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Real Time Strategy (Games) Games

Taking the Fun Out of StarCraft II 293

StarCraft II lead designer Dustin Browder recently spoke with Gamasutra about how designing a real-time strategy game for competition can sometimes be at odds with designing something purely for the sake of fun. "'It took me a year and a half to figure this out,' said Browder, an enthusiastic designer who might also be around the top 10 percent in the world in terms of speed-talking. 'I kept trying to shove stuff in that was fun but wasn't a sport,' he said. 'And everybody would tell me "no," and I wouldn't understand why. And I thought they were all jerks. I didn't know, right? I couldn't figure it out.' ... 'It took me a long time to understand why this sport value is so important,' Browder continued. The development team kept itself in check, nixing units that overlapped with the roles of other units and dumping units that were deemed too complicated. Some of the units cut were fun to use, but just didn't fit with the game's objectives as an eSport. 'It makes it so challenging for designers on the project to come up with new and good ideas,' said Browder. 'We could sit here right now, and come up with 10 great ideas for an RTS. But I almost guarantee you that all of those would get shot down for a sport.'"
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Taking the Fun Out of StarCraft II

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  • ...the game players are already having fun playing the game as it is, and even if new features may be fun, learning to use them in itself is not so fun at all.

    • learning to use them in itself is not so fun at all.

      I find in most games, learning the mechanics of the game adds to the enjoyment of the game. It's like reading a good novel.

      Which is why I shy away from "sport" games. Once you get past the thin gloss of the production values of a game like Starcraft 2, you're left with a mechanical Quest for Mastery. Instead of a novel, you're reading a technical manual.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        i think it also reflects the degree to which starcraft has been sid meier-ed, that is to say ossified by its own past success and petrified of messing it up. I don't really think anyone knows what makes a good game. it's an art and a lottery all at once, and one that you can't learn from e.g. majoring in game development at college.

        It's the same reason that movie sequels are usually terrible.

      • Once you get past the thin gloss of the production values of a game like Starcraft 2, you're left with a mechanical Quest for Mastery. Instead of a novel, you're reading a technical manual.

        Some (many) people like that; its why Arenas are popular in WoW (although it takes many many months to learn all the different classes), and why people enjoy FPSes-- its not like "point gun at head, pull trigger" takes very long to figure out, and learning the intricacies of any given FPS wont generally take more than a few hours, but people still play them.

  • Excuses (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 22, 2011 @04:27AM (#35904342)

    Sounds like an excuse for poor game design. Good games can be fun and competitive at the same time. Look at Marvel vs Capcom. You can button-mash and not know what the hell is going on and still have a blast. You can also distill a perfect strategy and play-style and win tons of money playing the game for sport. At what point did Blizzard decide they had to pick one or the other? Maybe this isn't the same company I knew from my youth.

    • >>At what point did Blizzard decide they had to pick one or the other? Maybe this isn't the same company I knew from my youth.

      Nuclear launch detected.
      Nuclear launch detected.
      Nuclear launch detected.

      Yeah, it's still fun.

      • Only 3 launches? The fun really starts when there are 12.
      • For me the fun of Star Craft was with the Protost. Build up enough to make cannons and a few of those mind controlling guys. Sneak into the enemy base Mind control some of their builders. Take them away and build up an army of all the races to go against your opponents. While you put a border of at least 3 layers of cannons around their base. I have won games against people with good stats with just focusing only on making cannons. But that is with star craft 1. They probably reworked the game so we co

    • You clearly don't know how to play Marvel Vs Capcom.

      Good players can eat button mashers for breakfast.

      Besides, in terms of "bad design" Marvel vs Capcom is pretty up there.

      (Seriously between it and it's two sequels, MvC2/MvC3, it's seriously friggin' broken.)

      • Good players can eat button mashers for breakfast.

        All that means is that the button mashers can't have much fun if they have to compete against "good players".

