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I wrote a review of Pit of the Condemned, a fun little number in last year’s IF Comp, on Emily Short’s blog. Check it out here.
Douglas E. Smith has died. This news was broken by people at Tozai Games, who handle the mobile platform ports of his game. The news was picked up by the copy and paste video game sites … and they added nothing to it. Kotaku, Gamasutra and Polygon could run massively moronic screeds about how much they’d awkwardly like to turn the word “gamer” into an epithet, but not a single one of them could even produce as much as a fucking photo of Smith for their articles. You can’t Cntl-V up a head shot, it seems.
All of the people behind those sites just sort of felt that the death of the creator of Lode Runner still fell into their domain, though, which is hilarious. Lode Runner has nothing to do with modern game journalism. Trying to pretend they give a shit that its creator is deceased is their laughably transparent attempt at showing cred. More, they couldn’t do the barest minimum of research on the shit they do add. The fact that these garbage urls believe that Lode Runner and what they do are in any way related is disgusting. Take what Polgyon added to the “news”:
Released in 1983 for the Apple ][ and Commodore 64, Lode Runner was a […]
Oh! The Apple “][” and the Commodore 64 got the first releases in 1983? That was it, huh. I mean, it was ported to a million different machines, but just the Apple and C64 got the ports in 1983, only those, because they specifically mentioned them and certainly not the Atari 800, as shown in this screenshot from AtariMania, and —
You lazy fucking assholes.
They couldn’t add the slightest bit to the news without fucking it up. DO YOUR FUCKING JOBS. It would have been better if they had said NOTHING rather than add rotten detritus to the over easy shit-scramble of knowledge that multi-platform software releases have become. You can’t trust Wikipedia, because Wikipedia is wholly constructed by dipshits like this. You need original sources. You need to not add to the confusion. There’s some manuals that might have the proper copyrights (I had the physical PC/PCjr manual to Lode Runner within arm’s distance when I began to write this article, but even I’ll admit that expecting that sort of thing from the cretinous bile that make up #GAMESJOURNOS might be a bit much) but not all of them have been digitized.
What we do not need, what nobody needs, is the same press looking down their noses at regular people that play games trying to be helpful and getting it wrong. Getting it all wrong, wrong, wrong. Making it worse by polluting the future evidence like the amateurs they are.
So with that in mind.
None of them had anything to say about what life was like when Lode Runner dropped. There isn’t a Digital Antiquarian article about Lode Runner, the go-to source on this sort of thing, so I’ll give it a shot. I never met the man, Doug Smith, that invented the game. I have nothing for you there. I can tell you about what it was like when the game was released, because maybe that will matter to someone playing the game years from now. It really is that good. Doug, if you’re in a better place (but one that can still get the feed of this blog): this gem you created really did capture the attention of the western world, sir.
In 1983, it was generally accepted that all the real action games were at the arcade. We’d get a sucka port for home computers… maybe. (The PCjr, which my family had, needed to have the PC port authorized, which wasn’t often and then we had to hope that the boot loader didn’t do anything that the PCjr couldn’t comprehend.) The consoles usually got a port, but almost everyone had an Atari 2600, and those ports were awful. I’m generalizing – the, hooooooah, Zaxxon port for ColecoVision, to pick a game at random – was probably alright, sure. But you had to go to a place to see the best new action games in the world. Until Lode Runner.
I cannot think of a better home computer action game that was released before Lode Runner. I’ve been struggling all night – Lode Runner was the one that blew everything else away, wasn’t it? It rocked my neighborhood’s world. Within days of getting the PCjr for Christmas in 1985, I was subscribing to every mail order PC games catalog I could find. If I couldn’t get the games, I could at least memorize their SKUs. My memory isn’t great, but I am pretty sure the first PCjr game our family purchased from those catalogs was Lode Runner. It was in all the magazines. Every review was solid. There was something iconic, even in the mid-80s, about the Lode Runner Dude on the Lode Runner Box blowing away robots with a jolly knapsack of gold at his hip, climbing ladders, wearing a Cheshire smile.
