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
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