good game
November 17, 2014 7:57 AM   Subscribe

I confess to being bewildered, still, by what is often said to be the greatest game of StarCraft II ever played. Fall, 2013. New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Scarlett vs. Bomber. Third game in a best-of-three series, a quarter-final in a tournament sponsored by Red Bull. It lasted about forty minutes, although I gathered, from the live commentary on the video that I have watched many times, that it nearly ended far sooner. A couple of minutes in, there came this exchange:

“Uh-oh. Oh, my God! Scarlett is going gas!”

“Oh—oh, God!”

“Gas pool! And it’s a double proxy. Bomber is walking into the worst possible situation.”
posted by cthuljew (101 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 


Yes, this post seems a little thin, and initially I thought it was a double - but any Scarlett post is a good post.
posted by silence at 8:06 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I posted on Scarlett, previously, as part of the July By Women posts. Maybe that post is why this seems like a double?
posted by misha at 8:21 AM on November 17, 2014


There's this one unit that Terran has - a widow mine - that takes a long time to recharge between attacks, like forty seconds. But it does a massive amount of damage in a small area. So I’m trying to send my cheap units that move really fast out in front, to take those hits. I’m trying to split my other units into small groups first, so they don’t get wasted on his units with high hit-points and low damage. So I’m trying to control those all, to run past his strong units in the front, and I’m also trying to use my flying units - I have to make sure they don’t get clumped up too much, because he has another unit that does area damage to those.

And yeah, I am just in awe at those micro skills.
posted by Zarkonnen at 8:28 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Chess may soon be eclipsed as the standard-bearer of competitive I.Q.

Er, I don't play video games, so I have no idea: How well known is this game? I've never heard of it, whereas there probably aren't many people with some level of formal education who haven't heard of chess.
posted by me3dia at 8:29 AM on November 17, 2014


Sean "Day9" Plott (quoted in the article) gives a detailed strategic and tactical play-by-play in this three video series.

Part 2
Part 3
posted by rustcrumb at 8:29 AM on November 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Chess may soon be eclipsed as the standard-bearer of competitive I.Q.

I'm sorry, and I'd really like to find a polite way of saying this, but that's just stupid.
posted by fredludd at 8:30 AM on November 17, 2014 [10 favorites]


fredludd: "Chess may soon be eclipsed as the standard-bearer of competitive I.Q.

I'm sorry, and I'd really like to find a polite way of saying this, but that's just stupid.
"
Well, keep on trying and maybe you'll find that polite way. Anything is possible, you know??
posted by boo_radley at 8:34 AM on November 17, 2014 [37 favorites]


Chess may soon be eclipsed as the standard-bearer of competitive I.Q.

I'm sorry, and I'd really like to find a polite way of saying this, but that's just stupid.


Why?

Chess is a game, Starcraft is a game. Both are complex enough that I am terrible at them.

Neither of them is THE GAME.
posted by selfnoise at 8:34 AM on November 17, 2014 [21 favorites]


I think what's stupid about that statement, and what bothers me about it as well, is that no matter how popular StarCraft may be -- even if every gamer in the world played it -- it will never eclipse the ubiquity of chess, and therefore would have a very difficult time supplanting it as a standard.
posted by me3dia at 8:38 AM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


Because longevity. StarCraft has a thousand years to go.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:40 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Starcraft is as much about being able to twitch a mouse around quickly and accurately while hitting hotkeys as it is about planning and problem solving. It's like saying the chess would be more representative of true "competition IQ" if you had to move the pieces using a claw machine.
posted by Metafilter Username at 8:40 AM on November 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


Neither of them is THE GAME.

Goddamn you, selfnoise. GODDAMN YOU.

Well played.
posted by Zerowensboring at 8:41 AM on November 17, 2014 [23 favorites]


in before drive-by sneering from a Go player who was never very good at chess but feels superior for giving it up

also: none of these games hold a candle to pinball, which is a real game where you must know how to work the flippers or die
posted by thelonius at 8:42 AM on November 17, 2014 [16 favorites]


Because longevity. StarCraft has a thousand years to go.

Fair enough, although what is the likelihood that StarCraft will remain a static game for that long? What is the likelihood that something like StarCraft will become so popular that it will be that ubiquitous?
posted by me3dia at 8:45 AM on November 17, 2014


I think what's stupid about that statement, and what bothers me about it as well, is that no matter how popular StarCraft may be -- even if every gamer in the world played it -- it will never eclipse the ubiquity of chess, and therefore would have a very difficult time supplanting it as a standard.

Competitive gaming already has replaced chess, by leaps and bounds, in number of players, viewers and prize money. It's not even close.
posted by empath at 8:47 AM on November 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's like saying the chess would be more representative of true "competition IQ" if you had to move the pieces using a claw machine.

That would rule
posted by Greg Nog at 8:47 AM on November 17, 2014 [16 favorites]


Yeah, Starcraft will never be a truly great game until there is a musical about it. Chess? Check. Pinball? Check. Starcraft? Nope.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:48 AM on November 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't know if that's typical for Scarlett's play, but she adroitly took advantage of an opponent who underestimated her (twice) with classic tactical strategy. Very impressive.
posted by kalessin at 8:51 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


in before drive-by sneering from a Go player who was never very good at chess but feels superior for giving it up

wat
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:51 AM on November 17, 2014


Metafilter Username: "It's like saying the chess would be more representative of true "competition IQ" if you had to move the pieces using a claw machine."

Ohhhhh man. I love this idea.

Anyway, bringing it back to the article rather than traditionalist vs modern squabbling: the article really clicked for me in the last section, where Scarlett was talking about (1) how she doesn't dream about SC2 and how she kept with the zerg due to it being most like a reactive puzzle based on the other person. Fascinating stuff, although it's unfortunate she missed fajita night.
posted by boo_radley at 8:51 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Competitive gaming already has replaced chess, by leaps and bounds, in number of players, viewers and prize money. It's not even close.

