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

Luggage wrote:
spudgun wrote:

I guess there's nothing wrong with those who find perfection in the mechanics of SC2, but I just wish there had been something on the box that said, "BE ADVISED: EXACTLY THE SAME AS SC1*".

"*You know, save for how we revamped the mechanics for scouting, terrain usage, macromanagement and introduced a risk vs reward rating of expansion locations. Then there's the completely different approch to the singleplayer campaign and the huge disparity between singleplayer and multiplayer gameplay. But other than that, it's exactly the same as Starcraft 1."

I'm sure you were being facetious, Luggage, but for the benefit of the peanut gallery, please allow me to be more explicit.

Luggage here is actually trying to be rather concise and somewhat general. The list of differences between SC1 play and SC2 play are greater than what he listed, and he doesn't exhaust the list of rather fundamental differences, especially as they relate to the interest of strategy enthusiasts.

For instance, the Musketeer unit in Civ IV is nominally the same as every other Musketeer unit in every other game that has it, but it would be a mistake to say that each such unit is functionally similar and performs a similar role in each game. You simply can't take what you know about Musketeers in Civ IV and then extend that to every other unit in every game that's named the same way.

The Zealot in SC2 is superficially the same as it was in SC1, but from a strategic standpoint, it's nothing like the same unit. The game design in SC2 vs. SC1 is too different for that assumption to be valid.

The interface in SC1 is familiar - it's made to be similar to the interface in SC2. That doesn't mean that those two games are the same game, let alone being exactly the same.

That's like saying that playing DOTA and playing Warcraft 3's multiplayer ladder are exactly the same experience.

LarryC wrote:

I'm sure you were being facetious, Luggage, but for the benefit of the peanut gallery, please allow me to be more explicit.

Luggage here is actually trying to be rather concise and somewhat general. The list of differences between SC1 play and SC2 play are greater than what he listed, and he doesn't exhaust the list of rather fundamental differences, especially as they relate to the interest of strategy enthusiasts.

For instance, the Musketeer unit in Civ IV is nominally the same as every other Musketeer unit in every other game that has it, but it would be a mistake to say that each such unit is functionally similar and performs a similar role in each game. You simply can't take what you know about Musketeers in Civ IV and then extend that to every other unit in every game that's named the same way.

The Zealot in SC2 is superficially the same as it was in SC1, but from a strategic standpoint, it's nothing like the same unit. The game design in SC2 vs. SC1 is too different for that assumption to be valid.

The interface in SC1 is familiar - it's made to be similar to the interface in SC2. That doesn't mean that those two games are the same game, let alone being exactly the same.

That's like saying that playing DOTA and playing Warcraft 3's multiplayer ladder are exactly the same experience.

I agree 100% with this. However, I think you're missing something very big here. It's something that I definitely fall victim to as well and have to constantly remind myself to avoid. To you, to me and to others who play Starcraft a lot, we recognize these differences and to us, the game is vastly different.

However, to a person who doesn't spend a lot of time with the game, a person who plays very casually, they won't see those differences.

Before I got heavy into SC, I wouldn't have been able to spot out those differences. If I hadn't started spending a lot of time watching pro-replays and commentaries before SC2 came out, I would have been of the exact same mindset as the people who claim SC1 and SC2 are identical. It wasn't until I has spent many, many hours examining the game that I was able to tell nuance differences that turn out to be fairly major paradigm shifts in how the game plays at the competitive level.

So while the game is definitely different, a large number of people won't be able to see that simply because Starcraft isn't a game in which they play competitively.

Tkyl:

Well, now. Let's get to specifics. For a player who mostly uses only workers, Zealots, Marines, or Zerglings, then yes, the two games are largely the same. They could even be mistaken for identical, since the field performance of these basic units are identical or nearly so in the two games vis-a-vis each other.

So yes, for a player who restricts his assessment of the game to the game's most basic four units, SC1 and SC2 are, indeed, mostly the same game.

However, the moment you go beyond those units, you can instantly tell that the games are incredibly different. For instance, the Stalker unit for Protoss (the very next tier unit, in fact) performs nothing like a Dragoon. Less cost, less base range, less damage, less build time, less psi, more maneuverable, less toughness, no range upgrade. It's immediately obvious that it's more of a rush unit, more of a raid unit.

For Terran, the natural tech up from Marines is either getting the Academy for Medics, or Factory for Vultures. Both those units are gone. Basic defensive structures like Bunkers can now be salvaged. Supply Depots which are used to form walls can now be sunk to allow your units to pass. All buildings now have interchangeable add-ons. Heck, the normal Command Center upgrade has been changed to allow you get more workers! That's pretty dramatically and obviously different.

Zerg is even more obvious. You can now get Queens, your Zerglings can get a speed upgrade before Hive, and your next tech-up unit - the Hydralisk, is now limited to Lair level. Whoa. What happened there? Roaches? I have that now?

Lest you or anyone else think that this is from a pro, let me reiterate that I am a Gold League player with 40 APM. I'm not particularly good at this game. Moreover, Mr. Zacny is a professed lover of strategy games. Without even going into mechanics that have been changed and introduced into SC2, we're hitting fairly obvious signals that the two games are dissimilar.

