Friday, October 31, 2008

Fallout 3 - Game Design/Review

I suppose it's in a way too late to analyze the game, since all the Fallout sites picked it to pieces before it even launched. But now that I've played and beaten the finished product I think it's time to go around and critique everything.

First, combat: I found it very fun and honestly VATS never got really old or felt "easy mode." For the uninitiated VATS is basically Bullet-Time mixed with Turn-Based fighting. It pauses the game, you choose targets that you'd like to hit, complete with estimated chance to hit; the number of attacks is determined by Action Points which are determined by Agility and a few other modifications. Your character then carries out the actions, monsters then fight back in unison, and body parts often go flying. I think it's an extremely clever way to introduce turn-based fighting into a real-time game. There's just one issue: Your character loves to shoot walls. You may see their head, VATS may tell you there's an 85% chance to hit, but when it comes time to shoot, your character aims for the girder just to the left of that Super Mutant, so you miss every shot. This doesn't happen every fight, but it happens much more often than I'd like.

Real-time combat is of course very typical. Aiming feels like Call of Duty where your character raises the weapon slightly and your aim improves while your move speed suffers. Again, Call of Duty. In the name of ammo conservation VATS is the way to go and since my computer is very old, it was fairly difficult to effectively fight in Real-Time. Overall the combat works quite well if you discount my computer troubles.

Companions, of which I believe there are only three (and could be horribly wrong here) are quite useful. I managed to grab the "evil" one (You must have positive or negative Karma to acquire a follower, specific to each one) and he was a beast with his assault rifle. They can die, so your companions can't tank a Deathclaw, but their offensive potential is very good. However, one of the companions only even shows up at the very end and by that point in time you really don't need helpers anymore considering the status of the quests.

The RPG Element of the game (levelling, etc) is one of the reasons I really like RPGs. I really enjoy the whole gamut of trying to solve everything, being rewarded for your efforts, and then completely destroying your enemies because you already prepared your character for the fight.

Compared to the first two Fallouts, it comes a little short. They averaged out everything: Even if your Intelligence is 1 you still get enough skill points per level to get by, or if your Agility is 1 you can still use VATS decently. The attribute points do matter, but they have less drastic an effect than in the first two games. Also without Traits in the game (chosen at the moment of character creation, they would help one aspect of your character and hurt another) the game feels a little flat again. The Perks seem a little flat as well. Too many of them (90%) are simply "Adds 5 to this and this Skill." There are a few that deal with accuracy in VATS, but otherwise every single Perk can be described as "Adds X to X ability and Y to Y ability" (sometimes Z). Maybe I'm just being bitter, but I miss abilities like Awareness (The game tells you what equipment your opponents are wielding).

The World

The world is really well done. Towns and people are well done. You can tell the differences between the towns and they are filled with really interesting characters. The characters all interact well and are really fleshed out. I got to make fun of a girl named Princess because I convinced one of her "friends" to tell me some dirt on her. And these are almost entirely useless characters (one of them is involved in a quest). But that will bring me to my eventual point point, the quests: With all these rich developed locales and interesting people, why don't we have to interact with them more?

The actual Wasteland is definitely pretty big. The unfortunate thing here is you spend most of your time in about 1/4 of the map. Eventually a quest will send you somewhere far away and you get to go explore, but it's not like Fallout where it's like "Go to Vault 15... Hey! Shady Sands! Let's go mingle with people and save someone from Raiders!" In this game it's all about single locations wanting you to go to other single locations and you really don't find anything interesting along the way. Sure there are Radscorpions and Raiders; sometimes you'll find some ruined fort or something. For the true perfectionists who want to find every hidden weapon and so on, these forts are useful, sure, but they serve no purpose for "power-gamers" who want to go beat all the quests and kill lots of bad guys, or even regular people who just want to save dear old Dad.

If I can put it another way, the world is very full. There's stuff and people to encounter at every turn. The only problem is they're all so unimportant. It's like they finally got their world designed and got to designing the main quest and then they're like "Shit, this game launches in a month, what do we do?" People just feel useless. I found my way to the Brotherhood of Steel headquarters and even though there are dozens of people milling about in this huge complex, I needed to talk to maybe three people. One of them was optional. The world is full yet completely empty. So many people are useless. In Fallout 1/2 it was fine. With the view the way it was, you could just run past all the gamblers and guards and actually find the important people in the back of their little structure. In Fallout 3 you've got to try to navigate around using a map that isn't even helpful if the structure is more than one story, trying to find some guy with imperfect directions.

While I touched on this already, the quests are just not fulfilling. The main quest takes you a variety of places, introduces you to many people and makes you do a lot of cool stuff. There are lots of quests that stay open "Find me some scrap metal/sugar bombs/old books/slaves and I'll buy them off you." Those consist of about half the quests in the entire game. Literally each town has two quests, not counting when the main quest stops by to talk to someone. I think there was one interesting third-party quest line, the "Wilderness Survival Book." I mean I guess if the slaves are interesting people you really want to go save then and take them to their safe haven, but compared to a game like Morrowind or Oblivion where you had entire guilds that you did constant quests for, where you had Daedric shrines that you did interesting, unique quests for, there's just not much content here. I guess that's the best way to put it: There's just not much content. Solving a quest in Fallout 2 meant you interacted with some people, got the quest, traveled somewhere else, interacted with them, and in order to get what you wanted from them, they wanted you to go interact with some other people. Then you worked your way back and there you are. A typical Fallout 3 quest is "Go over there and get me a land mine."

But don't get me wrong; the game is fun. I played through the entire game between Oct 28-30 (with my saves magically disappearing after the first day, so I played it through in two days basically). I enjoyed the game a lot; there's room to replay the game since there are 2-3 ways to finish most quests and with interesting characters, it's worth seeing their reactions and how it plays out. But there's two things I don't like: Unlike the first two Fallouts there's no "And this is what happened to Shady Sands, this is what happened to Junktown, this is what happened to..." Instead it's a canned ending with one variable and three possible outcomes depending on how your character behaves at the end of the game. Secondly, unlike Morrowind/Oblivion, once the main quest ends the game ends, even when it shouldn't. So that helper you acquire right before the end of the game, well there's a big climactic fight happening. I mean sure you can put it off, but it's a big exciting fight filled with power armor and robots! Once you get started on that quest line, it's a little weird to just up and stop and do something else if the world's unfinished. I mean come on Bethesda, you made all these interesting characters, why not let me talk to them after I've saved the world?

I'd give it somewhere between an 8 and a 9.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

StarCraft II - Blizzcon 2008

I've finally had enough free time to write this article, so here goes:

The game is definitely not done. The build that Blizzard is currently playing is nothing like the build we had here (supposedly); Zerg are changing almost everything every time we play it. On to specifics.

What's New?


Lots of damage type changes, most of which I will detail later on.