It arrived and I played it and nothing else for weeks. The keyboard was perfect for it, unlike a lot of PC ports. The use of two separate keys for “dig left” and “dig right” made it superior to the home computer versions that used a single joystick button and forced you to be pointed in the right direction. And then there was the matter of the speed…
You could change the speed on Lode Runner. Doing so sped everything up or down — this wasn’t an early cheat code, letting the player character run faster or slower than the enemies of the Bungeling Empire. I got used to the default one for the PCjr, and that speed felt truly crafted to give the best experience. I’d put the speed up and see everyone comically run around like spazzes, but keep going back to default. It’s so good. If Zork was the first game to occupy my imagination, Lode Runner was the first game to directly interface with my nervous system. It had cyan and magenta and black and white, but that’s all you needed to depict the world and the rules and the gold. The primitive graphics that didn’t let you necessarily see when an enemy grabbed a gold bar even worked to offer up intrigue. Lode Runner, as a concept, understood platform limitations and simply elevated itself past them. There are so many ports to modern systems, but the speed is never juuuuust right, and the backgrounds are always so desperately over-complicated. It doesn’t need to be anything more than this:
… because that is all you need to be perfect. We kept that disk for every IBM PC compatible computer we had. I still have it. It might be the only game with a universal approval rating. Some people have seizures because of Tetris. Civilization II is in a genre where I’m sure some Sasquatch of a war gamer go PFFFFT at playability versus realism. Ocarina of Time might be the one if something happened to kill off the world’s grown-ups. But I don’t know anybody that dislikes Lode Runner. I think it’s the only game out there that everybody loves. It was one of the best games in the world and it included a map editor on release for chrissake.
It is available on everything these days, including iOS and Android, though. The first few years I had a mobile phone, I tried rooting them, jailbreaking it and putting all manner of apps onto it. I was going to have a small tricorder that did everything. I gave that up. To play a video game requires a controller, and the tablets and phones don’t have one. There are only two I have on my phone and I will always install them. The first is the original Bard’s Tale. I’ll pay for that a hundred times on a hundred different phones, but playing it is not realistic there.
The other one is Lode Runner, and it’s the only mobile port I like. It was that good originally, and it’s that good now. In the face of the world’s most terrible gaming platforms, this game designed over 30 years ago by Douglas E. Smith still holds up. My girlfriend’s six-year old nephew tried it on a long car trip. When he asked if he could play it, I realized… well, not that I too want to have children one day, but I promised to remember how he spelled his first name. Perched high on a nanny state seat booster, he played. He ran up ladders and across the wire and dropped to the ground. He liked that you couldn’t die from falling. He ran for the lode. He loved it.
Somebody always will.
#99 – BRATACCAS (1986, Amiga, Psygnosis)
If this new list accomplishes anything, I hope that it will convince some people somewhere that Brataccas isn’t a terrible game with a terrible interface, but a great game with an interface that is "only" bad.
The premise of Brataccas is that you are a genetic engineer named Kyne. You developed a way to engineer a super breed of man. The government wants this research to create a supersoldier, but Kyne refuses. He is framed for treason, there is a reward for his capture and Kyne travels to the asteroid of Brataccas for evidence to clear his name.
You are then dropped into a self-contained world filled with characters that have their own agendas, their own cares and desires. At no point does anyone give a shit about the well-being of the player of Kyne. It’s surprising that the pages to the manual are even bound together.
Each "room" in Brataccas can have several different things going on. There are elevators, so that you can travel along the game’s y-axis. There are characters to bribe. You can start a fight with almost anyone in the game, which was waay, waaaaay ahead of its time. The cops are trying to arrest you, sure, but they don’t have omniscience. There are security cameras to disable, false leads, bartenders to get rumors from and a lone, hissing psychopath wandering around the asteroid that will try to kill you with his sword for no reason.
The room layout of Brataccas is compact and paranoid and uncomfortably put together. When you get arrested, you travel in real time behind the cop, who drops you off to the jail cell. You go through rooms that, when you start, you probably can’t get to easily, meaning that the act of getting arrested in the game is initially interesting. (Years later, the act of getting arrested in the most famous series of games, GTA, simply cuts to a black screen. Brataccas was ahead of its time.)
There is a problem with the game, however, that every review addresses. Brataccas offers gesture-based mouse controls. And they are just as terrible as you might think with systems like the Amiga, Atari ST and Macintosh that used mice with physical balls.
