The Horrible, Horrible School of Starcraft II Part 3

Hey guys! It’s been awhile. In Singapore where I currently reside, we just experienced one of the worst haze conditions ever known to mankind (nah, it’s just to us spoiled Singaporeans who have always had clean air XD), but thankfully the air’s been clear for the past 2 weeks now!

Here’s the long awaited part 3 of the Horrible School series. But before we go, this is how the Learning Cycle currently looks like:

Static stage -> Frustration Stage -> Success stage -> ?? -> ?? -> ??

We’ve been visited with limited success at the Static Stage, we’ve practiced our asses off at the Frustration Stage, and we were rewarded with ladder points/tons of victories at the Success Stage. So let’s move on to the next stage…

Failure Stage:

Yes, unfortunately this happens after awhile. You get bumped up the ladder, or even move up the leagues, and the games (surprise, surprise) get harder. But that’s exactly how life works, doesn’t it? We grow up, and we can choose when and how we eat the pizza, and what time to go to sleep, but soon enough we have to work for the pizza and we can’t work if we sleep in all the time. So with practice comes freedom, and with freedom comes responsibility to rein in the freedom. The one rule of almost all games and life itself is that it gets more challenging as it goes on. Each field we conquer opens up our kingdom to greater fields that need conquering. Although we now have greater ability to deal with threats and obstacles, and hence we now have greater freedom, we still need to improve day by day by day, step by step by step. One the only way to do that is to learn to deal with failure effectively. Non-Starcraft players can skip the next 2 paragraphs with no detriment to their understanding of this section.

I first got out of Bronze League after mastering the infamous Terran Hellbat drop. Basically, you open up with 1-1-1 (rax, factory, starport) and expand, before building an armory. The armory will enable you to produce Hellbats from the factory, and you send it together with the first medivac that you build. You go to the back of his base, drop the Hellbats, and burn down his economy, literally. At Bronze League level, most players are unable to respond without sustaining great losses. Either they counter your drop, and fail to properly keep up the macro and base building, or they try to do both at the same time, and lose too many workers in the attempt. I find that the moment I pull it off, the game would be decided in my favour there and then. Soon enough of course, I got bumped up to Silver League, where I found myself at the top 8 among my fellow Silvers in my group (there are about a hundred players in each group, and tons of groups per League).

So, just like before, I would attempt to pull of the super-effective Hellbat drop. But then the game started to change. Players started to scout properly, and some even reacted by building defensive buildings near their mineral line. As soon as I flew my medivac over, spores, missiles, or photon blasts would blow my ship up even before it could drop a single Hellbat. They would then follow up by rushing the front of my base, and since I had not much of an army there (recall, I expanded early, and rushed tech), I would usually lose the expansion, and before I knew it, the entire game as well. I thought to myself, what is going on? Why did my hyper-effective build now fail to succeed at all? At first it was insanely frustrating, but I decided that I just needed to stay calm, and analyze my game as I have before. After sitting still for awhile (albeit in a funk), I then realized that I needed to scout as well (duh!) to see if a Hellbat drop was a viable strategy. I forced myself to develop new strategies that could incorporate both the drop, and other forms of aggression as well should this method not work due to the other player’s build.

For the rest of us who don’t play Starcraft, it doesn’t matter, the rules are the same. When you go higher in whatever pursuit, the game changes and gets more complex. You are required to sit down and examine the situation, which often calls for a follow-up action on your part in some form or another. Take learning the piano for instance. First you learn how to play with one hand, during which you try to master the melody. At first you stumble over your own fingers, and even miss a couple of notes here and there. Slowly and surely however, your skill improves, and you can play the entire melody without fail. But then you realize that just as this level of freedom is achieved, the song sounds empty. It needs accompaniment, it needs a sense of fullness for it to sound good. That’s whem you figure that to keep up, you must teach your left hand how to play to. So you learn to play accompanying chords that complement the melody, giving the song a richer sound. It takes awhile, because you must first understand the theory of how music harmony works. And then after you figure the notes to play, you need to practice it. And after mastering the left hand, you need to put the two together to play the song in full. There is no end to the climb! But the same pattern emerges: every time you succeed, a harder challenge arises where you may fail. You would then need to control your emotions and really analyze what you are doing correctly and what you are doing wrongly. For example, after you finally master a song, you listen other people’s cover of the same song, and realize that yours just doesn’t cut it. The Failure Stage rears its ugly head again, but instead of giving up and beating yourself up for being less exemplary, you stay calm, analyze the difference between his playing and yours, and then make the changes. Could it be that your left hand is drowning out the melody? Is your melody too complex, or too simple? Are you playing the chords correctly? Staying calm instead of emotionalizing too much can help you analyze things, and patient analysis followed up with correction is the only answer to failure. Only then you can move on to the next level.

