Tag: The Art of Thor (page 2 of 3)

The Art of Thor: The Tortoise and the Hare

Courtesy Blizzard
The Viking: Fast, smashing anti-air missiles, wide vision area. Great for both offense & defense.

The Art of War teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of our enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to recieve our enemy; not on the chance of our enemy’s not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.

I’ve mentioned in the past that attacks on your base are inevitable. It’s only a matter of time before some measure of nastiness is going to roll up on all your expensive buildings and high-tech units. Sooner or later you do need to look to your defenses. Some would say that defenses must take the form of static buildings and choke point formations, while others maintain that the best defense is a good offense. For the sake of argument, we’ll call these two standpoints those of the Tortoise and the Hare.

The Tortoise is appropriate for more static defensive tactics. It’s appropriate that this method is called “turtling”. Like the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones or the ancient Emperors of China, imposing and immobile defenses can deter or slow down enemy aggression with their mere presence. It also is worth noting that maintaining a strong defensive line can provide a measure of breathing room for you to build esoteric, air-based strategies centered around drops, mineral line harassment or top-tier airborne sieges.

The drawbacks to this defensive methodology is that it’s entirely reactionary. You have to scramble if your opponent comes up with a way around your defenses or attacks a weaker side of your position. It also allows ample time for your opponent to build tactics & counters of their own. Finally, even turtle tactics require resources to maintain their lines and expand, and since defenses are so static and getting caught out of position can be lethal for said defenses, you will be susceptible to strangulation if you aren’t careful.

The Hare takes the fight to the enemy. Rather than waiting behind walls and automated defenses, this methodology pushes out as quickly as possible. It’s a fast and aggressive style of play that relies upon repeated thrusts against the enemy position to throw off their timing. The reason why I would consider this a method of defense is that as long as you’re throwing dudes at the enemy, you’re less likely to get dudes thrown at you. This means you can keep building behind each push, and if you aren’t, you should be.

That’s one of the major problems with relying upon offense. If you become focused on the battles and explosions, you might miss a chance to expand or build. If you look at a replay and see your buildings are idle and you’re flush with minerals or gas, you’re doing something wrong. Attacking quickly and repeatedly can also be fragile in the early game, and if an enemy’s defenses continuously repel your pushes and you don’t adapt quickly enough, your next push might be the opening they’ll exploit to ruin you. Constant attacks can deprive mineral line of defenders, which is just another way of saying counter-attacks can be deadly if your macro is not maintained.

Which way do you tend to lean? How do you make your position unassailable?

The Art of Thor: Ah, The Power of Cheese

Courtesy Blizzard
“Hmm… that Probe looks suspicious. I better question it. With my gun.”

“Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”

This concept will be nothing new for StarCraft players. On a conceptual level, things of this nature have existed since gaming began. From the shark at the blackjack table to the RPG player grinding a particular area over & over again, gamers like to game and some especially like to game the system. Sometimes, this is referred to as cheating or exploiting. StarCraft has a particular term for it. They call it cheese.

Cheese is a strategy for opening a game that looks to take advantage of a timing or mechanics advantage you might have over your opponent. While it’s not the same as going all-in on a particular strategy, if your cheese fails you can end up at a severe disadvantage economically. Many cheeses also involve a measure of micro-management, pulling your focus away from establishing the foundation for longer play. If you invest in cheese up-front and don’t follow up with a solid mid-game, your clever strategy might actually become the reason you lose the game.

Let me give you an example from each race.

Protoss: Proxy Pylon

The basic infantry units of the Protoss – Zealots, Stalkers, etc – are produced at Gateways, which can be converted to Warp Gates. When they become Warp Gates, the buildings can teleport units into play anywhere the Protoss have built a Pylon. Pylons require minimal investment, can be built anywhere and, like all Protoss buildings, do not require a Probe to be present while completing construction.

The cheese in this comes when the Protoss player builds a Pylon far from his home, in or near the enemy base. On some maps, the geography allows the Pylon to sit out of the enemy’s sight while its power grid, the area which powers Protoss buildings & provides space for the aforementioned units to warp in, intrudes into the enemy base. A Protoss player can warp in units at his leisure or even build Plasma Cannons to destroy their opponent’s economy, wreck their buildings and generally be a nuiscance.

