The Dilemma of Change


There are quite a number of discussions on forums regarding how to improve Starcraft 2 as a whole after the MaNa vs. Firecake game. The constructive crowd of the community argues about where the problem is, and how to fix the problem. However, the arguments always revolve around one thing: Brood War.

Before I go further, I must state that I do not have experience with Brood War. I am definitely old enough during the era of Brood War but I did not have access to a PC at home back then. Anyway, the point that I want to get across is that the solutions to the issues observed in Starcraft 2 brought up by the community are fundamentally based on Brood War. We are essentially fixed to the mindset that Brood War is the way of RTS. I can understand the weight of Brood War in RTS design. After all, it carried the RTS genre to the e-sports scene it is now. However, it is a double-edged sword. When there is an observed “problem” in Starcraft 2, the train of thought often starts from Brood War. How Brood War was, and how Starcraft 2 can improved if it implements certain aspects of Brood War. If changes are made mainly based on these types of thoughts, then Starcraft 2 is simply a replicate of Brood War with better graphic.

But Brood War is the most balanced RTS game ever existed.

I do not want to argue with this statement as there is no consensus on how to evaluate “balance” objectively, and I have my own opinion on balance as well. I am not bashing Brood War, but rather throw a question out there. Is Brood War the only way a RTS game should be? There is nothing wrong with learning from the past (Brood War) and applying it in the future (Starcraft 2). But we must ask ourselves if we are really unintentionally shaping Starcraft 2 to be Brood War with better graphic.

I must state explicitly that I welcome improvement, but not changes for the sake of changing (not implying that the author of the video is). The video starts with a good comparison between the micro mechanics of Brood War and Starcraft 2. As I watched the video, I have been waiting for the author to explain why Brood War mechanism is better. At around 17:45, the cornerstone of the units of esports RTS games is stated as reliable, consistent and responsive. I agree with him totally. But in my opinion, Starcraft 2 has a different engine that is reliable, consistent and responsive in its own way. I’m not sure how “reliable” and “consistent” are conceptually distinct in this case. The important thing is the units in Starcraft 2 are acting in the way they are programmed in Starcraft 2 not Brood War. A bunch of Oracles attacking a Zealot is used as an example for inconsistency, but the Oracles are acting consistently. They are programmed not to “overkill”. If the same action is to be repeated in an experiment, the results should be consistent based on the same programming rules. As for unresponsiveness, the delay of Viking attack movement is used as the example. Vikings are not being unresponsive, but they simply respond in a different way from Brood War. Therefore, the key question is whether the Brood War mechanism is better than Starcraft 2, and why? It is easy to fall into the pitfall of making Starcraft 2 into Brood War with better graphic when answering this question.

In fact, this dilemma of change is evident in academia. For a paper to be accepted in a journal, it has to go through the “desk” first. If you submit a physics paper to a psychology journal, it will get desk rejected. If the paper fulfills the requirement of the specific journal, it will get to the editor. The editor, who is almost certainly a somebody in the field, will decide if the paper is worthy of further review. If yes, the editor would choose to send the paper to several reviewers who have capability to review the specific topic of the paper within the field. These reviewers are not just anybody, they are established academics themselves and have published decently. Usually, they have publications in that journal to be a reviewer. Imagine this, reviewers receive a paper that has groundbreaking concepts and findings, which suggest the paradigms and assumptions that reviewers held dear to for their whole career are inaccurate. The reviewers are unlikely to give the green light. Very unlikely. I am not saying they are self-serving, it is normal for them to think that way. It is very hard for one to change his or her belief when it has already been accepted and reinforced by others for a long time.

Let’s use an example. We know that earth orbits around the sun. This is a fact. Well, at least based on the current knowledge. Hypothetically, what if someone writes a paper and provides evidence and support that earth does not orbit around the sun. Clearly, everyone will laugh at it and use past research as counter-evidence to such absurd claim. There is one famous saying in academia (a reviewer just wrote something along this line to me two months ago): a single paper does not simply warrant enough attention to overthrow past research. Indeed, as Carl Sagan would say, “extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence”. But if every single paper that challenges previous findings and assumptions is rejected based on this rationale, there will be no advancement in knowledge. One main reason for this problem is that the first one of its kind did not even get published to be cited, and hence, it is just “a single paper”. Extraordinary evidence requires to be built overtime as every scientist steps on the shoulders of one another to see further.

sarah_kerrigan___hots_10_by_erenor-d5y013pWho are we damaging anyway?

Now move this back to Starcraft. The similar phenomenon can be observed, as we are fixed to a certain paradigm. Map making is a great example. I came across an interview on sc2mindgames that talk about the denial of innovative maps.

