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Three Moves Ahead Episode 55: Starcraft 2 and Napoleon: Total War

March 9th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 10 Comments · Blizzard, Creative Assembly, Podcast, RTS, Three Moves Ahead


Two games this week.

First, Tom Chick and Troy Goodfellow report on their experiences in the Starcraft II beta. It’s an old school RTS that eschews fifteen years of evolution in favor of keeping things as they were in 1998. What do we like so far? What do we not like? Meanwhile, Rob Zacny asks questions about Blizzard’s continued relevance in the genre.

Then, Rob leaps to the defense of Napoleon: Total War. Hear why he will be probably be giving it a very positive review and why Tom still thinks Creative Assembly should be embarrassed.

Stay tuned to the end for a reminder to enter the game draw for a special prize.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Nicholas Tam

    You may be interested in this interview with Dustin Browder about StarCraft II, which responds to several of the concerns raised in the podcast. According to the interview, they’re happy with the balance so far but are waiting for game-breaking exploits to emerge.

    I find it incredibly telling that almost everybody who thinks back to the first StarCraft and either a) has never been an extremely serious player or b) aren’t still playing today remembers it as an exercise in getting completely rolled over and stomped by faceless, anonymous folks. How come none of us ever seemed to play against each other? So I desperately hope enough of this demographic, which includes myself, shows up and stays past their 0-10 records in the 10 diagnostic practice games so the matchmaking system works. That’s going to make or break the casual player base. WarCraft III promised a matchmaking system that would do this, and for me it didn’t follow through.

    Blizzard’s games are dominant, and the audience doesn’t tend to expand to non-Blizzard titles, because of the self-fulfilling cycle of social, multiplayer megahit games. StarCraft turned me off anonymous multiplayer entirely (well, along with WarCraft III, where the skill gap was even more pronounced) and sent me running for custom content (like tower defence before it was popular) and turn-based strategy; and later, more streamlined games like Rise of Nations never reeled me back in for lack of real-life friends to play against. People get into Blizzard games because everybody plays them, including the friends who normally don’t play games; they might make new friends along the way; other great RTS titles get overlooked because the real-world community isn’t there.

    I, too, was indifferent to this sequel until the beta videos rolled out on YouTube. Now I’m ecstatic about it. I do think the learning curve will be smoothened considerably by the community resources that are available for showing new players the basic principles of playing the game well. That’s certainly what happened for WoW.

  • Philip L

    I was rather surprised to hear that most of the negative comments towards Starcraft 2 was simply that it is a traditional RTS. I grew up gaming with traditional RTS’ (I remember playing the Age of Empires demo at the age of 9 late into the night), namely red alert 2 and AoE. I was not a massive fan of Starcraft – I spent most of my time playing the user made maps, such as tower defences, as, at such a young age, I wasn’t a fan of micromanagement too much. However, I do not see how Starcraft 2 can be criticised for being traditional. Firstly, I prefer traditional RTS’ over the newer RTS (not sure what their name is – perhaps we could call them “No base/no resource gathering RTS’?).

    Resource management was a great part of the game in Age of Empires, making villagers to build/gather resources, of which there were four, and getting a good balanc, but also making sure they’re protected from the enemy as they would be a key point for their attack. I just simply do not find getting a military unit to a spot for a small amount of time and then defending it nearly as strategic. Similarities may be drawn between the two, as your civilians also stay at a point gathering resources, and you need to defend them, but the fact that your villagers can move around means the enemy do not always know where you’re gathering resources, whereas in games such as Company of Heroes the points are ALWAYS in the same place, making enemy movements more predictable, and less need for scouting.

    Micromanagement is a more interesting discussion, as I am not good at it at all (if I do micro fights then I really fail at macro), but I would say that if one player is more skilful at using the units they have then they deserve to win. Whenever I lose a fight against an enemy that I should have won, I can see why I lost it, and it will be because they utilised their units better. The same can be said for Napoleon Total War: if the enemy uses his army to better effect in terms of microing backwards/fowards, or by moving their units around mine, even if that is because they are faster at traversing the battlefield with their mouse, then they deserve to win.

