Appraising the Art of Combat pt.8
Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 4:42PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Combat, Competition, Depth & Complexity, DigiDrive, Interplay, Misc Design & Theory, Skill, StarCraft

To be quite reductive, I could make the argument that all challenges (interactivity) for competitive video games are merely an exercise in maximizing skill and optimizing every strategy. For all real time games stressing all the DKART skills, the exact proportion of which skills are stressed when is moot. Considering that the skill spectrum is continuous and flexible, all of these gameplay experiences are the same. This argument takes things too far.

To be less reductive, I could make the argument that gameplay dynamics/rules generally influence the emergent gamplay in the same ways. Given enough time and data, I could show you how the 2D top down dynamic of space makes the movement in Halo, Pac-man, Geometry Wars, and Zelda almost identical. Therefore I could certainly draw a very precise comparison between for two games within the same genre (or that have many core design features in common). 

Using our new combat terms established in this article series, we can finally get to the bottom of the age old question; how similar is StarCraft 2's multiplayer combat to the multiplayer combat of DigiDrive (DSi)? 

I'm sure you've realized this is not an age old question. After all, StarCraft 2 only came out last year. The question is still important. You may already have an opinion on which game you think is deeper/takes more skill/challenging/engaging, but if you can't articulate exactly what elements of a game shape the emergent combat in what ways, then consider that your opinion may be incomplete. Furthermore, if you know nothing about both games, then it would be hard for you to compare them. Considering how popular StarCraft 2 is and how unfamiliar DigiDrive is, this article should be quite illuminating. (By the way, this isn't the first time I've compared StarCraft to the unplayed multiplayer modes of obscure Nintendo games).

DigiDrive features no bases, no clicking, no units, and no tech trees. Being an puzzle-action game, DigiDrive challenges players to play on their toes (adaptation). But the game mostly stresses knowledges skills. After all, the basic action of directing colored cars into 1 of 4 lanes is about all there is to the player mechanics. The rest of the gameplay is a matter of reading the ever changing field, judging the risk-reward situation, and pulling off timing maneuvers. Read my full analysis on DigiDrive here (at least watch the tutorial video)

If you think about it, the way I described DigiDrive in my analysis is pretty analogous to StarCraft. Being a real time strategy game, knowledge of unit, building, and race limitations is very important. High level StarCraft players often spend most of their time building and managing many aspects of their expanding army. This big picture or macro style focus is punctuated with intense moments where players control the individual actions of individual units for tactical advantages (micro). The balance between macro and micro managing is at the heart of the RTS. Understanding this balance gives us a platform to compare StarCraft to DigiDrive. 


Slippery Slopes


Phases of Combat and General Strategies


Fog of War and Limited Information


Interplay and Hard Counters


So what does it all mean? What's the real difference between StarCraft2 and DigiDrive? Focusing the discussion on combat (the emergent end result of mechanics, complexities (game rules), and gameplay dynamics) is an inherently reductive method. Looking only at combat bypasses considering fictional elements and complexities, which build a game on a unique foundation even if the emergent result isn't as unique. So in essence, we ignored everything about Queen walking speed, Nexus build times, and Siege Tank ranges to focus on how these elements are used to achieve a measurable goal or advantage. 

A key take away from comparing StarCraft 2 with DigiDrive is that it's interplay that makes a game deep, but it's the dynamics that really give a game its feel and richness. So if you want a StarCraft like gameplay experience with similar tactics and strategies, then DigiDrive can provide that experience. The best part is, DigiDrive has a much smaller learning curve, much fewer complexities, and therefore requires considerably less practice to play at a high level. 

You have to wonder if all the complexities of StarCraft are necessary. I say, of course they are. In order to wage a war in space you need buildings, units, space (2D or 3D), terrain, weapons, etc. The Protoss wouldn't be as interesting (to me at least) without the Mothership, Voidrays, Stalkers, all of their sound effects and voices, Pylons, Warp Prisms and every other detail. Though I'm a stickler for gameplay, there's great value in complexity for complexity's sake. Furthermore, because of its greater complexity StarCraft 2 has more potential for variation than DigiDrive especially considering the mod tools, the thriving online community, and the capacity for more than 1v1 multiplayer.  

It's important when making any kind of comparison to be flexible enough to focus in on specific aspects and to zoom out to reflect on the big picture. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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