That’s an interesting point that you bring up there. Diversity and difference. I wrote an article last week that even was upvoted to the frontpage of reddit. It fits your opinion about the “stale” map design in SC2 so far. Could you go into detail about the 3-base paradigm from a map designer point of view?

The 3-base set up is a cancer to the design of maps. It’s not that it’s common or it’s the only thing we can do, but it is technically the only viable and consistent setup that can produce any of the existing playstyles. A far third is likely not to be taken by terran or especially protoss, and a natural that’s too far away or has a larger choke is instantly veto’d by protoss players because now they can’t FFE. It’s stupid stuff like this that plasters a “broken” sign all over the map. Can you really blame the map? Or does it really lie in the hands of the player’s choices? Or, perhaps, are the races just fundamentally flawed and need to be re-designed in some way? You can’t really blame us mapmakers, we’re only creating what the balance demands and what your common playstyle is asking for. If we can’t meet those basic everyday demands, what makes anyone think an entirely new, experimental concept is going to pass?

This is the same issue that I brought up with the academia example. In order for maps to get through, it has to be accepted. Sadly, acceptance has a strong relationship with a fixed paradigm. Yet, ironically, the community has been pointing to this very paradigm (three bases economy) as the root of stagnate style of play. Mapmakers are indirectly discouraged to come up with different style of maps. The same is happening in academia. Academics are under the pressure of publications, and hence, they are indirectly encouraged to go with the flow and write papers that have higher chance of acceptance. Interestingly, academics often explicitly encourage others to write innovative papers to challenge current assumptions. You cannot imagine how I feel when I was in a seminar where a prominent academic said that, the field is filled with people who just fill in gaps of the current paradigm and do not challenge the assumptions enough.


14 thoughts on “The Dilemma of Change

  1. In both academia and Starcraft, innovation requires people with some credibility/prestige to risk some of their reputation on an idea.

    People without reputations can do innovative things, but few will pay attention and they will be dismissed as cranks. For example, I know a high-level player who dismissed JaKaTaK’s keyboard layout and player improvement ideas as “gold-league theorycrafting”, rather than dismissing the ideas on their merits.

    Both academia and Starcraft, for better and worse, will live and die by the willingness of their community leaders to risk their reputation on behalf of the common good.

  2. I agree that there are rules to how the overkill system works but what Lalush meant, I think, was that the player should be able to predict what kind of a behaviour the units will have after given certain commands. That is very difficult in the Oracle’s case.

    As for the vikings and their responsiveness, I think having a fixed delay before executing an attack vs. not having one does fit the definition of something being less responsive than the other fairly precisely. It means you cannot get the viking to fire at all if there isn’t a window of time long enough for the delay to pass even if you execute the required commands. It also means that in situations where a faster player could have gotten that shot off he isn’t able to gain an advantage with that speed.

    Then again I am not sure that in a perfect world every unit would have an attack delay of 0 for any attack either. Strong attacks that should be possible to avoid are cases where a delay is a possible solution, things like the Widow mine or Yamato cannon.

    I do get as tired as you apparently do of the constant comments about how BW had this and therefore SC2 should too. A great deal of that is pretty meaningless and uninformed. I don’t think what Lalush brought up (for the most part) fits into that category though. In my opinion SC2 would be better off if his guidelines were adhered more to in the future when making changes to SC2. I do think that StarCraft 2 is still a wonderful game as it is and of course it allows for a great deal of micro from the players even if not everything is perfect.

    1. It is not meant to be a critique on Lalush’s perspective specifically, but our train of thought when we try to improve Starcraft 2. The thing is, Brood War can be the greatest game of all-time for it all matters, but it does not mean that we need to make Starcraft 2 as close to Brood War as possible. The knowledge and experience of Brood War can work against innovation itself.

      1. I agree. For me the best example of this has been how there are constant calls for the removal of warp gates and force fields. While I see some issues with especially the way force fields work (I think MorroW had some good points on how the non-protoss player doesn’t really have much of an opportunity for micro when playing against them), I think both are something unique to SC2 and fairly innovative. I remember how back when I started watching SC2, one of the things that really made an impression on me was how interesting mechanic the force fields were. If the warping mechanic is the cause of protoss being unable to split their army, I hope there can be a solution other than removing all the stuff that makes SC2’s protoss unique.

      2. I used to be the kind of person that would argue that a certain feature or mechanic should be changed because “that’s how it was in Brood War”. When I wrote my first thread on the topic of micro (April 2010 during the WoL beta) I didn’t really understand most of the mechanisms behind what made units behave the way they do.

        That thread managed to start a veritable shitstorm (as most posts written in an inflammatory style, that happen to conform with popular opinion, tend to do).

        But that thread itself was very thin in its contents. Basically just me repeating the same argument over and over in a dozen different ways.

