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The Two-Month War – A Cautionary Tale

October 5, 2010
Void Ray Pilot - May a Gauss Rifle bullet perforate his face

Heeeeeeey ladies and gentlemen and welcome to another Odious Repeater Blog Post. This one takes place a good while too late after my previous one, for which I want to sincerely apologize to both my subscribers.

Those who have braved my walls of text in the past might recall that my last post was a bit of a rant about what I considered to be the pretty shoddy storytelling in Starcraft II. Well, pretty much immediately after finishing that post, I decided to start giving the multiplayer a go. And only now at this very moment, when none of my usual playing buddies are online, do I feel like I wouldn’t rather be playing the game than writing a blog post.

Yes, that’s how addicted I’ve become. And the worst part of it is that I didn’t even see it coming. Which I have since come to believe was Blizzards plan all along.

See, everything in Starcraft 2 could be said to be geared towards getting players online, and ideally on the ladder. The main campaign of the game is far removed from the dynamics of playing with and/or against other human opponents, but it does a pretty good job of teaching the basic mechanics and some basic applications. Almost every mission revolves around a key mechanic, now that I think about it, and though some of the units don’t make the transition from single to multiplayer, there’s still lessons to learn from the missions in which they feature.

And then there’s the fact that the campaign ends on a cliffhanger, and the two sequels are already announced. So even if a player, for reasons that defy understanding, can’t wait for the next piece of C-movie narrative featuring the stereotypes that inhabit the Koprulu sector, they’ll have to do something else until the next episode shows up. They could play a different game. They could play the campaign again, on a higher level of difficulty (which raises ones level of skill further, making the jump to multiplayer that much easier) or they could play one of the other single player game modes, if unwilling to try multiplayer just yet.

Enter the Challenges, all of them carefully – elegantly – designed to teach players to step out of their comfort zone, interacting with the game in ways that apply much more to multiplayer scenarios than the single player campaign. And so, the threshold to playing against real people is lowered further still.

And then there’s the achievements. Now, I don’t care about achievements in games. The people who generally go for them do so for reasons that are completely opaque to me. Or rather, I think I know why, and it makes me like those people less, so I choose to pretend to not “get it”. But as a tool to get people to explore the game’s many modes, they are ridiculously effective.

My path to the current level of multiplayer and addiction that I suffer from was a bit erratic. I actually played a lot of multiplayer matches, even ranked ones, before seriously delving into the challenges. But that’s pretty easy to explain; I was only winning incidentally, and had serious holes in my basic understanding of the game mechanics. I had to come to realize this, and to understand that playing the challenges was the easiest way to improve in these key areas, before I had any incentive to try to achieve a Gold level in all the challenges, and so get my shit together a bit more. And once this had been done, I found myself winning more often. Which made me more prone to play the game online.

Only looking back at this now do I understand how many feedback loops are in place. And then there’s the meta aspect; becoming interested in the multiplayer game leads to wanting to learn from other people. Which leads to YouTube. Which leads to HD Starcraft, Husky, Day9… fuck I love-hate Day9. He’s like a much whiter version of me. But I digress.

I guess that what I’ve come to realize that even though the narrative in Starcraft II left me unimpressed in spite of the increased production values, Blizzard has learned an insane amount about getting people to transition smoothly from being casual players to being at least amateur e-sportsmen/women. Do note that the actual game is still pretty heavy on the micro-management (aka “clicking”), indeed unnecessarily so, one would be hard-pressed to claim that it’s not a whole lot closer to “manageable” for most people. Indeed, if the macro play is handled well, and there’s a good unit composition in the player’s army, a simple “attack-move” with the whole army hotkeyed to “1” will still rip most opponents of the same level to shreds.

Oh, and then there’s the league and ladder mechanics, which are absolutely ingenious; Battle.net is working overtime to make sure that all players win half of their games which, incidentally, is a great way to ensure players stay in that interval between “overstressed” and “bored” that manages to elude so many game devs.

So screw me. Screw my bullshit about the story in Starcraft II. I was wrong. There’s excellent storytelling in the game. It’s just not in the single player campaign’s narrative. Instead, it’s emergent, which after all is what makes games so very special. Also, everyone’s stories are unique (though pretty much everyone HAS been Void-Raped at least once), and thus that much more appealing. In order to find yours, you just have to hop online and play against other people. And Blizzard has made the transition smoother than ever. Perhaps even managing to convert people who wouldn’t otherwise play game, much as they have done and still do with WoW. We as an industry should take note of this, and steal as much as we can from them. I sure will. Because if I can reverse-engineer the formula to get people as addicted to one of my games as I find myself being to Starcraft II, I’ll be snorting cocaine off of hookers’ asses far more often than I do now.

Message me for my character code by the way. We’ll do some sparring on Metalopolis or some shit.

Anyway, this is OR, signing out.

From → All Posts, Games

One Comment
  1. Anders Elfgren permalink

    Well put.

    I usually don’t chase achievements, but for some reason I’m going after them in SC2. I think it’s partly because I just like the game so freaking much and it’s fun to just try to play it in all of the ways that going after achievements requires you to. But it’s also the fact that they are a great way to, like you say, explore and get better at all of the mechanics. I hadn’t done a rush before I tried to take the 5-minute-rush achievement, so I tried a couple of times until I got it right. And then I did it again against the next difficulty. Same goes for trying to take all of the campaign achievements, the harder ones push you to the limit of your skills.

    And you don’t quite get the same thing when you’re playing online. When I try to beat an opponent I’m *this* close to beating, I play at my very best. But when I play online, I don’t really know how good my opponent is, and just try to play well. If that makes sense.🙂

    About narrative, if I understand you properly, I agree. No other game has to the same extent left me so exhilirated after some of the matches, with a great story to tell about how and what happened. Sadly Karin hates listening to my match stories😀

    Also, as half of your subscriber base, I feel entitled to more posts.

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