Micro, micro, micro, that's all we've heard for the last few weeks. From the last episode of our beta cast to Nazgul's suggested fixes, we've been talking about it quite a bit as well. Now, just when you think you've heard it all, TL's SC2 Coverage Team is proud to bring you a cross section of micro talk from across the community.
If you've spent even a moment debating about this on IRC or raging over a passing comment in a strategy forum thread, then this is the article you've been waiting for. Join TL guest writer Chobopeon as he takes you on a tour of betaland and introduces you to the opinions of many of its top players. Is micro dead? Alive and kicking? Find out below.
A High Templar hits full energy, a Lurker burrows and a Marine stims. You take a quick breath as your heart starts to race. You were tired - it's 6 am, after all, and you almost didn't make it to this point - but now your eyes are wide open with the thought of the battle.
Then, in the space of a millisecond, the Scourge split perfectly, the Marine dodges the spines and the Dragoons, against their terrible pathing instinct, form the most perfect arc anyone has ever seen.
The screen is flaring with explosions and deaths and you're having a hard time not yelling and waking your neighbors. The live crowd in Korea doesn't have to worry about that and they're screaming as loudly as they can. The commentators are having a fit. You don't understand Korean but you're sure that they're not actually speaking any language - only yelling in excitement, technically inarticulate but getting their point of awe across beautifully with their volume.
That was fast and everyone knows it.
The physical requirements of StarCraft: Brood War are immense. It's made fans for life and has alienated more than its fair share of gamers. Brood War players brag about the speed of our professionals and our jaws drop when we see it in action. Speed is a defining characteristic of StarCraft and micro-management is the way it manifests itself in each and every game.
Too slow, sir. too slow.
For every fan, there is a critic with whom the severe toughness of the game does not fly. It's too hard, an exasperated stranger might say. Looking to them, a StarCraft loyalist can respond: "It is difficulties which give birth to miracles." And then the StarCraft player can smile, because how often do you get to quote archbishops when talking about a video game?
It does not take a whole lot of effort to find players of the opinion that StarCraft 2's micro-management mechanics are a bastardized version of the original. What one player calls "improved A.I.", another will call the "dumbing down" of StarCraft.
"With micro the way it is, the game isn’t going to be as good as it can be,” said Nazgul, the Dutch Protoss player. “That’s unfortunate for the future of e-sports. The future needs a game suitable for non-gamer viewers to be in awe over moves done by top players without understanding the strategy behind the builds.
"There is so little difference possible between two players when they’re attacking each other that the games just play out as build order vs. build order. Once you’re ahead it’s really hard to give away your advantage because even if your units get caught off guard they will still do the right thing in battle. Zergling surround and worker micro is something that was so important to the early game of Brood War, that decided games based on how you performed it. That element is completely gone now. If you have enough Zerglings you’ll just kill your opponent almost regardless of what he does.”
Louder, an American Protoss and the first MLG SC2 King of the Beta Hill from Team Evil Geniuses, called the micro "handicapped".
“The more I play it, the more it falls short.”
Inka, another American Protoss and member of Team EG, bluntly said that auto-micro was a joke. InControl said StarCraft 2 was an easier, dumbed down game.
"The people who think you have to be faster are either idiots or didn't play Brood War," said InControl, an American and a newly converted Protoss user. "This game is 100% an easier game that is dumbed down and made that way with purpose so more people can enjoy some success or at least feel like they can compete. This is an excellent short term business model and is unfortunately the general trend in modern video games. StarCraft 2 is gorgeous, fun, and rewards creativity. It is challenging and will have a high ceiling for skill, don't get me wrong. But it does fall short from SCBW in terms of competitive reward and ability. It just simply does."
CowGoMoo, consistently cited as one of the best Terrans in StarCraft 2, has his own opinion.
"I think the game requires a lot of micro and speed, but I don't think if it has as many "awe" moments as Brood War," he said. "For example, the Colossus can do a few cool things, but not as many as the Reaver. On the flip side the Stalker can potentially do more interesting things than a Goon, but the unit feels a bit weak right now preventing this from happening. Hopefully when players start to understand the game better and with some balance changes and tweaks we will start to see more micro tricks evolve."
CowGoMoo, famous for his fast Helion TvZ opening, thinks that micro may evolve with time.
To be sure, minds are very much split on this. Notable players such as Infernal and Day land squarely in the opposing camp on the issue.
"I've heard a lot players state that it's easy and that there's these skill caps and speed caps," said Day, responding after hearing InkA's statements. "It's not so much that I don't quite agree with them, I actually think that statement is the opposite of true. It's actually very difficult, I'm having quite a bit of difficulty. As I'm playing this game, I'm thinking, 'God, you have to be fast to play this game'. There's actually more to do on my mental checklist.
"For instance, am I watching the mini-map? Am I checking for expansions? Am I macroing? Am I doing my build right? I cycle throguh that in my head and now I'm throwing in there, am I continuing to produce my Larvae properly? Am I Chrono Boosting on time? There's a lot of stuff going on. There are so many upgrades and abilities. In StarCraft 1, the units get into a battle and start whacking each other. In StarCraft 2, every single unit seems to have its own unique ability and I don't think there has been nearly enough experimentation.
