Sound Structure – Intriguing Designs That Hit The Mark

A week ago I wrote an article discussing the most stressful units in StarCraft II. Here’s the followup to that piece, a discussion of some of the most interesting designs StarCraft has given us. Here are units that prove that it is possible to create gameplay that is satisfying for the player without causing your opponent’s blood pressure to spike.

 

Stalker

Perhaps a trigger warning is necessary here for victims of the Blink-Stalker era. Either way, I do maintain my point from last week. Aesthetically speaking, my honest opinion is that Stalker is the Little Nicky of StarCraft designs. The Stalker’s gameplay, however, is another story, and in a way, distinct.

Among all core units in the game, the Stalker is by far the weakest in terms of raw dps. For its lacking offensive ability, the Stalker boasts superior mobility. Once its ability Blink is unlocked, the Stalker becomes unrivaled in its ability to pick-off priority targets.

Stalkers can’t survive prolonged engagements without the support of units higher up in the Protoss tech tree. Instead, as its name implies, the Stalker functions as a sniper unit for both cutting off units attempting to retreat, and giving the Protoss the ability to dictate the terms of engagement. The latter is usually achieved by using blink to hard engage a dangerous target before it can react, or up to higher ground to secure a tactical advantage.

Like most standard Gateway units, the Stalker functions as reinforcements in long engagements; they will eventually fall-off without actual heavy firepower at the rear, so focus fire is imperative.

The idea of taking a mobile low damage unit and making it a race’s core is a tough sell but the Stalker carved its own niche with its distinct and satisfying play-style. Now if only it didn’t look like a concept reject for Genesect.

 

Ghost

Conceptually, the Ghost seems like what you would get if you told a 10 year old boy to make a StarCraft unit. To start, it’s a spellcaster built to counter other spell casters. It can stealth and has massive burst that can shred even the tankiest units; if need be, it can call in a Nuclear strike, which, appropriately enough, is nowhere near as broken as it sounds.

That’s pretty much the theme of the Ghost. It’s a unit that, on paper, sounds like it should be all kinds of busted, but isn’t. The fact that it’s on one of the furthest ends of the Terran tech tree has a lot to do with this. Furthermore, its more outlandish abilities either require additional research or further investments to prepare.

Design

The Tactical Nuke is worth particular note for being the first supply pit in StarCraft. Ironically,  it is the best example of a supply pit done right. In both StarCraft and StarCraft II, each Tactical Nuke requires further investment to build. Usually only one could be prepared at a time. Although in StarCraft II, both the direct and opportunity cost is significantly lower than its predecessor.

The significant investment that goes into preparing even a single Nuke makes it a rare sight. But it’s still an exceptionally powerful tool that can be devastating in the right situations regardless. The rarity of the event just makes it that much more of a spectacle for both players when it actually does happen.

 

Arbiter

My personal favourite unit from StarCraft I, and possibly just StarCraft in general. The Arbiter is the unit at the furthest end of the Protoss tech tree in Brood War. Furthermore, even despite its heavy cost and even heavier build time (longest in the game, yes even longer than the Carrier), it has three further upgrades to research that collectively take close to 4.5 minutes, and 450 minerals/450 gas to complete.

In that way, it’s very unique. Most notably, for a unit at the furthest end of the tech tree, its direct offensive ability is almost non-existent. It has an attack, but it’s mostly negligible. Rather, the value of the Arbiter comes entirely from its spells and abilities. Of its three abilities/spells, the Arbiter starts with one, its Cloaking Field. Cloaking Field, as you can guess, cloaks (grants stealth) to every unit in an area beneath it.

Design

Its only two spells, both of which need to be researched, are Recall and Stasis Field. They both feature their own respective strategies for which they act as the focal points. Stasis Field freezes any unit caught within the spell’s area of effect. Under stasis, units are completely immobile and cannot be attacked for its duration. It’s a particularly powerful tool against Terran and Protoss for shutting down Siege Tanks and Reavers, respectively.

Recall is a global spell that teleports all units under a 5×5 spell area directly to the Arbiter. The Mass Recall strategy centered on this ability usually involves flying an Arbiter directly into an enemy base and using recall to teleport an army onto the enemy’s production facilities.

The Arbiter is unique as the only final tier support unit gated behind massive investments and research upgrades like none other, but somehow ends up being undeniably worth it.

Side Note: You’ve probably noticed from the Ghost to the Arbiter that there’s a reoccurring design principle here that StarCraft II ignored. That principle being – if you’re going to give a unit some seriously busted-ass spells, stick it at the furthest end of the tech tree and lock its potential behind a million upgrades.

 

Viper

I didn’t mean to order this list but it happened anyway, I guess this would be the number one spot. As much as I love the Arbiter, the Viper just wins on so many levels.

I’ll start with Parasitic Bomb, which proves it’s possible to create a spell for punishing mass-air deathballs without being a spell that instagibs mass-air deathballs. Furthermore, while Parasitic Bomb will significantly slow, if not stop, the advancement of a mass-air army, its effect can be significantly mitigated with practiced micro control that feels very satisfying to outplay.

This is a very rare mechanic in StarCraft where a punishing spell can actually feel somewhat rewarding on the receiving end for having successfully mitigated the full effect.

But by far, Viper’s most intriguing ability is Consume. It’s an ability that uniquely allows the Viper to replenish energy by sucking the life from (damaging) your own Structures. Not only is the spell absolutely ominous to watch, particularly when watching a swarm of Vipers kill their own Hatchery, but it adds a distinct depth to the Viper. After exhausting its energy, Vipers can be pulled from the front-line back to the Zerg’s base to replenish their energy at the cost of damage to their own structures, after which it can return to the field.

The Viper has its own synergy between its abilities, spells, and the battlefield itself. An intriguing novelty unlike anything else in StarCraft that I can only describe as an absolutely beautiful model of sound game design.

Design

 

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ASL Season 3: Round of 16 Preview

The second round of ASL is just days away. While my bae Stork may have made an early exit, the lineup is packed with legends and shows you absolutely don’t want to miss. Here’s your guide to the Round of 16.