It’s terrible and inintuitive. This game would be famous if they didn’t screw it up! You move forward by moving the mouse to the right, but then have to stop by holding the button and moving the other way. And you have to stomp that mouse. You have to slowly press down and move it the other way. You’ll gesture to enter combat when you meant to jump. In a way, and I am admitting this is a stretch, the terrible gestures mean that you will randomly start combat with people minding their own business. Some guy that you might want to talk to might end up with a sword in the gut. It adds to the web of lunacy going on in the asteroid.
That said, when I played it on my real Amiga, I saw that the game lets you use keyboard controls. Great! I thought I would try that. And that’s when the final mystery of Brataccas revealed itself to me: the gesture-based controls that everyone savages are actually better than the keyboard controls.
Brataccas is just a game that requires time to learn its controls. It’s like Defender in that respect, it’s just that with Defender you feel like a spaceship captain and every NES game in the world mastered moving people with a gamepad. Because of the gesturing it’s a game of skill with the most wide-open sci-fi world of its time. The speech bubbles are all in caps, with bizarre punctuation. The graphics mode for the Amiga has you at 640×200, which is a very silly resolution to try to do anything in.
Brataccas is the best example that I can think of of an attempt at a simulated, uncaring world. And while I appreciate the quest arrow on Fallout 3 and BioShock, those games will always be a little less than they could be because they care about you in a way that Brataccas never will. It feels just as cold as life on an asteroid probably would be.
I guess I can also put it this way: when it comes to each game I’ve made myself, they always started in the design document phase as open-ended simulations where the player is dropped in and meant to learn and survive, just like (and even thanks to*) Brataccas. None of them have ended up that way because I haven’t been able to achieve what this extremely goofy, yet charming, little asteroid-sim did manage to successfully accomplish. A world.
(*Specifically, the fact that you can start a fight with anyone in Fallacy of Dawn, and the one "CopBot" were inspired from Brataccas, along with the fact that I set Pantomime on a moon essentially the size of an asteroid.)
#100 – PORTAL (2007, PC, Valve)
My Internet comedy partner, Pinback, and I have had long discussions about all manner of media. Video games, for sure. But also movies and television shows. One of the concepts I have floated towards Pinback is that of the "minimum we should expect."
I think that video games are an immature medium that seems to constantly fall backwards. The technology improves, sure — the most clever programmers are game programmers, and it’s sad that you hear about the long hours many of them work and the pay that doesn’t quite match what they could get for other companies. Video games have the most immature writing of any form of entertainment that I can think of.
Which leads to Portal.
Nerds did their best to ruin it like they did Monty Python and Douglas Adams. Hell, a buddy of mine bought me a "The Cake Is A Lie" shirt and I don’t think we ever had more than a couple Portal-based conversations together. It just dominated the end of 2007 and most of 2008. You couldn’t escape it if you were on the internet. and not trying to overthrow a government with social media.
The act of moving through portals is fun, and there are a few clever puzzles in there, but that’s not why this game is the 100th best ever made. Portal is so memorable because of the character of GlaDOS and the writing of Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek.
(It wouldn’t exist at all without Kim Swift. She was the lead on one of the greatest games I have ever played. I don’t want to short change the contributions of anyone who worked on Portal. I just happened to have a special, crazed, possibly unhealthy one-way relationship with Chet and Erik. The problem is with me.)
Everyone at JC knows this, but in case this gets linked elsewhere, Chet and Erik wrote for oldmanmurray.com. Without that site (and Amiga Power 2) I wouldn’t even be on the Internet. Not like this — they proved what a website could do, how it could be unique, how anyone’s voice will rise if it is funny enough. They took shots at everyone, but saved the best ones for themselves and each other. And this madcap hilarity comes through every time GlaDOS insults the player.
Telling the player that you should feel bad because you’re probably adopted isn’t just wacky for gamer dads, it’s great for everyone.
The rest of the game really is OK. It’s fine! I think that a lot of puzzle games suffer from the fact that you can sort of "see" the solution in your mind, and then it just becomes a skill test to execute. Portal is one of those games. But God, that moment where you jump off the rails and go to a very different place….
So, the minimum. Portal is the minimum we should expect from writing, plot and dialogue in a video game. Every game should have at least one character as fleshed out as GlaDOS. Most of them don’t. Most of the games that are above Portal on this list don’t, they just happen to do other things extremely well. But Portal is the minimum of what I should be getting out of a computer game if that game is going to be considered legendary. It begins our new list
Pandora: First Contact is out, by the way. Yes, it still has the worst name possible. But after three hours of gameplay, let’s take a look at my impressions!
