Tag: StarCraft2 (page 2 of 2)

The Art of Thor: Spend, Spend, Spend

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment
Somebody’s gotta feed these boys before they go out fightin’, and that somebody is you.

Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been associated with long delays.

You don’t get bonus points for unspent resources at the end of a match.

It’s a concept that can be difficult for new players to wrap their heads around. The biggest, baddest units in any given race’s arsenal costs quite a bit of minerals and gas. However, while you’re saving up for that shiny fleet of capital ships primed to rain death and destruction on the foolish folk arrayed against you, they’re likely to be churning out squadrons and legions of lesser units for a fraction of the cost. And those ‘lesser’ units just might walk into your compound while you’re sussing out all of the tech necessary for that pinnacle of your race’s achievements.

Let’s do a bit of math on this very subject.

Courtesy Blizzard & the TL wiki
“This is my C-14 Impaler Gauss rifle! There are many like it, but this one is mine!”

This is a Terran Marine. He costs 50 minerals, consumes 1 supply (“food”) and is produced in 25 seconds. He comes from a Barracks, a structure costing 150 minerals built after a construction period of 60 seconds. In turn it cannot be produced until you make a Supply Depot, costing 100 minerals and 30 seconds. And you need an SCV to build all this stuff. That’s another 50 minerals, 1 food and 17 seconds production time.

So the total cost of your first marine is 350 minerals, 2 food and 132 seconds total.

Courtesy Blizzard & the TL wiki
“The Yamato is loaded. And so am I!”

Arguably the most powerful single unit in the Terran arsenal, the Battlecruiser costs 400 minerals and 300 gas by itself. It is produced at a Starport, which cannot be built without a Factory. The Factory is dependent upon the Barracks. Additionally, you must produce at least one Refinery and sortie a number of SCVs to harvest Vespine gas from it. Oh, and you can’t build one without a Tech Lab on the Starport and a separate building called a Fusion Core. So, crunching numbers like so, here’s the total cost of your first Battlecruiser, listing minerals/gas/time for each building and minerals/gas/food/time for each unit:

Supply Depot (100/30) + Barracks (150/60) + Refinery (75/30) & 4 SCVs (50/1/17 x4) + Factory (150/100/60) + Starport & Tech Lab (200/125/75) + Fusion Core (150/150/65) + Battlecruiser (400/300/6/90) = 1425 minerals, 675 gas, 10 supply & 478 seconds.

See where I’m going with this? For the cost of a single Battlecruiser, you could field 10 Marines quite comfortably. And with the surplus gas you could give them a weapons upgrade, combat shields or stimpacks.

Now, if your macro is good and your economy humming along, you can produce a cadre of bloodthirsty, Gauss-toting Marines while teching you way up to a Battlecruiser or two, but the point of this little exercise in arithmetic is to demonstrate how much easier it is to produce the basic units of a race, and how important that habit can be to a burgeoning player. Any race’s macro can and should include constantly producing workers and basic units along with climbing up a chosen tech tree as a strategy begins to grow. As your skills improve, producing a ‘backbone’ of basic warriors concurrently with your shiny high-tech units will become second nature. And when thinking about this process no longer becomes entirely necessary, your mind will be free to worry about things like counters to your opponent’s units and canny ways to apply pressure and exploit map advantages.

But you have to walk before you can run, and in StarCraft terms that means spending your resources quickly and effectively. Start with the basics, and go from there.

The Art of Thor: The Basics

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment
“Oh, hello, BlueInk. That’s a nice base you have. But you don’t have anybody there to defend it, huh? Oh, well. Guess I’ll just Prismatic Beam everything to death. GG”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

It sometimes takes a humbling experience to help us realize how much we don’t know.

My first loss after a hot streak of 6 wins knocked me out of Silver league into Bronze. Granted, I knew I had been placed in Silver due to a lucky in during my placement matches, and it was unlikely that this ‘grace period’ would last forever. I had a long string of failures in my first few ladder sessions, and it was bound to catch up with me sooner or later.

But seeing the notification, saying that I was placed in bronze “based on performance” had me sitting back and evaluating what I was doing wrong.

Reflecting on my matches and replays, it slowly dawned on me that I was focused on the wrong things. Many of my wins came from clever uses of cloaked Banshees and canny Siege Tank placement – showcases for micromanagement. What the pros will tell you, what any player with a record of wins greater than losses knows, is that micromanagement (hereafter called ‘micro’) is just about the last thing you focus on as you develop your playstyle.

Instead, one must first develop their macromanagement, or ‘macro’. Basic principles, like when and where to build, how often to produce units and where one’s focus should be at any time. These are the building blocks of better play, like footwork in fencing, keeping one’s guard up in boxing or the use of one’s pawns in chess.

As a Terran player, there are three things one must always, always be doing to be successful. They’re things I plan on focusing on as I struggle to return to Silver-level play and rise beyond.

Build SCVs

The Space Construction Vehicle – SCV for short – is the Terran building unit. Like Protoss Probes and Zerg Drones, a player can’t maintain an economy or expand their base without them. From the beginning of a match to its end, one must constantly be producing more of these little guys to ensure bigger, better things down the road. One of the first things an SCV will build in a Terran base is a Barracks, and the Barracks should always be producing Marines.

