Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting Technical

So today I have an interesting question. What Video Settings do you play at, and why do you play it at those settings? Whether it is out of necessity, or for fun visual eye candy, can adjusting these settings affect your gameplay?

Currently, I play on a Dell Laptop, it’s about 3 years old, and can run most games pretty well. I can only run Starcraft 2 however at the lowest settings. When I try to queue up commands by holding the shift key, my computer tends to freak out and BEEPS at me and in huge army compostion battles, I cannot micro manage my units or even use abilities. My problem is my video card. I don’t care what people say, laptops are NOT meant for gaming. Sure there are gaming laptops, but the game will not run as well on a laptop as well as it would on a desktop with similar specs. Another thing is, you can’t easily upgrade them either. Your hard drive and the Ram are what you are limited to upgrading. Things such as Hotkeys, mouse and keyboard use, as well as even heat distribution are some of the other major issues.

Ok lets say you have a decent system that can run Starcraft 2 fairly well and you don’t get beeps in certain situations like I do… Check to see how fast your frames (more commonly called FPS) are to see if there is some “lag” going on. You can do this by downloading fraps, all you need is the trial version. Fraps is a software most commonly used with games that will record your game or whatever is going on with your computer for media purposes. What I’m asking you to use it for is to check your FPS. When you turn it on a yellow number will appear at the top left corner and will show you your current FPS. What you want is around 24-30, anything lower than that, and you are experiencing a certain amount of video lag. This video lag will increase in higher demanding situations such as a huge clash between two armies, or levels with lava in them tend to be major video memory hogs. My system at lowest settings runs Starcraft 2 at 15 FPS and that is just watching my probes work. That’s not good. I haven’t actually played a league match in about a week because of this huge hardware problem I’m having. In a highly time sensitive match when I need to warp in a bunch of units I can’t be fighting my computer over when it is right to call those extra troops in. When I need them I need them now.

What I want to know is what pro gamers down to casual play at. I know day9 mentioned in one of his dailies that he tends to keep his system at the lowest settings and increases it to medium for his dailies so we have something more visually appealing to look at. Does she do this to help him play better? Only he knows. Does increasing the video quality give you access to some animation or model that doesn’t normally appear at other settings. Does this access give a player an advantage? These are questions I want to know.

I am planning on getting a system that will be capable of playing Starcraft 2 on ultra settings without any kind of lag. Currently I should be able to acquire it in about 6 weeks. I built my system based on the findings of this report from Techspot.

I am getting the Geforce GTX 460 with a quad core processor. It’s important to note Starcraft 2 currently does not offer support for the use of more than two processors. No matter how many you have, it will only utilize two at most.

Now you may have heard of some gaming systems out there that will go up to 200 fps, ZOMG, but you will need to remember something very key. Your eyes can only process 30 frames at most at a time.

I can’t wait to play on my new system. I’m going to be purchasing it from www.ibuypower.com which I recommend to anyone interested in getting a gaming system without paying hundreds of dollars in extra money just for the name brand.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Neat tricks you can do that you probably didn’t know about…

There are quite a few casters (including buildings) in the game, and most starting out players tend to ignore them as they take quite a bit of micromanagement skill that they are not comfortable with. They are however, a good way to building your micromanagement skill.  So lets look at the first one. This is for Protoss.

Did you know Chrono Boost can be used on Warp Gates? I am talking about the morphed version of the Gateway, your primary source of building units. It halfs the recharge time of warping in units! So instead of waiting 23 seconds to warp again, you can do it again in 12! Come patch day, it will be 14 seconds, but that is still a fast way to get units out, Zerglings don’t even come out that fast! If you have an expansion and both your Nexi are pretty full in energy with say about 6 Warp Gates, you will still have spare energy remaining and have produced 24 supply worth of troops (1/8 of your max population) in a matter of 12-14 seconds.

Another Protoss unit that has some interesting tricks is the Phoenix. It can move and fire much like the Diamondback from the single player campaign. However it requires some micromanagement as it doesn’t simply move and fire automatically. You can fire, move, fire again and keep moving. It requires very fast hand speed and knowing your hot keys.

This trick is actually something people have rumored it will work but in fact it doesn’t. High Templar cannot Feedback an Orbital Command. It only works on units.

This one I didn’t know about until recently. We have all been trapped or halted by the Protoss Sentry’s Forcefield. It can be a real pain. However, if you have some Colossus, you can use them to break the forcefield! Simply order them to walk through it.

Ghosts are a unit that most people will overlook as there attack isn’t that strong, and they die very easily. However, when you add a Ghost to your unit makeup when going up against a Protoss player, the results can be lethal for the Protoss Player. There Emp Round can take down the shields of any Protoss unit. This is especially useful against the Immortal as their damage reduction only applies to their shield. Once their shield is down, no more damage reduction is applied.

