The Art of Zerg?

Wotcha everyone,

Is anyone actually sure of the origin of the term: “Zerg”?

The first time I saw it was in the Real Time Strategy game “Starcraft”, where the Zerg were a race of weird squacky aliens who relied on swarming, and overwhelming odds.  Weak troops, but lots of them.  Is that the origin of the word, or did the term exist before?  The first time I encountered the term in Online Gaming was in Planetside, which is when I also first encountered the term in a derogatory sense.

Since then, it has become the de rigeur term of choice for any fight where one side outnumbers the other.  It’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s an excuse;  “We would have won, but they zerged us”.  It is rapidly becoming all things to all players.

And, as a game that openly demands mass PvP combat (just as Planetside did) there are currently plenty of opportunities for the term “zerg” to be bandied about.  With the implication that the zerg requires no thought, no planning, no tactics.  That it’s unfair, that it’s a cheat, that it is the first and last resort of the “bad” player.

However…  I may be misremembering, but I’m pretty sure Sun Tzu mentions at some point in “The Art of War” that if you have to attack, attack with the odds in your favour.  He recommends ten to one as a baseline.  Hmm.  Sun Tzerg, anyone?  The First World War was rife with swarm attacks; On the 1st of July, 1916, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, there were 57,470 casualties, with 19,240 of those being deaths.  Over a 12 mile front.  That’s just the casualties, never mind the total number of brave, poor souls who were a part of the battle.  Did King Leonidas see the Persian army arrayed for battle before him, and exclaim “WTF ZERG?”

I gave up all desire for a “fair” fight a long time ago.  Ideally, I’d prefer a fight where the odds are in my favour.  Because the odds will always be stacked in one direction, and cannot be balanced; If both sides are balanced in numbers, then one side will have more higher level characters.  If both sides are balanced for level, then one side will have better equipment.  If both have equal equipment, then one side will have more skilled players…  It’s clunky as examples go, but I’m pretty sure it works.

Let me get back to the Zerg, before I lose focus and start ranting on about balance.  Again.

Does it really show a lack of skill?  Well, the other night I was part of a Tier 3 Keep Run.  A certain Spinks who shall remain nameless organised a group of players from our guild, and our alliance, into a full warband and a bit.  We then trolled around, following her instructions, and did a lot of damage for the cause.  We gathered a number of other players as we went along (open warbands having a gravitational pull), and we still followed instructions.

Now, was that a zerg?  According to the “overwhelming odds in our favour” clause, yes it was.  But we were gathered together and organised.  We weren’t a mob looking for Destruction sized packets of Renown.  We were assigned roles within the warband, and as part of our keep attacks.  Roles which we adhered to.  Some weren’t as sexy as others, but they were done diligently.

Anyone looking from the outside probably looked at us, thought; “Zerg” in a negative fashion, and went off to do scenarios.

Well, I think it’s time to start the campaign to take the term “Zerg” back.  Once, they were a proud race, for which the terms “Squamous” and “Rugose” could have been created.  They extolled the virtues of unity and brotherhood, of equality, and thrift.

They were a force to be reckoned with.

I am sick of it being used as a negative term.  There are enough negative terms, as well as negativity, in Online Gaming.  PvP (and RvR) seems to have a never-ending supply of it.  So let one go.  Let “Zerg” go.  Just see it as a massed attack, acknowledge the amount of cat-herding the leader probably had to do to get all those players in one place, and respect it by either getting out of its way, or assembling your own.

Just because a Zerg has a lot of members, don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re not using strategy and tactics.  The massed attack against smaller forces is just as valid a strategy as any other.

Someone sign me up for a “Zerg Member” t-shirt.


Learning to zerg

Quick! Go for the healers!

Quick! Go for the healers!

A Game Best Played With People

Me and Arbitrary (last night)

Me and Arbitrary (last night)

The best and most standout parts of WAR are undoubtedly the Public Quests and the whole RvR setup. This is not to knock the questing or tome, but the activities I was enjoying the most by a long long way in game involved hanging out with other people. I found during beta that I didn’t much log on in the mornings and preferred to be around prime time, purely because the game was less interesting to me during the days. What pleases me is not necessarily what pleases others, but I do feel that the game needs other people. It’s both a good and a bad point. On the one hand, it’s an MMO, and playing with other people is THE major selling point. It’s incredible to finally find a game which plays so much to that particular strength of the genre. On the other, it won’t be so much fun if you play far outside prime time or in a very low populated realm/side. Scenarios will certainly help out here, by offering the option of numerically balanced(ish) RvR in capsule form. Plus they are fun.

I like single player games, and I think it’s handy for there to be activities in MMOs that don’t require lots of people. But there are some great single player games out there and I don’t need to get that particular fix from an MMO. I think that this aspect in particular of WAR will shape how people play it. The fact that it’s significantly more fun with other people and less fun solo will encourage people to moderate their hours. I don’t think that an MMO needs to be all things to all people, and I’m happy with the design decision to focus on the core strengths. That’s something I am taking away from Open Beta, with its increased number of players and servers.

What we did last night

Something here doesnt quite fit

Something here doesn't quite fit

No, I mean the printable stuff ;P Most people by now are getting their open beta access sorted out here (not all, though) and we had a lot of guildies online. So we decided to do ‘something’ together, and formed up a warband.

Then it was out into the unsuspecting world for some world RvR and objective taking. I don’t personally belong to the set of people who believe that zerging is evil. It can be quite fun in moderation, and it’s a nice gentle introduction to RvR for people who haven’t done much before. As long as they stay with the zerg (and the zerg waits for them if they get lost) then they can get a sense of what it’s all about.

As it happens, we had some good fights in Nordland, some of which we were outmanned and flanked from all sides. We took the ship objective (which is probably the most fun because of it being a ship — PvP areas are like playgrounds and the terrain and ships etc are like toys and climbing frames, at least that’s my theory) and the Festenplatz. Chaos did finally outzerg us so we decided to move on to High Elf lands.

In the Plains of Bone (earliest Elf world RvR area), we did outnumber the pitiful forces of Destruction. So naturally we chased them all over the map and took all the objectives. This is WAAAGH! They’ll probably do the same to us tomorrow.

Apart from being surprisingly good fun just to be running around and joking with guildies in game (at last), I was struck by how much the RvR newbies enjoyed themselves. And it wasn’t just a random group outing, there was a decent amount of renown and xp involved from taking those objectives and doing the associated quests, so everyone also benefited. To me, that’s good game design. Make it beneficial to do things that are fun. And vice versa.

Spot the Girls?

Spot the Girl?

And one last screenshot. This is our zerglet, having just taken one of the elven objectives (Altar of Khaine, I think). You see the dashing archmage in the background? I took this shot because someone had just commented that male and female high elves looked similar, and noted that pretty female archmage as an example. We pointed out that was actually a bloke 🙂