Part 3: big maps and master turtles (250-500 rating)
. . . . Your time and attention are limited
You probably noticed that there is so much going on at once, that you just can’t do everything you know you ought to be doing. That is true, at every level. Even Zock talked about not enjoying 20x20 maps because there were too many things he needed to pay attention to. Some people are better at multitasking than other people, but no one is fast enough to do everything perfectly.
As you play, you will get better at giving orders more efficiently. One of the things you want to practice is giving orders quickly, and moving on to the next thing.
Also, one of the most valuable things you can do is to zoom out, take a deep breath, and look at the big picture. You can also get this big picture point of view while you are watching replays of your games, but by then it is too late to make a difference. Try doing this during your games, at least every few minutes. And try in general playing more zoomed out. It helps to have radar coverage, and to scout your opponent, so that when you zoom out, you see more of what is happening.
. . . . Don’t stress about big maps.
Players at low rating levels often hate the big maps (20x20) because they fall behind their opponents so much more quickly than they fall behind on small maps. This is especially true if your mindset is “turtle” rather than “expand expand expand.”
Players at low rating levels are very bad at shooting down transports. I could tell you: “learn how to shoot down transports, learn how to make scouts, send them around the map, and then get interceptors locked on your enemy’s transports, learn how to send bombers to kill the enemy’s expanding engineers, learn how to win air battles and use air superiority so you can use bombers and transports to get a big advantage over your opponent.” You WILL eventually need to learn all that if you want to keep improving. But that is not the best advice I can give when you have a very low rating. No. The best advice I can give you is: make a lot of transports and use them to drop engineers all around the map to grab as much as you can, as fast as you can. It is okay if the first two units to come out of your air factory are transports. A 1700-rated player would never do this. But if your opponent is half as bad as you are, he won’t catch most of the transports. Be super-greedy and expand super-quickly. Do not expand only to “your” side of the map.
Every time you give an order for your transport to drop units somewhere, queue up another order after that (by holding shift) for your transport to return home.
When you get better, and you face better opponents, this rapid-expansion-super-greedy strategy will stop working. You will still want to expand quickly with transports, but you have to be more careful about protecting them. When you get there, you can adapt and improve. But in the meantime, do what works against low-rated players and you will have a lot more fun.
One mistake from low-rated players make is idle units after a drop. The transport will drop units, and they will just sit there for 30 seconds or longer. Try not to forget about them.
Expanding with transports and engineers: it is more sneaky if you drop engineers away from mexes. But you are not trying to be sneaky, unless your opponent already has the expansions. You are trying to be greedy. So drop the engineers right into the middle of a cluster of open mass points. If you need mass badly, it might be smart to build mexes first, before you build a T1 factory. If you are under 250 rating points, probably your most limited resource is your attention, not your mass. If you start building a factory first, and then queue up the mexes to be built after the factory, this lets you immediately give orders to the factory (while it is still under construction) and then you can zoom out and give your attention to something else going on somewhere else on the map.
If you tell the factory: “make a tank, a mobile anti-air, and an engineer, make these units on infinite loop, and when they come out, they should patrol in a triangle shape around the factory” you can then give your attention to the rest of the map. While you are not paying any attention to this expansion, the engineers will build the factory, build the mexes for you, and a stream of units will come out, stomping around in a circle: tanks to stop you from being raided by land units; mobile anti air to shoot down bombers; and engineers that will scoop everything around the expansion. (Yes, a factory’s “rally point” can have a patrol, and it can include “attack-move” orders, and even orders to board a ferry route.)
Eventually you will have enough of them, so you can tell the factory to stop making those units. You will have a number of engineers there so you can quickly start building other things, like radar, point defense, more factories (if you want to launch an assault from this expansion), etc., depending on what you need based on what your opponent is up to. This is an extremely efficient way (in terms of attention and APM) for a low-rated player to grab as much of the map as possible, as quickly as possible.
After you finish expanding as much as you can, then you can look at upgrading your economy and your tech. This is where you are making executive decisions, like deciding how hard you want to eco, which tech you want, and where you want to build up armies so you can take things away from your opponent. This is where the game gets to be fun.
. . . . Beating a turtle
So I have told you over and over again not to be a turtle. But one of the common experiences that lower-rated players have playing FAF, is losing to a turtle. It is also one of the worst feelings, when you are trying to play the “right” way, and you lose to a turtle. And if you are at 250 rating points or less, you are going to run into turtles quite often, including people who have a lot more skill than you, and just really, really like to turtle (which is why their ratings are so low, even though they have better skills). So I should give you a few points of advice about how to beat another player who is following the turtle strategy.
I have good news: the way to beat a turtle is: AFTER you expand, turtle harder than them. Turtle, but without building the point defense. I know you like to turtle, because the fact is, we ALL like to turtle. (That is half the reason why people play team games.) The only reason better players don’t turtle more is because we also like to win games.
First, you do what I describe above in terms of out-expanding them, grabbing as many T1 mexes as you can. It will be even easier to grab them if your opponent is being a turtle.
Second, scout them to see what they’ve got. If they stayed at home to build up T2 point defense, don’t bother attacking them with a T1 army. Once you have enough T1 units, you can stop making T1 land.
Their plan might be to turtle up until they can build a nuke launcher. Or a Galactic Colossus. Or, as soon as their fourth T2 mex finishes, they might start building TML, which could actually do a lot of damage to you. Your opponent will eventually have enough resources to implement any strategy (making lots of bombers, making gunships, making T3 land, etc.), and when they start on a strategy, you need to start on the counter to it. This is why scouting is so important. In fact, their strategy might be to hide 50 T1 tanks in the back of their base and use them to run you over early. If that is what they are doing, then the most important thing for you might be to make more T1 tanks.
Do not only scout your opponent’s base. You also need to scout the rest of the map to make sure that they are not doing anything sneaky. Put a few scout planes on patrol to give you vision and radar over all the places that you opponent is not supposed to be. Making radars is a good idea, too.
Third, it is not enough to have a bigger economy than them, you need to stay ahead of them, and you need to not fall behind in tech. Build enough pgens. Upgrade your mexes faster than your opponent can upgrade his. Get a T2 land headquarters so you can make T2 engineers. Never stop eco-ing. When your mexes get to T2, put mass storages around them. Start upgrading mexes to T3. When you scout your opponent, pay attention to his economy and make sure that you are growing faster than him. You are not just trying to keep up with your opponent. You are trying to snowball an unstoppable economic advantage, so you can grow so much faster than your opponent could ever hope to grow, and then you will use that to crush them.
Fourth, while you are doing this, don’t let your opponent out of their turtle box. If they make 10 T2 tanks, make 15-20. If they have 20 interceptors, have at least 40. Be ready to stop them from expanding. If they make naval units, make twice as much as them, and then go attack their naval yard (even if they have enough defenses in their base to stop a land attack, they probably can’t stop you from killing their naval yard).
You want to out-grow and out-tech your opponent. If they build up strong enough defenses, it might be impossible to break them with T1 units. So get up to T2 and make MMLs or TML. If they have enough defenses to stop that, then get up to T3 and make T3 mobile artillery. Or get to T3 air and build a strat bomber. As long as they don’t have a SAM, one strat bomber can do huge damage. If they have shielding, but no SAMs, maybe you need to build up 4 strat bombers and attack with them at the same time. If they can defend against that, build a nuke launcher, or a heavy artillery, or some T4, or 50 Percivals.
The worst thing you can do is to stop ecoing in order to implement some strategy. If you stop upgrading your mexes (or if you completely mass stall while you are trying to upgrade them) because you want to build 15 T2 artillery pieces, you are giving your opponent the chance to get back into the game. You can build a mess of T2 artillery, if that is the strategy you want to follow—as long as you also keep ecoing faster than your opponent is.
Figure out what strategy you think can defeat them with a single attack. Failed attacks can actually help your opponent because you will be leaving mass on their doorstep that they can reclaim. If you make a Monkeylord, and you think, “this just isn’t enough. He has 4 Ravagers and I’m not sure whether a Monkeylord can break that, because I don’t know this game very well” then keep ecoing, and make a Megalith too. He probably can’t build enough defenses to stop a Megalith, in the time it takes you to make a Megalith, if you have twice as many T3 mexes as he does. Hang back with your spider until it can go in with the crab at the same time.
This is not the time to think small. In this situation, you want to grow your economy on an epic scale, and build weapons on an epic scale, to destroy your opponent in an epic fashion.
Part 4: Intermediate Ladder Concepts (250-750 rating)
Economy for T1 Spam on a 5x5 or 10x10 Map
. . . . How many land factories do I make?
What I remember most about being new to ladder is not having any idea how many factories I should make at the start of a match. This led to some very frustrating losses. We’ve all experienced being overrun by another player who just made 2-5 more land factories than we did, and churned out more land units than we could. I still often lose because I don’t have enough land factories. This is not something that only happens to bad players.
The maximum number of factories that you can make, in order to pump out the maximum amount of T1 spam as fast as possible, is: 1 factory for every 2 mexes you can hold, plus additional factories based on the reclaim you will get. (Thanks, @BRNKoINSANITY.) Some maps have a lot of reclaim lying around; and on every map you can try to get reclaim after battles.
IF you want to maximize your production of T1 spam, you should go right up to this limit. If you build fewer factories than this upper limit, you will end up with fewer units than than if you go to this upper limit exactly, because you will not be able to spend all of your mass on making T1 units. If you build more factories than this upper limit, you will also end up with fewer units than if you go to this upper limit exactly (because you are spending 240 mass to make an extra factory, but then then you are mass stalling so none of your factories is producing at top speed).
( @Biass makes a good point, which is that: you do not always want to max out on T1 spam. Sometimes, you do! But not always. If you want to spend on other things, like navy, a second air factory, upgrading a mex to T2, making a TML, etc. you would want to make fewer than that maximum number. Also, if you plan to go up to Tech 2 land, every Tech 2 factory can spend about as much as 2.25 Tech 1 factories, so you won't need as many factories in order to spend all of your mass. Some maps strongly favor the “maximum spam” approach, and others do not. For example, on Fields of Thunder and The Ganges Chasma, maps which have a tremendous amount of reclaim in the center, maximum spam seems like the only viable strategy, because if one player has enough units to stop the other player from scooping, the non-scooping player will quickly fall behind. The main reason to teach you how to calculate the “maximum spam” number of factories is so that you can make a plan. Your plan could be “I want to go maximum spam” or it could be different. It could be “almost maximum spam, but make 2 fewer factories, and use the extra mass to upgrade my mexes.” You should have some idea of what the “maximum” number is, when you are deciding how to play a map.)
T1 Land factories generally require 4 mass per second. Two T1 mexes will give you 4 mass per second. Land factories cost only 3.7 if they’re adjacent to a mex. If you put your mouse over the factory, it will say “3” mass per second, but the computer lies, it’s really 3.7. The adjacency bonus is nice, but it does not really change the total number of factories you should build. You can run 13 land factories all with the adjacency bonus for the same cost as running 12 land factories all without the bonus.
Even on a small map, this can mean 8+ land factories is a good idea. That is why you will see good players drag out a line of land factories. At the start of the match they might try to carefully place their factories for adjacency bonuses (with T1 mexes and T1 pgens) but later in the game, they will just drag a big ugly line of land factories.
According to Zock, you pause making T1 land factories when you can no longer afford it. You do not want to keep making factories while you are mass stalling, because that means your newest factory could have been 5 tanks, and the newest factory won’t help you to produce units faster until you solve the mass stall).