New Vespene Gas mechanic. Two geysers per base, as we already know; these geysers only have ~300 on hand at a time. The geysers are deeper than that, but you're only allowed access to them for a minute or so. The geyser then enters a "rearming" phase where it turns red and your workers sit there unmoving. They do not give idle icons, so it's up to to player to micromanage them. Also, when the geyser comes back online it does not give a warning, so it's up to the player to put them back on. More on this in the audio segment.


Jackals (now called Hellions) are now Mineral-only; 100 for each.

Teching is totally diffrent now. +Attack and +Armor upgrades are now at the Tech Lab for the appropriate attached building. The Armory now contains all the pertinent Siege Mode, etc. upgrades; the Academy contains Stim Packs and so on. The Engineering Bay now has very unique upgrades: Additional Armor for Terran structures, and an upgrade that increases the range on Missile Turrets and the Planetary Fortress.

The Nomad was renamed and casts Spider Mines and stationary turrets. Mines are as good as ever from what I saw.


The Nullifier has this sweet new ability reminiscent of Chain Lightning. It deals 10 damage to 10 targets on the condition that they're the same unit as the first target. Think of it like a Zergling-only AoE spell. I suspsect 4-Nullifier drops may be fun to toy with. It costs 125 Energy which does take some time to accumulate, but it really makes a significant impact in the battle. It's available at a lower tech level than Psi Storm which is why I suspect it's so much weaker.

Dark Templar also merge into Archons. I think this was already known, but I made a point of reading the tooltip last weekend and Dark Templar make regular Archons. I guess you can make them less Gas-heavy now.

Psi Storm now deals 80 damage over 4 seconds. This is a good compromise to account for smart casting I think.

Observers do not require an Observatory, though this was mentioned by Blizzard before.

Warp Gates' (I believe) unit creation cooldown is now relative to the unit it makes, so they will always be more efficient than Gateways for every unit, not just a few.


Like I mentioned, Zerg are changing a lot every time. Both of the other races look to be getting close to finalized, with only a few tweaks; radical design changes are much less likely.

Banelings are Mineral-only units now; 50 minerals for two Zerglings, each can morph into a Baneling for 50 more minerals, so a total of 75. They are not cost-efficient at killing anything. More on this later.

Hydralisks are "normal" units now. In prior builds they were 100/100 Minerals/Gas. In this version they were either 25 or 50 Gas, making then a more accessable unit. In this build they behaved similar to regular Hydralisks, though apparently in Blizzard's most recent in-house build, they are a dedicated heavy anti-air unit.

Roaches are Mineral-only as well. They have bonus damage vs Light targets and I'll have more on these units later as well.

Nydus Network/Worms are different. Now you build a Nydus Network and load units into them, then you use an Overseer (upgraded Overlord) to spawn a Nydus Worm at a given location. Units then spill forth, etc.

The Defiler unit, whose name I really can't remember, is completely different from a regular defiler of course: It can move while burrowed, it "summons" Infested Marines, it has a 10-second Mind Control that I used to take my opponent's Mothership for about two minutes as I attacked his base, and it has a Broodling-esque spell that does damage over time, paralyzing the unit, causing it to explode when it dies.

Queens now cost Minerals and Gas and two food. I think they're no longer unique units, but I never made one.

Unit Stats
This will come in part two along with an audio portion, or simply will be contained in the audio portion, which I may transcribe around the same time. We shall see...

Audio portion is up now! Download it HERE!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Diablo 3 - Blizzcon

I came home from Blizzcon 2008 recently, and here's my synopsis of the game so far. Obviously the game is far from completion, but for those of you who want to hear about features and such, here goes:

Only 5 (3) characters were playable at Blizzcon. Each class has a male and female version, though to my knowledge the difference is only aesthetic. The Male Wizard was not ready yet, hence only five playable characters. I played through the Female Wizard and Female Witch Doctor, each in 15-minute allotted play-throughs.


First, the minimap. It was placed in the top right corner of the screen, maybe going 1/5 of the way across and down. Yellow dots denoted allies, purple ones denoting summons of allies. Enemies were not placed on screen, so that's for you to figure out. The minimap could be scrolled with the arrow keys, like in Diablo II. There did not seem to be a "center map" button, but again, this is hardly even an "alpha" version.

There was an NPC we talked to early on, telling us about some Skeleton King. You clicked the character (he had the equivalent of "!" over his head), and you could click "Tell me about the Skeleton King" (paraphrased). He would tell you his story, though I'm sure people only heard the first half-second before clicking away to go kill shit. Note that just clicking on the man would not give you the quest, you actually had to pretend to give a damn before your Quest Log updated.

Moving through "zones" works the same as Diablo II. There's a staircase, you click it, and now you're in Catacombs Level 2.

Your actual casting/usage interface is vastly different. Instead of the Belt there are, I believe, six numbers. 5 and 6 are dedicated to actual "potion" usage, which could be a Minor Healing Potion, or an Elixir of Vitality (increases Vitality by 10 for 5 minutes, or something along those lines). 1-4 are a little different. On the Wizard they didn't immediately do anything (and I didn't try messing with them), while on the Witch Doctor 1 was allotted to "Summon Undead Dog Thing" and 2 was "Cool Blue Nova That Gives You Mana." I think this will be the place where you stick skills that do not require targeting to cast (like summons and Novas).

Left- and right-click is where the targeted skills went. You had one slot for a left-click skill and two for right-click skills (tab or mousewheel would switch between the two). Changing the skill meant right-clicking the current skill icon, whereupon your targetable skills would pop up for your choosing.

Monsters behave basically the same as always. You click them, your character attacks, and they fight back. Interestingly there is a critical strike system. Whenever you land such a blow, a number pops up over their head (it's great when that number is "1") indicating the damage dealt. Some abilities have critical effects like "causes target to burn for 25% of the spell's damage for 4 seconds" or something. I'm sure most are just damage increases.


Items and inventory are of course different if you've been reading up on Blizzard's announcements. Gold and "runes" are picked up simply by colliding into them with your player model, so carpal tunnel will be staved off for a little while longer. These runes are small heals and such so that players can PvM without potion whoring or spamming Leech effects. Mana regenerated very quickly, though that may have been special to this build, while Health did not.

As for actual item mechanics, there were typical white items (also, "Superior" and "Inferior"), blue "magic" items (ex. +3 Health on a Club), and some yellow, presumably "rare," items. We all started with ~5 Scrolls of Identify (which stacked and did not require a Tome Of) and found plenty more along our journeys. All items took up one "slot" in the inventory. Like WoW, there were ~6 Bag slots where you would place a bag, and it would unlock another slot in your inventory. Our default inventory space was ~18 slots, but it looked like it was expandable to something like 40 with proper Bag usage. The items themselves had typical "Fast," "Slow," etc. attack speeds along with standard "6-10" damage ranges, but now we had the WoW-like "DPS" math done for you and displayed on the item.

