Mandarth’s Cavern
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Retrospective 1- “Starcraft: Brood War” Part One

When a Game Analyst says the Word “Starcraft,” two things generally happen. Around 10 million Koreans have something akin to an orgasm, and many readers immediately groan in expectation of a love letter with about as much depth as George Bush’s grasp of the English Language. Well rest easy my friends, as this is nothing of the sort. Consider this an in depth Post Mortem of a game that, for starters, became so popular that it elevated some of its players to superstar status, and one that is soon to be replaced by a (Some say) better model. By no means is this going to be a complete slam of the game, but neither will it be a love letter. This will attempt to be an unbiased analysis. And seeing as there is so much to look at, the analysis will be in 2 parts. So, here is part one with an look at the units, movement and Base/Unit construction of the game that wooed a nation- “Starcraft”

 

In the view of the author, the units of a game are perhaps the most important part of an RTS game. It is a reality that RTS games have been produced that have not contained base or unit construction, or detailed combat, or movement, or even, for that matter, a plot. It is a fact, however, that an RTS game could not exist without a comprehensive list of units to control, and could not be successful if these units were not interesting, varied and balanced between factions. “Starcraft: Brood War” (1998) by Blizzard Entertainment has been widely acclaimed for containing some of the most diverse, interesting and, most importantly, balanced units ever seen in an RTS game. Each of the three races present a multitude of not only interesting, but different, units. This difference is present in a number of areas. To begin with, all these units look unique. As the races provided are so different to each other, this is necessary. Not only do these units look different, but they perform differently, such as being a ranged unit or Melee.

 

The Terran- Glorified Starship Troopers, Just without the Guilt and Nudity

The Terran- Glorified Starship Troopers, Just without the Guilt and Nudity

 

 

A second difference is the different functions that each unit has between the different races. The Terran contains units specially designed for mobility, durability and range. Something that should also be discussed at this point is the so called ‘Support’ unit, the unit that provides either positive or negative effects to a team. The Terran only have one of these units. Many other units have special powers to make them perform better or to hinder the enemy, such as the Stim pack for Infantry and the Wraiths Cloaking ability, but the Science Vessel is the only unit that is dedicated specifically to this purpose. This sets aside the Terran Race as a faction with emphasis on mobility and force.

 

Now we consider the Zerg as a comparison to the Terran, a faction with completely opposite tactical advantages: Speed, guerilla tactics and superiority in numbers. This difference can be seen by comparing the two basic units of these races, the Marine and the Zergling. The Marine can fire from a distance, and has the Stim Pack Ability, making it apt for eliminating Melee units. Now let us compare this to the Zergling (the base unit of the Zerg), a weak melee unit, that can be easily be killed before it reaches its desired target. One on one, the Zergling would meet a quick end. However, we must now look at the units ‘context.’ Zerglings are built two at a time, increasing numbers against an enemy. The Zergling, along with most of the Zerg’s units, can burrow underground and become invisible, allowing it to ambush enemies. What is the point of ranged superiority when a melee unit appears right beside you? Couple this with upgrades that allow the Zergling to become faster and have a greater attack speed and we have a formidable unit, in the right circumstances. The trend of fast, tactical strikes is continued through out all of the units in this Faction, and turns the Zerg into something of a guerilla faction, the proverbial Che Guevara of Space. Special mention should also go to the Zerg Overlord. Not only does this unit act as a transport after a number of upgrades, but also functions as the way of increasing the unit cap of this race, as opposed to a building.

 

The Zerg- Because Who Doesn't Love Swarms of Things?

The Zerg- Because Who Doesn't Love Swarms of Things?

 

 

The Protoss units are also unique. This faction focuses on a smaller number of very strong, slow units and as such is a race more inclined to the tactic of ‘Steamrolling.’ The Protoss are all about the endgame, producing a number of units focused on annihilating the enemy in one fell swoop. This faction is not about defense, rather crippling attacks, as can be seen in their own ‘support’ units where almost every support power concerns offence. As can be seen above, the three factions of “Starcraft” contain a massive amount of variation, not only in game play styles, but in the game play itself.

