Blizzard Is Removing Macro Mechanics From StarCraft 2 And Fans Are Divided

One of the major differentiators with StarCraft -- and the sequel -- was the amount of mechanics and repetition required to manage and maintain the production of your army. Blizzard indicated massive changes were on the way. Now they're here, and fans are deeply divided.

Blizzard has been wanting to change up the StarCraft 2 formula for a while. Blizzcon attendees got a taste of that last year when they were surprised by the radical changes and the developer has continued the trend, hoping to streamline the game into something more palatable for today's market.

The problem is that trend runs directly counter to the macro mechanics that make StarCraft, well, StarCraft. But the required speed and focus on minutia turns off a lot of players from spending more time with the game, particularly in an environment where MOBAs have filled the multiplayer void that RTS games used to occupy, albeit with far less management and repetitive strain injuries.

The Legacy of the Void beta offers Blizzard the last chance they'll have to revive the StarCraft 2 glory days, and they're planning on taking advantage with some sizeable changes. One of those, introduced late last week, was the removal of the chrono boost and MULEs, while larva injects were reduced by half (but able to be auto-cast).

It's possibly the largest change made in the history of the SC2 franchise to date, since these three mechanics -- the ability for Protoss to accelerate their speed of production, Terran's ability to accelerate their economy and the ability for Zerg to quickly spread their creep across their map, vastly increasing the speed of their units and reconnaissance -- are arguably the three silent pillars that form the foundation for the majority of all strategy in SC2.

Be under no illusion: without these three mechanics, the way SC2 is played is radically different. Terran build orders aren't the same if you don't have the massive influx of minerals MULEs can mine. Protoss rushes and defences -- against Zerg in particular -- are massively different without the use of chrono boost. And the way Zerg responds to everything, in every match-up, changes massively when their ability to spread creep is crimped.

By removing the more repetitive macro elements, Blizzard hopes to open the doors to deeper strategy to those who feel left out, either through flagging flexibility in their fingers or an inability to maintain a constant physical rhythm.

Unfortunately, that never-ending 1a2a3a beat is considered part and parcel of StarCraft; for some, it's the very fabric of StarCraft's soul. So understandably, people are a little upset -- and angry -- about the game's future.

Photo by Kevin Chang for Team Liquid.

"The problem is that macro is the gateway to the rest of the game. Without good macro, you can’t experience a substantial part of what Starcraft offers," Kevin 'qxc' Riley, a StarCraft 2 veteran, wrote in defence of Blizzard's changes.

"I want StarCraft to be a game that is more about strategy, micro, map control and positioning rather than about performing the same repetitive actions perfectly in order to eke out the biggest army possible. The interesting part of macro in StarCraft is the decision of what to make, not the execution of actually making it."

One could argue that Blizzard held the same view when they implemented multi-building select in StarCraft 2, against the cries of Brood War fans, patriots, and a bevy of professional players. And that sentiment still runs true in the current debate about macro mechanics.

In-game screenshot of Australia's YoonYJ facing off against qxc at an MLG event.

"Most importantly, all the macro mechanics create a baseline of multitasking in the game. This means that a player must make decisions and prioritise them," a Team Liquid feature writer, espousing the counter-view to Riley, said recently.

"A player must judge and evaluate the benefits of microing a fight compared to injecting larvae or making a depot or chrono boosting upgrades. All of a sudden the macro-management of your base and economics is now also a tactical decision that impacts your overall strategy."

In short, the deepening of macro-management creates layers of strategy that players will be able to appreciate by forcing them to make more tactical decisions about what would ordinarily be routine, mechanical inputs.

It also increases the levels of concentration required to be effective, as players are constantly forced to divert and prioritise their attention. But these elements are almost certainly lost on the viewer -- oversights are almost always viewed as a mistake, rather than a forced error borne out of the pressure successfully applied by their opponent -- and the player experience, especially at lower levels, is one of pure frustration.

Players like Riley want the physical experience of SC2 to reflect the cerebral affair that it truly is. Others worry that Blizzard is walking down a path where the greatness of giants is dulled through the neutering of execution.

The mastery of that execution, after all, is what made players like Flash, MMA and more recently, soO, so revered. It's what made the Brood War professionals so fearsome when they finally transitioned into StarCraft 2; their ability to prioritise and maintain their rhythm under the most strenuous of conditions.

But Blizzard are determined to scrap the status quo, to the point where they were happy to trial automated building of units in an internal patch. David Kim revealed that the idea was scrapped because it created more problems than it solved: players couldn't save up enough funds to expand, because money was always being spent, and the game became so fast that it felt alien even to the designers.

Legacy of the Void, which is due out later this year, is scheduled to be the finale in the StarCraft 2 saga.

Some fear it could also spell the end of StarCraft -- at least as fans know it.


Comments

    It will be the same argument that people had about the dumbing down of WoW. It happened, some people cried, the majority outside of the top 2% of professional players lauded the changes for the ways they increased accessibility to new players and returning players. The game was still the same game in essence and whilst it will take some adjusting, I expect that professional games will still be a treat to watch and the people playing them will still have a high skill ceiling that will now centre around their control of units in combat rather than their ability to repeat the same action ad infinitum.
    People don't like change, but they get over it.

      i think they went a little too far with WOW, i was nowhere near a pro player, but found it too dumbed down.