Terran: Planetary Fortress Rush

It may seem a bit silly, but a Terran player can use their initial base structure as an offensive unit. The Command Center has the option to be upgraded to either an Orbital Command or a Planetary Fortress. The latter upgrade beefs the building up with layers of armor and adds a pair of cannons on a turret on top. After upgrading to the Planetary Fortress, the building cannot lift off again as most Terran buildings do.

The thrust of this opening is for the Terran player to build a second Command Center as soon as possible, float it into the enemy base, drop it in place with a few SCVs for repairs and upgrade directly to the Planetary Fortress. After the enemy workers have been eliminated, the Terran player’s own workers can acquire the resources of the enemy base while the Fortress blasts anything that tries to take it down. It is meant to capitalize more on psychological impact than any practical issues like longer game strategy or unit counters.

Zerg: Zergling Rus

It’s a StarCraft tradition. The Zerg rush has been used so often and so effectively that the term has seeped into other games and aspects of culture. Zerglings are the least costly of the initial starting units of all three races, and the nature of Zerg unit production allows for many of the units to be produced at once. Take a bunch of these little guys, produced as quicly as possible, and point them in the general direction of whatever you want consumed.

The basic strategy is alive, well, and relatively unchanged from the original game. The Zerg player puts down a Spawning Pool with all due haste. The initial batch of Zerglings then speed their way to the enemy base. A half-dozen Zerglings can absolutely gut the economy of an unwary player in the very early game. It relies on quick scouting and constant unit production.

Beating Cheese

Getting around cheese is actually relatively simple. Maintain strong macro, scout your base and move aggressively against any encroachment. If you are constantly building units, even the most basic fighters, most early opening cheese won’t lost too long. Keep a unit, be it a builder or something more robust, peeking out from your base and coming back just to make sure the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas. And if you do see a builder or a couple units whistling innocently as they approach our base, stomp them as quickly as possible. That shoul take care of most cheese, but sometimes, you just won’t get your placement exactly right and those Zerglings will slip through, or you’ll scout your entire perimeter only to just miss the Pylon about to dispense unpleasantness on your buildings. Keep playing & practicing, and it’ll happen less often.

The Art of Thor: Build to Attack

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment
You don’t build stuff like this just because it looks cool.

There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.

It’s tempting to get ahead of ourselves. It’s why folks rack up debt.

In the context of StarCraft 2, though, you may begin to think that what you’re doing in the process of learning macro skills is boring. You see live casts and replays of pro gamers, seeing the builds they use very effectively. You want to do the same, because they win and because it’s more interesting than what you need to do to build fundamental skills.

Stop that.

I humbly refer you back to these two entries in which I talk about what you should be building and how often you should be spending your resources. If you do this, over and over again until at least a couple promotions have gone by, you’ll be laying a stronger foundation for pulling off those daring gambits you see the pros execute. If you focus instead on some other strategy, you may get past Bronze or even Silver, but the higher ranks are going to be more of a frustration. Experienced players are already well-prepared for your cheese.

So you’re building basic units, builders and the means to keep building both. What do you do with them, though? Should they stand around your base protecting your pretty buildings? It can be an effective defense, sure, and if you want to play that way, go for it.

In my humble opinion, however, the quickest way to end the fight is through direct, uncompromised aggression.

As long as your production buildings are humming along and churning out more units, there’s no reason not to send the bulk of the units you’ve already built up your opponent’s ramp. Especially in, say, the first six minutes of the game. Before they can reasonably get any sort of high-tech response mounted, you should make them spend their resources on replacing whatever you manage to destroy. You can’t do that staying at home.

Now, I’m not saying you should follow every move your units make. At low levels, micro-management isn’t nearly as important as macro skills. But if your forces manage to past their defenses, there’s no reason not to direct them to the mineral line. Be it in their starting base or an expansion, blasting workers slows down their economy and is annoying as hell. While they recover their lost time and units, you’re building away for an even bigger assault.

Worried they’ll do the same? You should be. But if you’re building as much as you should, constantly producing units and ensuring you have enough food for everybody, the assaults your opponent mount in response should not do a great deal of damage. You might lose a few units but you have more on the way.

If your opponent gets behind you with air units or some sort of stealth attack, chances are you haven’t been attacking enough. It takes time to get air units, time you could be spending sending ever-growing waves of basic infantry against them to distract, harass, inhibit and destroy.

Sure, you’ll play the occasional hour-long macro game, with top-tier units slugging it out while you trade bases. But you learn little from such experiences. Quick wins, and quick losses as well, teach us a lot more about the strengths and weaknesses in our styles of play. Learn these lessons well, refine your style as much as possible, and just keep building and attacking.