    • Re:Excuses (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rekenner ( 849871 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @06:02AM (#35904728) Homepage
      And if SC2 was 'balanced' like MvC2 was or MvC3 is looking like it will be (given that the metagame is young, I hesitate to say 'is'), then some fractional amount of a single race would be used, as everything else is too bad to be used. So, maybe only the Marine, Reaper, Banshee, and Raven are the only units in the entire game worth using. That's good game design, right? Or maybe only a unit or two from each race are usable and teching to them and microing them is the entire game.
      Yeah. No.
      RTS balance and fighting game balance are way the fuck different. RTS balance, or at least in SC2, RELIES on having every race be balanced (or so close to balanced as to give them all decent representation, let's not argue if SC2 is balanced yet. See: Young meta) and have multiple good builds and unit compositions and strategies within each race. As compared to MvC2 where how many characters out of the massive roster were tournament usable? Hm. Magneto, Cable, Storm, Sentinel, Psylocke, Strider (if your name is clockw0rk), Doom (mostly see previous parenthetical), CapCom, and Cyclops. And all the rest are thrown out. All the rest aren't used. And how did SC2 avoid that? By what was talked about in this article. SC2 isn't super revolutionary, I'll agree. But as a competitive game? I'd say it's outstanding. As someone who liked Brood War and likes SC2, but also sucks at micro ... I enjoy watching SC games. I watched SC1 tournies and I'm currently watching NASL. Fuck playing the multiplayer myself - I know I'll suck. That's not due to the game, that's due to that I don't care enough to get good. But I love watching the pros play.
      • Comment removed based on user account deletion
        • Just like watching someone play sports is more pathetic than playing sports, right? Or watching someone sing instead of learning how to sing//play music instead of learning how to play music? Or . . .
          I hate that argument, really.

          But, I wouldn't say watching progamers has taken the fun out of SC1 and SC2 for me. It's akin to, well... when I play any sport. I'm not serving the tennis ball at 120 MPH, but it's still fun. I just don't expect to be a pro.
          • Just like watching someone play sports is more pathetic than playing sports, right? Or watching someone sing instead of learning how to sing//play music instead of learning how to play music?

            You just listed the reasons why I hate watching sports and don't own music (except one CD from a local band from 15 years ago that I can't find). Although s/pathetic/boring/ is more accurate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 22, 2011 @04:31AM (#35904354)

    This only makes sense to me if pro players make up a majority of *buyers*. Or if people playing multi in general have the same desires for gameplay, even if they're not competing. But frankly, as a more casual gamer who enjoys "fun", this seems like pandering to a potential minority of hardcore players at the expense of my enjoyment, and that irritates me.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:18AM (#35904544) Journal
      I suspect that this was, at least in part, why they made the single player units and the multiplayer units somewhat different. Single player, aimed at casual gamers who don't want to get murdered online, gave them the option of throwing fun units into assorted setpiece battles that make use of their abilities. Multiplayer was designed so that South Korea could get its Zerg Chess fix.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Tell that to the makers of professional sports equipment (shoes, baseball gloves, bats, hockey sticks etc.)

      It's a simple fact: many people buy what the pros buy and would be insulted if told they should buy a product "dumbed-down" to their level.

      • That is sports equipment. By your anology, I would as a regular person want my game of baseball/soccer (whatever suits you) with mates to include rigerous dope testing... we would pass with ease. We are far to drunk to piss in a metal trough, let alone a cup.

      • Really? Is that so? I can't remember anyone complaining about steering or breaking aid in his SUV just because those Formula One cars must not have them and it's dumbing down the experience. I also don't see people buying only 8+ feet skis because the ace race skiers use them (for the obvious reason that they have the skill and muscles to turn them while getting stability at the 100mph downhill races). Or if cross-country is more your speed, do you get the "slick" pro-cross-country skis instead of the "ribb

    • No, what they are doing is achieving long term sales as people will continue playing it for years to come (see SC1) - this formula works well.
      I play 1 hour of SC2 a month nowadays - but I watch 25 hours a month on justin.tv / gomtv.net or other sites which are showing tournaments.
      Infact as I type this post right now, I'm watching GSL Code A round of 32.

      The sport design is smart, especially as they seperated the SP balance of the units from the MP balance now, the SP game is .. well pretty darn good (not as

    • Are professional sports players the majority of people buying base/basket/footballs? I would say no, but the culture created around having professionals generates business.

    • Casual gamers don't have enough games to keep them happy?

    • It's still a niche in the market. Roughly, if 10% of the market is made up of pro gamers, then shouldn't 10% of games be targeted at pro gamers?
    • I attended blizzard's talk on this at GDC. They presented the case that this esport thing is really taking off. It's not just in korea, but here and in europe as well. SC2 is played at live and broadcast events by the pros. Yes. there are only a handful of pros so they aren't going to bankroll you entirely, but it becomes something like celebrity endorsement. Hundreds of thousands of people are watching these pros. The pros are saying SC2 is the game to play.

      sure, many users won't rise to the level of the
  • I'm stuck in bronze forever, probably because I don't care about timing and build orders and unit counters, but I have fun playing, and doing all that stuff to climb up the ladder would take the fun out of it for me. And I really don't care about being bronze. What's wrong with playing the game for fun? I wish they'd just let us use all those fun units on unranked games.