        When, now, 3 years later I decided to write “Depth of Micro”, I felt like this time I knew what I was talking about. I went through the trouble of learning how to use the editor just so I could talk “Blizzard speak”. My arguments this time were more rigid, more substantial and harder to straight out dismiss.

        The “inconsistency” I talk about is more specifically the dead stops. I have no beef with the overkill prevention being in there, nor do I have anything in particular against the amount of separation applied to units. Never anywhere am I advocating for any of these to be removed. My argument is quite simply that the engine code which deals with separation and overkill prevention should not be interrupting and disrupting unit movement.

        I highly doubt Blizzard would program in a gliding/deceleration behavior for every air unit if their intention for that feature weren’t for it to function correctly. I have a hard time believing they intended for gliding to be interrupted and disrupted by other parts of the engine code.

        Many people in the teamliquid thread went after me by misconstruing my arguments and by arguing against positions they imagined I held. Just to name a few: 1) I want BW patrol micro to be instituted into SC2. 2) I want units to be able to stack. 3) I want 0 damage point on everything.

        Neither of those positions are true. Sometimes I feel like I should have made more of an effort to really make that abundantly clear by spelling it out in big capital letters or something along those lines. But I don’t think that would have made much of a difference. Most people use comment fields as a megaphones rather than as an opportunity to thoughtfully respond to what’s being argued.

        I feel like I at this point am knowledgeable enough, and most importantly honest enough, where I actually try to make sure the arguments I present can stand on their own merits.

        I didn’t argue for patrol micro in SC2 to be changed, because I knew such a change would be meaningless if I at the same time weren’t promoting a change in how units act while firing (BW patrol is only meaningful in a game where you have to face and travel towards your target). Advocating such a change seemed like an arbitrary thing to do. So I refrained from it.

        Same thing with the separation and overkill bugs. A lot of people interpreted it as me promoting BW style stacking and a removal of the overkill prevention mechanic. But, in reality, my argument only had to do with the dead stops caused by the flawed implementation of these features.

        Same thing with damage point. In general I don’t think air units should have damage point. That should be the default in designing an esports RTS. But if you were to design a unit concept with a special and unique enough a weapon (the valkyrie served as an example in the video), then I’d have no qualms about imposing a firing delay or an uninterruptable backswing.

        This whole post of mien was not meant as an attack on you. I thought your comments were quite nuanced on the whole. It’s mostly just me venting about the frustration I feel when my arguments are met with what I consider to be shallow, dismissive and deflecting responses.

        Before, and even after, I began my all too conscious campaigns of disseminating the “3-base-ceiling” or “3-base-economy” as concepts, most of the debate would be perpetually centered on forcefields, deathballs/clumping and warp-ins.

        I have to say that I too joined in on the warp-in hate train. Though I’ve since somewhat changed my position. I still hold a position where I don’t think spellcasters should be able to be warped in offensively (because I want the game to have a certain kind of dynamic where spellcasters can be allowed to be extremely high impact units). Otherwise I’m fine with warp-in.

        I got sidetracked there. Where I meant to go was: the “3-base-paradigm” in mapmaking, to me, always seemed like more of a spontaneous development than a conscious one. When mapmakers created Taldarim, Crevasse and Terminus, it was more as a “anti-reaction” to the volatile play that plagued the small maps of those times. Concepts like “3-base-ceiling” weren’t even common — in truth they didn’t even exist — before these maps came along and made it evident that… despite making ginormous maps… games somehow still tended to fall into the 3-base-economy paradigm.

        So map sizes were cut slightly to eventually get to where they are today. A compromise between too big and too small.

        Something bizarre and worth to note is that SC2 4 player maps tend to have more bases than their Brood War equivalents. An SC2 4 player map tends to be in the range 16-20 bases, whereas BW stays in the 12-15 range.

        Why bizarre? I find it somewhat bizarre because SC2 is a game with a faster economy. The progression is boosted. You get to max quicker. At the same time its economic breadth is narrower (you’re constricted to fewer bases).

        So what’s the point in designing 4 player maps with a minimum of 16 bases? It only makes sense if you, instead of considering them 4 player maps, instead view these maps as functionally designed to act as 2 player maps in a variety of spawning combinations.

        You have one corner, one quarter of the map, with 4 readily available bases. And you have another with the same. In the vast majority of games these are the only bases used. The rest of the expansions on the map merely serve as scenery and backdrop, and as international air space for drops and mutas.

        I think that the 3-base-economy concept is a big and very real problem when it comes to the viability of mapmakers attempting to go “bigger” than the current standard for mapmaking. There simply is no beneficial effect of “going bigger”. So the result is that you get these pseudo 4 player maps that in reality are malfigured 2 player maps with lots of space that mapmakers know will be “dead space”. There is no going around this limitation.