I don't know if those are the best rubrics for gauging prestige or ranking of games. You could probably say tic-tac-toe has more players, and a fish playing pokemon might have a higher viewership at certain times.

But I don't know if there is any sort of scale to rank games that would be broadly agreed upon to select The Greatest Game Ever.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:53 AM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


@Me3dia @fredludd
The chess comparison is a bit lazy and stupid, the two games are very different. But Starcraft strategy can be as subtle and complex as chess - and it occurs in time as well as space, which is much more difficult to understand. Chess is primarily spacial, whereas Starcraft has spacial elements (there are lots of different units each of which move in different ways and can attack different things, meaning the arrangement of pieces in space is important as it is in chess), but it also has a more difficult to understand time-based strategic element. Because production of units in the game is based on a player's economy it's possible for a good player to predict the opponents strategy and open up a window in time where they will briefly be more powerful than their opponent. Trying to predict the development of your opponent's production and how their timings will interlock with yours is mind-bendingly complicated. Another difference between Starcraft and Chess is that Starcraft is a game of hidden information, whereas chess is a game of perfect information. This opens another layer of complexity, because a player can try to produce the impression that they're pursuing one strategy, while secretly doing something completely different.

Another more obvious difference is that Starcraft is played at a thousand miles an hour, rather than the leisurely pace of chess - a player may have an overall strategy going into a game but they will have to respond to the other player to adjust their strategy while at the same time controlling up to 200 "units" in real time fights. in Starcraft this speed of decision making is referred to as APM or Actions-per-minute - pro players regularly peak at 400-500 APM during a battle.

The end result is that a game of Starcraft doesn't have the ascetic elegance of a game of chess, it's faster and more chaotic, but the mental challenge is at least as great.
posted by silence at 8:53 AM on November 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


Pfft, it's no Azad.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:54 AM on November 17, 2014 [12 favorites]


Chess in the game world is like classical in the music world; once it was the game, now it is a game, and soon it will be an even smaller piece of the pie. Young people who might once have taken it up have other options. Chess will last, but as a high prestige minority taste, like classical.
posted by librosegretti at 8:56 AM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


Basically if you're a geeky kid with a competitive streak and access to the internet, you're going to be spending your time playing hearthstone or DotA, not chess for the foreseeable future. Other than niche play, chess will probably survive as a major force in the developing world and in dictatorships where people have limited access to computers or the internet for a long while, but that's about it.
posted by empath at 9:01 AM on November 17, 2014


And, of course, Azad's complexity and massive decision space is easily eclipsed by Calvinball
posted by suckerpunch at 9:01 AM on November 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


Whatever - SC Chess Mod = 2 in one all time greatest game evar!
posted by symbioid at 9:02 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Starcraft strategy can be as subtle and complex as chess...the mental challenge is at least as great.

I think this is exactly the point in contention.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:04 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Because longevity. StarCraft has a thousand years to go.

I don't agree. I mean, I fail to see any computer game eclipsing the popularity of chess, or most board games. Because, you need *more* resources to play a StarCraft game. You need computers, and not just any computers. Computers that meet or exceed the hardware requirements (2GB of Ram, Pentium D or Athlon 64 processor, 20 GB of hard drive space) and also computers that run on Windows or Mac OS or can emulate a Windows/Mac OS. In addition, even if you play in the same room, you need telecom equipment (NICs, ethernet cables, routers) to handle the multiplayer aspect, or else you're stuck playing by yourself. And not to mention the electricity.

What do you need with chess? The pieces and the board. Hell, you don't even need a real board or pieces. You just need a flat surface to draw an 8x8 grid, and 32 objects that can fit in that grid.

A thousand years is a long time. A lot can happen. I'm just saying chess is like a cockroach while StarCraft is a panda bear.

Or if you want a more sports comparison, chess is like soccer and StarCraft is like American football.
posted by FJT at 9:04 AM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


StarCraft requires electricity to play. Chess does not. When the apocalypse knocks human civilization back to the stone age, which game do you think people will play?
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:05 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Chess is also better because you can enjoy playing it without having to deal with gaming "culture".
posted by Poldo at 9:07 AM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks. Despite knowing almost zero about Starcraft, I'm a major Scarlett fan because she seems like she stepped right out of a William Gibson novel.
posted by taz at 9:07 AM on November 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


When the apocalypse knocks human civilization back to the stone age, which game do you think people will play?

Well, in the real world where that doesn't happen, computers are going to get cheaper, more powerful and smaller. Android tablets are getting the point where even people in the developing world can afford them.
posted by empath at 9:08 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Chess is also better because you can enjoy playing it without having to deal with gaming "culture".

Competitive chess is at least as toxic. Cheating scandals and everything else.
posted by empath at 9:09 AM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


hey let's compare a computer game with a board game because that makes sense
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:09 AM on November 17, 2014 [16 favorites]


Chess is also better because you can enjoy playing it without having to deal with gaming "culture".

I guess? I mean basically every high-level competition is populated mostly by assholes. Many chess grandmasters are notorious for being pricks.
posted by selfnoise at 9:09 AM on November 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


Guys, please stop with the similes, you are hurting me.
posted by selfnoise at 9:10 AM on November 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


FJT: Because longevity. StarCraft has a thousand years to go.

I don't agree. I mean, I fail to see any computer game eclipsing the popularity of chess, or most board games.
You say you don't agree, and then go on to spell out all the arguments behind my point. I think you agree: StarCraft has a very, very small chance of ever eclipsing chess, and even if it is "more popular" right now, it won't last... unlike chess.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:11 AM on November 17, 2014


Starcraft II is a game that requires intelligence for effective play.
Chess is a game that requires intelligence for effective play.
And that's as far as you can go in that comparison.

Other games require intelligence for effective play: Scrabble, Football, Bridge, D&D, Texas Hold 'Em, Diplomacy, etc. Some of those games require quick reaction time. For some, probability play an important role. Many games require special equipment.

Not very many games are total information games, like Chess or Go.