"I need to be really focused to play it well. For people who are not in the beta and are worried about it, worry not. Tons of cool stuff can go on."
Aside from his personal experience, Day points to the wide lack of experience characterizing every player and qualifying every criticism.
"For God's sake, the game has been out for a week and a half. I need to play this game for years before I formulate any strong opinion about its strengths and weaknesses unless, of course, there is some sort of game-changing ability that instantly shuts down all competitive play."
Infernal, the German Protoss, says that the game has completely surpassed his expectations.
"The micro is different for sure," said Infernal. "In some situations, I would agree on the A.I. being 'too smart' which can actually lead to dumb situations. But I really wouldn't go as far as a certain Dutch man [Ret] did to say that there's 'no micro at all'. In my opinion, that's quite nonsense because I actually enjoy a lot of those small things in StarCraft 2, such as my cute cuddle Sentry shields and microing my Collossi over cliffs."
The German Protoss is playing Ret in Team Liquid's first ever StarCraft 2 Liquibition. He says he that concern about the micro mechanics is not totally invalid.
"The auto-surround can be a pain for sure but it's only really bad if you're outmassed anyway. It's not like 16 Zerglings are going to win against six Zealots just because they auto-surround. From an observer's point of view, I think it's really hard to compare because StarCraft was 2D and StarCraft 2 is 3D. Obviously 2D is a lot 'easier' to follow as an observer but given how much of a fan base WarCraft 3 has - a game even more shiny and colorful - I really think it doesn't matter that much. It's just about us getting used to it. Time will tell, but personally, I can follow fights really well after I got used to StarCraft 2.
"The one thing I've really got to complain about is stacking. If you're Protoss and have a few Colossi, your army will literally be one ball that can be hit by one single spell in a fight, like EMP. It's kind of hard to select units if like 6 Colossi are on top of them. However, I have to admit, I don't know how to solve that kind of problem, maybe just make the units spread a little more.
"I'm quite sure that StarCraft 2 won't do for the West what StarCraft 1 did for Korea but it'll bring progaming outside of Korea to another level, that's quite sure in my opinion."
I asked Infernal if the sequel would be able to elicit the same shortness of breath, the same screams from live audiences and the same excitement from everyone with two eyes on the game.
"I can already imagine Koreans screaming. 'AHHHHHH FORCE FIELDU' or 'AHHHHH GUUUARDIAN SHIELDUUUU'. I think there's enough things included to make the audience scream."
Could we see this in SC2? Infernal says yes.
Could we see this in SC2? Infernal says yes.
Before he left, he ended with a qualifier that had become a common conclusion amongst those that I interviewed for this piece: "I just think it's too early to tell yet."
Although that can't be disputed - it is too early to come to concrete conclusions quite yet - it is not too early to throw ideas around. In many ways, the longevity of StarCraft 2 may depend on it. The ability of the game to captivate an unfamiliar audience at least as well as StarCraft was able to do would ensure years and years of loyalty from a dynamic group of eyes and hands, watching and playing.
"I think StarCraft has awesome e-sports potential," said Liquid`Drone, a Norwegian random player. "We are going to see so much diversity in terms of unit groups that have different abilities that the potential for stunningly great non-replicable micro is awesome.
"The problem, however, is that I am not sure that the action will be as immediately understandable to observers. I'm afraid this is going to be more like Counter-Strike, where observing for the uninitiated is boring as hell because you don't understand the subtleties without having played a lot and big battles just end up having way too many details in them for a casual observer to understand them all.
"In StarCraft 1, everyone understands that if Hydralisks get stormed, they die. They understand that Reaver Scarabs blow everything up, they understand that Stasis makes units unable to move or do anything. A casual observer won't understand exactly how the Gravitation Shield works, how Fungal Growth works and even Psi-Storm doesn't immediately kill like it does in Brood War. So I think for actual players of the game, StarCraft 2 can become StarCraft 1's equal in terms of entertainment. But there might just be too much flashiness on the screen for it to hit a non-playing audience."
Blizzard is investing more and more money into e-sports, going so far as to employ a dedicated team in an attempt blaze a trail in the arena. Sponsors are hoping that more and more eyes are put on competitive games and, further down the road, more asses are put in the seats of live events. The future of competitive gaming is not necessarily relegated to a few niche websites and, relatively speaking, a handful of fans.
In all seriousness, hopefulness and pragmatism, the future of e-sports may be in arenas, board rooms and living rooms and not quarantined to bedrooms and computer rooms. If StarCraft 2 can drop jaws to the floor instead of locking jaws, it can be the game that goes further than any other to reach that uncharted territory. We can be the players who reach the greatest heights, the ones for whom a million necks crane, a million eyes focus and strain. But not if Blizzard is holding our hands while we ascend. Or are they only benignly pointing the way up? Time will tell.
Well that's that, but before you go, remember to tune in later today to watch Team Liquid's 1st SC2 Liquibition matchup! Chances are, it's going to be pretty awesome.
mTw.iNfeRnaL vs LLL.ret
March 13th 2010
8pm CET / 2pm EST
March 13th 2010
8pm CET / 2pm EST
This post was made by the Team Liquid Starcraft 2 Coverage Team. For more of TL's coverage, please visit the Team Liquid Starcraft 2 Beta Page.