StarCraft 2 Rollout Very UnBlizzard-Like

July 28th, 2010 by Potato

Blizzard is a company renowned for its quality. Even with World of WarCraft, which saw unprecedented demand that overloaded servers, they did their best to make the game marginally playable as soon as possible.

So far, StarCraft 2 has not lived up to the Blizzard name, the rollout being much worse than WoW, without the extraneous factor of hordes of unexpected players. My preorder never arrived, and caving to the irrational logic that I had spent the whole day waiting for it, I rushed out to the store in the evening to pick up a second copy (I’ll return the preorder whenever it arrives, or resell it to a friend that hasn’t purchased yet — nudge nudge, Netbug). So far, this is not Blizzard’s fault, but put me into a rather foul frame of mind before the disc even hit the drive.

The install took forever, literally over two hours. What game, from a single disc, takes two hours to install? It was ridiculous! Then, after all that… I couldn’t play!

I was getting a message that the servers were “temporarily unavailable”, though nothing of the sort was true. Unfortunately, my account has fallen prey to a weird, rare bug (though how rare is tough to say, because if you have it you can’t post on the forums!). It seems to be affecting Canadian accounts the most, so beware Canuck gamers!

I of course tried all the recommendations, even going so far as to uninstall and reinstall the game (another 2 hours gone!). What’s extra infuriating about the whole thing is that I was most psyched to play the single player game tonight, and the ever fucking DRM won’t let me until it’s connected to the authorization server, which is up (and which I can connect to in my web browser!), but which the game stubbornly continues to tell me is temporarily down!


This is so especially frustrating because not only was I looking forward to the game, but I had set aside special time today to jump in and play. This day was supposed to be special, to mark the turnaround point where my life was supposed to start getting better, damnit. Instead I’ve wasted most of a day, and even the work I did get done — submitted author proofs! I’m getting published, bitches! — can’t put me into anything less than a burning rage as I go off to bed. I want to rip my own head off, and send my unfeeling body, powered by rage and frustration alone in defiance of all known laws of physics and physiology, on a holy mission of vengeance towards Blizzard. There it will tear the buildings down around the heads of tech support until the DRM is gone and we can play once more. While that happens, teams of scientists and practised warlocks will hook my disembodied head directly into the machines, improving my reaction speed so that I can once again marshall the forces of the Koprulu sector with unparalleled efficiency and skill, crushing all opposition beneath my boot… as it was foretold.

I must say, I’m really unimpressed with the complete lockdown on SC2: no LAN means the host for a “LAN” party will have to have a robust enough internet connection and router to get everyone connected to servers in order to play together. Even the single player requires an internet connection. Yes, after it’s authorized the first time — which is where I’m stuck at — you can play offline for up to 30 days before authorizing again, but that’s still pretty draconian. Some people have reported that there’s a crack out already to beat the DRM… sad that the pirates can play the game and I can’t.

Nuclear launch detected.

Damned FutureShop

July 27th, 2010 by Potato

I got suckered in to preordering StarCraft 2 from FutureShop back in May. I was hoping that I could elect to do an in-store pickup, but that wasn’t an option: it had to be shipped. I remember fondly WarCraft 3 arriving first thing in the morning on release day when I preordered it from FutureShop back in the day, so I had high hopes that it would go just as smooth for StarCraft 2.

And, of course… the shipment didn’t arrive. I spent all day staking out the door, reading on the front porch for most of the afternoon to make sure the sneaky mailman wouldn’t tap quietly on my door and then leave one of those notes to visit the shipping depot and slither off. And not even that much: nothing at all.

Damned FutureShop, I should have just ordered through Amazon.

So, here I am, not playing StarCraft when I should be. I feel so very glad I preordered now.

Asset Allocation As Seen in StarCraft

July 14th, 2010 by Potato

Asset allocation refers to how you split up your assets (i.e., money). To me, it’s an easy concept, but to others less so. Here’s an analogy to StarCraft I was going over with Netbug the other night:

Bonds/fixed income. This is your defensive stuff. The marines in your bunker aren’t going to get a whole lot of kills through the game, but they’re going to keep you protected. Even in an all-out assault, the enemy has to blow through the bunker before they can even touch the marines. It’s not a glamorous job, but it’s always wise to have a few marines on guard duty. As you get nearer the end game, and protecting what you’ve got becomes more important than getting more, it’s wise to shift more of your assets into defensive roles.

Equities. This is where your growth comes from. The expeditionary forces you send out to secure more expansion points. In the long run, you’ll expect to take a few lucrative vespene geysers with these forces, but any individual one could get surrounded and wiped out. Best to diversify by trying a few different expansion locations, rather than putting all your eggs into one basket. Early on, you’ll probably want to put most of your forces into these growth areas, since even if they do get wiped out you’ll have time on your side to make it back. Later on though you’re going to want to shift your focus away from growing more, and back to protecting what you’ve managed to grab.