Also, according to Zock, you stop making T1 land factories when you decide to transition to T2. So even if you planned to make 16 T1 land factories (which is not actually a bad plan, if you are playing on Goodlands), if you decide you need to move up to T2, you would stop making more factories.
. . . . Where do I build my factories?
On a large map, 20x20, you may need factories spread around the map, because units walking across the map are (1) vulnerable to being picked off by the enemy and (2) may not be providing much value until they arrive at their destination. If units have to walk for 60 seconds to get where you want them to be, that’s a long delay to get the value out of the mass you are spending. You might not even be able to walk everywhere if there are islands.
But on smaller maps, it is probably best to start by only making factories in your base. This has a number of advantages. First, it means you only have to defend a single location to avoid losing factories. If you fall behind in unit production compared to your opponent, that can cost you the game. So if two of your factories are far away from your base, and you lose them to a raid, suddenly your opponent will be out-producing you. Second, with units streaming out of your base, it means you will always have a lot of units near your base in case it comes under attack. Third, as units stream out of your base, they help you to secure the territory between your main base, and where you want them to be. Fourth, you can start building factories immediately in your base. But if you want to build factories around the map, it takes time for the engineers to get there, so there is a significant amount of time that you could have been making units, but aren’t. The engineers might be picked off along the way.
Zock teaches that it is good to build your factories at your starting site, and to use more than one engineer at a time to build factories so they finish faster, because a half-built factory can’t help you, but a complete factory can. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwwVVS5aGeA&list=PLJclJGPtIxW1Znl4idf8EEdHMnTzDJ810&t=24m08s
You want to build air factories adjacent to power generators, especially hydrocarbons. Air costs a lot of energy, and making pgens costs a lot of mass and energy. If you can save energy through adjacency bonuses, you’re actually saving mass, because you don’t have to build as many pgens.
When there are reclaim fields, it may be worthwhile to build a factory near them so you can make engineers to grab the mass, with a factory attack-move order.
. . . . Should I make air units?
Yes. Usually you want a build with second air or third air (meaning: your second factory, or third factory, is an air factory), unless you are on a very small map, in which case you might want 6+ land factories before you make an air factory.
On maps where air is especially important, you might want to eventually make more than 1 air factory. If you have more interceptors than your opponent, you can “win air” which gives you more freedom to do things like send out transports and bombers. If your opponent builds gunships or T2 fighter/bombers, inties can quickly kill them.
. . . . How many pgens do I make?
It is well known that new players struggle with energy balance. They either make not enough pgens, and power stall, or too many, and end up wasting their resources building power plants when what they really need is more tanks.
You want a few pgens at the start to pay for all the construction that your engineers are going to do (building mexes costs a lot of energy, that is one reason why reclaiming rocks is so important at the start of a match). For every T1 land factory you have running, you need 1 pgen. For every T1 air factory you have running, you basically need 4 pgens. (More if you’re making transports, but people usually don’t make large numbers of transports.)
It takes 60 seconds for an engineer to build a factory and it takes 30 seconds for an engineer to build a pgen. There are a few ways to set up your build instructions so you add as many pgens as factories: one is to have 2 engineers building land factories while 1 engineer builds pgens. (Thanks, @BRNKoINSANITY.) Another way is to have an engineer building a land factory, then a pgen, then a land factory, then a pgen. The problem with this 2nd approach is that it takes so much longer to queue up. And if your engineer dies, you need to go back and re-do this time-consuming process. If you just grab an engineer and tell it to build a line of pgens, and grab two engineers and tell them to make a line of factories, that takes about a second. Your time and attention may be your most precious resource, even more important than mass or energy.
You also want energy to support commander upgrades. Upgrading your ACU can be very powerful, but the upgrades cost a lot of energy. So you may want extra pgens to support ACU upgrades, and then to have energy surplus so you can use overcharge. But keep in mind that every 2 pgens is 3 tanks that you don’t have on the field. If you make 6 too many pgens, you are going to have 9 fewer tanks, which could make the difference in an important battle. According to Zock, you can often make do with having slightly fewer units, if you are investing in something that will pay off in the long run.
To get a sense of whether you are building too many, or too few pgens, watch your replays, and look at your energy bar. If you want to have energy for a short time in order to make an important upgrade, consider whether it makes more sense to build a energy storage, instead of building more pgens.
. . . . How bad is it to stall?
Good players will sometimes intentionally power stall, if there is something important, like a commander upgrade or finishing a T2 pgen. And they can power stall if their power is sniped. But bad things happen. During a power stall, mexes don’t produce as much mass. Radar and shields turn off. It takes longer to build things. You want to build enough power, based on what you plan to do, to avoid a power stall.
Building pgens costs a lot of energy. An engineer uses 30 energy per second when it is building a pgen: so you need 1.5 pgens for every engineer that you want to have building more pgens. If you are low on energy, that is when you can least afford to spend energy building more pgens.
A mass stall is less bad. When you mass stall, things take longer to build. But otherwise, it does not affect your operations.
It is still inefficient to mass stall, because when things are under construction, you’re paying for them, but you’re not getting any value out of them. One finished T3 heavy artillery is worth a lot more than two half-built T3 heavy artillery. (I’m not proud of this, but that’s actually what I did in my very first 1v1 ladder game . . . .)
Economy is all about balance, and spending too much on making buildings takes away from your ability to make units. One thing good players will do during a game is to select all engineers (Ctrl-B) and pause them (Z), and see how that affects their economy. It turns out, the fastest way to find out just how much your engineers are costing you, is to pause them all and see what happens. Then they make a decision about which ones to unpause (perhaps, all of them).
Zock teaches that it is better to power stall a little bit, than to overbuild power. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwwVVS5aGeA&list=PLJclJGPtIxW1Znl4idf8EEdHMnTzDJ810&t=29m30s
. . . . When should I have engineers assist a factory?
Each T1 factory has 20 build power. The ACU has 10 build power, and a tech 1 engineer has 5 build power. This means that if you have 4 T1 engineers assisting a T1 factory, you can produce as many units as two T1 factories running at the same time. Engineers only cost 52 mass, but a land factory costs 240 mass, and an air factory only costs 210.
So why should you build factories, when you can just build engineers to assist your factories?
First, engineers are much more vulnerable. A single bomb can kill 5 or more engineers clustered together. A frigate can slaughter engineers grouped around a naval factory.
Second, engineers do not get any adjacency bonus. If your land factory is next to a T1 mex, it gets a 7.5% reduction in the amount of mass needed to produce units. But if you have a T1 factory next to a T1 mex, and it is being assisted by 8 engineers, you’re really only getting a 2.5% bonus. This is especially important for air factories, where the pgen adjacency bonus is so important (especially when you are making tech 3 air).
Third, engineers take a long time to build. According to Zock, you can spend mass faster by building more factories, than by building engineers to assist your factories.
When should you use engineers to assist a factory?
Sometimes, you have an immediate need for a particular unit. This often happens early in the game on a big map, where early air units make a big difference.
If you only have a single T2 factory, it can be faster and cheaper to assist it than to make support factories.
While the factory is upgrading, that can be a good time to assist. While a factory is upgrading, it is not building anything for you. And it does not get the hit points boost until it finishes upgrading.
Naval factories are more expensive and can’t benefit from adjacency. Also, their units take significantly longer to make than other factories, and you don’t get any value out of a unit while it is under construction. Faster construction times means your mass spends less time tied up in the factory.
It costs a lot of energy to have engineers assist an air factory. But if you are overflowing a lot of energy, the cost of assisting the air factory is actually very low. You weren’t using that energy anyway, and air production does not require a lot of mass. Assisting the air factory can be a good way to increase air production without investing in a second air factory, and when you need more energy, you can just pause those engineers.
. . . . When do I get T2 mexes?
Upgrading a T1 mex to T2 will get you an additional 4 mass per second, but it takes 900 mass, and it can take 90 seconds unless you have engineers assisting.
There are other, cheaper ways to get an additional 4 mass per second: you can build 2 T1 mexes, which costs 72 mass. Of course, you can only do this if you can safely get an engineer to two open mass points.
Or if you break two of your opponent’s T1 mexes, you’re not getting an additional 4 mass per second, but you are stopping your opponent from getting the same amount. If your opponent can rebuild these mexes, then you have not really secured an advantage equivalent to upgrading your own T2 mex. Zock teaches that it is acceptable to lose a little territory while your mexes are upgrading, if you can get the territory back after.
900 mass could be used to build 16 tanks. If you can use 16 tanks to secure 2 more mexes (or to deny 2 mexes to your opponent, or to deny 1 mex and secure it for yourself), that is more efficient than upgrading a mex to T2. Not only does it provide the same income benefit as making a T2 mex, but having more tanks means you have a bigger army and more map control.
On many small maps, it is common for players to complete a match without ever upgrading a mex to T2. It is just too important to keep the pressure on.
On maps with a lot of reclaim in the middle, building engineers to scoop it can bring in more mass income, much faster, than getting a T2 mex. Of course, you also need to build tanks to protect them (and you should consider raiding your opponent to disrupt their attempts to scoop mass).
So when should you upgrade your first mex to T2?
According to Zock, you should do it as soon as you can get away with it. You can get away with it if, by making the mex (instead of producing more units) you are not going to suffer much damage. According to Zock, you can often make do with having fewer units, for a brief time, while you are working towards some long-term advantage.
On some maps, like Daroza’s Sanctuary, there is just such a ridiculous amount of reclaimable mass lying around that it is not even bad to make early T2 mexes.
Once there are no more mass points you can secure, you may want to upgrade T2 mexes so you can continue growing your economy. On small maps that are bitterly contested, you might need to keep making tanks. But if you can make do with having fewer units for a few minutes, upgrading a T2 mex can swing the game in your favor in the long run.
If it’s a large map and you’re looking at a long game, you may want to upgrade mexes. Zock says not to start upgrading mexes until you finish with the “expansion” phase (using transports to try to grab every mex that you and your opponent has not grabbed yet).
If your opponent is upgrading T2 mexes, you probably want to keep up with them. You might be able to make up the difference through raiding their mexes and securing more territory. But you can also try to keep up with them by upgrading your own mexes.
Zock teaches that it is very important not to fall behind your opponent in economy. If you fall a little behind your opponent in economy, you should invest in T2 mexes, even though it means you will have fewer units on the field—you just have to make do with fewer units so you can catch up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwwVVS5aGeA&list=PLJclJGPtIxW1Znl4idf8EEdHMnTzDJ810&t=34m18s
And, if you’re not able to otherwise spend all of your income, that can be time to upgrade mexes, because the alternative is that you overflow mass. Any mass that you overflow, in a 1v1 match, is lost forever.
But this last reason, that you aren’t able to spend all of your mass income: that may actually be a sign that you bungled things. If you’re on a small map, you SHOULD be able to spend all of your income. You SHOULD have made enough factories. The fact that you didn’t, means that your opponent might be churning out more units than you, and your opponent might use those units to roll right over you. If you can survive without taking too much damage, you’ll have a T2 mex, and in the long run, that is good. Zock calls this an “error,” but he still upgrades the mex, because he considers upgrading it to be a kind of damage control.
If you are interested in an in-depth look at FAF economy, here is a link to @FtXCommando’s excellent guide on the subject.
(part 4 continued)
What do I do with my commander?
. . . . Aggression or Engineering?