        I agree with your point, but I can see why it was necessary for the game to continue to be profitable.
        The more content added means the accessibility barrier changes, we are now almost 6 expansions into the game's lifecycle and watching a new player approach it, you can see their eyes glaze over. If leveling wasn't as fast as it is now, getting 100 levels would be a daunting proposition especially without heirloom gear. understanding all the different systems would be confusing as hell without the cavalcade of tutorials to hold your hand through it. stressing over which talent to pick, what stat to acquire, which weapons to have, what other classes can and can't do, where to go next etc.
        Remember we are still being asked to pay per month for the game so we expect some manner of access to all the game's content. I don't think that the best of the best equipment should be made available to all, that should remain squarely in the realms of those who have the time and skill to invest in their acquisition but I like that options exist for filthy casuals™ to have access to something they can be proud of as well.

          Just because you pay a sub shouldn't mean a game should bend over for the masses. Where's the achievement in anything we do when we set the bar lower.

          With JRPG's you grind excessively (especially the Japanese versions from days of old). It was boring and monotonous, but the pay off was worth it and the Japanese understood to get anything you need to put in the time.

          Doing anything to "dumb down" the game undermines everything. I'm for helping casuals but other ways of doing it.

            as far as wow went it always boiled down to 1 maximum efficiency set of skills for each class's role & people would be kicked out of raids for not having the right talents, so really the only actual difference between having a large skill tree where there's nearly always a set of talents you have to pick else you can't raid & having a small skill tree that's clearly guiding you down the right path for your role is the angry raiders

          I'd disagree with this. The largest period of growth for wow was when it was the most complex, in terms of group comp requirements with distinct classes - actual play styles ranged from straight forward (warlock sbolt spam) to rather complex but rewarding (feral dps druid or warrior tanking in bc).

          Everyone states that the game was changed so it could open it to a wider audience but the stats just don't back that up. Ever since the wrath story ended there has been a pretty predicable drop off - with a sudden influx for ea expansion. It's purely an opinion but i dont think that would have changed much if they kept the old system.

          Personally i hate the current state of wow - they removed all accountability (name change/ server transfers) homogenized everything to ridiculous levels, but the killer for me, ie what led to a canceled sub, was something that was introduced in wrath - hardmodes (i have gone back ea expansion for a month or two just to check it out but never got back into raiding again).

          The best reward wow gave was when you had a new boss to take on - finally defeating it and moving onto the next - whether you were up to date on progress or 1 year behind, whether it was 5mans or raids. Clearing the same raid 2 - 4 times (10man as well as 2xman) a week then attempting hard modes which was essentially the same encounter with larger numbers and maybe a couple of different mechanics was such a let down as you'd already seen the next boss.

          Heh havnt even mentioned the obliteration to the gear - with epics becoming more common than blues and legendaries now being handed out to everyone with a pulse.

          I guess nostalgia might play a part but looking back it was at it's best when it had those group complexities in it and the reward wasn't gear it was new content.

            But WoW was -never- a difficult game. You had one action you could take every roughly 1.5 seconds, at maximum. Raiding is and has always been 95% gear check, 5% skill. It just used to be that the gear check meant hours and hours of raiding, hoping that -this time- something that the MT who is besties with the guild leader can't use so you have a chance at rolling. And soulless rep grinding and mat farming and 2 hour dungeon runs because every dungeon was so huge.

            The difficulty is still there, if you look for it. You just have go through a lot less bullshit.

              I never said the game was any more difficult (if anything i'd imagine the game is more difficult now for each individual). The tricky part was always group structure. These days that doesn't really happen as the classes are so homogenized. The existing reward structure doesn't really do much for me (and a few others that i used to raid with). Raiding gear was just a tool to see new content, didn't matter who it went to as long as it progressed the team.

              I don't think it was all gear - even now, i mean there were certainly some gear check fights like patchwork or brutallus but then again other fights like illidan, kael or lady vashj which if you made it to them you had the dps/tank gear required you just needed group coordination. How is the current raiding any different from that?

              My take on it is that you simply get more gear now to appease the adhd generation :P. At this point just about everyone clears the instance in 4 weeks (via the abhorrent LFR) then attempts doing "harder" modes for bigger numbers both in dmg taken (ie you have to move out of fire) and dmg done. I mean they have what 3 or 4 different tiers of gear for each major patch or something??? Pretty ridiculous. I guess at the end of the day each to their own but i think blizz lost track of what really made downing a raid boss special, certainly did for me. It was never the gear. That was just a tool to see the next boss.

      I played WoW when it first came out, and then returned very briefly years later.
      The 'dumbing' down of WoW completely ruined it. Sure, the added features on the surface sound good but deep down they destroy many mechanics in the game which made it what it was.
      For example dungeon finder - instead of trying to find a group yourself, travelling to the instance and making friends along the way. now, you queue up, find people from various servers, teleport to the dungeon and never see any of them again.
      it's now quicker, easier, much more streamlined but at the expense of social interaction, exploration and a deeper meaning the the game. travelling in the game might have been tedious at times, but it made you make choices based on time, distance and location.

        I for one, who was on a low pop server for a long time loved the dungeon finder, though as a lock I became markedly less useful, so it actually opened up the possibility of finding a group, instead of running around main cities trying to find the 4 other people ~2-4 levels around my own, including a tank, a healer & dps, who actually want to do a dungeon

        And don't give me none of that "well move to a high pop server" bullshit because lag & friends

    Just a correction, they didn't change the way that creep tumors work, just the way that spawn larvae (i.e. injecting) works,

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