 

Group A

Lee “Flash” Young Ho

Ko “HyuN” Seok Hyun

Lee “Shine” Young Han

Kim “ggaemo” Kyung Mo

 

Welcome to the battle for second place. Flash straight up got a free pass to the Quarters here. The second slot is a bit more tricky. Neither Hyun nor Shine have particularly stood out, both advancing second from relatively unremarkable groups.

Ggaemo is another story, but has yet to be tested in any matchup other than ZvP. To advance, he’ll have to prove himself against the best Terran to ever touch StarCraft, and at least one ZvZ.

 

Predictions: Flash, HyuN.

Airs: April 30th, 3am PST/6am EST

 

Group B

Yum “Sea” Bo Sung

Kim “EffOrt” Jung Woo

Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong

Kim “Soulkey” Min Chul

 

Despite sSak’s efforts, Group B somehow became the Group of Death. Without question, this is the group to watch. It says everything that not even Bisu can be considered safe here. Quite the contrary when you consider Bisu and Sea’s recent history. In the ASL Season 2 Quarterfinals, it was Sea that knocked Bisu out in a 3-0 shutout. With Protoss in general struggling under the current ASL map pool, we’re looking at a real possibility of Bisu making an early exit.

EffOrt looks like a genuine contender at the moment, steamrolling his way through Group B and Soulkey. He proved himself after knocking out the Season 1 ASL Champion on his way out of the Round of 24.

Literally every player in this group has a case to make for the Quarterfinals, and competition for the two available slots will be like nothing we’ve seen yet.

 

Predictions: None. But I’d put the odds ever so slightly on Sea.

Airs: May 2nd, 3am PST/6am EST

 

Group C

Doh “BeSt” Jae Wook

Yoon “Mong” Chan

Kim “IamMang” Seung Hyun

Kim “Jaehoon” Jae Hoon

 

With Protoss’ struggles in the current Season of ASL, it seems harsh that three of the four remaining ended up in one group. In reality, this actually ended up being the best case scenario for Protoss, guaranteeing at least one Protoss in the Quarterfinals, and a strong probability for a second.

Group C is another interesting one. BeSt got seeded in from his semifinal run in the last ASL where he took Sea to a Game 5 series. With this in mind, he’s a player that cannot be ruled out. Mong got into the Round of 16 at the top of his group, defeating Shuttle on the route out. We know he can hold his own in high level PvT, and in this group that makes him a genuine threat.

Meanwhile, IamMang advanced to the Round of 16 through two PvP wins, dropping Stork on his way out. His PvP is in proven form. In a group with three Protoss, he absolutely cannot be underestimated.

As for Jaehoon. He made it out of his group by 2-0’ing Light. If he can somehow make it past IamMang, and ends up against Mong in the Winner’s Match, I can see him possibly advancing. Of course, making it past IamMang’s PvP is no easy feat. Jaehoon does have a route out, but it’s undeniably a long shot.

 

Predictions: IamMang, BeSt

Airs: May 9th, 3am PST/6am EST

 

Group D

Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong

Choi “sSak” Ho Seon

Kim “Last” Sung Hyun

Jo “hero” Il Jang

 

With Zerg dominating Season 3 so far, Jaedong would be a given. But a wrist injury in February does put his current form into question. He did participate in the I love StarCraft showmatch in March, so it’s likely not still an issue.

Last made it into the Round of 16 at the top of Group F. However, the level of competition he faces here is a steep climb from Group F. Despite an impressive performance, he’s yet to be truly tested which makes him a bit of an unknown.

This brings me sSak. For those of you lucky enough to read Naruto before it went downhill to its comically slow and painful death, you’ll remember Jiraiya. Jiraiya’s character carries a lesson: don’t judge someone’s capability based on their interests. The comparison to Jiraiya becomes even more relevant when you consider sSak’s apparent love for female Broadcast Jockeys and drinking streams. Unlike Jaedong, don’t let this distract you from the fact that sSak advanced from the Round of 24 at the top of a stacked group. sSak is more of a threat than he lets on.

 

Predictions: sSak makes a surprise advancement in first place, Jaedong advances in final match.

Airs: May 9th, 3am PST/6am EST

 

 

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Toxic Design

Stress Spikes – The most questionable designs in StarCraft II

Balance revisions are once again in season in the StarCraft world. And while these changes are far from insignificant, it will be a while before the next major overhaul. As such, I thought I would get an early start on the list of units that should be considered for the next renovation.

The units in this discussion aren’t on here because of poor balance, and to be clear, this isn’t a balance discussion. Rather, today I want to look at units infamous for their toxic design.

Most of the units here serve important roles in their race’s design. But in some cases, those roles could stand to see some revisions, into forms that accomplish similar goals but in a way that doesn’t inspire players to put their fist through their monitors.

 

Oracle Fly-by

There are many units in StarCraft that can cripple you if you’re not prepared for them. The Oracle, however, is a special case.

If your anti-air is mispositioned, an early Oracle can end the game. There’s an indescribable feeling you get seeing an Oracle fly-by and realizing your grave has already been dug. Some would suggest you could say the same thing about detection and stealth units. The thing is, workers can run from a Dark Templar or Banshee. Try as you may, there’s no running from an Oracle. It raises the question as to why Pulsar Beam is necessary in its current form, especially with Stasis Ward becoming more common as a means of harassment.

 

The mine that got away

It’s not exactly surprising to say the Widow Mine is a unit that inspires a special kind of loathing. But I’ve always been of the firm belief that it’s not the Widow Mine’s damage that makes it a toxic unit. Rather, the most toxic thing about the Widow Mine is watching it get away – watching a mine being dropped into your mineral line and then just barely failing to kill it before it borrows is an exasperating feeling that’s made worse knowing you need to evacuate your mineral line immediately and deal with finishing it off before you can get back to work.

Nerfs to the Widow Mine were a huge talking point earlier this year but it seems surprising that the Mine’s 90 HP never came into question. For reference, the Widow Mine’s predecessor from Brood War, the Spider Mine, only had 20HP. For that 20HP, the Spider Mine could only hit ground units, could not be moved once set, were only good for one-shot and yet were still widely used.