Without upgrades, your commander is roughly equivalent to 20 T1 tanks (that’s about how many it can beat in a straight-up fight) and 2 T1 engineers (it builds exactly twice as quickly as a T1 engineer).
With or without upgrades, you can use your commander aggressively (to secure territory, and to deal and tank damage) or defensively (to build up your base, and to be there in case enemy units show up to raid your base).
At the very start of the game, you need to build at least 1 factory. Depending on the map, you might be better off staying to build 3+ factories and protect your base, or you might get the most value out of leading the charge.
If you send your ACU away from base, you are giving up about 100 mass (because it costs 100 mass to make 2 T1 engineers to replace your ACU’s build capacity). If your ACU leaves the base, kills a single enemy tank (52 mass cost to your opponent), and scoops up what’s left (30-40 mass), you’ve already almost gotten the same value out of the ACU as if your ACU stayed home in base.
If you use your ACU aggressively, you WILL lose games when your ACU gets caught out by a larger force. That does not mean you should stay in your base. If you stay in your base, you will also lose games. Part of becoming a better player is knowing when and how far you can push your ACU to take the most advantage, and when and how to protect it. This is just something you need to develop over time by playing the game. Have units with your ACU; have radar or send out scout planes to see if the enemy has more units near your ACU so you aren’t surprised by a large force; know whether there is deep water nearby that your ACU can run to; and as the game gets on, have interceptors or flak so your ACU doesn’t just suddenly die to 8 gunships that come out of nowhere.
Eventually, the game becomes too dangerous to have your ACU on the front lines. The primary game-ending mechanic of SupCom is that, as the game goes on, the battlefield becomes a more and more dangerous place.
. . . . Commander upgrades
Upgrading your ACU to get T2, so you can build point defense, is usually the wrong move. Instead of doing that, upgrade a factory and make T2 engineers. It’s not much more expensive and it makes your army (or air force) more diverse. Your ACU doesn’t need T2 unless you’re planning to drop it into a danger zone, because you can build all of the same things with a T2 engineer. (Thanks, Farmsletje!) If your ACU is with your army, the gun upgrade is generally much more effective. As long as you don’t just walk into too much point defense, a gun ACU beats a T2 ACU, especially if the gun ACU can overcharge stuff that the T2 ACU builds.
One of the mistakes new players often make is being too passive. They want to build a bunch of T2 point defense to make a fortress that can’t be broken. But in Supreme Commander, there is no such thing as a position that cannot be broken.
. . . . Factory infinite build orders and factory attack move
One of the most powerful things you can do in SupCom is to set your factories with “infinite” build orders, so they will loop endlessly through a list of units to make. Rather than telling a factory to make “10 tanks,” you can tell it to make “3 tanks, a land scout, a tank, a light artillery, a tank, and an engineer, on infinite loop.”
You can, and should, give your factories move orders (or attack-move orders) so your units will rally out to some waypoint. If you don’t do that, when they come out of the factory, they will just stand around in front of it waiting for you.
When I have an infinite build order from a factory, making a mix of units, sometimes I like to have an engineer in the mix. (Maybe 1 engineer out of 10-20 units, I'm not talking about making a lot of engineers.) This is because when the units stream out with an attack move order, the engineer will grab mass along the way. If there’s a battle, reclaim will be left behind, and the engineer can grab it, which often pays for the engineer, and then some. If I think a location is important enough that I want to rally my units there, then probably it would be nice to have some build capacity there in case I want to put down some PD, or a radar, or factory, or whatever. Just having engineers around the map, reclaiming things, not only strengthens the economy but it gives flexibility when I want to build things.
. . . . What ratio of tanks to light artillery?
In general, 5:1. (Thanks, @JaggedAppliance!) If your commander is leading the charge, you can have more light artillery in the mix, because your commander is taking the place of 10-20 tanks.
Against Aeon, you probably want something more like 2:1 or even 1:1. (Thanks again, Jagged!) And of course you need to have radar or bring land scouts. This is because Auroras have such excellent range.
At the very beginning of the match, unless you are against Aeon, you basically don’t need light artillery at all. Pure tanks (with land scouts of course) might be the best option. If you are going to attack point defense, or if you want to attack factories, it is good to have light artillery. As the game goes on, and the map starts to get crowded (especially if it has narrow choke points) light artillery is more valuable for tank-vs-tank fights. This is because if light arty is shooting at 2 moving tanks, it will probably miss, but if it is shooting at 20 moving tanks, it will probably hit, and it will do a lot more DPS than a tank would. So it can make sense to start by making close to zero light artillery, and as the game moves on, increase the amount.
. . . . Do I even make mobile anti-air?
Every mobile anti-air unit you make could have been a tank. If you make MAA, you will lose fights where you just didn’t have quite as many tanks as your opponent. But you need some kind of anti-air. Your opponent could surprise you by suddenly shifting into air production and making bombers. If you rely on interceptors for anti-air, you run the risk that you will “lose air” (that your opponent will have more interceptors than you, and kill all of your interceptors in an air fight). I don’t have a good answer on this, but I will note that high-rated players often skip making MAA until they need it.
. . . . Learn how to use the Replay Vault
The Java client for FAF has access to a vault with information about just about every FAF game ever played. It is in the vault section, and it is called “online replays.” Some of the replays don’t work, but most of them do.
You can filter the replays to search by player name, player rating, map name, and other factors. So you could search for all 1v1 ladder matches ZLO ever played on the map Loki. And then you can watch a few replays and steal his build orders.
Using filters, you can search for all replays with “game mod short name” “contains” “ladder” and “one of the player’s ladder ratings” “is greater than” “1900” which will bring up the most recent high-level ladder matches.
. . . . Comeback Mechanics
Every good RTS has comeback mechanics. So how do you come back, when you are behind? And on the flip side, what do you have to worry about, when you are ahead?
The three main comeback mechanics in SupCom are: (1) reclaim; (2) eco snipes; and (3) commander snipes.
Sniping the enemy commander (killing them with a surprise attack) is straightforward enough that I don’t need to explain it. A lot of players (and I am guilty of this) only look for commander snipes when we are losing. When you are ahead of your opponent, you might overlook the chance to take out the enemy commander.
Eco snipes are when you target down important economic structures, namely pgens or upgraded mexes. If you land a T2 transport carrying 14 lobos, or 16 zthuees, behind your opponent’s base, and crush 4 T2 mexes, that can be so much damage that suddenly, you’re not losing any more. Or perhaps you build a TML and use it to kill some T2 mexes. Two nothas can kill an unshielded T2 pgen in one pass.
Reclaim is so complicated and important that it needs its own chapter.
. . . . Energy Reclaim
Energy reclaim (from trees) is mostly only important in the early game, and when it is available it is usually part of the build order for a particular map. After you are done carrying out your build order, energy reclaim is probably not going to be very important for the rest of the match (but keep it in mind if you have energy problems, it can provide a short-term fix).
. . . . Mass reclaim at the start of the match
Mass reclaim (from rocks and dead units placed at the start of the match) is important to early build orders, because it can give you mass so much faster than you get from T1 mexes (which produce 120 mass per minute, but an engineer can pull that from a wreck in seconds), and because it costs so much energy to build T1 mexes. Every good build order takes into account where there is mass that can be reclaimed early.
. . . . Reclaim fields are strategic objectives
Every mass point is strategically important, and when multiple mass points are grouped together, obviously that is even more important as a strategic objective. New players tend to overlook that reclaim fields (either placed on the map by the mapmaker, or the result of a battle) can be equally important, because they can provide just as much, or more, income as mexes, albeit a finite amount. But you are only going to get a finite amount of mass from every mex: the only way to get infinite mass from a mex is if the match never ends. Unless you plan to play only 1 more match for the rest of your life, you need to stop looking at mex income as “infinite.”
When you are watching a replay, you can look at the mass income each player has. You can also look at the total amount of mass they have gathered during the game. And you can look at the total amount of mass they have reclaimed during the game. You should pay attention to this while you are watching replays. There are many games where one player with less income from mexes uses reclaim to keep up with or even surpass their opponent in terms of total mass. This is why reclaim can be a comeback mechanic. Even if you are behind in mexes, reclaim can keep you in the game or even give you a winning edge.
This also makes the game more interesting because (1) it punishes players for failed attacks; you don’t just lose units but you give reclaim to your opponent, which is called a “mass donation”; (2) it dynamically creates new strategic locations on the map. Chokepoints don’t move, mexes don’t move, but every time you play a map, and as the match goes on, the reclaim fields can be in completely different places. The strategic “shape” of the map changes dynamically as the game progresses, which makes this game really special compared to most RTS games.
. . . . See the reclaim
To see how much reclaim there is, press Ctrl-Shift. Very small amounts (less than 10) do not show up, but otherwise, the amount of each piece of reclaim is shown as a number on your map. You should be doing this throughout the match.
. . . . Take the reclaim
The most APM-efficient way to get reclaim is with an “attack-move” order (alt-right click) or patrol (a unit on attack-move behaves the same way as on patrol, except they stop when they reach their destination and run out of things to do). You can give an attack-move order in a fraction of second. But the engineers will not scoop efficiently: if there are small wrecks, or single trees, the engineers can scoop those before scooping the important stuff.
The most efficient way to quickly get reclaim can be “manual reclaim” which is where you select an engineer and for each rock/wreck/tree clump that you want them to reclaim, you give a separate order (a separate mouse click while holding down the shift key).
You have to balance your need for APM with your need for getting mass quickly.
You can build a factory next to a reclaim field, set an attack-move order for units coming out of the factory, and have it build engineers. Engineers on a “factory attack-move” order have double range when they are reclaiming things, for some reason. (This is a game engine bug, but it is not considered an exploit.) You will see good players build factories next to reclaim fields just so they can make engineers to grab reclaim, even in the middle of the ocean. You will see players use transports to drop engineers into reclaim fields, so they can grab the reclaim, or so they can quickly build a factory to get factory attack-move engineers into the field.
. . . . Reclaim your own losses
In team games, it is obvious that you should reclaim the base of a dead teammate to quickly boost your economy so your team does not fall too far behind. You can also cannibalize your own base in a 1v1 match. You have to decide between scooping and rebuilding. Sometimes, the smart move is to scoop the mass, and use it to keep your war engine running.
If there is a battle between 20 T1 tanks, 10 of yours and 10 of your opponent’s, the reclaim field might have 700+ mass in it. That is enough to rebuild your 10 tanks. That is enough to run a T1 land factory for three minutes. That is enough to build a pgen, a T1 land factory, and run it for over a minute. That is almost enough to upgrade a T2 mex. Even a small engagement can leave behind enough reclaim to make a real difference in the match.
. . . . This guy scoops
Your ACU does not just fight, it also scoops. After (or even during) a battle, you can give manual reclaim orders. Or you can put the ACU on patrol (just make sure it doesn’t wander off). One of the benefits of having your ACU out on the map is not only that it helps you to win fights, but you can scoop the mass afterwards.
More important than controlling units is to control yourself.
. . . . Pay Attention, but not Too Much
“Tunnel vision” is when a person focuses on one thing only, and fails to notice other things on the map. When there is a fight going on, it is normal to want to watch it, to see how it resolves, and to see if you can control the units a bit to increase their chances of success. That might be the best use of your attention. But maybe not. You need to decide where to focus your attention.
