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.
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.