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starcraft 2 examining macro mechanics

The purpose of this article is to inform rather than dictate. To this end I have tried to express the concerns raised by the community. The issues have been structured in the manner I feel makes the most sense. I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves what issues are truly problems and what should be done about them.


Overview of Macro
- What is Macro?
- The StarCraft II Macro Problem
The Current Macro Mechanics
- Queen
- Orbital Command
- Obelisk
The Energy Tension Issue (When do I use this?)
- What is Energy Tension?
- Energy Tension in the Macro Casters
The Redundant Targeting Issue (Where do I use this?)
- What is Redundant Targeting?
- Redundant Targeting in the Macro Mechanics
- Why Macro Struggles With Redundant Targeting
About the Author

Overview of Macro

What is Macro?

There are many definitions for macromangement. Generally macromanagement refers to increasing your army and micromanagement refers to controlling your army better. Other definitions relate macro to economic strategy and micro to combat tactics. Sill other definitions refer to macro as acquiring and spending resources and micro as issuing orders to units. These two tasks compete for the player’s attention. Players are required to balance macro and micro to play the game most efficiently.

The StarCraft II Macro Problem

The original StarCraft required players to manual order workers to mine. In order to produce more units, players had to click through each production building individually. These two tasks, manual mining and single building selection, required the player to have high APM (Actions per Minute) in order to macro.

starcraft 2 macro mining

StarCraft II features Automining (AM) and Multiple Building Selection (MBS). Automining, also known as rally mining, allows the player to set a mining rally point for new workers. Multiple Building Selection allows the player to select and hotkey multiple buildings at once. These interface improvements allow players to mine and make units without returning to their base. The concern is that StarCraft II has removed a significant amount of macro multitasking. Arguments have been made that this will deemphasize macro’s impact on gameplay and decrease the skill curve.

The macro problem itself is a notoriously hard thing to define. It hinges on three questions. Should macro require the player to complete tasks at a frequent and regular interval? Should macro require the player to camera shift away from his army and back to his base? Should macro require decision making and if so what types? There is much debate on these issues. Blizzard has not commented at length on macro with the exception of one interview. Below is an excerpt from the macro portion. I encourage all readers to check out this interview and draw their own conclusions.

Q: So manual labor instead of automation?
A: Exactly. There is a nice story about this. Back then, I was working on addons to Mechwarrior 2. That's how I know that there was still automatic targetting in an early version: You only had to decide, which weapons to fire in what order, the Computer would guide them to the target. The only thing you had to watch out for was not to overheat. That might even have been interesting, but just for few players. The majority wanted action, and they got it in the end. The same applies to Starcraft: We want the players to go back to their base in order to produce reinforcements. We want them to really take care instead of relying on an automatic process.

-Dustin Browder

- TeamLiquid Dustin Browder Interview

The Current Macro Mechanics

Here is a review of the macro casters. Actual stats may vary from the current build. More info can be found in Q&A Batch 49, although some of that info is outdated.


Spawn Larva is the Queen’s macro ability. The player can cast Spawn Larva on a Hatchery. The Hatchery gets 4 eggs that 40 seconds later hatch into 4 Larvae. You cannot put more then 7 Larvae on a Hatchery. Larvae are a vital resource for the Zerg and can be used to increase economic or army production. The Queen can also cast Creep Tumor which makes a permanent burrowed building that extends creep range. In StarCraft II, Zerg units, except Drones, move 30% faster on creep. Finally, the Queen can cast Transfusion which will heal one unit or building for 200 hitpoints.

starcraft 2 zerg larva starcraft 2 zerg queen

Orbital Command

Calldown MULE is the Orbital Command’s macro ability. The player can call a MULE unit down to any location or mineral field for which they have vision. The MULE mines 6 times as many minerals as a normal SCV, and can mine from the same mineral patch as a SCV. The MULE has a timed life of about 30 seconds after which it and any minerals it is holding are destroyed. It is important to notice that Spawn Larva and Proton Charge require exact timing for maximum effectiveness. In contrast, there is no penalty for casting MULEs slightly late because you can have overlapping MULE lifespan.

The Orbital Command also has Scanner Sweep which gives vision and detection anywhere on the map. Finally, the Orbital Command can cast Calldown Supply on a Supply Depot. This ability upgrades a Supply Depot with an additional +8 supply.


starcraft 2 terran mule starcraft 2 orbital command


Proton Charge is the Obelisk’s macro ability. The player can cast an area of effect spell on Probes. Unlike MULE and Spawn Larva, Proton Charge can be cast using the minimap. Each Probe receives a buff that allows them to mine 6 minerals instead of 5. The buff does not increase Probe speed or gas collecting. The buff lasts 30 seconds. The Obelisk also has Shield Recharge which recharges shields. Finally, the Obelisk has Energy Recharge (Argus Link) which recharges energy. It should be noted that the Obelisk is the only macro caster that lacks mobility. The Queen can move and the Orbital Command can cast anywhere on the map.


starcraft 2 probe starcraft 2 dark pylon

The Energy Tension Issue (When do I use this?)

What is Energy Tension?

Energy Tension relates to when it is best to use an ability. This type of decision making can be using an ability versus saving the energy resource for a better time. It can also be the choice to use one ability over another ability that requires the same energy resource.

Energy Tension in the Macro Casters

The Queen, Obelisk and Orbital Command appear to have poor Energy Tension between the macro abilities and the micro abilities. The restoration abilities - Transfusion, Recharge Shields, Recharge Energy - are only useful when there are depleted units. Even when the player does have depleted units it will almost always be better to choose additional minerals and Larvae. It is difficult to see a Protoss player ever deciding to recharge 50 shield points instead of casting Proton Charge. Likewise, it is hard to imagine a Zerg player ever choosing Creep Tumor over increased Larvae production.