Good players don’t just watch things happen. If they’ve got a transport that’s trying to unload units but is under attack from interceptors, they might click away to a different area of the map, give some orders, then click back to see if the transport unloaded the units or not. They don’t just stare at it to see whether it will survive. Whether or not that transport unloads the units might be extremely important to how the match develops, going forward—but staring at it doesn’t change anything.
Don’t be a “looky-loo.” Don’t miss opportunities to control your entire army because you’re waiting to see what happens to three units. Keep everything moving. You have a mighty war engine, with many moving parts, and they all need your attention.
In order to see the big picture, it is as simple as looking at the big picture. Zoom out! And glance at your minimap often. FAF has nice graphics. The units look nice when you are zoomed in. The strategic icons don’t look so nice. But you’ve got to zoom out so you can see what is happening.
According to Zock, even if a battle is important, you should not just stare at it. You should give some orders, then look at some other part of the map, so you can give orders there, before you move your vision back to the critical battle. In the example, he was talking about a player whose ACU was dying. So no matter how important a battle might be, you can probably pull away briefly and then come back to it.
. . . . Attack Your Opponent’s Attention
When you are aggressively attacking, you force your opponent to respond. Even just sending a mantis behind their base takes their time and focus. @JaggedAppliance talks about a “@ZLO bomber”: a bomber sent out to some random part of the map, which is not really targeting any particular unit, but which is targeting the opponent’s attention, because players have to react when they see a bomber. Don’t let your opponent get comfortable. Harass and disrupt their plans.
Zock describes it this way: losing takes away your attention. Losing makes you busy because you are losing things everywhere. Winning is much less stressful than losing.
. . . . Be Reflective
Watch replays of your games. If it hurts too much to watch a game you lost, skip it. You’re probably making the same mistakes in games that you win. You will see so much in the replays. Switch between the three perspectives (the overview, what you could see, and what your opponent could see). If you don’t watch your replays, to see where you’re messing up, you will miss major opportunities for improvement.
. . . . Sentimentality is Weakness
Because of the reclaim mechanic, there are times when bringing a unit home and suiciding it, so you can scoop out the mass, is better than sending it to die on your opponent’s doorstep (where your opponent can scoop the mass). This happens most often in team games that reach the T4 stage.
If you make a TML (tactical missile launcher) and pick off a few of your opponent’s mexes, and then your opponent starts building TMD (tactical missile defense), your best move might be to suicide the launcher (select it and press ctrl-K) and scoop up the mass. You will immediately get back hundreds of mass, instead of having an “anti-T2 mex” costing you 6 mass per second while it builds missiles that you might never get to use.
If there’s an enemy bomber coming for your base, you can stop a unit in partial production in order to start making a mobile anti-air. If you press “s” to stop a factory that is 80% done making a tank, you will lose about 40 mass of investment. But if you get a mobile anti air unit out faster, you might save an engineer from dying (52 mass). It’s a mistake to worry too much about half a unit when you need to be paying attention to the big picture, and you need to budget your time/attention efficiently.
If you start making a building that you don’t need, you can reclaim it. (Thanks, @Death_Squad!) When a building is fully built, reclaiming it takes away health and does not give you mass (until it dies). But when it is under construction, reclaiming it gives you back some mass and energy. So if you start making a T2 pgen, and you decide that you don’t actually need it, stop building it, and start reclaiming it.
. . . . Be Persistent
When stuff gets destroyed, rebuild. When you lose mexes, retake them. And if you lose them again, retake them again, again and again. Even though the battlefield gets more dangerous as time goes on (which means, among other things, that it is harder and harder to hold mexes in the middle of the map) it is still worth it to build T1 mexes wherever you can. Don’t be a quitter and don’t get discouraged. Stay in the fight until the other guy quits.
Part 5: Lessons from Zock
During 2014-2016, Zock gave 1-on-1 lessons to a number of students. He video-recorded many of the lessons and posted 24 hours of them to YouTube. Zock primarily taught by watching replays with his students and discussing whatever he thought was most important about them. You can watch them here:
I reviewed some of the lessons (eventually I might complete the project of watching all of them), summarized his advice, and organized it by subject. Above each summary, there is a link to the video itself, with specific time stamp, so if you want to go deeper, you can follow the link to see Zock's lesson for yourself.
Compared to other high-level players, Zock favored upgrading his economy when the opportunity became available. He was considered to be more cautious. He was more careful to set himself up to win rather than taking risks to close out the game quickly. There are different ways to play the game. Zock’s way is not the only way to win games.
This content is too long to fit into a single reply. You can click on the links below to jump to the reply with certain specific topics:
The first thing Zock teaches students (even 1600-rated) is to work on their early build orders. There is a lot of room for improvement there.
If you stall because you build too many factories, you are spending your mass on factories instead of units, so your opponent will have more units than you.
Two half-built factories vs. one complete factory. Usually Zock does not build factories with just 1 engineer. He likes to have at least 2 building each factory. He prefers to build the factories inside his base, instead of outside his base, because he can get them up faster.
On small maps, it is good to avoid building two factories (like land and air) at the same time. But when you have enough mass income, it’s okay to build two factories at once. Even if in theory it’s better to build them one at a time, the walking time makes it more efficient to build the factories separately.
For opening builds: if your first factory is building engineers, then 1 factory – no unit production. 2 factories – you have production. 3rd factory: 100% increase in unit production. 4th factory: 50% increase in unit production. 5th factory: 33% increase. This shows that your 2nd and 3rd land factories are extremely important for getting combat units out onto the map.
For opening builds: it is better to power stall slightly than to overbuild power.
If you and your opponent both have 1 air factory, and are making interceptors, if you are mass stalling and your opponent is not, you will end up with fewer inties. And that means you will lose air.
The first priority when you start a map is to spend your mass. In the early game, the only way to spend your mass is the ACU. On most maps, you want to get at least a second factory before you send your ACU out. On big maps, you might even want your second factory to make engineers also. On big maps, you need to build a lot of power, so you should keep your ACU in the base to build power and factories. Usually the goal on most maps is to get up as many factories as fast as possible. Expanding is the second priority. Expanding without spending the mass is worthless. When mass is in storage, you’re not using it, so you’re not getting value out of it. When you use mass, you get advantages from it, and the advantage snowballs.
For your early base building, it is nice to have your ACU assisting an engineer, rather than having an engineer assisting your ACU. That way, as soon as you run out of resources, you can select your ACU and tell them to walk away. The engineer will stay behind to keep building your base. You won’t have to re-do the build queue for the engineer.
One of the few cases where you want to have mass in storage, is if you are deciding whether to build an emergency point defense. Having the mass in storage gives you flexibility to build it at maximum speed instead of stalling. In some circumstances, it can even be a good idea to pause all of your factories so you don’t stall while you are building the point defense.
If one player’s opening leads to a significant economic advantage, the game has basically been decided in the first five minutes. You need to learn how to play efficiently for the first few minutes, so you can get far enough into the game where your decisions matter. You have to learn efficiency first.
It’s just not possible to be aggressive when your opponent has 3x as many tanks as you. First you need a solid economy to produce enough units.
A lot part of early aggression is related to early build order. You need a good build order to make a lot of units as a foundation to effective aggression. If you don’t have at least an equal number of units as your opponent, you can’t have effective aggression.
Having a bad build order, not spending the resources in your bank, and not making units, is a much bigger mistake than sending some units out in a bad attack. Macro is more important than micro. If you have good micro (good unit control) that can be nice, but if you have good macro (a bigger economy) you can make more units. If you have more units than your opponent, you can win fights even with clumsy attacks. In this game, units are meant to be thrown away, a lot.
Whenever you play, be aware of what went wrong, and try to improve it over time. Have a plan what you will do better next game. Especially when it comes to build orders, it is easy to make a change in the next game. Just keep improving it, every time you play, even if it’s just a small thing.
When you play, if you realize you made a mistake, next time you change something. It doesn’t even matter if the change that you make, makes things worse. The point is to try something different to see if you can’t improve. That is how you fine tune a build order over time. It doesn’t really matter what you do. The point is to change one thing every time. Don’t get into the habit into repeating your mistakes every time. It’s about not forgetting to improve your process. So if you force yourself to always find 1 thing to change, after every game, you are less likely to forget to attempt to improve.
Regarding your build order: “You will get raided. That happens. Don’t worry so much about it.” You can replace the engineer expanding to build mexes, but you can’t just replace the engineer that is going to mid to take reclaim, because your opponent might scoop it before you get another engineer there.
(The goal is not to develop a build order that 100% prevents you from getting raided. You can’t protect every single engineer always from every raid. Even if you send a mantis with every expanding engineer, your opponent might raid you with 2 or 3 mantis. A perfect defense is basically impossible and would require you to expand much more slowly. However certain reclaim can be valuable or even critical to your build order.
For example, on Fields of Thunder, there is a small plateau near your starting location. The mass on that plateau is very important for getting set up quickly. You do have the protect the 1-2 engineers that you will have on the plateau reclaiming mass, or you will quickly fall behind.)
The problem with his student’s build order is the power stall. He started building factories before he had enough power to support those operations. On this particular map, Zock would prefer only 2 engineers building pgens in the initial build order, not 3.
If you are slow at grabbing your resources, your opponent does not even need to raid you, it is like you raided yourself, by not building the stuff. “Grabbing your resources is a key competence of being good.”
Zock does not like to build factories or hydros with just 1 engineer, because it takes so long to finish.
For every engineer helping your ACU to build your base, you need another 1.5 pgens to make enough power to pay for those engineers. Zock distinguishes between “building power” and “upkeep power.” The “building power” is the amount of energy that you use to construct buildings. “Upkeep power” is the amount of power you need to run your factories. For example, if you are using 5 engineers to build factories, you need 150 power to pay for those engineers, even before you have completed a single factory. You need the 150 power early to make the factories, but then if you use them to make 5 factories you only need 100 power to run those factories. So, early in the match, you need quite a bit of power to pay for initial construction, but you only need to add 1 more pgen every time you complete a factory. If you are going to build 5 factories, how much power do you need? You need power to pay for the engineers to build the factories. And then once you are done building them, you will have enough power to pay for running the factories. One thing that leads to a power stall is when you come into more mass income and decide you want more factories. If you don’t build some power before making the factories you can stall.
ECONOMIC BALANCE AND SPENDING AFTER THE OPENING BUILD ORDER
Zock: you don’t build T2 power like you build T1 power (which you just spam). Every time you make a T2 pgen, it should be a conscious decision.
If you get into the habit of “every time I get to Tech 2, I make two T2 pgens” that is bad. On the other hand, if you try to only build as many as you need, and overestimate your power needs, and you end up building two T2 pgens and it wasn’t really necessary, that is less bad. In the first case, you are committed to playing the game in a thoughtless, sloppy way and you will not improve over time. In the second case, you are trying to improve and over time you will get better at deciding how many pgens you actually need. Being good at SupCom is not just about making the right decisions, it is about having a process to constantly improve. From the outside it looks the same (both people built two T2 pgens) but it’s actually very different.
Some people say: you never want to stop building power. That’s wrong. You stop and start building power as necessary. The point is, you want to build power until you have enough. Then, it depends. You want to keep building power as long as your mass is increasing. As long as your mass is increasing, you will also need more power in the future. When you need more power in the future, you need to start building it now, so you will have it in the future. If you’re going to get more mass extractors on the map, or if you’re going to finish upgrading a mex, you need more power. Ideally you want to have no overflow or a small overflow (+50 or +100). If you already have enough power for the moment and for the near future, stop building power. If you are short on mass and have power overflowing, building more pgens is bad, you make your mass problem worse and you get no benefit. Overbuilding power is one really big mistake in this game.