DoW2 and CoH hits us with the fairly obvious mechanical change of having no bases. This changes the game so fundamentally that it hits you in very dramatic fashion. However, it also changes the way the game is played on so fundamental a level that it's less an innovation than it is just a change.

The reason many people prefer DoW2 is because they like that kind of game better, not because the game itself is mechanically superior. I like Settlers of Catan over Caracassone. That doesn't make Settlers the better game.

My take away point here is that SC1 and SC2 are obviously not the same, let alone exactly the same, even from a very superficial examination by a casual player. My impression is that gamers who declare this may be thinking, "This is not enough like this other game that I liked, so it's just like SC1."

Very thought provoking article. I'm not sure that whether a game is a sport or not is a good enough determinant of quality.

To me, the core interaction (mechanics) and creative potential for a player are what determine a game's quality. Visual and sound are built on and for the core interaction, and serve to actualize the experience. They are a secondary determinant of quality. All these aspects create the feel of the game.

In in this regard, I think Starcraft II succeeds. Starcraft II feels amazing.

The unit control in Stracraft II is incredible in its simple, fluid nature. You mentioned a dislike for the need to micromanage your units in Starcraft II, and I can agree that I wouldn't want that in a game like Civilization 4. In Civ macromanagement is the name of the game, and micro would slow things down.

But Starcraft II is an RTS, not a turn based world builder, so managing your units in real time is an essential part of its experience. Moreover, SC II borrows sophisticated unit upgrading from its cousin Warcraft 3. Some units in Starcraft II can jump, some can quick-teleport, and there is more I'm sure I haven't explored yet. All of this is executed with the Blizzard pedigree that we've come to know and love. So yeah, you have to micro and macro in SCII, but they're both beautifully crafted.

I think the main criticism Blizzard is going to receive with Starcraft II is lack of originality. You're right, there's not much new here. No new races and no dramatic changes to the engine exist in the sequel. Here, I think it was a trade-off, and yes, I think Blizzard went for the safe route: They chose not to mess with a good thing. May be they disciplined creativity in favor of providing better equipment and playing fields for their players. May be they did want to keep it a popular e-sport. I'm not sure.

Ultimately, I think, Starcraft II will go down as a commercial success and popular favorite, but will receive some nay say from critics who wanted a wholly new experience. Instead, they got a better Starcraft.

I listened to the recent SC2 episode of Three Moves Ahead. They bring up some valid points of criticism, but to someone who is not familiar with their approach to topics, it sounds to me like they agree on Starcraft 2 being an inferior game designed for a hardcore crowd early on and spend the rest of the podcast trying to justify that in as many ways as possible. At least one of them playing the advocatus diaboli would have made for a much more insightful podcast and may have uncovered the absent logic of some of the arguments (e.g. the game offers nothing to a non-hardcore player). I hoped Remo would have been that someone, because in the IT episodes where he talked about his beta experience with Nick Breckon, he portrayed them improving and slowly climbing the ladder, which is the essence of Starcraft 2 multiplayer after all.

Nonetheless, I'll be checking the TMA podcast out more frequently now, because I can see where they're coming from with their point of view. It just didn't fit mine, because I have spent a good portion of the last decade breaking seemingly hardcore gaming concepts down to be absorbed by casual players. Because of that, I don't believe there is such a thing as hardcore and casual from a conceivability standpoint. The only difference between the two gamer types lies in effort and reward. Greater effort naturally results in a greater reward and there are a lot of games that do not reward little amounts of effort or casual effort. But both WoW and Starcraft 2 do not fall into that category in my opinion.

Luggage:

I was largely disappointed with all of the reviews and impressions the panel has of Starcraft 2. I had expected more perceptive reviews from fellow strategy game enthusiasts.

Troy even states in his review, "Starcraft 2 plays very much like Starcraft 1."

It's heartbreaking.

Edit: I just listened to the entirety of the latest podcast. There were so many things wrong in it that it really, really broke my heart. Part of me wants to rant about it here - release the anger and so on, but I'm so saddened by how off-base the podcasters were that I just can't bring myself to type the words.

LarryC wrote:

Luggage:

I was largely disappointed with all of the reviews and impressions the panel has of Starcraft 2. I had expected more perceptive reviews from fellow strategy game enthusiasts.

Troy even states in his review, "Starcraft 2 plays very much like Starcraft 1."

It's heartbreaking.

It's important to understand the different perspectives at play here. While you may be zoomed in on RTS titles and well understand their differences, someone like Troy not only comes from the much wider view of strategy games in general, but generally also works from a very broad understanding of what qualifies as a "strategy" game. When you're used to going between city-building and 4X titles, a lot of RTS games are going to look and feel about the same. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it does mean that Troy may not be the right person to look to when you're looking at refinements within a fairly tightly defined genre.

Basic defensive structures like Bunkers can now be salvaged. Supply Depots which are used to form walls can now be sunk to allow your units to pass. All buildings now have interchangeable add-ons.