Another more obvious difference is that Starcraft is played at a thousand miles an hour, rather than the leisurely pace of chess
YouTube: bullet chess

And let us know when you can point us at any instance of simultaneous blindfold play in Starcraft II.
posted by fredludd at 9:12 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


You need computers, and not just any computers. Computers that meet or exceed the hardware requirements (2GB of Ram, Pentium D or Athlon 64 processor, 20 GB of hard drive space) and also computers that run on Windows or Mac OS or can emulate a Windows/Mac OS. In addition, even if you play in the same room, you need telecom equipment (NICs, ethernet cables, routers) to handle the multiplayer aspect, or else you're stuck playing by yourself. And not to mention the electricity.

The phone I just threw on my couch with total disregard for its safety because I could just go get another one if it breaks because I pay a few dollars insurance on it every month? That phone? That phone has more computing power than the entire planet Earth did forty years ago.
posted by cthuljew at 9:14 AM on November 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


> Competitive chess is at least as toxic. Cheating scandals and everything else.

It was really all about ethics in journalism.
posted by Poldo at 9:15 AM on November 17, 2014


StarCraft requires electricity to play. Chess does not. When the apocalypse knocks human civilization back to the stone age, which game do you think people will play?

Fallout.
posted by srboisvert at 9:22 AM on November 17, 2014 [26 favorites]


And let us know when you can point us at any instance of simultaneous blindfold play in Starcraft II.

Starcraft itself is already that complex by default. You have to keep track of 200 units simultaneously without being able to see all of them on the screen at the same time, and without being able to see what your opponent is doing.

You'll often see players predicting what their opponent is going to do and send units over to stop them before they get there, while controlling a battle and building their base at the same time.

Seriously, watch a first person view of someone playing starcraft sometime. (The first 4 minutes of any starcraft game are pretty boring, so skip to about 12 minutes in to see him managing attacks on mulitple fronts, while defending and building his base at the same time).

It's hard to imagine making starcraft more difficult to play in the same way that you can make chess more difficult with variants, I don't think anyone has reached the current skill cap possible with starcraft as it is.
posted by empath at 9:23 AM on November 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


Yeah, Starcraft will never be a truly great game until there is a musical about it. Chess? Check. Pinball? Check. Starcraft? Nope.

Gets out notebook and begins sharpening pencils...
posted by nubs at 9:27 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Starcraft Musical
posted by empath at 9:30 AM on November 17, 2014


The phone I just threw on my couch with total disregard for its safety because I could just go get another one if it breaks because I pay a few dollars insurance on it every month? That phone? That phone has more computing power than the entire planet Earth did forty years ago.

How many people touched your phone before it got to your hand? The engineers that designed it of course. And the miners and laborers that gathered all the metal and plastic. And the manufacturers half a world away in probably at least a dozen countries. Let's not forget the sophisticated trade and distribution network that plucked your phone from the factory, put it on a barge and then on a truck and then either into a store or delivered straight to your house.

Chess doesn't need that. But also chess isn't limited by that. There are chess apps and online chess games too.

The thing of it is, chess is closer to a concept/idea than StarCraft is and probably ever will be.
posted by FJT at 9:32 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


As with baseball’s hidden-ball trick and football’s fake punts, the unwritten etiquette of cheesing is complicated. Do it too often, and not only will its efficacy diminish but you’ll be seen as annoying—disrespectful, even, if your over-all skill is of a lower calibre. It’s like the Picasso rule of painting: you have to know the basics before you can abandon them. But when cheese is deployed selectively, against the right opponent, it can be a lot of fun.
I always find this aspect of games really interesting. The whole point of a game is that you have a set of explicitly defined rules, and then the players do whatever they can within that space to win. But in practice you have rules, and then house rules, and then sportsmanship, an unspoken agreement that you won't use certain legal strategies because they're too effective. It makes sense for these unwritten, fuzzily-defined rules to exist when the main goal of the session is to have fun together: let's have a longer session, exploring this particular subset of the rulespace. But expecting them to apply in an actual competition, leaving players to intuit which of a set of otherwise legal and powerful strategies is or isn't acceptable, is pretty weird.

It's notable that my friends who're into computer science tend towards the "lets explore this entire rulespace, twist it until it squeaks, and exploit the glitches mercilessly" style of gameplay. Not because they want to win, particularly, just because they want to see what the system can be made to do. In the same way that M:tG players talk about building complex and unexpectedly powerful "engines", I'm surprised that anything in a game as competitive as StarCraft is off-limits.
posted by metaBugs at 9:33 AM on November 17, 2014


Starcraft II is a game that requires intelligence for effective play.
Chess is a game that requires intelligence for effective play.
And that's as far as you can go in that comparison.


Starcraft is largely about resource management. It is accountancy dressed up with pretty graphics. You could probably play Starcraft on an Excel spreadsheet, if you boiled it down to its core features.

Starcraft players are limited by how many dozens of factors they can micromanage per second while pursuing strategic goals. Chess players are limited by how many strategic implications of very simple moves they can predict in advance, with no time limitations.

In that sense, Starcraft is an incredibly broad game but very shallow. Chess is an incredibly narrow game, but very deep. Starcraft is to chess, what accounting is to calculus.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:33 AM on November 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


I really wish that 1) I could have the patience to sit down and begin to understand how Starcraft and MOBAs really work and 2) the online communities weren't so damn toxic. As it is, I only have a distant third-hand view of the e-sports world, sort of like hearing EVE Online stories.
posted by kmz at 9:39 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I won't say this chess vs. Starcraft derail is the weirdest fucking argument I've ever seen on metafilter but I'm pretty sure it's gotten sufficiently rancorous to completely overrun any opportunity for somebody to explain to me in simple terms what the OP is about without taking sideshots at something that has no damned relationship to the topic.
posted by ardgedee at 9:39 AM on November 17, 2014 [23 favorites]


This article was fascinating, and much better than I had expected going in. Thank you cthuljew for posting it! The opening is a bit "gamers in the mist" but it gets better from there, and while the portrait of Scarlett is interesting in its own right I liked the examination of the broader trends in gaming/esports as well (and thought they handled gamergate well, referencing and explaining without it dominating the article).