Gems were also included in this version. I don't believe they behave any differently from the gems we're used to from Diablo II, except that I only found one-socket items. Also we had no Horadric Cube so I didn't get to see any Perfect Amethysts, sorry.

The new exciting cool part of the game are the other runes. Rune of Striking, etc. These are the runes that you socket into spells. That's right, now we can socket our skill trees with runes. These runes would have effects like "Increases damage of the skill by 5%" or "Increases critical chance/effect/etc by x%" or "Lowers spell cost by x%" and so on. Spells only had one socket, like with items, and I don't know if they were removable.

The Classes

Like I said I only played Wizard and Witchdoctor, but here goes.

Like Diablo II, classes have three skill trees. They do not seem to be organized in quite the same manner as Diablo II where Firebolt was required to unlock Fireball, etc. It seems (and I could be wrong here), that the system is much more like the WoW Talent tree, where five tier-1 spells require points before the next tier of skill becomes available. Like with Diablo II the tree seemed to max at 30-point (level 30) spells. I say it looks like Talent trees because when I learned the spell "Disintegrate" a little bar on the left of the skill tree filled down and changed from "5" to "6".

Each tier on the skill tree had up to three spells. Most of these spells were one-point abilities, while the Wizard had 10-point passive skills like "Increased damage resistance by 3% per level" and "Each level of this ability increases damage of Arcane spells by 10%."

Specific abilities that I remembered: Witchdoctor

"Plague Toads" (or something similar) sent out some frogs and once they were stepped on, they poisoned enemies in an AoE.
"Fire Bats" (or something) was basically Inferno from Diablo II: Short-ranged line AoE channelling DoT.
"Summon Undead Dog Thing" (or something) had a max of two, seemed to light themselves on fire after a while (which was really cool), and were generally useful. A fairly big drain on Mana reserves, but not terrible.
"Cool Blue Mana Nova Thing" was actually free to cast, dealt "1-2 Shadow Damage" and gave a little bit of Mana to you for each target hit. It was quite spammable and had great returns to mana.
"Fire Bomb" is similar to the explosive that Assassins threw in Diablo II, but actually decent at killing monsters.

Skills I remembered: Wizard

"Ice or Lightning (I forget) Shards" is a melee possibly AoE attack that dealt really good DPS for a level-1 skill. Low on mana cost, highly spammable, very damaging.
"Magic Missile" is a pretty typical projectile spell very reminiscent of Firebolt.
"Charged Bolt" (actually I have no idea what its name was) but it was Charged Bolt and was absolutely terrible. Ice Shards was much cooler and stronger.
"Disintegrate" At the behest of the Blizzard employee standing to my right, I got Disintegrate which "owned" according to him. Think of it like a very long-range Inferno (channeling line AoE DPS), with the added trait of 10% damage reduction for each target beyond the first, then second, etc.
"Some ability that didn't seem to cost Mana" (clearly not its proper name) When I had Ice Shards on left-click and then ran out of Mana, the Wizard seemed to cast some ability reminiscent of the Fire Bombs from the Assassin of Diablo II. I could have put regular attack on left-click, but this is way cooler.

Other Stuff

Armor is handled differently from Diablo II. Unlike the Attack Rating/Defense chance to hit modifiers, Armor is now, like WoW, a % decrease in damage taken.

Also, character statistics (Strength, etc) were automatically assigned.

Then there were some passives as well (as mentioned earlier), but there you have it, folks; Diablo III.

No audio article for this one, since I've basically spelled out everything. Leave comments <3~!

Friday, October 3, 2008


This is very much more "blog" than "article."

I drove up from San Diego "yesterday" (Thursday). I carpooled with Diggity who's casting StarCraft. The drive wasn't too bad, a few pockets of traffic, but no police tried to frisk me and I didn't crash or anything. Met up with the other WC3 caster, Psionic Reaver, and the other SC caster, Moletrap. We ate at Denny's, it was super exciting. We hung around for a while, and as ~9:40 rolled around we drove to LAX to pick up Peanut, who works for sc2gg and is starting up a casting firm.

After getting rooms settled, we headed over to room 446 or something, basically the party room. It contained (other than us) a bunch of SC players and a few people just there for the company. I ended up casting some beer bong, then people got tired of people missing constantly with 3 cups vs 1, so we headed out for more alcohol. Weisbeir owns.

I ended up playing, losing with 3/10 cups left; I'm pretty rusty. I retired back to the hotel rooms, my entourage slowly leaving to go do their own things. I also saw SonKiE before the night ended. Should be a good tournament. Much more as far as updates go tomorrow.

I'll be casting WC3 of course, CnC3, and maybe DotA as well. We shall see...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Sorry for the long hiatus everyone, just never found a solid hour to sit down and write. I tried writing some stuff in the airport on my various trips recently, but nothing really substantial came out of it. So here's an article on being an admin/referee/whatever for an international tournament.

I recently came back from the Electronic Sports World Cup grand finals in San Jose, California; it was a very fun experience, everything went pretty close to smoothly, and I think I learned a thing or two about what's needed to maintain and run a successful event. I think this will end up being a series of bullet point type thoughts, but I guess we'll see as this develops.

Firstly, the preparation is a big deal. I didn't talk to the players before they arrived, that was all on a level above me, but they were all given a copy of the rules, they were told their groups, and had a good idea of how the match was supposed to run. People came from all over the world, some of them speaking perfect English, some of them understanding only the words "You play [name]" and "5pm."

Now I can recognize most of the professional-level players, almost every European player speaks great English, the Koreans even had their names on the back of their shirts, but there's still a lot of people left after you check off those names. And here's where the God-send comes in. There was a pre-made seating chart. I believe the players got a copy of this before they showed up, but the important thing is that we got a copy of it the day before (and by we I mean the admins). So we went around the computers, set up the graphics options to max and put the player names into the computers. So you could walk around the room, and there was your alias staring you in the face. This was probably the single most important thing on our end that was done during this event. Seating arrangements that stare you in the face. Seriously useful.

Anyways, the players get to funnel in at 8:30am which gives them an hour and a half to set up. For all of this we are busy; a small part was pointing people to the correct seat (we played some games the night before and changed a few of the names), but the biggest chore by far was getting people set up according to their home specifications. We had widescreen monitors (I really don't know why tournaments still supply widescreen monitors; no one likes them, and they have to be more expensive than regular ones) and had to make them display the proper aspect ratio. Then some of them wanted a black box around the entire screen to make the actual size like they were used to at home. One of us (Joshua Keyes) figured this out very quickly and basically if someone gestured at his monitor, I just yelled, grabbed him, and let him do his thing. Life-saver.

