The Starcraft 2 Beta is ending and its time to gather our thoughts for Blizzard. Were all rabid Starcraft 2 fans, but we think there could be improvements.
I wanted to start this thread for two reasons:
1. An awesome man from Blizzard by the name of Corey was nice enough to give me a very early Beta key (I was one of only 3000 people playing) when he saw my story of dismay (of not getting in) on GAF and I wanted to repay the favor;
2. I absolutely love Starcraft, and I think Starcraft 2 can be better. I, and the contributors listed below, have compiled an appraisal of Starcraft 2, and Id love for all the Starcraft 2 fans out there on GAF to read it, and then provide their own commentary on their general feelings regarding the game.
Lets help Blizzard make this game better by aggregating our thoughts into one place!
My Battle.Net ID:
Starcraft 2 Beta Appraisal Contributor IDs:
My Starcraft 2 Beta Appraisal
DISCLAIMER: I have prepared this appraisal in accordance with my love for Starcraft, Blizzard games, and videogames in general. I make the following arguments without a clear knowledge of how Starcraft 2 has progressed behind the scenes and which changes exist which are not yet in the public beta. My beliefs are derived entirely from the beta versions of the 3 races and the game itself, so if my understanding is not broad enough on certain topics (because those issues have changed behind the scenes), please keep my limited access in mind. This preliminary appraisal addresses any and all issues which I feel could be improved in the coming weeks and months. Given that I did not play the beta hundreds or thousands of times, there may be discrepancies between these beliefs and the actual game, though they should be minor. This appraisal was put together out of love for the game, the genre, and Blizzard and does NOT comment so much on the functionality of the races and/or their units in a competitive environment as much as it addresses their utility to a specific type of player, that player being the Casual Hardcore player. I hope everyone can keep this in mind while reading!
All of that said, as stated above, I am Sturmlight.Yeast on battle.net. I am not a pro Starcraft player nor do I intend to be [I believe pro-play takes a certain fun away from the core experience]. However, I AM what I would call a Casual Hardcore Starcraft player who will use all the tools at his disposal to NATURALLY win WITHOUT rushing. A natural win to me includes the development of buildings, units, and additional bases necessary to out-resource my opponent (in the end game, past 30 minutes of play) and to use my position to destroy all their buildings. A rush to me is unnatural, and it disturbs my perception of Starcraft. I say my perception because I recognize that to some [pros and those interested in pure games of competitive play], a rush is perfectly valid. But I believe my perception of Starcraft to be representative of a large group of players out there, and especially to be representative of the vast majority of NEW players out there. Thus, I am writing this document because I feel Blizzard will need to perform two important actions prior to or just after the release of Starcraft 2 in order to enhance the game for those with my appraisal of Starcraft 2:
1. Reassess Starcraft 2s positioning with the Casual Hardcore.
2. Cater more to the Casual Hardcore.
Starcraft 2 is an absolutely excellent game. The complete package, even in its current form, is likely worth far more than the $100 collectors edition price and will provide a LOT of hours of fun gameplay to many different populations of people. These populations include the Pro-Hardcore[inclined to pro play and rushing], the pure Casual [these are the people that will obsessively play the single player campaign and use map settings games from here until eternity], and the pure Hardcore [ those who do not have the skill to be pro yet play the game very seriously in order to improve themselves]. Each of the above genres of player will likely be 90%-100% satisfied with Starcraft 2 as an experience.
However, in their current form, the current Starcraft 2 races do not cater enough to another oft-forgotten population: the elusive Casual Hardcore players. While Blizzard has attempted to satiate the Casual Hardcore with anti-rush maps, I feel as though there are a variety of other actions that would function well to buttress their cause with such players. I will try my best to give voice to the Casual Hardcore with the following definition:
The Casual Hardcore players are defined, for the purposes of this appraisal, as those gamers who find games of Starcraft to be more entertaining than competitive. Specifically:
a.They are not casual in the sense that they will play a game for more than 20 minutes at a time. They are not hardcore in that they do not play a game purely for winning the game.
b.They represent a mix of the above two groups, and they are, I suspect, a large population of gamers. Casual Hardcore players play to win insofar as their skills carry them but will not focus intently on becoming perfect at the game. However, the Casual Hardcore also play the game to the limit of the games capacity [instead of just leaving it after getting simply a taste, as a casual player would do in most other games].
