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Archive for February, 2010

I got into the Starcraft 2 Beta a few days back, and I’ve been playing it in what free time I’ve had.  It’s graphically impressive and fluid, the Battle.net UI is superb, and the game is fun.  That’s all I really need to say about the gaem, other than: it’s Starcraft.

I may have given the impression in my post on the “Proxy Gateway Rush” (as it’s called) that I actually know how to play this game.  The people online have rudely disabused me of any notion that I’m capable of applying any strategic insights in a relevant manner when actually playing.  There is no room for calm when playing SC2.  Adrenaline becomes my constant companion while playing, along with a desperate sense that I need to be moving ever faster and don’t know how.

I have been beaten more times than I’ve won, and I’ve learned things each time.  Most importantly, I have learned that I don’t think I will ever be free of the grips of a titanic rage after 3-4 straight games of SC2 in the ladders.  This earth-shattering rage, which grips me shaking and swearing, leaving me bereft of any ability to stay still or cease from muttering to myself about build orders and how I should have KNOWN he was going AA, has been my more-or-less continual companion starting at approximately 10 minutes into my first game and not ceasing until I’ve left the game alone for at least an hour.  I’m just not very good at the game.

The root of my inferiority comes from an inability to capitalize on early game success.  A recent game serves as a prime example.  It was a straight Terran v Terran match-up.  I’d already played and lost two other games, so I was feeling a bit conservative.  I decided to risk not scouting initially, as the majority of Terran players just gate their ramps and bulk up for a bit.  Anyone who isn’t doing that is probably heading for Reapers, so I figured as long as I could handle the early Reaper rush, I’d be fine.

For the people who don’t know what all that means, I’ll give a quick rundown.  Starcraft 2 is an RTS, the sequel to what may be the most popular RTSs, well, ever.  Koreans turn Starcraft players into celebrities.  The damn thing is a PHENOMENON.  Leave it to Blizzard to do that sort of shit.  The basic model of Starcraft 1/2 involves building worker-type units who mine resources and build buildings, then using those buildings and resources to build overly-armed forces  of destruction, then sending them over to where your opponent is doing the same so they can blow all those EVIL buildings up (before your buildings are demolished).  Starcraft has 3 races: Terrans, Protoss, and Zerg, and each plays radically differently from the others.

One of the resources in the game is your supply level.  For Terrans, supply is gained from Command Centers and Supply Depots.  Every unit you make, from SCVs to titanic Battlecruisers, takes a certain supply level.  Since Command Centers are the central point for any base you’ll build, producing SCVs (your worker units) and being the place SCVs take the minerals and gas they mine, they’re too pricey to really be a good choice for increasing your supply.  Instead, you build supply depots.  Now, in SC1, supply depots were rather large buildings, and ingenious Terran players hit on a very Terran strategy: the supply depot wall.  There’s no real “wall” in Starcraft, but if you build enough supply depots around a some sort of choke-point on the map, you can mimic a wall pretty effectively.  In SC2, supply depots are a bit smaller but can retract into the ground – effectively, Blizzard embraced the supply depot wall-in by turning them into gates.  In addition, every single map starts players on a plateau or in a bit which is unreachable from the ground and has a single, small ramp leading to it.  Thus, most every Terran player goes to the trouble of putting supply depots directly in front of that ramp in order to impede any invading forces advances.  This is particularly effective vs. the early forces of Zerg/Protoss as both start with melee units, while Terrans first unit is ranged, allowing Terran Marines to safely ping away at invading Z/P without fear of retribution (until they bust through the gate).

