StarCraft

Not a Game Podcast, and the Multiplayer Sweet Spot

The Not a Game podcast has just released its 40th episode, and I’m delighted to say that host Tom Hatfield invited me on this week! Not a Game is a weekly panel-type podcast with freelance games writers and developers discussing all manner of games-related topics.

Designed by Jacob Smiley

The “Not a Game” logo, designed by Jacob Smiley

In this episode: Tom, myself, Paul Dean and Jordan Webber discussed Halo 3‘s rather baffling plot, what we felt was wrong with Bioshock,  and the potential for a game-cum-storytelling platform like Storium.

We also discussed whether or not a game like DotA can be relaxing, which put me in mind of the multiplayer games I used to play online. In the podcast, I cited the example of Wintergrasp in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. I realised that I seem now to have left this sort of gameplay behind, in favour of so-called ‘couch co-op’ -and while there are many other, more nuanced reasons for this, the most obvious reason is that I want to include my partner in these games, rather than playing with friends. Still, I long for this sort of gameplay and until now I wasn’t consciously aware of it really being ‘a thing’. Now that I think about it though, there is real value to be had in creating a game which accommodates this relaxed, social play – both for building loyalty and allowing players to explore the game at their own pace.

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StarCraft II Achiever

A handful of zerg Roaches recover under an escort of terran Vikings.

A handful of zerg Roaches recover under an escort of terran Vikings.

My game du jour is still StarCraft II. As I mentioned in my recent review of the game, I tend to play co-operatively; “Linithiari” and I have a run of around 150 games logged now, almost always playing against the AI. It continues to be an exciting, amusing and educational experience for both of us, having played with each race in turn.

While the single-player campaign teaches players how to play with Terran forces, the Zerg and Protoss are left largely to individual experience. Co-operative play really helps in this regard, as two players can easily share new insight and support each other when exploring new and dangerous tactics, all within a social environment. Toying with the game and its rules is a much more frustrating experience when playing alone. Given my overall lack of skill with RTS (real-time strategy), this is why I consider co-operative modes to be a must in this type of game.

Events during our 4-hour play session last night shed some new light on the way I play this game: uniquely, because no other RTS has offered me achievements in the same way StarCraft II does. “Lini” and I are well-accustomed to achievements, having played World of Warcraft together for over a year too (I reviewed his achievements as his “Coffindodger” alias back in August). We’re as guilty as any other ‘achiever’-type player when it comes to chasing these achievements down. Why else would we subject ourselves to ‘/hug’ emoting on every critter we see, or gathering countless cooking recipes in order to be declared “Lunch Lady”? This sort of behaviour continues in StarCraft II, but in such a way that it literally keeps us hooked.

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StarCraft II

I’ve been playing StarCraft II for a few weeks now, and I am impressed. This is the first Blizzard ‘RTS’ (real-time strategy) game I’ve played, and it’s easily changed my perspective on the genre and modern-day gaming. I’ve long enjoyed RTS games, but have typically played the same titles for a few years at a time. My experience of RTS games is pretty limited as a result. I tend to fare poorly in single-player games, and have usually leaned on co-operative modes for fun instead.

StarCraft II is beset by an audience of keen veterans; this much I knew from the beginning. Though I was excited about the game prior to its release, it was really only because the game looked glitzy and because I’d come to enjoy Blizzard games through my time in World of Warcraft. I haven’t played the first game, or any of its fantasy counterparts in the Warcraft series. Fortunately the game has been designed with newcomers in mind, and while the online matches can be a hostile place indeed, the single-player campaign serves up some friendly scenarios to help orientate us.

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