A popular saying in chinese is that “failure is the mother of success.” That is why I chose to open this post with the Failure Stage; it often comes right after we succeed, causing us to lose our courage and drive, but if we conquer the failure and learn from it instead, it breeds more and more success. So the key take away here is that two things are the most vital: 1) stay calm 2) analyze. When you do that, you can change your habits and poise yourself for success.

Experimentation Stage:

But then again, don’t think for once that in your first analysis, you will get the right answer to break out of the Failure Stage! Sometimes, the changes we need to make are far too complex for just a simple session of analysis and correction. You might need to go a step further – experiment to see which method works to take you out of the funk. You see, so far the first few stages has the feeling of a “factory”. You find a good solution, and keep working on it until you can do it so efficiently that you don’t even have to pay too much attention to it. You are doing reps in the gym, you are drilling scales on the piano, you are optimizing your Starcraft II build order. You are trying to assimilate the physical skills necessary to make your theory work out in reality.In this experimentation stage, we put the factory mode on hold. For this little while at least, we are not longer concerned about productivity and getting it right. In fact, we are looking to get things wrong more often so that we’ll finally get the right answer! This is the stage where we temporarily throw away our benchmarking, and our hyper-drive, and our mad perseverance. At this stage, we grab a cup of coffee (or tea), lean back against a cozy chair, and watch a bunch of videos. When I got finally promoted to Silver League top 8, I knew that I had to learn new strategies. More than that, I had to understand what strategies the other races were using against me. This is where Day [9] comes in, this is where Apollo, and Husky, and SCII Liquipedia really tops the cake – there’s nothing else I could do for now but to learn.

And after watching their analysis of various games and various races, and researching strategies on Liquipedia, I decided to try it out for myself vs the AI. Yep. I’m not as courageous as some of you lot are. I like the AI because at lower difficulties, they are fairly predictable, and I can work on my new build without feeling too much pressure. After ironing out the various kinks, I do some unranked matches against real humans, and only then do I finally take it out on ladder to see it works. Any time I’m unhappy with anything, I’d go back to the coffee and the videos, and start from the drawing board. At this stage, failure is an option, time is not of the essence, and creativity trumps productivity.Because when you do finally find that solution to your problem, things start to change dramatically. You learn that your 9 minutes timing rush could be susceptible to a 6 minutes cheese, and you scout accordingly. You learn that your 12 minutes +1 +1 bio-push could be taken down by locked up turtles, who would drop your base while your army is out, and you build the defenses and drop him instead.

Or, you learn that going on a low carb diet is gonna plateau your results pretty fast, and you learn about carb cycling and cheat days. You realize that you can’t hit the same muscle groups every day because they can’t recuperate in time, so you stagger the training.

Or, you find that you can’t progress with your guitar plucking practice because the strings are literally cutting into your finger and your calluses aren’t tough enough yet, so you suck it up and pick up some theory in the mean time. And the next time you try practicing, you find yourself playing entire bars by memory because the theory gave you a way to visualize notes that you never had before.

The experimentation stage is the place where you fail a lot and lose a lot, but it pays off when you finally find the key to that door that’s been blocking your way all this while.

Success Stage 2 and Failure Stage 2:

So when it pays off, the euphoria is almost equivalent to the first time you succeed. You feel as if nothing can really stop you, because the last obstacle that tried to was completely crushed by your ultra-awesome innovative skills when you searched for a solution and found it. More Starcraft coming up!