It is very much Civilization in space (or Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri), but feels simpler and more straightforward. Which I like! As tremendous an accomplishment as I think Civ 5 is, golly there’s a lot of crap going on.
P:FC does away with most of the extra stuff, and presents you with some pretty base-line 4X action. The factions (races) are all pre-set. There is no race customization. There are five different planet sizes and three different types of planets, and that’s it. Setting up a game is fast because there’s just not that much to choose from.
Once you’re in-game, you’re comfortable right away assuming you’ve played any of these games in the last 20 years. Which I hope you have, because get this: There is NO DOCUMENTATION, other than in-game tooltips, hover boxes and popups! So that’s it, I guess. We’ve gone from 150 page printed manuals, to 50-page PDF files, to nothing.
Impressively (and because it IS so straightforward) this isn’t really a problem. You build stuff, you research stuff, you sign deals with the other guys, and you blow stuff up. That’s it. Just like always.
The graphics range from overly cartoonish to quite beautiful (some of the undersea aliens are especially striking to behold). Not on par with Civ 5, but golly, good enough. That’s probably a good way to sum up most of the game.
Extra bonus points for a clean, sleek UI that makes sense, pretty good writing, and a remarkable lack of typos and misspellings, which is becoming ever so rare.
Right now I would have to say that this is my favorite 4X game for the moment, because it’s fun, it’s fast, it doesn’t tire you or tie you down with minutiae, and it sticks to what made 4X great in the first place.
I give Pandora: First Contact an 8 out of 10! I guess? I dunno what the two points are knocked off for, as I really didn’t have any complaints. Other than the name.
The Lift by Colin Capurso
More so than any other type of game, weapon pedantry is really annoying in CYOA (“OH NOES YOU CHOSE THE KNIFE WHEN YOU SHOULD HAVE CHOSEN THE CROWBAR!”). Starting off with that kind of situation was an instant fail in my book. The only nice thing I can say about this piece is that the premise recalled the Outer Limits episode “The Elevator” for me.
The Test is Now READY by Jim Warrenfeltz
(I played the first version)
Starting your game off with someone shouting “run, you magnificent bastard!” is pretty funny.
That said, I hate games that explore morality (I saw another review call it ethics and maybe that is the better term). How I play games doesn’t have enough of a correlation to how I view the world to have any kind of meaning, so you’re really only signing up to hear what the author has to say about it. Even if the author’s point is about the ambiguity of it all, again, it’s a meaningless exercise that bugs me enough that I intentionally avoid it.
Oh, yeah, I had something to say about the intro, too. I think I would have preferred the fake-prompt method to keep the intensity up, where each keypress equals one letter in the prompt, although the full-command it does here will definitely be useful if somebody plays the game on something like the ifMUD’s Floyd bot. Also, the pedant in me doesn’t like the fact that the introduction uses a command that I can’t use (“LOOK BACK”).
Response-wise, the game could use some work:
Frank says, “God, Harry, I thought we were dead for sure – I mean… well, metaphorically dead, you know, not like… well, the walking dead.”
>talk to frank
That’s not a verb I recognise.
>ask frank about dead
There is no reply.
Frank says, “God, Harry, I thought we were dead for sure – I mean… well, metaphorically dead, you know, not like… well, the walking dead.”
>talk to frank
That’s not a verb I recognise.
>ask frank about dead
There is no reply.
Between the lack of implementation and discovering that it was a morality game, I closed the book on this one after finishing the first section.
howling dogs by Porpentine
All of the slow, looping prose felt like the CYOA-equivalent of unnecessary-IF-pauses. While being far from deducing What’s Going On, I enjoyed the ideas of martyrdom/saintdom and its relation to the persecution of women and how it is injected into a futuristic setting, but the pace was far too plodding for me and I eventually threw in the towel before completion.
Kicker by Pippin Barr
By the end of a playthrough of Kicker, it’s clear that it isn’t really much of a game (nor is it trying to be). In it, you play a football (or “American football”, for non-US people) kicker. The entire game seems to be based on random outcomes. Even when it is time to kick the ball, your success seems to have no correlation to how many times you’ve >PRACTICEd, >STRETCHed, or >EXERCISEd (I couldn’t think of any other commands to improve my chances).
