Today has been a day off (end of week) so I’ve spent it alternating between reading and playing StarCraft II, primarily experimenting with grid hotkeys. Mechanics is really interesting to me as an Emacs user who finds keystroke efficiency an interesting topic, but most are entirely irrelevant to me as a wood league player. One thing though is hotkeys, where it makes sense to customise things now while I’m still learning before I find it impossible to change later on. So I thought I’d try out the major alternative to the standard hotkeys, the grid hotkey setup. This means that your command card of buttons that cause a building or unit to do things is mapped spatially to the keyboard: the card is a 5×3 grid, and so the 5×3 grid of buttons qwert,asdfg,zxcvb on the keyboard are mapped to the three rows—for example the second button on the top row is mapped to w. The standard setup uses mainly first letters, so z builds a Zealot, but there are exceptions where there are collisions or the first letters are too far to the right on the keyboard; an observer is built with a b.

This approach attracted me because it keeps hotkeys tightly on the left of the keyboard. I rebound the control groups 6–9 down the side of the grid, along the keys y, h and n, to create a square I thought I could easily touch-type my way through. The other motivation for trying this out is that it is race-neutral which appeals to me because I don’t want to be tied to one race forever just because it is a way to win lots; I’d like to eventually play random.

Turns out grid hotkeys don’t work for me. I think this is because I learnt the standard hotkeys (those that I know…) in terms of letters and words not spatially; I don’t think about the command card at all and have to search it for an icon when I need to click one—I know the hotkeys better than the card. When I want a probe, pylon or sentry, I think ‘e is for utility/support’ and build it like that. So grid is nice but not appropriate for the way my brain processes this sort of thing.

What I have learnt from this experiment is some useful moving around of hotkeys. I’ve been convinced at last that using the warp gate hotkey is a good idea; gates are automatically ‘added’ to it, you can’t accidentally switch the camera to over your gates (pointless), and it doesn’t use up one of the precious in-easy-finger-reach hotkeys available. Fine, but the problem I have with the default, w, is that it’s not easy to include it in a sequence of taps from four or five through your production structures, so I’ve moved warp in to the spacebar: this way it can be included as my thumb can hit it at the end of a tap. Also it’s easy to reach if all is going to pot and I need to warp in really quickly.

I intend to move things like observers and immortals around, away from the far right of the keyboard, too. There should be enough spare letters.

I’m also trying to habitutate starting buildings hotkeys from five up rather than from four because that gives you a few extra precious low number hotkeys for splitting your army.

Finally I’ve come across the excellent base cycle hotkey, which cycles your camera between bases without selecting anything. This is great for shift-queuing probes back to the mineral line, and also much better than minimap clicking when, say, moving to your expansion to do a warp in. I’ve bound this to Shift-Spacebar. This is because so often I’ll be using it to queue back probes, so I can just hold shift, then space-click and it’s done.

While I was researching this stuff (reddit), and pasting links to a chat window with Ben who got me into SC2, Ben gave me the impression that he thinks I’m wasting my time with this and should get better at winning games at my level, i.e. making stuff and being aggressive with it, because that’s fun. Let me be clear—trying to actually practice these mechanics is really boring and mildly stressful; I don’t enjoy having to try so hard. But I really enjoy thinking these things through and considering alternatives and reading what other people have to say; this, I think, is a sign of me being in for the long haul with this and being quite willing to take my time to walk before I can run, so that I can start winning well at some point in the future once my macro and mechanics are at a decent stage.

I find this attitude mirrored in watching Day[9]’s Newbie Tuesday series, where he tries to help people below the Diamond League. His attitude is entirely unforgiving about this basic stuff. He always talks about how easy it is to start winning instead, but of course that is only a temporary kind of winning, not actually playing well. I want to play well, so this stuff is sorted so I can do some strategy and micro and be epic! I seem to be sufficiently interested in this game that that’s okay. I tend to agree with him and find it fun to hammer out these things, so that’s what I’ve do.