Friday, May 15, 2009 – Going Solo, or Rubbing My Nose In It

Was he really solo, though?  I mean, he had that Wookiee. If you’ve been following this article’s particular path through the bowels of online gaming, you’ve noticed I’ve only played team matches. 

In a way, I’ve left my fate up to chance.  Would my teammates be Starcraft savants, unable to get a date but knowledgeable as to the minutia of Archon splash damage?  Would they be inept neophytes, unable to distinguish Tassadar from Kerrigan?  Or (god forbid) would they be like Rob’s worst self, swelled with schadenfreude as they sabotage my attempts to win a meaningless match in a twelve-year-old video game? 

Tired of putting my win-loss record into the hands of strangers, I decide to step onto the battlefield solo.  Visions of Achilles (like the action star of Ancient Greece that he was) murdering his way to victory play in my head.  Cue the Hans Zimmer score.  This one’s going to be a doozy.

Like a fool, I neglect to select an army going in.  I left the option on random.  Did Odysseus leave his kickass bow up to chance?  Did the Turtles shuffle up and deal their weapons before each fight?  No on both counts.  The point is that due to my idiocy, I’m stuck with the Zerg.  And while regular readers know that I’m by no means great with any race, I’m particularly wary of the Zerg because of the specific tactics necessary for victory.  He selects Protoss just as the timer ticks down – ensuring that if I’m to be beaten down, I’ll be beaten down hard.

As play begins, my opponent amazes me with his congeniality.  “good luck,” he says.  Full words!  No “gl” or “hf” or “gg” here (that’s “good luck,” “have fun,” and “good game” respectively for you noobs).  A genuine, I-typed-all-the-letters-in-these-here-words sentence.  To repay the favor, I fire off a quick “to you as well,” no doubt losing precious micromanaging time nearly twice as many characters.  Instantly, I feel a connection to him.  He has extended his hand through the fog of war and shook mine firmly in the spirit of friendly competition.  I presume, however, that after his hand receded back through the fog, it gripped his mouse tightly and begin to plan my imminent demise.

We start innocuously enough.  Drones are built.  Minerals are, well, mined.  My Overlord, which is basically a huge flying tenement house for my population resource, begins exploring, albeit it two miles per hour.  I plant my Spawning Pool (a requisite for the creation of zerglings) at around the two minute mark, and send a drone off in search of an expansion base.  My Overlord has yet to make first contact, so I continue blissfully along.

I’m starting to get antsy.  My first squad of zerglings hatches, and I immediately send them into the great unknown, hoping to draw first blood and cripple my opponent’s infrastructure.  No such luck.  My (lizard)dogs of war encounter an enemy Dragoon, who lures them away from the enemy base.  I worry about the skirmish to come, as I’m reminded of the scene in Jurassic Park where the raptors besiege the T-Rex and T-Rex wins.  However, the Dragoon seems more interested in distracting my troops than fighting them.  I leave him on his merry way and retrain my sights on the enemy base.

With no defenses to surpass, my zerglings march right up to his Nexus and begin clawing at enemy probes.  The carnivores that they are, their peripheral vision must not be that great.  They didn’t even see the antimatter bolts that ripped them to shreds.  I trace the shots back to three Dragoons ambling in from the East.  Two more pop out of Gateways just after my zerglings arrive.  Suffice to say, I was boned.  Withdrawing being a pointless option, I declare this mission a failure and scroll the screen back to my base.

With timing befitting a Broadway actor, the lone Dragoon from before strolls on to my base just as I get back.  More bolts of antimatter fly from his phase disrupter (I, too, have no idea how “disrupting phase” creates antimatter or refines it into bolt form before firing).  Quickly, I instruct all my drones to “Quit mining, goddamnit” and turn them loose on the dragoon, hoping the combined spit of twelve alien peons will be enough to bring him down.  No such luck.  He again employs the lure-all-your-guys-away strategy and hightails it out of there.  Frustration is starting to set in. 

That pile of blood on the right is my confidence. I deploy more zerglings.  They’re squashed by an invading unit of Dragoons, who, with frightening synchronicity, blast the faces off my shock troops.  Things are looking grim.  I watch as they waltz into my base and position themselves behind my mineral field.  Another band of zerglings attempts to defend my home turf, but to no avail.  More antimatter bolts to the face.  Killing my drones proves as difficult as a third-rate carnival game.  Flip the Frog.  Fill the Clown’s Stupid Face with Water.  Murder My Drones. 

Just as the writing on the wall starts to come into focus, he stops.  Withdraws.  A hearty “WTF?” sounds in my brain.  His troops soon lay waste to my joke of an expansion base.  (Can your expansion base even qualify as a joke when your headquarters is as funny a joke as there is?)  He’s toying with me now; he’s a cat batting at a dead mouse.  I poke my head out from under the sand, sending a few zerglings out for recon.  They die just outside my base.  He’s erected more than a few photon cannons on my front door.  Now I’m under house arrest.

Is this how all one-on-one’s go?  One person grossly missteps and the other capitalizes, but refuses to initiate a checkmate?  I doubt it.  I attribute it two things: my ineptitude and his sick sense of humor.  Two minutes go by.  No word from him.  I’m scared to send out any of my pitiful troops.  Finally, a Corsair enters my airspace.  He assaults my floating Overlords.  Were this a real match anymore, reducing my population allowance would be a smart tactic.  As it stands, it’s torture.  What troops can I build at this stage that could possibly overcome him?  He must know I can’t mount a comeback.

But I refuse to give in.  As I’ve seen fit to do in previous matches, I channel Dolemite and cry (or type), “You’re gonna have to take me!”  No response.  Where did my friend go?  My kindred spirit of competition.  Had I fallen so far in his estimation as to not even warrant a retort?  Or at least confusion at my reference to a 70s blaxpoitation flick? 

Alas, my resolve to wait this out could hold up so long.  Sometime past the eighteenth-minute mark (let me remind you that the Decimation occurred in the seventh minute), he shuttled a Dark Archon into my base.  These glowing red balls of space gas are notorious for their Mind Control ability, by which a player claims an opponent’s unit.  Should the opportunity arise, one can even snag a construction unit and generate a whole second army if the opponent’s using a non-Protoss race.  Oh wait, I’m using a non-Protoss race…

One of my drones joins the dark side. Before I can even think of popping his big red balloon of a unit, he scoops up one of my drones and flies him away in the shuttle.  He wasn’t just going to toy with me for a few minutes, perhaps build some carriers to make his victory showy.  He was going to construct a whole Zerg army before finishing me off.  I couldn’t abide this showmanship.  With no qualms whatsoever (and no kind words of congratulation), I quit. 

In retrospect, there were a lot of things I could have done differently.  Not agreed to play on such a big map.  Chosen an army with which I have some skill.  Not wasted my resources with a useless expansion base and underwhelming numbers of zerglings.  But I was willing to accept defeat at the hands of a superior enemy.  I was even willing to accept over ten minutes of harassment just to see how long he’d wait to take me out.  But that last act of theft broke the camel’s back.  Can’t I just lose?  Do you have to rub my nose in it?

Potential teammates, open your arms.  I need a hug.