You scout at 3 minutes, and then again at 5 minutes to see if the other guy is doing a pesky one base all in. Well, he isn’t. You continue building your army, and at the 16 minute mark, you push out safely while expanding to your third. Instead of rushing blindly forth, you throw a scan at his natural, and then seeing that he’s parked some stalkers at the front, you send a double medivac drop at the back to draw his army. It moves backwards, but too slowly, as already a dozen workers fall by the piercing bullets of your marines’ +2 C14 gauss rifles. Before they blink in to kill your medivacs, you load up the 16 men into the transport and fly to his third to check if there’s anything there. There’s no third at where it should be. Your main army moves in and steamrolls through his natural before he finally stops you at his ramp, but the game’s already decided. Your economy and tech is now far more superior and he can never catch up.

Or so you thought. The red flashing square on your mini-map indicates that your main is under attack. By what exactly?! You raced back, and see 10 Void Rays and 2 Carriers easily taking down the 3 missile turrets at the base before finishing off your command centre, tech labs, reactors, and upgrade facilities. Your army pumps a stimpack and runs back to your natural, but already, most of your infrastructure is gone. He warps in 5 more zealots at your third with the proxy pylon that you never spotted, and now you’re left with one functional base that’s half mined out, and no tech at all. Before typing gg and quitting, you throw down 4 scans around the random expansions around the map. It’s impossible that he’s got air when his base has no Stargates at all… and true enough, you spot 2 other expansions busily mining and churning out Voids. He was on 4 base all along.

If you’ve never played Starcraft before, this experience is roughly equivalent to queuing up all day for that collectible item that you were pining for, only to learn when you finally reach the counter that it’s just sold out. Why? What have you done wrong? You’ve already woken up earlier and joined the queue at 5 am, beating half the crowd behind you! You think to yourself that perhaps you should you have stayed up all night in a sleeping bag outside the store like some of those guys.

In Starcraft 2, there is a saying that goes: “don’t blame the build, work on the execution”. This statement doesn’t work in the experimentation stage, but it definitely works now. Have you watched the replays? Were there mistakes you’ve made? Much like Failure Stage 1, you need to 1) stay calm, and 2) analyze. In this particular game, I would say that I’ve been overeager. Clearly, his base had way too little units. There’s no way he’s that bad if I’m matched up against him, because the ranking system isn’t that messed up. So if he didn’t have a third, then what is he really up to? A simple scout could have rectified the problem – I have enough marines to crush his air and I could easily switch to viking production to deal with pesky Void harassing later on. Did it mean that I should completely switch up my build, and go for reactored hellions instead of bio-medivac? Was a bunch of scouting hellions the true solution to preventing this problem? Absolutely not, although it is a viable solution. But then, another way was to use the same build, but react more accurately to what I see – I could have pulled back my army and scout around with medivacs for suspicious activity. Plus, there was a lot more to work on. Why did I only expand at 16 minutes, could I have done it earlier at 14? And why did I push so late, could I have used the same build but harassed slightly earlier to prevent the accumulation of his army? Right now the solution is not so much of experimentation as it is about execution.

And when it comes to execution, there’s no running away from it. We’re back to the Static Stage that we saw in Part 1! We’re going back to benchmarking, self-analysis, and perseverance. We’ve now reached full circle, or as I like to call it, full spiral.

The Full Learning Cycle:

