Everyone agrees that something needs to be done about the lack of a higher ground advantage. What people do not agree about is what exactly needs to be done, and how Blizzard can go about adding positional depth to Starcraft 2. The purpose for me in this article is to clear up some of the confusion regarding randomness in Starcraft and Starcraft 2, hopefully leading to more constructive discussions.
Note: All the examples used will be in Starcraft 1 terms. This is because I am more comfortable with these terms, and most of you have more experience with the units and ideas in Starcraft 1, making the examples easier to understand. However, these examples should be just as applicable to Starcraft 2.
Why should there be a higher ground advantage? Without higher ground advantage, the player with the bigger army will almost always win the battle, as there are very few tactical opportunities for the player with the smaller army. What this means is that unit production can never be compromised in favor of other goals like teching or expanding. While teching and expanding does occur in Starcraft 2 right now, it is only viable when it has no significant impact on unit production. This leads to a very linear game development, where both players need to mass armies in order to stay in the game. By giving the defender a higher ground advantage, the defender can choose to forgo unit production in order to get an extra expansion or to get faster tech.
A second reason why there should be a higher ground advantage has to do with tactics. With higher ground advantage, a smaller army can outmaneuver and defeat a much larger army with superior combat tactics that utilizes the higher ground advantage. It also provides the losing player in a battle with a position to retreat to, which makes it less likely that games will be decided by the first big battle. Finally, it prevents the game from turning into a macro competition where large armies clash in the middle of the map to decide each match. When a battle can be decided by who holds the higher ground, tactics such as positioning and deciding when to attack become more important and players have more tactical options available to them.
If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me
- Macbeth, Act I - Scene III
The suggestion being examined is straightforward. When units attack from lower ground to higher ground, they should have a certain chance to miss. What this chance should be is up for discussion, but I feel that, combined with the current sight mechanic where lower ground units cannot attack higher ground units without vision of the high ground, a 25% miss chance would be a sufficient higher ground advantage.
The following is a list of misconceptions people hold regarding the miss-dynamic:
- 1. It is the same as damage reduction, just worse.
2. You can miss ten shots in a row.
3. A bit of bad luck will cost you the game.
4. Having a game that is not perfectly predictable is bad.
5. Professional players would prefer no miss chance.
6. It makes the game random.
Some of you have all these misconceptions, while others have only a few. In the end, they are all almost entirely wrong.
It is the same as damage reduction, just worse.
Whether the miss-dynamic is better or worse than damage reduction remains to be seen. However, it is definitely not the same as damage reduction, even on average. Here is a scenario which was given in a previous news post which illustrates how they differ.
Miss Chance and Damage Reduction
A tank does 35 damage a shot, marines have 40hp.
Normal: Two shots kill a marine.
50% miss: Four shots kill a marine (on average).
50% less damage: Three shots kill a marine (17.5 * 3 = 52.5).
33% miss: Three shots kill a marine (on average).
33% less damage: Two shots kill a marine (23 * 2 = 46).
Because units do more damage than is needed, damage reduction can have little to no impact on the number of shots required to kill a unit. On the other hand, with the miss-dynamic, the number of shots required to kill a unit increases proportionately with the chance to miss. This makes it easier to balance the miss-dynamic than the damage-reduction dynamic.
You can miss ten shots in a row.
If the miss chance of a single shot is 25%, then the chances of missing 10 shots in a row is roughly 0.0001%, or one in a million. To put this into context, if you buy fifteen lottery tickets, you have a better chance of winning the lottery than missing 10 shots in a row. The odds start looking a bit better at five shots in a row, which has a roughly one in a thousand chance of occurring. So it is conceivable that, over the course of a few games, you will at some point have five dragoons attacking who all miss the same shot. Will five dragoons missing the same shot be game changing? Probably not, as we will see in the next misconception.
A bit of bad luck will cost you the game.
You are fighting the most important fight of the game, you miss a few shots, and suddenly your entire army is destroyed and you lose the game. This is everybody's biggest fear, leading to one of the most pervasive misconceptions, that a bit of bad luck can determine a game. It seems logical too: In Starcraft, small things can be very important, so surely missing multiple shots in a row (or hitting them) can have a game changing impact?
Let's take a look at a poker analogy. In poker it often occurs that one player holds the best hand, but that there is a small chance that the other player can make a winning hand on the final card. When the leading player is all-in, a bad card can knock him out of a tournament or lose him a lot of money. This is the kind of unpredictability that most Starcraft players want to avoid. The difference between these two situations, however, is that Starcraft players are never "all-in." In a battle between 12 dragoons and 6 siege tanks, a minimum of 120 shots will need to be fired to kill all the units. That means that each shot carries very little weight on its own. It is like a poker player that loses 1% of his stack to a bad beat. It's annoying, but not game changing, and if the player plays 100 hands, chances are he will make the money back up.
A second important factor is that a player can cut his losses in Starcraft. In poker, things often go wrong on the last card, and a player loses everything. Starcraft does not work this way. If Player A misses five shots in a row, then he has the opportunity to cut his losses and run (hopefully to high ground). If the battle turns against a player, he can always retreat, minimizing his losses. So the effects of bad luck, which are small to begin with, can be further minimized by retreating.
People have pointed out that retreating is more difficult in SC2. However, retreating from an army that is on a different level is unlikely to be a problem as there are chokes and ledges for the attacker to contend with.
Does this mean that bad luck is unlikely to ever cost a game? No. There is one type of game where luck can have an impact; a situation where a single unnecessary death can decide a game: Cheese. When going for a Dragoon break against Terran, getting a lucky few hits onto the higher ground can destroy a tank unexpectedly, while missing a few shots can end the cheese and leave the attacker at a large disadvantage. The question is, is it a bad thing that there is an element of luck involved in cheesing? The answer is an easy no: without luck, cheese would not be possible. If cheese could be predicted perfectly, it would either always work or not work at all, making it either game-ruining or useless. Unpredictability is both the strength and the weakness of cheese, and having a lucky shot hit, or an unlucky shot miss, is what cheese is all about.
Having a game that is not perfectly predictable is bad.
Bad for who or what? It is definitely not bad for the spectators. Few things in Starcraft are more epic than watching a mine dissolve in a puddle of blue goo, or seeing a scarab come so close to obliterating a stream of peons before harmlessly fizzling out. Unpredictability makes professional gaming more exciting for another reason too: If games were decided purely on skill, Flash and Jaedong would be expected to win all their games and there would be no enjoyment in watching them play. However, when there is a bit of unpredictability, then upsets can happen, making the games more exciting to watch for everyone.
Will it? Won't it? The Broodwar Protoss user's eternal dilemma.
Unpredictability in battles is definitely not bad for the depth of the game either. The more unpredictable a battle is, the more decisions a player needs to make. When there is a fixed damage reduction, the only decision players need to make is "Will I win this battle if I attack now?" to which the answer will be either yes or no. If there is an unpredictable element, the player needs to constantly answer the following questions "Am I winning the battle?" "Are my chances to win good enough to persevere?" "Should I retreat, or wait a bit before retreating?". Even the question of whether to attack or not is more complex "I should win the battle, but is it worth taking the risk now?" or, "I probably won't win this battle, but is gambling in the hopes of getting lucky my best chance at winning the game?." As such, unpredictability (in moderation) in battles is not bad for the depth of the game.
The only thing that unpredictability could harm is the players themselves, which leads us to the fifth misconception...
Professional players would prefer no miss chance.
The idea here is that no professional player would like to have unpredictability in their chosen career. Unfortunately, almost every sport in the world has unpredictability included, from a strong wind on a day of golf to the deflected goal in soccer. All sports have unpredictable factors included, and they are simply part of the job description. In fact, the ability to cope with unpredictable factors is often what distinguishes champions from average players. This point is supported by the fact that many of the best Starcraft players have stated that they would prefer the miss-rate mechanic over a damage-reduction mechanic.
