Thursday, December 15, 2011

Success in Sportswriting Endeavors

I just received this in my inbox:

Congratulations on your acceptance into the Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Program.

You should be proud to know that your body of work has set you apart from the field. After consideration from various members of our Content Team, we’ve decided that you’re the person we want to fill our Big 10 Featured Columnist position.

That said, I’m sure you’ll still want to weigh your options before you make a commitment.


The sports writing hobby has gone to new heights. I know B/R has a shaky reputation in some circles, but it is a step up from independent SCS where I get very few readers. I had a good week this week as both my articles popped well over 2000 reads (last night's article on Urban Meyer shot past 2000 in 12 hours).

Now I get featured placement on the website, which will keep my read count high. The only downside is the continued requirement for two articles a week during the offseason, but with writing one on the weekend that is not so bad. Especially with editors to help me generate topics, and the whole Big Ten conference providing topics. Plus it will be easier than this season when I tried to hit three a week for B/R and one big article a week for SCS. That was murder, and will not happen again.

But for tonight, despite my broken TV and my four day old cold, I've got a little jump for joy. Boo. Yeah.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Starcraft Adventures Vol. 4 - Night and Day

The next mission I tackled in the campaign over the weekend was a mission where you defend a base camp during 4 minute nighttime periods and then go burn down zerg infected structures during the 4 minute daytime periods. I remember watching Tom play this mission when he was initially showing the game off to me, so I realize that was not too far into the game.  I actually went to Tom for advice after failing a couple of times and he said he used a critical mass of marines and medics to knock out the mission.

Rather than focusing on the specialty units, I followed this advice and it was just enough to win before Night 6, which is the night that pretty much cannot be survived with the amount of enemies invading the base camp.  This mission was perhaps the best designed one yet, as it tests the player's ability to build a fast army and micromanage it well in both defense and quick offense.  Plus, the story is gaining some momentum.  One thing I need to figure out is finding time to find the research points, as the upgrades on the zerg track are definitely worth having.

The next mission in the campaign is another multitasking mission where you must collect 8000 minerals while defending against random zerg attacks and keeping out of the lower ground lava areas every couple of minutes. Let's just say I failed miserably in my first attempt, but will go back at it again soon.  I'll blame it on the crappy instructions from the rastafarian guy explaining the mission.

Then I decided to try some one v. one against the computer for the first time.  Although I did not know many of the units available, I knew enough to be dangerous.  My first attempt was a random map against a very easy computer opponent.  I wrecked the computer easily.  Then I tried again against a hard computer and got absolutely stomped.  I'm building marines and just was building a factory when a group of siege tanks blew me to the stone age.

Although the graphs are not very helpful, looking at the build order and comparing it to mine is helpful in beginning to learn why my strategy sucks.  Despite the setback, I did take a big step up in difficulty with little knowledge of the higher level units.  The strategy of the game appears to be a lot of fun, but I am a bit disappointed medics are not available.  I'm truly enjoying the healers in the campaign, and would love to exploit them in this game like every other game.  Ahh well, if I want to PvP as a healer I can go back to World of Warcraft!

I have this burning desire to throw 7 computers on a big old map and see what happens.  Perhaps I'd still get rolled, but I'd like to think that battle would be epic.  I'll report back when I give that a try, and hopefully the mining centric lava mission will be finished.  As Jim Raynor said, lava and zerg, two of my favorite things.  Ugh.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Starcraft Adventures Vol. 3 - We Got A Convoy Coming!

I played a couple more missions in the campaign last evening, and they were quite a contrast in styles. The first mission was a race to grab an artifact from the Protoss before the Zerg overwhelmed the Protoss on the other side of the map. Once again, it took a couple of tries to work a build order that was fast and effective enough to put enough force over at the artifact to clear out the Protoss while leaving enough troops back to guard the base against rare Zerg attacks. It appeared the right mix was to pump out a lot of minerals and supply depots since there was no early pressure from the Zerg, and then pump out troops quickly with three barracks. I also locked down the base easily with barracks, so the strength of those is proving itself quickly.

There are a bunch of side missions in these campaign missions that seem impossible initially, although the way the switch turned on the third try of this mission made me see that these are possible once you figure out the tricks of the trade. I could not come up with nearly enough firepower to take down the three stone guardians at the artifact on the first two tries, as I was lucky to drop one before my army was decimated. But then on that third try, my army was so overwhelming that the final fight was a joke. Plus I was at the artifact a good 3-4 minutes before the Zerg, so I had time to spare to use some of that army for side missions.

The Protoss are an interesting contrast to the Zerg. With the Zerg, you get overwhelmed by these little packs of weaklings that surround you and do a lot of spray damage.  With the Protoss, at least in the first mission, you are taking on more powerful units called Zealots and a bunch of defensive pylon structures. You do not want to get in range of too many of these structures, as their combined firepower will tear an army up. Strategic attacking of these Protoss strategies appears to be key to success, while the Zerg is all about quick survival and burn.  So far I have no preference for which race I will take into multiplayer, but I do like the Protoss style so far.

The first mission hooked me so I stayed up late and tried another mission. This was a rescue mission where you escort convoy trucks of civilians along a road to airships on the other side of the map. The Zerg presence along the road gets stronger and stronger, but I put together a solid army for the first convoy run and never looked back. I actually let the second convoy truck get destroyed because I misclicked and did not have the army defending the truck. By the time we got to about the fourth truck, the ridiculous swarm of marines, flamethrowing units, and medics surrounding the convoy truck was overpowered and ridiculous looking. These convoy trucks had more security than the United States president.

