The Road To RTS: Starcraft
One of my goals this year is to finally sink my teeth into the RTS genre. For much too long it’s been the one genre I could never really get myself into, no matter how hard I’d try. And believe me, I have tried. Heck, Command & Conquer is a franchise that I have a lot of fond childhood memories of. I still remember Warcraft from before it became famous as an MMO thing. And Dungeon Keeper and Startopia are amongst my favorite oldschool PC games. Still, I never beat any of those games.
This is something I want to change.
What used to make these games nearly impossible for me to play was the control scheme. I’ve never been much of a PC gamer. In fact, I never was all that good with the keyboard and mouse way of playing shooters either. Always sticking to the console side of the fence. Something that was changed by Team Fortress 2 of all games. Playing on private servers allowed me to improve my familiarity and reaction speed to the point of making it impossible to play pub games. And console shooters? Man, I can’t even believe I ever found them challenging.
So I can shoot stuff with the mouse and keyboard now. Cool. But shooters don’t play like RTS games, do they?
I have a counter for that as well, although I’ll admit it not being the strongest counter here.
Defense of the Ancients 2.
Yes, I’m using DotA 2 as my reasoning here, but bear with me for a second because it’s going to make sense.
I was never comfortable with selecting units and giving them commands quickly. Often enough, I’d accidentally unselect them while frantically clicking around the map, and then found it hard to make just the right selection of units again. I couldn’t assign groups on the fly because I wasn’t familiar with the keyboard and controlling multiple units like that yet. Strategically using multiple groups wasn’t a thing I was familiar with on any account. Keeping up the build order for new units and buildings while still keeping any sort of offensive pressure was something I’d never be able to do. It was strictly one or the other: full build phase or full attack phase. Nothing in between.
Having played a shit ton of DotA 2, starting at the bottom of the game and having built my way up, I am a lot more familiar with not just the controls, but the strategy that goes into them altogether. In a lot of ways, it made me familiar with a lot of these concepts in ways that something like League of Legends never would have made me.
Like checking runes while still keeping control of your lane. Sending Illusions one way while going a different way yourself. controlling Nature’s Prophet’s Treelings separately from yourself. Using items as an extension of your own character’s abilities.
There’s a lot of dynamic things going on in any DotA game, and a lot of what makes DotA a harder game to learn is that you need to micro.
Which brings me back to RTS games. I couldn’t even keep a build order going for different unit types while still farming for resources AND keeping up the offensive. I’d maybe do one of these things at any given time, but never all of them at the same time. Compared to the amount of actions I’d have to keep up with playing even a simple hero as Windrunner in DotA, this is basic stuff now. Plus DotA 2 pretty much controls as an RTS because its roots lie within that genre.
So now I’m playing through Starcraft properly for the first time. Playing it with a completely different eye than I used to. It’s amazing how different the game looks to me now that I actually understand what is going on.
And yes, the game has aged well. Besides the menus that never stop corrupting like hell, at least. The game itself is perfectly fine.
When I was a kid, I never got more than 5 missions into the game before giving up on it because it got too hard. I’ve mentioned on the blog how hard games were absolutely not my thing back then. I’ve also mentioned how I’d come back to hard games later in life with a much deeper appreciation for challenges and earned victories.
One mission that always stuck with my memory was that early Terran mission where you have to survive for 30 minutes. After about 25 minutes or so, the Zerg literally sends out all the units they have at you. A gigantic fuck off wave that was, back then, incredible to me. I replayed that mission several times, and each and every time I’d only just barely fight off.
Fast foward to me playing this mission now. Constantly building new SCVs to get a faster mineral income going. Since there’s not so much variety unlocked in terms of units yet, three separate barracks endlessly spew out standard marines. When the 25 minute rush comes, I get confused.
The Zerg sent in a small wave. One that was taken care of without casualties in a matter of seconds.
All of their units had made their massive push. Except by now I was so much better at what I was doing that I’d built more marines than the Zerg had in units total. When the Zerg made its giant push of maybe 50 or 60 units, they were met by well over 100 marines standing on guard behind the supply depots that blocked off the only two entrances to the base.
On the opposite end of that, there’s the mission that I could never pass as a kid where you had to send these dropships to a crashed Terran ship to save the crew that crashlanded behind a gigantic Zerg base. No matter how many units I’d create, routes I’d take my attack through, I never made it all the way to their position.
This time, instead of even bothering fighting through Zerg territory, I just sent two dropships in between Zerg areas and ended the level without much of a fight.
Funny how that never even occurred to me as a possible solution.
Then again, I never really looked at the map and figured out ways to achieve the objective when I was little. It was all about creating units and sending them off to fight everything hostile. Now I’m learning more about how to play these games as I go along than I ever did. I learn to understand the terrain, the units, and how to use them to my advantage. At the same time, I can actually keep up a decent build order because I actually know what the hell I’m doing.
Maybe now I’ll actually finish one of these games. And yes, I am aware I picked one hell of a starting point for this. Multiple people pointed towards easier directions for me to start with, but for me Starcraft’s a bit more personal.