Static -> Frustration -> Success -> Failure -> Experimentation ->Success & Failure Revisited -> Back to the Beginning! (new spiral)At the new spiral, we’re start again at the Static Stage. But we realize that we are actually at a higher level! We are now fairly consistent in making workers, we understand what kind of strategies would triumph against various play styles, and we are more well-versed in different build orders. What needs to be done now is very specific work in the areas that need brushing up. Every time we make it through this cycle, we effectively go up one spiral. And although the spiral never ends, the fact is that we keep getting higher and higher, and better and better. That in itself is an inspiration to keep blazing through the Static and Frustration stages especially. After awhile, our attitude towards success and failure also tends to even out; we realize that a success today does not guarantee a success tomorrow, and more often than not, a failure right now would forge for us a success tomorrow. Finally, our mind never stays stagnant, although contradictorily it becomes more stable! We are now able to even formulate strategies and counters in our minds without consulting so many sources, as we have a lot of material to work with. Because of this level of complexity in our minds, our thinking becomes more stable and less fragmented. We can organize ourselves to work towards solutions that have better pay offs, and we can accept the costs and failures that come with it along the way.While most of this post is spoken in terms of Starcraft 2, it is written with life itself in mind. All of the lessons here can be applied to whatever you choose to endeavour in, and because life is a never ending lesson, we are all welcome to partake in the Learning Cycle/Spiral together, sharpening each other along the way! Who knows, one day you could be somebody else’s Day [9], or FilterSC, or Apollo, or you might even start a Liquipedia of your own calling. It’s never too late to start, and always too early to give up!

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The Horrible, Horrible School of Starcraft II Part 2!!

The Improvement Cycle:

Static stage -> Frustration Stage -> Success stage -> ?? -> ?? -> ?? (to be revealed in part 3 XD)

Static stage:

The first stage of improving is the Static Stage. FilterSC, a Starcraft II youtube personality, introduces to us various builds that a Terran player can use while playing a 1v1 game in multiplayer. Evidently, those builds are very successful even up to Masters league, which is where FilterSC is at. So in order to emulate his success, it is recommended to learn his build orders, as well as his psychology behind the actions that he take. However, to actually get there, you must sit down and play a few games against the computer first to train your basic game mechanics. Even once you are ready to take on the world, you would have to consider your first few multiplayer games as “training games”. The Static Stage is where you do the ground work of familiarizing yourself with certain aspects of the activity that you pursue. In Starcraft, you would need to be familiar with “macro-ing”, which refers to building up your economy as well as your buildings, and “micro-ing”, which refers to the actual control of your army. Both skill sets require practice, during which you may not be able to really improve until you have mastered specific skills within the skill set. In fact, you may actually lose more games because you are more focused on a particular goal. But that is a good thing – you want to keep everything static accept for the one thing that you are trying to improve, because as FilterSC says, you can only handle one thing at a time.

One of the first lessons I learned from FilterSC is the idea of benchmarking. Benchmarking is essentially the act of recording a fixed, but important statistic that can help you track your growth objectively. You don’t have to worry so much about its accuracy in reflecting your skill growth, but it should relate to an important aspect of whatever that you desire to develop. In Starcraft II, FilterSC recommends that you track your worker production at the 10 minute mark. Workers form the entire basis of your economy, which in turn forms the foundations that allows you to build your army and technology to win the game. At 10 minutes, a standard build would have you at around 45 to 48 workers. FilterSC pushes that threshold by a bit, insisting that you should aim for 50 workers by the 10 minute mark. I was able to actually surpass that goal using some fast expand build orders, but at the very start, it took me tons and tons of practice to get anywhere close to 50. I was always straggling behind at around 44 to 47 workers. After awhile, I got the hang of it. My worker production skills improved, and that allowed me to move on to the next stage: building up production buildings, and thinking about army composition as well as technology timings. Those are very complex ideas that can also be broken down via benchmarking. For instance, by the 12 minute mark, I would want to have 5 barracks up and running (with 1 techlab and 4 reactors), a reactored starport, two engineering bays with +1 attack/defense finished, and stim/combat shield researched. I also want to keep up with my worker production, but because of the new requirements, I can afford to lower the benchmark slightly – 48 workers by the 10 minute mark.

I find that the idea of benchmarking is translatable to various fields of activity as well. In writing, you can keep track of the number of words written per hour. If you hate the pressure, you can also commit to maybe a couple hundred words a day. In exercise especially, you would want to track your strength by keeping close note of your maximum rep of a certain weight. If you can lift the same weight more times, you would have gotten more durable muscles, but if you can lift a heavier weight, you would have gotten stronger muscles. Benchmarking is a simple way of ensuring that your methods are bringing you closer to your goal instead of further away from it. But you have to be flexible, not every benchmark is useful for every goal! If you want to make sure that you are keeping in line with your plot points, for instance, you might want to be slightly more lax on the word count – you don’t want to be producing words just for the sake of producing it, instead, you might want to stop writing after you meet your target. The same goes for exercise. You want to give your muscles rest after strenuous activity, so you may not want to continue with your usual benchmarks after experimenting with a new style of training.