The comparison between chess and starcraft is a distraction if you overthink it. The author uses several other analogies (manager-umpire confrontations in baseball, football tactics, an orchestra needing to stay both in time and on note) in an effort to make Starcraft play accessible to a non-RTS fan.

I also thought silence's comment was spot on.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:40 AM on November 17, 2014


I won't say this chess vs. Starcraft derail is the wildest fucking argument I've ever seen on metafilter but I'm pretty sure it's gotten sufficiently rancorous to completely overrun any opportunity for somebody to explain to me in simple terms what the OP is about without taking sideshots at something that has no damned relationship to the topic.

Okay.. Starcraft was a game, now it's a sport.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:43 AM on November 17, 2014


in before drive-by sneering from a Go player who was never very good at chess but feels superior for giving it up

OH HAI

The real problem with chess is that computers play it better than people. I think that's an inherent limit: it's going to lose popularity going forward just like everyone loses interest in tic-tac-toe eventually. Chess just took longer.

Go, too, will face that fate. But not for a long time.

Starcraft 2... well, Starcraft 3 will come out someday, so probably SC2 is not going to make it into competition with Chess and Go.

The real issue is that any game that requires peak dexterity will have a very limited pool of players: you basically have to be really smart and also start young enough to take advantage of your reflexes before you get old. Chess and Go you can still play in your forties and eighties: video games that measure your abilities in actions per minute are off the table.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:43 AM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


Is the SC2 community that particularly toxic? I mean, in some ways any community will be, but compared to MOBA and Fighting Games or most of the other competitive type video-gaming communities (which I suppose is, what, FPS?) is it really that bad? I've always had this idea that (in general) SC2 is much less toxic, but that could just be my privilege, and also - I don't play nearly like I used to (and was never beyond bronze or silver anyways)...
posted by symbioid at 9:44 AM on November 17, 2014


I think also the claim about "best game ever" is going to be hard to defend.

I would have never known about SC without Metafilter, so I wanted to say a big Thanks for that.

The chess comparison is a tremendous derail. Nobody is besmirching the intellect of the designer or the players of chess, I don't think.
posted by newdaddy at 9:45 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


ardgedee: The best way to understand what OP is talking about is to RTF, as always, but if I needed to summarize the article it would be something like:

New Yorker article uses a profile of one successful high-level Starcraft II player (with successful defined as making approx. $100,000/year from sponsors and in tournament play) to explore the way the game in question works as well as some broader trends in the online gaming/esports world. These include the contrast between a jargon-obsessed and often toxic fan subculture vs. the rise of gaming as a ubiquitous activity for the general population and the evolution of esports from Starcraft to other games with different styles of play and fan bases.

metaBugs: Use of cheese plays aren't only limited by social norms like sportsmanship. Cheesy plays like an "early rush" where a player sends a few weak early units into their opponent's base within seconds of the game start can be defended against, they just usually lead to very short games that aren't fun to watch. A player who gets to be known for only using such plays might win in random matches online, but will be quickly countered by expert players who expect the tactic. It's just that defending against the cheese also forecloses other options for more developed play. This is an imperfect analogy but I would argue that cheese in competetive starcraft is akin to a "scholar's mate" or a "fool's mate" in chess, that is, quick-win strategies that an experienced player can easily avoid but that sometimes work when used unexpectedly.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:52 AM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


@charlie don't surf
I agree that Chess is narrow, but deep - that's what I meant when I described chess as elegant. Starcraft is a lot hairier, but I don't think it's necessarily any less deep. If you slowed a game of starcraft down into a turn-by-turn game that could be played more "perfectly" than the real-time version you'd see that the relative positioning of tanks and marines, stalkers, immortals and zerglings would be at least as "deep" as chess - if depth is measured in emergent complexity in the ruleset (It probably wouldn't be much fun though). And that's before you even start to think about resource management - the "excel spreadsheet" aspect of the game you're talking about.

Starcraft isn't as beautifully abstracted as chess, and the spacial logic is not as gloriously crystalline as the intersecting lines of force of a chess game, but that's not because it's less complex, it's because it's more complex.

Another thing to bear in mind - we can appreciate the beauty of chess partly because we've had thousands of years to analyse it and mythologise it. Lots and lots of games are as intellectually complex and deep as chess - they just have less cultural worth invested in them.
posted by silence at 9:53 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Actually empath, most serious fans and pro players bemoan that starcraft 2 is easier to play than the original starcraft and blizzard has recently announced that the newest expansion (next year) focuses on adding a lot of units that require micromanagement to use well - effectively there is going to be a whole expansion mainly focused on making the game even harder to play well.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 9:53 AM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


I always find this aspect of games really interesting. The whole point of a game is that you have a set of explicitly defined rules, and then the players do whatever they can within that space to win.

So there's no real rule, implicit or explicit, against cheesing in high-level starcraft. Essentially 'cheese' is a high-risk, high reward strategy. If your opponent doesn't scout it or plays greedy (ie, builds extra bases before building an army) you just win, even if he's a better player than you, or you're on a map that's favored for him. If he scouts it, or happens to open with more early army units than normal, you just lose.

If you cheese every game, or in a predictable way, it's not just boring to watch and play, but it's bad strategy, because you're going to lose. You have to make your opponent expect a standard game and then play cheese instead. This is where the 'meta-game' comes in, because the strategies required for the current game depend on what you know about your opponents play style.

The potential for cheese is basically a check on players preventing them from opening with very greedy late game builds every game, which most 'pro' players would do, if they can get away with it.

Basically, Cheese (early game) beats Greedy (late game) beats 'Standard' (mid-game) beats Cheese and so on..

