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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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • Re:Sport...pfft. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kabada ( 1436459 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @04:49AM (#35904436)

    I'm pretty sure that this "everyone" you mean is confined to the same group of jerks who look down on people who "read" and, omg, those losers who actually post on uber-geek-loser sites like slashdot.

  • 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.

  • Re:Sport...pfft. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sky Cry ( 872584 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:02AM (#35904488)

    There are plenty of games that are fun. It's not surprising, that there's a niche for games that are a sport.

    Football, volleyball, tennis, etc. - all are both games and a sport. What's wrong with some computer games also being an eSport?

  • 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.

  • 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:Sport...pfft. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cheekyjohnson ( 1873388 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:27AM (#35904590)

    It's a damn computer game.

    Honestly, I feel the same way about 'real' sports such as Football. They're just games. I don't understand why people take them so seriously.

  • by chonglibloodsport ( 1270740 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @06:16AM (#35904786)

    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.

  • by smaddox ( 928261 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @09:25AM (#35905816)

    Why? How does that benefit them in any way? It's not like they will be making more money. That's just mind blowing.

  • by conspirator57 ( 1123519 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @09:46AM (#35905978)

    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.

  • 1. At the higher levels it's all build order and strat and multitasking at an insane level. It's fun, but when you get to the higher levels the experimentation in the game is pretty much gone. If you experiment at all with a new strat you are dead.

    Emphasis mine.

    This is every high-level competition I can think of. Ever played Bridge, Poker, or Euchre? You almost know what the other player has. They know you know, so they pretend to have something else. You know they know you know, so you figure out what they would have that would make them want to pretend to have what they're pretending to have, ad infinitum.

    The thing that really drives the concept home is when you play against an amateur. I remember getting my ass handed to me in Street Fighter II by someone who couldn't even throw a fireball, because I was so used to being able to predict exactly what they were going to do, I'd start the counter before I even thought about it, and planning counters to their counter to my counter ... and then I was dead, to a high roundhouse kick that any pro player would know was absolute suicide. Ever play poker against someone who has absolutely no idea how to play? They're the perfect bluffs, because they don't even know they're bluffing, and people get pissed. Which is funny to me, because you'd think that it's the first time they've ever come up against the wildness of an amateur's play. That scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin happens all the time.

    Don't get me wrong, I hate Starcraft and think it's an unfun, terrible game, but you won't find an escape from this particular issue as long as people have a theory of mind.

  • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @02:34PM (#35908624)

    Personally, I thoroughly enjoy the "Quest for Mastery" and it's what puts "sport" games so far above others to me. Furthermore, I think the game is actually really fun to play. Compare this to boring games like World of Warcraft where the game is pure monotony and the only thing you're improving is your character's gear.

    SCII is pure monotony.
    Nearly every match is decided in the first 2 minutes, and the deciding factor is nothing more than "who clicked faster" or "who won the rock paper scissors match"?

    Every patch since release has sought to tighten players down into fewer and fewer possible build orders at the beginning of the game.
    A few months ago they made it so Terrans HAD to have a Supply Depot up in order to build a Barracks. Prior to that, you could build both simultaneously, or, if you're an idiot, build a Barracks before a Supply Depot. This was an extreme nerf to Terrans (some of which may have been needed), but more troublesome than any balance concerns is the fact that for the first 90 seconds of every match, every Terran player will be doing the exact same thing.

    This is compounded by the fact that the game is balanced only for 1v1 matches. 2v2 matches are a rush fest. You HAVE to defend one spot together. If you guess wrong, you're dead. If you split up, their combined force will overwhelm you and you're dead. If you case right, you'll win the battle (having the benefit of base defenses, repairs, walls, cliffs, production during their travel time and during the battle), and the immediately push to win the match. Given a 2/3 chance to lose, the only viable option is to mass and attack early. This is even more of a joke in 3v3 or 4v4 maps, because the time it takes for any support from teammates to arrive is much longer since the map is larger, and the initial battle isn't 2v1, it's 3v1 or 4v1.

    Another shitty thing about SCII is the fact that, even while they go to great lengths to make the maps symmetrical and boring, the fact that all buildings are all oriented the same way ruins map balance. If you spawn at the wrong corner of a map, it'll take you an extra structure to wall off your ramp as Terran, while your opponent can simply use his barracks + tech lab to do it. You may be able to fit a 3x2 building on top of your cliff, but he may not be able to, since that cliff is rotated 90 degrees for him.

    Beyond that, there is a mile long list of things Blizzard simply ignored with regards to RTS development since SC came out (and from before!).
    Chief among them being formations, scatter, guard, move speed lock, patrols (SCII can't have looping patrol paths unless you make the path clockwise, then trace it back counter clockwise, good luck if you need a lot of waypoints - there's a cap), a decent interface to find games, LAN play, custom start conditions for all maps, and oh yeah, fun. The original Command & Conquer had nearly all of these fucking things (except formations and move speed lock, which were added in later games in the series).

    Blizzard developed SCII in a vacuum, and developed it in a way that would result in cash moneys. The balance and game design are geared to "esports" asshats, and the interface and "social" pieces of BNet 2.0 are all designed to have everything monetizable. This is what they learned from selling shiny shit, name changes, character transfers, etc. in WoW. People are morans and will pay, pay, pay for anything you put in front of them if it's an established IP.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan