Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of Starcraft is the map itself. There are many reasons for this, but try and think to yourself, when was the last time you consciously thought the map was a central part of your strategy? Did you know where the expansions are in the map? Which locations can be abused by different races? In this series, we will analyze the different maps and see how seriously maps play into strategy.
Our first map is a classic: Lost Temple
It has become a mantra for many players to say that this map is imbalanced for Terran from several sources, including but not limited to the music video “banelings”. However, not many people understand why this is the case.
This map has an interesting history. Back in the day, when Starcraft was still young, many games simply relied on one-base play. Building a second command center/nexus (hatcheries were a separate case obviously) was seen as a way to either stay in the game or a waste of 400 minerals. What Lost Temple introduced was the concept of a “natural expansion”. Situated outside of the Main Base, down a ramp and only (for now) accessible by a narrow choke, this location was:
A. Fairly close to the main base
B. Easy to defend
C. Can be assimilated into the main base
It did not take long for players to realize the previously thought “400 mineral doorstep” known as an extra base might be worth the investment. First of all, if both players turtle and their main became depleted of the minerals, the player who can hold their natural expansion while denying their opponent of their natural expansion should simply outlast their opponent.
The beauty of the natural expansion, however, was not as a replacement base, but rather as a benefit when taken in conjunction with their main base. This would double the economy, allowing twice the amount of production to take place, and to put it simply, you can win by having more stuff than your opponent.
Of course, we are not here to specifically discuss expansions in depth, but the point is Lost Temple reinforced the notion that a well-designed “natural expansions”. So important were these “naturals” that some players took extreme measures to defend it (Sean Plott, Daily #100). Interesting plays were evolved such as players sacrificing an early army to “fast expand”, especially with Zerg as they needed an additional hatchery to macro efficiently either way. Natural expansions soon began to become implemented as a standard map design component.
While not our focus, expansions is the reason this map becomes interesting to play on. While listed as a 4-player map, the small(er) size of Lost Temple lends itself to be used more commonly as a 1v1 2-player map. This has several implications:
1. It is up to the player to determine the location of their opponent. Initially, there is a a 1 in 3 chance of finding the base, after which there will be a 1 in 2 chance, before simply deducing (but still requires scouting) the location of the opposing base. This is an example of a temporal and probabilistic buffer to early “cheese rushes”, as opposed to physical buffers such as destructible rocks.
2. 2 vacant base locations provide 4 reasonably well-defended expansions. The only way to access these bases by the ground are through the narrow choke points. Furthermore, taking the low-ground “naturals” will more or less deny the high-ground “Main” expansion from the opponent.
3. Moving closer to our next topic, controlling bases on both sides of a gold expansion will essentially protect it by virtue of zoning (we will discuss this phenomenon later).
So far we notice that the emphasis on this map is on expansions: There are no back doors on bases, and each base location can be well defended by the minimum defenses, or in other words, the locations can maximize a base defense. This is the phenomenon of zoning. Zoning is similar to the concept of a concave, where the units are in an arc and are all capable of firing, maximizing damage. Zoning usually pertains to positioning static defenses so that there are regions where, all the defense structures can fire.
For example, missile turret placement in a mineral line. Single Missile turrets alone are ineffective against a harassment force, a line of as little as 3 turrets are deadly against air. 3 turrets in a line are of course, much more effective that 5 or 7 randomly scattered turrets, thus reducing the cost needed to defend the base. The deadliest region, or zone, of the missile turret line is a path perpendicular to the turret line (analogous the the focus of the arc in a concave). This region will be avoided by smaller forces, and must be aimed properly.
On lost temple, we notice several locations where static defenses can be used/abused, and where armies can make excellent defenses by virtue of zoning.
A single bunker or cannon on the high-ground outcrop can protect both the ramp and the expansion. Adding more defenses can make a larger and more effective zone. This is due to the fact that a high-ground outcrop can do damage over a wider range, and not be counterattacked for awhile, and also the fact that the choke point limits the opponent to move into the effective range of these defense. This is a deterrent, and in another way of thinking, a stationary building causes your opponent to move where you want him to, at least for the early-mid game.
Of course this zone can be bolstered with overlapping defenses and army units, but this just shows how Lost Temple provides excellent defense points that allow for expansions that can be easily defended. Furthermore:
The x’s indicate where a defensive army/structures might be positioned after taking adjacent expansion. Although there are only 3 bases, we observe 2 things:
1. The unoccupied gold expansion is now defended
2. The unoccupied high ground adjacent to the 3rd expo is secured.
Simply put, taking and defending an adjacent natural defends the gold expansion and the high-ground! That being said, this expansion is critical in a macro-war, as the great defense of these potential 5 bases can be abused if the opponent does not choose their expansions wisely. Zerg players have found that simply spreading the creep to the front of their natural and placing spine crawlers there also accomplish the task of defending the gold.
Expanding to the high-ground, however is not also without merit, due to longer ground rush distance.
