Another season has begun in the universe of StarCraft 2. And where does it find me? Yep. Bottom rung. Nothing’s really changed.
Or has it?
With the new job settling into a rhythm that I can cope with, I’m starting to plan more and stress less (at least a bit). Into those plans I’m trying to include things like eating better, exercising more (perhaps joining a gym?) and playing at least 3 matches of the aforementioned game a night. Why? The reason’s simple.
I’m tired of being terribronze.
I consider myself a casual gamer, in that I don’t really have aspirations of playing professionally at any point. I don’t want the game to become a job. And as envious as I am of the likes of Day and TotalBiscuit who’ve managed to make gaming the central focus of their lives without the fun getting sucked out of actually playing said games, I do not have the financial freedom or liberty from obligations to make that drastic a career change. I’m pushing it as it is trying to find enough time to write in the space between seconds every day.
So why do I care about the arbitrary ranking I have in a online strategy game?
I guess it comes down to a measure of pride. Not the most noble of intentions, but there you have it. I fancy myself a bit of a smarty-pants. I got teased about it a lot in school. I was never good at physical activities, sports or even dancing, save for choreographed bits on-stage. I did all right in fencing, tennis and judo in college but it’s been a long time since then and my skills are rusty as hell. My brain, though? Sharp as ever. At least I’d like to think so.
Gaming’s a place where your physical prowess means nothing. It’s all about what’s going on upstairs. Strategy games are one of the ultimate expressions of this, and if it’s happening in real time? Even better. You need not only the capacity to plan and execute complex tactics but the timing and presence of mind to do so quickly and under pressure. It takes discipline and tenacity.
That’s the big, overarching thought, at least. I’m also not fond of losing to cheese and I’d like to think it happens less often in higher leagues.
The mere act of playing more often seems to help. Just a few days after the opening of the season and I’m already maintaining a position in the top 8. Granted, it’s among 100 players as terribronze as myself, but it’s better than nothing. My strongest matchup is still against Zerg while Protoss continue to beat me regularly. Even so, I seem to be winning more than I’m losing. I just have to keep it up.
Because at the very least, it’s keeping my brain in shape. And I don’t even have to pay a monthly fee to do it.
Yesterday I promised I would go over the pending changes in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm in detail, and I do try to be a man of my word. Without further ado, here’s my take on the changes coming for the Terran, Zerg and Protoss races.
The core gameplay of the Terrans looks to be remaining unchanged. You can still create “bioballs” of Marines, Marauders and Medivacs and try to roll your way to victory. The standard mirror match composition of Marines, Siege Tanks and Vikings also looks to be viable in the expansion. But with the unit changes coming, I for one would like to see some variations in Terran strategy.
I’ll admit, as someone who once looked up to Optimus Prime, there’s a part of me that’s all for declaring “Hellions, transform and roll out!” every now and again. And combining the two transforming units, Hellions and Vikings, into a single force for highly mobile scouting, harassment and map control appeals to me. I can’t shake the feeling that part of the reason the Hellion attack changes from a line to a cone in walker mode is because people kept whining about how much they miss the Firebat, but given how slow Hellions in battle mode are compared to how Firebats worked, I see them filling different roles.
The Firebat and the Goliath both made cameo appearances in the Wings of Liberty campaign, and fans of the original game have been clamoring for them to come back. Instead of the Goliath, however, Blizzard introduced the Warhound, a medium-cost walking mech unit with decent anti-mech ground attacks and rapid anti-air. The Thor has been bumped up to the “hero” tier once occupied by the Protoss Mothership – more on that in a moment. The nice thing about the Warhound from where I sit is that it fills a necessary niche in mech-heavy armies but isn’t the sort of thing you can just spam for the win. It must be part of a balanced force with a specific focus, and I really dig that. It’s the reason I liked the Aspect Warriors of the Eldar in Warhammer 40k, but let’s stick with one nerdy strategy game at a time. The thing that really bothers me is how it looks. It feels too… delicate for Terran. Terran units tend to have a bulky, armored look to them, balanced by the sweeping curves of the Protoss and the spiky bits of the Zerg. The Warhound seems a bit spindly.
Finally we were introduced to the Shredder at BlizzCon. Yet another Factory-produced unit, this tiny robot gives Terrans some new options for controlling their opponents. I’m assuming it’s going to be less costly than the Siege Tank, as that tends to be the go-to example for Terran static board control. It sets up a radiation field that does damage over time to any unit standing in or passing through it, as long as the unit is not friendly. This mechanic, again, points to developers wanting Terrans to put a little more thought into map placement and unit control, instead of just holding down a button or two to coast to victory.