Frustration Stage:

Now, when you’re going through the Static Stage, you tend to encounter one very major roadblock. The source of this problem usually stems with yourself! Some people tend to be able to deal with it better than others, but everyone struggles with it eventually. It’s the problem of frustration. When you’re practicing something that is fairly difficult to achieve, you will tend to make a lot of mistakes. Even after dedicating a lot of time and energy into the practice, you may find that you have not really improved much. This is extremely true of e-sports, such as Starcraft II. When I first began practicing the worker benchmark as mentioned above, I realized that I was nowhere near the target. I then learned that I did not even know the specific build order needed that could make the achievement of the benchmark possible in the first place. It took me a lot of trial and error before I realized that, and even then, I had to re-watch FilterSC’s videos again repetitively before finally got the correct build. It took some more time to memorize it and be able to pull it off in the game. Only then was I able to work on the specific mechanics needed to reach the worker benchmark! Imagine how frustrating it was for me then, doing so many things wrong at the start, and then having to put in so much effort just to begin the basic practice.

Yet, I’m sure everyone goes through frustrations, especially when you’re starting something. When we begin anything, we do not yet have the infrastructure necessary to get things going. And when I say infrastructure, I don’t mean physical infrastructure per se, such as money, property, or network. Those could be important in other things, but I also refer to the intangible infrastructure of the mind. It takes time in order to build certain habits of seeing and doing that puts you on the right track of success. For instance, in Starcraft II, I needed to understand how it felt like to press certain hotkeys to build buildings/units before I could fully absorb the build that I see in a replay video. I would also need to understand the basic tech tree, and prerequisite structures needed before I can appreciate the idea of a refined build order. To do all this, I need to have certain knowledge infrastructure already built into my mind, and to do that requires invested effort in acquiring that knowledge and memorizing it. Furthermore, I needed to understand where and what to look for when watching videos – the supply timing, the amount of minerals built up, the hotkey tab etc. If I do not know that, I could watch a dozen videos and not be able to benefit my own technique

All these issues arise when you hit the Frustration Stage. Often, we are frustrated because we do not have the necessary infrastructure build up, and we keep getting set back by things we do not understand. During this stage, pure perseverance is important, but often not enough to succeed. As it is like building a business, we need to set up the right infrastructure to overcome the frustration. In business, we need to have a source of capital, a way to liaise with our suppliers and customers, as well as a means of keeping accounts. Without any of this, our business is bound to hit a lot of roadblocks along the way. Especially when if we are struggling to build income, without setting up that infrastructure first, we will be unable to make it through with just perseverance alone. The key to overcoming the Frustration Stage is not only perseverance, but it is looking at yourself and understanding what needs to be developed first before moving on. It is usually the very minor things that trip us up, so at this stage especially, we should never underestimate the small things.

Success Stage:

After pumping through the frustration stage, smoothening out all the crinkled edges and practicing over and over and over again, we’re bound to be met with success. It took me over a dozen games before I won my first victory in Starcraft II, Silver League. A score of 0 – 12 is not to be proud of, but to me, it’s my battle scar. The moment it turned to 1 -12, I felt as if every bit of practice was worth it, because it was a legitimate win. From then on, I began to improve my win rate, getting it much closer to 50%. Pretty soon, I could easily defeat all (non-smurf) bronze players, and a bunch of other Silver Leaguers too. I was on my way to the top 8 of my League, and I planned to fight my way into gold. It sure felt good.