For some reason a lot of mediocre players think that cheese strategies are unfair is because they, personally, like playing late-game strategies and cheese players on the ladder just beat them, and they feel like they were never able to show their skill, but they never adapt the way that good players do, and learn to scout and play a bit defensively.
posted by empath at 10:04 AM on November 17, 2014 [12 favorites]


effectively there is going to be a whole expansion mainly focused on making the game even harder to play well

By increasing the execution component's finickiness, not the tactical possibility space--like adding trip hazards to the field in football--tilting the field even more in favor of the twitchy. I actually would love to see some kind of analysis of the tactical (to say nothing of strategic) complexity of StarCraft vis-a-vis chess, as I am extremely skeptical that it comes anywhere close.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:09 AM on November 17, 2014


Also, the difference between pro-level cheesers and your average ladder cheeser, is that the average ladder player that cheeses only knows how to do the one build, and they either win or they don't win with it, but they never change strategies and a lot of them don't know how to follow up if they don't win in 5 minutes.

Pro players that cheese have an instinct for when they can win with it outright, when they can ONLY win if they completely commit to it (so called "All-inning"), and when it got them ahead and they can start pulling back from the attack.

All-ins get less respect than cheese strategies that still offer the potential for a long-game if they don't succeed completely. Basically an all-in is a strategy where you destroy your late game potential by throwing everything you have into a 'timing' attack. You basically lose if you don't win in the first attack because you have fewer bases and upgrades.

There are other 'cheeses' that can just flat out win, but if they don't, you can do enough damage that you aren't far behind or might be a little ahead.

There was a recent WCS game with a proxy hatch (a classic zerg cheese) that didn't succeed but the game ended up taking a while to play out.
posted by empath at 10:12 AM on November 17, 2014


I'm a major Scarlett fan because she seems like she stepped right out of a William Gibson novel.

This pretty much sums it up.

BTW, I can play chess and Japanese chess (shogi), but StarCraft is too complicated. I always cheat because I like tanks.
posted by Nevin at 10:14 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


“It’s not a sport,” John Skipper, the president of ESPN

Next up continuing coverage of the Hold'em bonanza followed by and hour of 4 guys shouting about LeBron's latest tweet and wrapping up the evening with your fantasy football experts report! The Hockey, Soccer, Cycling, and Rugby show is on from 2:00-2:03am.

You aren't running a sports network John, don't get snotty.
posted by cmfletcher at 10:21 AM on November 17, 2014 [12 favorites]


I agree that Chess is narrow, but deep - that's what I meant when I described chess as elegant. Starcraft is a lot hairier, but I don't think it's necessarily any less deep. If you slowed a game of starcraft down into a turn-by-turn game that could be played more "perfectly" than the real-time version you'd see that the relative positioning of tanks and marines, stalkers, immortals and zerglings would be at least as "deep" as chess - if depth is measured in emergent complexity in the ruleset (It probably wouldn't be much fun though). And that's before you even start to think about resource management - the "excel spreadsheet" aspect of the game you're talking about.

People have mentioned that computers can now play chess better than humans, although I am not convinced this is true. But a high actions-per-minute game like Starcraft could probably be played perfectly by a computer, even with imperfect information. I think that sort of game would turn out a lot like high frequency trading, which is also a resource management game played with information asymmetry. Starcraft seems more like playing Economics than military strategy.

Starcraft reminds me of the olden days when I used to play Squad Leader. My usual opponent and I got tired of endless, complex task management, we used to argue for an hour over arcane rules that governed a 15 second real-time turn. So we devised a new scenario. We put 8 grenade teams up against 8 flamethrower teams, all standing in a line facing each other, equidistant in open terrain. Both weapons had approximately equal range, equal lethality, and both took one turn to prepare and one to fire. You could roll poorly and be delayed in prep (pulling the pin and throwing vs. pointing the flamethrower and spraying) and not use your weapon before the opponent wiped you out. So we would set this all up, and both teams let everything rip, all at once. If anyone survived, they won. We used to play a few games with 100% casualties on both sides, and then one game, one player would survive, maimed and incapacitated, but not dead. That team was declared the winner.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:29 AM on November 17, 2014


Neither of them is THE GAME.

Oh god damn it.
posted by maxsparber at 10:35 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


in before drive-by sneering from a Go player who was never very good at chess but feels superior for giving it up

The real problem with chess is that computers play it better than people. I think that's an inherent limit: it's going to lose popularity going forward just like everyone loses interest in tic-tac-toe eventually. Chess just took longer.

Daaaaaaamn.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:36 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Er, I don't play video games, so I have no idea: How well known is this game?

Among gamers? Very. 11 million copies sold of the original release (as of 2009).

The original StarCraft was released in March 1998. The expansion, BroodWar, followed in November of that year. Blizzard had included a map editor to make your own campaign maps, and that led to several fan made campaigns and total conversions. The game remained wildly popular for years after its release. There were plans at one point for a console-based offshoot, StarCraft: Ghost, but that unfortunately never came to pass.

The game enjoyed massive popularity even as we waited and begged for a sequel. We finally got it in 2010, and the last installment of the sequel was just announced last week. The first installment of the sequel sold 4.5 million copies just in 2010.

I love the game. The voice acting is great, the story line is intriguing, and the game play requires some thought rather than just mashing buttons (mind, I like button mashing games, too). You can pick up the original release and the expansion together for around $20 these days, marketed as a "BattleChest", and fan-made campaigns are all over the internet free of charge. The current releases are a little more spendy, but worth it, IMO.
posted by MissySedai at 10:36 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


People have mentioned that computers can now play chess better than humans, although I am not convinced this is true.