The Widow Mine is not going to get its health cut anytime soon. That would be a balance call rather than a design call. But the next time issues with the Widow Mine come up, rather than just cutting its damage again, maybe think about adjusting its durability instead. Personally, I would even be in favor of the Mine getting a damage buff if it meant a durability trade off.

 

Throwing Shade

I’ve gone through a lot of this already so I’ll be sparing on the details here. Psionic Transfer was an interesting experiment but the results are back and they don’t look good.Toxic Design I almost feel it’s a cop-out to include this because of how vocal the community has been about this ability. But still, the balance team hasn’t really done anything about it so maybe it’s not as obvious as I thought. Sure they cut the shade vision, but all that did was make the shading process into guesswork.

This arguably made the Adept even more toxic to play against. At least when the Adepts had vision you could reasonably predict when the Protoss would commit or not. Now that the shades are blind, you really never know when the Protoss is going to go full yolo. This new layer of unpredictability means that the act of activating Psionic Transfer alone is enough to keep an opponent on the defensive.

The community has been vocal enough about this that the fact that Psionic Transfer still exists in its current form can only be described as stubbornness on the balance team’s part. Yes, we Protoss players have had our laughs with this one but the joke is getting old. The ability to cancel shades needs to go.

 

Supply Pits

Let’s talk about offense vs defense in esports. As a rule of thumb, you generally want defending to be somewhat more skillful than executing an attack. This is done to encourage aggressive tactics and discourage passive playstyles that risk creating boring or monotonous shows for audiences. Supply Pits are units that take this concept to the absolute extreme. These are units like the Disruptor and Seeker Missiles that are exponentially harder to defend against than they are to use. And failing to defend against them can at times have game-ending results.

Spending 10 minutes building up an army only to lose it all in a second is a unique experience, and one not often seen in the RTS genre. Being on the receiving end of a Supply Pit is easily the most toxic experience in StarCraft II and one of the most toxic experiences in any esport.

With this in mind, the damage fade of splash and AoE damage is worth reviewing at least once. We can call it a social experiment. And if there is any aspect of StarCraft II that’s worth experimenting on, this is it.

 

Why does my Core Unit look like ass?

Toxic Design

It shoots lasers from its eyes. You know, just in case the design wasn’t dumb enough as is.

While we are on the topic of bad design, let’s talk about the Stalker. Granted, the Stalker is badly designed in a different way but it still makes me want to break my screen so here we are. Every race has one or two core units. These are units that are generally useful at all points in the game which are capable of fun micro-mechanics. Terran has Marine-Marauders, for Zerg: Hydralisks and Ravagers. If you only started playing StarCraft some time in the last few months, it’s easy to think that our Core unit is the Adept.

To a certain extent, the Adept has become a core unit despite scaling poorly into the late game. But Protoss has had another core unit for years prior to Legacy of the Void and that is the Stalker.

Toxic Design

It’s a Winter’s Veil Miracle

If I had to describe the Stalker, I would say it looks like the result of an underachieving demon possessing a mashed-on beetle. I wish I could say that was an exaggeration, that really just is what the Stalker looks like. Just like it isn’t an exaggeration to say the Stalker is possibly the single ugliest unit ever designed in the history of the RTS genre.

How or why the Stalker’s current design came into existence is a mystery. My theory is that some famous Protoss player slept with Dustin Browder’s wife and this was his revenge. Whatever the case, I think we’ve been punished long enough. Zerg has their sleek Hydras, Terrans have their badass Marines but somehow Protoss got stuck with Little Nicky.

WarChests are coming later this year, all I ask is that we get a skin that makes the Stalker not look like ass.


 

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Keybind

Keybinds, Brood War 1.18 and a Letter to Blizzard

Earlier this week, Blizzard made the announcement that custom keybinds will be dropped from the upcoming Brood War patch 1.18. Now, this was a confusing call for a lot of reasons. Primarily, praise for the feature seemed almost unanimous, so of course, the community has been quite vocal in response.

How can something as simple as keybinds spark a debate? That’s a valid question, so let’s get into it.

 

Lack of Transparency

To start, the announcement itself was a bit awkward. Literally all the information we were given was that the intention was to gather feedback and that the feature will not be live with 1.18. And of course, the promise to continue the conversation in the feature.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

If you feel like something is missing here, there is. And that something is context. As in, there was absolutely no context here to work with whatsoever. Was this a decision based on negative feedback or was it that the version in testing was simply to buggy to meet the intended release date? We don’t know, and naturally, wherever there is a lack of information, speculation and assumptions rush in to fill the gap.

Many have expressed concern that this was an intentional design choice while others insist it is only a temporary deferment. But the reality is we’re all just taking turns in our attempts to read between the lines.

 

A Letter to Blizzard – A Matter of Common Decency

The debate over whether or not custom keybinds should go through is largely a stubborn rivalry between purists and progressives. Before we get into the details, its important to note that purity is very important to the StarCraft Remastered project. Particularly, preservation of the original gameplay absolutely must be kept as is.

Brood War, even after 19 years, still has an active playerbase that rivals, if not surpasses, that of the StarCraft 2. Particularly in Korea, the home of StarCraft, StarCraft 2 never had lasting appeal over its predecessor. To say StarCraft 2’s Korean playerbase is a fraction of their Brood War scene is still saying very little.

For this reason, any type of change that may affect Brood War’s gameplay is a very touchy subject. For the most part, both the foreign community and feedback from Korean pros seem to be in agreement that features such as unit pathing and control group sizes are important pivots in Brood War’s gameplay and absolutely should not be touched.

Keybindings are a bit more of a grey area. It’s not at all controversial to say Brood War’s default layout is absurd. Some of the most basic interactions require you to move your hand all the way across the keyboard and back. Not only is it exceptionally awkward for new players, the setup has the effect of tiring out your wrists making Brood War largely inaccessible for players with weak wrists or wrist injuries.

