On: Big Changes

Published on 08/16/2017 10:25 PDT by Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra

To Change or not to Change?

I think 'Real Time Strategy' suits StarCraft well. My notion of what this means was never much different from Google's definitions, so lets throw those in, instead:

Strategy; the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.
        art; the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.

To me, the buttons you're mashing is the Real Time component and the Strategy are the thoughts to accompany your mashing. The amount of actions required provide a mechanical barrier for the execution of your thoughts and help a great deal in creating stress and as I see it by proxy; relief. That big exhale/release after winning a game is absolutely part of why I love both StarCrafts. But we're not talking about button mashing today, and though not the topic exclusively, lets start by talking about the Strategy bit.

I came for "Art" not "Science"

I know that I am not alone here, as I know that I am not with everyone. My favorite part of games isn't to beat them or getting better, it's exploring, figuring out stuff, thinking and out-thinking, learning; in my case I prefer to do that mostly through experience, but I'm all for people doing whatever floats their boat. Improving comes along the ride by simply enjoying doing these things.

I think that the longer a game goes unchanged, the more it becomes like Science and less like Art. That's why I think this question, "to change or not to change" is unsolvable as far as pleasing everyone is concerned - we will never reach a 100% consensus, there will be people who like Art, people who like Science and people who like a bit of both.

How do I get faster at StarCraft?

This may sound like a far tangent but please, tag along. Most of us have probably seen this question somewhere, I think that most people would answer "practice" and they wouldn't be wrong.

I think that the more you do something the less you have to think about it, the more it becomes muscle memory, a more automated response. In terms of StarCraft this doesn't just mean you get faster, it also means you have new thoughts that can take the place of the old ones. You may first be thinking "I have to make drones" and later find yourself thinking "I have to stack drones", but as long as the first thought isn't to a good extend an automated response there will be little room to focus on something else. Through iteration we can get faster and better at anything, while I'm by no means an expert or active acolyte of science, I'd guess it has to do with forging stronger neural connections.

This process I've just described is what David Kim and the balance team have often referred to as "Mastery", most recently little over a month ago in the community update of July 12

By 'stability', I believe they mean balance. In my opinion, a big problem with this philosophy that David Kim had as the balance lead for StarCraft II, is that perfect balance or "complete stability" is virtually unattainable - because it is subject to too many variables. For example, if you're looking for 50% win-rates across the board at a competitive level, on asymmetrical races, how can you ever account for the best player in the world, the one with the most 'Mastery'. In case it isn't clear enough lets do a quick head exercise:

Take 'the best' player of any race and put him on team one, then on team 2 put the next best 2 players, then keep alternating until you have the upper echelon of one race divided into 2 groups of the best players, have that group play each other, in mirror match-ups for a year, I'd bet my car the winrate of group A vs group B at the end of the year will still NOT be exactly 50-50.

Players WILL continue improving, until age becomes a factor (Click here for more on that topic, I like this video, StarCraft II focused on gaming/aging) but the improvement will be more and more marginal as time goes by and they figure out all that there is to figure out about the nuances of their play and then choose the ones that they think are best to execute given mechanical restrictions. Those players like the ones in BW atm, will be years ahead of anyone trying to catch up to them, and granted new players would have the base knowledge that these players provide, which is to say new players will improve faster because a trail will be left for them should they choose to follow it, but they will have to walk that long trail no less; someone else's trail, or take just as long as they have to figure out what they have figured out and grind it into their brains to do what they do. A person's ability to learn faster by figuring out paths or even just understanding which paths to follow is what I would refer to as talent.

These are the reasons why I believe that this philosophy of "Mastery" promotes stagnation and demotivates new competitive players by putting in front of them a huge mountain to climb to give the game a shot. As a result you will have, like in BW, the same people competing over and over again, not necessarily because they are the brightest or most inventive, but in great part because they are the ones who have simply played the game the most.

Other games like Dota 2, LoL or HearthStone - to great success - have frequent big changes, game-breaking changes that offer a window for new or returning players to try their hand at exploring and figuring out things, a window for imagination and the Art of strategy to take place in it's purest form, before paths are forged and paved. This type of change, this type of "new" feel is the feel that we got "back in the day", when people would join in on Skype to discuss strategy, to argue and debate on their ideas of what the consequences of doing X vs Y are, where there are so many unexplored roads that surprise is imminent and inevitable. It's that feeling and thirst for understanding that created teams or shows like SOTG or META. Change is what creates the feeling you get the first time you saw MarineKing or Happy splitting marines like a madman, or the first time you saw ByuN abuse reapers with the new mines. The first time you saw Life use lings like no other had or the first time you saw Artosis get excited at something new, surprise generates excitement, who would've guessed. I am not saying that we've run out of new, undiscovered, exciting, mind-blowing things. All I am saying is that "Mastery" and minimal change means less and less of those things, and while you can always be impressed by someone's ever-growing ability, it'll just become less and less exciting / interesting as time goes on, because you know, you've seen it before.

If it isn't clear by now..

My stance on this is yes change, fuck yes change. Please don't let this be a just tweaking a couple of units to accommodate balance type thing, lets go bigger. Change for the sake of change? Why the hell not, change is a pretty cool animal.

It isn't about "the game being in the best spot it's ever been" or "the game is the most fun it's ever been" because 'fun' is a subjective relative to factors you may not be considering such as time, do the most fun thing you can imagine 10000 times and by the 10000th you might be sick of it. As much as there is a remastered fever going on atm, BW got old for me and most others (Even in Korea) years ago. This isn't a jab at one of the greatest and hardest games ever, it's just the truth, once upon a time my favorite game - I have no interest in playing it. Nostalgia can be a great driving force it fills us with other cool feelings, but nostalgia isn't bringing many players who don't possess it into the game. It isn't a good long-term plan if what you want is for the game to continuously thrive. Bare in mind most of us, who still play / watch SC2 are resilient to change, we've gone through expansions and big changes here and there, and we're still here.

Evidence of this is a reddit poll (by IMplyingSC2) just 4 months ago:

While I have always been opposed for reasons now widely explained to David/Balance Team's approach of minimal change and striving for balance recently seemingly confirmed to continue by the Balance team, the recent tweet that proc-ted me to write this gives me hope for the game and scene to be re-invigorated should they choose to follow the path of change.

What could've triggered this change in approach escapes me, perhaps a decline in numbers / player-base / viewership could partly be the blessing in disguise (On a personal level the prospect of "no change" on the horizon was hugely demotivating and has in part led me to play much less StarCraft recently). Maybe they are just fishing for feedback by making a vague tweet with no commitment attached - and that is part of my reason to write this. It could also be that the recent success of the Battle Chest has opened potential avenues for the game to continue to be profitable or at least sustain itself (as change costs resources). Only Blizzard knows the reasons but I sure hope the outcome is as hinted: change.

What is StarCraft II? What can be changed?

To me the core of what makes StarCraft 2 is this basic ruleset:

Attain resources to create an Army to kill your opponent, if those are still the rules, and the engine is still the same, I don't care what they change.

I say GO BIG, look back at TL proposed economic changes, add/remove units, hell add a new race, I don't care, the more the better. Good balance seems easily attainable, in 7 years and as much as people bitched about BL infestor or Swarmhosts, winrates have been kept mostly in check and at a fair enough rate that there are players of every race usually thriving. Yes some races have had and will have periods of dominance but overall StarCraft II has always been a well-balanced game, and no amount of changes will ever make it a perfectly balanced one so "good" balance is good enough for me, stop searching for perfect because you will never find it.

ViBE 33