Pausing air when you stall power, and unpausing it after you stop stalling, is really nice. Just don’t forget to unpause your air. That happens a lot, even to Zock.
When you stall mass, you have to decide what you want. When you have too much mass, you just need to build something and it is not as important what you choose to build. As long as it gives you an advantage it’s okay. But when you are stalling you need to make a careful choice about what to have, and you need to cut projects.
When you have close to full bars of mass and energy, you want to spend it. You don’t have to make just 1 factory at a time. In this case Zock suggests using 3 engineers to start building a second factory. Also, at this point it would be good to start upgrading a mass extractor to T2
Spend your mass, build more power. Take care not to overbuild power. 5 engineers building power at the same time is good for this particular map (Flooded Tabula Rasa). You don’t need all 5 engineers following the same order. You can have some engineers building one line of power and have some other engineers building another line of power.
If you need more engineers to spend your mass you may need to make another engineer factory. If you don’t immediately need tanks to stop from being overrun, you can have your existing factory make engineers instead of tanks.
If you’re trying to spend resources as quickly as possible, building factories is more efficient than building engineers to assist factories, because it takes so long to build the engineers.
If the student had been able to spend all of his mass in the bank, he could have had 30 extra tanks. He would have the same amount of tanks as his opponent.
It’s good to have engineers around in your base. They can be assisting your factories. Then when you are ready to spend mass on buildings, you will have plenty of engineers ready to build them. On a 10x10 map, you always want to have one factory making nothing but engineers. On small maps (5x5) it can be a mistake to have a factory that makes nothing but engineers. There is always something for your engineers can do, especially on bigger maps (10x10 and 20x20). They could be reclaiming trees and stuff. If you have 80 tanks, having 5 more tanks won’t do much, but 5 more engineers might make a big difference. If your problem is that you aren’t spending enough mass, perhaps there is a second underlying problem, namely that you don’t have enough engineers which could be spending that mass.
The player attacked into an enemy force, near the enemy’s base, without scouting it. This is considered to be a mistake by Zock. But Zock says: you have more tanks than your opponent. So this attack did not become a mass donation next to your opponent’s base. Instead, you just win the battle. This is an example of how having more tanks means you can get away with making mistakes and still win the game. This is why Zock spends more time teaching players about economy rather than unit movement.
Describing how IF your opponent goes for early T2 mass extractor upgrades, you will have unit advantage. You need to use that advantage to expand/raid. But at the same time, you want to upgrade your own mexes. Because your opponent will eventually be able to expand out and recapture parts of the map.
Make sure that if you fall behind on eco, use your advantage (in having more units) to try to catch up in eco. If you are behind in economy and you don’t catch up, you will definitely lose.
“When to eco and when to not . . . trade map control for eco and then return the trade. And then if you fall behind in eco, catch up.”
Discussion about when to eco. If you are a little bit behind your opponent in eco, catch up. If you are a lot behind, it will snowball (your opponent’s economy will grow far faster than you can hope to catch up).
When you are behind in both units and economy, you should eco. You kind of need more factories and more units, but you can’t do that and also eco. If you get the units, you will fall behind in economy and most likely lose. If you eco, you can try to catch up and still have a chance to win. That means you have to survive in the short term with fewer units than your opponent while you try to catch up in eco.
“But in general, the idea that if you are falling behind then you have to play more aggressive, that is a really good way of thinking.”
The same logic applies, to try to get ahead, as how to avoid falling behind. Which is: make a T2 mex, even though it means you won’t have as many units on the field. If you get raided a little bit, as long as you recover your territory, it can be worth it to have the T2 mex. As long as you don’t get overrun, it can be worth it to make the T2 mex.
Another really, really simple rule: once you start eco-ing, don’t stop, unless there is a really good reason for it (like: if you get overrun and you need every unit to survive). So you always want to be ecoing a little bit. If your opponent doesn’t keep up with you, you will get ahead. You don’t really lose a lot from not eco-ing. 5% less units won’t make a big difference. But 5% less eco will snowball over time. The cost of ecoing is small but the advantage is large because it builds up over time. You can change the pace of how fast you eco, but keep ecoing.
Getting a T2 mass extractor too early hurts you. Zock describes building one as a reaction to his own error, namely that he messed up by not building enough factories quickly enough in order to spend his mass, so he spent it on a T2 mex. In that situation it is better to at least get a T2 mex than to do nothing with your mass. But you should recognize that you made a serious error, and getting a T2 mex is a kind of damage control, not a good strategy.
In particular, Zock was talking about Syrtis Major, where in the early part of the game it is helpful to have more units so you can more effectively fight for the quantum gateway in the center of the map. The amount of mass you get from reclaiming the quantum gateway is far more than you get from having an early T2 mex.
(This lesson obviously does not only apply to Syrtis Major. It applies to every map where you can use extra units to try to grab additional mexes or additional reclaim early in the game, which may be more valuable to you than upgrading a T2 mex. On the other hand, if you are on a map where you don’t have that kind of an opportunity, it might make more sense to immediately upgrade a T2 mex.)
Zock explains that his student was, at this point in the match, so far behind in economy that he needed to take drastic steps to catch up in eco. He said: you should be very defensive, hide behind some point defense. You don’t need very many units, especially if you use your ACU to fight. You can pause all of your factories and use all of your eco to upgrade your mexes. If you were equal to your opponent, you would only want to eco a little. But if you’re falling behind, you need to seriously commit in a big way to eco.
If you are in a comfortable position on economic-heavy maps, then you should start to eco, and when you start ecoing, you don’t stop again unless it is an emergency (you need units immediately to avoid serious damage). On the economic-heavy maps, you should start ecoing whenever you feel somewhat safe. “Somewhat safe” means you ask yourself two questions: is your advantage enough that you can just win the game if you crank out a little more spam? And: will you lose anything important if you have fewer units rolling out of your factories in the short term, while the mex ugprades? If the answer to both questions is “no,” then you should start upgrading a T2 mex.
You can start upgrading all of your mexes to T2 at the same time, wait a half second, then pause all of them, and order engineers to assist mexes in sequence (so that your engineers will upgrade 1 mex at a time). If you don’t pay attention to the upgrades, they will still happen. However, Zock feels it is smart to pay attention, to add or subtract engineers, or pause some engineers, or unpause the mex while it is being upgraded, in order to add or take away build power, so the mexes upgrade faster without using too much of your economy. You should fine tune the amount you are spending on ecoing in order to maintain eco balance. Whenever you have the chance to pay attention, you should unpause the mex that is being upgraded, because it makes the upgrade go faster.
The student asks for a clear answer about when to eco, that is not just based on the map. Zock says: there are general principles that you use, primarily: eco if you can get away with it (and, don’t eco if you can’t get away with it).
When you increase economy, you also need to increase your unit production (upgrade factories or build more of them). For every t2 mass extractor, that is 4 extra mass. You could put 2 extra mass into more eco and 2 mass into more units. You don’t want to spend all of your economy on eco. If you do that, your economy grows quickly, but you won’t have enough units to defend yourself. To gradually increase your production while increasing your economy is an important concept. There are exceptions to the rule. There are times when you do want to invest everything into economy, but it’s not a common situation.
If you over-eco without making production, you can only spend your economy on making more eco. You won’t have enough engineers or factories to spend your mass. The only place left to spend the mass (other than letting it overflow) will be on upgrading more extractors. Expanding your production as your economy expands solves two problems: it allows you to spend the mass on making units (rather than only being able to spend it on economy) and also having those extra units can mean that you don’t just die from an enemy attack.
On a map with mass that can be reclaimed, like stones, you need to have factories that send out engineers to grab the mass. You can use a patrol order, which you don’t need to worry about, or you can do an attack move order, which gives the engineers extra reclaim range. If you use attack-move, you then press shift so you can see the attack move order and drag the factory attack move order to another place. If you keep moving the order around, the engineers that have been produced will then keep moving and reclaiming, but this takes your APM. When you have reclaimed about half of the stuff that can be reclaimed, stop making more engineers for reclaiming. At that point, let your existing engies finish reclaiming the things.
One advantage to have so many engineers reclaiming things is that you have build power around the map, that you can use to quickly build things like T1 anti-air turrets. If you are using gunships to raid, you want to kill engineers first before they can build up T1 anti-air.
THE TRANSITION TO T2
As soon as your tech 2 factory finishes, you want to try to get as much out of it by pushing out as many units as possible. The first few Tech 2 units (1-5) matter a lot, and are a lot more valuable than later Tech 2 units (like the 10th). So you want to assist your factory and crank out T2 units as soon as it gets online.
Tech 2 transition: the goal is, once you are tech 2, put 100% of your unit production into tech 2. But for Cybran, you also want medusa, Zock says “count” as tech 2. (Zock doesn’t say this, but it is okay to produce land scouts.) You don’t want to keep making mantis, unless you are using them for raids (like the way you might use LABs at the start of a match.) You don’t want to get overrun. If you completely stop your unit production in order to switch to tech 2 support factories, you will be very vulnerable. There could be a full minute where you have zero unit production. So you may want to upgrade 1-2 at a time before upgrading the next ones to Tech 2 factories. Even so, if you have lots of Tech 1 units, and you don’t want to play super aggressive, you could upgrade all Tech 1 at once. The goal is to upgrade to Tech 2 as fast as possible. If it is safe (because you have enough units) you would upgrade every single factory to Tech 2 at the same time. It is convenient to upgrade them 2-3 at a time, instead of all at once, because you can judge how much strain it puts on your economy.
Similarly, with Tech 3, once you get a Tech 3 factory, stop making Tech 2 junk. (It is fine to keep using MMLs, flak, and deceivers once you get to Tech 3, but stop making Tech 2 tanks.)
Would you ever increase your T1 production at the same time as you upgrade an HQ to T2? Only if you need to spend your mass super-badly. There can also be a situation where you start upgrading to T2 and you realize it was a mistake because you need more T1 units. You are vulnerable while you upgrade to T2 so you should try to make the upgrade happen as quickly as possible (lots of engineer assistance on the HQ). You should go to Tech 2 when you decide to go to Tech 2, not because of a habit or a simplistic rule.
Once both sides have T2 tanks, you don’t want to have mantis in the front of your army. The mantis won’t kill the enemy’s units, and they will just get in the way of your own T2 tanks. If you keep making mantis for your frontline force you are just wasting mass. You could pause the T1 factories (the ones making mantis) and use the mass to eco.
When you have T1 and T2, don’t move your whole army together. Move your rhinos up front as a concentrated fighting force. Keep the mantis behind, in case there is an all-in engagement. If he overruns your rhinos you can bring the mantis in as well. Until then, keep them out of the way.
When you transition to T2, you stop making T1. That is true regardless of your economic situation. It doesn’t matter if you are ahead or behind in economy. Just stop making the T1 tanks once you can make T2 tanks.
You want to make the transition complete as soon as possible, which means no more mantis. You can have a factory making mantis if you want to use them as raiding units, because they are fast. Zock’s example is to send out 3 mantis on a raiding mission to attack outlying T1 mexes. The point is to stop making mantis for use in combat once you can make rhinos.
Zock would avoid ecoing heavily AND upgrading to T2 at the same time. Do one, then the other. You can eco first, or you can go to T2 first. But if you try to do both at the same time, you will end up ecoing more slowly and it will take longer to finish your T2 factory.
