UI Design Good Example: Starcraft 2 UI design – Micro vs Macro

I just bought Starcraft II, and have been playing it for a while. Yes it does run on Mac!!! So it came to me that I should do a blog on it.

For those of you who are less familiar with Starcraft, or computer games, Starcraft II is a military science fiction real-time strategy game developed and released by Blizzard Entertainment for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. We all know strategy games. The most common example of strategy game in western culture is either Chess or Monopoly depending on your generation. Here we say Starcraft II is a real-time strategy game. This means that it’s not turn-based, so that you don’t have to wait for your opponent to make a move before you do anything. I would use the metaphor that Starcraft II is like Chess, but you’re allowed to move all pieces at any time you want. The goal in Starcraft II is simple – destroy all enemy units. And to achieve that goal, you need three things: collecting the resources to build your economy, developing new technology to gain an edge in combat, and produce as many troops as possible, as quickly as possible to crush the enemy forces.

In this blog post, I’m gonna talk about the interface design of Starcraft II in a PvP (Player versus Player) or PvA (Player versus A.I.) context and how it affects the gameplay of this game.

To win a game in Starcraft II, there are two sets of skills that are needed: Micro and Macro. Micro, or Micromanagement refers to any action that applies to an individual or small number of units. One example of Micro is Hit and Run, which means that if your units have the range advantage, you can kill all the enemy units without taking damage by dragging your units to keep a healthy distance between your units and enemy units. Macro, or Macro-management is on the other hand related to the large scale events, such as expanding your base, building your troops, developing new technology, etc. And the interface design of Starcraft II has made possible that the information needed for both are shown on the interface at the same time.

The picture above is a screen shot of Starcraft II. I’ve marked all the parts of the interface that are related to the gameplay with red square. Square a (Macro related) shows the amount of resources in numbers. Square b (Micro related) shows the ability the selected units have (move, stop, attack, patrol, etc). Square c (Micro related) shows the selected units, what they are, how many are they, etc. Square (Macro related) shows the control groups you have, most people use this feature to control their units in combat and produce units back in base at the same time. Square e (Macro related) is the mini map of the stage of combat showing both your units and enemy units that are visible to you.

From the design of this interface, we can actually see that the information related to Macro is designed to be glance really really quickly in a general sense, but the information for Micro is shown with excessive amount of details to the extent that not all of them are useful to you at the same time in a given situation. This emphasis on information related to micro is evidence that the game is micro focused, meaning that the game wants you to focus on most of your time and energy micro-manage the battle with the units you have to do most damage to your enemy and to preserve your troops as well instead of worrying too much about producing units, collecting resources back home. This pushes the players to engage the game in a fast moving and pressured set up, and let them fight each other till a complete destruction of one side or one side surrenders.

Why Blizzard does this to players, you ask? Are they promoting violence? This is because Blizzard games are built for competition. They intentionally complicates things, and forces you to practice in hope that you won’t be humiliated by your opponent or will be able to dominate your opponent. And therefore, players will spend more time on playing the game, and will grow loyal to the series and the brand.



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