    • by Alioth ( 221270 )

      I think you can use different units in certain custom game maps in an online game (the units from the campaign). Custom SC2 games seem to have quite a bit of latitude in what the game designer puts in.

      • by Punto ( 100573 )

        yeah, I know about the custom maps, but the units from the single player campaign are basically the terran units from SC1 plus the diamondback, and it's not like people are creating new units (can you even import custom 3D models on those maps?). This guy seems to be talking about a bunch of actually _new_ units that they created and then threw away.

    • Designers are too concerned with keeping the game addictive to allow it to be fun.
    • Everyone says that..... until a unit gets abused, and the only way to beat it is to mass more of them than your opponent.

      People making the argument you make remind me of people talking about government spending. Everyone wants less of it, but everyone expects the trash to go away when it gets put on the curb. Once you actually get down to the specifics, suddenly this 'competitive balance' is actually what makes the game fun for EVERYONE.

    • by ildon ( 413912 )

      You just said you have fun playing. That means they've already succeeded in keeping it competitive at the high level and fun at the low level. That's win/win as far as I'm concerned.

    • by Chemisor ( 97276 )

      You might ask the same thing about physical sports. What's wrong with just letting your kids play football instead of pushing them to make the team, win the game, get the trophy? Why does every sport turn into a competition? It's a game, people; it's played for fun. Running should be for fun, not track and field. Baseball should be a game in the park, not a national championship. Basketball, swimming, volleyball, all turned into fights with the "enemy", whoever that may be. And don't get me started on peopl

  • by cgomezr ( 1074699 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @04:37AM (#35904374)

    Designing a game that would be fun for beginners/casual players and challenging for experts at the same time is extremely difficult. Ten or twenty years ago there were no games like that. Now, with the popularization of things like tutorials and achievements, we are getting closer, but we still aren't there in most genres.

    I think the game that does the best job at this (out of those I have seen) is New Super Mario Bros Wii. It has several layers of complexity and can be played at various levels of challenge, from using the bubble or the Super Guide to get you out of the levels to getting all the star coins in the game or finding tricks for infinite lives. I have seen both absolute beginners and old-school hardcore gamers having loads of fun with this game (even when both kinds of players are playing *together*!) and that is truly remarkable, and something to mark in the history of game design.

    Now, how could this be applied to Starcraft II? No idea...

    • Designing a game that would be fun for beginners/casual players and challenging for experts at the same time is extremely difficult. Ten or twenty years ago there were no games like that.

      Funny you should day that, because Starcraft 1 (which existed 13 years ago) is still a huge professional sport in South Korea (there are two cable TV channels specialized in it). :-)

      But I think that most of what you said is actually true, but is not what the interview is about. The challenge for experts is in playing with other people, because all professionals and most hardcore players find the single-player campaign ridiculously easy (in both Starcraft 1 and 2). The story is about the balance of making a

    • "Now, how could this be applied to Starcraft II? No idea..."

      C&C Red Alert had the option to set maximum tech level for the game. Total Annihilation had the option to specify how many of each unit type were constructible. I think those are great ways to allow different fun unit types into a game. Players could even save game setup types as some kind of profile.

    • I agree with your assessment of Super Mario Bros Wii. But it's not a new thing at all. That design principle has applied to Super Mario Bros going back to the days of SMB3.

  • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @04:43AM (#35904404)

    ... have lost their ability to have confidence in themselves. The games are now designed around what they perceive 'the audience' wants, starcraft 1 was such a hit BECAUSE the design team did not have pressure of korean pro gaming to stifle their creativity.

    Starcraft 2 had to be the most conservative and underwhelming sequel of all time. Not only that the single player story felt like an alternate starcraft universe that had very little to do with the first game. It just goes to show that 12 years is too long a time to wait between sequels for a hit game to keep continuity since most of the original developers of Starcraft 1 were long gone by the time SC2 was released.

    The internet has become an echo chamber for ignorant fans and developers to heap praise on themselves when the games they are putting out are conservative to mediocre at best simply because there are so many blind fanboys these days.

    • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:13AM (#35904524) Journal

      I don't really agree with this (except in so much that SC2 is a fairly conservative follow-up). I happen to find SC2 multiplayer awesome, I enjoy the competition even though I'm dreadful at it (struggling not to be demoted back to bronze). I think the game itself is well designed and is a lot of *fun* (otherwise I wouldn't play it).

      I also enjoy seeing the pro-gaming aspect of it, some of the TSL games last weekend were awesome.

      I think Blizzard have designed a good game here, not only do people like me who just play casually find it a lot of fun, but also the pro-gamers like it too. It's an achievement that the game is easy enough to pick up for a casual but deep enough for the pro.

    • Your assertion is not correct. Starcraft wasn't widely played professionally or held as the pinacle of RTS balance until Patch 1.08, and at that time they were getting feedback and balancing it for professionals. Starcraft is what it is because of input from top players.
  • This is why I really like Minecraft. Fun stuff can slide in without concerns about it interfering with it being a "sport".

  • People played the first Starcraft because it was fun. People played it because it was also a sport.

    I play Starcraft 2 from time to time, but not nearly as much as I played the first Starcraft, and mostly because I don't have a lot of fun playing the multiplayer. From the article it looks like they built SC2 to cater directly to the sport play. If it wasn't for the single player, I would think twice before buying future games from Blizzard. Don't want to spend money on something I won't have fun with,
  • by dltaylor ( 7510 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:02AM (#35904486)

    Once they took out one of the only two play modes I would ever use (LAN play), and threw in the DRM, I was never going to have "fun" with it, since I wasn't going to buy it.

    I either need to get SC/BW running under WINE, or get a dedicated VM going for it, so I can repurpose the Win2K box that I use for playing the original.

    • For the record, SC:BW runs great under Wine, including the official NoCD patch and battle.net (or LAN). Some people have complained that it has higher latency than on Windows, but it also crashes less than on the latest Windows versions, so it may be a wash. (I'd forgotten how bad the play drop experience was in SC, and even WC3, after so much time playing RTS with better handling of this event... these days, it's just "Pause please, I need to reboot my computer to fix the lag" and he's back in a couple min

    • by emanem ( 1356033 )
      Not only SC, SC:BW runs great on wine, but even SC2 runs very good.
    • by SpazmodeusG ( 1334705 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @06:38AM (#35904864)

      If you hate region locking you made the right move. The region locking of Starcraft 2 takes it to insane levels. eg. If you make a map using the in-built editor you can only upload it to your region!

      So those of us in the more obscure regions simply aren't allowed to play the custom maps made by people in other regions.

    • by dnaumov ( 453672 )

      Once they took out one of the only two play modes I would ever use (LAN play), and threw in the DRM, I was never going to have "fun" with it, since I wasn't going to buy it.

      So, you don't buy any games, ever? It's 2011 and only a tiny tiny minority (5% or less) have any sort of LAN support and the vast majority (95%+) have some sort of DRM.

  • I don't want to play an eSport.. I want to play something _fun_.

  • Not having unbalanced units, especially early in the game, is not simply an "eSports" thing, it is a multiplayer thing.

    If you are building up a decent base, and then suddenly get a drop of unbalanced unit of type X early on, which wipes out your production, and then the opponent repeats this until you are dead, you will not have fun in multiplayer and will stop playing it at all.

    Clearly that isn't good for a game that is known for its multiplayer although the campaign is good too.

    • by marnues ( 906739 )
      Apparently no one who plays video games competitively is on slashdot today. The vast majority of Starcraft players play competitively. It's what has kept the game going all this time. Trying playing 4th edition Warhamerr 40K and tell me what you think of the "fun" units. Thank god they finally have gotten around to balancing some of the game.

      "Fun" units stop being fun when they are losing you the game. "Fun" units ruin the game for people that want to use them but don't understand it's almost never s
  • I don't really play SC2 multiplayer. Every time I do I get stomped into the floor because the other guy's drilled his build order to a fine art. It just rubs me the wrong way that most games of SC2 (in the minor leagues, anyway) are decided almost entirely upon who has the best build order.

    For the record, I did beat the campaign and thought it was a blast, and I'll still play against the AI (on easy and medium) from time to time.

    I dunno, I just don't have fun losing (at least, for reasons I perceive as arbi

    • by Xacid ( 560407 )

      Agreed here.