But there was one thing I could not afford to forget: watching replays and analyzing my own games. By disciplining myself to watch the replays instead of jumping straight into another match, I’m able to see my own gameplay and troubleshoot them or reinforce them before the next game. Chances are, even though I’ve won, I would have made a lot of mistakes that deserve correcting. I am after all, only in Silver League. Even Grandmasters I believe watch their own replays to see how they can improve, much less I! In every game I take note of what works, what doesn’t, and what needs working on. It could be the general build order, or simple things like making sure I was producing units even while attacking, and it can even be more complex ideas such as timing the attack properly against the enemy’s build. All these aspects need to be worked on, although it is best that we work on it one at a time.

It is the same for everything else. In my exercise regime for instance, I may find myself successful as I’ve reached a certain running speed for a particular distance run. But if I looked back at my training session, I can look for more things to improve on. Should I have stretched before I ran? Is it possible to work on my posture instead of slouching when I get tired? Does my feet line up properly with balls of the feet touching the ground first, or am I slacking when it gets difficult? It is best to have a training partner whenever you do training so that they can spot for you, or if you run on a thread mill, you might want to record yourself (or run against a mirror). Self-monitoring works the best during the success stage to make sure that you stay grounded and realistic about what works and what doesn’t – the euphoria of success might sometimes also be dangerous if you let yourself slip up or compromise on basic principles.

In part 3, I’ll finish up the rest of the cycle, and conclude!

The Horrible, Horrible School of Starcraft II

There is a Chinese proverb that when roughly translated, goes along the lines of “bitter medicine is good for curing disease, and harsh criticism is good for mending behaviour.” So as some of you might have already guessed, Starcraft II is to me, a bitter medicine like no other.When I first got my hands on the game a couple of years ago, I was a newbie in every definition of the word. I’ve never played Broodwars before (one of the first Starcraft games), and I don’t play much multiplayer RTS either. Needless to say, I was pretty scared to foray into the field of multiplayer RTS gaming. Starting the game up for the first time, I had a blast playing through the single player campaign and trashing the AI in some of the easier settings on skirmish mode. Problem was, after awhile, the gameplay either became too hard, or too easy. It was clear that if I was going to enjoy the game any further, I had to improve my skills. Of course, I consulted the all-wise Google on how to improve my Starcraft skills, and the answer was found in the plethora of guides found online. That was when terms like Macro and Micro, APM, Hotkeys, and Build Orders were first introduced to me.

It was completely foreign to play with the keyboard. I only used them to create control groups for my armies; so for instance I would hotkey my ground troops to number 1, and my air force to number 2. I could easily switch between them just by pressing those two numbers on my keyboard, making virtual warfare much easier. So with my trusty mouse and my mediocre hotkey usage, I was able to get through most of the campaign, and even defeat the ‘hard’ AI in a skirmish battle. The ‘very hard’ AI, however, was far out of my reach. I dare not even venture to multiplayer mode, as I knew I would get trashed completely. After consulting some guides, I realized that the first thing I had to learn was the basics: how to play the game on the keyboard. Once you can issue commands using both the keyboard and the mouse, you’re basically on the way to mastery. With the keyboard, you can command your army like a boss, issuing multiple commands at once, and possibly be at many places on the battlefield while building your own base up at the same time.

The initial experience was pretty scary, but then it got fun. I had to memorize simple stuff like “‘b’ brings up the build menu, then ‘s’ builds a supply depot”, or “pressing ‘a’ after selecting your barracks would train marines”. But once I had the basic idea up and running, it was a joyride. I was suddenly able to build so many stuff at once, and my army size literally doubled within the same amount of game time. I was able to trash the ‘hard’ AI far more easily, and could even hold off some of the ‘very hard’ AI’s advance. But then, there was still so much to learn. I had to start memorizing build orders, which required the nifty balancing of build timings and attack timings. Furthermore, I needed to learn more hotkeys. I decided to stick to a very simple build where I simply trained Marines, Marauders, and Medivacs, and with my mediocre skills, I managed to get my first victory in a multiplayer match! That was when the excitement truly began. But the more I played, the more I realized that the victories I attained were few and far between. I needed far more practice, and it got boring very quickly.