Larry, I'll be honest, all of these things sound like refinements not "OMG they turned the game into something completely different." You seem obsessed with making some point about how wrong everyone who comments on the game is, and will brook nothing less than a flat agreement with your perspective. That's not all that conducive to a productive conversation.

I think the core of it is this: If you disliked SC1, it's unlikely that SC2 is your cup of tea. While the details may be different, very, very much about what a player does during a game remains the same: The perspective, the pacing, the core decisions one must make, the core strategies one must employ. Yes, there are large differences beneath that level, but if you hate micro, hate very narrow FoV, etc, than you're not going to be won over by SC2. And yes, I mean this in comparison to the broad range of strategy games available to players these days: EU, Civ IV, Sins, DoW2, Solium Infernum, The Sims, Dwarf Fortress, League of Legends, Supreme Commander, Ruse, Company of Heroes, Hearts of Iron, Victoria 2, Elemental, Close Combat, etc. There's a tremendous wealth and variety in strategy right now (yes, many of those are older titles, but still widely played). Commenting that SC2 is rather a lot still StarCraft, instead of learning from whats happened in strategy gaming in the last decade, is fair game.

I'll echo the comments Rob and the TMA guys have made, which you seem to ignore -- this isn't a bad thing. Zacny sat at my house for three days this week obsessively playing SC2. Heck, Pyro gave the game 5 Stars at Joystiq while making many of the same points. I think the game is brilliant in its single player level designs.

But apparently, it's not enough that we like the game, we have to like it for the exact reasons you think we should. Sorry to disappoint.

wordsmythe:

That's actually precisely my point. I'm NOT zoomed in on RTS titles. The only RTS title that I've really played a lot is Starcraft 1. Sure, I also played some of the C&C titles to completion, and I've sampled all of the broad styles of RTS on and off, but I've also played every iteration, mod, and variant of Civ, Master of Orion (even the awful third one), Sins of a Solar Empire, and even strategy board games.

Not to toot my own horn here, but I like to think that whatever view Troy might have of strategy games, I've got an okay handle of most of what's available as well.

Heck, I even played all the SimCities and all the SimCity expansions.

The thing that bothers me the most is that many of the things these guys are saying are just flat out wrong. Not subjective or interpretative or whatever. Just wrong. For instance, in TMA, someone mentions (hard to tell their voices apart yet) that the ONLY way to play Starcraft online is with the "default" settings, and by that I understand that they think that the only way to play SC2 online is on the ladder.

This is factually untrue. You can play either on the Ladder or on Custom games, and the variety of play available on Custom Games is much larger. You can slow it up as much as you like and it doesn't involve nearly as much dexterity or speed as playing on the ladder.

Chick and Rob might say, "Well that's great, but the startup would be boring." Or they might say, "It'd take longer." Or the classic, "Starcraft wasn't designed with that in mind."

Guys who say that are just pulling it out of their behinds. I know because I have played slower games and custom games of all sorts in SC1, and I prefer playing Custom in SC2.

When playing with Custom Maps, you can set as many Workers and starting buildings as you want, set the speed you want, even play with the map structures and format. Playing with strictly default buildings and speed, what I've found is that at the lower levels of skill (Gold and below), game speed does not translate to slower games. It's quite counterintuitive, but it's true.

This is because how quickly a game is resolved is not only a matter of game speed, but a matter of how many clicks you can input that will tell your units to do something significant, and lower skill players don't have enough skill for a slower game speed to affect match length.

I listened to the latest TMA podcast and I have to sadly conclude that much of what is being said is just three guys who just don't get it. It's not a matter of perspective. It's a matter of perception.

As an example, the TMA guys also discussed Starcraft in the sense that much of it was about economic disruption and that the battles that ensued were just an expression of how well you were able to disrupt the other guy's economy.

That is just not true. The classic counter to that is the 4-gate push, which is not a harassment strategy, but an all-out timing push against a projected weakness in the enemy's defenses.

Edit: Thanks for the frank feedback, rabbit. I'm not trying to get everyone to agree with what I say. I'm just trying to set certain facts straight. I'll try to engage more on the points you've raised in a while.

Tkyl wrote:

...to a person who doesn't spend a lot of time with the game, a person who plays very casually, they won't see those differences.

LarryC wrote:

Tkyl:
Well, now. Let's get to specifics.

Why would you do that? Specifics are exactly what a person who doesn't spend a lot of time with the game (in fact, a person who hasn't also spent a significant amount of time with the first one) won't see.

The fact is, the games are very similar, in the same way that my sons are very similar. Their baby pictures are somewhat interchangeable, they both have four limbs in the usual configuration, they both like to wake up early. Once I spend time with them, they are obviously not the same; one prefers books over running around like a hurricane, one is much ([i]much/i]) louder than the other, one likes his peas frozen instead of cooked.

I don't get offended when people tell me how similar they are, even though I see mostly differences. I do still recognize that they are, especially at a superficial level, very similar indeed. Thus it is with SC and SC2. The hardcore recognize the differences, the casually interested (or not-so-interested) see the similarities.