To even get to a close-position base on Lost Temple is convoluted, despite giving an impression on being an open arena style map. A good way to quantitatively observe the hampered rush distance can simply be given by the Rush constant:
(Shortest Distance to location A by ground)/(Distance to location A by air) = Rush constant
An ideal map for rushing will have a constant = 1, but a higher Rush constant means that to move on ground to said location, more time will be required. Lost temple is such an example, so to scout out a hidden expansion on the high ground would require a scout to travel to 2 possible locations in a convoluted path. This is usually seen as a waste of time, and often completely overlooked. However, access to better scouting will negate this benefit. Zerg with proper overlord placement, or extensive pylon placement can spot the hidden expansions easily. Making the high ground hidden expansion appears to be more so a gamble as as the risk is greater than that of taking the adjacent low-ground expo. Hidden expansions, however, are still viable strategies in the right situations.
The illusion of an open arena-style map is caused by the narrow chokes and also the central pillars. Large armies will have to either split apart when passing the columns, or stay together in a single column. Neither of these scenarios allow effective use of the army. However, just outside a base, in between the pillars, are open regions. These regions allow the formation of a larger concave and freedom of movement. Until air units are around, an attacking army is hampered by the map until it passes the pillars. This can be further exploited by controlling the watch towers to observe when an army is advancing down the center. However, it should be noted that this “defender’s advantage” can easily be turned because if the open region outside a base is taken, the attacker can now have stronger unit positioning, because the defender is forced down his own choke point. This contain becomes exponentially more effective as the defender is pushed farther back, up their ramp. Many games have been won on this map because of an effective contain on this map, regardless of race.
Air plays an interesting part in Lost temple. Air negates the rush distance convolution, but is weak to strong defenses. There are 4 ways air units are effective on this map:
1. Shorter transit distance. This makes reinforcements by air arrive faster than a ground reinforcement from the opponent.
2. Ability to use map fringes as (usually) uncontested ground. Ground units have to pass through the center of the map, which will invariably have the enemy presence. Air units can avoid such detection and resistance.
3. Island expansions
4. High ground regions in good locations are accessible only by air.
Outside every natural expansion is such a high-ground. Early drops on this high ground can not only deny expansions, but also set up a later contain. The pillars in the center of the map are a great way to obtain both vision and post guards that can harass incoming armies. Perhaps, the things that benefit best from excellent high-ground locations are stationary defenses. These do not occupy supply and do considerable damage, and can deny ground positions and even give vision for quite some time.
Islands are an interesting game mechanic, which we will cover later in this series. Essentially, island expansions tend to be hidden and inaccessible to ground forces. This provides, in terms of gameplay, a natural defense. Island expansions rarely have extensive arrays of defenses (except for air), and are not easy to bring a large army to. Islands are in short both hidden and protected expansions.
The fifth air unit benefit is so important that I placed it in a separate topic. Dropping and preventing drops are crucial due to several reasons. Drops can utilize high-ground otherwise inaccessible. Drops can destroy island expansions with impunity. Drops that are performed when the opponent is out of position will be even more effective due to the longer rush distance. At the distal side of the ramp in the main is a region that is often out of sight of the opponent (they will be focused on the ramp), or the hiding location for hidden tech buildings. Either way, this region is a prime drop zone. This region is even better than above the mineral line because simply there is no room behind the minerals. The open region allows better maneuvering of units while being close to the minerals, and allows the dropship/warp prism/overlord to loiter in safety, allowing a safe retreat. Thus, an emphasis on defending against drops in this map is highly recommended when required.
So why has this map been notorious for Terran imbalance? Let us look at what Terran can use their advantage on this map. Terran has no issue taking the island expansions, they simply require a lift-off of the command center. Some strategies become extreme to the point where the Terran player immediately takes an island and immediately starts teching up. This works because the initial scout is unable to locate the player, and the Terran player can forgo tier-1 ground defense. Medivacs are almost present in a Terran army, giving them no pause to abuse high ground positions. Along the same lines, tanks are a staple unit in most Terran armies, and can be used effectively to set up a contain, or be lifted onto the high ground to deny an expansion.
Does this make Terran overpowered? I argue no, because other races can also use and abuse this map’s advantages as much or even more so than Terrans. The trick is to think of this map similar to an island map, to go expo-hungry and use static defenses to bolster your position while relying on drops to minimize transit distances. Of course, ground units and early pressure are still powerful, but this map has strong defensive positions, and as the mid game progresses (and where “imba” supposedly occurs”), we find that drops become more powerful for several reasons. Many times, the army will be out of position. Islands are taken, but are weak to drops. Building placements at the main may even hinder the army from proper placement to repel a drop. For mid game, it perhaps is imperative to drop or anticipate drops on this map.
That being said, Protoss should use warp prism more, warping in zealots to harass the mineral line. Zerg should nydus. The high-grounds, islands, and distal locations work for all races! By going air, we are able to both drop, defend against drops, and have very short transits between bases. Of course this must be taken with a grain of salt, as ground units are effective as well. Aggressive players should try and force a contain in this case, but unless a contain is complete and advances, a good player can defend and perform a drop, which will devastate the economy and catch your units out of position. Expand wisely, choose good unit positions, and control the map.
This has been an analysis of Lost Temple, and more analysis will come later. Perhaps even this map will be revisited with future patches and gameplay. Remember to take the map into consideration for your strategy!