And then we have the Orbital Command which many consider to have good Energy Tension. Chill from Teamliquid refutes this assumption in a recent macromanagement article.

There has been a lot (A LOT) of talk on the forum about the lack of choice between the macro mechanics, and the devastating effects of Terran losing scan. These are unfounded. After playing Starcraft II for 10 games and understanding the mechanics, you will see there is actually no choice. It's an illusion of choice. Given the "choice" between using the MULE and scanning, you will always choose the MULE unless forced otherwise by immediately cloaked units. The return is just too great. Even if I were supply capped, I would bank the MULE minerals while building a supply depot before I used the ability to gain extra supply. You've got to figure the MULE can make a round-trip every 6-8 seconds. And it returns 25-30 minerals every trip (I believe 30 but I'm erring on the safe side). Assuming it stays for 45 seconds (I believe it's actually 60). This yields somewhere between 187 and 300 "extra" minerals per minute. Clearly something that can't be skipped for a convenient scouting scan. This also shows the importance of getting the MULE early, which is a theme common between all the mechanics. The MULE pays for itself in the first minute, after which you are generating around 200 minerals extra every minute. You can see how this compounds.


TeamLiquid “Macromanagement in StarCraft II” Article

starcraft 2 mule macro


The Redundant Targeting Issue (Where do I use this?)

What is Redundant Targeting?

Redundant Targeting relates to where it is best to use an ability. To begin with, let us define what a targeting action is. A targeting action is when the game asks you to pick a location or candidate. The reason the game asks for the player’s positional input is because there are various viable locations or candidates. It is the player’s task to pick the most appropriate choice.

Redundant Targeting occurs when there is not sufficient decision making in a targeting action. Whether an action has Redundant Targeting depends on the frequency the player changes their target, and not just the presence or absence of other targets.

As an example consider manual mining in the original StarCraft. The player would create a worker and then had to tell the worker where to go because rally points did not work for mining. There were other places you could send the worker but the majority of the time the target was your mineral field. This was Redundant Targeting.

Redundant Targeting in the Macro Mechanics

Automining removes mining’s Redundant Targeting. However, when macro mechanics were added the Redundant Targeting issue reappeared. The first attempt was the “Restore Gas” macro mechanic where players could refill depleted Geysers with more gas but had to transfer workers to minerals while the Geyser was refilling. This had Redundant Targeting in where players sent their workers. You would almost always want to send workers to the minerals right next to your geyser. Blizzard later replaced this gas mechanic with the current macro mechanics. Unfortunately, the current macro mechanics still suffer from Redundant Targeting.

The Orbital Command can be cast anywhere the player has vision. This global casting feature is perfect for creating targeting decisions. Unfortunately, Calldown MULE cannot take advantage of this because the best choice is almost always your mineral line. If you have a Planetary Fortress you want to drop the MULE there for added protection. If you control a yellow mineral field you want to drop the MULE there for more minerals. There is no frequent changing of targets and this leads to Redundant Targeting. It is hard to see how Redundant Targeting in SCV mining warrants rally points and yet MULEs do not.

The Queen’s Spawn Larva is another example of Redundant Targeting. You will almost always have one Queen dedicated to each Hatchery. This Queen will continually cast Spawn Larva on the same Hatchery. The same goes for the Obelisk’s Proton Charge. You will have one dedicated Obelisk that continually casts Proton Charge in the same place. Once you have chosen to dedicate a Queen, or Obelisk, to a Hatchery, or mineral line, you have made the decision about where to cast Spawn Larva or Proton Charge for the rest of the game.

starcraft 2 spawn larva

To a certain extent Warp-In also has Redundant Targeting. Much of the time players will be warping in units to the same place repeatedly. This will require Redundant Targeting because Warp-In lacks a rally point system.

Why Macro Struggles With Redundant Targeting

How is it that so many macro mechanics have Redundant Targeting? Much of the problem lies in the simplicity of Starcraft’s economic system. We will examine mineral targeting but similar observations can be seen in gas and building targeting.

First, minerals are uniform. All mineral spots in a mineral line are the same. If one mineral spot had X properties and another spot had Y properties then you could have targeting decisions. Second, all minerals are localized together. Mineral spots are proximal to each other in scarce and distant mineral lines. If you had mineral spots scattered around the map then you could make targeting decisions. Finally, all minerals are stationary. If minerals moved around the map like critters then you could create targeting decisions.

starcraft 2 proton charge



It can not be denied that there is much concern about these mechanics. The community has spent countless hours debating them. From these debates many innovative suggestions have arisen. One of my current favorite ideas is Krikkitone's proposal to link all Obelisks to a shared energy pool.

I see the macro mechanics not as an obstacle but an opportunity for Blizzard to revolutionize RTS gameplay. Done correctly, I believe these mechanics could enhance strategic decision making, engage players in the creation of their army, and breathe new life into economics.

At this point I do not know what the best solution is. But I do know that if there is anyone willing to work at something until they get it right, it is Blizzard.

starcraft alpha


About the Author

Occupation: Medical Student
Non-StarCraft related Hobbies: Swimming, Cycling
Currently reading: Winters Heart
Currently listening to: Radiohead
Playing StarCraft since: 1998
In the community since: 2007
Favorite StarCraft Race: Protoss
Favorite StarCraft Unit: High Templar
Favorite StarCraft Character: Aldaris
Favorite Comfort Food: Coffee

Article by ArcherofAiur.
This is a StarCraft: Legacy guest article.

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