While not a small amount of work to code, I imagine, I can’t say Kicker is really “IF comp material” nor is it really enjoyable. It seems to me like it’d have been better done as a Textfire game or something, where it would have had the good graces to end after one quarter. Oddly enough, the Textfire games were released in the 90s, which is also the last time I really laughed at a kicker joke.
Valkyrie by Emily Forand
According to the blurb on the IF comp site, this game is a collaborative effort among community college students. I don’t think this is a successful game as it is, but I don’t want to be harsh. Technically, there are misspellings and ill-constructed sentences. After reaching a dead-end (yes, it’s a CYOA), the ‘go back to the start’ link didn’t even work.
I don’t think the tone of the writing works well as text, but I found myself imagining that it could work in some sort of audio-based CYOA system (isn’t that a thing? I thought there was a thing) where they read the passages aloud. That might force some urgency.
STAY TUNED FOR PART THREE!
In this part (3) of a possibly two-part part, we’ll examine what I like to call core concepts, because they are concepts, and also core. These are the some of the basic overlying, or possibly underlying concepts (or "things") that you will want to — nay, have to — keep in mind at all times whilst playing a game of StarCraft II.
To refresh, "playing a game" refers to playing a 1v1 multiplayer game against some other nerd on the internet. While these core concepts apply to other game styles as well, they are most vitally important in the core game, which is 1v1.
Alright, ready? I will try to list these concepts in descending order of importance, but realistically, to rise up to the level of being a bad StarCraft II player, which is our goal, they are all nearly equally important.
CORE CONCEPT #1: Always be building workers.
Start here, and if you must, play several games focusing on nothing but this. With very few exceptions, you are going to want to always be building workers. SC2 is a game of strategic and tactical skill second, and economy first, and it is vital that you grow your economy as quickly as possible. Some might disagree that economy is more important than strategy/tactics, but believe me, if economy is not your #1 concern, you’ll never get far enough into a game to try out any of your precious strategies. And the way you grow your economy is to make as many workers as possible, as quickly as possible.
It also helps to know how many workers are effective at each base. That’s fine, and we can learn that later. Short version: about 24 on mining, and 3 on each gas. But don’t worry as much about that. Just worry about always be building workers. It’s as easy as cake, too. You’ve got your base(s) on hotkeys, and you know that "q" is the grid hotkey for worker, so two quick keypresses will be enough to get the new worker in the queue.
The only time you ever want to not be building workers is if you are going to die if you don’t do something else immediately. If you’re about to be ZERGRUSHOMGed, then some more defenses or military units are probably more important than another worker if you can’t afford both. But once the emergency’s over? See: always be building workers.
CORE CONCEPT #2: Always be building supply buildings.
One of the two most embarrassing things you can do while you’re building your army is to be "supply blocked". Your military buildings are sitting there waiting to create units, you’ve got plenty of money, but instead, they might as well be SPACE HOTDOG STANDS, because you didn’t build enough supply buildings. The word "always" in this case isn’t as precise as in CORE CONCEPT #1, because you don’t really always need to be building supply. You do, however, always need to be watching your supply counter in the upper right hand corner, and when you see you’re getting close, you need to start building it, so that you are never prevented from building more units.
Don’t get supply blocked. It doesn’t look good.
So far, if you’re following these CORE CONCEPTS, you’re developing what pilots call a "scan". A normal checking of certain things that is done on a regular basis to make sure everything’s going well. So now your mental "scan" consists of: "Am I building workers? Am I keeping supply up?" This "scan" will take you far, but it needs to be happening constantly. Many people even put a little sticky note near the screen that says "workers, supply, …" to remind them what they need to be thinking about, all the time.
It’s hard work. That’s SC2.
Now let’s add even more things to your "scan", with:
CORE CONCEPT #3: Always spend all of your money.
"Money" is a general term which is applied to the resources available in the game: minerals and gas. The other most embarrassing thing you can do during your game is have any money. This is because your economy, which you’ve built up pretty well by following the first two CORE CONCEPTS is completely worthless if you’re not spending the money that it generated.
Watch any low-level play, look up at the little resource counters in the upper right, and you’re guaranteed to see some high numbers. Anything more than a couple hundred is "high". Anything more than 500 is "very high". And anything over 1000 is embarrassing.
It’s contradictory to how you might think. You’re sitting there with 1500 minerals and 1000 gas and thinkin’, hey, things are goin’ pretty good! Look at all that cash! Meanwhile, the enemy army comes in and roflstomps you because while you were hoarding wealth, he was spending it, and spending it immediately, to convert it to force on the battlefield as quickly as possible.
