In my post on Starcraft yesterday several people reacted as though I suggested that RTS games had all gotten too complex in absolute terms, or that they should not evolve. In my last paragraph I was pretty clear: Evolution is not bad. Complexity is not bad. It’s just that, after a certain point, it’s not for me. Everyone has a limit for how many variables they want to juggle. Certainly a game with twelve resources, two hundred units, and twenty races would have a learning curve like a sheer vertical wall, the top of which is obscured in clouds. Certainly a game with one resource, one race, and one unit would be mind numbing for just about everyone. In this continuum between the inscrutable and the inane is a sweet spot, the location of which is different for individual players.
|The Zerg, intergalactic cockroaches, shortly before I begin yet another effort to drive the little buggers into total extinction.|
But there are other, more visceral reasons to play these games, and I wouldn’t dream of demanding someone else make due with a less robust experience just so that I can attempt to reduce the game to a shockingly destructive variant of Sim City. I don’t blame players who want more units, more weapons, and more powers. The first time your marines gun down a rushing line of filthy Zerglings, spilling their glistening, acrid innards onto the soil of a distant world, the satisfaction is real and palpable. But somewhere around your five thousandth dead Zergling you’re going to start to wish you had a more interesting way to bring about their deaths. If merciless conquest and destruction is your goal, then unit variety is the spice of death.
The part of the game I find most tedious is managing combat. I admit that this is an inversion of the intended experience – you’re supposed to endure the management aspects of the game so that you can more fully enjoy the violence that follows, the former being the price of admission of the latter. The idea that someone would thrive on supply duty and grow weary with combat is strange enough that I doubt it gets a lot of consideration when designing the game.
Still, I do hate directing my units, mostly because they are so astoundingly stupid. I don’t know what they have planned for SCII, but if I were to ask for special unit abilities to add to Starcraft, they would be something like this:
Demotion: The next time one of your Battlecruiser captains decides to break formation and chase a lone unit into the enemy base without orders, bust him down to SCV pilot and give command of the vessel to someone more responsible.
Court Martial: Use this ability whenever one of your siege tanks sees one Zergling fighting six marines and decides to drop the hammer – obliterating all six marines. Stick him in the brig for the duration and make an example of him.
Darwin Award: The next time an idiot SCV pilot builds a building and traps himself between that building and a wall / cliff / adjoining structure / pool of lava, let him know he’s staying there until he starves or is eaten by the Zerg. Hasn’t decades of brutal outer space warfare culled all the idiots from the species yet?
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Juvenile and Proud
Yes, this game is loud, crude, childish, and stupid. But it it knows what it wants to be and nails it. And that's admirable.