Learning in StarCraft II

I almost transitioned completely into the multi-player mode of StarCraft II. There is hardly anything more the single-player mode has to offer for me. But it delivered in spades. Maybe not so much in terms of storytelling. However it is an amazing example of a incredibly well design campaign and a fascinating campaign structure. I believe there might be a game design review in it or two.

The thing I did last were the challenges and I love this idea as well. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, they are small, isolated mini-game-like missions that are designed to teach some skills that help in multi-player. Each of the challenges comes with some way to keep a score and there are various rewards associated with different levels of progress. As already mentioned, a tiered system of achievements uses the challenges to help teach players how to transition into multi-player.

The challenges themselves are also quite fun and well-designed. The first 3 are about unit counters. You need to distribute an army among 3 separated battles. You have all the time in the world to prepare. You can even see what type of enemies you will fight against. When you are ready, the battles take place one after another so you can concentrate on each one. This exercise is purely about learning which units have an advantage over other units.

Then there are some challenges where you need to use a small army of specialized units to eliminate as many enemy units as possible in a huge but quite passive base. This one is timed but you can see exactly where enemy units will be waiting so you can plan ahead on how you want to proceed. The one I found most fun is called “Infestation” where you need to use the Zerg unit Infestor to wreak havoc to a Terran compound. This unit take control over enemy units. It’s visualized by a hilariously campy tentacle jacking into the brain of the victim. The entire scenario plays out like something out of Starship Troopers. And on top of being funny, it’s challenging as well.

The ones where I have learned the most are Psionic Assault and Opening Gambit. In Psionic Assault you need to defend yourself again incoming waves of units, not unlike Tower Defense. Instead of towers you have only a handful of quite unseeming Protoss units: High Templar and Sentries. Neither of those do a lot of damage. Actually, High Templar can’t even attack. I was stumped when the game told me to kill 250 units with this tiny, puny army. It turns out the trick is to use various abilities and the environment to neutralize and eliminate the attackers. It’s a great way to learn to use those units efficiently. I actually use Sentries more frequently in multi-player now and just today I pulled of a trick I got from that challenge. It was immensely satisfying. Just I wished there were more Challenges that focused so intensely on the various ways you can use an specific unit type.

The other eye-opener was called Opening Gambit. It asks you to build up a Terran base as quickly as possible and produce a certain amount of units before the timer runs out. The AI will attack a little bit so you need to expand quickly but reasonably. Doing this with a sliver rating was pleasantly challenging and a great lesson. But doing this on gold was REALLY hardcore. The build order needs to be just perfect. Slacking of for just a blink of an eye will have a disastrous impact on the final results. I got some help and finally did it with exactly 0 seconds to spare – James Bond style. Again, after doing the gold run, I can actually see how my build order is much more tight and aggressive. Again, it would have been great to have the same challenge for other races to. Maybe even for other units so you can practice different openings.

I will now continue playing StarCraft 2 on a regular basis. Not too intensely – maybe a game or two a day. I was slightly disappointed when the first league I qualified in was bronze. From the reports I heard from other players I expected to do better. I’m not a total n00b to StarCraft after all. I have three theories. It could be that there are local differences in opponent quality. I can imagine the average playing level to be quite high here in Europe – especially in Cologne. Indeed I was mostly matched against Gold or Platinum opponents. The other explanation would be that I’m simply late to the party and the barrier of entry is considerably higher now than a few weeks ago. Finally, I may simply be not quite as good as I thought. :D

But actually, I’m looking forward to try to rank up. If I was in a higher league it would be much more difficult to improve. If you are interested in playing with me, simply add me on BattleNet. My nickname is “Krystman” and my code is 811. It would be a pleasure!

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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