That was when I gave up on Starcraft II. Shockers. The problem was that my exams were coming up quickly, and I could no longer sustain the practice periods. It was draining to cope with a Starcraft training program, as well as the workload from real life. I had to give up Starcraft for awhile, and because it ended on a bad note, I didn’t pick it up even after my exams were over. When I thought of Starcraft, I basically thought of hours after hours of hard work, and very slow progress. Of course, that was before I discovered the world of shoutcasting, streaming, and Day [9].

Starcraft was essentially a major game in the realm of e-sports. It meant that like regular sports, there were people doing commentary while games were going on. These people were called shoutcasters, and they helped to make the game more understandable to the rest of us. Clearly, they had to have knowledge and skill in the game as well in order to do a good shoutcast; some shoutcasters would even help you improve your gameplay. They definitely added a lot of excitement to the game of Starcraft II. But to really improve your game, you would need to watch videos of people who were doing analysis of games. They may or may not analyze in real time, but since their focus was more of the educational value, you tend to learn a lot. They would break down build orders, analyze why certain army compositions work and some don’t, and even drop nuggets of vital information, such as “cloaked Banshees usually hit at 7.30 minutes” or “Vikings are the hard counter to the Colossus”. Other videos even help you to train various skills like constant production of worker units while keeping to a specified build order.

But my conception of Starcraft changed completely when I found Day [9]. Essentially, he is an extremely big name in the Starcraft II community (no idea why I didn’t hear of him earlier), and his videos are always loved because of one reason. He’s just so damn funny, and positive. Seriously. Even if you don’t know a thing about Starcraft, his videos give you so much emotional value that you would consider watching a couple more. And as a Starcraft player, I can say that his videos go beyond the energizing aspect as they can really impact your gameplay. By watching Day [9] analyze various games, I was able to understand the thought process behind many high level players, and incorporate some of their techniques into my play. Going back to my Starcraft hiatus, I was actually inspired to go get the expansion (Heart of the Swarm) and begin my Starcraft journey again, right after watching a bunch of Day [9] videos. That was when I started playing seriously, and dared to finally confront the ladder.

In Part 2 of this post, I will share the Frustration/Learning cycle, where I banged my head against the wall far too often (although you don’t have to!), and finally learned how to adapt to the pattern.

What I Learned from Playing Video Games

When I was young, my mother used to nag me to get off my favourite computer games. Of course I tried to find many ways around it, but as a student, I had no choice but to do my homework first. Now, with far more freedom, I find that I can explore as much as I want. It is strange though. Somehow my mother’s nagging got into me and I can’t just play computer games without being productive about it or I’ll feel a little guilty. But that’s also a good thing, because here are a few lessons I’ve learned from video games!

Hard work pays off

What your parents don’t know is that video games are hard work. I kid you not. If you aren’t willing to put in the time and effort, you’ll never be able to enjoy the game at the level that you want to. This point is particularly evident in most role-playing games. If you want your character to get stronger, you will have no choice but to take down weaker enemies for experience. Over time, you will get stronger and stronger, and you’ll even find powerful new equipment that can help you complete your main quest. In gaming-speak, they call this “grinding”. It’s termed as such because it can get pretty painful after awhile. You’re not really doing any quests, so the storyline isn’t what’s fueling you. You are most likely going to be encountering the same enemies over and over again, so you’ll probably get bored. But to get stronger so that you can overcome the next boss, or finish the quest-line, you don’t have a choice! You need to dig deep, and put in the work. Fortunately, you know that all that pain is worth it because you’ll finally reach a high enough level and get that new sparkly equipment you need to save the day.

Take time to learn the rules

I’ve recently started playing this interesting game where pure grinding doesn’t take you anywhere in the long run (google: Last Remnant). Unfortunately, the only way to learn this is through slowly poring through game guides, wikis, and playing the game itself. While it’s pretty confusing at first, I’m slowly getting the hang of how the game works now. If I didn’t take the time to learn the rules, I would have probably messed up the game by now, making it harder for myself later on. Of course, every game is different from the other, and it just so happens that this particular game features a crazily steep learning curve. But this basic principle holds true in many other games as well, especially strategy games, and epic role-playing games (RPG). Strategy games will require one to understand how each unit can interact with other units, and if the game includes resource gathering and acquisition of units, one will have to understand what are the workings behind the game’s economy. RPG games may also be that complex as there might be weapons, elements, statistics, and skill trees that you need to familiarize with, not to mention the tons of modifiers that could complicate things. While you may not have to learn everything, it is essential for you to acquire some basic knowledge regarding the mechanics of combat and character development. Without taking time to learn the rules, you may not understand how to get to where you want to go, and unguided gaming might lead you to somewhere else. If you don’t want to waste your time later, invest some time to learn how things work first!

