John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

Too busy playing StarCraft II to review it

January 8th, 2012

So I’m pretty late to the game but I finally picked up a copy of StarCraft II. While the game is very similar to the original Starcraft real-time-strategy game that was released about ten years ago, it is a welcome update and expansion on the series. Now that I’ve been playing it way too much for the last two weeks, I’ve finally convinced myself it was time to break away for a few moments and write a review.

Introduction to Starcraft

Starcraft is a fast-paced game of strategy that pits you against online opponents. Well, there’s a single player campaign mode as well, where you can fight against the computer and watch a story unfold, but I’ve pretty much skipped that and gone straight to the real challenge: other Starcraft players.

As you play, you control one of three alien races: Protoss, an ancient technological race; Terrans, the human team; or the Zerg, a bug-like critters that swarm and corrupt the land. Each race has its own set of buildings and units, so although the general gameplay is the same for each player, there are unique strategies and combinations of units that will win for each race. Knowing how to play one doesn’t necessarily mean you can switch over to the other!

Starcraft 2 Overview

Buildings are at the heart of your military encampment.  You’ll start off with a command center, Nexus, or hatchery depending on which race you select.  You’ll also have some worker-type units that can collect resources and build new buildings.  As you gather those mineral and vespene gas resources, you’ll be able to construct the buildings that create new military units, allow you to build upgrades to existing units, or perform special functions on the map like sensor sweeps.

Military units come in many varieties, from the individual infantry to massive flying fortresses and oversized bugs.  Some units fly, and some burrow.  Some can only attack other ground units from close up, and others can fire at flying units from a range.  Each unit’s particular capabilities and strengths is set, so it is important to know their abilities, weaknesses, and adjust your own strategy according to what you see of your enemy’s.

SC2 Combat

Many wars are determined simply by who can build the most units first.  A good opponent will strike early and strike often, and if they’ve collected more resources and built structures more efficiently they will eventually just overwhelm your defenses.  However, that isn’t to say that all combat is won purely by the size of an army!

The terrain also plays a pretty big role in SC2.  Many areas are separated by ramps and differing altitudes.  From up top, you can usually get a better view and better range on units you’re attacking below.  And unless the invader has some troops on top of the cliffs (or a flying unit who can see over them) they won’t even be able to tell what is shooting at them!

Further, some units have natural advantages against others.  The Protoss Immortal has powerful shields that can protect it from Terran units like the Siege Tank or Thor, and it also has specialized guns that rip right through armored enemies.  However, if surrounded by a horde of cheap zerglings, it will have a hard time shooting them all down before those shields collapse.

In many cases, an inability to hit flying units can result in a massive defeat. Some troops like Zerg roaches can deliver a lot of damage to ground-based units, but just a few Void Rays or Wraiths can rain down damage from above.

Unit speed and mobility is another factor that comes in to play here. Mutalisks fly and they fly fast, so it is pretty easy to circumvent a player’s defenses and attack the weak side of their base. By the time your troops come around from the front gate, the mutalisks might have already gone and left nothing but destruction.

Multi-player Ladder

If you’re playing online against other human players, you’ll have to play some ranking matches so Blizzard can determine exactly where to put you on the ranking ladder. From there, you’ll automatically be matched to face up against folks who are roughly in your same range of skill. Of course, sometimes you’ll still get to play against those who are significantly better or worse than you are, but the amount of points won or lost in those matches is also offset a bit to balance out the expectations. Think of it like having a bit of a buffer against a bad run!

Like Chess, on Speed

Starcraft 2 is pretty much the perfect game for those enjoy strategy at high speeds. If you like chess, but wish you had a factory mass-producing pawns for your onslaught, then don’t make the mistake I did and miss out on any more time without this title. I have to give it a solid 4 and a half out of five stars, and my only complaint is that a game can take a little while to get going just to be decided in about a minute or two of actual combat. Other than that, it is well-balanced and I’m still shocked by new strategies and twists that surprise me after playing for nearly two months. As I get better at the game, my ladder ranking automatically adjusts and puts me up against new challenges I’ve never encountered before. And just as soon as I master that, I am introduced to yet another level of competition…

Ok, there is a lot more that could be said about this game, but right now I really just want to get back to playing! See you online at!

OK, Maybe the Keyboard isn’t so Bad

October 2nd, 2009

I recently got a new keyboard with a slightly modified design, and my initial reaction to it may have come off a little bit harsher than necessary.

But it was indeed an honest first reaction.  It just might not have been fair to make the review of the keyboard the very first thing typed on the keyboard.  It takes just a bit of getting used to – and that’s still an incredibly frustrating experience.

The fundamental problem, as I see it, is that we come to take certain abilities for granted.  They become a second nature, and when something comes along to fundamantally change the process, the adjustment phase means relearning something you hadn’t really thought of for a while.

After a couple days of writing, though, I think I’ve broken and re-arranged all my neurons associated with typing.  Was it necessary?  Am I going to have to re-learn normal keyboards again someday?  What was gained by switching to a different layout?

I’m not sure there are good answers to these questions, but the box claims its supposed to be more comfortable.  I’m not sure if I would go that far… but it is a pretty nice keyboard once you’ve learned to give extra space for certain keys.  I’m just glad I can finally find the C button.

