Monday, May 31, 2010

First Impressions

I have been spending a little time these past few days looking up pro terran strategies for Starcraft 2.  I have only been tinkering around in the beta a little but I found some really strange contradictions between my play experience and the strategies the best players use.

I have been successful building a lot of tanks.  Tanks are expensive and clunky but they are absolutely devastating when set up to defend a spot against a ground army.  My strategy was usually to build a few cheap guys to defend and then stack up tanks and vikings (anti ground and anti air respectively) and carefully smash my opponent's expansions.  Eventually they would be forced to make a big attack into my massed tanks at my base and would concede after being thoroughly stomped.

Every time I watch a pro player playing though they make marines and marauders.  These are cheap units that are flexible on attack or defense and can be made very early on.  I couldn't figure out why all the top players were using this type of strategy while I had always found it extremely weak, especially when my teammates used it and we lost.

After examining the situation a bit I finally figured it out.  I spent most of my playtime doing random 2s.  This means that I am playing with a random (often very bad) partner against other pairs that play together regularly and talk to each other in voice chat to improve their coordination.  Using a normal sort of strategy where I build cheap, quick guys to rush them is simply not feasible because my partner will not support me.  If I attack they hang back and wait for me to get smashed because I am fighting two people at once, and if I defend they attack by themselves and they get smashed.  I am sure this behaviour is explained by incompetence rather than malice but it is endlessly frustrating.

When I build tanks and vikings instead I can win because I don't necessarily need a partner.  My units are so strong on defence that even if my partner is playing badly I can hold off two enemies at once and keep my team alive and eventually my opponents run out of money to build attackers and concede.  This situation is not at all true in high level play.  If I was on a good team with good communication I could build marines and marauders and get aggressive because I know I have a partner who will support me, I don't need to set up a situation where I can nearly beat two people at once.

This really goes to show how important first impressions are.  If I had played solo games or with a good partner early on I would have seen an entirely different game and had different impressions about how units worked.  My take on all the units in the game is coloured by my early impressions of 'How good is that thing against massed tanks and vikings?' rather than 'How good is that thing against a normal army?'.  This sort of experience makes it really easy to see how people get so worked up on the forums about game balance; when you only see one side of the game it is shockingly hard to wrap your mind around the fact that your perception of the game is fundamentally lacking.

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