        If you were to make the 4th base more inaccessible, you’d have an even more pronounced problem with “3-base-economy” camping, and instant backlash from both players and viewers. It’s a real problem. Unlike you I unfortunately don’t think this is something that “acceptance” for different maps can cure.

        I have another thread coming up on the economic system of SC2 where I’ll try to present better arguments and more substantiated arguments.

        Meanwhile, thanks for your comments.

        1. I like the argument. I should explicitly state this, I am not against your suggestions specifically. Whether the suggestions have their merits is another question altogether. I am concerned about improving the game by using Brood War as the reference point too often. Great suggestions can be brought up by criticizing the current state of Starcraft 2 without using Brood War as the comparison.

          For example,

          – “Something bizarre and worth to note is that SC2 4 player maps tend to have more bases than their Brood War equivalents. An SC2 4 player map tends to be in the range 16-20 bases, whereas BW stays in the 12-15 range.

          Why bizarre? I find it somewhat bizarre because SC2 is a game with a faster economy. The progression is boosted. You get to max quicker. At the same time its economic breadth is narrower (you’re constricted to fewer bases).”

          It is not justified to label the current maps bizarre because they have more bases than Brood War equivalents. (Whether they can be truly called equivalents are debatable.) How do we operationalize the threshold point of 15 is fine, and 16 is too many? Again, we are using Brood War as a point of reference. Like you have mentioned, Starcraft 2 is a game with a faster economy and with a different progression rate, we should critically think about them as two different games. It is more meaningful to justify why the current 16-20 is not healthy in terms of Starcraft 2 and ignore what was done in Brood War.

          However, I do agree with the criticism itself.

          – “So what’s the point in designing 4 player maps with a minimum of 16 bases? It only makes sense if you, instead of considering them 4 player maps, instead view these maps as functionally designed to act as 2 player maps in a variety of spawning combinations.

          You have one corner, one quarter of the map, with 4 readily available bases. And you have another with the same. In the vast majority of games these are the only bases used. The rest of the expansions on the map merely serve as scenery and backdrop, and as international air space for drops and mutas.”

          I think this aspect of the map making trend can be improved like you have suggested. There are merits on many of the “Brood War-referenced” suggestions, and I find myself agreeing with many of them. However, by using Brood War as “support” or “evidence” for a critique, it can work both ways in terms of how the readers perceive the perspective of the writer.

          So here is my suggestion for your upcoming thread: Focus on critiquing Starcraft 2 as an independent game. If the criticism cannot hold without bringing in Brood War, then it is wise to rethink whether that truly is a problem. On the other hand, a good criticism should stand on its own with logic and evidence from Starcraft 2 itself. I’m not saying citing Brood War = Bad, but it is better to use it sparingly.

          1. There will be plenty BW comparisons. I already spent too much time and effort in researching supply progressions over time in BW professional games (manually recording supply every 30 seconds in 100 OSL games).

            And I even had dsjoerg’s help to analyze an SC2 dataset with 460 pro replays.

            I think comparisons can be good depending on how you do them and what your purpose is with them. My purpose right now is to pit both games against their shared design parameters (200 supply cap mainly), and see if their design fits those parameters.

            It’s not so much a direct comparison between BW and SC2. But between BW and its relationship to the 200 supply cap on one hand, and SC2 and its relationship with the 200 supply cap on the other hand.

            Of course. Many people will see BW mentioned and immediately jump on that line of counter-arguments.

            1. Maybe arguments should be able to stand on their own merits without bringing in BW. But honestly it’s very hard to not bring in references or comparisons when writing about these subjects.

              With that said I will be making more of an effort — when doing the economic analysis — in introducing more neutral definitions that can be applied widely to the RTS genre as a whole. In particular formally defining what features make up a symmetrical RTS game and what makes up an asymmetrical RTS game.

              Though most of it will nonetheless be inspired by BW/SC2. It’s hard to avoid.

      3. ” A bunch of Oracles attacking a Zealot is used as an example for inconsistency, but the Oracles are acting consistently. They are programmed not to “overkill”, if the same action is to be repeated in an experiment. The results should be consistent based on the same programming rules.”

        I covered this in my huge post. I think it’s highly unlikely that Blizzard would code a gliding/deceleration behaviour into the game if they didn’t intend for it to function properly. That’s what I base my whole argument of “inconsistency” on.

        Units glide in certain situations but randomly stop in others? Inconsistent.

        There is nothing stopping the oracle from keeping its glide while the overkill prevention is in effect. Nothing aside from what I strongly suspect is an unintended inconsistency resulting from “programming rules”. Whether the dead stops should be interpreted as intended or unintended is of course up for debate.

        My opinion is that Blizzard most likely have/had no clue about this, but that it nonetheless counts as “unwanted behaviour”.

  3. I aam really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog.
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    Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to
    see a nice blog likee this one tyese days.

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