Transition to Tech 2: you have to decide whether you can win with Tech 1. If not, then move to Tech 2 instead of building more T1 factories. If you can just make a few more T1 factories and spam units to defeat your opponent, then you can do that. But if both players make more and more T1 units, it stops being feasible to win with T1. So you should stop making T1 factories, and move to T2.
Some people go to Tech 2 very early. It is still a good idea to go tech 2 to match them, even if they are going very early. If you see your opponent going tech 2, you will usually have more tech 1 units than your opponent. You can try to use your tech 1 units to do damage. Especially if it is an early switch to tech 2, you might have a significant tank advantage. But you should not produce any more additional tech 1 units. By the time your new tech 1 units arrived at the front line, he would have tech 2 at the front line. You punish him with your existing tech 1 units, stop making tech 1 units, and transition to tech 2 as fast as you can. If you can’t punish your opponent for going tech 2, then it wasn’t a mistake for them to go tech 2.
At some point, think about: do you actually want more T1 factories, do you want more T1 units? Ask yourself this question. If the answer is “no,” then you go tech 2.
Here you can see the problem with having too many T1 tanks: they can’t all shoot at once and they will block each other. The tank blob is too big to be fully effective. If those were a mass-equivalent number of t2 tanks they could all be shooting.
The rule for Tech 2 factories is: the first unit out should be a T2 engineer. If you’re getting attacked and you have an immediate need for T2 combat units so you don’t just die, get the combat units. Otherwise, get a T2 engineer first, or two. Queue up 1-2 T2 engineers and then 30 T2 tanks. At some point, you should notice your Tech 2 engineer, you will want to give it an order (make a TMD, make a T2 pgen, etc.) and that should remind you to pay attention to your T2 factory to update the build queue. Tech 2 power is one of the best things about going to T2. Even if your first unit is not a T2 engie, you should queue them because you always want a T2 engineer eventually.
There is no rule to always make your Tech 2 headquarters after the 5th factory. There are a number of factors. It depends on the play style, the map, and the situation. If there is too much pressure on you (you need more t1 units so your commander doesn’t die) then don’t start upgrading a headquarters to tech 2. Ask yourself if having 10 more T1 units would make a difference for you. Can you actually win something with more tech 1, like taking away an expansion from your opponent? If not, then make Tech 2. A very simple rule, how to not lose against Tech 2: if your opponent is Tech 2, as soon as you see that, you also go Tech 2. If you don’t scout it too late, your Tech 2 will be in time against his Tech 2. You can also go Tech 2 before your opponent if you feel safe doing it. One good rule for new players is just to wait for your opponent to go Tech 2 before you do. Then you don’t have to worry while you are playing about when to go Tech 2. You can focus on other things.
THE TRANSITION TO T3
When you get a T3 factory up, you want to stop making T2 tanks/bots because T2 direct fire units are very inefficient against T3. (Note: this video is from early 2016, before the “T3 rebalance” happened, but it is probably still valid advice.) Just stop your T2 factories completely. T3 factories have much more build power than T2, so you don’t need very many of them to spend the same amount of mass.
You can still make flak, MMLs, deceivers, mobile shields, and T2 engineers. If the flak or MMLs are going to be part of your unit composition, make them out of the T3 factories. You don’t need to have a T2 factory cranking out flak next to a T3 factory making Percivals. (Zock does not specifically say this, but I think if you just want a couple units, like you want a T2 engineer for some special purpose, or you want to make a couple flaks for your base, it is perfectly fine to use your T2 factories to build that. There is no absolute rule that you are forbidden to use your T2 factories for any purpose. But according to Zock, your war production should only come out of T3 factories.)
In contrast to the transition to Tech 2, where you may have a need to keep making T1 units, once you get to the T3 stage, you can immediately completely stop making T2 tanks/bots. By the time you transition to T3, you should have enough engies to assist your T3 factory.
Zock describes using transports to move his first bricks from the T3 factory. He says a weaker player would just have them walk out of the factory. (By using transports, Zock gets his first bricks into the fight much faster. This goes back to what Zock was saying about your first five T2 units coming out of the T2 factory being more important than the next five. The same thing applies to the first five T3 units to come out of your T3 factory. They are more important so if you can transport them to get them into the fight faster that is an important benefit.)
Corsairs are nice, you can use them even if you don’t have air control. If your opponent has unshielded power generators, you can send them in (on a suicide mission) to snipe the power, and that can win you the game. But if you don’t have air control, you should only use them to snipe power. You shouldn’t just make lots of corsairs when you lack air control.
On 10x10 maps, you don’t want to make too many air factories too early. Five air factories early is too many. But a second air factory early is not terrible. If you’re going tech 2 air, you want a second air factory. (Zock doesn’t say why, but I think the point is so you can keep making interceptors so you don’t lose air control, because then you won’t be able to use your fancy Tech 2 air toys. Or perhaps he means you should have a T2 support factory so you can make more T2 air units, faster. I don’t know.) If you want more transports, it can be good to build them from a second air factory. But (at least for 20x20 maps) your first transport should come out of your first air factory. With Tech 2 air, you don’t want to make gunships on an infinite queue. You want to queue up about 15 only. Because after you start doing damage with them, your opponent will make a lot of flak.
Mixing mobile AA into your tank forces: it’s not bad. For tech 1, Zock normally doesn’t do it unless he is losing air. The problem of course is that you will have fewer tanks. (Every mobile AA could have been a tank.) Having mobile AA with your tank forces can help to reduce risk of taking damage from air and reduce the amount of attention you need to pay to the game. It’s easier to let your mobile AA kill t1 bombers than to constantly move interceptors around the map to deal with them. For tech 2: Zock will mix flak in. If he has air control, he will make 1 flak for every 10 t2 tanks. If he does not have air control, he will make 1 flak for every 5 t2 tanks.
When you are ahead, you want to get air control. When you are ahead, air snipes are the main cause of death. Taking air control is not only good by itself, but it is an extra layer of security. And, air is the fastest way to win the game, if you decide to end it. When you decide you want to kill your opponent, you make some gunships, fighter/bombers, or strat bombers.
BEING AGGRESSIVE AND BEING DEFENSIVE
One way to get ahead is to be aggressive, which is to make attacks in order to try to hurt your enemy. The other way is to be more defensive and put more economy into eco. If your opponent is putting 5% of their economy into eco, you put 10% in to eco and just have 5% fewer units. You can still defend well with 5% fewer units.
Aggression can be more risky. If aggression fails, you can leave behind reclaim. If you make a mistake with aggression you can give the game over to your opponent. But if you hang back and eco, that style of play is more forgiving of mistakes. Being defensive and out-ecoing your opponent can be a more boring way to play potentially. It is a matter of preference. Being aggressive, or out-ecoing your opponent, are both legitimate ways to play the game.
Also, you can shift back and forth between the two strategies. It can be good to move back and forth between both strategies (aggression vs. ecoing) rather than investing all of your resources into a single strategy. It’s better to have a mix than to do just one thing. (Zock does not specifically say this, but I think it’s obvious: if you only do one thing, you will be more predictable.)
Timing: if you are building more units from the start of the game, or if your opponent pauses or slows unit production for some reason, you may have a unit advantage (meaning: more units on the field than your opponent). Presumably, whatever he is spending his mass on instead will benefit him eventually. So if you wait too long, your unit advantage will disappear.
The example shown in the video is: Zock paused his factories in order to upgrade his land factory HQ to T3, so for a brief time, his opponent had unit advantage. His opponent (the student) attacked at the right time, taking advantage of the opportunity. If the student had held back, soon Zock would start making Bricks, and then the student would no longer have a unit advantage. During this brief time, there was a window of opportunity to attack Zock with more effectiveness.
You want to take advantage of the opportunity created by having unit advantage. You want to convert your unit advantage into other advantages—for example, by raiding your opponent’s mexes. Another way to use your unit advantage is to pause unit production and focus on ecoing, because you can effectively defend yourself with the units that you already have. You don’t want to miss these opportunities.
If you choose aggression instead of ecoing, you do need to attack your opponent. But then you need to scout, or maintain radar coverage, so you are not surprised when you attack. It is not necessarily a mistake to choose aggression over economy.
If you don’t eco, you need to go all-in. If you build up a fighting force (including: getting the gun upgrade for your commander) then you need to attack your opponent. If you just wait for your opponent to out-eco you, that is wrong.
Send all of your units to one place? Only if you are going all-in. Even if it’s 90% in one place and 10% in other places, that is better than 100% in one place. It’s not really a question of ratio or percentages. You want to have enough units to hold your stuff. That is going to depend on where your opponent’s units are. When you are ahead, you want to distribute your units widely to prevent your opponent from taking anything, rather than collecting them in just one place to prepare for a push.
Some players have a problem of lacking aggression. They make an effort to be more aggressive. If they then get into a situation where they are ahead of their opponent, there might be no use for aggression in that situation. But they have it in their head that they need to be aggressive. If you are trying to be more aggressive in the way you play, there are still times when you should back off from that.
You should not feel like every single game you must be aggressive. Before every act of aggression, you should ask yourself if you think it’s a good idea. You only have a limited amount of attention while you are playing, but this is a good use of your brain power during the game. Questioning yourself is a very good way to improve while you play. Some other players launch attacks mindlessly. Zock does not like that. (Note from the author: Zock’s way is not the only way to play. I gathered these notes to share his ideas but you should also consider other ways of playing. Perhaps you try out mindless aggression some time and see how it works for you.)
When map control is fairly even, you can tell who is ahead by counting who has more T2 mass extractors. If you can maintain as much map control as your opponent, and get more T2 mass extractors than your opponent, you should be winning.
When you are ahead, you can use your units just to keep control of the area. You don’t have to attack your opponent. You can just park them in a good place to surround your opponent, so he can’t slip units out past them. You shouldn’t go in for the kill early. You just build up your units and slowly move them closer and closer to your opponent’s base. You put a rope around your opponent’s neck and you slowly tighten it.
Different people react differently to being under pressure. Even if you are good in theory, if you perform poorly under pressure, that is something you need to work on. You want to pressure your opponent. Players often underestimate the amount of pressure that their opponent is under. When you put your opponent under pressure it won’t feel like pressure to you. From your perspective, it feels easy, so it is common to overlook that from your opponent’s position, it feels terrible.
You can’t always stop the enemy from taking something. If you try to stop the wrong thing, you over-commit and you can lose a significant battle. The example in this lesson is that the two ACUs are on opposite sides of the map. The student does not have enough units to stop the enemy ACU from taking an expansion. The correct perspective is to accept that you can’t stop the enemy ACU from taking it. You should still use units to harass and raid the enemy. You can use a few tanks to deny him from getting the expansion with engineers. If he has to send his ACU in order to get the expansion, you are getting a benefit from that: you are denying his ACU from being somewhere else and you are slowing him down. Just by slowing down your opponent from getting the 4-mex expansion, you get an economic lead, which you can invest into extra tanks or t2 mexes.
SCOUTING AND RADAR
You scout before you attack, then you decide whether you should attack or not.
If you send units forward, but you see that it would be a bad attack, you retreat them. It’s not so bad to make a mistake. The important thing is to fix the mistake by retreating. Don’t try to avoid making mistakes. Just focus on fixing them. Trying to avoid mistakes in the first place is stressful. You will develop better as a player by fixing your mistakes as they happen. It is the same for economic mistakes.
Create a habit of scouting. Have air scouts in your queue. Have a hotkey for scouts. It’s really hard to watch all of your scouts.