      What's funny is that the only way I have fun is when I play people just as lazy as me. I hate the whole micro thing. I feel like you have to be a special kind of obsessed to really master that game. And well...that's no fun. You can't exactly have a beer while playing SC2.

  • by Co0Ps ( 1539395 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @08:24AM (#35905340)
    I've played ~50 matches and the only feeling I get when I win is a sense of relief and "I don't want to do that again". It feels like the time I spent on the match was wasted. After all you get just as many points from rushing an opponent after 2 minutes as you get from carefully constructing a wall of defense and spending time to build an unbeatable late game army. Star Craft 2 is simply not entertaining. The pace of the game is two high for me to play it in a relaxed state. I guess that means I'm not an e-sports person. I love games though and I've played every major PC game... Probably spent several months of game time combined on TF2 and CS... but SC2? Where's the innovation really? It's just chess with more complex rules and much faster pace. I don't get any kick out of it at all. The multiplayer could have been a zillion times more fun by something as simple as making the ranking system more complex than points and ladders. For example, add some simulated large wars, factions and generated story... map regions and whatever. Make a win or a loss count more than getting a few arbitrary points added or removed. SC2 is a game ruined because it was made into an "e-sport" instead.
    • I like the fact that I can just pop in and play a couple of games that have no relevance to each other. I can totally see the appeal of what you say, but for me at least, its not that exciting and the ladder provides a simple way for me to see my progress. Similarly, I thought rushing/cheesing was boring, but for me its really enjoyable to just smash someone who tries to do it to you. At the high casual levels its much more of a high risk:reward strategy because it often completely fails and is fairly easy
    • by Xacid ( 560407 )

      I'll agree with you there. I really don't touch the game anymore as it just stresses me the hell out. I'd love to see like a co-op story mode or something for the casual gamer who still wants to play with friends. Looks like we have to rely on the third party map makers out there though.

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @02:14PM (#35908466)

      Simply by the fact that it tracks "actions per minute" and that the stat matters. The game is about speed in a big way. Top players perform multiple actions per second on average. There is no time for sitting back and looking at the strategic overview, you have to be doing something continually. That is not a game that can be played slow pace.

      Personally, I'd really love to see a RTS like Homeworld again for online play. Homeworld itself was marred by cheaters but I think it had a good design. Things happened much slower, meaning strategy played a much bigger role and tactics a lesser one. While you could make differences in fights giving tactical commands to your ships, overall the determining factor was the strategy used. Also the fights progressed slowly, so you had time to analyze what has happening and respond.

      While that would bore the ADD "eSports" people to tears it was nice for people who wanted a more relaxed game.

      As a side note you might want to check out Sins of a Solar Empire if you haven't. It is a much larger scale game, more like what you get in a TBS, but is realtime. It does focus more on the "strategy over tactics" thing.

  • I think that what is being said is that the variety of units has had to be dulled down in competitive games. I have heard people say that this makes it easier to watch but there is still a lot of complexity in the game with three races and all their differences.

    If you want to try out all sorts of units, there are a ton of custom games where you can use every unit available.

    For me, the game is the best in many years and has been keeping me going for 8 months now - there are all sorts of different things t

  • Meh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PFI_Optix ( 936301 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @09:29AM (#35905852) Journal

    I despise StarCraft. I really, honestly do. This isn't some trolling to piss people off, this is me venting.

    StarCraft is all about speed and memorization. In that way it's more like a side-scrolling fighting game, where the person who can execute the right combos at the right time wins. Wrong build order? You lose. Didn't mass enough units by the five minute mark? You lose. I play StarCraft 2 with some friends from time to time and I do reasonably well at it, but it's nowhere near as fun as other games. It feels more like a job. I have no desire to play it solo.

    What really disappointed me from the start is how the game utterly lacks any sort of reward for solid tactical decisions. High ground? That's negated by simple line-of-sight. Every shot is a hit, and every hit scores exactly the same damage. Compare that to Total Annihilation which at least attempted to give some realism in how units move and fire and the effects of terrain. TA's engine was FAR superior to StarCraft.

    StarCraft is a clickfest, the closest thing RTS has to an arcade game. And it's tainted the whole genre.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      All RTS are a click fest, always have been. SC didn't change anything.

  • non tournament approved fun back into starcraft... Please.

    The game is so..routine.
    Have your plan, implement your plan, if you chose the wrong plan, well to bad there is not time to adjust to new information.

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