    Just a quick note to say that the dropship-tank-picking-up-thing was started in the original Starcraft, and was not intentional by Blizzard, but simply discovered by the fan base of the game. The siege tank still gets hit when firing, so it does not make the tank only attackable by anti-air units.

    Finally, I just wish to ask: where is the source that they are releasing the Zerg/Protoss expansions as full price games? That would greatly disappoint me: they have never made an expansion before that has been full priced.

    Philip. (I hope my hatred of RTS’ moving from traditional to this new style isn’t too apparent!)

  • frags

    On Napoleon, I find the length of the first two story campaigns to be too short for my liking. I prefer to take my own time rather than just rushing to the objectives.

    But overall it is a much better Total War game.

  • Dectilon

    I’d like to adress the (common) complaint about Starcraft that it’s a clicking-contest. I’ve been playing Starcraft and Warcraft 3 with an internet buddy recently, and although the matches can get intense at times when either one of us try something crazy I have a 100% win rate in Wc3 and he has a 100% win rate in SC. That said, my apm (actions per minute) is more than twice his. With a firm grasp on how to utilize chokes, attack timing, build orders, effective counters etc he can afford to operate at only half speed and still kick my ass. Strategy and tactical knowledge is obviously more important than simple speed.

    I’ll admit I’m one of those people who haven’t really gone on to play other RTS’, but that’s not because I haven’t tried any. DoW1 was fun for a while simply because it felt like WH40K done right. All the units sounded and acted like I thought they would, and the interface was solid. However because of the way units interacted and the resource system it just felt like my options were far more limited than in SC and WC3.

    I never liked the UI in C&C-games, and therefore I’ve never tried to play a C&C-game seriously. Although I liked the unit design and such in RA3 it just felt like it was even more unkind to the beginner than SC2 is. Even the freakin’ dogs have abilities you really should use to get maximum efficiency out of them. Too bad they die in a single shot. However if your opponent can actually pull off using every unit ability you’ll be utterly destroyed because many are direct damage abilities that can turn a battle around in an instant.

    I like the combat in Total War, but I’d probably be frustrated if the AI was smarter than it is. If the AI actually just took cover and stayed there until you had to root them out forcefully or by blasting them with slow-firing cannons for 15 minutes I don’t think I would enjoy playing them nearly as much as I do now. The best battles I’ve had in TW are those where I’m severely outnumbered and have to figure out a way to trick the AI into traps where my losses will be minimal. The campaign map strategy bits have their appeal, but since you won’t know without playing it a bunch of times how quickly your enemy will be able to amass troops your options are limited. I’m probably doing it wrong though.

    The only other strategy game that I’ve played semi-seriously is Dominions 3. Balance has taken a back seat in Dom3, but I’m not complaining. Instead I, like most Dom3 players, I try to figure out a way to “beat the imba” while using under-utilized teams and units. Because, instead of balance we get such an abundance of spells, units, hidden numbers and effects that it’s impossible for any one player to keep track of it all. Surprising someone is always a possibility, and I like that idea.

  • Illykai

    I’ve been playing a bunch of the SC2 beta and I agree with the gang’s assessment that the game really is much more deeply about attention management and multitasking than many other RTS games out there. I found this is particularly true in comparison to DoW2, for which I have about 600ish ranked games under my belt, where there are really only a few entities in the game that you could ever potentially have control over at a given time. In SC2 armies are much larger plus there’s all your production and tech buildings and the macro mechanics as well. To micromanage it all would be completely impossible, which is why this attention management thing really is a key idea. Skill in the game comes from knowing what to spend your attention on and then executing your intent well mechanically within the context of your overall strategy.

    I thought that Tom Chick’s statement that traditional RTS games, like SC2, are really covertly economic games is quite deep. Reading a bunch of tutorials from people who are serious SC players trying to explain to new players what they should focus on to improve their game has convinced me that macromanagement should be the first thing that someone new to SC or SC2 should focus on improving. This means making sure that your income is always expanding and that your production keeps up with your income. Pretty straightforward stuff, but it’s interesting because it flies in the face of the feeling that I generally have, which is that what I ought to do with my attention is micromange my guys in combat to gain an advantage. It turns out that at the lower levels of competition, like the bronze and copper leagues in which I’ve played, that this is a trap, and that you’re almost always better off making sure that you have more units, and the right mix of units, than trying to use your units better. It’s only at higher tiers of skill that micromanagement really becomes the deciding factor, and that’s when having godly APM becomes important.

