Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Air Units in Starcraft 2

Recently evizaer wrote a post over at That's A Terrible Idea titled "Air Units in land-based RTSes". In it he wrote about how air units in RTS games are "awkward". Saying they're either to powerful and become the only option, or they're just "ground units that ignore terrain". He goes on to wrap up his post by saying, "making all air units off-map call-ins tremendously increases the seeming realism and fun of air units while doing nothing to damage the metagame."

This finishing statement, in my opinion, is completely and utterly wrong, and what better way to prove my point, than with Starcraft 2.

Starcraft 2's air units fall into evizaer's category of "ground units that ignore terrain". On a surface level, this is true. However, there is much more to air units in Starcraft 2 than what that statement lets on.

There are two states in Starcraft 2, when refering to air units, that a unit can be in. These states are, of course, air and ground. All units have to be either one or the other, or, rarely, both. Ground units act as all well behaved ground units should and obey the laws of the terrain. Air units, as already mentioned, ignore the terrain.

While air units aren't that much faster than ground unit, this ignoring of the terrain make it so they can easily attack the back of a base when the enemy isn't expecting it. When defending against air units, it forces the player to rethink their defenses so that they encompass their whole base and not just a choke point.

But these states hold more significance than just terrain rules. They also determine what can attack what. In Starcraft 2, weapons can attack either ground, air, or both. This can create a weird kind of, for a lack of a better term, rock paper scissors effect. It allows for situations where air units wreak havoc when an opponent only has units that attack ground, or ground units that steamroll because an enemies army can only attack air. It makes powerful defense units, like the Siege Tank, have a weakness because they can't attack air. It adds a whole new layer of thinking when selecting which units to produce.

Lastly, I want to cover a concern evizaer brought up.

"When given the viable option at the beginning of a match, a player should almost always choose air units before they begin to use ground units to cement map control. An air unit that is equally as effective as a ground unit at ground attack is significantly more valuable in that it can ignore terrain to harass the opponent from any angle. Since games have a sharp divide between units that can shoot air units and units that cannot, the early game units generally are putrid at air defense. If they were good at air defense, then air would never be a viable strategy because building basic units would hard-counter it."

About air units being the only viable option in Starcraft 2, this is false. There are two things that stop people from massing air unit and getting away with it. One, air units are expensive, and when I say expensive, I mean very expensive. Two, if your opponent catches on that your massing air units, it is very easy to produce a counter force that will annihilate all the air you've been producing.

As for air units being equally effective as ground, this is also false. Air units in Starcraft 2 fit into niche roles. Banshees do massive damage to single ground units and are great at harrass, but can't attack other air units. Void Rays destroy heavy, high health units, but suck dish water against a group of low health units. Mutalisks tear through groups of light, small units, but fall quickly and easily to AoE damage. No unit is 100% foolproof in Starcraft 2, air units included.

Finally, about basic units not working against air, Starcraft 2 does something amazing that not many RTS games accomplish. Depending on what your opponent builds, every unit is worth getting throughout the whole game. As for air units, the example that stands out in my mind is the Void Ray. Void Rays will fall very quickly to a handful of marines, which are the first attack unit Terrans can build.

To wrap it up, everything that I've mentioned here adds layers and layers of strategy that changing air units into off-map call-in abilities would not. As for the off-map call-in abilities, that air strike could be an artillery barrage, the air drop could just be teleporting supplies in, and that recon plane could just be a satellite scan. And when you put it that way, you're back to having no air units in your game at all.

This post originally appeared on Lost in Neurons Wednesday, August 4, 2010. As part of a clean out of Lost in Neurons to make it more focused, it has been moved here, where its author feels it better fit.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The MMO Leveling Conundrum

I’ve been playing MMOs off and on since the original Ever Quest came out. Out of all the MMOs out there, I’ve played EverQuest, EverQuest 2, Dark Age of Camelot, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft, and Eve Online; all for various lengths of time. All of these MMOs, with the exception of Eve Online, use a leveling system for character progression. In fact, this is the de facto standard right now in the MMO industry which very few have the courage or ingenuity to break.