Other Terran changes include a speed boost on cooldown for Battlecruisers, Reapers regenerating outside of combat but losing their demo charges, Ghost cloaking getting tweaked and of course Thor changing to a one-at-a-time “hero” unit. Overall, I think the changes are going to shake things up a bit for Terrans, and this is a good thing, as no race in StarCraft should be pigeonholed into a single strategic line of thinking.
So the Zerg are at the core of the upcoming expansion, with the storyline of Kerrigan continuing and all sort of variations on Zerg broods being introduced. But the focus of much of the buzz was on the multiplayer units. Zerg is a macro-intensive, reactionary race, and there was speculation as to what changes Blizzard would make to help the gameplay remain vital in the expansion.
Enter the Viper. Currently, Zerg players need to evolve an Overlord into an Overseer to have mobile detection capabilities. The Viper will be able to inject other Zerg units with a parasite that turns them into detectors, eliminating this somewhat superfluous evolution. The Viper also coughs up a noxious cloud that obscures vision of ranged units, reducing their effectiveness. Finally, you’ll soon hear Zerg players bellowing “GET OVER HERE!” as the Viper has an ability in the style of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, pulling high-priority units usually relegated to the backs of groups to the forefront for easy elimination. Put these elements together and you have a diverse, airborne caster unit that speaks to the versatility, adaptability and overall scariness of the Zerg. I think it’s going to add a lot to Zerg play.
The only other brand-new unit the Zerg seem to be getting for ladder matches is the Swarm Host, described as an artillery unit. When burrowed, this prolific little Zerg produces tiny creatures called Locusts, that rush to their rally point to devour whatever’s in front of them. An individual Locust has, at this point, about 90 HP and a basic melee attack, but if there’s a line of Hosts outside the enemy base, each producing two Locusts every 15 seconds, and suddenly your opponent is being starved out of their base and you have another entire host waiting for them to storm out. It allows a Zerg player to exert more control on the enemy and gives them some breathing room to expand, tech, or build forces.
Ultralisks have often been ignored by Zerg players, but with the burrowing charge ability they’re getting, I expect we’re going to see a lot more. When a Zerg player evolves to Hive technology, Hydralisks will be able to move much faster and Banelings, the adorable kamikaze bombers of the swarm, will gain the ability to move while burrowed. Did I mention burrowed units are essentially cloaked? It’s a frightening prospect, which might be why I like it so much.
I can’t speak to the Protoss situation any more than I can the Zerg, as I’m still struggling to get out of Bronze League focusing on Terran, and the new season is likely to be no different. However, I have noticed that a lot of Protoss players seem to either go for all-or-nothing early attacks or build up a huge ball of death for the assault. Very little raiding goes on.
The Oracle will seek to change that. This flying unit, designated as support, does some very interesting things in the early game. Its two main abilities lock down structures’ production and prevent minerals from being harvested. Without attacking workers, they deliver a one-two punch that can cripple the enemy economy, allowing the Protoss to dash ahead to bigger and better units.
The Replicant is a robotic unit that uses nanotechnology to clone an existing enemy unit. Rather than adding another body to the core army of the Protoss, the Replicant is meant to allow Protoss players more flexibility in responding to enemy pressure and tactics. Photon cannons take a while to set up, while a Replicant can pop a Siege Tank or Shredder into existence for some impromptu map control. Likewise, a Replicant can become an Infestor or Banshee for quick harassment while the death-ball gains mass. I can see where Blizzard is going with this, but I have to admit, my initial reaction was that they were taking the piss.
The Protoss will boast a new capital ship in Heart of the Swarm called the Tempest. Its primary attack is an area of effect anti-air pulse designed to clear the skies of light air units such as the Viking and Mutalisks, long the bane of many a Protoss fleet. It also has an air-to-ground attack to supplement the other units in said fleet, and from what I understand, it dominates the skies with its crescent shape. It appears to be more efficient at what it does than the Phoenix, but in light of an unseen cost I can understand Protoss players railing against it.
That unseen cost is the loss of the Carrier. A quintessential Protoss unit, the Carrier is being nixed because of its size, build time and the fact that few pros are using it. Same for the Mothership. Instead of this massive, expensive unit that is almost always the primary target of the opponent’s entire army, the Protoss will get a recall ability on their Nexus that works similarly to the Mass Recall ability of the Mothership, but has more flexibility. The Nexus will also acquire a defensive ability that should deter mineral line harassment.
Overall, I think Blizzard is doing the right thing in tweaking certain aspects of the playstyles they’re seeing in Wings of Liberty. I can’t speak to the viability of the new units or how the changes will affect the games to come, as I neither got a hands-on experience with them nor do I play all three races. However, hopefully there will be a public beta period where I can give these new units and tactics a try, and will expand on my thoughts then.
BlizzCon has come and gone again. And again, I didn’t get to go. Sadface. But next year! Next year will be THE YEAR OF CONVENTIONS! I’m totally going to cons next year. It is a moral imperative.