Sending scout planes is very important but it is also important for the player to look at what the scout plane sees. If you don’t look, you lose the benefit of having the scout plane.
Air scouts are good if you are planning an attack (to look at what is there to decide whether you want to attack) but radar is better if you are being defensive with your units. That way you can see the enemy army coming.
You can attack your opponent without radar/scouting. If you expect your opponent to play well, he will do certain things, which makes him predictable. You can proactively send units based on what you expect your opponent to do. Against bad opponents, it is very hard to predict their actions because they make a lot of mistakes. It is easier to scout them, find their mistakes, and punish them for it. For example, a good player would use his units. But a bad player might have an idle army. So if you don’t see enemy units on the field, you can’t assume that a bad opponent didn’t make them.
If you don’t know what to do: look at what advantages you have, do what you need to do to make sure you keep them, and look at what advantages your opponent has, and do something to take away those advantages. That is a safe way to try to win. Zock recommends to always try to end the game in a safe way. If you try to end it fast, more often than not, you screw up and you will lose. Don’t try to kill your opponent. Take everything away from him.
When you have the same or more units than your opponent, the question is where on the map you should be aggressive. Scout your opponent, see where their units are, where their ACU is, to decide where to attack.
It’s generally bad to use “attack” orders when you are sending a large force to attack the enemy. The first ones will stop moving as soon as they get into range and then the units behind them will be blocked. Your normal order for sending tanks in to fight is a move order.
Before you launch an attack with a large number of units, it makes sense to gather your tanks into a formation, using “formation move” (if you hold the left mouse button down for a full second when you give a move order).
Zock discusses unit micro. The student was retreating tanks away from a superior force. Zock agrees that the opponent took advantage of an opportunity to attack with a superior force, but Zock says that his student actually did well to retreat. By retreating from the superior force, the student was able to preserve tanks.
Rally points: Zock likes to rally his tanks to one central location and move them out from there. If you have less attention, you could make 3 different rally points to send your tanks out in 3 different directions.
Raids have much more impact when they are simultaneous. If you lose 4 mexes in one spot, and then later you lose 4 mexes in another spot, that is much, much easier to recover from, than if you lose the 8 mexes at the same time. If you get far behind in economy, you may need to use an aggressive all-in strategy (a snipe, or an all-out attack).
Zock discusses sending units from base to clean up raiding units. He suggests giving those units a sequence of orders: first, a move order to get near the raid, and the second (holding shift to queue up another order) an attack-move order, so your units will chase after the raiders if necessary but not run past them. If you send units to clean up a raid, you don’t need to wait for the raiders to die before you send another engineer. You can send the engineer so that it arrives by the time you expect the raiders to be dead.
On raiding: send a few units (like 3-6) on a raid. And send a few more on another raid in another area. Sure, your opponent might catch them and kill them. But that’s okay, take the risk, you can afford to lose a few units.
On raiding: you need to make a guess if your opponent has units in the area. If there are units, you only want to send a small number of units, maybe 2, 3, or 4, to put some pressure on your opponent and to try to sneak by to kill a mex. If you send in too many units, and they are caught by a larger force, that can be very damaging to you early in the game.
You want to kill what your opponent has least of (power, mass, or build capacity). Usually, the best thing to kill is power, because most of the opponent’s power will be in their base. If you can kill 80% of their power, it is very punishing. If you only kill 30% of their power, it is not very punishing. If you kill mass extractors in your opponent’s base, it is not as effective, because after the battle, lots of reclaim will be left in your opponent’s base. They can use the reclaim to produce units and to rebuild their mass extractors.
If you have the gun upgrade, you want your ACU to be in a position where you it can be fighting enemy units. If you just use it to hold an important position that is not being attacked by your enemy, you aren’t getting as much value out of the gun ACU as if it was shooting enemy units.
On a small map, an early radar can help you to keep track of your opponent’s ACU. Seeing where the enemy ACU goes is extremely important so having an early radar is very valuable.
Aggression with ACUs and defending against it: Zock explains why in this situation he does not build a point defense in his own base (he believes he can handle the enemy ACU without it). Also, Zock has radar so he knows that his opponent is still walking towards his base. On the other hand, Zock’s opponent does not have radar, so he does not know that Zock’s ACU is walking back to Zock’s base (which will let him trap and kill his opponent’s ACU). If you are going to walk in to your opponent’s base, you should have all of your units with your ACU.
In this case, Zock pulled his units back behind his base, leaving his base undefended for the enemy ACU. He did this to buy time for his ACU and other units to get back, so he could build up a large enough number of units near his enemy’s ACU, in order to get the kill. If he had used units to defend his base, the ACU would have just killed them.
The lack of radar led to a bad engagement. And the lack of radar near the ACU allowed the opponent to kill the ACU.
The ACU should not have been close to the front at all. In this case, the ACU was securing 2 mexes in the front, which just were not important enough to justify the risk.
If it was justified for the ACU to be up there, all of the combat units should have been with the ACU. In this case, more than half of the army was on the other side of the mountain range that runs down the middle of Twin Rivers.
“Don’t upgrade at the front line. If you upgrade, do it in a safe position. A safe position is where your units can help.”
If you want to be aggressive with something important, like an army or your ACU, then scout before attacking.
If your opponent’s ACU starts attacking your ACU, and you don’t know what units might be behind his ACU, you should assume that your opponent knows the situation better than you. So you should retreat and kite, rather than standing your ground or aggressively moving in.
Usually you don’t want to send your ACU alone anywhere. You want to send it with some units.
It is dangerous for your ACU to be all alone, especially when the enemy ACU is nearby. If the ACU comes around with a few units, your commander might just be dead. (Author’s note: this was 8 minutes in to the game. Zock said something different earlier in the lesson, earlier he said it was fine to send the tanks in one direction and the ACU in a different direction. I think the point is, early in the match it’s okay to send the ACU by itself, but as the match moves forward, like 5-6 minutes in, you need to have units with it.)
Once you are ahead, you can relax. You can slow down. You can be very careful about your attacks. Even if you do nothing, your advantage will increase. You don’t need to take risks. Relaxing doesn’t mean “do nothing.” It means don’t stress yourself. But don’t get sniped. It means playing in a way that is calculated and calm. You need to realize that you are ahead. You need to be correct about that (you don’t want to misinterpret the situation, and relax too much, when you’re not ahead). Once you decide you are ahead, put your ACU somewhere safe. Send it back to your base. Put it under a shield. Make some PD and some anti-air. You avoid many, many losses when you put your ACU somewhere safe. You can keep your units defensively to protect your stuff. As time goes on, as you make more units, you will accumulate so many units until you are ready to smash your opponent. When you are behind, it can be a mistake for your units to be so defensive.
Usually, it is better to send an engineer with your ACU. If you are using the ACU aggressively, you can build an engineer behind them. If you are building things, having an engineer with your ACU basically doubles the speed at which you can build. Technically, the engineer has only 50% of the build capacity of the ACU, but there is also travel time. The ACU can stand still building the big things while the engineer does more traveling such as moving between mexes. And you can have the engineer building in a safer area while the ACU confronts enemies.
Once you realize that you are so far behind you can’t win, it is smart to go for a snipe. If you go for a snipe, focus everything into it. Commit to it completely. For an air snipe, pause your land factories. You can even think about recycling a few of them if you need mass. If you recycle them, they show up on the radar as dead, which is the same as if they upgrade to T2 support factories. So if you reclaim a few, your opponent might think a big land push is incoming, and prepare for the land attack, when really you are preparing a corsair snipe.
If you don’t already have a T2 air headquarters, it is good to build a new air factory for a snipe so your opponent can’t see on the radar that you have upgraded an air factory. (You don’t want them to know that you even have T2 air.) Then keep building inties from your original air factory. You don’t build the inties to protect the corsairs. You build the inties to shoot down scout planes so your opponent doesn’t see that you are preparing a snipe. In fact, Zock assists both the T1 and T2 factories with his engineers. Meanwhile your land units should play defensively because you want to delay your opponent while you are setting up the snipe.
On large maps, it is easier to go for a snipe. Because the cost for a snipe always stays the same. You always need like 10 corsairs, whatever, as many corsairs as you can get. On maps with a small number of mexes, it can be hard to put that together. But on maps with a lot of mexes, it is much easier to get the mass you need to prepare a snipe. Use your factories to make engineers in order to support your snipe attempt.
If you are able to, stop making new tech 1 units. But keep using your tech 1 units to pressure him. You don’t want to be too defensive. You also don’t want to suicide your units. You don’t want your opponent to get suspicious that you are planning a snipe.
Killing the enemy ACU: if the enemy ACU is by itself, you can gather up about 30 tanks, and send them over to get the kill. However, when you go after an enemy commander, you want to make sure that the attack will succeed. If you attempt a big attack, but the enemy commander survives, even if he only has low hp, he can get all the reclaim from the battle. Suddenly you are down 30 units and your opponent has a lot of reclaim. That is one way for you to throw the game. If you want to win games, play it safe. If you want to learn how to be a better player, experiment with going after the enemy commander. See if it works. You will get a better sense of whether or not an attack can be successful.
ON PLAYING LARGE MAPS (20x20)
20x20 maps are “a whole new dimension” compared to 5x5 or 10x10 maps. You need more of everything. You need to learn how to handle having so much more mass available.
20x20 maps with so many mexes, there is so much to do, more than on other maps. You won’t have enough time to do everything that you need to do which is frustrating. While you are lower rated, focus on getting good at 5x5 and 10x10 maps. You should still try to do your best when you are on ladder and you get a 20x20 map, but in terms of developing your skills and refining your build orders, you should focus on 5x5 and 10x10 maps until you are a better player.
On most big maps, you wait until your expansion is complete to start ecoing. Until your expansion is complete, you use your eco to make more units. With more units you can delay your opponent’s expansion. In this case, it would be air units. Instead of getting a tech 2 mass extractor, you could be getting air control. You can try to find and kill your opponent’s transport. You can rush a transport yourself.
The biggest early air game advantage you can get is if you can find his transport and “target lock it” (A target lock is when you give an attack order to some interceptors, who keep the attack order even after you lose track of the transport on your radar). One interceptor is not really enough to kill a transport
When your opponent drops the same expansion as you, you need to fight for it. You need to focus on that fight, which means to put all of your mass into it. You need to make a number of factories to crank out units in order to defeat your opponent. Having a T2 mex upgrading, and having a naval factory cranking out units, is going to take up a significant part of your economy, slowing down your ability to fight your opponent. You want to build up a bunch of factories on your side so you can win on your side, and you also want to then get a transport onto your opponent’s side. (Or if you dropped your opponent’s side first, then after you do that, drop your own side.) If your opponent drops your side, you should return the favor by dropping their side. You can definitely use bombers to attack their expansion, that can be an effective weapon. And bombers give you radar coverage.
Zock’s student is ecoing too early. He is upgrading mexes while he is still trying to expand. The cost of upgrading the mexes is slowing down the student’s ability to expand, which is very bad. (Losing your expansions costs you more than you would benefit from getting T2 mexes.)
Factory placement: you don’t have to walk with your ACU halfway to your opponent’s drop to start building factories. You can build them on the other side of the island and let your units walk. It doesn’t really matter that much if your units have to walk farther because units move faster than your ACU anyway.