Which brings us to rebalancing: if you have a good run of luck with your risky growth stuff, it may be wise to use some of those newfound resources to beef up your defense. Vice-versa, after a nasty market decline decimates your equity expansion task force, you’ll probably want to take a few goons off defense to bring you back up to your target allocation. Turtling up after a small setback on the expansion front is not the way to go in investing.

Your last category of asset allocation is what you’ve got in the bank. This mineral stockpile can be easily and quickly spent to buy what you need in the moment, and is an important buffer for your finances. But, it’s not earning anything for you sitting there, so you want to figure out what margin of safety you need (3 months of expenses is a good rule of thumb, or in SC terms, enough to get each of your production buildings going with one unit in the queue if you need to switch directions), and get the rest out there on the field working for you.

Tater’s Takes

May 28th, 2010 by Potato

I haven’t done one of these for a while. There was some bad weather for a few weeks there, and I didn’t get on the bike at all for a fortnight. Not owning up to my downfalls in the exercise routine kind of defeats the point of the public update/shaming, but I also reasoned that I didn’t have any links I wanted to share, either.

The last two weeks have been much better though: I broke the 20 km barrier, and rather easily at that, returning home feeling like I still could have done more, and wasn’t much sore the next day. Now the problem is going to be that to keep pushing myself to be able to bike further (e.g., to train for the Rona/MS bike tour), I need to start committing serious time. I did a (fairly hilly) 18 km on holiday Monday, and that took me about an hour and a half — I just don’t have the time right now to push it any further than that.

Diet: aaaah, you don’t even want to know. So far the multivitamin seems to be keeping away the scurvy.

Random thoughts:

Realtors to Canadians: Chill Out

“There will be no drastic drop in Canadian housing prices, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Thursday, because house prices will stabilize and climbing household income will make owning a home more affordable.”

Wow, I barely included tautology in my list of logical fallacies because I couldn’t think of any examples where it really came up, and circular reasoning is usually fairly easy to spot. But, here it is: there will be no drastic drop in house prices because house prices will not drop drastically.

Then that last tack-on about incomes doesn’t mention a timeframe. Incomes rise at about the rate of inflation, say 2%/year. If houses are 10% overvalued on average (and 30-50% in Toronto and Vancouver), that could be a very long period of flat-lining. If even the CREA is saying that the best case is a flat-lining of house prices for years, then why be in any hurry to buy, especially with uncertainty about where rates will go?

And if everyone’s in no hurry to buy, then won’t sellers have to lower their prices to attract buyers back? I just can’t see a stagnation as a likely scenario. Yes, house prices have stagnated for long periods of time before, but not usually so far from equilibrium, and not following such epic volatility (down ~10% in ’08, and then bouncing back ~20% in ’09!).

Plus there’s the issue that Canada is not homogeneous… a nation-wide decline of just a few percent could very well mean that Toronto and Vancouver got smashed while the rest of the country stagnated…

Michael James has a good set of links in his roundup this week, including a couple on your financial advisor, and whether small investors have no choice but to become DIYers.

My Bell bill arrived for the month, and I was greeted with a $30 over-usage charge. Bell’s cap of 25 GB is way more restrictive than Rogers’ 60 GB one (and even that is getting tight as more and more uses for the internet come out but the cap hasn’t changed in years). So even though I had a fairly moderate month (~40 GB in usage, well under what my cap was when I was with Rogers), that qualified me for the full $30 overage fee. What really ticked me off is that even though they have my email address (and phone number) they never notified me that I was getting close to (or exceeding) my cap. I thought I was being good. You can bet I’ll be switching to Teksavvy (with a 200 GB cap!) when my contract’s up…

Stephen Novella has another interesting post up on science and public perceptions. “[P]eople find stories much more compelling than data.”

Spoilers ahead!

Borderlands: I finally finished this thing. I had no idea I was that close to the end… it just simply ended. I must say, it was very unsatisfying. The beginning of the game had so much promise (and with multiplayer it would probably still be fun), but it felt like they rushed through it and did a little too much cut ‘n paste, as the charm and humour from the first little bit seemed gone completely by the end. It was a grind-fest basically. The reward for beating the final boss? The ability to run through the game all over again on a higher difficulty to unlock “achievements”. Whoopee. The last boss didn’t even drop any epic loot! Oh, and there is no treasure vault: the vault is a prison for some kind of Eridian demon thing, that is unlocked every 200 years by the alignment of the moons, which gives our hero the chance to finish the demon off once and for all. To quote the PA guys: “It is at this point that people begin to question the wisdom behind moon-powered demon prisons.”

