Tag: StarCraft 2 (page 1 of 3)

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Courtesy Blizzard
Probes aren’t just adorable – they’re essential.

There are really only two games I’d consider playing competitively on a regular basis. I don’t think I have the skills to play a first-person shooter anything but casually in multiplayer, and while I used to play CounterStrike in university, I can’t see myself devoting the time necessary to the game now, let alone coughing up money every year for the latest iteration of the best “spunk-gargle-weewee” game around. I’m also not one for fighting games like Street Fighter; again, I’m much more casual with that sort of game, and Divekick is more my speed with that sort of thing. The two games I look towards as a true test of my skills and that engage me enough to drive me to improve constantly are Magic and Starcraft. While I still want to return to Legacy in Magic, Standard will be more economical, but that’s a post for another time. Even more economical is StarCraft 2 – unlike Warhammer or Warmachine, there’s no miniatures to buy or paint, and no need to find a table big enough to play on. The only investment required is time. And lean tissue in the brain.

Getting back into StarCraft 2 after a long break isn’t easy for anybody. Heart of the Swarm has hit since I last played on the ladder, and that may have changed things up drastically. My only recourse is to change with them, and that means starting over again, from scratch, to build myself back up into a better gamer. What I like about StarCraft as opposed to say, Magic, is that the random element is minimized and, on higher levels of play, non-existent. It’s entirely skill and strategy. But before I can get anywhere near that level, I have to get my bare bones basics nailed down. And that means mechanics. That means making workers.

Building workers is pretty much the foundation of any future play. It’s the fuel that runs a player’s engine in StarCraft. It’s the mana of Magic, the production certs of Axis & Allies, the planetary resources of Twilight Imperium. I can’t spend any time worrying about build orders or army composition counters or even the meta-game at large. Not yet, at least. As much as I love to tie my strategic and tactical gameplay into a greater philosophy or Sun-Tzu or something, there’s a reason soldiers start at boot camp and aren’t just shipped into combat. Eren in Attack on Titan doesn’t strap on the Three-Dimensional Maneuver Gear and get right to titan-slaying without some serious training. That’s the way it has to be for me, as well.

So I’ve looked up some notes on the changes to the game, watched some videos by Filter, and started drilling against the AI. Not to practice tactics, not to ensure wins, not to nail down build orders. I’m just making workers and basic units, focusing on the workers. So far, Terran and Protoss are going fine. Zerg, I’m struggling with. But I’ll get there. And when I do, at that point I’ll jump on the ladder and start fighting live opponents. Though ‘fighting’ may be a bit of a stretch, as all I’m likely to do is bunch up all of my basic dudes and lob them at the enemy with no real tactics involved.

Then again, I don’t think many people at Bronze level will know what to do when 50 Marines or 30 Zealots or 40 Roaches come knocking at their door en masse 10 minutes into a game. I guess we’ll see once I have my benchmarks nailed down.

Writers Need Editors

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment
Kerrigan demands better motivations. She’s a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man.

I don’t know how many writers would be willing to admit this. Good ones, I’d imagine. But here’s a shocking fact that may take you by surprise: no writer is an island. Even great writers who sell millions of copies don’t really work alone. They need people to read their work. They need publishing houses and agents to get physical copies on store shelves. And above all else, writers need editors.

For some, these can be test readers that point out plot holes and typos. For others, these are professional gate-keepers, savvy and mature folks who know when to say “No” to something and also when to slap a writer’s wrist for trying to pull a fast one. This is especially true if you have multiple writers working on the same project. Without someone in an editorial position overseeing the work, said work is going to end up as a confused mess with conflicting visions and nonsensical passages. In short, it’s like trying to run a kitchen where one person is undercooking the steak while another is using the wrong spice for the potatoes. You can have the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, but if someone does something to those ingredients that don’t work for the dish, the entire meal is ruined.

Case in point: I finished the campaign for StarCraft 2‘s “Heart of the Swarm” expansion and… my feelings are very, very mixed.

I would feel a lot better about it if so much of it didn’t feel like a retread of earlier Blizzard works. There are direct parallels to be drawn between this and Warcraft 3‘s “Reign of Chaos”, specifically the Orc campaign. It was difficult for me to discern anything I’d call a meaningful arc for any of its characters, even Kerrigan. Some of the conversations feel less like actual discussions and more like one-liners traded between characters put into a scene the way you put two ships into a harbor to pass in the night.

However, I never found myself completely disgusted by any of this the way I was by how romance overrode what could have been character development for Kerrigan. Her quest for revenge becoming a consolidation of Zerg power under her rule that gave way to a greater understanding of the Swarm would have been a lot more interesting and involving if we weren’t constantly reminded of the romance. I don’t see why Kerrigan ever needed to be ‘saved’. I would have enjoyed the campaign a lot more if she’d made her own choices and stood her own ground more.

