Saturday, September 22, 2012

Catch up mechanics in Starcraft: Part 1

Rohan mentioned about catch-up mechanics in his recent blog, and it kind of got me thinking about how you could use the same principle in Starcraft 2 as well.

This idea has previously been mentioned in a post in the Team Liquid forums, but it has been buried under a ton of newer posts. (I kinda have to go dig for it, but I do recall that the post is easily 2 years old.)

Let us first define a catch-up mechanic. A Catch-up mechanic is a game-play mechanic that allows a losing player to match a winning player's resources. This can either be done in 2 ways:

A.) Temporarily or permanently reducing the winning player's resources.
B.) Temporarily or permanently increasing the losing player's resources.

 The definition of resources are defined by the game genre itself. In the context of a Real-time Strategy game, this would be the credits that are used by the player to make an army, and the army that the player controls. In Starcraft, the resources would then be the player units, minerals and vespene gas.

Now, previously in Starcraft: Broodwar, there were various units that possessed abilties which would qualify as a Catch-up mechanic. Both methods were employed, and they were skilfully distributed between the 3 different races. I will elaborate further on what the various races possess.

The Terran race was characterized by it's mechanical forces. It was slow and steady, with relatively strong defensive capabilities compared to the other 2 races. In terms of catch up mechanics, the designers gave them abilities that allowed them to disable or debilitate strong units ( EMP, Irridate, Lockdown) and temporary measures that could bolster their own forces. For instance, Wraiths which were known as one of the weakest air units in Starcraft, had the ability to cloak, which gave them a slight edge against other air armies which did not possess detection. Science vessels could also use Defensive matrix to protect expensive units like Battlecruisers allowing them to absorb more damage.

The Protoss race was characterized by it's tough but expensive units. Generally, most protoss forces were relatively smaller compared to the cheap Terran and Zerg units. However they could take a relatively tough beating, and trade quite cost efficiently as well. Protoss forces were given abilities that would support their expensive units. They could bolster their forces with free units (through Mind control or Hallucinations) or remove entire sections of the opposing army via Stasis. They could even destroy large sections of an opposing army via Psionic storm. Carriers had also the ability to generate large amount of cheap flying units that would confuse the opposing army.

The Zerg race was characterized by it's moniker, "The Swarm". They could deploy large armies filled with cheap units. While the other races had strong AOE options, the zerg players had ways to bolster their own forces and debilitate their enemies. Plague could help easily wipe out armies, while dark swarm provided a cover that their units could use to get close to the ranged units of other 2 races.  Queens could use spawn broodlings to remove important land units and parasite expensive air units so that player would have constant intelligence on where his opponents most powerful units are.

All the various catch-up mechanics that I have listed above, helped made the game extremely entertaining to watch. Any player could come from an early setback to win the game in a convincing fashion by using some of the catch-up mechanics that I have listed. Without such mechanics, the game would be extremely boring, as a losing player will never be able to match a winning player once he has a resource advantage. Catch-up mechanics help make the playing field level and provide uncertainty about the eventual outcome of the game. I feel that such mechanics are important in multi-player games as they help make them more interesting. You always feel compelled to sit till the end to watch who would win the game because anything could happen. A good strategy play is made more thrilling by the fact that a player could overturn a setback, or he could avoid a cunning trap that was made by his opponent. I would say that such well-tuned catch-up mechanics in Starcraft helped to increase it's longevity, making it still one of the most popular games in Korea.

In my next post, I'll analyze Starcraft 2 and highlight the lack of such well defined catch-up mechanics.

Monday, September 10, 2012

New Warrior levelling experience in WOW

I recently went back to WOW, in anticipation for Pet battles and the Mists of Pandaria expansion. It's been a real blast compared to TOR. My experience in TOR of late has been mostly pretty staid, I just log in normally to collect my slicing missions rewards and mail. It hasn't really gripped my attention as a whole despite the whole storyline MMO concept.

One of the few things that I really did not do in WOW was to level a warrior. With all said and done, I have at least played almost every class at some stage or the other. The Warrior and all it's 3 specs are the only classes that I have not tried at all to level properly. I did manage to play 2 warriors to level 20 in my trial account, but those were before the patch. Granted this probably means that my perception of warrior levelling is a bit colored but I did enjoy playing those characters of mine.

Before the patch, warriors could only gain rage via auto-attacking and taking damage. This meant that if you were playing a low level warrior tank, you almost always had a full rage bar. When you chose your specialization at level 10, you obtained a really hard hitting attack that could literally one shot equal level mobs. It was really glorious to hit your main attack, charge to the next mob and then use victory rush to kill it. I felt like the demon hunter in the diablo 3 trailer; "If they never stop coming, I will never stop killing". Low level tanking was a bit hard till you got thunderclap, and you did not have a starting attack like charge since you needed to use defensive stance for tanking.

Before the patch, if you were using Arms or Fury spec, it was also pretty glorious as well. This depended on using appropriate level gear, but I could still out do characters in 7 piece heirloom gear. The key was last hitting the mob in a pull, allowing me to use Victory rush on the next mob. Victory Rush used to hit for an astronomical amount on the low level warrior. It was not surprising to hit Victory rush, kill off one mob, only to use it to kill another mob in the pull.

After the patch, you could use charge in any stance. You also gained rage by using your main specialization attack. This made rage generation a bit smoother for Arms and Fury, but it made rage generation for Protection a bit slower. You obtain skills a bit slower than before I feel, with some crucial skills to the various specs out of reach in the low twenties. Protection in general suffers from this compared to the other specs. Revenge is an important ability in Protection's priority list as it helps make Protection's rage generation smoother. This will allow the player to use more abilities. Currently as it stands now Protection has little more to do than to hit shield slam, hope that it does a critical so you generate more rage, and pop shield block when you hit 60 rage. There's not even enough rage to use sunder armor or devastate.  While it does make you nigh unkillable on boss fights, it is pretty boring to only have to press 2 buttons.

Arms and Fury are still extremely fun to play however. If anything, the attacks seem to do more damage than before. Victory rush however has been seriously neutered, so you can't really use the last hit mob strategy to boost your damage per second up. Execute being available at a really low level however makes up for that. In my starting zone gear, I did about 400 damage for every execute. Bear in mind that in the starting zones, mobs were around 200-300 health only. It was really fun to see the big numbers fly up, but sad to realize that perhaps 3/4 of the damage was not used at all for calculation since the mob was already dead by then.

Overall, I like the new changes to the warrior levelling experience. I do wish that I could have thunderclap a bit earlier than level 20 though, since it made levelling as a tank via the dungeon finder a chore. Thankfully most of the guys in the dungeons then were using hierlooms so I didn't have to worry so much. It was extremely irritating to not be able to keep the entire pack of mobs attention on me however.