Friday, September 17, 2010

Battle.blog – With A Little Help From My Friends

best friends One thing I never did in the old Battle.blog: play with people I know in real life.  I have some old high school buddies who offered to help me out, but my irregular playing schedule and the eventual drop-off of the column kept our coalition from ever forming.  Thankfully, some of my colleagues have taken a shining to Starcraft II, so I am not without companions in my quest for online dominance of a game at which I will assuredly never dominate.

It’s been an interesting experience playing with Rob and Andrew (and I look forward to adding Jordasch to my team roster at some point).  We all play differently, with varying degrees of seriousness.  Some of us watch pro replays all the time.  Some of us take losses harder than others.  Sometimes, all one of us is looking for is a chance to berate our workers.

In most cases, however, we all agree on one thing: winning is tantamount.  Until proven otherwise, our opponents are faceless degenerates in need of a good digital pounding (…that sort of sounds pornographic) thrashing.  Whether it’s all three of us or just a pair, our triumvirate is dedicated to the liquidation of enemy forces at all costs. 

Andrew and I recently joined forces against a duo of Zerg abominations.  Strap in.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Entering the War Zone

Something I’ve only begun to consider in my Starcraft II play is map control.  Knowing a map well is crucial for planning expansions, placing troops, and harassing enemy encampments.  Think about tennis.  Remaining centered while close to the T made by the lines is considered good court control.  From that position, you can reach almost any ball while having powerful angles on which to place your shots.  Maintaining a good position in Starcraft can be the difference between victory and defeat, and often depends on your understanding of the map in question.

How cute For these reasons, Andrew and I have taken a liking to “War Zone.”  As two Terran players, we know how and where to construct a strong opening wall, as well as scout the debris-clogged entrances to our natural expansions.  By quickly building the fortifications together, we’ve effectively neutralized an early zergling rush.

We feel safe behind our locked gates, and the Zerg have yet to make a peep after six minutes.  Voice-chatting over Skype, we work out a strategy wherein I mass ground units while Andrew rushes to banshees.  Anyone who’s seen Avatar or played Halo will recognize a banshee.  These dual-prop helicopter/airplane hybrids have cloaking capabilities, making their air-to-ground rockets extra deadly if the enemy’s unprepared.  My infantry consists of cigar-chomping marines and marauders, itching to lay waste to some space bugs.  It’s a versatile mix.  We trust it.

Before we move out, Andrew lays claim to a nearby patch of high-yield minerals.  These rocks glow gold (thanks for the tip, Blizzard art department) and can be gathered at a faster rate than normal resources.  The allure of high-yields can do crazy things to players who, stricken with Daniel Plainview avarice, sacrifice valuable time and troops fighting over the territory.  (Now where have I heard that before…?)  By planting his flag in this patch early, Andrew gains an economic boost that could help our first push succeed, or better yet, defend us from the inevitable counterattack.

Into the Belly of the Beast

My army – a squad twenty-four-strong of marines, marauders, and one siege tank – marches northward towards the enemy.  Andrew’s banshees aren’t far behind, nor is one confused SCV who decided it was his turn to fight on the frontlines.  A brief skirmish ensues, and the SCV quickly falls to roach acid spit (see the last Battle.blog entry for more details on the putrid Zerg).  So much for heroics.  Zerglings swarm my troops instantly, followed by banelings – walking balls of sulfuric acid practically yearning to explode – which melt my army instantaneously.  The banshees live a few seconds longer before hydralisk spines rip the copters to shreds.

OH GOD THE HORROR Neither of us are quite prepared for the Zerg counterattack.  A nydus worm erupts behind our frontline, just to the west of Andrew’s main base.  This sarlacc-like monstrosity acts sort of like a Zerg subway line, ferrying the little devils underground until it bursts forth from the earth like those worms from Beetlejuice.  Zerglings and banelings spew forth from its disgusting maw and scramble into our base.  My troops cut most of them off, but not before a handful slip through Andrew’s structures and begin offing his workers.  A few rocket volleys from some recently assembled banshees is enough to stop them, but it’s enough to convince us that these guys mean business.

Without hesitation, Andrew and I launch another offensive.  A combined force of banshees, marines, and siege tanks meets strong hydralisk resistance at the front of the Purple Zerg’s base.  All that survive the fracas are the banshees and a small team of marauders, who storm Purple’s base, knowing they’ve only seconds to live until the brood cuts them down.  Before we lose yet another squad of units, we destroy the Zerg evolutionary chambers.  If your brain had a section devoted entirely to the refinement and improvement of your genetic code and could yield results in your lifetime, this would be the Zerg equivalent.  We lose the engagement, but Purple won’t be making his units more powerful any time soon.

We take stock of our armies.  Andrew’s completed production on a trio of battlecruisers, large capital ships with powerful long-range weaponry.  My assembly line is running off thors, gigantic battlemechs that resemble something out of Gundam or Voltron (minus the transforming into lions and shit).  Our spirits are high until the Zerg finally slam up against our front door. 

A herd of hydralisks approach Andrew’s high-yield expansion, only to retreat as his battlecruisers breach Zerg airspace.  The battlecruisers open fire on the slithering beasts, who retreat once more, breaking back toward our base.  My ground forces close in behind them, preventing escape and blasting them to pieces.  Egos buzzing, we counterattack, but the Zerg are too numerous and once again reduce us to scrap metal.

Is This Still Going On?

We’re past the twenty minute mark, and it’s still unclear who has the upper-hand.  Andrew prods the Zerg with another wave of banshees but is promptly turned away by mutalisks and corruptors.  Time out.  Can I just say something?  Corruptors look like three-tailed sperm.  There.  I said it.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out.PURPLE SPERM

Okay, I feel better now that I’ve gotten that off my chest.

We press on, leveling a Zerg high-yield settlement just in time to see the flock of Zerg scream by in the direction of our base.  They pause briefly to obliterate the workers at one of my expansions, then move for Andrew’s main.  I don’t have the audio transcript of our Skype call, but I’m pretty sure at this point Andrew and I are just screaming at one another in sheer terror.  Frantic calls of “You got that?” “I got it!” “Are you sure?” “NOT REALLY!” fly back and forth as our thors and vikings exchange blows with the Zerg air force. 

Screenshot2010-09-17 01_10_41 The threat finally neutralized, we head north once more.  All four armies have lasted thirty minutes now.  Resources are getting scarce.  An army I barely remember building barrels into Zerg territory.  Flame-spitting hellion bikes lead the charge ahead of thors and marines.  The frontline is a disaster.  Zerglings clamber up the limbs of thors, wreaking havoc like Twilight Zone gremlins until marines pick them off.  Hellions melt hydralisks, burning them alive inside their hearty carapaces. 

Casualties pile up on both sides.  Each team is essentially throwing empty guns at one another, filling our socks with discarded bullet casings and attempting to thwack our opponents across the jaw.  The resource starved Zerg can muster little more than the odd pair of zerglings.  After forty minutes of tense battle, my handful of thors and Andrew’s viking brigade finally bring down the Zerg lairs.  Andrew and I, still in disbelief, go through the obligatory postgame pleasantries with the enemy.

We won.  I’m still not sure how, but we won.