Awful Gamasutra Article on why Starcraft is hard

Gamasutra had a an article on Why Starcraft is hard. As usual, both out of laziness and respect, I will not surimise Evan Jones’ points, but instead link to the article. I’m rather rough on him, but I hate these sorts of articles. They don’t get to the meat of why game design functions in a certain way, they dress it up to make it seem more interesting than it actually is. That’s can be fun, but on a site dedicated to game design, seeing something like that as a featured post disappoints me. I’d have hoped someone elses bullshit sensors would have been set off.

I don’t even thing Jones was purposefully talking out of his ass or is particularly egregious in his errors — I generally don’t read Gamasustra for a reason — but unfortunately someone linked the article and I know just enough about Starcraft to know he was a good ways off the mark and in ways that should have been obvious. I’m sad no one really called him out on the obviously foolish bits about ‘expectations’. I’m pretty bad at Starcraft and even I know whats up in this regard. Anyways, heres my reply. If he gives back anything interesting, I’ll of course post it to try and be fair.

I apolgoize in advance for coming off as harsh, but I think you basically miss all the actual points and described what you did observe rather obtusely. Basically, I think the article is pretty bad!

First off, this ‘players expectation’ stuff is entirely nonsense. If you put someone who never got trained to have these expectations in front of Starcraft 2, the game would still be hard. This has nothing to do with player expectations. Sure, if every other game did this, SC2’s difficulty would be less notable, but expectations isn’t WHY it’s hard. What you observed is the fact that many developers are willing to design games that are inherently stressful.

As for ‘starting safe’, yeah, sure, a lot of games do that, but a lot of games don’t. From tetris (or any puzzle game), to fighting games, to some FPSs, to many sports games (depending on the sport, obviously). Even when true, does it matter? When you leave your base in an FPS, you’re immediately at risk and continue to be at risk until you’re dead. In fact, in a strange way you start Starcraft out safer than you do in most games. You can literally be playing a 1v1 game for 5 minutes (and actually be PLAYING) before being at any real risk!

So what IS up in Starcraft? All this and all this talk about ‘safe states’ is just dancing around something we have a word for.

Starcraft has a very strong -slippery slope-! A nice word that speaks directly the point and saves many paragraphs. But there is still room to expound, if one wishes. What makes this slippery slope even worse is the fact that, unlike many many other games, doing nothing is NEVER, EVER the best option. You can stand and wait for your opponent to act in a fighting game, hide around a corner in an RTS or whatever, but doing nothing in an RTS, particularly Starcraft, is you ceding an advantage to your opponent. So even in the first 5 minutes of the game, when you are unlikely to get attacked, you can possibly be already at a disadvantage.

You are actually right when you bring up the fact that Starcraft is very much a game of incomplete information (of course you don’t SAY that and for some reason bring mario into it, but whatever). That is inherently stressful (having nothing to do with expectations) and mixing that with 5 minutes of mostly scouting and waiting, is very taxing… not to mention when the game actually gets moving! So the game is pretty rough and intimidating before you can even get attack! Then even after that, you have a huge, hard game ahead of you. The reason the game gets ‘easier’ for people is not that their expectations change, but that they learn to gather information and reduce uncertainty, thus reducing stress.

So anyways, the fast list of why Starcraft is actually hard.

Slippery Slope
Inaction is extremely detrimental
Incomplete information
Extremely high speed and reaction demands
Long game length
Tons of information to have to learn
And it’s hard to learn that. information because of the long game lengths.

So basically in short, you play at a million miles an hour, are never sure what your opponent is doing, can’t ever take a break, every failure risks killing you outright and the game can take forever to play and learn. You got some of that, but for the most part you just overcomplicated the issue with nonsense like ‘player expectations’.