Build Marines

The Marine’s a well-rounded unit. Balanced for both ground and air targets at range, just a few of these Gauss-rifle-toting power-armored colonists and former convicts can keep the enemy at bay. Collected in Bunkers or upgraded with better weapons and armor, if the Barracks is churning out Marines you’ll have a potent force for attack or defense before you know it. This isn’t to say that every Barracks you build should just build Marines. The other Terran infantry units compliment the Marines quite well in certain situations. But if you send out your army to assault the enemy base and aren’t producing constantly from your Barracks, when the enemy attack comes (not if – when) they’ll happen across a ghost town.

Build Depots

Getting supply blocked sucks. It happens when the amount of units being produced exceeds the amount of supply resource available to your forces. In Warcraft this resource was called ‘food’ and made a touch more sense. You don’t want to make an army you can’t feed. Bad things happen. The solution is to have your builders taking a break from mining minerals and gas to make the structures that produce more supply. In the case of Terrans, that means Supply Depots. Once the initial structures are in place – Barracks, Refinery, etc – it behooves you to pepper a Supply Depot or two into the mix as you expand your base and build more advanced structures.

In addition to keep you from getting supply blocked, building Supply Depots will help you spend your resources. You don’t get bonus points at the end of the game for minerals unspent or gas sitting in your Command Centers. Build more buildings, units and research to soak it up. When in doubt, as Terran, build more Depots and Barracks. No matter what your force composition, more Marines won’t hurt and you’ll want to be able to support them.

I wouldn’t have been able to refocus my play without help. From bouncing my initial reactions to demotion off of my wife to getting advice from the folks at the TeamLiquid forums, I doubt I’d be as enthusiastic to wade back into an arena that’s so thoroughly kicked my ass. But just like rejection for the writer, 404s for the programmer and calls from bill collectors for the responsible adult, this is how we learn. Without our failures, we’d never know enough about ourselves to reach for, achieve and enjoy our successes.

More on that tomorrow. For now, I will continue to build my macro skills and learn the ins and outs of cutting and commentating replays for public consumption. I might hold off on posting such supplements until I return to Silver league, however. I mean, who wants to watch a Bronze level newbie stumble through basic gameplay?

The Art of Thor: Introduction

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.

I want to be a better player of StarCraft 2.

The first step in achieving a goal is having that goal in mind, stated as simply as possible. I’ve managed to get where I am today by keeping such goals simple and doing my best not to lose sight of them. I want to be a bestselling (or at least decently selling) novelist. I want to hold down a decent job in a good town. I want to not eat frozen pizza, ramen and PB & J every day.

Such goals are oriented towards changes in career, income and lifestyle. We also set goals for ourselves in our leisure, or at least we can. Sitting through the entire March Madness tournament is a worthy goal for some, while for others it’s beating the pants off of a beloved family member in chess or checkers or Magic or hold-’em poker. For me, delving more deeply into the underlying mechanics and strategies of StarCraft 2 has given me the motivation and desire to become a better player.

First and foremost it’s because I really enjoy the game. Even when I lose, I can see how an opponent stopped my offensive dead and came out of nowehere to gut my economy. Sure, it’s frustrating to lose. But as my goal is to become a better player, not necessarily to win, I use that frustration to teach myself. It’s a subtle difference. Instead of walking away and doing something less irritating, I make myself watch the replay, look for flaws in my play, see what the opponent’s up to and what they’re thinking.

Enemy psychology comes into it more than you might think. Not just their strategies and methods of play, but our means of anticipating, reacting to and, eventually, manipulating them. It may only be computer simulation of science-fiction armies blasting the snot out of each other on distant planets, but it’s still warfare. And Sun-Tzu has a few things to say on that subject.

I played the original StarCraft and its expansion, and while I liked the mentality and characters of the Terrans, there was something missing from their army list I couldn’t put my finger on at the time. I opted to play Protoss more often than not for the short time I was involved with multiplayer. But I never really committed myself to being a better player – I simply had other things on my mind at the time. StarCraft 2‘s Terrans have quite a few new tricks up their sleeves, from the hulking Marauders to the transforming Vikings to the mighty Thor. It’s such a signature Terran unit – covered in angular armored plate, tough, versatile and most of all, really big and really loud.

So as I progress and continue to improve my StarCraft 2, I’ll reflect on how the observation of both success and failure will contribute to both my enjoyment and the evolution of my playstyle. Due to a lucky break in my placement matches, I’m a Silver League player, better than Bronze but not as good as Gold. I want to get to the Gold level at least, and ideally move on to higher levels. I’ll apply Sun-Tzu’s teachings where I can and I’ll be sticking with the Terrans. I do like the other races, but this time around the appeal of the cowboys in space is undeniable and while every strategy may not involve a Thor, I have one or two in mind that I hope to refine as time goes on.

Hence… The Art of Thor.

Not to be confused with the upcoming movie from Marvel Studios.

I may post video supplements to go with the lessons I learn, and I’m going to be reading a lot of the Team Liquid wiki & forums as well as watching TotalBiscuit and Day9‘s videos on the subject. I highly recommend anybody interested in being a better player do the same, as well as watching this space. Even if I only do it in screenshots, I’ll be showing the impending and quite possibly painful process of learning not to suck at StarCraft 2.

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