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StarCraft is a game that thrived on macromanagement. Its successor, StarCraft II will aim to capitalize on this RTS feature, while other games, such as Dawn of War II aim to remove it completely. Macromanagement in RTS games is a difficult thing to define. In the StarCraft community, it is generally seen as the accumulation of resources, the building of units, and any other general base management. The resource gathering system in StarCraft II has undergone some dramatic changes, replacing the antiquated UI challenges of the original game with fun and versatile mechanics. Macro in StarCraft involved constantly pumping workers, manually setting them to mine, and clicking on each building separately to build units. This article is also an opportunity to look at the numbers we've found and see if what they reveal will improve players' skills.

Resource Basics

In StarCraft II, the amount of minerals carried by workers is 5 on regular minerals, and 7 on gold minerals. In StarCraft, workers brought back 8 minerals per trip, and gold minerals didn't exist. However, due to the improved pathing, such as workers auto-splitting when all targeting the same mineral patch, and decrease in time spent on minerals, the collection rate is roughly the same as in the original StarCraft on normal minerals. There are two Vespene Geysers per base, and each requires 3 workers to be fully saturated. An average geyser has 2500 minerals, and unlike in StarCraft where the geyser still gave the player a trickle of gas after it has depleted, the geysers in StarCraft II cannot be used at all after they are depleted.

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For a mineral field to be "saturated" it needs to have enough workers such that the player's income is the greatest it could possibly be for a period of time, even with the addition of extra workers; in short, once saturation is reached, it becomes redundant to build more workers, since the player will not receive any boost in income. For a saturated mineral field, there are 2 workers per mineral, and 3 workers for pure saturation. The average minerals per spot is 8, meaning that the base saturation for each spot is 16-24 workers. The way saturation works in StarCraft II is that the time it takes to mine a mineral is roughly the same time as it takes for a worker to return a mineral to the building and return to the patch. This means that the worker finishes mining fractions of a second before a worker returns to the patch.

Improved User Interface

Blizzard has also implemented several UI changes for players. Unit tooltips show the time it takes to produce the unit, structure or upgrade. This is important to understand if the player can find out his own mineral saturation. Replays have functionality that allow the player to look over his economic trends and compare it to other players in the game to help him recognize ways to improve his skill. The original StarCraft only had "mineral cost" and "name of unit," and the tooltips were very basic. Blizzard learned from this in WarCraft II, and took that to StarCraft II, showing the mineral cost, vespene gas and now another important stat, time to produce.

 

Saturation Tests

A note about game speeds - most of the tooltips which show how long a unit or ability takes to build or research shows the time as the amount of seconds it would take in normal game speed. The SCV takes 17 units of time to build, but this corresponds to 13 seconds on faster game speed, not 17. It would be useful if the game would show the player the amount of seconds in the speed that he is playing at. But in general, the "slower" game speed corresponds to 1/2 of the normal speed, and the "faster" game speed corresponds to 4/3 of the normal speed.

The following is a chart of several mineral saturation tests done on "faster" speed:

One-minute mining tests on a spot with 6 mineral fields

Amount of ProbesMinerals GatheredMinerals per SecondMinerals per Second per Probe
63555.910.98
1270511.750.98
1882013.670.75


One-minute mining tests on a spot with 6 gold mineral fields

Amount of ProbesMinerals GatheredMinerals per SecondMinerals per Second per Probe
65118.511.41
1297316.211.35
18114119.011.05

 

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One-minute vespene gathering test:

Amount of ProbesVespene Gathered
3160
4160

 

As can be seen, two workers per mineral field is the optimal amount for resource gathering. For the standard 8 mineral field starting bases, this means 16 workers. Note that the unit selection area in StarCraft II has a width of 8, meaning that it's easy for the players to judge their position and see when they've reached a good mineral field saturation, as it is simply two rows of workers on the selection area. Creating more workers would produce only marginal gains, and the player might be better off expanding. Gold minerals give and produce a 1.4 times increase. Now, players are sometimes left with much more minerals in StarCraft II than they can use with certain builds, so gold minerals are rarely taken advantage of. Most players will opt for the more easily defended natural expansion. Three workers also seems to be the optimal amount of workers per geyser; it appears that all geysers in StarCraft II are the same distance from the start location, so even if a player desires the marginal gains of pure vespene saturation, even four workers per geyser will almost certainly never be needed.