c.To this crowd, I believe, the best games of Starcraft are those that simmer for more than 30 minutes and then explode with conflict all over the place (and involve more players rather than less). These preferences exist because they generate an atmosphere in the game that feels more casual and less serious.
d.In an ideal Casual Hardcore Starcraft game, there are some skirmishes early in the game, but they are limited and do not determine the course of the game as much as they do in pro-hardcore games.
e.To the extent that a game contributes entertainment in lieu of purely competitive essence, the Casual Hardcore derive greater utility from the game.
f.If the Casual Hardcore achieve a certain level of utility from the game, they will keep returning over and over again to that game.
I believe every single person who plays games has a bit of Casual Hardcore within them. The Casual Hardcore are the people who sparked Starcraft 1s success, and they are the ones who continue to play Warcraft III to this day, except they play it in the form of DOTA, Heroes of Newerth, and League of Legends. They also play games like Worms, Call of Duty 4, Smash Bros., and World of Warcraft. They choose to play a game because it offers utility in excess of its competitive nature, and because each instance of a game offers a different entertaining variation on the game before it. Variation in the outcome of a game across different play sessions generates cause to replay. Stagnation in outcome generates cause to stay away. In each of the above games, the different characters, abilities, and other aspects of the games maximizes the number of outcomes possible, and the Casual Hardcore love it. To the Casual Hardcore, while Starcraft 2 may be ready to be released, two of its races [Zerg and Terran] remain incomplete and unvaried enough that they may not spark continued Starcraft 2 play over time.
While it may be impossible for the official multiplayer experience of Starcraft 2 to become compelling enough to 100% satiate the Casual Hardcore in the same way World of Warcraft has (for example), it is still very much important to cater to this crowd as their support is absolutely necessary for the success of any game and for the continued growth of any game or community. If I am lucky enough to be able to capture my perception of Starcraft within this appraisal I will have achieved my goal in giving Blizzard feedback (unlikely at best). But, as unlikely as it is, I will try nonetheless.
In sum, I believe the Casual Hardcore were early adopters and trend setters for Starcraft and indeed for many of the above games, bridging the gap between the Hardcore "innovators"/"first adopters" and the Casual Majority groups. I feel that because the hardcore don't hold nearly as much of an influence over the casual majority, the Casual Hardcore's support is necessary to properly diffuse a new game (excluding Korea).
As I believe the Casual Hardcore are the ones who first discovered Starcraft and its untold depth as well as its mass appeal, we should review some of the examples in Starcraft 1 that provided massive amounts of utility to the Casual Hardcore. Only then can we begin to build context for my appraisal of the game in its public beta form, and only then can we spark a meaningful discussion of some improvements that could be made in Starcraft 2 just prior to or just after release.
1.GENERAL ASSESSMENT OF CASUAL HARDCORE PERSPECTIVE IN STARCRAFT 1 VERSUS STARCRAFT 2
There are several aspects of Starcraft 1 that I believe provided significant utility to the Casual Hardcore which I feel deserve consideration in comparison to Starcraft 2:
a. The Siege Effect and Unit Sound Synergy
In Starcraft 1, arguably one of the coolest units was the Siege Tank. Not only did we as human players most identify with the Terran, but there existed a unit in their arsenal which satiated our inner desire to destroy things. It so filled our need that entire Use Map Settings maps were built around massing Siege Tanks, and massing Siege Tanks was a legitimate strategy in multiplayer. However, the importance of the Siege Tank had absolutely nothing to do with balance in my opinion. The Siege Tank, in fact, represented an addictive mechanism for first time players that filled an inner need of the Casual Hardcore.
Why, though, did the Siege Tank fill this role so well? It is my opinion that it had everything to do with the sound of the Siege mode, as demonstrated here:
The ridiculous and overbearing sound of the siege tank, coupled with the units role, created synergy in the players control of his / her units. Not only could he/she move massive amounts of units around that could siege from far away, but they sounded cool as all hell and were the pre-cursor to that mass destruction. The Siege Tank as a unit, and with the sound of its siege mode, represented a perfect crescendo from the start of an offense or defense to its finish. The sound of the unit enhanced an experience from which the player derived immense destructive pleasure.
