It’s Monday! I was struggling last night to think about a good topic for Mechanic Monday. After a bit of deliberation, I decided on one of my favorite mechanics: the Zerg’s Spawn Larvae ability from Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty.
Okay, so anyone remotely familiar with real-time strategy games knows the paradigm of unit construction: the player constructs buildings that allow the construction of units. The player then clicks on a unit portrait to pay the required resource costs for a particular unit. The unit begins training in the building and will appear on the battlefield after the training time has been completed.
But Starcraft introduced the Zerg, which have a different means of constructing units. The Zerg have Hatcheries, which slowly produce larvae, about 1 every 15 seconds. Each Hatchery can “store” up to 3 larvae at a time, and once on the field a larva can be ordered to morph into a unit at any time. Each larva can morph into any Zerg unit that the player has the requisite technology structures for. Because of this, the Zerg in Starcraft felt different from any other faction in any RTS because 1.) It was possible to do spawn 3 units at once per Hatchery, making it possible for a Zerg player to rebuild forces quickly, and 2.) The Zerg player could switch tactics quickly on account of having to build only a single new structure.
Then came Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, and it introduced the Spawn Larvae mechanic. It’s one of the Zerg queen’s abilities. Here’s the tooltip:
Spawn Larvae [25 Energy]
Target Hatchery, Lair, or Hive spawns 4 Larvae in 40 seconds. If Hatchery, Lair, or Hive has more than 3 Larvae at one time, regular Larva production will stop until there are fewer than 3 Larvae.
So what this means is that the larvae not only slowly spawn from a Hatchery, but occasionally the player gets 4 larvae at once. Wow! Because of this, it’s not uncommon to spawn large amounts of units at the same time, particularly when the player is using Spawn Larvae on multiple Hatcheries. It also gives queens a reason to hang around the player’s Hatcheries, as if she knew that she was supposed to be defending the hive.
But because there is no “town hall” for Zerg, the player must carefully balance their army and economy. Focusing on drones will allow the Zerg player to get ahead of other races in terms of total resources, but because the larvae for drones are coming from the same larvae that produce fighting units, the player will be vulnerable to attack. The general rule that professional Zerg players use is to get as many drones as possible without dying; if you can hold off their army with your army and what you can produce with larvae, make drones. It’s a razor’s edge and a lot of fun to try to balance on.
Heck, I’ve even used spawn larvae in 4 vs. 4 games to only produce drones and expand over the entire map, feeding all of my resources to my allies. It’s a very different style of play, but it works surprisingly well, provided I don’t die in the first few minutes of the game. But that’s a post for another day.
The best part about Spawn Larvae is that it makes the Zerg feel even more unique as a race; it emphasizes their insect-ness and hive culture. While other races have options to quickly produce units, with the Zerg, the larvae make it so that the units often spawn at the same time, which is useful from a strategic perspective as it makes grouping the units together easier. Zerg’s production feels like a natural cycle: the player collects resources for a bit, and then suddenly spends them all in a ravenous fit of spending.
If it isn’t obvious, I love the Zerg and their macro mechanic fits the race perfectly. There’s nothing like having all of your Hatcheries’ larvae pop off, selecting everything, and pounding the Zerging hotkey (Z, of course) over and over.
Yeah, my Z key is definitely going to be the first one to go.