Now, let's take a look at each race's mechanic:

Protoss

Protoss is one of the most fun races to use in StarCraft II - largely because of their Chrono Boost ability. Chrono Boost increases the operation speed of any selected building for 25 energy by 50%. The ability lasts 20 seconds. The great thing about this is its versatility. It can be used on any building, and the choices it provides are numerous, creating perfect tension between using it on the Nexus for extra resource gatherers versus using it anywhere else.

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The following is a list of a few of the things that Chrono Boost is useful for: 

Reacting Faster

Did you just scout a pack of Zerglings heading towards your base? In StarCraft II this is not much of a problem. Simply Chrono Boost your Gateway and get your Zealot out faster. In order to then go on the offensive, the player can build Star Gates and then Chrono Boost some Void Rays, which are immediately available. One Void Ray can take out a Queen, so if the Zerg player has no anti-air, a single Void Ray can have its way with the entire base. In general, Chrono Boost can be used to increase the speed of any tech switching, allowing the player to react to his opponent faster.

Chrono Boost can also be used to change build orders and timings. Worker saturation can be reached faster, which makes up for having to "hold off probes to build a building," thus adding more viability in certain build orders

Faster Upgrades

Chrono Boost can be used to speed up the research of any upgrade. Critical unit upgrades such as Charge can be researched in the nick of time before a crucial attack. The Protoss player can fly through his ground weapons upgrades and armor upgrades, giving him a far superior army.

Zerg-like Unit Building Speed

An upgrade to Warp-Gates already allows the player to warp in all Gateway units in effectively 28 seconds. Warp Gates alone have made Proxy Pylon an extremely viable strategy in StarCraft II. Chrono Boost on Warp Gates will greatly increase the speed at which units can be summoned to the battlefield.

Staff opinions:

Gifted:

Chrono Boost is something that feels interesting and does a very good job of providing choice. While other races have the choice of "what do you use?", this is one of a choice of "where do you use it?". It's hard to explain, but you're faced with the early game decision of "fast economy" or "get units to rush/defend". In the early game it can come down to a game changing decision by placing it on what specific structures. There is also a large room for error in Chrono Boost. Often one can boost a slew of Gateways only to find out they require additional Pylons for example. It's an ability that also feels unnatural as it comes around every 25 seconds providing a high stake of attention to allow full mastery of it's usage. I feel it's a challenge to keep up with and admit that I've wasted more energy than I've used. I'm sure a professional will be able to do some entertaining strategies and timings with this ability though.

Crota:

Chrono Boost allows the Protoss army to quickly produce units in times of trouble and saturate mineral fields quickly when used on a Gateway or a Nexus. Although the options are highly useful, Chrono Boast really shines when used on Upgrades or higher-tier buildings. Getting a Colossus built 20-30 times faster changes the tide of a an early battle, or using Chrono Boast to speed the research time for Forge upgrades can easily swing the tide of an early melee battle. The only difficult part behind using Chrono boast is deciding when to use it and what building to use it on.

Gradius:

I have definitely had some fun with Chrono Boost. Though its main use in the early game is providing an economic gain, it's an ability that can be used to rush virtually any unit. It's extremely deadly when used with Robotics Facility units such as Colossi and Immortals, since those units are so powerful. Chrono Boost has been criticized as a "click here every 25 seconds" ability, but this is definitely not true. It might hold for certain players in the early game, but even then they might have to use it for upgrades or building units to either attack or defend. And it's in the late game when this ability becomes truly fun and interesting. When a Protoss has two or three expansions for example, his mineral and gas lines are usually saturated and Chrono Boost is not being used for Probes, making the energy for Chrono Boost stack up. It is then that the player can Chrono Boost his production buildings and get expensive units such as Carriers or Colossi out really fast. Or, the player can Chrono Boost several forges at once to quickly upgrade his standing army.

