Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Zerg Rush : A Case Report

My experience with the 1v1 aspect of the first StarCraft didn't last long. I was happily mining minerals in my base and contemplating how lovely it would be to cultivate my ultimate fleet of 10+ Carriers to demolish the enemy, when half a dozen Zerglings ran into my base. I had not yet even created my first military unit and was promptly crushed, despite a valiant effort from my army of workers. The game lasted about 3 minutes.

How could I be crushed so mercilessly? I, Melf, Slayer of Noobs? Possibly this mysterious gentleman was some kind of Korean with "crazy micro" living in a net cafe. I knew that I could never pull off such a feat of human dexterity. The entire reason that I had selected the Protoss race was for their smaller (but higher value) number of units, to reduce the amount of clicking that my feeble non-Korean brain could accomplish.

Enter StarCraft II. A little older and wiser now, I knew that I would face the same "dirty" tactics again. There was only one way to prepare myself, to truly know my enemy. I would have to play Zerg and get this rush thing down pat so that I could defend against it.

Of course there was no way I would just jump into 1v1 battles to try this. Instead I practiced against the AI. StarCraft II is a huge step above its predecessor in terms of skirmishing vs AI. There are 6 difficulty levels, and the AI does not "cheat". It does not receive extra units or resources. It is simply smarter in terms of the order it builds units in, makes smarter decisions in battle (e.g. sometimes the enemy will run when they see that your army is larger, before the first drop of blood is shed), and of course micro-manages like a Korean on speed. After floundering around on Medium difficulty for a while, I moved up the ranks, trying different combinations of build orders until I was able to beat the AI on Insane difficulty. This shocked me - I had never managed to beat Insane difficulty with my beloved Protoss, and in fact I did it here in under 5 minutes.

There was something exciting I realized from all of this. I realized that this did not require "cracy micro uber hax" after all. In fact, it requires a lot less clicking and multi-attention-splitting craziness. Why let my games proceed to be longer than I need to? The longer the game proceeds the more units, more upgrades, more expansions, and more backdoor tactics there are to deal with. I get worse at the game by the minute!

Now I was ready to unearth my strategy on the unsuspecting n00bs of BattleNet. First, let's see what we're dealing with here:

This is the post-match "build order" of both players in one of the games I played. You can see that I make just one worker unit (Drone) in the beginning, before saving all my pennies for a Spawning Pool. This will allow me to make my little precious Zerglings. While I'm waiting for the Pool to finish building I make another Drone, and an Overlord to nourish my army. When the Pool finishes building I have exactly enough minerals to convert my 3 larvae into 6 Zerglings. With a waypoint set into the enemy's base, in no time at all these hatch and scurry off. With my base hot-keyed it's a simple matter of hitting 0 (select base), S (select larvae), Z (make zerglings) every time I see that I have another 50 minerals gathered. This brings a steady stream of reinforcements in and lets me focus on micro-managing the fragile Zerglings to make sure they don't do silly things like get slaughtered by an army of workers.

The fellow on the right was playing smartly. He starts off with a few probes to boost his economy, lays down a supply source (pylon) to keep them coming, and saves up enough for a couple of Gateways. This allows him to start creating Zealots, a strong melee unit that is the only early defense the Protoss has time to muster against my Zerg rush.

What you can't see from this is that he is also placing these buildings to try and prevent early rush tactics. Each base has a narrow choke point leading to it - he has actually placed both gateways and a pylon such that my poor little pets can not make it up the ramp without first chomping through his buildings. This theoretically buys him enough time to make enough units to stop me, and then trump me with his superior economy. However, using a pylon to make this wall was a bad idea because it powers his buildings. Chomp, chomp, chomp (eventually). There is a Zealot waiting for me on the other side but my 'Lings stream on past so that they can surround him, and once he is down go and begin munching his other pylon. This fellow does not make it easy for me - he sends his entire army of workers to come and harrass me. Fortunately my steady stream of reinforcements allows me to ignore them and get that pylon down. Once this happens his Gateways have no power and can not create units; there are no more Zealots to deal with and I slaughter the rest of the worker army at my leisure. A bare 3 minutes after the game started:

Now, I do feel a little bad. But this is all in the name of research, you understand. We must learn to fight the Zerg menace from the inside if we are to have any chance of prevailing in this war against the cheap, dirty tactics employed by the BattleNet hordes.



Crimson Starfire said...

Lol, I was preparing the exact same post. You Zerg rushed me too it! ;)

At the moment, there is no point even playing 1v1 unless you know how to beat a Zerg rush... and even if you do, there are certain maps, where you just can't stop it (i.e. pathway is too big). Terran can block their paths easier than Protoss, but their units drop faster. Something tells me Blizzard will be nerfing the Zerg rush soon, or at least boosting Protoss at the start.

mbp said...

Rush tactics provoke an unhealthy amount of ire among players of RTS games. They engender cries of "noob" and "cheater" and as often as not the devs will cave in to pressure and patch the game to make rushing difficult.

Personally I think rushing is an unappreciated art form. I love it when some-one come up with a new clever way of rushing that no one had thought of before. (The engineer rush in Company of Heroes for example was a work of genius).

Of course there are balance issues. There always needs to be a way to defend against rush tactics and I guess a failed rush should generally put the rusher at a huge disadvantage so that choosing whether or not to rush is a calculated all or nothing gamble.

I think that rush tactics actually create more of an issue in single player than in multi-player. Often the AI cannot cope and rushing becomes a quick "I win" button.

Melf_Himself said...

I don't think the super fast rush in SC2 is an issue for people who know what they're doing. This guy made an error with his pylon placement, probably panicking because I killed his scout with my drones and he could no longer see what I was doing. If he had have just placed his second Gateway a little better I don't think I could have beaten it down before he accrued enough Zealots to stop my plans (the ramp was only really wide enough for 4 'lings to hit the building at a time).

After that as you said mbp, the rusher is at a massive disadvantage and usually loses not too long afterwards. There was one game I played vs a Terran that was on a map with 4 possible starting positions. I did not scout (I am a n00b) and by the time I found his base he was well entrenched and I had 20-odd zerglings that were looking mighty useless, without a backup plan or much of an economy to speak of to implement a plan even if I had one. I was smashed by the standard marines + marauders "bio-ball" shortly afterwards.

Stay tuned as I discover how to obtain victory past the 4 minute mark with the Zerg :)

Jayedub said...

One common thing I heard about SC2 on the podcasts was that scouting is very important, which you could probably apply to any game really.

My problem with playing online with a rts is that I am a turtle player, so I end up getting my face smashed from early rush players.

Melf_Himself said...

Jayedub, in the rock-paper-scissors of the RTS world, turtling is the *counter* to rushing! Sounds like your turtle needs to make sure his head is pulled right back into his shell ;)