As part of my plan for catching up on my life, I’ve given myself permission to breathe and enjoy it. I’ve been spending time with friends, who have been incredibly supportive and are just plain awesome, and I have been playing games with some of them. One such game is Starcraft.
Personally, I love Total Annihilation and would pick it over Starcraft if I could. Then again, I was a casual player in either game and so maybe I can’t really say much about having a preference. Starcraft is just easier to play with someone because more people still have it installed. With so many new games out each year, it’s a testament to the quality of development that Starcraft stays on people’s hard drives for so long. In fact, I wonder if anyone is really going to look forward to the sequel as much as it’s getting hyped. I’m willing to bet that more than a few people will prefer the original. As I understand it, Supreme Commander hasn’t fared so well, either.
When I play a game, I tend to pick a character or race and stick with it. With Starcraft, I always play as Terran. I’m loyal to humanity, what can I say? My friends will ask me to try to play as Zerg or Protoss, but I wanted to really master Terran before bothering to try getting good at the other races. In the past, I never really did much to try to get better, and I can go for many months between sessions of Starcraft, so my Battle.net account has been purged a couple of times already.
These past couple of weeks, however, I decided not to be so casual with my play time. It is fascinating what’s out there in terms of learning how to play! If you have never bothered to look up your favorite games online before now, you can be surprised at how dedicated the fans can be. There are websites full of basic and advanced strategies, optimal build orders, and debates on topics such as whether or not Battlecruisers can take on Carriers. If you play with a small group of friends, you might think that one of you is really good. Then when you play on Battle.net, you find that the people you play there are more skillful on an order of magnitude. Unless, of course, you are one of those elite players who find yourself surprised that your opponents can still be so lame. B-)
In fact, if you aren’t aware of the popularity of Starcraft in South Korea, An Introduction to Starcraft Progaming by Joe Dunn describes it as follows:
Korea’s Starcraft scene produces and attracts elite players, and I kid you not when I say that SC is practically the national sport in Korea. Games attract both live viewers — tens of thousands for championship matches — and massive television audiences.
The competitors themselves are celebrities in their own right, scoring sponsorships, endorsements, and large paychecks for important victories. Starcraft in Korea is comparable to NASCAR in the States — major corporations support both individual participants and entire teams as they compete in several independent tournaments simultaneously.
As a side note, you may be naive about the popularity of NASCAR in the United States, too. I’ve encountered a lot of people online who are surprised that ESPN will air broadcasts of car races when they won’t show world class soccer matches. I used to be surprised, but I know that if you look at the top games at download.com, I am almost sure that there will be at least one car racing game in the top ten list.
Anyway, so I started becoming interested in actually getting good at Starcraft. I don’t plan on dedicating the time to get good enough to compete against top tier players. I’ve seen videos of them playing, and they just click and hotkey way too fast. I would love to be able to dedicate the time to games in this manner, but I have higher priorities…like making my own games! Still, I would just like to hold my own during a regular match and maybe win a few games here and there.
Besides reading up on strategies and tactics, I’ve been watching matches on YouTube. Some links are in the Dunn article above, and I managed to pull of the Boxer vs Yellow bunker rush against a friend who consistently kicks my butt. We played a few sessions in which I was able to counter attack and advance on his base before eventually losing. He has told me that I actually make him nervous when we play now.
This idea of actually developing my skills with a game has me looking back at my game playing from my past, and I wonder how many other games that I played casually to the point that I didn’t enjoy them as much as I could have. Total Annihilation and Homeworld: Cataclysm are two other RTS games that spring to mind. I got my butt kicked handily when I tried to play strangers online. Each of those games also have communities of people who still play, although not along the same lines as Starcraft. They both have articles dedicated to teaching you how to play well.
Oh, heck, what about chess? I have a friend I play online. He always beats me. I’ve made an occasional good move once in awhile, but he’s studied the game long enough to know counters to moves that I don’t even know have names. There are entire books on openings, books on the mid-game, and books on the end game. There is an entire market for information products that teach you how to pick the optimal move in a given situation.
Ah, for now, I’ll play Starcraft as Terran. I’ve become a decent player. Or, at least, I think I have. I’ll see if I can beat a random player on Battle.net before making that assessment. B-)