Preservation of the original gameplay is important. That’s something I would never argue against. Keybinds, however, don’t have a direct effect on gameplay. Nor does having the ability to customize layouts have a negative effect on professional players. In StarCraft 2 for example, at the highest level players are known to use Standard layouts and Grid among others with minor customization.

On the other hand, the inability to customize hotkeys ostracizes any player whose wrist can’t take the stress of the default layout. The arguments against this have been, from what I’ve seen, non-existent. The firm stance of Purists on the matter has been either “f*** casuals” or the more ironic declaration to “stop being lazy”.

Brood War is an iconic game and I understand purity is important. But this isn’t a matter of purity, it’s a matter of common decency.

Wrist related injuries are becoming more and more common in the esports world. And failing to accommodate players with injuries for the sake of purity isn’t a road anyone should consider going down. Because right now we’re at keybindings and it raises the question: what is the next stop down? Refusing to allow colorblind mode because “f*** casuals”?

 Keybinds

 

This is Brood War and Korea remains King

At the end of the day, StarCraft Remastered, and Patch 1.18 by extension, is Blizzard’s own love letter to Korea. And the truth is they’ve more than earned it. While StarCraft 2 never met a warm reception in Korea, Koreans have long stayed loyal to Brood War. Even 19 years later it remains one of the top five games in the country that laid the building blocks for modern esports. Brood War wouldn’t still be around if it wasn’t for Korea’s passion for the game.

And regardless of how highly our approval was for this feature, we’re still the foreigners here. Ultimately, the country that has kept Brood War alive for over 19 years will be the ones to make this call. And that’s as it should be.

Unfortunately at the moment, like everything else, we don’t know what the reception of the Korean community has been. What we do know is that many Korean Brood War pros were consulted and intimately involved in this project. Including the legendary “TaekBangLeeSsang”, the four most dominant players in the history of StarCraft.

It’s very unlikely this feature would have even gone into testing without the approval of at least some of Brood War’s pro scene and that is perhaps the one hopeful thought I have to offer.

If there is a resistance against this feature within the Korean community, we haven’t been told so. But if there is, I can only ask to Blizzard to appeal the humanity in your audience. Because while indeed some foreigners see Koreans as Gods, I can assure you wrist injuries and disabilities affect them every bit as much as they affect us.


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Adept

Unit in Review: The Adept

Lynching the entire Protoss player base has been the hot topic of discussion in the StarCraft II community recently, as is the norm following any major Protoss win. That said, it seems wrong to waste the opportunity to talk about one of the most controversial units in the game while everyone is yelling about it. Of course, I’m referring to the Adept.

Even amongst the unfiltered hatred there are very valid criticisms about the Adept, let’s not be mistaken. It’s a unit without a clear method of counter-play which is never healthy design. To Blizzard’s credit, they have tried interesting, but ultimately unsuccessful, ways of providing workarounds. It’s a delicate subject because there’s really no statistical evidence to show the Adept is imbalanced. However, it is undeniably a frustrating unit to play against which has always been the core issue.

What makes the Adept so frustrating, why have previous design changes failed and what can and should be done? These are the topics of today’s discussion. So let’s get into it.

 

Psionic Transfer

For the unfamiliar, Psionic Transfer is the Adept’s ability to project un-targetable shades of itself. After 7 seconds, the Adept teleports directly to the location of its shades. Now, what makes the Adept frustrating isn’t its ability to teleport. Rather, it’s the Adept’s ability to cancel it.

If it were not possible to cancel Psionic Transfer, the solution becomes obvious: just follow the shades. Instead what we have is a mind game, for which there is no clear solution. Attempting to follow the shades will only result in the Protoss canceling them. If you stick with the main body, then the shade goes through. Attempting to split your army creates the worst possible scenario where the Protoss can potentially prey on the divided force whether they decide to commit to the shades or not.

Adept

Now this commitment went badly for Stats but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The solution becomes obvious then, why not just take away the ability to cancel the shades?

Indeed, this is hardly a unique idea. In fact, it’s been brought up for as long as the Adept was available for testing in the Legacy of the Void beta. And since then, the balance team’s stance on the matter has been to avoid creating overlap with the Stalker. Now, this is a frustrating response for many reasons, which I’ll get into in the next section. And given that Blizzard has gone to great lengths to dance around this idea despite how often it comes up, it indicates their stance on this hasn’t changed.

Blizzard’s solution for shades was admittedly clever. They cut the vision of the shades, effectively making them blind, making it much riskier for Protoss to commit to shades, and giving opposing players the ability to counterplay by dodging the shades. This worked in the short-term, but eventually players learned to gauge the amount of resistance they should expect at certain timings. Giving rise to the YOLO strategy. Accepting that you don’t 100% know whether it’s safe to teleport in, but you have the statistics on your side, so YOLO.

 

Stalker-Adept Overlap – The Design Dilemma

To start, the Adept and Stalker are functionally different in too many ways. The Stalker with its ability Blink, which allows the Stalker to immediately teleport a short distance, functions as an assassination unit. Blink allows the Stalker to pick off priority targets before they’re able to respond. Alternatively, it’s a precise tool for picking off an enemy unit, particularly transport units, attempting to retreat.

Adept

The 3 tank, Liberator timing. The Liberator sieges from the sky while the Tanks zone out from the ground.

Unlike the Stalker, which can attack both ground and aerial units, the Adept can only attack units on the ground. Furthermore, the timed delay on the transfer limits the Adept’s ability to make decisive assassinations, even more-so when you consider shades are restricted by terrain.

The design overlap explanations become even shakier when you consider Liberators and Siege Tanks. The Liberator is another unit that was added to StarCraft II with Legacy of the Void. And much like the Adept, the Liberator has been cause for more much frustration. Particularly, the Siege Tank and Liberators both fulfill very similar roles. They are both stationary units that excel at zoning control. This overlap between Liberators and Siege Tanks has been cause for some of the most oppressive strategies over the last season, most notably, the 3 Tank-Liberator timing which has been largely responsible for the Phoenix-Adept meta of PvT.

This sends a very confusing message that design overlap is fine when it comes to creating oppressive gameplay but when it comes to solving oppressive interactions, then it becomes an issue.