Of course, this isn’t a bad thing per se. On the contrary, levels present a clear goal, get to the level cap. All other gameplay and content is then designed around this idea (except end game, but I’ll get to that later). Furthermore, levels give you a concrete indication of power and progress. They help you estimate fight outcomes (That guys lvl 26, there’s no way I can kill him at lvl 10). They also help reward you (DING! Lvl 35, now I can go get my Awesome Nuclear Explosion spell) and show accomplishment (She’s lvl 80 already? She must have played for 4 days nonstop). I’ve always loved RPGs and their level systems, but it they have flaws just like anything in the world.

The Level Gap Problem

The one major problem I have with MMO leveling systems is this; when your friends out level you, you can no longer play with them. Thus begins, what I like to call, the catch up game. You start to play like mad. It’s no longer about having fun and enjoying the experience, it’s all about the fastest way to grind to your friend’s level. Not only do you play yourself to death, but your friend might slow down too. They wait for you to catch up, doing side activities or leveling an alt, neither of which is what they want to do. All they’d like is to continue leveling, but they’re your good friend and they want to be able to play with their buddy. All this brings me to my point, YOU STOP HAVING FUN! It become almost like a job.

Most people play MMOs to get away from the world and have fun doing it. When people don’t have fun they start to get bored or, even worse, start to dread playing the game. Eventually, players quit and the developer loses money off of them. It’s bad for everyone. So, how do you fix this problem? Well, here’s a list of some solutions already out there right now.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Boxed Up Fun

I can't believe how wrong I've been about board games!  I usually thought of them as bored games and had mental images of never-ending Monopoly games running through my head.  My only exceptions have been chess and some card games played with a standard 52 card deck.

Fortunately for me, I have friends who were determined to show me the error of my ways.  They brought in a selection of games to work and asked me to play during lunch.  Usually we play SC2 or Call of Duty on our lunch breaks and gaming with them is a blast, but they wanted to change it up and try something new.  I think that secretly they're trying to indoctrinate me into their world of board games.

I've been extremely surprised to find that I'm having fun!  Four of us have regularly been sitting down at a table and playing games face-to-face.  We're in the midst of week 2 of board games and so far they've gotten me hooked on Citadels and Ascension.  I think they're both gateway games, because they aren't really played on a board, they're mostly played with cards.  But I have a feeling the true board games are just around the corner.

Citadels is a straight up card game and Ascension is a deck building game played on a mat.  They've also been talking about a game called Small World and now I'm intrigued by the prospect of playing that too.

Something about physically touching the game pieces and interacting with real world objects adds an extra level of satisfaction to the game.  It's a different feeling than what I get from playing video games and I think I like it.

Luckily for me, these friends have a board game site that rocks.  They launched Boxed up Fun a few months ago and have been working the kinks out.  I think most of the bugs are squashed and it's shaping up to be an awesome platform for sharing, reviewing, and discovering board games.  You should support them by visiting Boxed Up Fun.  If you're a board game fan, feel free to friend me on the site and send some board game suggestions my way.  Or leave a comment below.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I got an awesome combo NES/SNES system for Christmas!  It was totally unexpected, but I've been having a great time playing games on it.  I guess they could be considered old school, but really they're just the games I grew up with.

I was born in 86', so the NES and SNES were the most popular systems in my early gaming days.  My brother and I owned both of them but we sold them we the shiny new N64 came out.  It was one of the biggest mistakes of our childhood.  He and I have talked about it over the years and this year he decided to do something about it.

Not only did my awesome brother give me a duel retro system, he also picked up the original Legend of Zelda, Pilot Wings, Star Fox, and my favorite Mario game ever made, Super Mario World!  It was the best Christmas present that I've gotten since we got our original SNES years ago.

The amazing thing I'm finding out is how well these games hold up today.  Graphics aside, the gameplay truly stands the test of time.  I'm having just as much fun with them as I used to.  There's no online connectivity, no achievements, no wireless controllers, and no HD signal... but it doesn't matter.  The games are fun.  And honestly, once you acquire a taste for 8-bit and 16-bit graphics they can truly be a thing of glory.

My favorite game of the bunch is Super Mario World.  It's a wonderfully crafted platformer and after all these years it may be the closest game to my heart.  The graphical rendition of the 1-Up from Super Mario World is my all time favorite gaming icon. Don't believe me?  Just look at the header of this blog.

This has gotten me thinking.  Are there any other NES/SNES games that I should buy if I get the chance?  I didn't have an extensive library when I was younger, but I may start to build one up now.  If you have any recommendations drop them in the comments below.