So if you’re playing against a Terran opponent, you can generally assume they’re going to gate the ramp.  You’ll either have to field a force that can get around the gate or will be able to bust through it and kill the defending force.  Since I was playing versus Terran, I presumed they’d do precisely that (they didn’t, as it turned out).  From there Terrans can sort of go in 2 directions: Marines and Marauders or Reapers (assuming they don’t just use their barracks, which produces infantry, as a quick bouncing point up the tech tree to vehicles or air).  Marines and Marauders (fondly named “M&M” on the forums) is a basic ground force that can eat through almost anything thrown at them, but have to take the conventional route to the opponent’s base (meaning busting through the front door, and probably the opposing army).  Reapers, on the other hand, are harassment units; they can jump up and down cliffs, move rather speedily, and eat light units for mid-morning snacks.  A quick reaper rush can, if pulled off, skip right past the opponent’s army and head straight for their workers, killing them and potentially crippling their resource gain.

The success of Reapers is going to depend on the map; if there’re no good cliffs to jump up or down that bypass the enemy choke-point, the reapers will have a tough time getting to the workers unmolested.  It’s also going to depend on the responsiveness of the defender and what sort of units they have out.  Terran defenders have a pretty solid advantage here, as marines are ranged – they don’t have to work as hard to chase down reapers.  Protoss seem to have the most trouble with them.

I decided to do a quick and dirty M&M build, then tech to air.  I didn’t scout, figuring my opponent would come to me.  They did, choosing a Reaper rush.  I was caught a bit off-guard (which was retarded, as I knew this sort of thing could happen), but I had marines nearby and was able to run them off with minimal casualties.  Once I hit air, I shoveled out 2 units: a couple Banshees and a couple Ravens.  Banshees are really potent air-to-ground units, but they can’t hit air targets.  That’s where the Ravens would come in.  While Ravens have no weapons of their own, they have a few important support abilities that can be truly fearsome.  First, they can drop a point-defense drone which shoots incoming fire out of the sky.  Far as I can tell, that includes the missiles from Terran AA turrets and the missiles from Terran anti-air fliers (Vikings), so a Banshee group supported by a raven has a real shot at taking down those turret defenses and inflicting lots of pain with very little danger to themselves.  Turrets are just temporary buildings that shoot air and ground targets.

My opponent switched away from Reapers after their failed rush, and went for their own M&M battle group, which hit my base while I was building ships.  I had ravens out at this point, so I used turrets to help drive off the invaders; this means they should have known I had these guys.  That said, I don’t think as many people are aware of how awesome Raven turrets really are, so I’m not too surprised he didn’t do much more than start building Vikings for what he assumed eoulf be my early air.  I took my group of Banshees and ravens up to their base (which I’d finally scouted out), flew it around to where the workers were busily collecting, and started dropping turrets on top of them while my banshees rained missiles on their heads.  Now, I really don’t have many ships here: 3-4 Banshees and 2 Ravens…but they’re able to drop 4 turrets and a point-defense.  When the defending force showed up, comprised of marines and a couple vikings, the turrets ate them apart.  It was actually pretty spectacular to watch.  I annihilated their main base’s mining operations, most of their defending force, and was running strikes against their production buildings.

And here is where my mid-game falls apart.  SC2, like its predecessor, is very much a game of multi-tasking.  Not only do you need to nursemaid your units through their battles, you also need to be running your production buildings, making sure mining is ongoing, making sure your supply is keeping up with your force, and making sure you expand to new bases.  I absolutely dominated this guy in the early game…but I completely failed to keep building here, failed to expand, and thus completely missed the chance to capitalize on this success.  Not only that, I didn’t stick with the highly successful ravens.  See, he started pumping vikings as I was obviously air.  Rather than take my current resource advantage and leverage it into more ground units for myself, I kept focusing on air.  Not so bad a choice…but now I moved to vikings instead of ravens, completely losing that valuable support.  I also, very stupidly, teched to Thors, which seem to require a very specific support army to make work.  So here I was, taking in more resources than my opponent, but not capitalizing on it.  A series of skirmishes saw us stalemating on unit tradeoffs, but nothing that worried me…until they started fielding more and more units.  I’d let them expand…pretty dramatically.  I ended up losing with a giant enemy army marching through my base and nothing I could do about it.