Why aren't you convinced, and what in that article supports the idea that humans can play better than computers? It opens with the suggestion that Kasparov might have been unfairly matched against Deep Blue, but concludes that --
Years after the final Deep Blue match, both Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik, his successor as world chess champion, played against various versions of Deep Blue’s successor Fritz...The results aren’t that encouraging for humans...[because] the humans still couldn’t win.
I'm not sure what to take away from that other than 'yes, currently, the best human players can't beat the best computer players.' But I don't really follow chess, so I don't know if you're drawing on other knowledge here that's absent from that article.
posted by cjelli at 10:42 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Although, 'computers' playing better than 'humans' is probably a separate question than 'computers designed specifically to play chess, and programmed with knowledge of human players past games' playing better than 'people who we have decided are the best at chess playing other humans.' What I'm wondering now is: what are the odds on an average computer (or smartphone) against an average chess player?
posted by cjelli at 10:46 AM on November 17, 2014


What I'm wondering now is: what are the odds on an average computer (or smartphone) against an average chess player?

Computer. Those are the odds.
posted by clawsoon at 10:47 AM on November 17, 2014 [9 favorites]


Ironically enough, the Anand-Carlsen match is being covered on Twitch, among other places of course. You know, the World Chess Championship. Pretty good games actually.
posted by exogenous at 10:48 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Rob blew up one of Sasha’s bases, and the wounded five-year-old went running down the hall yelling, “He nuked my base! He nuked my base!”

Can a 5-year-old play Starcraft?
posted by hot_monster at 10:50 AM on November 17, 2014


But a high actions-per-minute game like Starcraft could probably be played perfectly by a computer, even with imperfect information.

The best starcraft bots can't beat pro-players or even just diamond-level players regularly, AFAIK. As I started to describe earlier, there's no such thing as playing starcraft 'perfectly' due to the rock-paper-scissors nature of various strategies.
posted by empath at 10:51 AM on November 17, 2014


Deep Blue beat Kasparov back in 1997, which is absolute ages ago in computing terms. I would be surprised if the obsolete smartphone I am typing this comment on wasn't more powerful than Deep Blue, and programmers have had 17 years to refine the code that was used in its programming as well. My phone has more than enough power and storage to be able to explore the full probability space of a chess game and consistently play the most perfect game that its programmers are able to teach it.

The average chess app, at maximum difficulty, will effortlessly obliterate almost any human player.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ironically enough, the Anand-Carlsen match is being covered on Twitch,

43 viewers total on the chess streams, fwiw., about the same as Trackmaster: Stadium, whatever that is.

There's a Counterstrike show-match going on right now with 43k, and some random League of Legends player coaching people has 30k.

You can get more than 45 viewers streaming some random game on your Xbox One at home.
posted by empath at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2014


I'm an average chess player and the computer beats me 100% of the time if I let it play at its level. I can only win if I turn down the difficulty setting.
posted by foobaz at 11:00 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here's Kasparov on the subject of modern computer chess:
Today, for $50 you can buy a home PC program that will crush most grandmasters.
posted by clawsoon at 11:00 AM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's about ethics in chess comparisons.
posted by rhizome at 11:06 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


My phone has more than enough power and storage to be able to explore the full probability space of a chess game and consistently play the most perfect game that its programmers are able to teach it.

Your phone will always win, but not because it's exploring the full state space of chess, which is waaaay too big (the number of distinct 40-move games is far greater than the number of electrons in the observable universe).
posted by jjwiseman at 11:06 AM on November 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Chess is also better because you can enjoy playing it without having to deal with gaming "culture".

Yeah, about that.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:15 AM on November 17, 2014


I do prefer Go (not that I am any good at it) for mainly aesthetic reasons; the emergence of such chaotic and magnificent complexity out of such ruthlessly simple and minimalist rules, and the fact that it can be played by any two people capable of scrounging up a flat surface and two different colors of pebble is just beautiful to me. It's a really lovely game, though I am absolutely rubbish at it.

Starcraft is a totally different beast. It's less purely cerebral than either Chess or Go (since manual dexterity is such a critical determinant in top-level matches) and less "clean", if you get my meaning. Chess and Go are very abstract games compared to Starcraft; whatever symbolism the pieces have is extremely stylized, with even Chess bearing only a very distant resemblance to an actual war. This, I argue, is what gives them much of their endurance. Almost anyone can identify with the basic themes of conflict, strategy, and space that Chess and Go embody.

Starcraft has those elements too, but it is also very obviously a simulated war between three futuristic species, complete with a storyline and mythos. That is cool, but it's also limiting; it confines Starcraft to a genre (sci-fi wargames) in a way that Chess and Go are not. Will that genre be as popular a millenium hence as it is today? No-one can say, but I wouldn't bet on it. Starcraft is more than its genre, but it is still so embedded in it that I think it would be hard to escape that genre pigeonhole completely.

People today seem to find the spare, abstracted aesthetics of Go and Chess less compelling than they used to do. At this moment in time a lot of people seem to want their games to be more of a visual feast, something spectacular as well as intellectual. But the basic, pared-down nature of Chess and Go is also what makes their appeal so universal. There will always be people with whom the idea of gnarly alien races doing battle among the stars in a dark, gritty, far-future universe just doesn't resonate. Everyone, however, can identify with the ideas of gaining and losing resources, using strategy to prevail in a conflict, trying to out-think one's opponent, etc. That's why those games endure for thousands of years, though their popularity may wax and wane with the times.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


Can a 5-year-old play Starcraft?

Yes, and some of them can play quite well.

Younger Monster handed me my ass when he was 5, and the slaughter has only become more pronounced.
posted by MissySedai at 11:23 AM on November 17, 2014


The reason cheese plays are frowned on: 1. often it's an easy gamble that gives a low skilled player a chance to beat a higher skilled one 2. doesn't really develop the skills of either attacker or defender that much 3. often not much fun to watch.

However if used rarely they become a kind of a mind game where in a tournament the opponent might think -- is he going to cheese at all? If he does, on which game is he going to do it? If he does it once, does that insure next few games will be cheese free?

So THAT part is fun.
posted by rainy at 11:32 AM on November 17, 2014


This article is fantastic. The author Ben McGrath demonstrates a lot of depth in eSports, his comparison of Starcraft to MOBAs is just right. My preference is to League of Legends, both to play and watch, but the Starcraft scene is the beginning of big-time eSports.