The community always helps

No this is not always true because some communities are filled with unfriendly users, but if a game is popular enough, you can usually find a forum or user-contributed wiki that can help you with simple things such as game mechanics, winning strategies, or the trading of items. People are social creatures and video games aren’t an exception when it comes to the need for community. In multi-player games such as MMORPGs, online RTS (real-time strategy) games, and even co-operative RPG games such as Diablo III  and the like, the need for community is pretty obvious. Meeting with people, working with them, and playing your role to contribute to the team are necessities that will ensure that you can enjoy a good game. You need to learn how to communicate with others without sacrificing your own needs. Usually though, you will be able to find some nice people after awhile who can give you a good gaming experience, without trying to make use of you to farm for good loot. They might even help you with the conventions of communication, as some games require a basic understanding of shortcuts and terminology in order to communicate well with others. Even in single player games, you cannot underestimate the contribution of the community to the gaming experience. There will definitely be cases where you will encounter difficult quests, missions, or parts of the game that you may not be able to complete yourself. That’s where gaming forums come in. You’ll find people who are also trying to complete the same quests, and sometimes more heads are better than one. Many game developers may intentionally design difficult achievements that can only be completed through collaboration among the community.

Depth and quality matters

I’m a good starter, but not the best finisher. However, there are some games that I stick to all the way to the end because they are just that good. Sometimes, its the story that keeps me coming back for more. For others, its the well-designed levels that hook me in. Whatever it is that keeps you playing, I’m sure it is something that has depth and quality. Depth is something that cannot be faked, a good developer has to delve deep into his or her art to produce a work with truly great quality. It could be that a lot of time was taken to design each mission so that the complexity is perfectly balanced out with hidden hints along the way to make things easier, or the development of the characters took gut-wrenching effort to produce after countless rewrites and throw-outs. If something is good, there is no hiding it, and chances are a lot of time and effort when into make it that good. When I stumble onto a game that awesome, I know that the very same qualities that made it great are those that I want to find in my own work. If you do music, arts, sports, business, or any craft that takes dedicated effort, you know what I mean. There is no short-cut, or holy grail to a beautiful piece of work. Everything takes time, dedication and perseverance, but it’s all worth it because depth and quality does matter.

Don’t forget to save

In many games, there are points in which there is a chance of losing your progress if you fail. Thankfully, we have save zones, where you can access the save menu to save your progress before encountering a risky situation (usually a boss fight or what not). Some other games can let you save anytime you want, which is way more convenient, accept when you forget to do so! Don’t forget to save regularly, especially when you’re encountering challenging parts of the game. Losing valuable progress means wasting a lot of time and effort, and sometimes luck because many game variables have a random element. For instance, you might have gotten that super rare drop that one time, but if you forgot to save and need to restart your game, you may not be so lucky this time around. Now, how is this lesson even transferable to real life?! you may be asking. For me I tend to keep a notebook around. It’s in virtual form, called Evernote. I recommend a download if you like the idea of a virtual notebook that you can access anywhere that has an internet connection. Usually when I get a good idea, I’ll just load up a note and jot it down. When I’m free, I can explore that idea, and it’ll save a lot of time as compared to being without inspiration and needing to wait for it to strike you. That’s because most often, inspiration strikes you when you’re not able to work on it immediately. Another form of “saving your game” could be simple diary keeping. For guys, you may think that this is a rather girly thing, but jotting down the main takeaways from the day and recalling the good parts that you can be thankful for will help you grow in many ways. Everyday in life is different and valuable, so don’t forget to save!