Now, there are two ways to spend all your money! One is the right way. One is the wrong way. Let’s say you’re playing Protoss, you’ve got a gateway up, and you’ve got 500 minerals in the bank. Let’s look at the two ways you can spend ’em:
RIGHT WAY* (example): Select the gateway, build a zealot (100). Select the nexus, build a worker (50). Select a worker, build another gateway (150). Select a worker, build a supply building (100).
WRONG WAY: Select the gateway and queue up five zealots. (100, 100, 100, 100, 100).
Do you see the difference? Sure, in both scenarios, your bank account is now at zero. However, in the RIGHT WAY, every last mineral is actively going to use to bring more force to the battlefield, where in the WRONG WAY, only 100 is actively doing anything, and the other 400 are just sitting around in escrow.
Queuing stuff up is one of the most common errors new players make, in fact. So don’t do that. But spend all of your money. If you’ve got a unit-building structure sitting around idle, build a unit with it. If you don’t have enough structures to spend all your money on units, build a new structure.
If you can make money as fast as possible, and spend it as fast as possible (without queuing), you cannot help but become a bad StarCraft II player. And if, god forbid, you actually want to be better than that, then none of this is even a little bit optional.
Let’s review your scan: Am I building workers? Am I building enough supply? Am I spending all of my money?
The final core concept, I was considering saving for part 2, because it may seem more advanced than these basic concepts, but ultimately it still fits into the theme of growing your economy as fast as possible, so I’ll just launch right into:
CORE CONCEPT #4: Always use your macro ability.
One significant addition to SC2 from the original game is that each race now has what’s called a "macro ability". In layman’s terms, it’s a little gimmick that, if you remember to do it, allows you to build your economy faster than you would normally by just building workers. Here’s a quick description of each race’s ability:
TERRAN: May call down "MULEs", which harvest minerals extremely fast for a short period of time before breaking down.
PROTOSS: May "chronoboost" buildings, which has the effect of making that building build stuff faster than it would normally for a short period of time.
ZERG: May "inject larvae" into hatcheries every so often, which gives a one-time increase of the number of units that can be produced from the hatchery at the same time.
At first these may seem like fun little things to try out from time to time, but you will quickly learn that these abilities are not optional, and that you must be using them, every time, as soon as they become available, or your economy will fall behind, because the guy you’re playing is using them, every time, as soon as they become available.
I forget this one the most often, because Jesus Christ, don’t I have enough to worry about with the workers and the supply and the money, and by the way I’m also trying to build units and scout and deploy them to the battlefield and research upgrades and GOD DAMMIT I CAN’T BE THINKING ABOUT THE STUPID MACRO ABILITIES TOO!! It’s too hard!
Well, it is. But you still have to do it. Nobody said that becoming a truly bad SC2 player was going to be easy.
Let’s do one final review of the "scan", which contains all the things that you have to be thinking about at all times, oh my god:
Workers, supply, money, macro ability.
Burn these CORE CONCEPTS into your mind, and into your game, and I guarantee that you will definitely not suck quite as much as you do now.
(*) I realized after the fact that these only add up to 400. You get the idea, though.
Ooooh lookit me, Planet IF whoring here! I don’t think this made the feed. Rob “Flack” O’Hara wrote up his review of Get Lamp in the form… of a text adventure! Let me link you to his blog post. Perhaps you’d like a direct link to the review, which you can play via Parchment over the Internet?
There actually IS an ending to it, and a ton of things to talk about. Can you steal a virtual man’s copy of his hard-won independent documentary??
This installment is called:
Putting Your Buildings In Control Groups
That sounds like a terribly dry, boring title, so it may surprise you when I tell you that this is the most important installment that you could ever read, if you want to be a not-quite-as-terrible SC2 player. Stick with me.
If you’ve ever watched a replay of a professional (or even half-decent) SC2 match, you will notice two things:
1. Something has gone horribly, horribly wrong in your life, because you’re sitting there watching replays of other people playing video games.
2. Somehow they’re able to move their armies, attack with precision, AND build new units and buildings and upgrades at the same time!