It makes the game random.
All of the previous misconceptions can be condensed into one belief: Adding a miss-chance will make the game random. However, as I have shown here, these misconceptions are just that: Misconceptions.
Adding a 25% miss-rate will not turn SC2 into a coin-flip. The chances of game-changing random things happening are minute due to the size of the sample. When game-changing things do happen, they are a good thing, because they allow cheese to be viable. When non-critical cases of misfortune occur, they are also a good thing, because they reward players who are better at reading the game, making quick choices, and playing intelligently. The cost of these non-critical cases of misfortune is also relatively low.
In the end, the game would be anything but random. The higher ground mechanic would have a small impact on the predictability of the game, the amount of unpredictability it adds will be small, and the lack of predictability can be controlled by the players.
The Pros and Cons
The advantages of having a miss-dynamic have already been mentioned, but they can be summarized as:
- 1. All higher ground advantages
2. Greater game-depth
3. More exciting
4. Allow cheese
5. Easier to balance
The disadvantages have also been mentioned and they are:
- 1. More difficult to make decisions
2. Less predictable
3. Allow cheese
The disadvantages are primarily disadvantages on a lower level. Difficulty to make decisions can lead to indecisiveness in low level games. Allowing cheese can lead to "SC2 is all about cheesing!!!" blogs. Having the game be less predictable can lead to players losing the game because they fail to adjust their strategy during the battle. However, for the exact reason these disadvantages have a detrimental effect on lower levels, they have a positive effect on the higher levels.
As the point of this article is to encourage informed discussion, the alternatives should be examined briefly. To me, there seem to be three viable alternatives: damage reduction, range reduction, and attack-speed reduction.
The most common alternative is a direct damage reduction. The advantage of damage reduction is that it takes the probabilities out of the equation and simplifies the game slightly. The disadvantage of damage reduction is that it is harder to balance, and it decreases the depth of the game a bit.
The biggest problem with damage reduction is definitely the balancing. With a direct damage reduction, certain units will remain almost fully efficient against higher ground, while others will feel the full force of a 25% damage reduction. It could even be impossible to balance, depending on how the armor is calculated. If the armor reduction is effected after the higher-ground reduction, then armor upgrades will be imbalanced in defensive positions.
This is the alternative I like the least. It is exactly as unpredictable as the current sight mechanic: In certain situations the range reduction will nullify an entire attack while in other situations it will have no effect. For example, Dragoons attacking marines on higher ground will have no effect. The dragoons will still be able to hit the marines, even with their range decreased. On the other hand, dragoons attacking a tank on higher ground will be completely unable to overcome the two range difference, stopping the attack in its tracks.
The advantage of range reduction is that no scaling takes place, it will give players more opportunities to micro their units, and it would lead to interesting higher ground battles. The disadvantage is that it would either be incredibly strong, or incredibly weak, depending on the situation and the units.
The most interesting alternative is an attack speed reduction. The advantage of an attack speed reduction is that the damage done decreases proportionately with the size of the speed reduction, making it easier to balance. If units take twice as long to shoot, the enemy unit will take twice as long to die. Other than the better scaling, its advantages are very similar to those of damage reduction: It takes probabilities out of the game and leads to certain decisions being easier to make.
There are two disadvantages with speed reduction, one old and one new: The first disadvantage is that, just like any non-miss system, it lowers the game depth a bit. The other disadvantage is that it is less logical to the average gamer than a damage reduction or miss-chance is. This might be because we are not used to the concept, but the idea that marines will suddenly start attacking more slowly when the enemy units get to higher ground seems strange to me. It makes the solution feel artificial, like a solution to a problem rather than a natural part of the game.
From the beginning of the article, the point was not to prescribe a solution, but to allow you to come to an informed decision on your own. All four options can be implemented, and all four would be an improvement to an already good game. The question is, which option will be the biggest improvement?
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.