Anyway, while I wasn’t present and couldn’t shell out for the live stream, I did keep an eye on my Twitter feed and a couple other news sources to piece together what the rather mad and admittedly skilled yacht-owning developers at Blizzard have in store for their fans. Let’s go IP by IP.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
“Isn’t it a little late for April Fool’s?” – Danielle
So, yeah. Pandaran.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the pandaran brewmasters. But to me they’ve always been on the fringe of Azerothian stories, kind of like the bounty hunters in Star Wars. Remember how LucasArts released a game all about one of those bounty hunters because they wanted to make him a “breakout hit” from Attack of the Lame Screenplay? The overall reaction was “meh.” That’s an appropriate reaction here, as well.
Now, taking the game in a PvP direction and away from the PvE content that has not really been up to snuff since Burning Crusade is probably a good thing, as Old Republic‘s voice-acted labyrinthine quest chains are probably going to blow WoW out of the water. And the environments and new character models look great. I just can’t shake this feeling that, like in previous expansions, the other character models will remain as dated as they have been for years. There’s also the fact that adding the Monk as a basic class, while good on paper, means that all of its abilities need to be scaled and balanced against the others. I don’t know if doing Monk as a Hero Class would have been more or less work. But the game already had balance issues, mostly pointed out by the PvPers, and with Mists being aimed for PvPers, you’d think some thought would have gone into making sure things are well balanced. The talent system is reportedly “overhauled and improved,” but I for one won’t be holding my breath. Between Skyrim and Guild Wars 2, I’ll get all the fantasy RPGing I can handle, and then some.
“…like giving crack to a heroin fiend…” – Ross Miller
I’m also somewhat lukewarm about Diablo 3. I enjoyed both Diablo 2 and its expansion, and I’m sure that the sequel will be enjoyable as well in the same “click your way into the dungeon, click your enemies to death, click your way back” fashion as its predecessor and Torchlight. My objections to the lack of character customization leading to the Witch Doctor being a walking stereotype aside, I’m sure the game’s engine is solid, the skills of the various classes fun to use and the story as dark as the previous iterations.
In this case, it’s more a matter of prioritization than anything. I want to play Skyrim and get into Guild Wars 2 far more than I want to play Diablo 3. I must admit, though, that pitching the WoW yearly pass to players by throwing them a gratis copy of this game is a stroke of genius. Well done, Blizzard, enjoy the new yachts!
“lolwut” – Me.
I love the tongue-in-cheek nature in which this was presented at BlizzCon. I’ve played a bit of League of Legends and I like the gameplay that feels like the handsome bastard rogue child of RTS and RPG. Doing so with known characters has a frankly shameful amount of appeal. I just love the notion of mincing in as Jim Raynor and blasting the snot out of Arthas over and over again. Or Illidan. Let me show you just how prepared I am, bitch.
Anyway, it could be fun. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.
Speaking of Jimmy…
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
“ZOMG PROTOSS GOT SHAFTED, NERF TERRAN” – Every Protoss player ever.
Campaign looks interesting, wish Kerrigan’s skin was still as dark as it had been in the original game, blah blah blah.
I’ll talk more about the units and other initial changes in tomorrow’s post, but what struck me as the torrential amount of backlash from a lot of the StarCraft community. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, as many players have made it a point to constantly decry how one particular race is dominating the others or the ways individual units can or should be tweaked to defang a prevalent strategy. Personally I don’t put a lot of stock in public outcries in this matter, partially because I have no basis by which to gauge the power of units relative to skill as I don’t have much skill myself, and partially because I think that most of the forums on which I see this sort of caustic feedback are too loosely moderated to sort out the ruffians and bandwagon-jumpers from the people who have honest, well-reasoned opinions on the state of the game. I should really listen to the podcast of the same name more.
Thoughts on new multiplayer units and the changes I’m aware of tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Dire situations can lead to self-discovery. And sometimes soiled drawers.
Very few of us are born experts. The process of going from novice to expert can be long and arduous. At times, it can be difficult to determine where to begin. In video games, once you get past the basic questions of which button does what, the various ways to distance oneself from being a newbie can seem overwhelming. Just as writing sometimes needs to be taken one word at a time, and programming to one line of code after another, so to can gaming be broken down into more manageable aspects.
It’s a form of what’s called ‘deliberate practice’. We choose an aspect of our skill set and work it hard until it’s forged into something that will contribute to greater success. This is probably most prominent in any RPG you care to mention. If you want to find more loot, you need to practice picking locks. When I was playing World of Warcraft I found myself needing to improve on laying traps for crowd control or cooperating with a group without becoming flustered. You can be I will continue to work on those skills in Guild Wars 2, along with mastering the nuances of the classes one weapon at a time.