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SaharaDrac:

Trying to compete with Chrono Boost is a lot like trying to arm wrestle a robotic rhinocerous: pretty tough, but awkward cause the rhinocerous doesn't have opposable thumbs and you don't want to make fun of him. What I mean is, it's still strong, but it's not nearly as fun or thought provoking as the other two macro mechanics. This abilities efficiency has a ceiling of how well it can be exploited, in that as long as you always use your nexus's energy, then you are using it as well as you can.

Terran

The Terrans have a lot of choice when it comes to macromanagement options. First, a Command Center can be retrofitted with one of two add-ons, a Planetary Fortress, which is an extremely powerful base defense, or an Orbital Command, which allows for Scanner Sweeps and the Terrans' resource gathering mechanic, calldown of MULEs. In the early game an Orbital Command will almost always be chosen, but in the late game Terran players are faced with the decision of either providing extra protection for their important expansions, or building an Orbital Command for Scanner Sweeps and more resources.

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Scanner Sweep is a very powerful ability that was present in StarCraft I, with the ability to unveil arbitrary areas of the map and any cloaked units that are within. If a Terran player cannot penetrate his opponent's base in order to scout out what his strategy is, he can easily reveal a good portion of his base with this Orbital Command ability. The Orbital Command also has the ability to calldown supplies on top of an existing Supply Depot. This is important if the player accidentally supply-blocks himself, and it is a free and immediate 100 minerals. Both of these Orbital Command abilities compete with the Terrans' resource gathering mechanic, Calldown MULE, creating tension.

Calldown MULE brings down a MULE to a designated mineral field for 90 seconds, and it gathers 30 minerals per trip as opposed to the standard 5 for SCVs. A MULE carriers 42 minerals per trip on gold mineral fields. A single MULE will gather 270 regular minerals and 378 gold minerals in its lifetime, making 9 trips to the mineral field and back. If it is launched on a mineral field it will automatically start mining. Both MULEs and SCVs have 1.4 times the carrying capacity on gold mineral fields. MULEs can also repair units, and their repair ability can be set on auto-cast. MULEs also ignore mineral field saturation, mining from a field regardless of whether an SCV is there or not.

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Staff Opinions:

Gifted:

I'm far more impressed with the MULE than I expected in the beginning. I never realized how it would fit with three aspects of Terran game play. First, the reactor allows it the ability to put minerals directly into the production line, as you can meet the high demands of its mineral requirements. It also allows you to boost forward and produce an expansion. Lastly, in the early game it allows you to push on heavy gas, as it supplements the 6 workers that get pulled off before mineral saturation has been obtained. Overall though it's truly satisfying see the minerals go up in chunks. 

A very dangerous thing that was only speculated at before is the fact that the MULE, if used often as it should be, quickly rips the mineral line up as each time you use it. You rip 1/6th of a mineral vein apart in a very short period. If you use it on the same minerals multiple times, you'll quickly have odd saturation as some minerals are taken down before others. Some people believe these are "free minerals" and use that term loosely when in reality, it places slightly more pressure on the Terran player to expand every time it's used. For this reason, there are certain times in the games where pressuring the Terran and preventing expansions can be a key to victory. Your base may have one third their minerals remaining while a Terran opponent is living off tatters and scraps, struggling to get a new expansion if they didn't get one earlier. The moment that expansion happens, however, MULES can get a massive injection going and the base can be up and running in merely seconds.

