Starcraft II, game four: the Kelly’s cat gambit

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The game is Starcraft II played in a series of 1v1 matches, with the winner being the first to four victories. The map is Metalopolis, which features four starting positions behind narrow ramps, and two gold mineral expansions in the center. The races are randomly determined, just like real life generals. The players are Tom Chick, ranked 5th in his division in the silver league, and Kelly Wand, who has one of those dragon icons in Warcraft III but hasn’t even played the stupid campaign in Starcraft II.
The score so far: Tom: 2, Kelly: 1

Game four, after the jump

Kelly: I draw Protoss. Tom says he’s drawn Terrans again, and when I ask, “You mean Zerg?” he doesn’t respond, so he’s obviously Protoss as well. Guess he’s not racist after all, in a broken-clock-twice-a-day way.

Tom: My only goal this game is not to be the Terrans. After three matches in a row as the Terrans, I finally get the non-Terran Protoss. I consider this game a moral victory already.

Kelly: I half jokingly suggest that Tom should look on me as a girlfriend and let me win one. You know, to make for a “better read.” Tom somberly explains that it’s molecularly impossible for him to not try to win games. QQ. What Mitochondria Boy over there doesn’t know nor would he be interested in if he did is that I’ve been practicing quite a merry bit since game three. I’ve found ways to lose that you can’t even unlock portraits for. And though Tom is more machine now than man, he’ll probably feel impelled to spice things up this outing because writing about zealot rushes this far into an “online event” would be boring and stupid for our two readers. Ergo, odds are excellent he’ll probably make some weird-ass units with special-ability lasers even he barely understands. By now he’s also doubtless come to take my crafty gambit of not replenishing my workers for granted and will hopefully expect me to keep it up. Finally, with any luck, he’ll draw Terrans again, or as I call it Groundhog Day.

Tom: I get a whole mess of zealots loitering at the top of my ramp, expecting Kelly to attack me so I can find out what race he’s playing. He rudely does no such thing. So nearly ten minutes into the game, I figure I’ll scout the map, building pylons along the way so I can try using warp gates.

I can pretty much guarantee this won’t work. Warp gates are an important Protoss trick, and one of my friends berated me when I told him I don’t bother using warp gates. Based on his reaction, you’d have thought I said I don’t bother mining vespene gas. I told him I hadn’t really “wrapped my head” around warp gates yet. “It’s the easiest thing in the world,” he sneered. My friend is British, so it’s particularly nasty when he sneers.

But I know warp gates will come in really handy on a big map like Metalopolis, so now is as good a time as any to try to put them into effect, even though I don’t have the muscle memory to do it. I can play the Zerg much like I play guitar on hard in Rock Band: I’m hotkeying my queens and hatcheries and larvae and rally pointing an overlord over here while queuing up zerglings and hydralisk eggs to hatch and amass over there while rocking back and forth and pumping my hips. That’s me playing the sweet sweet music of a finely tuned Zerg machine, like Yo Yo Ma on the cello. But when I try to use warp gates, I go all William Hung’s She Bang.

Kelly: I have a bad gambler’s habit of building against whatever killed me last game. Let’s see Tom pull his battlecruiser chicaneries against this sweet-ass real estate. On top of that, it seems I overestimated Tom’s interest in writing about more interesting units because when I reach his base, I find a veritable murder of massed zealots waiting for me. And over Skype* , a sneering Britishness seeps like creep-tumor flavored crumpets into Tom’s already insufferable perpetual giggle.

Tom: If this is going to be Protoss-on-Protoss violence, then I’d just as soon be on the massed zealots end of the equation if Kelly is going to show up with stalkers.

Kelly: Tom’s zealots proceed to start mowing elegantly through my stalker squad. Why am I still rushing dumbly with stalkers against the likes of Tom in game four? If I broke my leg, a one-trick pony would laughingly shoot me. I feel doomed. Doing something that’s always hard for me on short notice, I pull out. Then decide to trick Tom by attempting the unexpected (i.e., winning). I switch builds and begin to crank out templars for psionic storm. Yeah! Alien psychic lightning vortexes, once merely the whimsical fancies of Victorian-era dianetics, now science fact at the touch of a hotkey that used to be “t”, I think. That’ll settle his hash. I’ve noticed that Tom likes to keep his units closely packed together like the mom of that child rock group Hanson, and of course anything that even momentarily discombobulates Tom tends to be effective for the length of that moment. Plus, at long last, I’m also expanding early, right under myself just like in r.l., so I’ll be able to support templars gas-wise, also just like in r.l. Pretty awesome that it took me only six or seven sessions to figure out the basics of Metalopolis. Wait, this place is a city?