EDIT: And I just can't quite let this go.

LarryC wrote:

Lest you or anyone else think that this is from a pro, let me reiterate that I am a Gold League player with 40 APM. I'm not particularly good at this game.

Your skill level is irrelevant; your interest level is what is important. You have spent time with both games and care about the minutiae.

LarryC wrote:

My take away point here is that SC1 and SC2 are obviously not the same, let alone exactly the same, even from a very superficial examination by a casual player.

is just crazy wrong. A casual player says, "Hmm, Stalkers are my tier 1.5 robot that shoots air and ground, Hellions are my fast harassment vehicles instead of Vultures, and the Zerg still have all the units I remember. I recognize this game; it's an updated Starcraft."

LarryC,

Imagine how the game appears to your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend/cat. Same units. Same interface. Same art style. Same protagonists and villains. The entire plot can be summarized in about 20 words. The units sound the same. The music sounds the same. The whole basic idea (economy, battles, mulitasking macro and micro) are the same. I don't object to any of this - I wanted to play SC again - but it's really the same game with some play tweaks.

This is OK. Many games are the same. The Prince and Lara Croft keep swinging from the same inexplicable flagpoles. The Master Chief and his clones continue to flatten opposing armies. It's safe, it's nice, it's fun.

But it's not new.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
LarryC wrote:

My take away point here is that SC1 and SC2 are obviously not the same, let alone exactly the same, even from a very superficial examination by a casual player.

is just crazy wrong. A casual player says, "Hmm, Stalkers are my tier 1.5 robot that shoots air and ground, Hellions are my fast harassment vehicles instead of Vultures, and the Zerg still have all the units I remember. I recognize this game; it's an updated Starcraft."

Yeah, I agree. I've played a fair amount of both games (badly) and I'm confused as to why Dragoons became Immortals while being replaced with something that seems identical except for certain details.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Yeah, I agree. I've played a fair amount of both games (badly) and I'm confused as to why Dragoons became Immortals while being replaced with something that seems identical except for certain details.

Stalkers and immortals don't explode into piles of goo, as Dragoons did. This is an important distinction and simply must be pointed out.

What I don't get is why Starcraft of all RTS franchises needs to change drastically to gain the recognition of being as well designed as DoW2 and other popular recent titles. To be frank, I couldn't think of one major mechanic implemented by one of the other successful titles in recent RTS history, that would have made Starcraft 2 a better game. And the people who criticize Starcraft 2 for that couldn't come up with any either. On the contrary, on the TMA podcast in question, they establish early on that Starcraft 2 lacks all the convenience "features" (which mostly consist of cutting out mechanics and automizing tasks), which were implemented by recent titles. So Starcraft 2 needs to be less of an RTS to be more of an RTS? Swing and a miss.

And people who claim Starcraft 2 is too micromanagement focused don't get the game imo. When I think of micromanagement focused games, I think of things like DoW2, CoH, Warcraft 3, the "DOTAs". On the other hand we have macromanagement focused games like the Total War games.
Starcraft 1 and 2 have been and will be designed with a balance of both in mind. Just because your army mostly contains less than 100 units and each of those can be selected individually does not make it a micro-focused game. The sum of micro and macro capabilities plus the ability to strategize are what decides Starcraft 2 matches. With that in mind it offers more than most recent RTS titles. And it does it in a way that every gamer, regardless if he's a casual or hardcore gamer, can embrace. And noone in a group of strategy-experienced gamers recognizing that is the biggest problem I have with their verdict.

Dyni wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

Yeah, I agree. I've played a fair amount of both games (badly) and I'm confused as to why Dragoons became Immortals while being replaced with something that seems identical except for certain details.

Stalkers and immortals don't explode into piles of goo, as Dragoons did. This is an important distinction and simply must be pointed out.

Stalkers have less range than Dragoons. In SC1 it could be upgraded, in SC2 there's no such upgrade. Stalkers have a smaller footprint than Dragoons. Stalkers move faster than Dragoons. Stalkers have Blink, which makes them an incredibly valuable unit to have on large maps with topographical obstacles (Kulas Ravine, Metalipolis, Desert Oasis, Lost Temple).
Yes, both units walk on four legs and are ranged units, but other than that they have as much in common as a hunter and a mage.

Edit:
And of course it looks the same to the girlfriend who doesn't play computer games, but that's not the scale we're using here. The reviews were done by both computer- and strategy-savvy people, so one could expect a little more insight and, more importantly, open-mindedness when it comes to reviewing an RTS game. The verdict we got transfered to other genres was "Modern Warfare 2 is pretty uninspired and builds on old strengths. It would have been a much better game, had it been more like Bioshock 2, Borderlands, Fallout 3 or Stalker." As I already said earlier: Apples and Oranges.

Luggage wrote:

On the contrary, on the TMA podcast in question, they establish early on that Starcraft 2 lacks all the convenience "features" (which mostly consist of cutting out mechanics and automizing tasks), which were implemented by recent titles. So Starcraft 2 needs to be less of an RTS to be more of an RTS? Swing and a miss.

