.

I can see why some people don't like the MP element of Starcraft. You have to like that 'spinning plates' feeling, where you've got 8 of 'em on poles and you keep trying to figure out which one's going to go wobbly next.

I can only play one or two matches in a row before my brain slides out my ear.

Latrine wrote:
Rob Zacny wrote:

What do you mean about Civ V? I'm curious.

Well, you seem to have two distinct criticisms of Starcraft II. One is that it does not feel like a new game and the other is that it feels more competitive than other games in the genre. I agree that in some ways both those observations hold merit, but not to the point where I find that they detract from the experience of playing the game.

With the exception of the couple things about the interface that drive me crazy, I wouldn't actually say most of the things I brought up detract from the game. I basically agree with the premise that SC / SC2 are great, time-tested designs and don't require re-invention. In fact, I explicitly said that.

First there's this expectation with the RTS genre that each new product have some big innovative mechanic. I think Chris Remo said it best on TMA that people are moving away from seeing video games as software development that must improve with each new iteration and rather as individual timeless designs that can stand or fall on their own merits. For example each iteration of Civilization is not really a dramatically different game but rather a slightly modified way of presenting the same core experience, yet those games are rarely criticized for this.

Again, I mostly agree with you about the innovation obsession. However, you're way, way underestimating how much each Civ has differentiated itself. Culture completely changed the game, for example. Totally changed how conquest works and how borders are established. Civ IV radically improved combat by having units specialize and giving them experience. When Civ IV was hailed as a masterpiece of design, I would argue that's because it was a new game that shared a name and characteristics with the original Civ, but was far more than an update. It earned praise both as a great game and a fresh new design.

Personally, I don't feel like not being a major leap forward makes SC2 a worse game. But I do feel like it is less of a creative achievement. Fair?

Haha, that's why I said you'd have the opposite opinion with Civ V, since you can defend each sequel so well. I admit I don't have too much experience with Civ, I played a little of III and a lot of Alpha Centauri and IV. Personally I disagree that Civ IV simply "shared a name and characteristics" with its predecessors. Sure perhaps compared to the original game it's a vast improvement, but that's ignoring the 2-3 iterations in between. I could list many ways that SC2 is different from SC1, several have already been mentioned, but even to an experienced RTS gamer they mostly see the similarity and simply declare them the same game. While a lot of the early PR on Civ V has focused on the new combat system and other changes, most of the recent previews that I've seen focus on its similarity to its immediate predecessors, Civ IV and Civ Rev, despite the changes.

I agree that Starcraft 2 is less of a milestone when compared to Starcraft 1. The original was the first RTS to truly do asymmetrical match-ups well in my mind. And I do think it's sad that Blizzard is now known as the company that does no innovation when many of their early games were fairly original. I just think that from a creative standpoint it can be just as satisfying to take a small step forward rather than a major leap sideways. It's certainly fair to criticize them for taking baby steps, but I think there are far worse offenders out there to target.