    The whole idea of macro being more important than micro is really retro. Contrast this with DoW2 where the game is basically entirely about micromanagement and tactical decisions. Moving from the context of that game to a game like SC2 is very disorienting. Also, like Troy has said about SupCom2, the macro focus detracts from the engagement that you have with the units. In DoW2 I care about my Tactical Marine squad and in CoH I care about my sniper, but in SC2 I can’t care about an individual marine in my big blob of marines, marauders, and medivacs, because he’s just one guy in a blob of ultralisk fodder.

    SC2 has me excited like you guys, but it excites me in a different way to the release of Chaos Rising for DoW2 or the like. It excites me because of the aura of its hardcoreness and also of the prospect for bringing in a whole new wave of gamers into the genre, whereas Chaos Rising excites me because I want to play through the new story and have fun with cool new units. Drawing an analogy with other geekdoms, it’s like I’m excited about a new edition of D&D being released, but in a different way to a new supplement for my favorite indie press game.

  • Jimmy Brown

    “I’ve enjoyed the Total War series … with the exception of Rome and Medieval….”

    I never imagined I would ever hear those words. MTW is still my favorite game of the series; I thought deployment and battle worked well, and the strategic map had nice touches like titles with bonuses. Rome was interesting for dealing with the senate. I’m just having a hard time imagining the thinking behind this statement.

  • Rob Zacny

    I’m not sure who said that, but if it was me, I definitely meant MTW2. MTW is my favorite game of the series as well, and the use of titles to increase the loyalty and capability of top commanders was a great touch.

  • Alex2000

    Whats the scoop on Tom’s Napoleon review? What did gamespy(?) want change?

  • David Brake

    Well the things you guys seemed to find attractive about SCII are persuading me not to even bother with it (OK I may play the demo sometime). The idea of having to remember to go visit my base every x minutes to do some fiddly thing to optimise production seems to me a completely unnecessary extra burden. If you want unnecessary burdens how about turning off pathfinding so I have to manually move minions around trees for heaven’s sake?

    On another note, you guys really need to write more about browser based or free to play strategy games. I just checked out League of Legends (not browser but free) and from the demo at least it’s a pretty straight knock off of Demigod though the artwork is cheesy. And I am really enjoying Neptune’s Pride an excellent browser based game which I know you know about but I don’t think you’ve discussed yet. It looks like it will hit the sweet spot for 4x gamers who don’t have the spare time or flexibility to fire up a full-sized game and play it for an hour or so frequently.

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    I’m a bit behind on TMA at the moment, but catching up as best I can.

    I think Starcraft 2 has little to offer myself really, I was never really taken by the first one, although my memory of it is very hazy.

    My biggest gripe is that whilst it may have a fair single player campaign, the online component really doesn’t cater for folks like myself. Even with a “graded on skill” matchmaking service, ultimately going up against unknown people to be repeatedly trounced without any valuable feedback or discussion rewards my time and effort with nought. So, I’d rather play something that gives me feedback and interest or at least some sort of payback.

    I think the way to open up such a game to “people-like-me” is to offer co-operative play, where you can make progress, learn things from each other, form communities, become familiar with a set group of others, who instead of trying to best you all the time are trying to push against something else. This can lead into competitive play between teams, but ultimately it would be a step up from being thrashed by unknowns constantly until you find something better to invest your game time in.

    It sounds like Endwar just didn’t cut it financially, but by George it was a major step up in terms of evolution of the RTS and like all the Timegate Studios releases it deserves a place in the hall of fame for RTS that advance the genre in new and unique ways. Another game that I will always Champion (even if the publisher wouldn’t) and it was a major flop is Stormrise, because it had *something* it just couldn’t crystalise into a fully fledged viable game. Given more time to polish it up, it could have been the Next Big Thing(tm), but ultimately it was written off as a bad investment way before it was ready to be unleashed on the world.