 

A final word must be said on balance. Starcraft” has managed to balance both races and units exceptionally well, ensuring that one race is not more powerful than the other. A common way that an RTS becomes unbalanced is the production of so called “Super Units.” This is a unit in each of the factions that, once a player unlocks its production, renders all other units before it superfluous, simply because it is so powerful. Luckily for Blizzard, this too has been avoided. There are powerful units in each race, such as the Protoss Carrier, but they are never truly safe as in each of the other factions there is a counter in the form of a weaker unit. This ensures that right up until the end of a game, you will still be using the basic units you began with.

 

Though the units of a game are perhaps the most important aspect of an RTS game, they are complimented by a number of other features, the most important being unit movement. Units need to effectively and intelligently maneuver to a required destination. This is an area where “Starcraft” falls flat. First, let us discuss the effectiveness of unit movement. To Blizzard’s credit, the units’ move where you tell them to. They always make it to their destination, unless the path has been blocked by the enemy. However, it the notion of effective movement is ignored. When the squad is asked to move to a destination, they do so in single file. When attacking an enemy group or base this quickly raises a problem: is it a good thing to send a squad of units, say Zerglings, perhaps the weakest offensive unit in the game, one at a time into the enemy guns? The answer is a resounding no, and this movement flaw has the effect of making one of the main tactics of two of the “Starcraft” races almost pointless, “safety in numbers”, and in the case of the Zerg, defeats the purpose of having a ‘swarm’ of units to overpower superior weapons.

 

Next is the notion of Intelligent unit movement. This was also a problem. The following are a list of examples where the intelligence of the movement system was sub-par. Other units do not have the presence of mind to move out of the way when others are trying to get past, the player must do that as well. If a squad is asked to attack an item, and while they are moving to get there that item is destroyed, the squad will simply stop wherever they are rather than continue on to the destination, even if the destination is a battle where their assistance is needed. If moving units to a destination, and on the way they are ambushed by the enemy, the units will not have the presence of mind to fight back, even if their path is now blocked by the enemy. In all of inside missions, which contain multiple levels, most units will find it difficult to make it up stairs, even if this act is vital to the success of the mission. Couple this with the inability to place units in formations, and there are some very serious problems with the movement system of “Starcraft: Broodwar.”

 

The third most integral aspect of an RTS is base and unit construction. Here is an area which “Starcraft: Broodwar” gains much ground. The base construction system is implemented well, and is actually varied across the three factions. The Terran build bases in a traditional RTS style: 1 constructor building 1 building, and no restrictions on where it is placed. The Terran also have the ability to make the majority of their buildings fly to other locations once built. The Protoss, however, can only build in the area of effect of a pylon, and each constructor can build multiple buildings at once, as once construction is begun, the building self constructs. The Zerg are even more different. They can only build on an area known as the creep, which must be extended by the building of creep colonies. In this style, the constructor unit becomes the building, thus sacrificing itself.

 

The Protoss- We're Bored, Its Time To Fuck You Up!

The Protoss- We're Bored, Its Time to Fuck You Up!

 

 

The way units are built is also an area where “Starcraft” does well. In both the Terran and Protoss Factions, units are built from specialized buildings. The more buildings, the more units you can build at once. A problem with this system is that you may only queue 5 units for constructions at a time, per building. This is not useful if you require a constant stream of units. The Zerg, however, build units completely differently. All units are built from one building and can be built up to three at a time from ‘larvae.’ However, once a set of units are built, the player must wait for the larvae to regenerate before they may build again. This leads to tactical advantages and disadvantages. They can produce a greater number of units faster than other factions, but can not produce a constant stream, an ability useful if your base is being attacked.

 

Well so far we have covered the Units, Movement and Base/Unit production of ‘Starcraft.’ Stay tuned for Part 2!

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