Yeah, the idea that one of the most successful RTS games of all time would be 'improved' by scooping half of it out rubs me the wrong way.

It keeps coming down to people really wanting Starcraft II to not be Starcraft. Which is weird.

Dyni wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

Yeah, I agree. I've played a fair amount of both games (badly) and I'm confused as to why Dragoons became Immortals while being replaced with something that seems identical except for certain details.

Stalkers and immortals don't explode into piles of goo, as Dragoons did. This is an important distinction and simply must be pointed out.

Damn Dragoons, I was always having to clean up after them.

Luggage wrote:

Stalkers have less range than Dragoons. In SC1 it could be upgraded, in SC2 there's no such upgrade. Stalkers have a smaller footprint than Dragoons. Stalkers move faster than Dragoons. Stalkers have Blink, which makes them an incredibly valuable unit to have on large maps with topographical obstacles (Kulas Ravine, Metalipolis, Desert Oasis, Lost Temple).
Yes, both units walk on four legs and are ranged units, but other than that they have as much in common as a hunter and a mage.

That seems like a pretty incremental change to me, tbh. I still have Stalkers mentally parsed with Dragoons. When I hear "I return to serve" I look at the Gateway, not Robo.

I don't have a problem with that, but for someone who is looking for changes (for whatever reason) it's not really going to mean anything. Maybe if they game them 8 legs, or 3? Or gave Zealots rifles, and Scottish accents.

I think its unfair to want the game to be something it wasn't meant to be, but I can definitely see where the strategic and wargamers are coming from.

I'd think Blizzard could have gained a lot of extra support from all the other camps by splitting the game into different modes. For example you can play it as it is now, let's call it the tactical mode, everything works as is.

Then there's a strategic mode where you only control groups of units, but it becomes more about the how/when of the overarching strategy than the micro. You tell e.g. your Command Center that you want it to build 30 workers in the next 7 minutes.

Thirdly a wargamer mode where your unit groups auto-form into ranks, melee in front of ranged (or whatever formation you pick), you set how they engage and retreat. Buildings become even more automated, perhaps you control some zones and zones give you more unit options at given intervals.

Luckily there is the nifty map editor, I'm sure it'll be quite possible to build versions of these other game types in it.

Gunner wrote:

What am I missing?

SC2 isn't the messiah.

Scratched wrote:
Gunner wrote:

What am I missing?

SC2 isn't the messiah.

I'll have to report you for that, you know. No one likes a heretic.

So I think we've established that to people that don't examine the games super closely (in other words, normal people), StarCraft 1 and 2 are pretty similar. They are the same "with some play tweaks." Some then go on to say that its too bad that Blizzard is not therefore advancing the genre enough.

It strikes me that almost all sequels are like this, that is the same game with new graphics, new story (if applicable), a couple or a few new features, and some tweaks to the gameplay. Look at the iterations of Half Life, Halo, Civilization, and Command & Conquer for a brief sampling. All four of those series had pretty unbelievably great and innovative first installments and then went on to give us the consumers more of an awesome thing. I think that's fantastic in their cases and StarCraft's too. What am I missing?

Let's see here. I'd like to ask the forbearance of anyone who might still be reading this. We're on the 5th page now and clearly on the deep end. I'll take this time to really go off the deep end and talk about game design in general, and especially as it relates to games of the RTS and TBS design.

First things first:

originally posted by rabbit:
But apparently, it's not enough that we like the game, we have to like it for the exact reasons you think we should. Sorry to disappoint.

I think you're getting the wrong sense of what I'm trying to say here. I don't fault Rob for enjoying the game as a sport. I only object to what he's saying when he adds, "and that makes it less of a game." That's not a like. That's a criticism.

"I like Starcraft for its basic strategic elements," is a like; but adding "and that's all the depth it has," is a criticism.

You can like the game however you like, rabbit, but you can't fault me for pointing out that the game can be slowed down, it can be played enjoyably online at these slower speeds, and various other facts and details that are being misrepresented.

About what's fair in Starcraft 2's innovation:

rabbit wrote:

I think the core of it is this: If you disliked SC1, it's unlikely that SC2 is your cup of tea. While the details may be different, very, very much about what a player does during a game remains the same: The perspective, the pacing, the core decisions one must make, the core strategies one must employ. Yes, there are large differences beneath that level, but if you hate micro, hate very narrow FoV, etc, than you're not going to be won over by SC2. And yes, I mean this in comparison to the broad range of strategy games available to players these days: EU, Civ IV, Sins, DoW2, Solium Infernum, The Sims, Dwarf Fortress, League of Legends, Supreme Commander, Ruse, Company of Heroes, Hearts of Iron, Victoria 2, Elemental, Close Combat, etc. There's a tremendous wealth and variety in strategy right now (yes, many of those are older titles, but still widely played). Commenting that SC2 is rather a lot still StarCraft, instead of learning from whats happened in strategy gaming in the last decade, is fair game.

No, I don't believe that it's fair at all.

Let's start with a piece of agreement here. If you didn't like SC1's ladder scene, you probably won't like SC2's ladder scene. That much is true.

