Upon watching the Legacy of the Void exhibition matches yesterday, I was left with extreme disappointment. Rather than looking to fix a number of game play aspects I consider undesirable, it seems like Blizzard is building on top of them and pushing them even further. The biggest of these is the economy in SC2.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the original StarCraft, to me, was the idea of resource acquisition. Getting another base was a key pillar in your overall strategy, not something you just expected to keep taking at an incredible pace (the current SC2) or worse, were forced into taking at an incredible pace (introduced in LotV).
To explain why I consider Blizzard’s methodology to economy in SC2 to be undesirable, I have to first explain the economy of Brood War (Author’s Note: this isn’t meant to be a SC2 vs. BW thing, but a more abstract discussion on the role of economy in an economic-based RTS). So, let’s talk Brood War.
Brood War’s Economic Model
In the original game, worker mining efficiency was on a gradient scale (http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/brood-war/89939-ideal-mining-thoughts). What this means is the more saturated your base was, the less efficient its output. For example, 2 bases with 8 workers per base would mine more minerals than 1 base with 16 workers. What this did was provide a minor advantage to the player who expanded over someone sitting on lower base numbers. This is a clear incentive for players to expand without thoroughly punishing players who wanted to play an aggressive game and expand later.
On the flip side (and the most important), losing a base against an opponent with similar base count didn’t necessarily mean the end of the game. You’d lose the base (300 or 400 mineral investment) and would suffer only a minor income efficiency disadvantage — assuming you managed to preserve your workers. This provided clear opportunities for gaining advantages to the aggressive player while allowing the possibility for bounce-backs by the defensive one.
The overall result was a very back-and-forth game, where in many cases players were more interested in killing workers than taking out a town hall structure. Killing workers is a more harassment-oriented task, while killing a base is a more frontal-attack sort of thing. This differentiation is very important to note, and will show why Blizzard is having a hard time dissipating the death ball-oriented game play in SC2, even 4.5 years after its release.
The Problem with SC2 Economy
Unlike BW, SC2 has extremely efficient mining up to a 24-worker cap. 1-2 workers per patch mine at 100% efficiency, while only the 3rd worker sees a difference in its efficiency (still efficient on far patches, but loses some efficiency on close patches). This means only 6 workers out of 24 lose any real mining efficiency. The consequence of this is three-fold:
First, it originally meant that 1 base economy was too strong vs. a player that tried to expand. We saw the consequences in early WoL, when expanding was a near impossibility due to a combination of map design and no real immediate economic incentive. The base would eventually start to pay off via superior worker count, but players would often die before that kicked in.
Blizzard’s approach was to introduce numerous balance changes that heavily nerfed one-base play. This caused early game to become stale, as one-base play no longer provided much incentive to punish a FE player. So, we now see FE from pretty much every race in every match-up (it’s gotten to the point where things like triple CC is considered a “standard” TvZ build). This was the approach of a design team that didn’t want to modify the economy. Fair enough, what else are you gonna do?
Second, it meant a hard economic efficiency cap on 3 bases. This is by far the biggest complaint in the SC2 community. There’s simply no real incentive to take a 4th base until one of your other bases starts mining out, unless the game is so stale that you want to bank a huge amount of vespene and start converting your army to a gas-heavy death ball in the late game.
Third, the emphasis of economic disruption is placed on destroying bases instead of killing workers. This is also partly perpetuated by the macro mechanics of the three races. I’m sure Blizzard has received plenty of feedback regarding Terrans losing their mineral lines, but still have plenty of economy via huge MULE drops. Still, between macro mechanics and mining efficiency, in many cases you’re better off to destroy the town hall to slow down the opponent’s economy for an extended period of time. This switches the game play narrative from multi-pronged harassment to one of big frontal assaults.
The consequences of this changed narrative mean a greater inclination toward death ball play styles, as well as a huge snowball effect: the death of a base many times means the end of the game. Either the attacker crushes through the defender’s army to take the base (game over) or we’re looking at something like a base trade (game over for someone, anyway).
How LotV (Currently) Exacerbates The Problem
By reducing mineral patches from 1500 to 1000 minerals, none of the problems with SC2 economy are addressed. Instead, losing an expansion becomes even more critical, as you are now faced with less time and fewer resources to reclaim additional resources before you find yourself mined out.
This is building on the snowball effect instead of dispersing it. It’s providing further incentive for frontal assaults instead of encouraging multi-pronged harassment. It’s setting games up for more base trades.
I do not see any way in which the current economic modifications improve game play, except by artificially forcing more than 3 bases not through incentivized advantages, but because players are literally running out of money faster. I think this approach is terrible for the game.
A Better Solution
I would much prefer to see Blizzard implement a more gradient mining efficiency system to SC2. For example:
1 worker per patch = 100% efficiency
2 workers per patch = 80% efficiency
3 workers per patch = 60% efficiency
These are tuneable numbers that can easily be used to balance the system. I’ve already described the effects of such as system and why I think it’d be good for the game, so I won’t be redundant.
I’d also like to see Blizzard take a look at its current economic macro systems. There should be more emphasis on killing workers than killing bases in terms of economic impact. I won’t pretend to have a perfect solution for this one, but I hope it’s something Blizzard will consider. Some ideas could include a cooldown on MULE call-down (prevent mass MULE drops) or removing MULE and preventing chronoboost from targeting the Nexus itself, etc. while looking to re-work larva inject, maybe scale it back or something. The overall idea being: you lose a lot of workers, you’re going to feel it for a while.
I’d like to hear your thoughts about this: do you like/dislike the current SC2 economy? How do you feel about the changes currently introduced in LotV? Do you think gradient mining efficiency is a better solution or not, and why?