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Automation and UI improvements in StarCraft 2

One of the major issues people have with StarCraft 2, at this stage of development, is the updated control scheme. The new User Interface (UI) constitutes a major overhaul to the now-outdated, almost-10 year old system of the original game. Among the obvious improvements, some changes are the cause of many arguments that are raging all over StarCraft 2 fan sites and forums.

The changes all deal with automation. The new UI will require less attention from the player and will not force him to micro-manage his game as much as the old one did. Some people argue that this represents a cheapening of the game and the skill it requires to play, while others claim that this is a logical progression and a clearly warranted update to the outdated control scheme.

In this post, we will review the proposed changes:

1) Auto-Mining Peons

In StarCraft 1, every peon (Drone, Probe or SCV) a player built out of his headquarters building would idle near its selected rally point. Unlike other, more modern games of this type (including Blizzard’s WarCraft 3), it was impossible to rally the workers to the resources by right clicking them. Instead, a player had to manually select each and every one of his peons and send them to the a mineral patch or to the Vespene Gas extractor. When selecting a group of workers, high level players would still send them to the minerals individually, since they tended to clump together trying to mine one patch, slightly reducing efficiency.


This proved to be a major hindrance to slower players – having to focus on one’s base to keep the economy going every time a new peon popped out meant having less time to focus on the battle itself.

This system would be replaced with something that already exists in WarCraft 3. All the player has to do is select the HQ building, right click on the resource location, and the built workers would get to work right as they came out.

SC2Blog Verdict: This should have been patched into StarCraft 1 by now.


2) Multiple Building Selection

Many recent RTS games have reduced the focus on building multiple buildings with the exact same purpose, like StarCraft does to increase the potential rate of unit production. StarCraft 2 still keeps to this formula, though, but an improvement in this scheme is proposed: Instead of having to select each building individually and issuing the unit production order, multiple buildings of the same type could be selected. That way, a player with 4 Gateways would be able to click once to produce 4 Stalkers (assuming he has sufficient resources for them).

This would streamline the often-tedious procedure of keeping unit production going, especially considering StarCraft’s 5 unit queue limit for each building and the need to churn out units like mad in some matches. Again, this reduces the player’s need to focus on his base and allows him to manage his units in exploration, battle or positioning on the field. Will this really reduce the gap between newbies and professional players?

SC2Blog Verdict: Another logical improvement.

How often do you build fewer than two Stargates?


3) Automatic Unit Formation

In StarCraft, and more than likely, in StarCraft 2 as well, unit positioning plays a very important role. The brilliantly executed meld of melee and ranged attacking units lives and dies on the starting position of each unit as it enters the battle. A group of properly positioned Marines, helped by a handful of Firebats, could repel a much larger number of attacking melee units like Zealots or Zerglings. The same attacking group would annihilate those Terrans if they managed to surround and/or separate them, taking few losses.

StarCraft had a very unforgiving unit formation/pathing system. Often, units (un)managed by less skillful players would march to battle in a single file and die before firing a single shot. Players had to make sure each and every one of their units were positioned smartly to make the best use of them, according to the threat they faced and the conditions of the battlefield.

The StarCraft 2 developers are now entertaining the idea of creating automatic unit formations. We do not yet know the nature of these formations, but can speculate as to how they will be implemented. Other RTS games have several formations you can choose from (e.g. box formation, arrow, straight line) while some do as much as make sure your melee units are positioned at the front while weaker, ranged units are protected in the back. How far will StarCraft 2 take automatic unit formation?


SC2Blog Verdict: Properly positioning units and “formatting” them to best take advantage of their strengths while hiding their weaknesses is one of the most important and skill demanding features of every RTS game – with StarCraft being no exception. We hope Blizzard doesn’t take this too far. We would like to see improvements to general pathing, however.


4) Context-Dependent Unit Behavior

Issuing an attack-move order? In StarCraft 1, Medics grouped with Marines who were given this order would run head first into the enemy while the marines paused to attack from a safe distance. In StarCraft 2, the dev team promised, the Terran Medics will receive additional training, allowing them to interpret their commands in a smarter way. We don’t yet know of other examples for more educated unit behavior, but with this precedent, others are sure to come.

SC2Blog Verdict: While we’re usually proponents of streamlining the game and increasing automation, this might be taking it too far. The player should be the one deciding what units do – even at the cost of them performing stupid moves when he doesn’t notice. If there’s anything that differentiates the pros from the noobs, it’s their ability to control all their units quickly and skillfully at all times.


5) Smart Casting

Another improvement to the normal (as of StarCraft 1) behavior of units. Previously, a group of the same units with a special ability who were given a command to use the ability would all activate it together. This would result in 12 Ghosts all locking down a single Carrier, a group of Templars Psi-Storming a single spot on the field, or Queens using up valuable energy by casting ensnare on a single position.

In StarCraft 2, “Smart Casting” would allow the player to use abilities when selecting a group – only this time, only one of the units (the closest one, no less) would use it. A smart player would select a group of Templars, shift click a few locations on the field, and cover a huge area with a devastating super Psi-Storm.

Formation Psi-Storm in StarCraft 1

SC2Blog Verdict: We approve. The end result of this is the same, only less mouse clicks are required. Careful planning will still be needed to execute a good move, just like in StarCraft 1 – but this time, it won’t require superhuman dexterity.


Any changes to the winning formula that is StarCraft would obviously lead to many arguments among fans, and probably among the developers themselves. We will all have to decide which update is essential to the game and will allow all players to enjoy it better, while making sure they do not detract from the skill required to master StarCraft 2.

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