Monday, March 22, 2010

Hydralisks: You Can Has Them

PVD held its second ever beta key contest over the weekend. (I once gave away a Wrath beta key by deliberately burying the contest details halfway down a lengthy post - my intent now, as then, was to reward my regular readers rather than get tons of one-time traffic from a contest that gets picked up and linked around the net.)

The contest was to determine how many hydralisks are in this picture. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results.

The answer

The answer was that there were 90 hydralisks (see the picture of the soldier with the number 90 in the bottom left of the screenshot), 10 of whom were burrowed into the ground (the second group of 10 next to the 90). Yes, it's possible to make groups of 90+ units - the health panel only shows 24 per tab, but, as you can see, I currently have four tab pages worth of them in the 90-unit group.

There was technically a bit of an advantage for people who know their Starcraft - Hydralisks require two food points, and the food cap is 200, so there could not be any more than 100 Hydralisks in the image - slightly fewer in fact because I still had some drones and a few zerglings in my actual base. Fortunately, I got a range of guesses pretty quickly, and that avoided a potential situation where the first comment got it on the nose and everyone else just took their count and rolled the dice on getting the tie-breaker right.

Contest Design Post-Mortem
The tie-breaker happened because I was concerned that a simple counting problem might be too easy, but I didn't want the contest to come down purely to who happened to see the post first. From a design standpoint, I suppose "first correct answer" is somewhat random, slightly weighted towards more frequent readers, but I'm not a huge fan of a contest that you can only win by being online all the time.

So, I added a tiebreaker question that the viewer can't really know the answer to - how many of the units died in assaulting the hapless NPC base after I was done with the screenshot. The answer to that question was one lone hydralisk who decided to run ahead into the main enemy base while the rest of the pack demolished the enemy's expansion base. This is less a commentary on the power of the hydralisk (I did fully upgrade their attacks while I was setting up the screenshot) and more a commentary on how the PC had maybe a dozen ground troops total.

I had thought that burrowing some of the hydralisks would be a clever way of making it a bit harder than just sitting down with a marker and counting hydralisks. It actually turns out that it's really difficult to even tell which hydralisks are underground from a static screenshot of Zerg on creep - the player who actually owns the unit can see the top of its head, and the creep, the handful of drones, and the sheer size of the group makes it hard to see which hydras don't have torsos. When I was setting up the screenshot, I manually walked each burrow-ee over to the base first first and then directed the rest of the mob to move to the hatchery. If I'd done a video, the effect would be much more dramatic, as the horde kind of flows AROUND the spots in the ground where the buried hydralisks are.

There was also a minor point that I should have done differently, namely that I stated the deadline as "midnight". Pangoria correctly pointed out that the time can be read as 12:00 on the switch from Saturday to Sunday, when I had meant 11:59 PM on Sunday night. Things I'll keep in mind if I ever have more keys to give away for something.

The winnter
Otherwise, I'm pretty happy with the contest. I didn't want to do something that would take me a ton of time to set up, would require me to sit on the prize for a long period of time, or put me in the position of having to make a subjective judgment call on who won. Maybe there were ways to improve the design, but it all went pretty well for something I threw together on short notice.

Congrats to LOGAN, who guessed 87, off by only three. The tie-breaker didn't end up mattering since the next closest guess was Pangoria at 94, but Logan somehow nailed the tiebreaker exactly on the nose, and was one of the very first entries to boot. Logan, your prize is in the mail to the gmail on your blogger account.

Thanks to everyone for participating!


  1. Thanks a ton!

    i just scared the crap out of my poor gf when i jumped out of my chair in excitement lol.

    great contest, and a great blog... if i wasn't already a loyal reader i'd definitely be one now... keep up the good work :)

  2. Woo! Second Best and a mention! (also was listening to the BNL song by the same name [second best]).

    Grats Logan!


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