KDraconis:

Although I haven't played Terran as often as Zerg or Protoss, I have watched other players use Calldown MULE with surprising efficiency. Calldown MULE can be used to push for that one extra expansion, or to get a boost in minerals for a rush in tech. There's quite a bit of competition between Calldown MULE and Scanner Sweep because of the constant threat of burrowed Roaches or Dark Templar, which gives more complex decisions to make.

starcraft 2 beta macro

Crota:

The Orbital Command is an interesting ability and differs from the Protoss macro ability. Instead of creating tension on deciding where you want to use Chrono Boast, the Orbital Command creates tension by having you decide what ability to use. The Scanner sweep provides detection and instant sight anywhere on the map. Although it is difficult to justify the sacrifice of 270 minerals for a Scanner Sweep from an Orbital Command, high level players using a proper Scanner Sweep can develop the proper counter units and turn the tide of battle.

The Supply Drop is perhaps the least interesting of the three abilities found from the Orbital Command. From gameplay experience, generally if you are ever in the need for additional supply depots, you may also be sitting on a large cache of minerals in your bank. Although it is tempting to use the Supply Drops for instant Supply, there is little to no need unless you find yourself in the most desperate situations where an army needs to be built immediately and can not wait the 20-30 seconds it takes to build supply depots.

Gradius:

I'd say that the Orbital Command provides great tension between calldown MULE and the Scanner Sweep ability. The calldown Supply ability needs to be upgraded, as good players will rarely supply block themselves, or even use this ability if they do so. I feel that Terrans seem to be strapped for detection in the early game. The Orbital Command is always low on energy, so a Dark Templar attack can usually be fatal unless the player already has Missile Turrets already, which, in a Protoss vs. Terran matchup, there rarely are any Missile Turrets.

MULEs can not only be called down to mineral lines, but they can also be called down on your own mechanical units and repair them right on the field. This is easier than dragging along any SCVs, and I foresee this becoming a more common tactic in late games where Terrans already have enough minerals.

SaharaDrac:

My favorite unit in the game. I always play as the green Bonzoid in the original M.U.L.E., and I move that he be added as a Terran unit. He could outbid the Protoss on Smithore and hunt the "wumpus" critters on the ladder maps. oh my god...

Oh, macro mechanic? Yeah, it's cool. It gives you extra money. But it's got dimensions. For example, sometimes you've got to scan. You just don't have a choice. It's your fault; you're the toolshed that didn't make a Turret at your entrance. Do you know how much scan costs? 270 minerals. That's how much a M.U.L.E. pulls in. Think about that next time you use it. Also, you have to be careful about where you use it in your mineral line. Don't cast the M.U.L.E. on the same mineral patch over and over! If the game goes late, then you suddenly have the left half of your minerals all gone while your right side is still ripe, and you lose your mining efficiency and girls laugh at you and then the Zerg take your lunch money and your mom doesn't even care. Trust me, I told my mom earlier about how mean the Zerg were and she just sighed and took a swig directly from the bourbon bottle. 

Zerg

Zerg players have the option to either Spawn Larva, which spawns four larvae after a period of 40 seconds, enabling the player to make more resource gatherers if he wishes. The maximum Larvae per Hatchery is 19. The Zerg's Macro Mechanic is different than the Protoss and Terran mechanics in that there is very little tension. First, the Queen's other abilities, such as Creep Tumor and Transfusion are often not used when the player has to choose between the two. Second, the Queen will usually have more than enough energy for Spawn Larvae as well as its other abilities, especially if the player forgets to cast it as often as he should. Third, more than one Queen can be produced.

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Creep Tumor competes with Spawn Larva, and it provides two vital things: sight and movement speed increase. These are crucial during a Reaper raid. One creep tumor can connect two bases allowing for faster transport or defenses. The player's vision can be extended far beyond his base, serving as a sort of warning system. Transfusion is the other ability that competes with Spawn Larva. For 50 energy, the Queen restores 125 hit points to the target biological unit or structure and has a large range and instant cast. Transfusion has been used to restore hit points to a damaged Spawning Pool, saving a Zerg player from a rush; this can be used at any stage of the game really. Transfusion can also be used to restore creep crawlers HP, allowing them to kill more units than they would be able to normally.

