Thursday morning, I woke up, bumbled my way down the ladder, popped out my retainer, threw some water in my face, and sat down at my desk to check my email. One of the something silly my mom forwarded along. The other was from my drawmate George, and when he knocked on my door literally 2 minutes later, I was pretty excited. It might look like the email just had some instructions and a meaningless string of characters, but that’s a beta key for Starcraft 2. Allow me to explain for the uninitiated.
Starcraft was a real-time strategy (RTS) game released by Blizzard in 1998 for PCs. The premise of the game is that you pick one of three races, and you start out with a base. You have some basic resource gathering units, and you use those to build buildings, which build units that you use to destroy your opponent’s base. There are lots of RTS games out there, but Starcraft is particularly notable for being very well balanced. The interactions between different units are complex, and all of the different races play very differently, but end up being roughly equal in power.
Since then, Starcraft has gotten kind of big, beyond just a game. It’s a very popular and fun game to play, but it’s almost become way bigger than just a couple teenagers sitting in a basement all night: it’s basically the national sport of South Korea. Evidence?
- A picture of people watching an important game. Yes, that screen has the game projected onto it
- Income for professional Starcraft players.
- Professionals are actually talented.
I want to discuss that last point a little more. One common metric for Starcraft players is “actions per minute” or APM, which is a count of how many times you click or press a key in a minute. Professional players have APMs above 200. I myself have played Starcraft on and off for years now and play okay among my group of friends, and just looking at a recent replay, my APM is about 60. So yes, most people are capable of clicking and hitting buttons very fast, but the most impressive part about what pros do is that they do everything intentionally. There’s a huge cognitive load in keeping track of everything that’s going on, and it takes a lot of practice to get that good.
In any case, Starcraft 2 has been highly anticipated for a very long time. Blizzard is known for making very good games, but they’re also known for missing a lot of deadlines and not releasing a game until it is perfect. When Blizzard announced in 2007 that they had been working on it, no one was surprised, but everyone (read: South Korea) was very excited. Since then, people have been guessing about release dates and been constantly proven wrong.
About a month ago, Blizzard began closed beta testing, releasing the game to a select number of people to test out the game for bugs and balance. Prices for invites have dropped, but people were paying up to $400 to get into beta testing and try out Starcraft 2. I don’t know if I’d pay $400 for it, but I can tell you that this game is a lot of fun.
For all of you original Starcraft players, Starcraft 2 is at least as good. The races all have the same general principles, though the unit mixes are definitely fresh and something fun to try to figure out. The improvements, however, do a lot to make the game a lot more fun.
First, the graphics look great, and the game runs smoothly on my 2007 Macbook Pro. If your gripe with Starcraft was the 640×480 resolution and 256 colors, I think you’ll be impressed, especially with the detail in making buildings explode.
Second, the matchmaking system and friends bit for battle.net is also much improved. The matchmaking service also pairs you with players of about the same talent so that you aren’t getting crushed by insane Korean players on the US servers. The process of getting everyone together to play in a closed game also isn’t nearly as convoluted.
Third, the game is generally less annoying. Depending on how much time you put into Starcraft, you might know about a lot of the micromanaging you need to do to optimize the game. For example, trying to control groups of zerglings to surround a unit, or clicking each worker to a different mineral patch so that they gather faster. In Starcraft 2, much of that is simplified. Workers automatically spread, you can set workers to automatically mine when created, pathfinding for units is much better, and perhaps the biggest news, control groups can be of any size. No longer limited to only 12 units selected at a time, you can gather up all of your marine and just go for it.
The strategies for the game are still being developed, and I don’t think people even necessarily know the right build orders for the races. The moral of the story is that the game is wide open, and it’ll be more fun in general for any player, from casual players to pros, to sit down and knock down a couple games.
I’m not really sure who my audience is, but let me know if you’re more interested in details, and I’ll write more about specifics of the units and such.