It’s just not a valid concern. Even if there was an overlap, which there isn’t, there is no argument to be made between whether toxic design should be upheld to avoid creating redundant design.

 

The trade-off

As I mentioned before, the balance of the Adept really isn’t in question, only the design is. So removing the Adept’s ability to cancel shades will have to be compensated somehow.

Damage Point

One of the more elegant possibilities is reducing the Adept’s damage point in exchange for the shade nerf. Damage point is the initial delay period between an attack command and the attack execution. This does not directly affect a units damage per second but has a large effect on a unit’s micro control. Units with a lower damage point are able to stutter step with better efficiency. This means, for the nerf the Adept could be given better potential for micro control.

Smoother Power Curve

Another possible solution is creating a small percentage splash damage buff as a tier upgrade above the Adept’s research upgrade, Resonating Glaives. The net result of this will be a direct nerf to the Adept’s early game survive-ability but creates more utility for the Adept in the late game. The Adept, traditionally a unit that becomes useless in the late end of the game. This change would effectively soften the Adept’s power curve, trading out its early game dominance for longevity.


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Brood War

Brood War Adventures – Preparing for the Journey Home

 

A few weeks ago I wrote an article talking about the possibility of a Brood War Renaissance. It’s 2017, and Brood War is once again completely relevant to current events. This is not a wishful, “what if” piece. This is it, we’re actually on the trail. I have to wonder how many esports writers over the years have thought of this moment as a wild dream.

For so many esport writers and athletes, their passion for craft started with Brood War. Most went on to other games and other projects: League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch. Yet Brood War was the starting point of that passion, and it’s for that reason it holds a sentimental place in the esport world. With that in mind, it’s a powerful experience to be here, writing about a game that meant so much to so many.

It is no secret that Brood War has a steep learning curve, even by StarCraft 2’s harsh standards. You’ve likely heard so much about it. What I’d like to talk about are the things they don’t tell you. The walls you run into that catch you off-guard.

 

Map Vision

You’ve heard so much about Brood War’s pathing issues that affect your ability to get around the map. But what you didn’t expect is the almost completely black screen you’re met with once you get into a game. Unlike StarCraft 2, which features a greyed out map from the start of the game, the maps in the original are completely black until you explore them for the first time in that game. This means that before you get into a game, it will be worthwhile to spend some time studying the map layouts.

A good starting point is just picking a single map, study it and play an AI game or two to get a feel for the terrain. Lost Temple and/or Luna are good options for their popularity. There’s a useful page worth looking at containing a list of the most popular maps in Brood War, courtesy Team Liquid.

Once you’re comfortable enough with a map that the black screen isn’t as much of an issue, try hosting a few games on it. If someone refuses to play you on a map you’re familiar with, just call them an LotV scrub and block them.

Brood War

Luna: an infamously straightforward, macro-focused map. Good for learning the basics of the game.

 

Builds

If you’ve done your research on Brood War, you’ve likely heard and perhaps even studied a few of the more famous builds. As commendable as that is, just forget them. At least for your first month. Macro in Brood War is an exceptionally complicated affair. Your first goal is to be able to start producing units. Rather than following a strict build order, just keep a priority list in mind and a general idea of what your end game strategy will be.

Of course, this is not to say Builds should never be used. Build Orders are especially important later down the line as you’re looking to refine your technique with pinpoint accuracy. But you’re better off avoiding them until you’re at least comfortable enough that you’re producing units at a steady pace.

 

Basic Defensive Tactics

 

Positioning in Brood War is everything. Even more than in StarCraft 2. In your early studies on maps, it’s important to identify choke points and open areas you’ll either want to hold or avoid depending on what race you’re playing. If you’re playing Protoss vs Zerg, for example, you’ll want to avoid straying in open areas or risk being surrounded. Furthermore, you’ll want to focus on positioning your units on choke-holds. With Zealots positioned at the bottom of the ramp and Dragoons holding the top. Zerg players will want to focus on baiting Protoss into open territory, usually by threatening map control.

It’s worth noting that in Brood War, attacking into high-ground from the low ground is suicide. This is due to units having a percentage chance of missing when attacking units at an elevated advantage. A final point, specifically for Protoss players, don’t be afraid to split your units. In StarCraft 2, Protoss can’t split units in the early game, but this couldn’t be more different in Brood War. Creating lines of defense is an important tactic for all races. Especially when making an attack into an enemy position, it’s good to have a defensive position held for your assault team to fall back to in case the attack goes badly.

Brood War

Priority zones: Green – A Ramp Protoss can favorably hold with Zealots and Dragoons, Blue – A funnel Terran can exploit using Siege Tanks and Spider Mines, Red – An open area Zerg can use to flank from multiple angles

 

 

Featured images courtesy Team LiquidAfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

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Proxima Station

Protoss Insight: Stats’ Three-Act Performance

While reception towards the generally one-sided GSL Finals between Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob and Eo “soO” Yoon Su was less than warm, undeniably Game 2 on Proxima Station was a showstopper. The mind games played by Stats embodied everything that makes us love strategy games. This grand performance from the best Protoss in the world gave us a lot to learn from. Let’s take a closer look at Stats’ strategy on Proxima Station.

 

The Premise

Before we get into the strategy, we should first talk a bit about the setting. In the late game of Zerg vs Protoss, Protoss is generally favored. Particularly, late game Carrier builds. Proxima Station itself is a very defensive map. It has a safe pocket expansion for its natural, and while the third is a bit more exposed than the main and natural, it’s still a highly defensible location.

For this reason, Carrier builds are very common for Protoss players on this map, where Protoss can safely wall off and greedily rush to their expensive late game build.

 

The Show

With this in mind, Stats set his bait. He opened his game by expanding directly into his third. This let Stats feign the premise that he went for a very greedy three expansion opening. Stats played out this act even further by walling off with a StarGate at his third. Knowing Protoss’ preference to play turtle strategies on Proxima, soO’s scouting information showed all the signs of Skytoss preparations. By the time the first Void got out, soO was already sold on the premise and started preparations to punish a greedy Carrier rush.