So what was good about the campaign? The expansion on the history of the Zerg was interesting, some aspects stretching back past the original writing of the Zerg background. Several of the characters, from the new Ancient Zerg to those returning in new forms, are interesting conceptually and have unique points of view, moreso than similar characters in the previous campaign, “Wings of Liberty.” While some of the dialog was eye-rolling in its delivery, it wasn’t all terrible and there were moments where I was taken aback or found myself having a good-natured chuckle in response. And as egregious as I found the romance in which Kerrigan found herself entangled, when she was on her own I saw glimpses of a character who was thinking, growing, and moving forward for her own reasons.

There’s so much more than could have been done with this story. There’s potential in its concepts and history that went unrealized or underdeveloped. Why? Too many writers, not enough editors tied into a singular, clear vision. Kerrigan could have been much stronger if she hadn’t been yanked around between learning about the Zerg and being lovelorn over her dude. The story would have felt a great deal more smooth if plot points from “Wings of Liberty” had been remembered more clearly. The concepts and characters could have been given more time to breathe and develop if the story wasn’t so busy cribbing notes from earlier games. What we got wasn’t the worst game story I’ve ever played, and it’s left more of an impression and a desire to play than the first campaign did – but it could have been much, much better.

Return of the Art of Thor?

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

With Heart of the Swarm out, I’d love to bring back The Art of Thor. StarCraft gameplay remains a high-level technical skill, believe it or not, especially if one wants to play against other people with any sort of competency. That sort of mental calisthenics has all sorts of ancillary benefits, moreso than what’s provided by most shooters or RPGs or adventure games.

The problems include time for watching replays & dailies, developing strategies, practicing against the AI, and getting back onto the ladder. I’m not sure if my schedule can support that right now. But at least I can go through the campaign once I shell out for this newest expansion.

Drilling Fundamentals

Courtesy Riot Games

You hear this sort of thing all the time in regular sports. “We have to work on our fundamentals.” For the most part, this refers to striking, catching or otherwise working with a ball. Things like overarching strategy and specific on-field composition will matter, sure, but they matter a lot less if you’re not getting the ball to its intended target.

I’ve had to implement a similar policy in StarCraft 2. Once again I found myself overthinking my gameplay and tactics and letting such things distract me from the fact that I need to work on my most basic competitive skills. I’ve started keeping things at their most basic, and lo and behold I’ve started winning again.

League of Legends also finds me drilling on the fundamentals. Specifically, staying alive in the early game is something I’m finding difficult. I can be greedy, chasing the enemy far more often than I should. I’m working with a champion named Vladimir, who becomes very strong in the mid to late game but is squishy early on. If I can learn through him to stay alive more, and apply those lessons to carry-type heroes and the likes of Garen, I’ll be even more successful.

It’s highly likely the same goes for my writing.

Pursuant to yesterday’s post I find myself wondering if, in the process of thinking about rewrites, edits, pitches and projects, I’ve lost sight of some of the fundamentals of what I want to do. Hopefully making time to write the short due by the end of the week will help me recapture some of that, but I’m still reluctant to (as I see it) abandon my works in progress. I guess it all depends on how many irons I want in the fire at any given time.

What do you do when you need to drill fundamentals?

Twenty Twelve

Courtesy

So here we are, folks. The calendars have been swapped, the Dramamine passed around, the coffee brewed and we stand now looking at where the sidewalk ends.

It’s not like I think there’s any major cataclysm coming at the end of 2012. It’s far more likely that the Mayans simply felt that a couple thousand years was more than enough time to plan ahead for things. It’s unrealistic to think that they sat there carving dates into stone over and over again just for the carving’s sake. They had lives, after all. Or maybe the lives of the chroniclers was cut short by a conquistador’s saber. It’s something we may never know.

What I do know is that new years mean new possibilities. This takes the form of ‘resolutions’ for most. You can probably categorize what follows similarly, though most of mine are based on the previous year’s shortcomings.

While I did write quite a bit last year, I’ve little to show for it other than a pile of blog entries, a few YouTube videos, a pair of unrefined manuscripts and a half-dozen short stories in that curious limbo between “written” and “publishable”. So the first thing I’m going to do is get my fiction in print. That print may be electronic on an e-reader or out in the wild on one of those dwindling bookstore shelves, but it’ll get there, one way or another.

I discovered Day[9] in 2011, and as he suggests during his daily I plan on simply being a better gamer this year. I’ll try out more games, get better at the competitive games I play – StarCraft 2, League of Legends, shooters and games that of course haven’t been released yet. I’m talking about more than ranks as well. I’ll behave like a better gamer, support the independents and try to deliver as unbiased a review for a given game as possible. And if I find I was mistaken about something, you’ll be sure I’ll do my utmost to correct myself.

Music has been a big part of my life. I’d like to keep it as more than just singing in the car or shower and occasionally playing Rock Band with friends. I had piano lessons when I was younger and it may behoove me to try and blow the dust off that skill set, perhaps growing into guitar & electric bass playing. Returning to music can only help the flow of my creative juices, provided I can make the time and have the resources to do it.

Live healthier is one you often hear, but I know I’ve fallen away from healthy living a bit since I started commuting again. I miss walking to train stations and around downtown Philadelphia. There’s a Retro Fitness not far from my current location and it may be worth looking into.

I think that about wraps up the whole ‘resolutions’ thing. Here’s to a great 2012.

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