The more siege tanks the player had, and the more that were put into siege mode, the more echoes of the same amazing sound they heard through their speakers. There was great synergy between the function of the unit and its sound, and for the offensive Casual Hardcore player this synergy provided primal satisfaction, a feeling of power, and a fun and almost comical way to destroy. Simply put, I feel the Casual Hardcore were addicted to the siege mode and its ability, as brought about by the amplification of the sound of the siege tank, to strike fear and destruction into their opponents.
I remember sitting around for minutes at a time and just moving my Siege Tanks from siege mode to unsieged, and back and forth. I remember laughing hysterically when I would watch a siege performed by one of my friends on an opposing player. The synergy between the Siege Tanks ridiculous sound and its function caused me and my friends to experience a large amount of Casual Hardcore pleasure, which inevitably brought us back to the game. If one were to examine Starcraft 1, they would see that there were actually a large amount of instances wherein sound synergy existed in a large variety of units. These instances include Scouts [the sound of the missiles firing off together gave the player comfort of destruction, as well as the echo of the Scouts unique voice], Wraiths [same as the Scouts but in a different way with a different sound], Battle Cruisers[the laser sounds stacked in such a way that it empowered the player the more battlecruisers they had], and Zerglings [both the sounds of their attacks against structures and the sounds of their deaths empowered the player one gave the player the feeling that they were knocking down walls and causing their enemies anguish, the other gave them the feeling that their units were infinitely expendable, a feeling which thematically connected the Zergs sound with their utility as a race]. For example, see this comparison of Starcraft 1 to Starcraft 2 zergling sounds on youtube:
While the sounds of zerg attacks and zerg deaths are clearly exaggerative in Starcraft 1, I feel as though that exaggeration creates extreme utility in the hearts and minds of the Casual Hardcore.
And yet, for some odd reason, this synergy has been removed from Starcaft 2. Not only does the Siege Tank, for example, not make a sound which adds synergy to its function, but it is difficult to find an example in Starcraft 2 where what I call Sound Amplification is effectively used.
The closest success in terms of Sound Amplification in Starcraft 2 is likely Thor and his Schwarzenegger voice. However, even Thor lacks synergy because the movement sound of the Thor is not distinctly addictive like the Siege Tank siege mode sound was in Starcraft 1. Simply put, Thors movement sound does not add to his function.
Another example in Starcraft 2 that comes close, in my opinion, is the sound of massive amounts of supply depots being withdrawn into the ground and brought back up. But because supply depots have a limited synergistic function, their sound does not add an amazing amount to their use [they have no offensive function].
Other sounds which might come close include burrowing zerg or the conversion of zerglings into banelings, though their sounds do not provide as much synergy because, again, the sounds they employ do not provide an offensive synergy in addition to a creation synergy, that is, the player receives no offensive benefit in their mind with the addition of the sound to the unit.
It is with this lack of Sound Synergy in mind that I strongly urge Blizzard to restore a generally similar sound to the Siege Tank as it had in Starcraft 1, and to consider what other sound synergies they might add to various units which subtly empower the player. A little effort could go a long way (Please keep in mind that I do not have a background in sound creation and therefore am unable to make more specific suggestions in addition to pointing out what I feel is missing).
b. The Macro Unit and The Moving Shot[See Note 1]
Note 1. The moving shot is a concept described brilliantly, although crassly, by LaLush in the following post at TeamLiquid: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=121769
When I refer to the Macro Unit above, I refer specifically to the way in which units in Starcraft function together on a mass scale. LaLush, in his much lauded post regarding the Moving Shot hit upon this issue, although in a very round-about way. One of the basic arguments of his post was that because unit movements lack quick strike and maneuverability (due to blizzards desire to balance one unit against each other), the number of outcomes of x, y, or z types of battles has been reduced significantly in Starcraft 2 versus Starcraft 1. This position is valid insomuch as the feel of unit control has changed significantly and the maneuverability of air units via the mouse has in fact been reduced (it would seem). However, I believe this argument may be missing the point of whats missing in Starcraft 2, and that is the use of the Macro Unit. I define the Macro Unit as the different function that a unit serves en masse as opposed to the function that that unit plays on its own. Some examples from Starcraft 1 include the Mutalisk, Scout, Corsair and Battlecruiser Unit Stacking [See Note 2], mass ghost lockdown, mass mind control [protoss], mass destruction of unit / building energy via multiple defilers, mass psi storm via high templar, and of course mass sieging with tanks. The ghost lockdown, for example, gave a Macro Unit low cost solution to high tech mass air attacks, as did the defiler and mass mind control. Each of these added a degree of variability which could be quickly adopted in the face of a certain attack.