It’s the advice I’ve gotten and am trying to follow. I’m sure it’ll get me out of Bronze league.

Someday. Hopefully before Heart of the Swarm gets here.

The Art of Thor: Don’t Panic!

Courtesy Blizzard & the StarCraft wiki
Choose your moves carefully.

To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

It’s difficult not to panic when you’re being shot at.

It may seem an obvious statement, and I don’t wish to downplay the severity of real-world situations in which soldiers, police officers and the occasional innocent bystander find themselves involving supersonic hunks of metal flying at them. But as StarCraft 2 is a wargame, and wars involve combat, it’s important to remember that combat is going to happen at times inconvenient for you. When our operations get interrupted in real life, we get annoyed. When it happens in a competitive situation, we can get nervous. And when it happens in ways that involve fire and blood, we can panic.

It takes practice, but you can work to downplay this natural reaction, to channel that nervous energy into productive activities. I’m not going to claim to be an expert on this, but there are steps I’ve taken to minimize the impact of the enemy’s plans upon mine, anticipating his moves and doing useful things as much as possible.

Know It’ll Happen

You’re going to get attacked. Things you build will blow up. Your troops are going to die.

It happens all the time. As Terran playing Protoss or Zerg, it’s common to wall off your ramp with a couple Depots and a Barracks. If the alien player’s on the ball, some basic units are going to run up the ramp and start taking shots at your buildings. Depending on your rate of production, you may only have a couple of Marines to defend. It’s a situation that’s bound to happen, so anticipate it if you can.

Likewise, when you gather up enough forces to send against your opponent, they might be ready for it. You might be able to scout them, using scans or spies, and build an appropriate response, but you might get attacked yourself in the meantime. Either way, if you anticipate potentially negative outcomes to your actions, their impact will be less shocking.

So if these things are going to happen, how can we prepare and respond?

Gather Intelligence

From the basic builder scout at the start of the game to the cloaked unit just outside the opponent’s front door keeping an eye on his massive forces, intelligence is essential to anticipating what’s coming next. A Drone, Probe or SCV zipping around the opposing opening base can give you an inkling as to what they’re thinking, and if you tech your way to a cloaked spy or use another, less costly means of observation (a Supply Depot on high ground for example), you can see attacks coming a mile away.

As your play improves you can also use this to your advantage. If your opponent zips into your base and sees you going for a particular build, don’t be afraid to change gears on him. And if you attack with a specific unit or group of units and he musters a defense in response, shift to a different type of unit or attack to render his intelligence moot.

Maintain Production

This goes back into the basics I’ve addressed previously. Always be building something. New means of maintaining your army’s supply, tech for your units and new supplements to your existing forces are all good things to invest in. As your macro skills grow, you will find it easier to do this even in the middle of battle.

An exercise I recommend that helped my macro skills greatly isn’t necessarily a winning one, but it might surprise you. Practice hotkeying your buildings and switching between them to check your status, and when you attack, use the minimap without watching the fight. I know, it’ll be more difficult to see and anticipate what your opponent is doing which directly contradicts what I said in the previous section, but bear with me. Hotkey your main base and production buildings (I put my Command Centers on 4 and Barracks on 5), switch between them and keep pumping out your basic units. When you feel you have an adequate number, for example with your first 4 Marines, use your minimap to A-move your forces to the enemy base.

As they move out, stay focused on your base. Keep producing units even when your expeditionary force comes under attack. Chances are, by the time the last one has expired, you’ve built twice as many troops. Send those. Keep building and expanding, again, without watching the battles. Attack, lather, rinse, repeat.

I did this after I ended up in Bronze, for a few matches. I was surprised how often my opponents would GG after my fourth or fifth push. Watching replays, it was clear they were trying to tech into a clever solution or were focused on what my Marines were doing, instead of maintaining their production. They panicked, and it was their downfall.

Now, since then, I’ve panicked a few times. Its a natural reaction, and you can’t always prevent it. All I can say is the more you practice, the more you can minimize this reaction. If you know an attack is going to come, get a notion as to where it’ll come from and build constantly to respond in kind, even if you feel a jolt of panic when they start chewing your brave soldiers faces off you can probably fight your way through it. The more you do this, the more success you’ll have and the faster you’ll rise through the leagues in StarCraft 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.

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