Beyond that, I have to say that much of what happens in SC2's RTS hearkens back to a time when RTS was about strategy and tactics, rather than just about tactics.

I don't think it's fair to say that SC2 has not learned much from what's happened in strategy in the last ten years, because a lot of the design does, in fact, learn from lessons in WC3 and other strategy titles, and more to the point, there hasn't been a game in the peon-combat dichotomized RTS design that's had a notable innovation!

All the so-called innovations that's occurred in RTS in the past decade are not innovations that refine the peon-combat design, but ones that step away from it and move into another direction entirely. Those of us who want that design want our game, and what better game to offer than a sequel to the greatest game of that design ever made?

I want SC2 to have peons. I want SC2 to have economy. I want it to be about large armies and certain forms of micro and macromanagement. Removing these aspects aren't innovation so much as simply making a different game altogether.

This is not to say that SC2 does not have innovation. In fact, there's a fair amount of it in the game. This is what I mean when I said that most of what's similar between SC1 and SC2 are superficial. The units are named the same, they look kind of the same, and the theme is the same, the interface is the same, and the basic game premises are the same. Beyond that, SC2 and SC1 are not at all the same.

The pacing in SC2 is faster and more varied.

Victories are determined faster, while essential conflict is carried further. What do I mean by this? In SC1, it wasn't uncommon for you to pass a turning point in the game beyond which you both know that you can't win, but your opponent has to take 10 minutes just to destroy your base and forces and economy. The conflict is ongoing, and if your opponent lets up, you might still win, but assuming everything else carrying through, your defeat is inevitable. Blizzard attempted to work in a "comeback potential" in Warcraft 3 by instituting Upkeep, which taxes your income depending on your army size. It worked to a certain extent, but it was rather hamhanded.

SC2 is better constructed from a pure game design standpoint. Up until you lose, you have a chance, and when you lose, you lose so spectacularly that the game can be concluded decisively within a minute or so. Apart from just unit balances and traits, the Gold minerals, base reveal, specialized unit destruction units, high mobility units and so on encourage the quick conclusion of any game where a win is inevitable.

Now let's talk about field of view. A lot has been said about the FoV in SC2. Most of it has been negative. I find the criticism unfounded and insupportable. Regardless of how large your army size is, the field of battle in SC2 can display all the information you need to have. Contrast this to, say, DoW2, where the effective ranges and fields of action can reach two screens apart and over. The max FoV in SC2 appears closer because of the size of the icons, but from a design standpoint, the FoV in SC2 is better related to the relative ranges, isometric perspective, and effective field of combat.

Relate this again to SupCom. In SupCom and SupCom2, the game graphics are designed to evoke a sense of realism from scale, but the price of that is that you can't see worth crap when you're in range to see your units in any reasonable detail. Adjustable range is a requirement unless you just want to play with dots and abstract icons on a large field, at which point I would largely prefer SC2's take, which is both functional, and aesthetically detailed at the same time.

Now let's talk about core decisions and core strategies. When you say that those are the same, I have to wonder what level of decision and strategy we're talking about. What I mean is that you can "rush" an opponent, trading speed for tech and resources in most strategy games, and that includes many of the incarnations of Civ and MOO and Master of Magic, even. Is this really a valid criticism or notable observation? When we're discussing things at that level, then we really ought to be able to say that Civ is like SC1 is like Magic the Gathering in terms of core strategy. So, SC2 is like all of those games in core strategy. What does that even mean?

If we want to go beyond that, then I have to point out that SC2 is not at all like SC1 in terms of core strategy and decisions. For instance, the Protoss vs. Terran matchup in SC1 is marked by Terran marking out territory and establishing location control while the Protoss tries to tech into something that will allow him to raid the Terran's economy without engaging the Terran army on the field. This is not at all the same core strategic consideration in SC2 where the game milieu is currently much more varied, especially when we factor in map features.

In particular, Protoss siege equipment in SC2 is much more robust, with the inclusion of both Immortal and Colossus, such that no Terran entrenchment is really 100% safe, barring a massive army size disparity.

rabbit wrote:

I'll echo the comments Rob and the TMA guys have made, which you seem to ignore -- this isn't a bad thing. Zacny sat at my house for three days this week obsessively playing SC2. Heck, Pyro gave the game 5 Stars at Joystiq while making many of the same points. I think the game is brilliant in its single player level designs.

For what it's worth, I disagreed with him, too. Pyro, I mean.

I don't particularly care whether or not you liked the game. We're discussing points of game design and theory. In some cases, we're discussing something as factual as having optional speed settings in the game's menus.

Chumpy_McChump:

Chumpy_McChump wrote:

is just crazy wrong. A casual player says, "Hmm, Stalkers are my tier 1.5 robot that shoots air and ground, Hellions are my fast harassment vehicles instead of Vultures, and the Zerg still have all the units I remember. I recognize this game; it's an updated Starcraft."

Well, yes and no. Even the casual players who I know who played SC1 were mortally annoyed at how stupid the Dragoon AI was. Also, they were annoyed that it took forever to build (that was way back before patch 1.4). In fact, many of those players hardly even made Dragoons.

