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September 18, 2011 / jwaxo

Worms 2 (Zerg Rushing)

Who even came up with the idea of worms fighting each other?

This was one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from computer games.

It was the summer after fifth grade when my mom learned of a computer camp taking place at the local university. As the article in the paper said, it would be a full week of learning about computer programs, graphics editing, and playing of games. Some kids would even be coming from out of town and staying in hotels just to go to it. It sounded right up my alley, especially the playing games bit, so, with a blessing from my parents and an extremely awesome donation from my grandparents, I was signed up.

I had never been to a summer camp before, even one that was just a day camp. The idea of spending almost all of my time for a full week with a bunch of strange kids and young adults, returning home just to eat and sleep, kind of frightened me, the weak-willed young-un that I was. It was the same schedule that school had, true, with slightly longer hours, but it would also be at the unfamiliar college, teeming with what seemed at the time “adults” and other kids there for the computer camp, ranging from 7 to 16.

Walking into the main room, though, seeing the rows and rows of top-of-the-line Gateway computers, though, the group of kids installing games and laughing and fiddling with CD cases, I realized that it was going to be awesome.

And, to my just-out-elementary-school mind, it was.

It was in this room that I first learned how to use the earlier versions of Macromedia Flash and Adobe Photoshop. We did some coding in BASIC, which I was already somewhat familiar with, some very light Visual C++, and, my favorite, the basics of HTML, which I promptly used to create the worst Pokémon fansite ever.

I… I don’t like to talk about it.

All of this was pure fluff in between playing the games.

Of course.

In the stack of games we had to share discs between, I recognized a few titles: Warcraft II, Quake, a few single-player games. Of the huge stack, though, there were two games that everyone there obsessed over: Worms 2 (the title of this post!) and StarCraft.

As you might remember, my friend Joel gave a very good treatise to the subject in a guest blog. A revolutionary realtime strategy game that showed what truly having three different species fight in a war would be like. With perfect balance between them, it is a game that was used in the most ridiculous competitions for over a decade. There are jokes that Starcraft is South Korea’s national sport, but they aren’t far off: one major-league player earns over US$200,000 a year. That is a lot of money just for playing a video game really well.

I had played Warcraft II rather extensively at this point, never in multiplayer, but I figured I would try my hand at Starcraft. I signed up for the tournament and completely neglected to practice at all.

After picking to play as the most human-looking race, I was plunked down with a few worker units and a base. “So these are like the peons in Warcraft, right?” I asked, and started to gently explore the game with some prodding from a friend.

One minute later I was hit with my first attack. That same friend’s insanely small and fast units were attacking me. I was wiped out in seconds.

Also representative of all of my life of RTS experience.

It was, as they called it, a Zerg rush. Named after the race of creatures my “friend” was playing as, the goal was simple: pump out your weakest offensive units as quickly as possible and take everyone out while they weren’t expecting it. It worked best against newer players who don’t have any idea you can even do that, but I’ve seen seasoned veterans get taken out just because they weren’t able to build up a tiny, weak force as fast.

And the worst part about the Zerg rush is that, once you understand the basics of it, you start seeing it everywhere.

I found particular success with Worms 2, my actual favorite game of that week of technology. In Worms you control an army of cartoony, soft-bodied invertebrates with a wide array of silly weapons ranging from bazookas to explosive bananas.  I became known for being able to navigate through the dirt with amazing speed and agility, using the weak starting weapons to quickly take out opposing teams before they could find good defenses or better weapons. The best part about doing this in Worms was that people this worked on didn’t get upset like they did in Starcraft. Blame it on the goofy cartoonish violence, or maybe the requirement of skill instead of just speed to pull it off: if you zerg rushed in Worms, people respected you.

So how is this one of the most important lessons? The Zerg rush is a self-manufactured head start, where you take advantage of your speed and knowledge to outsmart your enemies before they have a chance to build up a defense. And, considering that coding websites and using HTML is pretty much what I do for a living, maybe I got my own Zerg rush that week.

Stupid Joel, talking about Starcraft, forcing me to resort to Worms 2 for my focus game…

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