Over a decade has passed; Koreans have been holding tournaments of grandeur; and gamers have been living and breathing Real Time Strategy. My climb from Bronze to Silver is going to be a tough one.
Starcraft II has been out since July 27, 2010, and I picked it up first day. I had it pre-ordered at GameStop for the sole purpose of beta access, which I haven’t done for a long freaking time. The Mall of America is the closest GameStop location and take my word for it when I say, going to MOA for one item is a pain in the ass.
I did a fair amount of playing while in the beta, so I was familiar with the units, and some of their abilities. I wasn’t completely sure of what was different, because I had played the first Starcraft, but it wasn’t a religion. I was too busy pimping out my Fireball, and throwing up walls of fire and devil horns in the name of Diablo! Diablo the game that is, Diablo the demon needed to die… multiple times.
I was however addicted to Age of Empires then, in much the same way I’m addicted to Starcraft II now. After getting spanked in a bad way over and over I watched better players to learn new strategies, and practiced my build order over and over again. Eventually I was very good at storming an opponent’s loggers with a gaggle of chariot archers at about 9 minutes in. This shocked and awed many, as well as infuriating others, but it gave me a great sense of satisfaction. The idea of guys hard at work cutting lumber, only to have sticks shot into their backs by guys on chariots was amusing to me. I then backed it up with a Monty Python taunt that I had downloaded just to rub it in. I had spent a lot of time mastering an aspect of the game, and it paid off. THAT is what I am searching for in SCII! The competition seems much tougher, and SCII is better balanced, which really forces you to know what all the units and buildings do. This will make the quest tougher, but it will make the payoff that much more rewarding.
I’ve learned the importance of macro, and micro. These aren’t new terms to a RTS veteran, but it took several YouTube commentaries to figure out what it actually meant. Macro is basically your Strategy, while you could say micro is your… “Real Time”? Your build order (order in which you expand your base), unit composition, upkeep on military and economy, and use of specific advantages (terrain, flight, choke points, barricades, etc), are all examples of your macro. This is the aspect of the game I feel I am improving the most and I think that’s true for anyone starting the game. Just learning the units and environment will help you considerably, which anyone that has ever played a competitive game online will tell you. Being able to find the sniper rifle, and reach a vantage point, is synonymous with placing a bunch of Hydralisks at the mouth of a choke point so when an army of Marines comes through fewer of them will be able to shoot you. Micro is a small and extremely quick game within the macro game. It is an entire concept I never really thought about until I saw the way really good players controlled their units. They didn’t just select a group of units, then tell them to attack something. While attacking they would break their army up into groups, usually grouped by unit type, and they would give all sorts of tiny instructions to maximize the effectiveness of their army. In our earlier sniping example, micro would be your ability to aim and fire. Suppose the target is moving and you have to lead it to hit it. This micro example seems more obvious than it’s SCII counterpart. Say you are going into a battle with your Hydralisks again and you are able to micro your injured units to the back of the group where he won’t get hit, and the front line of marines will have to change targets. This will keep more of your units alive to fight again later. Micro often requires very small, quick inputs that can only be mastered by playing the game. Just thinking about how you could click on stuff isn’t going to improve your ability to click on stuff.
I’ve also learned the importance of the HOT KEY. It’s very beneficial to have the ability of accessing things that you can’t see on the screen. This improved both the macro and micro aspects of my game enormously. I can now harass someone, while still managing my base. On the micro side, being able to quickly select a specific unit group and perform a power is crucial to any combat situation. This HOT KEYing has spread beyond Starcraft II and has also improved my retention and use of HOT KEYs in Max/Maya, Flash, and Photoshop. I often thought it more time consuming to look down at the keyboard and make sure you have the correct keys lined up, but building that muscle memory can speed things up.
Assisting me in my journey thus far have been a great group of YouTube channels. Most notably; HuskyStarcraft, TheUENtv, SC2NoobSchool, HDStarcraft, and HunterStarcraft. They offer great tips, as well as commentary on some of the highest level games in North America and South Korea. They also pointed me at some great sites for tournaments, and information. The most valuable site so far has been SC2Mapster. SCII comes with an amazing map editor, which has allowed people to create Tetris, and custom tutorial levels to test certain aspects of your game. I’m currently having the most trouble with the multitasking trainer. My damn probe keep dying. Husky and HD also have a site up with a lot of great community information at Starcraft Arena
So how far have I come on my quest thus far, well here are my current league standings.
There’s more information there than most of you could ever care about, but come on back and check it out from time to time. I’ll have periodic updates on what I have learned, and where I got the information. This is the information age, and there’s not excuse for sucking at Starcraft II! Ok maybe there are, but this should help you out if it bothers you that you suck. The Protoss Void Ray still seems too powerful against my Zerg and a ball of Terran will almost always turn my troops back into a spawning pool. Only time will tell if this is a balancing issue, or my own ineptitude.