Note 2. Unit Stacking is here defined as the ability of these air units to stack upon each other. I believe that LaLush may have been speaking as much to this in his post about what is missing from Starcraft 2 as the Moving Shot. The Moving Shot seemed to be intertwined with this ability. I would urge Blizzard to question whether the realism achieved by removing the air stacking of units reduces the fun of those air units. In order to combat the impossibility of unit by unit Micro in a stacking situation, Blizzard may wish to give opponents the ability to swing-zoom into the unit mass and target the units individually. With this in mind, even though they stack on each other (for purposes of more refined control), the opposing player can target individually. It is more fun to send a ball missile of units towards a target location, from the perspective of the Casual Hardcore, than an evenly spaced set of units that are more difficult to control.
Much of the Macro Unit function of individually valuable units seems to have been removed from Starcraft 2. The ghost lockdown was removed, the Unit Stacking was removed, mind control is nerfed comparatively (though it can be useful sometimes for zerg, it does not reach the level of macro usage), and defilers were removed. While siege still represents a compelling Macro Unit, some of its utility to the end player has been removed due to the sound discussion (from above), and as a result of the fact that it is too easily dealt with as a unit (it is weak against multiple units at multiple levels of the tech tree for most races). Consequently, the majority of the Macro Unit structure from Starcraft 1 has been removed in Starcraft 2, and it is my belief that it has been done to Starcraft 2s detriment. The lack of Macro Unit functionality weakens the utility of the game because it gives the player of any particular race less options with which to work, especially in the end game. And this, in particular, is a problem for the Casual Hardcore as it gives them less interesting options in the game (since the focus of casual hardcore play is mid-late game with large varied armies).
The one unit in Starcraft 2 that feels just right on a macro unit level is the Baneling. Devastating on a micro level, it is also amazing on a fun factor level as a rolling mass of awesomeness. Its functionality is well balanced and makes sense even as a very late game surprise strategy (even if the player wont be able to win the game with it, it is still fun!). More units should feel like this Blizzard!
c. Musical Pacing
I believe music to be an integral part of why Starcraft 1 was so addictive. The mood set in the songs of Terran specifically drew new players in because it set an atmosphere with which those new players could identify. The Casual Hardcore felt intangible benefits from the pacing of all the music in the first Starcraft.
Thankfully, the music included for the Terran in Starcraft 2 is equally fantastic. It drives the player to move forward with their plans for destruction. Listen to this for example:
High energy. High drive to perform. These are the emotions that this song elicits. It says work, construct, mine, perform, build an army, and take that army to your foes. It is, quite simply, a flawless score for the Terran.
Unfortunately, the music for the other races falls slightly short (as elicited in commentary from Apolloster.Yeast). The reason for this is not that the music is not good per se, its that it misses the mark with its purpose. It does not contain a fast enough beat to drive the player toward success. I believe that the Protoss music and ESPECIALLY the Zerg music were created too much with the race background in mind and not enough with common humanity in mind. We are humans, we are not Protoss and we are not Zerg. We will never understand things from the Protoss and Zerg perspective of music, and thus synergy is lost if the musical score focuses too much on achieving the feel of those races and not enough on more distinctly human emotions. What do I suggest Blizzard do about this? Mess with the tempos of the music for Protoss and Zerg and see if a solution can be found which aligns the players energy with the Protoss and Zerg. Here is an example, although a bit crude and off the cuff, which Sinheart.Icyinferno put together which captures my point:
Again, the tempo of the Terran music is the benchmark against which the music for Protoss and Zerg should be measured in a multiplayer setting in Starcraft 2. As humans, music which sets our mood toward our task is of greater utility than that which doesnt. I love the Protoss music, but I think the Zerg music, at the very least, definitely needs a little bit of rethinking.
CONTINUES IN POST 2