Perhaps this is just a function of being an early mission, but from a game design standpoint, I think the Zerg should attack or disrupt the base more to make this mission a challenge. Remember, I'm playing on hard as a complete new RTS player, so I do not expect to pass any of these missions on the first try. Once I realized I did not have to leave basically any units at the base, the mission was easy as could be. Anybody who has watched that great movie Convoy or has played World of Warcraft for longer than 24 hours knows how to run an escort or convoy mission.

The options for upgrades are becoming quite varied just five missions in, so I hope these upgrade choices are not terribly important. If they are, I'm probably not doing it right. The flamethrower guys are fun, I look forward to using them with medics more as the combo seems delicious.

Alright that's enough for now. More coming on the weekend I'm sure. Perhaps I'll test a single player match against the computer 1v1 as well. Might as well introduce myself to the chess game that is real starcraft.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

StarCraft Adventures Vol. 2 - Leaving Mar Sara

The second night with the campaign brought a new mission, which was a defensive mission to hold my position until the rescue ship came in 20 minutes. The new technology was bunkers, but I quickly realized that build order was going to be a huge priority as the Zerg got more and more overwhelming towards the end of the twenty minutes.

To survive the escape from Mar Sara, you need to build up a bunch of bunkers, preferably in a defensible location adjacent the command center or adjacent two bridges. I tried to set up two bunkers at each bridge but could not get enough marines quickly to defend both posts. Of course I realized that I was starving myself of resources by not building enough supply depots, which limited the amount of SCV's I could build and keep an adequate army.

After two failures of the mission, I finally decided to go back to basics and build up a bunch of SCV's and supply depots early, while spending some minerals on making both the provided barracks be able to make two marines at once. After I got rolling in supplies, I built three barracks at the fallback position rather than at the bridges, which allowed me to keep my focus on a small area generally speaking. I actually abandoned medics in this attempt because more guys with guns and more barracks seemed like what I needed.

The Zerg are relentless, and they do not give you much time to heal. A couple of medics are fine, but not a bunch. By the end of the mission on the third try, I have capacity for 85 units and probably 50 marines, 20 of which were safely held in five bunkers. This time there was no doubt about it, the mission was easily cleared.

This mission introduced me to the swarm nature of the Zerg, and they are a lot like the flood in Halo. Bunkers are a nice defensive piece to build upon, and I'm looking forward to the next units added to the game. I also see now that I am on the Hyperion that the game branches out a bit, allows you some choice as to what mission to take next. Will I jump at the extra 10k credits to fight some protoss for the first time over artifacts, or will I begin my defense of the homeworlds against the new Zerg invasion?

One thing's for sure, if I'm failing on the easy third mission, I've got a long way to go before the Queen goes down. I also like the ability to customize your army a bit in the armory, but it is hard to tell what will be important. I improved the defense on my marine grunts for now, but some of the other improvements look very spicy.  If nothing else, I am definitely getting a flavor for this RTS business. Looking forward to some naptime playtime during the weekend!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Starcraft 2 Adventures - Vol. 1

In the words of Jim Raynor, it's about time. I jumped on the opportunity to purchase StarCraft 2 from Blizzard over the Thanksgiving weekend at half price, which is a reasonable investment into a game that is high quality by all reports. However, this will be my first true RTS, as the closest gaming experience I have had is my lifelong obsession with chess. 

However, the moving parts are much more dynamic in an RTS like Starcraft, and my friend Tom's long term love of the game compels me to give this a run. Blizzard proves their worth to me in World of Warcraft, but I am taking a break from that and blogging about other things. Now that college football season is over except for 35 bowls, I am back to my gaming pursuits and this new game will join L.A. Noire on the top of my list.  More about L.A. Noire later, but Starcraft is the new kid on the block and I plan to write about how I experience this new type of gaming. 

The tutorials were fairly easy to figure out, but the complexity of the game was immediately apparent. Tom instructed me that if I wanted to learn the ropes and be moderately prepared for multiplayer play, then I should play the campaign on Hard. This is a scary decision for someone not used to RTS let alone the original StarCraft, but I put it on Hard and played the first couple of missions. 

The first mission is all about leading Raynor and a small crew of Marines through an easy line of defenses. The second mission was far more what I expected from the game, as I built up my army and resources to take on a similarly building CPU army at a digsite. I believe that I could have done a better job of disrupting the production on the other side of the map earlier, as I really did not attack until the 20 minute mark. 

It took a couple retreats and rebuilds of the army (soldiers and medics), but eventually my advantage in resources became a victory. I love that medics are the seocnd unit introduced in the campaign, and I may have struggled a bit because I focused too much on having a bunch of healers instead of guys who actually kill things. If you read this blog, you'll immediately understand why the medic will be one of my favorite units in this game. 

It is also clear that I need to do a better job of multitasking. I need to use the minimap more as you can click between areas of the map much more quickly using that than by scrolling across the map as in Diablo II. There's no reason to waste time scrolling across the screen except perhaps at the leading edge of the battle, but even then it is slower than just moving the pointer and clicking on the new area. 

Listening to the second episode of the Creep today, I realize that I will need to have a more focused build order or plan once I move along in the game and have more options. But for now, I am simply focused on getting faster and more efficient with my army building process. The game doesn't have me hooked like WoW did, but I am wanting to play the game again and feel more connected to this style of game than Diablo. Who knows, before it's all said and done, I might be fighting my way up the ladders of multiplayer.

That's enough for now. I look forward to getting back in the game bringing more impressions as I move through more campaign missions. It's about time, indeed.