This pattern tends to repeat itself for me.  While I’ve had some games where I just got taken out by a strategy I was wholly unprepared for, many more were games where I just let my mid-game fall apart.

Strangely, despite the losses and the extreme frustration, I’m really enjoying the game.  I’ll probably post more of my war stories as I keep going.

And for the record, yes, I am totally in the Copper League.  I really do suck.

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Developer chat on Twitter (h/t MMO-Champion)

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Once again, stealing content from MMO-Champion, the newest PTR build patch notes are available.

New spells and achievements are in relating to the Gnomeregan/Echo Isles business.

Tracking variables are in relating to vote kicking (probably internal)

A new pet spell and new mount spell have been added (celestial dragons!)

We also have some class changes.  In summary, DK’s got a few pvp buffs (at least to my untrained eyes), and druids received a cost reduction to Typhoon and damage increase on starfall (which, if I had to guess, are both aimed at pve damage.  Starfall damage make the glyph notably better and Typhoon cost reduction, plus glyph, may make it more reasonable to use while moving).  Fire mages got further buffs, as did subtlety, and adjustments went in to make up for the newly-critting Rupture and Flame Shock (i.e. set bonus that made rupture crit now increases damage and glyph of flame shock (which made the dot crit) increases FS crit damage by 60%.

Also, it appears the Icy Talons melee haste bonus for DKs now stacks with other melee haste bonuses…like that from Windfury Totem.  The auras don’t stack, to the personal benefit.  That sounds like a pretty massive buff for at least frost DKs.  I’m not sure that other builds can delve that deep in Frost.

Finally, BM hunters got some buffs.

There ya have it.

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Just to make sure to disseminate this, MMO-Champion did some more revealing of what they data-mined from the latest PTR build.

A lot of it appears to relate to a pre-Cataclysm event wherein Gnomeregan and the Echo Isles will be retaken, giving the gnomes and trolls capital cities and home areas.  The post at MMO-Champ has more details.

They’re also adding “overcloaks”, which “will cover the appearance but not the effect of any existing cloak.”  Like shirts, but you can actually see them!

Finally, it also appears they’re putting in another questline to start laying the foundations of the Twilight Cult’s involvement with Deathwing’s return.

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Courtesy of MMO-Champion, the Patch Notes for 3.3.2.  Nothing terribly surprising in the notes as far as new features are concerned, though there are some interesting class changes.  Looks like a spate of DK buffs, particularly for Frost, and the latest attempt at fixing Scourge Strike.  With the upfront damage getting a buff but moving to physical, I think Unholy DK’s bonus from Armor Pen just went up, their burst damage in PvP looks like it got a buff as well, but this should reduce overall shadow damage, potentially slightly reducing the final damage of SS in PvE.  I’m not a DK though, so someone better versed may wish to weigh in.

A few classes received innate crits on DoTs, with Shamans also getting haste on the Flame Shock DoT.  This should be a mild buff to some Rogues, Destro locks, and both dps specs of shammies.  Demonic Pact looks to have been improved, so it should have a nearly 100% uptime (if I’m not mistaken), and Revenge got the promised boost so prot warriors should probably be a bit happier.

We’re also getting a vendor who will take Frozen orbs and return:

  • Crusader Orb (6)

Runed Orb (4)

  • Eternal Fire
  • Eternal Earth
  • Eternal Water
  • Eternal Air
  • Eternal Life
  • Eternal Shadow
  • Frost Lotus
  • Pattern: Frosty Flying Carpet [Tailors Only] (6)

This is actually pretty cool, allowing us to finally put to use all those Frozen Orbs we’ve been getting off heroics.  It also means the AH price of Frozen Orbs will likely go up, while Crusader Orbs and Runed Orbs should drop a bit (we’ll see if that actually pans out, or if everyone starts trading in for Eternals and Frost Lotus).