I could never figure out how that was possible. I’d either be base-building, getting a bunch of guys together, while the guys I’d already built just sat around waiting, or I’d be taking my big group of units and attacking, while my base just sat there doing nothing. There are names for these things! You may have heard them, and if you watch a replay, you will definitely hear them:
DEFINITION: "Micro"-management of military units. Moving them around, having them scout or attack enemies.
USE IT IN A SENTENCE: "He’s micro-ing really well, see how he sent those marines around to the other side of the (whatever, etc, etc.)"
DEFINITION: Economy building, Base building, Unit building, etc.
USE IT IN A SENTENCE: "That one guy micros better, but he just got overwhelmed because the other guy out-macroed him lolz gg omfg"
To restate my problems above, I could micro or macro, but not both at the same time. And that amazing thing the pros do? Microing and macroing at the same time. That is the number one key to becoming a only-a-fraction-as-awful SC2 player. And the number one key to microing and macroing at the same time is:
To review, a "control group" is when you assign a clump of units to one of the number keys on the top row of the keyboard. If you got ten zerglings, and you want to attack, you’d put them in, say, the "1" control group. Then whenever you wanted to select all of them, you’d just hit "1". If you wanted to center the camera on them, you’d just double-tap "1".
That’s fine. But the key thing here is, you can put your buildings in control groups too!
Before I explain how to do this, I will give you an example of what it looks like:
1. Hurm, durm, here I am with my little army on control group 1, I’m gettin’ close to the enemy, this’ll be fun!
2. Oh, I should probably build some more guys back at the base, in case this doesn’t go well, cuz I suck at micro.
OLD WAY: Leave your army sittin’ there, scroll back to the base, select the production building, click on the little Marine picture (or whatever), then double-tap 1 and go back to moving your army around.
NEW WAY: Let’s say you’ve grouped all of your production buildings on the "5" key. You hit "5". You hit (hotkey for Marine). You hit 1 to go back to controlling the army.
Holy crap, right? You just started building a guy, and it took two keystrokes, and you never had to move the camera. You were looking at your army the whole time, confident that back at your base, a new guy was being built. If you had two production buildings, you’d go 5, q, q, 1, and it would automatically make one building start building one guy, and the other the other. You made TWO GUYS in less than a second, without having to take your eye of your army. Oh man.
This gives you the idea of why this is so important.
I will just tell you how I do it. You can play around with it and configure it more to your liking.
I put "town hall" buildings (Command Center, Nexus) on 4. All of them. Any time I need a new worker, "4, q". Boom. Need a few? "4, q, q, q". BAM. BUILDIN’ WORKERS. Also each of the town hall buildings has its own little special abilities which you’d also activate this way. As Terran, want to scan the opponent’s base? "4, x, (click on where you want to scan". KAPOW. (Note, all of these examples assumed the "Grid" hotkey system, see last installment.)
I put production buildings (any building that makes units) on 5. I already gave you an example of this. This also, though, makes rallying easy. Want to rally ALL your newly created units to one spot? "5, (right-click on rally point)". Holy Jesus, you just rallied like twelve production buildings to one spot with one key press and one mouse click! HOLY CHRISTING LORD!!
I put "upgrade" buildings (those that you don’t actively interact with except when you wish to do research to do upgrades) on 6. Want to research Warp Gates but are too busy to click around to find the Cybernetics Core? "6, z". KERSPOWW!! JOB’S DUN!
That’s it. I use 4, 5, and 6 because 1, 2, 3 I reserve for groups of military units. Note how awesome this is, though. Using the Grid hotkeys, with these control groupings, I literally never have to move my left hand to do ANYTHING IN THE GAME that you’d ever need to do.
Zerg is slightly different because the "town hall" building is also the only unit production building. So they stay on 4, but 5 is instead used for grouping all the "queen" units, which have special abilities you need to be constantly using — particularly "spawn larvae". Need to spawn larvae at two of your hatcheries with your two queens? "5, x, (click on minimap hatchery), x, (click on other one)". BOWFF!!! Now that’s some fine larvae-spawnin’!
Alright. That’s about it for today’s installment, see you nex—
"HEY WAIT A MINUTE, PINNER! There’s ALL SORTS of production and upgrade buildings! If you have them all grouped together, how do you select a Barracks to build a Marine, vs. a Factory to build a Siege Tank, vs. a Starport to build a Banshee? And if all my upgrade buildings are on one key, how do I research Zergling speed at the Spawning Pool vs. Air attack +1 at the Spire? Etc., etc.?"