It’s not just limited to role-playing games, though. Even bare-bones shooters like Killing Floor lend themselves to this form of practice.
Killing Floor features a set of perks for each player. You can choose which perk you want when joining a server and between waves of specimens (‘zeds’). You can grind away at a particular perk until its maxed out, or you can get to a particular level and use that perk to earn some cash before switching to a problem area or something relatively untouched. For example, if you like being up close and personal, you can either get every tier of Berzerker or open up a long game by spending a few waves on that perk, then use the cash you earn to buy weapons for an underdeveloped perk such as Commando or Sharpshooter. The best part about Killing Floor is that some perks can be worked on even if they’re not your primary choice – healing teammates contributes to your Medic perk even if you’re running around as the Firebug.
I didn’t realize this particular form of practice had a formal name until I rekindled my interest in StarCraft 2 with the return of Day’s Newbie Tuesday. He’d talked about a mental checklist before, but he also showed how focusing on a particular item on that list not only strengthens that item but also highlights other areas of weakness to be worked upon. I took this advice to heart and started playing again. I actually tried not to win and instead focus on one aspect of my play.
I won a few games anyway.
It’s as true for video games as it is for most of our endeavours: sometimes, in order to build ourselves up, we need to break ourselves down first.
I’ve been called a lot of things in my time when it comes to gaming. “Blithering idiot.” “Total bastard.” “Keyboard-turning skill-clicker.” And perhaps the most caustic of all: “mouth-breathing casual.”
Most of these terms come from my wife. Ours is a happy marriage.
Anyway, the last one is sticking with me because to some gamers, ‘casual’ is an extremely dirty word. It’s why the role-playing servers in World of Warcraft are looked down upon (well, that and the atrocious characters running around… here, feast your eyes). Folks who play Magic: the Gathering professionally are more keenly following the buzz on the upcoming Innistrad expansion than the news of a new duel deck featuring Venser and Koth. Sticking with 4th edition D&D rather than using Pathfinder or the old AD&D ruleset probably also marks me as one of those ‘casuals’.
Thinking about it, I’m pretty okay with that.
Gaming is a close runner-up behind writing in terms of favorite ways to spend my time. While I don’t burn a lot of lean tissue in a round or two of Team Fortress 2, I do engage my brain when coming up with refinements to a Commander deck, developing plotlines for a tabletop campaign or working on my macro skills in StarCraft 2. I get a lot of enjoyment out of these things, and I don’t want to lose sight of that by taking the hobby too seriously. I’d like to think I can get good enough at StarCraft 2 or the upcoming Guild Wars 2 to break into the e-sports scene, but it’s going to take a lot of practice before I get myself beyond the level of ‘casual’.
The thing about moving beyond being a casual gamer is that gaming, for the most part, is a rather expensive pastime. Take Magic, for example. To become competitive you need playsets of the most powerful cards available, and that requires a rather large monetary investment. Oh, and the cards you just dropped hundreds of dollars on? They won’t be useful in the very near future. Either the expansions they’re from will pass out of Standard’s ruleset or the card itself may get banned or restricted. You can trade a bit, sure; in fact I’ve started to do some myself since I can’t afford to keep buying singles. But the fact of the matter is that the competitive Magic scene will always be dominated by people who have more disposable income than you. No, thank you.
StarCraft 2 is more accessible in that you don’t need to buy anything other than the box the game comes in, and maybe an authenticator. The hurdle here is dedication and brain power, not cash. You can build your muscle memory and multitasking ability through practice alone, making it more a time investment than anything else. The occasional break for StarJeweled or Aiur Chef with a friend is fine, though, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You can’t take this stuff too seriously.
I think that’s why some people look down their noses at casuals like myself. I understand the mindset. Gaming is serious business. I used to look at it that way. I would get livid when wiping in a dungeon or getting the facial treatment from an Alliance rogue. It got to the point that my wife stopped playing with me. I was taking it too seriously. I started to fall into that trap again with StarCraft 2, so I took a break. Now that I’m back to it, I’m taking it more easily. I’m using multiplayer (2v2, 3v3) matches to practice and also replaying the single-player campaign on the highest difficulty, and while it gets me angry when things are difficult, I’m not destroying my keyboard or terrifying the cats. Because I know it’s just a game, I should be enjoying it instead of loathing it, and I don’t want to be the next Idra, doing things like ragequitting out of frustrating games I’m about to win.
I think, in the end, it’s more healthy for me to be a casual gamer making my way slowly towards pro-level skills than the kind of gamer who wishes so hard to be pro that they lose sight of all the fun they should be having. If that means I get made fun of on occasion because I like Commander so much or I don’t have the APM of a Korean demigod, so be it. My blood pressure will stay low, my wife will actually want to play with me and, most important of all, I’ll be enjoying the experience.
To me, casual seems like a pretty damn good thing to be.