The Zerg's mechanic is also different from the other races in that energy does not "stack up" and you cannot use it for something else next time. If a Terran or Protoss forgets to use Chrono Boost or the Orbital Command then they can save that energy for another task later. Spawn Larva takes 40 seconds to get the Larvae out, and this ability cannot be used on a Hatchery that is already spawning Larvae.

Staff Opinions

Gifted:

While my experience with Zerg is lacking, I'll explain it from the angle of playing against Zerg who use it efficiently. This ability has further expanded the mentality of tech swapping to a whole new level. To best describe it would be to compare the 6 pool tactic from StarCraft: Brood Wars to almost every strategy now achievable to Zerg players. 

Where before it was feasible for them to save the 3 larva for the exact moment the Spawning Pool drops, it's amazing to see them do the same with 7 Larva and the final moments of a Roach Warren. Imagine 7 Roaches come coming out at the same time when moments beforehand you only saw a building in creation and 2 zerglings. As an opponent, you constantly have to consider the worst case scenario now after 2 minutes into the game. With a single Hatchery, they have the possibility of injecting 7 fresh units into their military force out of seemingly nowhere. 

It takes some time to get used to, but eventually you will prepare for it and find your macro improve ever so slightly when you realize your opponent is of the evolving variety.

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KDraconis:

Having been the race I play with most, I can say that Zerg benefits greatly from Spawn Larva. Spawn Larva gives the Zerg a great advantage in unit production, and also allows players to pull off previously impossible strategies. An example would be doing a massive tech switch in a short amount of time; after scouting the enemy, the Zerg player could spawn a swarm of units that are the perfect counter to enemy units. Spawn Larva helps Zerg with macro and also allows them to hold back on expanding but still have the same unit production rate.

Crota:

The Queen's Spawn Larva ability allows a single Hatchery to effectively produce Larva at a much higher rate. Althought this ability is quite useful, there is no real tension for the Zerg to decide between what abilities to use unlike the Terran. Spawning Creep Tumors, a burrowed building that extends creep, and using Transfusion, healing a Zerg unit or building by 125 hitpoints, are helpful abilities but seem like abilities a player uses if they forget to Spawn Larva. In order to create some tension and open up the decision making procuess for the Zerg, perhaps Transfusion could be used on buildings while they are being built in order to speed up the building of defensive structures during times of attack or speed the construction of key Zerg buildings. This would differ from the "Chrono Boast" ability as the Protoss cant speed up the construction of a building, just increase its production once the building is complete. This of course would need some balancing but it would at least justify the high 50 energy coast of the Queens Transfusion ability.

Gradius:

It seems to me that the Zerg is yet again the hardest race to use, similar to StarCraft. The key in mastering the Zerg's macro mechanic is remembering to use the ability after the 40 seconds are up. The Protoss and Terran macro abilities save up energy over time, allowing the player to used any missed energy later; the Zerg's ability does not. I do feel that there is a bright side to all this however. If the Zerg player can remember to consistently Spawn Larvae, whether he needs to or not, he will not have a surplus of energy, but a surplus of Larvae. One Hatchery can hold up to 19 Larvae. My personal strategy is simply to use Spawn Larvae whether I need to or not, as it allows me to react quickly to my opponent and build a very large army from scratch. Is this tactic merely wasting the Queen's energy on the 3 Larvae that a Hatchery will give you for free anyway? Personally, I don't think so. A Queen is only 150 minerals. I feel it's better to build another Queen and have Hatcheries stacked with Larvae ready to respond to whatever your scouts find.

SaharaDrac:

As a Terran player, I find this ability to be quite rude. I wipe out Zerg's natural expansion and all his Roaches, and by the time my remaining power squad of Terran justice and might goes up his ramp, he's produced another full regiment of chitinous jerks to fend me off? That's called rude. Manners aside, I feel this is the most original of the macro mechanics and the one with the most potential for exponentially giving an advantage to better players.

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