10am (match time) rolled around really quickly. This was the second hardest part: the next 15-30 minutes of figuring out who was playing, who was warming up, and locating the right people. We had people in their allocated seats, so for the unknown players we could reference the seating chart, but it's still a matter of a lot of grunt work and miscommunication. One of us had the idea that we should divide up chores by groups (OK, you have groups A-B, you have C-D, etc), and I stupidly brushed that aside, "How hard can it be, just grab people and tell them to play?" Honestly, I think having any admin able to help any player is the right call, but for the first 15 minutes... yeah we could have used some organization.

So yeah, a little bit of work trying to grab the right people, point them in the right directions and (here's the fun part), finding coins to flip. I ended up flipping a bottle cap for half the tournament. Also, I'm not sure how many people understand "Heads" and "Tails" so it was a little awkward getting the map vetoes started. (The way the Warcraft tournament runs, there are 5 maps, but only three are played in a series, so each player gets to choose one to remove. The order that they are chosen is determined by a coin flip. Only once did I see a player react as to say "Hey, he just removed the map I was going to.") But really, while hectic, the amount of time spent getting the first few matches started was not that intensive.

One games got underway, only small issues popped up. Some players left their computers for too long: In one case we were waiting for SK.Lyn for about 45 minutes. His group only had three people so it didn't delay the tournament, but he was primed for a forfeit. There was an issue where two former clanmates were in the same group (ToD and SaSe), and a player (Paladyn) was concerned they would rig the matches to make sure the two of them would advance over him. After talking to the three of them, and also taking into account that ToD and SaSe played each other in between their matches against Paladyn, I didn't really see rigging as a strong possibility (and he lost to the two of them anyway).

Otherwise, the other important thing we managed to do was get all the games done ahead of schedule. Some of the groups were very big and some were small (some with 5, some with 3 basically). But we finished Group Stage 1 pretty quickly, (by 4pm; it was slated to end around 5) despite a couple hour-long games. We drew the new groups, set up the stage matches, and went about our business.

The rest of day 1 went well; we drew the brackets for the final, told the players when to show up, and went home. Really the only hard part was the initial set-up (made much easier by expressly naming the computers to their players), dealing with the hardware (please stop supplying widescreen monitors), assigning people to their matches (which is hard when people stand up and walk around if you don't know the players by sight).

Day two was pretty simple. We got WaaaghTV into all the games, we got the matches started promptly, we told the players specifically what time to be on for their games; the only scare was at the final match for Sky vs WhO because one page had it set for 7pm and another had it for 7:30, so we're all running around panicking trying to find him until he walks in from dinner or whatever and sets up.

So if this ends up being a lesson to anyone instead of just a mildly entertaining story, here goes:

If everyone speaks the same language, if there aren't many people, it's not a big deal. If there's a lot and it's hard to coordinate: Name the computers. Put a sign on them, put the player names in, put a big text document on the screen, I don't care. But it's just supremely useful when the spots are specifically named for the players.

Second, get a system for addressing the games made. The players won't have their schedules memorized. If you can get a screen to project the first round matches for all to see, great. We had a computer more or less dedicated to the purpose, but it was just a monitor in the middle of the room, not exactly easy to crowd around. It was not hard to just have someone ask "Who's my next opponent?" and supply him with the info, but you can save some time. To be honest, we needed the players to come up to us because we had to handle map vetoes, get them to sign match documents, so it was a lot of grunt work, but whatever. One small thing we could have done was walked around and said "OK it's 10, get out of your friendly matches and stay standing up around here until you've been given your match sheet and the OK from an admin." We had small troubles in figuring out who was playing and who was simply warming up, since we didn't exactly cross-check lists of who adminned whom.

Otherwise it was a pristine event, the other admins all worked very hard and I'm really glad we had them since there's no way in hell I could have managed all of it myself.

Thank you to Matt Kho, William Wang, and Joshua Keyes.

Monday, July 7, 2008

StarCraft II - Blizzard Worldwide Invitational Version

StarCraft 2

Since I’m sure I’ll be attracting more viewers than usual, I’ll give you all a brief introduction so as to lend credibility to what I say. I played Brood War a fair amount growing up. I was never a phenomenal player, but I played some WGTour, tried to qualify for WCG a few times, followed the scene, what have you. I was probably a D+ player at best, but honestly I didn’t play WGT or any of those leagues enough to really know. But I knew how to play, I just wasn’t physically skilled or mature enough to do it well. Warcraft III came along, and I quickly rose to prominence. I qualified for many tournaments and at my peak was one of the top two players in all of North and South America. One admin, after I had retired, told me I was in his top-10 or top-20 list of players worldwide. Now, I was surprised by this, but I beat enough of the top-5 and top-10 to make this a possibility.

Now, getting into the article itself, I’m going to break this down into three main categories:

  • Interface Changes
  • Units, Buildings, etc
  • New Dynamics

The interface, as we are all well aware, and as Brood Wars players dread, is going to be significantly upgraded. Honestly, no one can blame Blizzard for this. You can select all your buildings, use Tab to shift through the different types, workers that are rallied to resources start mining right away, lots of fun stuff. I’m going to lay out the key changes:

  1. Rally points: A Nexus/CC/Hatchery rallied onto Minerals or Gas has any workers coming out instantly go and start mining on that resource. One interesting thing with Mineral harvesting is that they often don’t go to that specific Mineral. If it’s occupied, they will quickly switch to a vacant spot. There’s some pretty heavy AI going on here, the units practically split themselves at the start of the game. One interesting point of note is Zerg has two rally points on its Hatchery: One for Drones and one for everything else. They’re different colors with different hotkeys, and you can simply right click a Mineral and right click the ground and the game knows what’s up. You can rally to friendly units (the rally point will follow that unit and units coming out will follow it as well).

  2. Multiple Building Selection: Yes, I know you BW players are dreading this, and here’s how it works. Of course you can have all your buildings in one group. In the case of a bunch of Barracks, you have to press M for each Marine you want. At least it’s not one-click macro. If one of the Barracks has a Tech Lab on it, it goes into its own sub-group, meaning you have to press M, then Tab, then M 5 more times (assuming one Barracks with a Lab and five without) to create Marines at each of your Barracks. Zerg is interesting in that once you Select Larvae and you have a bunch of Larvae in your control, you have to create each unit individually. Late game, this is actually more (or at least as many) actions required than in StarCraft’s system, albeit streamlined somewhat. Additionally, all buildings have little icons on their HUD icon displaying how many units they are currently creating and (if applicable), how many Larvae are present at that Hatchery. Lastly, the game intelligently creates the units at the Barracks/etc with the shortest queue.

  3. When you have multiple units selected, here’s how it works: I think the “normal” selection size is something like 40. Four rows of ten. I’m not quite sure, but it’s certainly more than normal. Now, you can select as many units as you want, but your HUD only displays 40 at a time, but there are little boxes you can click (or maybe access with a hotkey) to scroll through each 40-man platoon. As a small point, Blink will affect all your Stalkers at once, while Psionic Storm and similar abilities are one-click one-cast, like with unit creation. It seems that Storm now has a smaller area to compensate.

