Friday, April 10, 2009 – SurReal-Time Strategy!

The swans look like elephants!  It's surreal, get it? Last I ventured onto, I came away with my third victory.  I’m not sure how.  Was it by brute force?  Possibly.  Luck?  Definitely.  Strategy?  No way.

Ay, there’s the rub.  For how consistently can I expect victory to come when I employ no tactics?  No strategery?  I mean, Starcraft is a real-time strategy game, after all.  Do I really expect to win by just hurling troops at the frontline?  No, I don’t.  Few problems can be solved simply by throwing more crap at them. 

But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

Again I find myself poised for battle on the “Big Game Hunters” map.  The silly name doesn’t bother me so much this time around, as I’m chomping at the bit for some action.  It’s been a while and clicker-finger is a little itchy.  Before the match starts, I try to mentally prepare myself by remembering what I did well in previous wins: multiple Gateways, rally my zealots, build lots of carriers--

Wait, I’m Zerg?  Christ,, you just want me to fail, don’t you?  Don’t you remember what happened the last time I played Zerg?  Yes, I know I left the army selection on “Random.”  That’s only because I like the serendipitous feeling of you picking Protoss for me.  It makes the defeat in front of me just a little less imminent.  But dealing me the Zerg?  That’s like tying dumbbells to the shoes of the fat kid in dodgeball.  He’s going to get hit anyway.  Let’s not make it harder for him, okay?

Whatever.  When life gives you lemons, make electric lemonade, right? 

I prepare myself for an old-fashioned ass-whuppin’.  But before the match gets underway, a funny thing happens in my brain.  Neurons fire, inhibitors…inhibit (?).  Music plays.  And a dusty old shoebox labeled “StЯaTeGy” in blue crayon opens.  The words “Nine Pool Rush” rise out and float to the front of my cerebellum.  A plan is hatched.

I can’t help but see the irony in the fact that I wait until I’m the Zerg to employ actual tactics.  As the Protoss, I just build as fast as I can and hope enough dudes with blade-hands are standing around when I need to throw down.  With the Zerg, an army whose grunt unit doesn’t even cost a full population point, I execute complicated battle plans. 

And execute I do!  While my Terran (Red) and Protoss (Blue) allies stockpile troops and lay down infrastructure, I frantically order my drones to gather minerals.  Whereas the other species utilize robots to gather resources, I use hungry little aliens, whom I can only assume ingest their harvest before returning home and vomiting it into my coffers.  Delightful, I know. 

While my drones are busy forcing minerals down their throats for my benefit, I make use of another time-honored tactic: scouting.  Despite being around since the time of Sun Tzu, I always seem to neglect this all-important step to victory.  However, being Zerg does make that easy in the early going.  Instead of requiring supply depots or pylons for population numbers, the Zerg require Overlords.  These man-o-war-like flying lobsters function as mobile command stations for Zerg cerebrates (smaller hive minds used to control specific forces).  While they’re completely unarmed, they make perfect scouting vessels, especially early on before your enemies have air defenses. 

Lobster One gets his reconnaissance on.Lo and behold, my Overlord (hereafter referred to as Lobster One) discovers an enemy Zerg base (Purple) just next door to me.  My Spider Sense starts tingling.  What if he rushes me?  I need to keep a close eye on him.  Safe in the knowledge that Purple is still a few tech tree branches removed from air defense, I leave Lobster One in his airspace for surveillance.

Two minutes in and neither my enemies nor my allies have made a peep.  Red says something about building a wall of supply depots, but I doubt he’ll have the time.  Blue’s busy turtling with photon cannons and zealots – a task I’m a lot more comfortable with than rushing.  You see, when you’re the Zerg, there’s an unspoken onus to rush.  It’s half that it’s your army’s strong point and half just what’s expected of you.  I can’t think of a good analogy for this situation, but I’m pretty sure there’s one to be had.  Maybe something to do with sports…

By this point, my plan is almost complete.  The goal of the Nine Pool Rush is to generate a small force of shock troops relatively quickly, minimizing wasted time or resources.  After getting to the requisite nine drones, I started my Spawning Pool, which allows me to build zerglings.   I’ve built Lobster Two for extra population control.  And at two minutes and thirty seconds, my zerglings hatch.

Six zerglings doesn't look like much, but they ripped that budding hatchery to shreds.They burst from their eggs in pairs of two, looking like feral mutant lizard hounds.  That genus sounds complicated, I know, but it’s no more complicated than this.  They storm out of my base in a pack of six and immediately come across the beginnings of an expansion base of Purple’s, my next door neighbor.  My zerglings rip through the nascent structure like so many lice through pine before charging headlong into Purple’s base.   As Lobster One can attest, Purple has no defenses.  No lizard hounds of his own.  I set my zerglings’ sights on his drones, intent on crippling his mining operation.  After thirty seconds of carnage, his remaining drones and newly-spawned zerglings rebuff me.  My rush, while devastating, has left Purple alive. 

Thankfully, my Terran ally Red storms in with a handful of marines, who immediately begin peppering the enemy hatchery with machinegun fire.  However, Red fails to notice a combined enemy force of zealots and marines tiptoeing behind him.  Out of Red’s earshot, they turn on the war drums and march on my base.

My tentacle defense wards off attackers. How I had the foresight I will never know.  I had sunken colonies.  You may remember, I once described Zerg sunken colonies as a form of tentacl—NSFW.  Sorry.  They’re awful, awful things that attack invaders with probing subterranean tentacles.  And I was so happy to have them on my side.  The intruders make it a mere five feet into my base before they are distracted by the not-so-gentle poking and prodding of my defense.  This buys me time to spawn a few more zerglings, which descend on the enemy like locusts.  My soil is secure. 

Before I have time to turn my bloody thoughts again on Purple, the enemy Protoss drops.  Was he frustrated with his botched invasion?  Disheartened by my superior defense strategy?  Who knows.  But I’ll take all the credit for it that I can.  Seconds later, Purple falls.  In a rare act of bonding, Blue and I take turns popping Purple’s mindless larvae.  Perhaps disgusted by our callousness (or just unwilling to fight 1v3), the enemy Terran surrenders.  Victory is ours.

It’s a surreal feeling to watch your best laid plans go not awry, but a-right.  Sometimes it’s amazing what competently executed strategy can accomplish.  It’s almost enough to make you feel good at a game…