Proxima Station

The Twist

With the bait taken, Stats started preparations to put his real plan into effect. Instead of committing to air tech, Stats invested into a mass of Warp Gates. At this point, soO was in the middle of preparing a Hydralisk timing attack to punish what he thought was Stats’ Carrier rush. If Stats was really going for a greedy triple expansion into Carriers, he would have been vulnerable for a short window. A massive Hydralisk push would’ve been able to break Stats’ defense and end the game before he got to a critical mass of Carriers. Instead, soO was hit with waves of Adepts, the hard counter to his Hydras.

Proxima Station

The Finale

Stats’ plan didn’t end with the counter, however. After warping in a mass of Sentries into his main army, Stats began his final attack by making a huge warp-in of Adepts into soO’s main, baiting the Zerg back. As soO was dealing with the diversion, Stats made his real attack on soO’s third. As soO attempted to respond, the Protoss blocked off the ramp to the main with Forcefields.

With a small mass of Sentries available, Stats could have kept soO locked into his own base for as long as he needed. Shut out of his third, soO could only watch as Stats crippled his economy and was forced to tap out, bringing the show to its close.

Proxima Station

 

Featured images courtesy AfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

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SSL

StarCraft Weekly Recall

Welcome to my seventh ever Weekly Recall, a recap of the major events in the StarCraft Week.

 

StarCraft II Starleague (SSL) – Premier

 

Players

Joo “Zest” Sung Wook, Han “ByuL” Ji Won, Cho “Maru” Seong Ju, Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob, Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung, Park “Dark” Ryung Woo, Kang “Solar” Min Soo, Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin

 

Highlight Match

sOs vs Solar

 

Zest vs ByuL

 

Often it seems Zest’s biggest issue is his self-confidence. It seems ironic to say that about Zest. Someone who looks like they would be voted most likely to date a Victoria’s Secret model.

But lately Zest just seems completely unwilling to play into the late-game. Instead, he prefers to close early through timing attacks. In Game 1 on Overgrowth, Zest attempted an Adept all-in, from which the game was decided once ByuL held.

Again in Whirlwind he over-extended an attack that he could have used to set himself up for a healthy mid game. Instead it seemed like he wanted to close the game through Archon harassment. Zest over-extended his harassment, rather than teching up while he had map control. After losing all four Archons, the game was pretty much over.

SSL

The irony of Zest’s situation becomes all the more apparent when you consider Game 2 on Daybreak. The only game that went relatively late was the only game that Zest won. Deciding the game from a fight at disadvantageous positioning with superior crisis management. Using his available PsiStorms perfectly to deflect a baneling flank.

In the end, ByuL’s defensive ability to hold Zest’s early aggression in Games 1 and 3 saw him through to a 2-1 victory.

 

Maru vs Stats

Stats’ form at the moment is the stuff of a legend, considering this series was played the day after the most important Protoss vs Zerg of Stats’ life. This was against Maru too, one of four Terran horsemen. Stats didn’t break a sweat here. Game 1 on Daybreak was heavily in Stats’ favor from the first engagement.

After dismantling Maru’s MMM attack, Stats expanded into four bases while transitioning out of Phoenix-Adept into Thermal Lance Colossi.

Near the end, Maru attempted a retaliatory attack onto Stats’ 4th with perfect timing just before Stats finished production of his first Colossi wave. The Protoss lead was already too massive at this point. Properly understanding the situation, Stats abandoned the 4th to buy time to get out his Colossi, which shut down Maru’s attack, ending the game shortly after.SSL

Newkirk was another stomp, but largely a build order win. Both players went for proxy air tech openings, but Stats was able to scout out Maru’s StarPort and dealt with the worker before it could complete construction. The Oracle out of Stats’ proxy StarGate secured massive value, decimating Maru’s mineral line on his natural and the handful of marines protecting it. The game was a landslide in Stats’ favor from this point, and he easily closed out the series 2-0.

 

Innovation vs Dark

 

Dark took control of Game 1 on Newkirk early with repeated zergling harassment. By the mid-game, Dark had such a commanding economic lead, it would have been easy to say the game was his.

The decisive moment of the game, however, came when Innovation made a doom drop into Stats’ main at the perfect time as Dark made a push with his slow Ultralisk-based army across the map. The damage was catastrophic, and on the retreat Dark’s army was eventually pulled apart and dismantled from all sides.

For a Dark fan this would have been a hard game to watch. Even Dark seemed almost unable to process the sudden flip in advantage, trying to fight on from an impossible situation to the bitter end.

SSL

Game 2 on Overgrowth was completely in Innovation’s control from the get-go, however. Innovation, unwilling to give Dark breathing room, hammered Dark again and again with harassment while he macroed up a death-ball behind it. By the time the final engagement came, the game was long over.

 

sOs vs Solar

 

sOs kept pressure on Solar throughout the early stages of Game 1 on Whirlwind. The critical moment came at the eventual head-on engagement where Solar crushed sOs’ main force with his superior positioning. Solar took the advantage here to keep sOs in check with a Roach drop.

Then, in a move you would expect from sOs himself, Solar set a baneling trap, coupled with surprise transition into Swarm Hosts. Caught off-guard in the worst way, sOs tapped out within seconds.

Game 2 on Overgrowth was much more of what you would expect from sOs. Opening with a proxy Gateway Adept all-in, then a Dark Templar follow-up, both of which Solar held comfortably. Solar was well ahead early in the game and prepared for everything except sOs sneaking an expansion into a Gold base. After putting on a spectacular defense, Solar was forced to tap out after realizing the massive economic gap.

This took us to Abyssal Reef. Meeting every expectation, it was the best in show for the night. sOs almost had Solar’s back against the wall early on after a massive Adept warp-in following a WarpGate explosion. Solar, however, quickly leveled the game with a baneling run into sOs’ army. From here, Solar took control, shutting down base after base with Swarm Host guerrilla tactics.

In the end, Solar took the fight right to sOs after securing a massive lead at a critical time. He hit sOs just before he could finish PsiStorm research to close the game, ending the best series of the night, 2-1.

