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An Introduction to Starcraft 2

By Feynmaniac - 5th July 2009 - 15:46 PM

Starcraft II is the most anticipated RTS currently on the horizon. For that reason, it seems fitting that we here at Gamereplays provide a basic overview of the game, from its premise to its basic mechanics. So, without further ado...

What is Starcraft II?

As mentioned previously, Starcraft II is an RTS. Specifically, it is the sequel to one of the most popular and highly acclaimed RTS games of all time, Starcraft.

Starcraft II features three separate races, the Terran, Protoss, and Zerg. Each of which highly contrasts with the other races. One of the most notable qualities of the original game was the design philosophy; Starcraft is regarded as the first major RTS to feature multiple races which play differently from one another on a fundamental level. The way structures are built, units are produced, and how the tech trees are organized differs from faction to faction.

Starcraft II is ultimately an 'old school' RTS. While it is different in fundamental ways from its predecessor, many of the tried-and-true mechanics remain intact. In general, the philosophy behind Starcraft II is not to radically redefine Starcraft, but rather to improve upon what worked, fix what did not and expand the ideas that were never fully realized in the original. It is a true sequel; building on the original, rather than drastically changing it.

One of the greatest things about Starcraft, which to an extent stood irrespective of its design, was its remarkable balance and depth. Excellent unit design despite bland faction design can make a great RTS; excellent unit design coupled with excellent faction design can make a superb RTS. While Starcraft was not perfect, the combination of good design and dedicated support ensured that the game has continued to live even to this day. Improved design and excellent support are already promised for Starcraft II.

How will Starcraft II work? What are its basic mechanics?

The multiplayer pits two players (in the 1v1 setting) against each other in a death match. Victory in the simplest sense is achieved by destroying all of your opponents buildings, in classic RTS style (although in most cases one player will resign before then). To do this you will need units, and to produce units you will need resources.

-Resource System

Resources are harvested directly from the field by workers. There are two different types of resources; plentiful minerals and precious Vespene gas. Minerals are present in patches and harvested directly by workers, whereas gas is present as a geyser which requires a refining structure.

The number of workers who can work on a field of minerals is higher than the number who can work at a single geyser. A particular mineral patch can handle about two workers efficiently, whereas for a geyser that number is three. Considering that a base has only two geyser vs several mineral patches, gas is the more scarce and hence more valuable than minerals.

This translates into the usage of these resources. Minerals are required for every unit and building, while gas is required for more advanced units and technology.

-Building System

The only thing in common between the races regarding buildings is that they all use workers to construct them. Each faction has specific restrictions as to where they can build (or lack there of) and a special mechanic regarding the actual building process.

The Terran can build anywhere on the map, but the SCV (Terran worker) must remain with the building until it is finished.

The Protoss power their buildings with Pylons, and hence, can only build within the projected powerfield, however, the Protoss Probe does not have to remain with the building while it is "warped" in, and can proceed to other duties.

The Zerg are restricted to building upon the "Creep", which extends from the Hatchery and can be further extended by other means. Drones actually transform into the Zerg buildings, so the Zerg player actually loses a Drone for every structure he builds.

These differences, although apparently insignificant, actually have broad effects upon the meta game*. The Protoss (or Terran, for that matter), can quickly build forward bases, called proxies, near an enemy's base, whereas the Zerg have no similar strategies. Another example is when a Terran player is constructing a building; rather than destroying the unfinished structure, the opposing player can eliminate the SCV instead, halting construction.

-The Counter System

In Starcraft II there is no distinct class system. That is to say, that one unit for the Protoss does not necessarily have a mirrored counter part for the Terran. Every unit (with the exception of workers) has a unique role.

Generally speaking, there will be few cases of "unit x beats unit y" in Starcraft II. Although good unit composition is important, unit control is very decisive.

Combat itself is fairly simple and traditional, with some specific rules. A units durability is measured by it's hitpoints and armor; its offensive power is measured by it's attack damage.

This is pretty straightforward, but each unit also has certain traits. For example, some units are defined as armored; others are defined as biological. Certain attacks deal more or less damage to units with certain traits. Also, some units deal bonus damage to units with a particular trait, such as dealing bonus damage to light units or biological units.

Overall Starcraft II's combat system is simple yet elegant, feeling relatively organic despite some inevitably contrived elements. Since there is no class system, determining which units are best suited to a particular role is more a matter of experimentation than anything else.

What are the differences between the three races?

In general, each race has several distinctive traits, but they are each fairly diverse, making it difficult to pin down distinct strategic differences. Furthermore, the play style of each faction in Starcraft II will be heavily influenced by the development of the meta game*, and in fact determined by it. The following is a brief description of each race, and should give an overview of how they play:

The Terran are probably the most straightforward of the three races. All Terran units are ranged units; with a few exceptions, the Terran army prefers a long range engagement over a close quarters one.

Terran units are arranged into three tiers. Barracks -> Factory -> Starport. Moving between the tiers is not especially difficult, although to obtain more advanced units a Terran player needs to build tech structures.

The core Terran force consists of light units, backed by heavier, longer range units. Some units seem especially designed for harassment, such as the Reaper or Hellion, although these units usually posses some unique ability or function which give them a purpose on the front lines. This is then coupled with some very powerful high tier units, often boasting considerable firepower.

All Terran units are produced from the three production structures. The unique production mechanic for the Terran is that all production buildings can be augmented with a reactor. The reactor adds a second production queue to the building, although this means that said building can only train lower tier units. Still, it's a good way to cut both spacial and monetary costs.

The Protoss emphasize individual prowess over anything else. Core Protoss units are especially tough for their tech level. The Protoss also have a plethora of caster type units (units whose main strength comes from abilities rather than stats) in all tiers.

Protoss tech is unique in that instead of advancing in a linear fashion, it branches. After the Cybernetics Core, the Protoss can either invest in advanced Gateway units (such as High Templar), Robotics Facility units, or Stargate units. This gives the Protoss considerable flexibility, although most of the time the Protoss will use all three branches instead of specializing.

Warp-in is the unique Protoss production mechanic. Gateways can be converted into Warp-gates, allowing the Protoss to produce units anywhere within a Powerfield. This effectively means that a Protoss player can deploy reinforcements quickly to a base which is under attack, or bring support to a forward battle or a Warp Prism.

Zerg forces are reputed for speed and numbers above all else, although as is often the case there are definitely exceptions to this rule. Numerous units are tremendously fast and highly damaging, but a weakness shared by most Zerg units is a general lack of range. This can be made up for with raw speed, but nevertheless getting into close quarters is the usual challenge. Stealth offered by the ability to burrow is utilized by all ground units but to particular effect by others. Zerg abilities range from spawning new units to controlling enemy ones.

The Zerg also have a linear system, upgrading the the Hatchery to unlock new tech. Each unit has its own tech structure (although some units are unlocked by the same tech structure), giving the Zerg considerable flexibility within a particular tier.

Zerg production from the get go is unique. Instead of building a variety of production buildings, all Zerg units are produced from the Hatchery. This is done by morphing larvae (which are produced by the Hatchery) into the particular unit, giving the Zerg great flexibility.

Only time will tell how each faction will ultimately play. Determining which is right for you is best done by playing all of them and getting a feel for each.

This article was an introduction to Starcraft, and only briefly touches the surface of what the game ultimately has to offer. Gamereplays will provide numerous advanced guides, detailed information on all features of the game, and much much more as time goes on.

*Literally "above the game" or "beyond the game", the meta game is roughly the current state of the viable strategies within the game.

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