Balancing your power and your mass on 20x20 maps is harder than on 5x5 or 10x10 maps. There is so much mass, that the amount of power you have to build is so different from 5x5 or 10x10 maps. On smaller maps, you probably want to have only one factory cranking out engineers. On 20x20 maps, you may want 2 factories producing nothing but engineers.
It is okay to upgrade mexes to T2 on a big map as a panic way to spend mass because you would want to eventually upgrade them anyway. It is better to spend your mass on upgrades rather than not spending it at all. Once the expansion phase is basically complete (all of the free mass extractors are taken, even if you don’t have half of them) you should start ecoing.
On big maps, you should go Tech 2 quite early. There is so much mass that you want to a lot of power. It is better to get the more efficient T2 pgens than spamming so many T1 pgens.
To spend your mass for a 20x20 map, you want a lot of engineers, and you want them assisting your navy factory. Usually you don’t want to assist air factories. You could just make more air factories. But you don’t want to pause your air factories, on big maps you want to build up plenty of interceptors. Unlike on smaller maps, you want to have 100 interceptors, because in relation to everything else, it does not cost much to build so many.
On 20x20 maps, you need more everything, because you have more mass you can spend. You need more build power especially (in order to spend the mass), and don’t forget to eco.
Zock doesn’t really enjoy playing 20x20 maps because you have to do so much at the same time. You have to build things, balance your economy, raiding, rebuilding after raids, (and air, navy, drops, teching, scouting, etc.). There is so much to do that you don’t have time to play the game.
The early game on such high mass maps, especially where they are so spread out, is about using transports to speed up your expansion. You want to drop everywhere.
On such big maps, you don’t need to be so efficient with your resources, and you don’t need to be so flexible, because you build everything. It is more about speed (to produce as much as possible as quickly as possible).
Regarding Stella Maris, but this can apply to any map with islands: if your opponent drops your island, you need many factories making units so you can win the fight. But if your opponent does not drop you, you don’t want to overspend on making units. If your opponent does not drop you, having only one factory making tanks is good.
If you make a factory at your expansion, you can make engineers on a patrol order so they can reclaim trees and mass for you.
It can be worth dropping engineers on your opponent’s side of the map just to steal a large piece of reclaim.
On large maps, when most of the mexes have been taken, whatever mexes are still open, you should use transports to grab them.
The rule of thumb is, when your expansion phase is done, you start ecoing. You want to assist mexes while they upgrade. It is not as good to upgrade multiple mexes at the same time if you are stalling. But if you have too much mass, you need to spend it faster, so you can upgrade multiple mexes at once.
On the big maps, your initial focus is on air. As long as expansion is not done yet, air is very important. But once expansion is done, you should get T2 support factories in your expansions and make flak. On this island map (Stella Maris) have T2 support factories on each expansion, make a flak and a few T2 tanks. Tech 1 and Tech 2 air is good while the expansion phase is not over, and T2 air is strong where there is not flak. T1 air is strongest for attacking units where your opponent does not have T1 factories. T2 air is strongest for attacking units where your opponent does not have T2 factories. While the focus early is on air, your focus should shift to navy. On this map, you can do so much damage with navy. With naval control, you can do massive damage, but even without total naval control, you can still use a strong navy to do massive damage to your opponent’s economy. When the focus goes from air to navy, your new engineers should be assisting the navy factory.
In most 20x20 water maps, you want to focus on air early and not invest in navy too early. On most navy maps, the payoff time for naval units is so long. However, in Flooded Tabula Rasa, there are many water mexes so you can get more economic benefit from having an early navy if you use it to protect engineers building the water mexes. On all naval maps, you don’t want to be too late to the water, because you will be “pushed out” of the water. (It is much, much harder to get your first naval factories up if your opponent already has frigates nearby. You very much want to get your naval factories up before enemy navy units arrive.)
Naval composition: don’t make only subs. You want at least a few frigates. They give you radar. Depending on the maps, you can use them to pick off a few mexes. And if you get enough frigates you can go to your opponent’s naval yard and destroy it. You want frigates even during the Tech 2 phase for navy.
“You need a Tech 3 sonar.”
You should see navy mostly the same as you see land. The normal rules apply: fight with a superior force, retreat from a superior force, kite your opponent. Sonar is great. Tech 3 sonar is great.
Zock’s student is getting a lot of mass from mexes in the water, so Zock says it was not a mistake to get such an early navy. (Obviously, you can’t do this on a water map that does not have any mexes in the water.)
When to start navy: on Stella Maris, starting navy too early is a mistake because there aren’t water mexes. You don’t get much economic benefit from early navy. If you start too early, it takes away resources that you should be using for expansion. However, if you see your opponent start making navy, you also should start.
Rather than having factories idle, Zock will queue up a single engie and then pause his factory. That way, there is no icon appearing on the right side of his screen showing an idle factory. You ought to pay attention to the icons on the far right side of the screen for idle engineers and idle factories.
Use the upgrade key (“m”) so you can more quickly upgrade mexes without clicking as much. Zock changed this hotkey to “caps lock” so he could press it more easily.
There is a hotkey, “select nearest idle mass extractor, lowest tech” – it picks the mex closest to mouse cursor. This might be the mex that you want to upgrade next. So if you click that hotkey, and then click the upgrade button, you can very quickly start a mex upgrading with less time spent clicking.
ON MAKING A PLAN
“In the first minutes, while your factory is building, or maybe even in lobby already, try to make at least a very rough game plan, so you are not completely lost, and you don’t play out of complete instinct, because that will lead to many mistakes like this . . . . Try to think of a very rough plan what to do . . . Because once you start playing, once you start moving around and something, you don’t really have time to think any more, so you just act out of basic instinct and basic gut feeling what to do. I would say it is much more ordered if you have a basic idea. So you make like a few focus points what you want to do. So one focus point, I want to get this transport, and I want to get this second engie factory, and then I want to just want to expand and protect those units. But that will be my game plan. Just get early factories, expand here with engies, protect that with units and spam, relatively much tech 1, because it’s a very open map try to raid a bit, and then get my transport relatively early to go here. So it doesn’t need to be a very complicated, the plan doesn’t need to cover too much. But something, so you are not lost.”
“It doesn’t really matter how good the plan is. It is really important to have something to hold on to and something. You can always change the plan as well. I think it is really useful to at least have one. So you don’t end up in the situations that you, think about, you have lots of things to do, you need to protect raids, you have idle engies, idle factories, and so on, and on top of that you have the feeling in your mind like ‘holy shit, what should I do, I have no idea.’ . . . Even if your plan is not the best thing you can do, it is better than being completely lost because that will just stress you and lead to doing a lot of mistakes everywhere. And it is still better to have something to fall back to, in case you don’t really know what you want to do.”
Don’t focus 100% of your attention on just one battle. Zoom out and give orders to other groups of units even while a very important battle is happening. Even if the battle is very important, you can zoom out, give orders to other units, and then bring your view back to the battle.
Losing takes away your attention. Losing makes you busy because you are losing things everywhere. Winning is much less stressful than losing.
You should keep an eye out for unbuilt mass extractors while you are zoomed out. An unbuilt mex glows, in order to draw your attention to it. That is a design decision that was made in order to help players to save APM. The reason to look for these is so that when they get raided, you are reminded to rebuild them. But also, if you just forgot to build it in the first place, you should take the opportunity to notice it and build it. You should be in the habit of looking for that while you are zoomed out. You should have an automatic habit to look for open mexes and rebuild them immediately when they get raided.
If you get into the habit of “every time I get to Tech 2, I make two T2 pgens” that is bad. On the other hand, if you try to only build as many as you need, and overestimate your power needs, and you end up building two T2 pgens and it wasn’t really necessary, that is less bad. In the first case, you are committed to playing the game in a thoughtless, sloppy way and you will not improve over time. In the second case, you are trying to improve and over time you will get better at deciding how many pgens you actually need. Being good at SupCom is not just about making the right decisions, it is about having a process to constantly improve. From the outside it looks the same (both people built two T2 pgens) but it’s actually very different.
Staying on Tech 1 is really good to learn the game. You can learn so many basics while spamming tech 1. When to move up in tech level is a difficult decision and it can lose you games. But if you stay at Tech 1 for a long time, you can learn the basics of the game: eco balance and unit management, the basic things you need to play the game.
In this lesson, we focused most on 20x20 maps. But that’s not what I would normally prioritize in teaching a player. Try your best on 20x20 maps, but to learn the game your focus should be on improving how you play 5x5 and 10x10 maps.
When Zock is teaching people, he teaches strategies that work against the best players. He doesn’t want to teach things that only work against low-level players who make basic mistakes. He could teach people who to exploit those mistakes, but in the long term, they won’t learn how to fight against better opponents.
It’s not bad to copy what you see in other replays. But don’t just copy it blindly. When you watch replays, if you see a strategy, think about whether it seems good or not. (Author’s note: I do see lower-rated players “copying” behavior without understanding it. For example, putting mass storages around T1 mexes. Or putting T1 pgens around all of their T1 mexes. If you don’t understand the reason behind the strategy/tactic that you are copying, you can end up with a “cargo cult” mentality.)
Create good habits. For example, when you first get T2 power, make a T2 radar.
If you understand the theory about how to use units (where to send them, when to retreat) then as you play, you will get better and better at unit movement. As you get better at the game and develop good habits, you will spend less time managing things like economy, you will have more time to spend on unit movement. (I think Zock’s point is that you don’t need to practice unit movement to become a better player. You need to practice everything else, but this part will just come naturally.)
SPECIFIC MAP ADVICE
Regarding Twin Rivers: this is an eco-heavy map, since it is so easy to defend the expansions, because the mexes are close together. You can’t really get an advantage by having map control because the expansions are so easy to defend. Once you feel safe, you should either start ecoing, or go all-in.
Zock talks about where you should send your transport for rapid expansion on the map Tabula Rasa. You don’t need to drop close enough to your base that your engineer can just walk there in a short time. You want to drop the expansions that are far from your base. If your opponent drops engineers on your side, the important thing is to win the fight so that you end up securing your side. You will be delayed in getting all the mexes because you have to fight your opponent, but if you win the fight, you will get extra reclaim to make up for it.
It is a mistake to wait too long to make a transport on Flooded Tabula Rasa. The student made too many interceptors before making the transport. You don’t want your first transport to be too late. You want to build the power generators for it and assist it as soon as possible. Even if you don’t build factories on your opponent’s side to fight for it, if you just drop some engies and build 6 mexes, you might get to hold them for 2 minutes because it takes time for your opponent to get there. That’s still worth something.
On a naval map, making radars and sonars: in Roanoke Abyss, sonar is much less necessary because subs are not much of a factor. You use frigates to raid the islands and sonars would die really easily because it is such an open map. On Flooded Tabula Rasa, sonars are much more important. It is important to keep them alive, though. If they are going to die, then they’re not going to provide value to you so don’t make them.
Regor VI Highlands: on that particular map, it is a big advantage to control the middle, because you can threaten to attack two places, the main base as well as the expansions on the other side of the pond (the 3-mex and 4-mex expansions clockwise from the enemy’s main base). The enemy has to try to defend both. You can build up tanks in one place and they need to have defenses in two places.
On Niflheim: if you can hold the two corners (bottom left and top right) you will basically win the game, because that (plus your base) represents about 80% of the map control (in terms of the number of mexes).
Thanks for taking the time to write this up. Even a top player could learn some things from this. Personally, even though I had internalized a lot of these concepts, hearing it summarized in this fashion is very useful and helped me identify some areas where my decision making is not as strong.