SSL

 

 

Brood War v1.18

 

StarCraft and StarCraft: Brood War, Patch 1.18 has been delayed at least a week. Pushed back from its originally planned release from March 30th.

 

For specific information, see Blizzard’s official thread.

 

 

 

Featured images courtesy SpoTVAfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

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StarCraft Remastered

StarCraft Weekly Recall

Welcome to my 6th ever Weekly Recall. A recap of the major events in the StarCraft Week. And this has been as an exciting week as we can expect in StarCraft featuring not just the GSL Finals but the 2017 premiere of SSL. All leading up to the much hyped, long speculated announcement of StarCraft Remastered.

StarCraft Remastered

This announcement was accompanied by the (arguably even more impactful) revelation that the original StarCraft Anthology will also be patched for the first time in over 8 years. On the 30th of March StarCraft will be upgraded to Patch v1.18a.

 

StarCraft Patch v1.18 Highlights

StarCraft and StarCraft: Brood War will both be completely free to play

Custom Keybindings

Native Fish Support

Observer Mode

 

StarCraft Remastered is coming in Summer as a purchaseable upgrade to StarCraft and StarCraft: Brood War

Players of both the original StarCraft Anthology and StarCraft: Remastered will be able to play together, seamlessly.

 

Global StarCraft League – Grand Finals

Highlight Games

Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob vs Eo “soO” Yoon Su (Proxima Station)

In case anyone had forgotten Stat’s airtight defensive play from Katowice, Game 1 on Whirlwind was the refresher course. soO opened with a hyper aggressive zergling rush. Stats wasn’t phased, shutting it down and making it look easy. For those following this season of GSL from the early rounds, this game would be reminiscent of Stats’ early defensive play against ByuL’s zergling aggression.

The Long Con

StarCraft Remastered

Stats: Knock, Knock soO: Who’s there? Stats: Not Carriers soO: Fuuuuuuuuuuuu

Game 2 on Proxima Station couldn’t be more different however. Stats took the full initiative and controlled the pace of the game from his first expansion to the last drop. Proxima Station is a highly defensive map with a pocket expansion. Especially in Protoss vs Zerg, it’s a very popular map for Skytoss turtles. Stats went for an early expand into his third, ignoring his safe pocket expansion. Doing this, he feigned taking three early bases. Baiting soO into thinking he was playing a hyper defensive game, likely going for a mass Carrier push.

Stats committed to selling this act even further by rushing out a pair of Void Rays. Satisfied with his ruse and that the bait was taken, Stats followed up with a massive Warp Gate explosion. At this point soO was in the middle of preparing an anti-air Hydralisk army to hit the defensive Protoss with a timing-attack before he could reach critical mass. Instead he was having his door kicked in by massive ground army built to hard counter Hydras.

Having taken a massive advantage in the initial attack, Stats didn’t let up on the mind games. He opened his final attack with a warp into soO’s main. Having lured soO’s army back to his main to defend, Stats pushed into soO’s 3rd with the bulk of his Adept, Sentry army. The Grand Finale to Stats’ master plan was to lock soO into his own base with Forcefields on his ramp leaving soO completely unable to respond, ending the game.

 

The Stasis Saga

As tends to happen on Abyssal Reef, things got weird, in a good way. soO initiated first with a Zergling drop into Stats’ main. Stats would reciprocate by repeatedly placing Stasis Wards into soO’s mineral lines to slow down his mining. Both players traded harassment before the final engagement.

StarCraft Remastered

soO would eventually land a solid baneling drop into Stats’ third but at that point it was already too late. Stats was already in the process of ending the game. His economy was already slowed down too much by stasis and Stats struck with perfect timing. Hitting soO with waves of Adepts while soO was stuck on Hydras in an attempt to deter the Protoss’ Void Ray and Oracle harassment. Just as before on Proxima, Stats’ dictated the pace of the game and struck with intention.

Stats would take this Oracle Strategy into Echo again. soO intially held Stats’ 4 Oracle Rush beautifully. But Stats would follow up by getting huge Stasis hits into each of soO’s mining bases.

This time however, Stats’ would be the one too late on the return. Capitalizing on Stats’ heavy Vespene investment, soO struck decisively. Just as previously Stats’ was able to counter soO’s Hydralisks with Adepts, soO’s Hydras this time would secure the advantage over Stats’ Void Ray, Zealot army to end the game.

 

Daybreak

Stats: Fuuuuuuuu

After dealing absolutely massive economic damage in the early game through repeated Adept harassment, Cactus Valley seemed to be all but won for Stats. Stats attempted to close the game with an Adept, Immortal push into soO’s base. The fight traded evenly for a while but the critical moment came when soO sniped Stats’ Warp Prism, completely shutting down Stats’ ability to continue aggression. Unable to provide further reinforcements, Stats’ Immortals were forfeit, and with them his game.

This took us to Game 6 on Daybreak. For the most part, this was a series defined by mind games and pinpoint timing attacks. But it was a good change of pace to see the Daybreak go the distance. Daybreak, brought everything you could expect. Aggression on both sides, back and forth, territory wars.

And in the end, the series was brought full circle.

Where we started with Stats’ unrivaled defense, this game would be decided by it. Near the end of the game, soO seemed to have caught Stats completely out of position. Stats responded by recalling, exactly the number of units he needed to clear the attack out of his main while cutting off the rest to defend his other mining bases. A multi-pronged attack that would have been a crippling disaster for any other Protoss, Stats’ handled with calm, clear decision making to retain his advantage in the game and eventually closing out in the followup attack.

Stats ended the series 4-2 and the player, long considered the best Protoss in the world, was finally able to claim his first premiere tournament title.

 

StarCraft StarLeague (SSL)

After strong indications of the league being dropped, the SSL has finally made its surprising return in 2017 with a new sponsor in Jin Air Greewings. And a refreshing new format to show for it. Finally stepping out of the shadows as GSL’s adopted sibling, to become a distinct event in its own right.

SSL differentiates itself from GSL by being played in a Round Robin format with the top four players advancing to the post-season knockout round. A welcome change as the round robins from the early portions of the previous league were typically the most distinct rounds of the event.