I think that sums up interface changes.

Now a few game dynamics have changed as well. Some may have been unique to this tournament, some may completely change the way we play this game:

  1. New terrain features: We have destructible doodads again, and it seems Blizzard has taken a cue from Korea, because almost every map has some kind of doodad blocking a valuable expansion. Also, we have a new type of terrain, which has been represented as a cluster of trees, smoke vents, or other things. It’s a Fog of War blocker. One time I had a player lead my troupe of Marines off to the side with his Zerglings, and while I knew what was coming, I wanted to see it just to experience it. Out came 20 more Zerglings from one of these Fog Machines (see what I did there?) and killed half my army before I could retreat to safety. Cliffs work basically the same as before, though if you have read some interviews, attacking from a cliff no longer reveals your units. Oh, and the Colossus rapes Zerglings really badly because of their cliff walking.

  2. Unit firing: Like in Brood Wars, there are quite a few units that can attack and then move quickly while still getting full damage out. The Jackal, which replaced the Firebat, has such a dynamic. Its attack animation is very long, but the damage is given the instant it shoots. The range isn’t huge, it’s about the same as a Firebat, maybe a little more, but it seems not as long as a Vulture’s. The Colossus, whose attack shoots a beam from left to right, an animation which takes about a full second, does its damage instantly in a straight line as well, and the animation proves to be very misleading. Battlecruisers on the other hand shoot a series of attacks, requiring the unit to be still for each shot. So we have a mixed bag here, but it ends up working out pretty well, I think.

  3. Damage types: These have indeed changed drastically. Instead of Brood Wars where units dealt X damage, but maybe it was cut in half, or one-fourth or three-fourths depending on what it was hitting, units in SC2 deal X damage, and deal bonus damage Y against one of three armor types: Armored, Fleshy (or something like that), and Shield (which is unique only to the Nullifier/Stasis Orb – same unit, different name). So when you see that Hydralisks deal 10 damage and 3 bonus to Armored, this is a significant buff. They do 10 damage vs all targets, except vs Armored, where they will deal 13. So instead of the old Hydralisk that dealt 1/2 damage to some targets, they do 10 instead of 5 to Marines. Clearly Blizzard wants a well-rounded unit from Zerg to be able to handle much of anything once midgame kicks in, but anyway, keep this all in mind when we go over the units later.

  4. Here’s the big thing to think about: Resources. Firstly, units carried back 5 Minerals per trip and 6 Gas. I kind of feel like they take less time mining, but they certainly come in smaller increments. Minerals still had 1500 per block, but the Vespene Geysers only had 1000 in reserve. Maybe it was just an oversight, I don’t know. The big change however is that every base, both main and expansion, had 8 or 7 Minerals as we’re typically used to, but also TWO Vespene deposits. Now maybe this was specific for this alpha to allow players to tech more quickly and see all the units, but this could be a very big deal, seeing as how most of the Mineral-only units have been removed and many units now have higher Gas prices.

Now on to the units

  1. Most Protoss units now have less Shields than before, which makes sense seeing as they no longer take “full” damage, as they did in BW. They take the base rate with the exception of one or two units. So Zealots are down to 50 or 60 shields, Stalkers have 40 down from Dragoon’s 80, and basically everything else is new so have fun with that.

  2. Most important units cost more, and typically it’s more Gas. High Templar are up to 200 Gas, Mutalisks are at 125, Siege Tanks are now 175 Minerals. Hydralisks are 100/100 and 2 food, but as I mentioned earlier, they’re significantly better. Morphing into a Lurker doesn’t take any more food now but I don’t remember the price on it.

  3. Most of the fine detail on units will be in the audio which I’m going to begin recording after posting this article, so for those of you first reading it, it will be up shortly, and for those of you reading it a significant time after it’s been posted, just scroll down.

I think this mostly covers everything that’s in this game, the audio will help flesh out everything and provide a more overall look, so stay tuned!

Podcast: StarCraft 2
Alternate Link

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Randomness - Part 1: PvE

Games have two main environments: PvP (Player vs. Player) and PvE (Player(s) vs. Environment). This article, which I guess will be Part 1, focuses on randomness’s role in Player(s) versus the Environment.

If the environment is static in every iteration of the game, there’s often not much replay value to the game. You learn where the monsters spawn, you learn the puzzles, the secrets, and there’s not much left to the game. Certainly if a game is good, players will simply play through it again, often with self-inflicted restrictions (beating Fallout 2 without the use of weapons, for example), or maybe even on a higher difficulty, but again, “Nightmare” is the same as “Nightmare” both times through, so again, there’s not much replay value left afterwards. There’s not a lot of replay value in Half-Life 2 for me, but then again, this isn’t always important. I enjoyed the game the first time through, I enjoyed Episodes 1 and 2, and I plan on enjoying Episode 3 when it comes out. Multiple play-throughs are not required to make a game excellent, but it’s always nice to be able to experience everything again in a new way.

So, if we are looking for longevity in a PvE game, how do we do it? Well, let’s look at some of the successful computer RPGs of our time, and because I’m a Blizzard fanboy: Diablo II and World of Warcraft.

WoW is special in that the designers are constantly creating new content for the game. They create and implement new raid dungeons, add new items into the game, and expansion packs come out every few years. So far this doesn’t count as randomness, they’re simply adding more into the game to get people to continue playing it. As a business model (with monthly fees and all), this makes tons of sense, and players are obviously happy, so this looks like a win-win. It is. But the one thing that keeps this interesting is that the entire reason players are continuing to conquer these forty-man raid dungeons is for the items, and this is where randomness comes into play. If “Super Paladin Awesomeness Weapon X” drops from one specific monster, every Paladin is going to walk over and slay that monster, have their awesome weapon and be on their way. The same can apply to any piece of gear for any character, and the game simply turns into killing this one monster once, grabbing your piece of equipment, and leaving. However, as item drops are random and the good items only come from the raid bosses, we have a scenario with a lot of longevity. People raid every night hoping for that tier (6?) epic drop. The randomness is what keeps the game exciting, hoping for that glorious secondary color to show up.

One thing to note about the dungeons, however, is that they themselves (as far as I know) aren’t very random. I’m sure the exact locations of the monsters and the exact numbers of each of them are made up on the spot, but everyone knows what they’ll be facing, they know where to go. People farm specific gear to resist fire, or frost, or whatever it is they’ll be facing. The difficulty of the encounter drastically lowers after the first iteration of the instance. “Oh, it’s a bunch of fire damage, we’ll beat it no problem next time.” I read an article by a man who said, “If there’s exactly one best way to invade France, just start the game after the invasion of France.” While this is mostly true, if it’s still fun to invade France, who cares? There’s nothing wrong with a linear progression through the level, nothing wrong with players preparing for a specific encounter, as long as the encounter is fun even when players are fully prepared. This fun may come from hoping for that special item drop, it can come from the slaying of monsters simply being fun, it doesn’t really matter. But both of those reasons should be included if we’re to design a dungeon.