That’s the question, isn’t it. And there’s a very special key on the keyboard that has the answer. I will give you a hint as to which key it is:
Did you figure it out? It’s the "Tab" key. And the reason it’s the Tab key is because SC2 has something called "subgroups". You may group a bunch of different types of buildings together, or types of military units together, but SC2 will secretly distribute them into "subgroups", based on their type.
So when you select "5" to select your production buildings, can you guess which key will select the next "subgroup" in your main group? Can you?
I’ll give you that hint again:
Here’s the real life example, which will BLOW YOUR FRIGGIN’ MIND:
You have two barracks and two starports, all on group 5. You’re fightin’ a battle, but quickly want to get two marauders and two medivacs building back at your base. Check it:
"5, w, w, TAB, w, w".
Your mind? FRIGGIN’ BLOWN. First you selected the whole group (which defaulted to the barracks), built two marauders with the "w" hotkey, tabbed over to the starport sub-group, and built two medivacs, with the same hotkey. And since SC2 distributes your requests to all available buildings, each of your four buildings is building one of those units.
And it took you one second, and you never had to look at your base.
I guess, to sum up, I’d say that the most important thing to learn to do as you climb the ranks of the eternally mediocre, is:
Putting Your Buildings In Control Groups
Welcome to SC2FWTB, the thread in which I will TEACH YOU, the horrible SC2 player, how to rise to the ranks of the merely bad! I feel qualified to dispense this advice, because I am a bad player. However, I used to be terrible, and have made tremendous strides by following the advice I will now begin to give you!
I will do this in installments!
Today’s installment is called:
Make no mistake! Without using hotkeys, you will always be horrible. Your first and only job, as a horrible player, is to learn to use hotkeys.
Not only that, but you need to learn to use hotkeys exclusively. A good training exercise for this (which will eventually become the way you actually play) is to play games against the computer, without ever touching the little selection menu in the lower-right. NEVER!
This takes work, as in the beginning, it will be much quicker for you to use the mouse to click on an icon than to recall the hotkey. But this is necessary.
Now we will play CHOOSE YOUR OWN GUIDE TO BECOMING NOT SO GODDAMN AWFUL AT SC2:
If you already know the standard hotkeys backwards and forwards, skip to “CONCLUSION”.
If you still haven’t learned any kind of hotkeys well enough for them to be second nature:
I want you to immediately click on “Options” in the SC2 menu. Then I want you to click on “Hotkeys”. At the top of this screen is a dropdown, called “Profile”. I want you to click on the dropdown, and select “Grid”.
What does this mean?
This replaces all of the default hotkeys with the “Grid” hotkeys, which are so much easier to use that you would have to be an insane person not to learn them.
Essentially, it makes the fifteen leftmost (or rightmost, if you’re left-handed) alphabetic keys on the keyboard correspond to the fifteen little icon boxes in the lower right of the screen.
This has three tremendous benefits:
1. If you don’t remember a hotkey, you can just look at the icon, see where it is in the selection menu, and PRESS DAT KEY.
2. The hotkeys for all three races are now PRETTY MUCH THE SAME! No more “e” for probe, “s” for SCV, and… whatever the hell drones were. Now any time you need a worker for any race, “q” is where it’s at.
3. More importantly, you never have to move your hand. You always wondered how the pros could do fifty million things at once and it never looks like they’re flailing all over the keyboard hunting for hotkeys? This is why.
If you’ve ever dreamed of not being horrible at SC2, AND of being able to sit there calmly, your hand comfortably resting in the “home” position, being merely bad, then the Grid hotkeys are a must. There are two complaints you might have about Grid as a horrible player, which are are:
1. “The hotkeys don’t make any sense!” REBUTTAL: Like they made sense before? Now you have to press “q” for a marine, instead of… “a”. ?????
2. “‘a’ was always the attack-move command! The most important command in the game! Now it’s ‘t’!! Arg!” REBUTTAL: Look. If you are right handed, and you’ve got your hands in the right position, “a” is located so you have to curl your ring-finger back to get at it. “t” is right where your index finger is. Now all you gotta do is MASH THAT T. “But ‘a’ stands for ‘attack!!'” REBUTTAL!! Trust me, after the first ten thousand times you hit ‘t’ for attack-move (2 games), you will thank me.
In conclusion… hotkeys!