Some of those players I've kept in touch with and they all agree that the Stalker is better, but not the same. They're a little more apt to confuse Hellions and Vultures, but it's plain to see that Hellions are really updated Firebats. Reapers are the updated Vultures. And the Zerg lost the Guardian, easy burrowing, Defilers, and Queens. Those are all features noted by players who don't play on the ladder at all.

Nathaniel wrote:

LarryC,

Imagine how the game appears to your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend/cat. Same units. Same interface. Same art style. Same protagonists and villains. The entire plot can be summarized in about 20 words. The units sound the same. The music sounds the same. The whole basic idea (economy, battles, mulitasking macro and micro) are the same. I don't object to any of this - I wanted to play SC again - but it's really the same game with some play tweaks.

This is OK. Many games are the same. The Prince and Lara Croft keep swinging from the same inexplicable flagpoles. The Master Chief and his clones continue to flatten opposing armies. It's safe, it's nice, it's fun.

But it's not new.

Hi, Nathaniel! I wanted to put special emphasis on this particular point because I think it underlies many of the things that baffles our TMA commentators. They keep saying it's the same, but that they enjoy it inexplicably, and that it will be popular regardless of the lack of innovation. That it will sell even though "It's the same game."

Blizzard hoodwinked you all.

Superficially, the game is familiar and very cozy. It's designed to be friendly to everyone, and particularly to people who have played Starcraft before, since there were a lot of those folks.

But it's not the same game.

Units look the same, are named the same, and they even sound similar. Controls are mapped in familiar places, and the field of view is similar. When you click on your Nexus, you have Probes. At the start of the game, you build Pylons and Gateways, and then Zealots come out. It all feels very similar, very samey, very comfortable.

That is all just wrapping. SC2 is a different game wrapped in things that will sooth people's fears and make them think that this is a game they already know how to play. In reality, SC2 puts some very weird kinks into the game that make the game play significantly differently than "SC1 with game tweaks." In fact, it's more correct to say that SC2 is this entirely new game, but then it was tweaked so as not to scare everyone away with how different it really is.

Again, I'm not a very skilled SC2 player, but the most important game wrinkle (and there are many!) that they introduced in the RTS genre is point-reinforcement. All games prior to SC2 feature a base or central hub of some sort wherein you have to spawn units, and then you direct them to other places on the map. Apart from zone control, this means that battle lines ebb and flow predictably based on which part of the map you control and how strongly.

This is not true in SC2. In SC2, you have two races: the Zerg and the Protoss, that can spawn units anywhere on the map provided that they prep the site with some minimal time investment. This means that containing Zerg and Protoss within their base is both harder and more dangerous. More than that, it means that battle lines can change dramatically, if the Protoss or the Zerg player can carry forward their point-reinforcement zone with their location gains.

Traditionally, conflict in RTS games has always been balanced with the idea that retreating forces ought to be getting stronger as they near their base or origin point, relatively speaking, and the power of the offensive player to project must weaken as they stretch their reinforcement lines. Allowing the offensive player to carry forward his reinforcement point allows the player to turn a momentary tactical strength into a crushing strategic attack.

There are, of course, many other wrinkles that make SC2 profoundly different, but that's the one that I think of most from a basic game design standpoint.

If you wish, I'm game for talking about range relationships, resource/time race balances, the distribution of timing attacks among the factions, map features and flight and so on. It's amazing at this stage of game theory development. For instance, the Terran 1-1-1 build supposedly has 15 possible timing attacks depending on where and when the player decides to bulk up his forces.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Luggage wrote:

On the contrary, on the TMA podcast in question, they establish early on that Starcraft 2 lacks all the convenience "features" (which mostly consist of cutting out mechanics and automizing tasks), which were implemented by recent titles. So Starcraft 2 needs to be less of an RTS to be more of an RTS? Swing and a miss.

Yeah, the idea that one of the most successful RTS games of all time would be 'improved' by scooping half of it out rubs me the wrong way.

It keeps coming down to people really wanting Starcraft II to not be Starcraft. Which is weird.

Dyni wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

Yeah, I agree. I've played a fair amount of both games (badly) and I'm confused as to why Dragoons became Immortals while being replaced with something that seems identical except for certain details.

Stalkers and immortals don't explode into piles of goo, as Dragoons did. This is an important distinction and simply must be pointed out.

Damn Dragoons, I was always having to clean up after them.

Luggage wrote:

Stalkers have less range than Dragoons. In SC1 it could be upgraded, in SC2 there's no such upgrade. Stalkers have a smaller footprint than Dragoons. Stalkers move faster than Dragoons. Stalkers have Blink, which makes them an incredibly valuable unit to have on large maps with topographical obstacles (Kulas Ravine, Metalipolis, Desert Oasis, Lost Temple).
Yes, both units walk on four legs and are ranged units, but other than that they have as much in common as a hunter and a mage.

That seems like a pretty incremental change to me, tbh. I still have Stalkers mentally parsed with Dragoons. When I hear "I return to serve" I look at the Gateway, not Robo.