Also, MMO-Champ’s Boubouille did his usual digging in the game files and came up with some interesting tidbits. It appears the homeless races will finally get their homes, with both Gnomeregan being retaken and the Trolls taking some place (unmentioned as of yet).  Mekkatorque and Vol’jin got updated models to boot.  The Ruby Sanctum has some initial assets in and appears like it will be a new, higher level version of the Obsidian Sanctum.

So yeah, new stuff, hooray!

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Seriously, this is a pretty good analog of the 4-pool zergling rush, which was relatively counterable by a decent player in a robust built.  While you will, as the narrator says, beat Noobs, you take some significant penalties that will absolutely cripple you mid game.

First, your friggin’ gateway is in the middle of the map, so if your opponent survives, the incoming counter-attack will swarm right over your main troop-producing building.  Second, you’re streaming zealots single-file into the base.  Assuming you’ve managed to troops faster than they have, you’d be better off getting a pack of them together and sending those in.  Seriously, wait till 3 zealots to attack.  Otherwise, you just keep sending lone zealots to their death.

Third, you’re not actually producing faster than your opponent, as you both should be resource limited.  You may be producing from a single building faster, but any decent opponent will be using the same resources, at the same speed, on SOMETHING.  Probably units.  If they’re scouting, you’re screwed.  If they’re building units and staying at their base, you’re still screwed, because the chances are they’ll have more units or more options for making them.  The early game, if SC2 plays at all like its parent, is mineral constrained.  You’re just not going to be able to outbuild the rate you mine resources.

You’re not really getting zealots faster.  Your opponent, assuming they’re operating at the same rate as you, is actually going to get to their first military units slightly before you, as you spent all that time running a drone up to their base rather than mining, so they’ll have a resource advantage.

If this is shooting for an equivalent to the four pool rush, you’re killing your economy to try and pull this off.  You’ll have zealots a bit earlier and closer to their base, but you’ve got to kill them with that first 1-2 zealots, or the tables turn on you.  I don’t know the zerg build tiers, so I can’t fully comment on this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they could have a spawning pool down and ‘lings out well before the guy in the vid did.

So my suspicion is that matchmaking is pitting the few users of this strat against veritable newcomers who’re still feeling things out and not expecting rushes.  I doubt it’ll continue it’s efficacy as the matching system gears up.

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Once again, MMO-Champion scours blue posts so I don’t have to!

First up, as was revealed in a Game Informer interview (worth reading), the Ruby Sanctum will open up in 3.3.5 as a mini-raid leading up to Cataclysm.

A powerful war party of the Black Dragonflight, led by the fearsome Twilight dragon, Halion, have launched an assault upon the Ruby Sanctum beneath Wyrmrest Temple. By destroying the sanctum, the Black Dragonflight look to crush those that would stand in the way of their master’s reemergence into Azeroth and to ultimately shatter the Wyrmrest Accord – the sacred bond that unites the dragonflights.

The battle that is to come will surely deal a crippling blow to the Red Dragonflight, however, it is up to you to stop this unprecedented offensive and defend the Ruby Sanctum. First you must face the assault of Halion’s servants, Saviana Ragefire, Baltharus the Warborn, and General Zarithrian, before squaring off against Halion the Twilight Destroyer, a new and deadly force in this realm.

The Ruby Sanctum will feature 10- and 25-player content, Heroic difficulties and all-new rewards! Stay tuned for more information as we get closer to its release.

It’s interesting that Zarhym says this is happening in 3.3.5, rather than 3.3.3.  Looks like Blizzard has a fair internal timeline of a series of content patch releases leading up to 4.0 and Cataclysm, and we’ll see two more (3.3.3 and 3.3.4) before the Ruby Sanctum.  3.3.3 appears to be a PvP patch, with some changes to Wintergrasp balancing and the changes I mentioned in my last post.

Given the way that the Ruby Sanctum is introduced, it appears Blizzard is planning a much more measured pace for introducing the new expansion, rather than the the sudden, big invasion prior to Wrath.

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