He missed one part of the story, which is that eSports stars in some other games are making a lot more money than the $30,000 + prizes he mentions. There are many League of Legends players rumored to be making well over $100,000 a year. In the US and Europe it's mostly off of their Twitch streams, which show ads and share revenue. Also sponsorships. In China too, although it's YY instead of Twitch and the rumors go as high as $1,000,000 in a year with a lot of sales of endorsed goods. Not sure about Korea but I imagine it's similar.

Scarlett's decision not to be a Twitch star may be costing her a lot of money. But she seems, so good for her. Props to McGrath for both talking about the cesspool of Twitch chat and GamerGate.

The Chess / Starcraft thing is a total derail and frustrating. FWIW, eSports games have a significant amount of physical skill required, hand-eye coordination and rapid movements and reaction time. Chess has physical elements too, particularly endurance for a multi-day match, but they are relatively minor. A game like Starcraft is a lot more like Ping Pong or Badminton in the fast reactions required. In addition to a significant cognitive requirement. They are all interesting games and different and that's OK. (Besides, <troll>Go is better than Chess. </troll>)

There's another article about eSports that was great this year: "Winners, Losers, and Legends" by Harold Goldberg writing for Playboy (!). I think the article text is not online, here's an image scan of it. Goldberg is currently raising KickStarter money to expand on the article.
posted by Nelson at 11:32 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Go is better than Chess.

Arimaa hangs head, kicks can.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:40 AM on November 17, 2014


Yeah, Starcraft will never be a truly great game until there is a musical about it. Chess? Check.

Seoul, South Korean setting
And the city don't know that the city is getting
The creme de la creme of the PC gamers in a
Show with everything but Gabe Newell...

Time flies - doesn't seem a minute
Since the Protoss appeared and the Zerg came with it
All change - don't you know that when you
Play at this level there's no ordinary venue

It's battle.net - or a private server - or LAN party - or -
or this place!

Master Starcraft and the world's your oyster
Go join the servers but the game ain't free
You'll fight to mine all of that precious vespene
And if you're lucky then your spawn is sweet
I can feel an Zerg rush coming right at me
posted by chambers at 11:50 AM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


It's oddly missing from the article that LoL is dominant in eGaming. It's LoL and everyone else is probably in the remaining 25%.

The difference with SC2 vs chess is that in SC2 the basics are fairly well understood - macro, a few builds, scouting, having detection. The rest is execution. In other words, imagine a chess game where someone is winning in materiel and position and then at 3/4 of the game overlooks a tiny red dot near his king and queen and both are obliterated in a nuclear explosion. Of course, at highest level, players don't often make such mistakes, it's more of a couple of micro mistakes here, a timing mistakes there, and the position becomes almost untenable.
posted by rainy at 11:51 AM on November 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Here's Kasparov on the subject of modern computer chess:

And in the very next sentence, he says:

In 2003, I played serious matches against two of these programs running on commercially available multiprocessor servers—and, of course, I was playing just one game at a time—and in both cases the score ended in a tie with a win apiece and several draws.

I know he's talking about the cheap $50 programs, but it is still unclear to me that the best computer programs can beat the best human chess players, it seems more like they can, on average, battle to a draw. But that is a very interesting article and clarifies a lot of the points being made in this thread. Kasparov goes on to talk about computer-assisted human players, and says he beat Topalov 4-0 but when both were using computer assistance, they played to a draw at 3-3.

Anyway, that was more what I was thinking about with the analogy comparing Starcraft to High Frequency Trading, I was imagining two computers playing against each other. The computer is capable of making moves almost infinitely fast, so it would beat all humans. So it could only play "fairly" against another computer. At that point, it is hard to say what game is really being played.

On preview, from rainy:

In other words, imagine a chess game where someone is winning in materiel and position and then at 3/4 of the game overlooks a tiny red dot near his king and queen and both are obliterated in a nuclear explosion.

Kasparov hits that in the article too. He talks about how many moves ahead he can visualize.

The only real answer, “It depends on the position and how much time I have,” is unsatisfying. In what may have been my best tournament game at the 1999 Hoogovens tournament in the Netherlands, I visualized the winning position a full fifteen moves ahead—an unusual feat. I sacrificed a great deal of material for an attack, burning my bridges; if my calculations were faulty I would be dead lost. Although my intuition was correct and my opponent, Topalov again, failed to find the best defense under pressure, subsequent analysis showed that despite my Herculean effort I had missed a shorter route to victory. Capablanca’s sarcasm aside, correctly evaluating a small handful of moves is far more important in human chess, and human decision-making in general, than the systematically deeper and deeper search for better moves—the number of moves “seen ahead”—that computers rely on.

Yes, there are plenty of chess matches where one player "misses one tiny red dot" and loses spectacularly. A tiny tactical error can have a huge strategic impact. And Kasparov's win-in-15 game was actually an error, although a winning error.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:07 PM on November 17, 2014


Realistically, in the future, Starcraft is going to replace socks.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:11 PM on November 17, 2014


charlie don't surf, except in chess it's not a tiny dot you overlook, it's that you SEE it and overlook its full implications. In SC2, it's like that, as well, but you can ALSO simply not see some detail visually, or see it a few seconds too late.
posted by rainy at 12:15 PM on November 17, 2014


This was a fantastic in-depth article that presented a lot of food for thought on a number of facets of a subject I have only the most passing of acquaintances with. I'm so glad the lion's share of the discussion here wasn't derailed into a brawl over literally one single barely significant sentence.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:32 PM on November 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


Starcraft could be more interesting and accessible if there were more parameters in which you could interact with units. You wouldn't need to use them and use old single or group single-action commands if you wanted, but it could open up some tactical options for those without dexterity. Things like changing the spacing between units in and outside of battle, having toggles for whether your units spend time dodging delayed attacks, retreating/approaching/surrounding between attack frames (or movement in general), focus-firing, whether to potentially overkill an enemy with delayed attacks or to assume that the enemy will potentially prevent a targeted unit's death somehow, more advanced patrol paths, more precise movement actions, reactions upon encountering enemies and/or unknown enemy fire, etc. Some settings could be changed by default depending on the unit/scenario the game starts.
posted by halifix at 1:08 PM on November 17, 2014


It would make it more successful halifix, but I'm not sure it would make it more interesting at least for the people who play it now. Part of the appeal of Starcraft, as I understand it, is that having to micromanage the heck out of your units in realtime means that the skill ceiling for the game is very high--if you play a lot you will continue to improve for a long time, and the spread between average and exceptional players is very large.