Tom: Once I’ve chased Kelly off, I figure if he’s going to lose his nerve that easily, he won’t be back soon. Time to set up my expansion base. As for warp gates, never mind. We’re close enough to each other that I’m just going to keep up with a steady stream of zealots to fend him off. Plus, now that I’ve tasted blood, or whatever fluid keeps stalkers oiled, I just want to brute force my way to victory.

Kelly: Tom’s parked his guys outside his second expansion while he warps in pylons and drones and stalkers and whatnot. Though I’m outnumbered and behind Tom economically, I feel the need to attack again. Keep Tom rattled before his defenses are in place. I don’t have much really to effect this with but hey, troops shmoops. What’s the worst that can happen?

Tom: I think what I’m doing is called the 4-Gateway strategy because I have four gateways. This gives me plenty of bandwidth to turn minerals into zealots. So when Kelly does show up — mostly stalkers again, but accompanied by a single sentry that does absolutely nothing — I handily drive him off a second time. And then a third and a fourth and a half. I think he’s trying to micro, but I can’t be sure. He’s kind of like surf, but not as powerful. I Maynard my probes to my expansion base — that’s what the pros call it when they move their workers — and head out to conquer Kelly, but then change my mind and decide to make some dark templars so that this match isn’t so boring.

Kelly: Sweet, my army may be in tatters but on the upside I now have three whole high templars with 70 energy apiece! That and my reliable reserve force of stalkers ought to be more than enough to kill the likes of stupid Tom and his vast teeming ocean of so-called zealots. Plus, I made another sentry that he hasn’t killed yet. Tom doesn’t know what to make of those; I know I don’t. Double plus, I know from our podcasts that his micro only goes so far. My front lines (if three templars can be construed as forming even one line) surge sluggishly southward, but just as my and Tom’s armies converge, my cat farts heroically, leaps onto my keyboard, cranes his neck to blink up at me, and shits zerg-like on my lap. It’s like one of those paint-bombs — the type they put in money sacks to turn bank robbers blue so cops, also blue, can find them easily — going off in my face, but runnier. I can’t really see much of the screen but as the replay reflects to my credit later, I valiantly manage not to psionic storm my own guys. Instead, a few tesla coils feebly drizzle Tom’s front lines. My cat gives my recovery skills an expression that conveys, “C minus,” and bails. Tom languidly cycles his fresh troops forward as my second barrage beautifully annihilates the ground between us and even a couple of his overzealous zealots, slightly warming their shields to light green. I withdraw my battered survivors back to my base. Tom cheerily follows me all the way and promptly begins taking my expansion apart, feigning concern over Skype that the game has been so unusually one-sided, I surely must be sandbagging at least a mothership. Or my usual colossi. Anything? Seriously? Game 4? This?

Tom: I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of all the unit match ups in Starcraft II, which is why I’m only a silver league player. But aren’t psionic storms ineffectual against Protoss units? That certainly seems to be the case based on Kelly popping off a couple of psionic storms over my army. As I can see by my hitpoint bars, my units’ shields have shrugged off the fancy spell effect. My army, which outnumbers Kelly’s by at least two to one, proceeds unopposed to Kelly’s base, where it slaughters all his dudes.

Kelly: Note to self: don’t start high templars without at least four gas extractors already operating at max. I’m kind of bummed about this one, even more so than the calamitous blunders that comprised game two, because, feline hijinx aside, I didn’t commit my usual mistakes, I tried to think creatively, and I still lost. Quickly and resoundingly. Forget Lakers-Celtics, this was more like Lakers-Nets. This series is a joke. Four games down but even I can read the writing on the wall, which is where I like to keep a running tally of my lifelong videogame losses in Magic Marker. I need to win 3 in a row to stay alive, my only hope being that Tom knows too little about sports to know how statistically unusual such runs have been ever since Man first began martial conflicts by best-of-sevens and writing the results on the walls of his cave using his own filth as ink. To paraphrase a famous police chief, we’re gonna need more wall. And, if I’m to hold my head high while typing at a computer ever again, filth.

Tom: 3, Kelly 1.

Previously: Game one, game two, game three
Up next: game five

*Which as a purely diversionary accessory really adds so much tactical depth to these matches, thanks Tom!