Diablo II is a step down from WoW, I suppose. While the most recent patch included Uber-Tristram, allowing players a new unique Charm, the game has been fairly stagnant since. People build for those specific encounters that provide the best items and much of the game involves solo characters running around killing the same monsters over and over in hopes for glittering prizes. Really, this is not different from WoW. Sure, WoW adds new encounters every few months, WoW requires a team as opposed to one person, and WoW even adds in new items to look for to keep it fresh and new, and to make those who are rich keep playing. But the model is basically the same. Kill the high-level monsters with your superpowered character, hope for sweet loot.

One last game I want to mention is a custom map for Warcraft III called SWAT: Aftermath. This is another PvE game where a team of up to 9 players attempt to beat a literally infinite wave of zombies and other monsters while attempting to complete objectives. Much like Diablo II and WoW, there are multiple classes to play with a large combination of special talents to choose from within each role. The reward for completion of the game is a “rank code” which will make your character slightly more powerful the next time through. The codes carry through difficulties, the hardest of which actually require you to have reached a certain rank before playing them. One of the difficulties has actually never been beaten, for what that’s worth.

The way randomness works in this game is actually fairly significant. Most of the map itself, its terrain features and the location of the “Bomb shelters” (required for completing one of the three objectives) are stagnant. However, the location of the Power Plants (another objective), various shops, and the spawning points of the monsters and bosses are all random. This uncertainty adds a lot to the replay value of the game. It forces players into a mindset of preparedness. While we know exactly what minions Baal will spawn, we don’t know when the next Blue Dog, Super Garg, or STNT is going to come around the corner. And if they come one right after another while Mind Slay is on cooldown, well, we’re in a world of hurt. Ultimately this all puts a premium on scouting and map awareness (and thankfully there are abilities for that), and simply keeps the action fresh.

I like that every time you fight the computer something different will happen. It makes it more interesting. I can guarantee you the guys with all purples on their characters don’t really want to fight through BRD again.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


For this article, the majority of the specific examples will come from Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.

In my mind, decision-making encompasses two fundamental points to gameplay: Macromanagement and general army movements. As a brief definition, macromanagement (henceforth, "macro") is the player's ability to spend his resources. The difficulties here are "on what" and "when." Do we make Grunts, Headhunters, Kodo Beasts, an expansion, tech to Fortress, stack gold at 50 food? None of these are the right answer all the time. As economies get larger this question expands itself. We can make a lot of things all at once, and we're probably going to want more than just one type of unit. The second point of difficulty, choice, skill differentiation, whatever you want to call it, is the usage of a player's army. Now, don't confuse this with micromanagement, there's no decision made in whether to micro well or not. However, where and when to attack, what to creep, where to position oneself on the map, these are all decision to be made. Much like the first point with macro, we are making these decisions with limited knowledge.

Unless the game is created in such a way (or through the usage of cheats), we don't always know what our opponent is up to. We usually don't know his exact army composition, we aren't always 100% sure if he's trying to expand, tech, upgrade, rush, etc. What's the difference between a Human player tower rushing you and a Human player expanding? His army's headed to you and not to a gold mine. That's it. No matter how much you scout, your opponent has those two options open with the same opening. Every time. Now, defeating each of those strategies requires different tactics. Clearly you cannot truly build to counter just one of those choices if your opponent can simply change his strategy on a whim, while for the Human player, attempting to fast expand and attempting to tech quickly are mutually exclusive builds in many situations.

So we've established that we make decisions with limited knowledge, but let's try to break down what this means for us as players or designers. First, however, I am going to break down the four main categories that macro decisions fall into:
  1. Unit Production: Pretty straight-forward. Obviously what to produce is still in question, but producing units gives the player the ability to attack, defend, or creep (in some games). These can be to support other units, counter a specific set of units an opponent has, or just be a generally useful unit. A point to players: Think about why you're making this specific unit. What is it countering? What is it adding to your army? Will your opponent easily counter it? Has he already countered it as part of his army? A point to game designers: Make sure players have more than one option for defeating a certain unit. Otherwise undefeatable two-unit combinations may exist: "Unit A" and the counter to whatever counters "Unit A."
  2. Tech: Teching has one purpose and one purpose only: It unlocks other units. Want to stay at a Great Hall all game? Well then you're stuck with Grunts and Headhunters. Want Gryphons? Get a Castle. Sometimes this may overlap with other categories (i.e. Blacksmith allows Riflemen but also allows upgrades).
  3. Expanding: Another fairly straightforward point, expanding allows a player more resources to spend on any of the other three categories. This is one of the riskier options as generally expansions cost a great deal of resources. This is probably the hardest point for designers to perfect: a) Expansions may be the best option always, in which case there's no decision-making behind expanding, it's simply a fact of the game. b) Expansions are almost impossible to put up, though in this case, if the rewards are great, players may build strategies around securing expansions, which furthers the longevity of a game.
  4. Upgrades: Researching an upgrade improves current and future units. There are many ways in which this takes shape: Siege Mode to allow (surprise!) Siege Mode for StarCraft's Siege Tank, Orcish Unit Armor to improve the longevity of nearly every unit in the Orc army, Animal War Training to make Knights, Dragonhawks, and Gryphons more durable. Some may be "one-shot" upgrades, such as Siege Mode or War Training, some may have various levels as with the Armor upgrade. Ultimately, upgrades are an investment in your troops. Barring a few cases, your army will generally perform better with one more Bear than it will with one more level of Strength of the Wild. But since upgrades will affect every unit built, they can be a strong choice in the long run. Players must weigh the improved efficiency for a certain group of units against their need for more immediate improvements in army strength. A player must also be wary of those units becoming obsolete, so as not to waste resources.
Mechanics (such as Warcraft's upkeep system) may affect how strong these options are: Few players transition flawlessly from 50 food (no upkeep) to the 60-70 food range (low upkeep: 70% income) without first waiting for a sizable bank of gold. Undead in particular is known for staying sub-50 until their gold mines near depletion, suddenly surging towards three-digit food counts. Because of "upkeep abuse," amassing upgrades and possibly expanding while waiting at 50 food proves to be a valid strategy. However, unit production is more effective now, so players who stack gold for only a short time can overrun overzealous bankers. In matchups like Night Elf mirror, one of the key components is to see which player breaks 50 food and pushes first and whether his opponent can efficiently repel the attack.