Automating that micromanagement would make the game easier to play well (and would probably increase its appeal for some, sure) but it would also make it shallower and less "pure". In a sense it would cease to be Starcraft at all, since that synthesis of macro and micro is a big part of what defines the core mechanic of the game. It might make it more fun for the casual player, but I bet the more serious player base would rebel.

Personally that obsessive micromanagement is a big turn-off for me as a potential player, since I don't find that at all fun to do. (I do enjoy watching the games though occasionally, and seeing the level of control that the best players exert over their units is much more impressive, knowing how hard it is.) I just take that to mean that the game is not for me, though. I appreciate that what I find maddening and impossible is for others the very essence of their favorite game, and I'm OK with that. If I don't want to clickclickclick as fast as I possibly can for 45 minutes, I am free to play any of thousands of other games, which is what I do.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:30 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think this has been linked yet - Skynet meets the Swarm: How the Berkley Overmind won the 2010 Starcraft AI competition (and the Metafilter thread) and a Gizmondo article about the same topic/tournament involving AIs playing Starcraft.
posted by nubs at 2:02 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Your phone will always win, but not because it's exploring the full state space of chess, which is waaaay too big (the number of distinct 40-move games is far greater than the number of electrons in the observable universe).

You said what I wanted to so I'll just point out that on some level limitations imposed by game tree size are actually pretty intractable for computers. Moore's law predicts a doubling of processing power every 18 months, which sounds pretty good until you realize the number of move sequences to investigate in chess multiplies by about 35 for each turn you want to look ahead, or by 200 in Go. In practice there is probably a fair amount of improvement that has been/can be made in determining which searches to cut short early. If computers could literally explore the whole probability space the game would be "solved" - i.e. we would know sequences of perfect play such that either one side is guaranteed a win or both can play to a draw. Chess being unsolved - and perhaps unsolvable with computers as we know them unless someone comes up with a non-brute-force proof - I couldn't tell you which. Perfect checkers players, apparently, can force a draw.
posted by atoxyl at 2:23 PM on November 17, 2014


That was a pretty insane game. Luring your opponent in with a game-long strategy of safe, micro-based harassment from the air, countered best by tightly grouped marines and healing — switched out in the last couple minutes with devastating but high-risk all-or-nothing attacks that work best against... tightly tightly grouped marines. Which will never get the chance to heal because they were INSTANTLY DISSOLVED 20 OR 30 AT A TIME. I don't know about greatest game in history, but that baneling burrow will probably be remembered for a long time as the most awesome game-ending single move in history.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:41 PM on November 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


Now I'm imagining this weird metagame where chess pieces go up against Starcraft armies and can someone make this happen?
posted by speicus at 4:43 PM on November 17, 2014


good lord do people have a lot of feels about chess and whose gaming "mind" is bigger.

This article was fantastic, and that game really was out of control by the end. It's fascinating to see how quickly esports are going mainstream, with large streams of many different games regularly reaching into the 100k+ territory, and prize pools occasionally getting into millions of dollars, when even 2 years ago such numbers were very rare.

It makes me think of the Deadspin article on how gamergate is reflective of certain networked modes of cultural production and communication going more mainstream, and the power that the increased accessibility of these tools has to amplify social signal very quickly. Ties into what Anita Sarkeesian talked about in her XOXO speech, and this recent study by an MIT prof suggesting that #gamergate could be being primarily driven by around 500 people.

The ability services like twitch and twitter and facebook have to build signal quickly is incredible, and I think wider society as a whole is just barely in the infancy of grappling with the ability that amplification has to foster social change, or at least social churn, at incredible speed.
posted by MetropolisOfMentalLife at 5:00 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Part of the appeal of Starcraft, as I understand it, is that having to micromanage the heck out of your units in realtime means that the skill ceiling for the game is very high--if you play a lot you will continue to improve for a long time, and the spread between average and exceptional players is very large.

Well, nothing is preventing people from using single commands if they so wish. I'd argue that this would inherently increase the depth of the game, because there are many more options to consider, and thus take even longer to attain what is now "mastery." Instead of being limited by just the rpm you have (and the relatively simple commands you can give), you are limited by a combination of rpm and the ability to process what the most efficient way to control your units is. With decent training and mental agility, someone who could previously achieve only around 300 rpm could reach say the equivalent of 400 rpm. Perhaps it's not always necessary, but it could be great for trying to suddenly battle on multiple fronts at once. There would also increase the amount of actions during relative periods of downtime; you'd still need to scout/get in attack range, and during that time, try to analyze what behavior preferences the enemy has. You can then use this to adjust your own unit behavior preferences, and then attack in such a way that places a greater burden on the enemy to properly counter.

I say this as a person that is terrible at Starcraft and probably enjoys theory-crafting more than actually playing/watching games. I just like adding bells and whistles if they work correctly and have no negative impact.
posted by halifix at 5:11 PM on November 17, 2014


If the game was brilliant, it wasn't because of 2 baneling mine hits. At that point, it was just a combination of some luck, bomber making the mistake of losing scan, and then making the 2nd mistake of not splitting up once he got hit with baneling mine. If anything, the brilliant part was good micro on keeping mutalisks intact while on very little income, for quite a long time.
posted by rainy at 6:28 PM on November 17, 2014


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