Another way Ghosts are useful is against cloaked units. Most people will think that using EMP against a Banshee reduces its energy to 0, thus it comes out of cloak, or that’s at least what it did in Brood War. However, when it is used against a unit with a permanent cloak, like the Observer or Dark Templar, the EMP will actually knock the unit out of cloak temporarily! The catch is, you have to know where the unit is to use it.

And last but not least is the Zerg Queen. Most people will keep them in their base and puke Larva and poop Creep Tumors. However, their more commonly unused ability is Transfusion. This ability instantly heals 125 health. This is great to use on units like the Ultralisk or Hydralisks. They cost no gas, have a very long ranged anti air, and there is no cooldown for the spell, so you can spam it on targets who are getting focus fired. However the down side is Queens move very slow on ground that isn’t creep. So building a few extra queens and getting some Creeping going is a great way to fix that, as well as giving you excellent vision across the map.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Macro!!!

Hi guys! Hope everyone had a good weekend! Mine was, I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. If you haven't seen it, it is definitely one of the best movies I have ever seen and encourage you to go see it. Best line in the movie, “What an Asshole!” when you watch the movie you will understand!

Being fast doesnt mean having high APM
So today I am going to talk a bit more about macro and other things you can do to help speed up your game. Having high APM does not mean being able to click at a very fast rate, it’s remembering what to build or train, and when to build it. It also means keeping an eye on your resource bar and your supply. You need to make sure your money is low. The way I think about how much money is too much is this. What is the most expensive unit I can make at that point?  If I have more than enough minerals to make that unit, I have too much.

So here is an exercise I have been doing to help increase my APM. This is something Day9 had mentioned in one of his dailies. You can find his videos and more at http://day9tv.blip.tv/. Ever since I’ve been doing it, I’ve noticed my awareness has gone up, and time has slowed down while I’m playing, if that makes sense. Here is what he suggested, "Don’t stop building Workers, Probes, or SCV’s."

What I had been doing...
Now to just make a quick point, before I did this, I was using 3 Probes in each refinery and 15 for minerals 21 total, it worked out pretty well. Up until I wanted to expand, then I had to do a mad rush for more Probes, to make that expansion viable.

When I continually built Probes, I noticed I had to pay attention to timing; I always had to be making Probes, meaning making sure my nexus was busy for 5 minutes took priority over everything else. This simple act changed my build order up, but allowed me to be more observant of what was going on around me. I noticed I had enough money to indeed build that Cybernetics Core shortly after the Gateway came up, getting an assimilator up early was something else, I started seeing right times for building placement and when they weren’t right.

I know his is kinda vague, but just try it yourself. Keep your build order you like, and just change it by making sure having at least one Probe building at all times.

What changed when I did not stop building Probes?
One of the biggest things I noticed was that I can early expand, with a sizable army early on. The few extra Probes I had from continuously building provided a slight boost to my economy over time.  So around 6-7 minutes in I can start an expansion and still have a sizable army to defend or harass with. By the time it is up, if I have been continuously building Probes, half of the Probes I have can be transferred to the new expansion. Several more will still need to be trained to take advantage of the gas deposits. You should always strive to have 2 separate bases for income. At this level of play its hard to manage 1 base let alone 2, so you never know when one will be taken out, or if you’re not paying attention they will simply run out and you will have to wait to get your income at that rate again.

I dare you....
My challenge to you, practice this, continually make Drones or whatever your weapon of choice is, and watch your resources and food count. Time buildings so as soon as you get the amount you need, a drone is ready to build it at that spot. Don’t get supply blocked either!  When you are within 6 supply of your cap, build another depot, Overlord, Pylon. The constant watching and waiting will make you more aware of what’s going on. Keep your money low! Is it getting high? Build a building, train a unit, or get an upgrade going! If you have money, SPEND IT!!!!!!

 I will post a replay up soon hopefully of what it should look like. J

A Before and After

Today I’m going to show an example of what happened when I switched from my old standard Bronze and Silver league level of play into what I do know. This first replay is one of my first Placement matches after Starcraft 2 went live. It’s not a reenactment, it’s the real deal. I did make that many mistakes. Feel free to point them out! Here.

As you watch, I want you to notice what I have at the 7 minute mark. My resources, units, supply, and buildings are all being built on this strategy I had which was, I dont want to lose. So you can clearly see as the replay goes on, I did not have a plan. I knew I wanted some Zealots and some Stalkers, but beyond that, I was just going to wing it.