StarCraft 2 Beta – First Thoughts

May 12th, 2010 by Potato

For those who don’t know, if you preorder StarCraft 2, you can get access to the beta and start playing right away (albeit, a beta version). I’ve been too busy to play much, but I have had at least one game with each race, and here are my first thoughts:

The general game:
Blizzard’s last RTS, WarCraft 3, was a real revolution to the genre. Heroes, smaller armies, autocasting, smart casting, creeps/mobs, treasure, potions, shops, and mercenaries made the game a pretty wild divergence from the earlier RTS games. StarCraft 2 on the other hand, is pretty true to the original StarCraft. Autocasting and smart casting did get brought up to reduce the amount of micromanagement required, and unit group sizes are no longer limited to 12 (which, IMHO, further encourages massing units). But there are no heroes, no creeps/mobs, no shops, and the unit cap is still quite high at I think 200 (I haven’t had a chance to actually hit it yet).

The units got mixed around and changed quite a bit — the firebat is gone, for example, leaving the Terrans without any melee units. The zerg queen has gone from being a fast flying scout caster to a den mother that watches the hive. The bigger change under this is that the rock-paper-scissors aspect of the original StarCraft has been watered down to an extent. There are still units that get bonuses in their attacks to units of a certain size, and armour still plays a role, but it doesn’t appear possible to counter specific mass strategies as it was in the original StarCraft (or Brood War). Back then, someone could build a fleet of 48 mutalisks, and you could pop them all with just 4 Science Vessels and some micro, or a handful of Valkyries. Basically with some good scouting, you could counter most “mass unit X” strategies with much fewer resources than massing something of your own would take. In SC2, the damage seems to have levelled off a bit, forcing you to build up your army rather than fleshing out your niches. With just a few weeks left to go before release (eek!) there probably won’t be too many drastic changes to the game, but balance issues will be front and centre in what changes do get made.

I was reading some of the pre-beta articles about the game, and was afraid that it would be chalk-full of transforming units to keep track of. I don’t remember if the articles just seemed to focus on the Viking or if there were other transformers as well, but it sounded complicated from the previews. In practice, the transforming nature of the viking and siege tank are not overwhelming.

Macro is the new micro: One of the changes that really struck me was how your macro game — harvesting resources and building your armies — has really come to the forefront in SC2. Much of the micromanagement in a match is now dedicated to the macro part of the game, and these can be very crucial things to optimize (indeed, find yourself just a minute or two on the slow side in building your queens and your allies will jump down your throat!). The Terrans can call down advanced, time-limited workers called MULEs to harvest resources at a faster rate; the Protoss can turbocharge their buildings to pump out units faster, via a spell that must be recast quite frequently; the zerg Queens can increase the larvae spawn rate at your hives with a spell of their own. Also, there is no residual vespene extraction: once your geyser is depleted, you have to move on, which leads to a tiny bit more micro to support your macro game.

Other changes:
The way the game handles having the high ground has changed. In case you didn’t notice in SC1, there was a definite advantage to be fighting from the high ground: units firing up the cliff would have a miss rate applied to them. Now, you can’t fire up a cliff at all without a spotter, but if you can see up, you do full damage. There’s also no need to scout just to see the terrain: maps start fully revealed (but covered by the fog of war). Plus, of course, the pretty, pretty graphics.

The players: It’s only the beta, I’m still in the newbie league, there’s no single-player or battle the AI option to learn how to play, and yet people are still assholes when you don’t play “perfectly”. Dudes: relax, people have to learn somehow, and even if these matches were ranked, your ranking on the beta ladder doesn’t really matter (even when compared to how little the release ladder rankings matter).

Rushing seems to be huge from my subset of games played. I’ve even seen players build barracks/gateways inside another players base to rush them, which is pretty damned audacious. Past strategies for defending against the rush don’t seem to be as effective any more — blocking the choke-point doesn’t work on many maps because many bases have a back door with destructible terrain, and I don’t know if the movement speeds are higher or what, but just having “a few” defenders doesn’t seem to be enough to hold them back any more (a rusher used to be at an inherent disadvantage because even if you were a little slower, you had some extra time to build more units while they were charging down from their side of the map, and if they tried to beeline for the workers, they’d often get chewed up by the marines). WC3 seemed to have a lot of resources to try to block rushing (and it was novel strategies like the orc tower rush that often proved to be the most annoying to counter), not the least of which was the strength of your hero, and the defense of the workers (wisps were completely enclosed, humans could turn into militia, undead acolytes were admittedly corpsicles, but you were guaranteed to have at least a few ghouls to get wood, and orc peons could jump into the burrows and shoot back), plus the strength of the early tower defenses.