As players, we have to make decisions on what to make and when to make it all the time. 90% of the time, these choices are sort of pre-determined. With the advent of replays and the distribution of common strategies, most players know "make a bunch of Gargoyles against Elf" and "make mass Druids of the Talon against Orc." The answer to "when" is usually "all the time." If you have 135 gold, make a Talon. Sometimes this is interrupted as players purchase Scrolls of Healing, but the macro plan for the game is pretty straightforward. However, even a matchup as "simple" as mass Talons has its complexities. How many Archers does one make at tier 1? How many Wisps? How many Wisps do we replace after building our Ancients of Wind? What heroes to we make? When do we start tier 3? When do we get Adept training? When do we pause for Heal Scrolls? If you're a Night Elf player and you answer is "I dunno" you've got some work to do.

Even without set strategies, or in games where there are set strategies but many possible openings, we have to scout - often. Certainly, effective play requires a "fluency" with the game. You have to know what can come out of Beastiary before you can hope to counter it. Truly top-level players can see small differences: less Peasants than should be expected, another Farm, maybe the lack of an Arcane Tower, and smell "Fast expansion" and make a beeline across the map for a creepjack. All of this comes with experience. Also, as you may have noticed from this paragraph, macro and army movements are intertwined. The counter to seeing less Peasants is "let's go creepjack." Your opponent made the macro decision to expand, you made the army movement decision to find him. Your macro will likely be different as well, maybe fast air to deal with a land-locked opponent, maybe fast tier 3 to secure expansions with (teching for the Tiny Great Hall).

So what's the point of this article then? Two things, I suppose: A word to developers and a word to players; we'll begin with the latter.

Players: If you're trying to learn a game, or a matchup, or a strategy, or a counter-strategy, there's more to look for than you may think. Look through the player's eyes. What is he making? How does this change among other games of this specific matchup? What caused these changes: What did or didn't he see? What about army movements, when does he creep, attack, heal, creepjack, etc? Every change is effected (verb form, look it up (thanks xkcd)) by either a movement or macro choice by his opponent. Every pro player is simply a dictionary of stimulus-counter combined with good micromanagement abilities.

Devs: Obviously we don't need creeps to keep the games interesting (StarCraft, CnC3, etc all work well), but in order to keep games interesting, it's nice to have a sprawling game of rock-paper-scissors to play. It doesn't have to be just with unit counters, but expansions, attack timing (killing tier 2 buildings before they complete is a big part of Warcraft 3. It's non-existant in CnC3)... I guess one thing I noticed, if we are to compare WC3 to SC, StarCraft's army movements are all about the economy. Attacks and defenses are about stopping, delaying, and damaging expansions/economies. Warcraft's are about not only that (albeit much less frequently), but hero levelling, item gains, and the prevention of those acquisitions. I suppose that makes the army movements in Warcraft more complex with more factors that weigh in. Ultimately, when you make a game, it absolutely must have a sort of give-and-take, both with units and their counters, but with overall decision-making, how and where use the army you've built.

As with the previous article, I've recorded a podcast for your further enrichment. All podcasts can be found here.

Monday, May 5, 2008


I've decided one way to help expand my horizons is to play as many games as possible. I suppose that's not much of an illogical conclusion, but whatever. Recently, I started playing the open beta for a game called WorldShift. It's a very interesting title, it combines typical RTS fare - harvest resources, create an army, use the abilities, win the game - with a touch of MMORPG basics. The game has its equivalent of raids: players team up to defeat computer controled armies, and eventually giant boss creatures.

Successful progress in the "PvE" portion of the game nets the player items or "cards" and "xenoshards." The cards come in a variety of strengths, and just like WoW, everyone wants purples. Initially, these cards are given specific slots for specific purposes - this slot upgrades your main hero, each of these 4 slots are for each of your 4 officers, here's some slots for your regular units. However, the high-level cards may affect more than that sepcific unit; you can gain armor, damage, and hit point bonuses to certain units from other areas. This gives us a pretty large degree of customization, we can sort of choose our strategies early on: We can make Brutes much more powerful, or maybe we want more mana regeneration for spellcasting. I really like the amount of pregame preparation that's available in this game. I think it's a bit unfortunate that the "PvP" element of this game requires the initial "grinding" for items, but I think that's what the intention was for the game anyway.

Now I want to stress that this game is really very interesting in its genre-meshing and original ideas. I've never seen an MMO-RTS tried before, and while the players and their armies don't interact unless they're engaged in a "Deathmatch" (1v1, 2v2, 3v3, etc battle) or "Location" match (the equivalent of a raid or instance), I am in love with the continuity of it all. I like being able to say "Hey, I did really well this game, and I have something to show for it." Cards can be gained in the single player missions, raid-like Location games, and the PvP element as well, all of which have their own ways of letting a player excel and extra bonuses.

However, I can't really see this game maintaing any sort of longevity. As far as an RTS goes, it's very, very light. While there are many possibilities pregame with Cards, once you get into the game itself, it's not a very robust game. There are three relatively distinct races. Each of the races has a main Hero-type unit. He spawns at the start, can be revived if he dies, and has a number of abilities that can be buffed with the aforementioned Cards. In addition to the Hero a player has up to four Officers. You spawn with two of them (of your choosing), and can revive/train up to a total of four. There are four kinds of officers with abilities ranging from healing, stuns, direct damage, and buffs. So far this game looks promising, right? We haven't even gotten to the real units. Unfortunately, there are four real units to be produced. Every race has small light damaging melee units, weak ranged troops, and two larger units which generally fill the roles "DPS" or "Tanking."

I talked before about economy management, and I will soon write a few articles about decision making, expansions, teching, upgrades, and the like - "Macro" choices, if you will. Unfortunately the macromanagement choices in this game are simply "what to make" and "how much." We are presented with the choice of making officers, units, or defensive upgrades for our numerous expansions, but that's about it. The maps are generated randomly, but it seems there are about 7 resource sites to take control of between the players (as far as 1v1 goes), and there is no cost whatsoever for claiming them. They are guarded by neutral monsters which must be killed, but considering you don't even have to construct workers to build, let alone man the expansion, I don't think it's a very risky strategy to expand quickly and often.

It seems the game is intended to be paced very quickly. Resources are easy to obtain and both players should be able to constantly produce units throughout. However the game starts to stagnate when we realize that not only are some units close to useless (Dimensional Chain + Nether Nova = instant death to half of the units a player is capable of producing), but we don't even have that many unit choices to begin with. The game seems to revolve mostly around the usage of the hero and officers as the players are also presented with a 30-unit food cap. While the officers and hero aren't subject to this cap, it limits a player to an army ranging between 30 "tier 1" units, and 5 of their big fourth unit. Confronted with the fact that almost every ability in the game is Area of Effect, we're left with a pretty narrow selection for unit production.

The last point I want to address about this game is longevity. While I hope to write more about longevity of a game in general in a later article, I'll address my concerns with this game here. In a player-vs-player environment, a game should always be changing because one can't faithfully predict their opponent's next move. Additional points like metagame and the evolution of strategies always keeps the game exciting - provided there are enough tools to allow exciting new strategies and metagames. With such a harsh limit on unit production and no real decision making aside from "to attack or "not to attack," I can't help but think the game will come to nothing more than 1. Who has the best items, and 2. Who micros the best.

