Friday, December 24, 2010

The Army That You Have

Playing against the computer AI for the past few weeks has been an interesting experience. When I first started playing Starcraft 2, I found myself always struggling to catch up against the computer, especially on the AI difficulties of Very Hard and Insane. The normal pace at which I created units in the campaign mode was nothing compared to the speeds at which the computer could pump out a constant stream of units. Fihu kulang saddok i fina'tinas-na. Playing against the computer and its ability to always be creating and expanding, and not lose track of things the way humans do when the map gets scattered or the fighting gets brutal actually helps you appreciate the importance of timing windows. When you see high-level players compete against each other, the most obvious game is the one where they are trying to kill each others' units and buildings. A less obvious game is the vying for the ability to capitalize on "timing windows" or moments where your opponent is temporarily vulnerable, either because of something you caused through harassment or because of a choice your opponent made in order to expand or change tech. The best players can guess when these moments arrive and use them to take out their opponent.

When I first began playing SC2, I would simply build until I had the army I wanted and then start heading out. Against the VH or Insane computer this doesn't always work. You can only turtle up so long before the computer begins to expand and build enough units to blot out the sun. I've had matches where I killed 7 times more units than I made, but still lost. So many of those assaults take out a decent portion of my units and require that I build more before countering. Somehow the computer is still able to build up a comparable force fast enough that before I can even head out, I'm getting hit again.

Although I may be the only SC2 player to ever consider this, I could not help but think of former Secretary of Defense under Bush II, Donald Rumsfeld and his response to those who criticized him for invading Iraq with a force which could absolutely take out Saddam, but was nowhere near enough to pacify the country effectively. Mildly dissenting voices had said that more troops, hundreds of thousands of more troops would be needed, but Rumsfeld, high off of being at the helm of the biggest and most modern military in the world ignored them. After it was painfully clear that Rumsfeld and his crew had botched the occupation of Iraq, even people serving in Iraq started to find ways of speaking out and questioning their mission.

At a Townhall meeting with troops in 2004, this exchange took place.
Army Spc. Thomas Wilson: Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles? And why don;t we have those resources readily available to us?

Rumsfeld: It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, ah, you go to war with the army you have---not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.---You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up...
Given my political leanings, it might seem very strange to be quoting someone who I would definitely argue is a war criminal, but Donald Rumsfeld is a very quotable person, who sometimes meanders his way to standing on uncomfortable troops and accidentally speaks the truth of a situation with a thick layer of privileged douche-bag shellacked atop it. In this case, he is correct. When I first started playing SC2 I was always waiting to have the army I really wanted and in the campaign mode and on easier levels that is possible strategy. But against the harder computers, you wait too long and you miss all the possible windows at which you could have attacked. By the time you do move out, the computer has such a massive production advantage that you can't overcome it.

For the past few weeks, working with my two mas mafnot na SC2 na ga'chong, Leevin and his pare' Davis, we've been working on figuring out those timing windows, both how to make them and how to find them. This means not always attacking with the best force and of course not the ideal force either, but finding a way to make the force that we have, the best for the moment. This rarely means head on confrontation since the computer, especially in 3 v 3 always has so much more. It instead means using chaddek na tinigong, or rush attacks, surgical suicide strikes with charge zealots meant to take out their Nexus/CC/Hatchery, sneaking in with sniping air such as vikings/banshees or VR to take out their infrastructure, or other sorts of diversions meant to buy time to lure out their main army and then take advantage of the moment. We have gotten much better at it can now consistently beat the computer on VH on any map.

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