I don't have a problem with that, but for someone who is looking for changes (for whatever reason) it's not really going to mean anything. Maybe if they game them 8 legs, or 3? Or gave Zealots rifles, and Scottish accents.

I find it amusing that the tech placement and superficial similarities make players relate the Stalker to the Dragoon and not to the Immortal. It's an interesting psychological phenomenon. In practice, the current Protoss lineup does not have any unit that's functionally similar to a Dragoon. The nearest analogue would probably be the Colossus if it has the Thermal Lance upgrade.

The thing with Stalkers is that because they can Blink, they are strategically very similar to Flying Units in many roles.

I think you've reached critical mass on belaboring the point, Larry.

I may lock this thread down soon as the perspectives and opinions appear to be thoroughly entrenched. I'm not even sure if you guys are having the same discussion at this point.

Certis:

I was hoping to get to the details and get some discussion on specific game design decisions about SC2 going on. I'm finding the implications of many such decisions interesting, and the balance effects could be incorporated into other game designs going forward.

However, if you feel that this is belaboring a point rather than an invitation to further discussion, I will still fully support your decision.

I heard Messiah was a pretty cool game.

LarryC, if you want to roll your sleeves up and get into the impact of the changes, I'd love to hear you talk about that.

You just gotta keep your posts shorter so the discussion doesn't splinter in a dozen different directions at once. I want to see a discussion that moves forward -- not a pile-on with ten different people responding to different slices of your gargantuan posts.

LarryC wrote:

Blizzard hoodwinked you all.

Superficially, the game is familiar and very cozy. It's designed to be friendly to everyone, and particularly to people who have played Starcraft before, since there were a lot of those folks.

But it's not the same game.

Units look the same, are named the same, and they even sound similar. Controls are mapped in familiar places, and the field of view is similar. When you click on your Nexus, you have Probes. At the start of the game, you build Pylons and Gateways, and then Zealots come out. It all feels very similar, very samey, very comfortable.

That is all just wrapping. SC2 is a different game wrapped in things that will sooth people's fears and make them think that this is a game they already know how to play. In reality, SC2 puts some very weird kinks into the game that make the game play significantly differently than "SC1 with game tweaks." In fact, it's more correct to say that SC2 is this entirely new game, but then it was tweaked so as not to scare everyone away with how different it really is.

I've been one of the people that's complained that StarCraft 2 is really just an HD update of StarCraft, but your comments here reminded me of something else: Super Mario Galaxy 2. Superficially, Super Mario Galaxy 2 looks and plays a lot like its predecessor, but the further into it you get the more you realize that, in some ways, they are very different games. They're using many of the same trappings to explore different design spaces, goals, and ideas. (Another good example of this would be the difference between The Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask.)

However, I think part of the offense that's taken with StarCraft 2 being (superficially) so much like StarCraft lies in the enormous amount of time that has passed since the first game was released. The three years that passed between Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 has some critics making sidelong remarks about the latter being a rehash, but it's been a small enough span of time that you'd have to be really cynical to start tossing around the word "stagnation" or to view the game as being willfully backward. The last twelve years have been too long for some people to be given something that is a variation on a theme.

Wow. Carte blanche to go on at length? Ooooh. Hmm... ...what to belabor on first? It's hard to choose.

How about this?

Most relevant to the point about SC2 and this article is that the game feels familiar and comfortable. I think that a great deal of this emotion is evoked because the initial game is so very similar to the first one, in sound, in look, and even in design.

As I mentioned, if you never go beyond Zealots, Marines, and Zerglings, then you can be forgiven for thinking that SC1 and SC2 are exactly the same game, because up to that point, they largely are.

I confess that I'm not entirely sure how this is being received. On the one hand, we get folks like Rob who say that it's the same game in a mildly negative way, but then you have folks like DeVil and me who cry, "It's Starcraft!!!" and dive right in confident in the feeling that Blizzard hasn't left us out to dry.

Even though the game is different, I think that casting the sound effects, look and initial game steps to be more or less extensions of the first game go a long way towards insulating long time players from evolution or innovation whiplash. Much of the game, especially on the Protoss faction, is profoundly different. No Reavers. No Shuttles. No Corsairs. No Scouts (okay, okay, no one really cared about these guys). No Dark Archons. No Dragoon! It's like you took all the mainstays of the Protoss midgame and endgame and just gutted it like a fish.

And yet, when you see those Zealots warping in on the other side of the map using Warp Gates (an ability the Protoss never had in SC1), it just feels right.

I think that maintaining the trappings and the initial game and base features goes a long way towards establishing that comfort zone and allows you to take the player into Wonderland later on, having gained their trust.

It's a bait-and-switch, but of the good kind.

Interesting game contrasts to this approach could be Brutal Legend, Red Steel 2, and the aforementioned Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Larry, would you mind starting a new thread? For two reasons, really: 1) it's a whole lot easier to find a new thread in the Games forum than to keep having to find the front page article (and I'm lazy), and 2) it seems that the discussion is moving in a distinctly different direction than when it started.

Mostly, though, it's 1).

The games forum is easier to navigate? Really?