The PvE aspect to the game can be in the same way that Diablo II is still alive and kicking. A variety of difficult encounters that each require their own strategy exist. Players can choose a variety of army compositions just as a player may choose his own skills and equipment. However, I can't help but feel that down the road, it'll be much less exciting. Once everyone figures out the strategies to use - Kill the eggs to the scorpion doesn't heal himself. Leave the other two bosses alive so you get better loot - there's nothing exciting left in the game. After the thrill of "Hey cool I found this sweet item" passes, there's not much left to the game. The encounters are scripted, and in any non-random PvE battle, there will be a "best" way to do something and the game will get old. This would be fine if it just led up to an exciting PvP part of the game, but sadly I don't think that's the case here. It may be fun in the same sense that single player RPGs are fun, but it's rare to see repeat-completions of a single player game unless the player injects his own rules into it.

So there you have it, maybe this reads more like a review than a critique, but I feel like I tried to stay to a theme of "what works, what doesn't." And I love quoting "every" other "word" I "write."

Edit: I've also recorded and uploaded a Podcast for your further enrichment, should you plan on listening. This link will bring you to a folder that holds this and all future recordings when they're uploaded.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Economies - Part 1: StarCraft

My experiences as a competitive player, at least as a successful one, comes from the realm of RTS. My successful competitive career started with Blizzard's Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. I've competitively played many other "conventional" RTS games such as StarCraft, Command & Conquer 3, Rise of Nations, World in Conflict, and others with varied yet respectable levels of success. The point of this post will be to illustrate the different ways that resources are collected and spent affect the pacing and balance of competitive RTS games.

First, we start with StarCraft. Its economy is pretty simple: You collect Minerals, your main resource, from Mineral patches. Its rate of assumption is more or less capped, but requires a large number of workers to optimize the field, so a player's income grows over time, and as economies grow expansions are needed to continue to provide the required money. The game's second resource, Vespene Gas, is very much capped. Efficient harvesting only requires 3 workers as opposed to roughly 25 and similarly, expansions are required to broaden its harvest.

With the introduction out of the way, we move to their importance. Literally every single unit in the game requires Minerals for production. Most low-tier units (workers included) require only Minerals, while high-tier units require increasingly larger Gas sums for their production. It quickly becomes impossible to produce solely high-tier units without uselessly accumulating a large bankroll of Minerals. As opposed to simply banking an otherwise useless resource, good players will simply produce droves of their low- and mid-tier units.

In some match-ups, such as Protoss vs Terran, these low tier units are optimal, allowing the player to spend his Gas to "tech," to reach higher tiers without slowing unit production noticeably. Thus Protoss are able to research upgrades and produce high-tier units to supplement their standard armies without succumbing to an extended tier-two push (more on this in another article). This insurance that the player is able to tech while attempting to defend and attack faithfully lets the match-up evolve as the game ticks on. The game will never stagnate at two units vs two units ad nauseum. Now the limit on Gas requires the player to make choices: Do I want this vital upgrade for my Zealots? Do I want air units faster? Do I need more Dragoons, even though it will slow my tech? Which of my three tech trees (Robotics, Templar, Air) do I want to use?

Utilizing a limited secondary resource has a number of practical uses in game design. In RTS games, there are often many units that are hard to counter: units that require specific strategies or units to defeat. If we are to continue to look at StarCraft, examples are invisible attackers like Dark Templar and Lurkers, air attackers like Mutalisks. These units all appear slightly past tier 2, in what I like to call Tier 2.5: After reaching tier 2, players must make a specific building or complete a specific research to allow their production: Templar Archives for Dark Templar, Lurker Aspect for Lurkers, and a Spire for Mutalisks. Note that these units have a variety of methods to ensure that they cannot be rushed to, but prominently, each unit costs at least 100 Gas, a fairly steep investment.
  1. A player cannot quickly tech to the highest units as he must accumulate enough Gas over time to enable those options. This allows designers to force certain units to only appear after a certain amount of time. Hard-to-counter units like heavy air or invisible attackers are a bane on the unprepared. Forcing them to only appear after ten minutes allows designers to balance its appearance mid-game with its appearance late-game without worrying about an early-game influence.
  2. A player must choose between his best options. Limiting the vital second resource makes players choose between mid-tier macro, upgrades, or tech for high-tier units. And as we all know, interesting choices make for interesting games.
  3. A player must continue to create his low-tier units, as well as allowing designers to optimize the effectiveness of upgrades and high-tier units. Making high-tier units extremely effective is an efficient and attractive option: Players should always have an incentive for climbing the tech tree. However, because their availability is limited, players need other ways to spend their Minerals while their Gas is taxed. The most attractive option in this case is often to create their low- or no-Gas units such as Zerglings, Vultures, Zealots, and Marines. In some cases they are used simply as tanking or scouting units, while in other situations they are the core of a player's army, supplemented by the higher tier units.
Designers can achieve many of these results through other means in other economic systems:
  • They can hard-cap the number available a unit, "You may only have one Mothership, Ion Cannon, etc." However this cap does not present players with a real choice. It is most likely capped because it's extremely powerful and should always be created.
  • They can affect the cost of a unit, however this presents a problem in that players simply choose between their low-tier and high-tier options. Certainly, roles come into play (Anti-air, tanking, damage output, range), but for similarly-themed units, it is difficult to truly balance the effectiveness of two similarly-themed units if players freely choose between the two without making them too similar.
  • They can affect the build time of the higher-tier units to amounts higher than would otherwise be optimal, which forces players to either spend huge resources on additional production buildings or to spend the structures not building their high-tier units to build their lower-tier units. This has a mix of problems between the two aforementioned "solutions" in that they are either completely worth building the additional structures to produce optimally or they may be entirely ignored. In some cases this system can work out very well and while the units are effective, investing in additional production buildings may be problematic. This is more tactfully done with the finite second resource, when a player wants to produce this unit later in the game, it is more easily acquired while having the same early-game effects.
While this begins to touch into unit design itself, it is important to remember that low-tier and high-tier units should all have uses. Maybe they aren't useful in every match-up all the time (Marines, Firebats, and Medics vs Protoss, Carriers vs Zerg, etc), but there should be a decided set of uses for each unit, and while high-tier units may do some of these better, they should not have absolute superiority. Ultimately, while high-tier units are often more effective in many scenarios, they cannot be acquired right away, and uses are still found for low-tiered units.


Welcome to David "Phreak" Turley's blog. I have been a competitive gamer and budding game designer for some time. Herein you will find my thoughts on design, experiences in the competitive environment, and hopefully some entertaining stories or funny jokes. Stay a while and listen!