StarCraft Skin and Game Play

This is not the usual TerranCraft type of content. I am going to rant a little about the skin (half serious).

Story telling time…

After a long day of work yesterday (lots of procrastination with Starcraft vod), I met up with some strangers from a Pokemon Go discord channel for another Lugia raid. I was quite desperate to get a Lugia, because I had failed quite a number of times for the last three days. I felt more tense than doing a doom drop without a scan when I got into the capture screen.

AND I GOT IT AT LAST! So, I sent a screen shot to share my joy with my girlfriend (she had not caught one yet).

Her temperament is suitable for Starcraft. <3

I wanted to end the night on a high note by purchasing the War Chest in Starcraft. I automatically queued for a game, and I forgot about buying the War Chest. The Zerg opponent was using the War Chest skin, and I told myself to buy it after that game. But that game changed my attitude toward the War Chest.

I lost the game because I thought my opponent’s Banelings were Zerglings. You generally micro differently against a group of Zerglings without Banelings versus a group with Banelings. You form a concave then split the bio accordingly against Zerglings and Banelings. In contrast, you rather stutter step than split against just Zerglings. My group of Marines just disappeared against the Banelings, which I thought were Zerglings. The new skin made it extremely difficult to differentiate Zerglings and Banelings, and there was also a post on reddit this week regarding the same problem.

Let’s play a game called “count the number of Banelings”. How many Banelings can you see in the screenshot below?

The issue is not about whether you get the number right or not. It is the fact that you are not 100% certain even when you look at a small group of them in an image tells you how hard it is to make a judgement in the game when everything is moving so quickly . Let’s play it one more time with the image below.

The answer is fifteen (see the unit selection in the image below). I still only counted fourteen even when I look at the image now with the knowledge that I know it is actually fifteen.

Zerglings and Banelings obviously look very different in their default skins (for reference). The yellow/green bubble of Baneling is very distinguishable, and that is not the case with the new skin. The image below is the same screenshots I have shown on top, but the colour is swapped over. The problem remains.


The skin has definitely affected the game play. You can even make an argument that Zerg have been buffed because of the difficulty to differentiate the units. That clearly is not the intention of the skin.

This is not the first time skin has direct influence over game play. The Zergling skin with enlarged wings give you an illusion that there are more Zerglings than there actually are. This was something that had been brought up four years ago. If you want to argue that the Zergling skin issue is subjective, then what about the Roach skin? The other Roach skin literally gives you an advantage over the default skin, because it does not show whether you have the burrow upgrade (discussed on reddit). Someone even told me that the skin used affects how visible a moving burrowed unit is (for reference), but I’m not sure if that is true.

Someone would bring up about the option to turn off the skin every few days on different forums. Here is another example two days ago. This is a serious issue.

Brownbear had made fifteen tweets about the skins issue recently.

I’m not going to link fifteen tweets, so here is what he wrote.

“Skins changing tournament results or otherwise dramatically impacting gameplay is unworkable in a competitive esport. Simultaneously, cosmetics (and an in-game economy) benefit esports. They justify more developer support and build player engagement. StarCraft in particular draws a huge amount of its professional prize pool from Blizzard, not third party tournament organizers. If skins, cosmetic items, etc retain and generate investment from Blizzard, that’s important to the ecosystem. It would also, presumably, provide more evidence that big new RTS games can still thrive and be profitable. Again, it’s not a good idea for cosmetics to dramatically impact gameplay. No one benefits from making a game worse. Issues like the recent baneling / changeling issue should be addressed as bugs. But the question isn’t “what skins can we make that don’t affect gameplay at all”? IMHO that’s not realistic. In CS:GO, the most popular cosmetics are also the flashiest and most eye-opening. The question is, what’s the right balance between appeal+potential impact vs. the dev investment+player engagement it generates? (And – what ways can we generate engagement without impacting gameplay?) “Blizzard should do whatever it takes to make money” will do a disservice to the game and ecosystem in the long-run, definitely. But “keep shoveling money at this game and make sure it doesn’t affect me in any way” is not realistic or sustainable either. Doing nothing has its own trade-offs, too. A balanced approach laser-focused on sustaining+growing the ecosystem is ideal.”