Its also supposed to be spill resistant, so there’s the ultimate challenge.  This keyboard has until it dies of too much coffee and cigarette ash to convince me its how a keyboard is supposed to be.  I’ve got an angry initial reaction, a slightly moderated second opinion, and I’ll let you know the final verdict when I put this thing to its ultimate resting place – the recycling bin.

Will it be an honorable burial or a smash fest?  Only time will tell, and there may even be pictures.

Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 2000 – an Incredibly Horrible Idea

September 30th, 2009

One of the major hazards of smoking at the computer is the early death of many keyboards. The ashtray sits above the slide-out mouse and keyboard level, so cigarettes that are left sitting to burn out often tip over and fall down to where the inputs are at.

That’s fine though, I’ve become resigned to the fact that I have to go out and get a new $20 keyboard every few months.

What isn’t OK is this Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 2000. As soon as I plug in and sit down, I realize that I can’t even type out my own name or other addresses of websites I own.

Wait a minute, how am I supposed to actually write content for a half dozen blogs if I’m learning how to type all over again? I’m used to typing 50-60 words a minute, just as fast as I can think them up for the most part. You never really appreciate how natural and unconscious typing is until you try to do it on an instrument shaped in a slightly different way.

I’ll call this situation extremely frustrating, but I’m being generous. I’m actually half tempted to drive right back to Wal-mart and demand a refund. But the lines there were ten people long and no one was working the service counter.

Why did I even buy this one? Well, they had two kinds of keyboards and the other one was the same exact kind as the one that had broken quicker than usual.

Now that I’ve been typing on it for a while, I know that I’ll probably be used to it within a few more blog posts. After 250 words in to this one, I am only consistently messing up on Cs, Vs, Bs, Fs, and Gs. It seems that the B and N keys are way too oversized, and they push everything else on the bottom left further than you’d intuitively expect it to be.

Eben staying vonsvious og this gavt, I van’t seem to vompensate. [sic]

Comcast in Jacksonville – Fewer Choices at Higher Prices! (Or, Why the History Channel and Cartoon Network Suck Now)

September 16th, 2009

What a bad combination, I was paying my cable bill at the exact same time I was trying to find something to watch.  I did manage to pay the bill, but I’m still looking for something decent to watch.

A few years ago, Comcast bought up all the rights to the city’s cable infrastructure.  The lines have been in for a while, and as long ago as 1997 there’s been high bandwidth cable internet available.  Comcast themselves aren’t responsible for most of the line running through town, but they did purchase the rights so they’ve got a monopoly on cable access.

At first it was no big deal.  The lines are still the fastest source of internet in Jacksonville.  DSL and wireless offerings just can’t compare.  Unfortunately, the system is still prone to resets, short outages, and prime-time sluggishness.

What really sucks though, is the trend toward fewer and fewer basic cable channels.  It started a few months ago with Comcast putting Cartoon Network on channel 124 so you’d have to rent a “digital converter” if you wanted to watch.  (Someone should tell their marketing department that cable is already digital.)

Now they’ve completely gotten rid of the History Channel!  You can’t even find it on the nose-bleed channels, because its simply not on the Jacksonville line-up anywhere.

Of course, I can’t completely blame them.  The History Channel has turned in to a bit of a running joke on the internet.  Back in the day, they were jokingly referred to as the “Military History Channel” but these days their schedule seems filled with stories about UFOs and Alaskan truck-drivers and Bigfoot and Biblical conspiracy theories.  Now, I like conspiracy theories as much as the next guy, but they’ve so thoroughly abandoned anything resembling credibility in an attempt to make their wild stories seem believable.  Its not working.

Cartoon Network is also in a bit of a slump, so that may explain why Comcast is pushing their channel to the back of the list.  They haven’t been able to keep up with the high quality originals they introduced a decade ago:  Powerpuff Girls, Cow & Chicken, Johnny Bravo, Ed, Edd, and Eddie, Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Dexter’s Laboratory, etc…

For a while there, it seemed like they were on the cutting edge of cartoons, with shows that could be enjoyable to kids, young adults, and parents alike.  Then suddenly, they ran out of ideas or something because they ended up with rip-offs of the shows they had just canceled.

Even Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late-night network, seemed to take a sharp turn for the worse.  With Colbert unable to work on Harvey Birdman anymore and Space Ghost & Brak faded to memory, the replacements relied heavily on live-action shows with low budgets.  Instead of situational comedy, they were relying more on visual gags, disgust factor, and shows that are supposedely “funny because they’re so bad.”

Well, guess what?  That’s not really funny at all:  That’s just bad!

So, for now, I have nothing to watch as far as cartoons and documentaries go.  And somehow I’m paying more for it than I did last year or the year before.  I might even drop cable outright, but the cost of internet without TV cable ends up making the extra channels practically free.  I could pay $90 for just the internet, or $130 for the internet with about 200 TV channels in one room and 50 in the rest.  Obviously, they figured out how to trap me in the services I’m using, but if too many more channels disappear from the lineup outright, I’ll have to seriously consider this satellite thing everyone is jumping aboard.