Probably my first mistake was canceling that pylon and letting the Zerglings in, I thought I could handle it, but I underestimated how easily those small units can fit into small places. Not having enough zealots to fight them did not help either, or the fact I used the nervous “OMG PROBES ATTACK!” strategy. But I’m happy with the way the match turned out. I learned a bit about Zergling rushes and the limits of Zealots.

Now here is a replay of another match I was in a few days ago.

Watch what I have around 7 minutes. I have a surplus of minerals and my first expansion came a bit later than I wanted due to me not breaking the rocks early enough. But I have substantially more at this point than I did vs. xnscone. My APM also did not change. I just began remembering what I had to do, and I’ll admit, it still isn’t perfect. Currently I’m working on improving my build by not stopping to build, or preventing myself from suddenly noticing that I have an excess minerals and quickly move to warp in 3 buildings at once. If I have to warp that many in at once, I wasn’t paying attention to my resource/supply tracker. Ultimately that’s what having these fast reliable builds is. 

We all need to get ourselves in the habit of staring at that resource supply tracker every few seconds, it’s essential. Think of it like this, when you’re driving, your should be looking at all your mirrors every few seconds, but more people only look at them when they want to change lanes etc. But if you need to change lanes suddenly to avoid an accident and you didn’t know there was a car in your blind spot, then you’re going to get into an accident anyway. It is the same with constantly looking at your resource/supply tracker, if you don’t watch it you can potentially lose a match.

Next time I am going to talk about some little tricks you can do with casters(and some you thought you could but can't). I am also going to highlight a few casters who do so well in certain match ups, you would be a fool to try to incorporate getting a few in your build.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

There is something about Zealots...

I have noticed that Zealots are very difficult to use early on unless they have some armor and weapon upgrades, and Charge. You cannot have a mass Zealot army without Charge. It is one of those necessary upgrades you have to have. In a lot of games I tried to get zealots early on, but they always managed to get killed by a mass of Zerglings and Roaches, or a Marine Marauder push. The ranged units could be Micro’d to stay out of range of melee, which is why a lot of high level players will go for Stalkers early on. Stalkers are just a necessary part of any Protoss army, they are fast and have good range.

Why Charge?
The reason Charge is so important is because a lot of strategies involving Protoss center around the units you can train at the Gateway. Units from the Robotics Facility and Stargate work best as support units to Zealots and Stalkers. Zealots, without Charge,  are just slow moving, easily avoided targets. However, when mixed with Stalkers, the Zealots take the damage so that the Stalkers and other units in the back don’t have too.  It’s the same strategy that Zerg uses with Roaches and Hydralisks, or when Terrans use Marines and Marauders. Its important to remember that these are not the only strategies to use these units in. Be creative and come up with your own.

You have to agree though, there is nothing like the site of a dozen zealots who just popped Charge rushing to the front lines.

I dare you…
My challenge to you, think of a unit that you hate to go up against. When you see this unit you cringe and get a mental block when trying to find some way to properly engage it. Common units are the Protoss Colossus,  Zerg Hydralisks or Mutalisks, or the Terran Battlecruiser.  Now train up a force you think would be a good counter to it. But don’t stop there, Mix units with that hated unit, perhaps some Zerglings, zealots, or Vikings, and see how you do. When you know how to properly engage your enemy, you know how to properly beat him.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The basics of Macro

Hello all, this is my first post and I would like to start things off by going over a few basics.
So you want to play Starcraft 2 because all your friends, even you mom, is into Starcraft 2, but you don't know how to counter that overlord rush at the very beginning. Well here is a few things you should remember as well as terms you should know:

Macro and Micro in Starcraft 2.These two things are very difficult to master, and most players tend to be better at one or the other while the pro players are better at both. One of your end goals should to have a very good balance of both. Macro being the first to work on, and micro can help you for matches that go into mid game(and sometimes help you early on).

So lets define what macro is. Macro in Starcraft 2 is the ability to continually be making units, buildings, and research even when you are in the middle of a battle or concentrating on something else. This also applies to having a strong economy and knowing when to expand. What can help you become a good macro player is for one, control grouping your unit producing structures. 

For example, I set all my Warp Gates, I play protoss primarily btw :p, to control group 9( for those of you not aware on what control groups are, simply select the units/buildings or both that you want, and press Cntrl+9 or any numbers to make that group yours. This has been a standard form of grouping for almost all Real Time Strategy Games.  Also try control grouping your upgrade buildings as well, forge, evolution chamber, or engineering bay as well so you can keep track of these and stay on top of it through your match.

My next blog post will talk about some commonly overlookced things you can do that can seriously boost your speed. Remember APM’s are not what im talking about. You can have below 50 APM’s and still be a very skilled player. And do not worry, I will keep discussing other topics of macro and how to improve over the next few days.