Highlight Games

Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin vs Cho “Maru” Seong Ju (SSL Premiere)

TY vs Classic (SSL Challenge)

 

Map Pool Update

Updated Map List

Ascension to Aiur
Sequencer
Blood Boil
Defender’s Landing
Odyssey (previously known as Windwaker) replaces Paladino Terminal
Abyssal Reef
Proxima Station

 

Featured images courtesy SpoTVAfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

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Brood War HD

The Brood War Renaissance

The Brood War HD rumors are back again. And if you’re anything like me, your first reaction would have been to roll your eyes and move on without a second thought. For those that have been keeping up for the last year, this would seem all too familiar. We’ve been down this road before, and we know from experience it leads to a dead end.

The rumors originally started prior to Blizzcon in 2016, and at the time, why wouldn’t we believe it? The Afreeca Starleague (ASL),  had just completed her maiden season. Brood War was back in the spotlight for the first time in six years and the audience was there. And the legends that built, not just StarCraft, but all of esports, were slowly but surely returning to the frontline. The news from Seoul said the announcement would be made at Blizzcon.

Why wouldn’t we believe it?

Yet Blizzcon came and you could almost hear the grasshoppers chirping as the StarCraft community stared on in utmost confusion. We had assumed far too much and we were asses for it.

Brood War HD

Now four months later, here we are once again. You’d be a fool not to be skeptical. I sure as hell was.

Then a Reddit user by the name of Voltz found something. The Battle.net Store, ie. Blizzard’s official store, ceased sales of the original StarCraft Anthology. As of this posting, downloads of StarCraft and Brood War are still listed as “sold out”.

This came just as Blizzard announced a special event to take place at the season 1 GSL Finals in Seoul, the StarCraft capital of the World. An event that would be attended by the CEO of Blizzard, Mike Morhaime. And would feature a special showmatch between the “TaekBangLeeSsang”. Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong, Song “Stork” Byung Goo, two most feared of the 6 Protoss Dragons. Lee “Jaedong” the Tyrant and Lee “Flash” Young Ho, simply called God. Four of Brood War’s legends known as the most dominant of their respective races.

Very quickly, the burns of the past went out of mind and the realization of what was happening came crashing down.

 

The Second Coming

As exciting as the prospect of a Brood War renaissance seems, it’s important to remember this can still go badly. The second coming isn’t a given, it’s a work in progress that must be polished to perfection.

Balance

One of the more entertaining misconceptions among those that know of Brood War’s role as the progenitor of modern esports but have not actually watched or played it is that it was a well-balanced masterpiece of a game that StarCraft 2 never matched. The reality, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Brood War was and still is an imbalanced mess of a game. Cracklings are overpowered, Mass Recall is overpowered, Siege Tanks are overpowered. Every race in Brood War is horribly overpowered in some way or another. And this is something that should absolutely not be touched.

If Brood War’s balance is such a mess, why leave it alone? Because that’s exactly what made Brood War amazing. The game was like the world’s hardest equation that programmers were constantly trying solve. For this reason, Brood War went through several eras where on race or player would dominate for months.

One of the most famous moments in Brood War was the legendary “Bisu build” that solved Protoss vs Zerg. Protoss vs Zerg was a matchup that was previously heavily Zerg dominated. The Bisu build shifted balance back into the favor of Protoss eventually leading to the Era of the Protoss Dragons.

Brood War always has been a game of using your races’ overpowered crap to deter or counter your opponents overpowered crap. And Mapmakers played a crucial role in this by crafting areas of the map that each race could use to their maximum advantage. This is how Brood War was truly balanced, not by crunching numbers but by putting the onus on the players themselves to use what resources they had available in the smartest way possible.

 

Mapmaking Resources

With this in mind, it should be clear fostering Brood War’s mapmaking scene is critical to building a healthy second generation. Remastered models and textures are a given. But extending new textures and resources for mapmakers to build beautiful new worlds is important to drawing creators back. Brood War has very different art style to StarCraft 2 so the canvas is there to work with. They just need to be given the tools too.

 

Brood War HD

Abyssal Reef by SidianTheBard is a recent and beautiful example of what mapmakers can do if you indulge their creativity. Naturally, I’m not saying this should be the standard but just give them a fighting chance, their imagination is our greatest asset.

Mistakes of the Past

There are a lot of features that took a frustrating amount of time to reach StarCraft 2. This is something that absolutely must not happen again. Automated tournaments and micro-transactions immediately come to mind. But some issues require us to take a hard look at Blizzard’s design and structure choices. And why a lot of it may not still be up to date.

Prioritizing Accessibility

One of the most obvious grievances that has plagued StarCraft 2 is the first thing you see before you even start a game. I’m of course referring to the game client. StarCraft 2 features a client that is so completely overloaded with bells and whistles, that there have been reported incidents of the game menu putting as much as 3 times more strain the GPU than the game itself. Just to put that into context there have undoubtedly been incidents where there are players able to run the game itself but find the menu unworkable.

StarCraft 2’s beautiful but less than practical game menu. Featuring an animated background taking up the vast majority of available space.

And I can say this with certainty because I was one of these people. The laptop I used at the time could run the game but would suffer heating issues and fps drops attempting to navigate the menu. It’s for this reason that I actually switched to League of Legends as my esport of choice for several years before I eventually upgraded. And as grateful as I am to be back with StarCraft, it seems a bit ridiculous to say that I was driven away from a game because of the menu you have to navigate to play the game.

Now, this is of course my personal opinion but I genuinely don’t care about that massive animated background that is taking up 90% of the menu. What I care about is being able to run my Hello Venus playlist in the background without my game client having a seizure.

Brood War HD may be a re-mastery of a 1998 game but this is 2017. And a lot of the standards from then have gone out the window. Perhaps back then we would have stared at our menu screens and admired the visuals but now a menu is just a lobby that we tab back to just to queue for another game.

Brood War HD

League of Legends game client. Simple, un-intrusive design that prioritizes information and accessibility.

 

Featured images courtesy AfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment. Abyssal Reef designed by SidianTheBard.

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