I share the same sentiment.

I decide not to purchase the War Chest. I know no one cares whether I buy the War Chest or not, but I still want to make a stand. I bought every skin available previously, because I love the game. I have no issue with skins that do not give a player an edge, and it is even better if the money can help the ecosystem. However, the fundamental quality of game play should never be compromised. I doubt Blizzard will implement an off-switch for the skins, but they must fix those problems that affect the game play directly.

There is no better way to promote the War Chest than by showing it in the WCS games, but skins are not allowed in every tournament that has WCS points (correct me if I’m wrong). This implies that skins do not have a place in the competitive scene. I am sure Blizzard are aware of the concern, but perhaps this is just not their priority.

Since I’m ranting already, I will end this post with my other tweet.

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8 thoughts on “StarCraft Skin and Game Play

  1. This can be fixed. People are complaining about the wrong thing.
    There’s a mod called Stronger Team Colors that adds a glowing effects to banelings ( and the same thing, but almost imperceptible to ghosts and zealots, it’s mandatory that you check it out ) that, besides looking awesome, it also completely solves the problem in every video settings.
    Knowing Blizzard, it’s likely that they will add a way for people to disable opponents cosmetics because of the bunch of people crying about it, and because it’s easier than actually fix this.
    I almost didn’t buy the Warchest because I a significant number of them is just a repainted version of the default one. And contrary to what you and other people are saying, we SHOULD be able to have an entire army rainbow-colored and like they’ve been mutated 100 times over. Otherwise, there is literally no point, therefore it’s retarded, to buy skins, even if with disable hats option, because they look like the regular units or just change the colors.
    Blizzard is the only one who can fix this. Again, don’t worry, I’m sure the shitstorm of people complaining will result in the option to turn hats off getting into the game, but if they really want to go on with this, they have to do something before the visual clutter actually becomes relevant and it’s too late.

  2. I take that you don’t know the mod that has been featured in GSL games in the past?
    Anyway, this is what I mean: http://imgur.com/a/8XwEW
    There’s a certain bias here. I love this mod, always wanted to see it in game, and now there’s a good reason for it.
    So yeh, it looks awesome, it solves the issue. What now?
    But firstly, I would like to point out that they will or should add the disable hats option, simply because this community is ridiculous and wouldn’t give up on this in any way, and Blizzard isn’t Valve, who would easily go far an beyond to actually solve the problem without disabling the skins, even in a non f2p game. I wouldn’t use it, but it’s each’s prerogative.
    Secondly, obviously will take some time for people to get used to the skin. It’s a new visual element, and arguably a bit more difficult to spot compare to MOBAs and FPS’s, in which the changed effects are easily visible and spotted because they’re usually big in size.
    Thirdly, the lighting system in SC2 has a unintended interaction with vertex of polygon meshes in some units, producing blank pixels around them ( most visible in zerg units ) that add on to the visual clutter. You can see that by zooming in on a zergling on extreme graphics. Along with that, the game is poorly optimized for current hardware. Bottom line of this is, running on settings other than lowest for multiplayer is a setback and silly.
    And finally, you wanna talk about visual clutter with health bars enabled for all units? LoL

      1. > This will be a quick fix.
        So would mine, with the added benefit of not restricting the color of the unit, not making the skin more pointless and ugly.
        Anyway, suit yourself. If they go with that, I’ll ask for a refund. That’s my stand.

  3. Personally I think the only problem is the baneling skin looking like the zergling skin. Every other unit in the war chest is not difficult to identify. It’s just that by the time you figure out which is a zergling and which is a baneling, it already has blown up in your face. If they made the back green like the normal skin it basically solves the problem.

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