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Starcraft II: A Reddit Q&Afternoon with David Kim

by - 5 years ago

Today Starcraft II fans were treated to a surprise as David Kim (Lead Balance Designer) graced Reddit for a session of old fashioned question and answer. In what is becoming a semi-regular Reddit event, users were given a three hour head start to post their question and upvote those they wanted the answers to. This time Kim answered twelve total questions.

Question 1

Are any “large scale” or “mechanic” redesigns being considering for Legacy of the Void? For example considering changing mechanics around high ground advantage, the soft 3 base income cap, warpgate, etc?

We’re currently working on all parts of the next expansion, but everything is a work in progress. If something is problematic, we would discuss it and try possible changes. But one of our core philosophies on SC2 design is if the change isn’t completely amazing, we prefer not to do it.

So in this specific case, things like high ground advantage working the way it does currently vs. how it worked in BW vs. other advantages we can think of that are different, it’s really hard to clearly say that one mechanic is better in all the cases. Overall, we are trying various changes in various areas, but it’s really difficult to say for certain what will go through at the end of the day.

When you guys have good suggestions on specific problematic areas as well as possible solutions, we definitely discuss and/or try those things internally as we work on the next game to be able to know exactly why or why not we’re deciding on a certain area. Eg. We’ve tried and still retry things like different suggestions for the Swarm Host, more harsh counters to Force Fields, or old units like Lurkers, and so on.

Question 2

As the mapmaker of Frost, I want to ask: Do you have plans to allow Half-Bases and other map features in the ladder? Eg. 6m 1hyg expansions? I know Blizzard’s stance is that “newer” players will not understand it, but I personally don’t think that is the case. DotA for example really has a high learning curve with many things to learn but it doesn’t stop people from learning it.

Here is the list of map-features if allowed, I think will improve gameplay:
Half-Bases or alternate mineral/gas numbers
Mineral Blocks which acts differently from destructible rocks
Burrowed Ultralisks or something to prevent forcefields/spells (maybe in LotV) that would allow really cool map design
No-fly zones to be used in 3p maps.
No creep/No build zones.
I think maps can really make games fun and I can elaborate some of these points if needed.

Not just maps, but in general we believe the smallest changes possible that have the biggest impacts are the better designs in SC2. And often times, new map mechanics are the opposite of this.

An awesome example of what we’re trying to go for when we say we want map diversity is Habitation Station. This map only uses existing map mechanics (including the high yield base that many map makers, pros, even many of us internally at blizzard brushed off as it can’t work for esports), but the map itself plays completely differently compared to other maps in terms of build orders, timings, and strategies used. It feels so fresh watching games on this map, and it’s easy to locate specific strategies used on this map that you almost never see on other maps. So by slightly changing where and how to use an existing mechanic in a creative way, the map maker was able to create a completely unique map that’s different from what we’ve been seeing for years.

Compare that to a map that uses a brand new map mechanic. Take Heavy Rain for example. The center of the original map had destructible rocks that are rebuilt every X minutes. We’ve replaced that new mechanic with simple destructible rocks because the difference is very minor. If you think back on the games where the rocks are broken (not the towers near the 3rd, but the rocks in the middle that open up the side paths), those don’t even come into play until the later stages of the game. So this would be an example of a big change (introducing a completely new mechanic only on this map) that only gets very small gains (minor differences only in the late game).

FYI, we’re also grateful for awesome maps like Frost. Of the maps introduced that season, Frost turned out to be really amazing. Frost is one of 3 maps that’s been in the map pool the longest, and there’s a high chance that it’ll be the only remaining map of those 3 next season due to how good the map is. As for changes, we prefer not to unless the map is problematic (Daedalus is fixed) because we wouldn’t want to disrupt tournament games in any way even if it’s just aesthetic.

Question 3

First off, thank you for doing the AMA! This is very much appreciated.

Every time there is a balance update to StarCraft, the changes are very minor. I understand this is in favour of not breaking the balance of the game. However, lately we have seen that the closest competitors to StarCraft (LoL and DotA) do patch core aspects of the game when it seems to be broken or not as much fun as it could be.

How do you stand about making bigger balance changes to the game instead of very tiny ones (for example changing the way Forcefields work)?

We prefer not to make big changes due to careers being on the line in a game like Starcraft 2. We also mentioned we would prefer not to make design changes in patches because we don’t think it’s good for the game to change too much and confuse returning players or players who just don’t keep up with every single change we make to the game.

However, it doesn’t mean we aren’t exploring various design changes. If we absolutely had to, we would still make these types of changes, so we’d like to still be ready even if we actually don’t make a change right now. One example here in the past when we made a design change was when we added the Phoenix range upgrade back in Wings, when Mutalisk switches were too strong in ZvP. And right now, we are playing around with various design changes to the Swarm Host due to what we’ve been seeing and hearing, even though we don’t have immediate plans to change how the unit works.

Question 4

Has the Nydus Worm been a topic of conversation for you and the other designers? Are any changes being considered? Is your team happy with it’s use (or lack of use) in Heart of the Swarm?
I’ve been curious about this ever since a new nydus worm was shown very early on in HotS but never made it into the game- a worm that spewed creep (and could even attack?)

Units that aren’t being used that much, but don’t break anything aren’t as high of a priority for patches. However, they are high priority for the next game. This list includes not just the Nydus Worm, but also units such as BCs, Carriers, Corruptors, etc.

Like we mentioned in another post, one of the most core philosophies for our SC2 design team is that if the change isn’t completely awesome, we don’t change it. Reason being we don’t want to take away from players who are actually using the current versions of the units in a fun way of their own. And we’re in such early stages that it’s really difficult to say that we have a good solution for any of these things, but we are trying our best not only to work on supporting HotS, but also thinking farther down the line.

Question 5

As you should be able to tell from the top comments in this thread, the community is very interested in having a discussion about the possibility of major re-design of certain elements of the game (protoss, forcefields, deathballs, income, etc) for the Legacy of The Void expansion. Could you please touch on the possibility of this?

We’ve answered a similar question above, but would just like to reiterate that we do hear your concerns, and we are discussing and/or trying various changes. However, the most important thing to remember is that core mechanics are difficult to mess with in an expansion because we’re talking about completely changing major parts of the game. There are people out there that want such major changes (which is sort of what the mod community is for), but there are also people out there who like the current core systems the way they are.

Also, the danger of doing something like this is that it’s not as easy as just changing something. We know the ins and outs of how this game works through years of experience. It would be very difficult to simply change a core part of the game to something completely different, and still have it as polished as what we have now.

Question 6

What do you feel is the biggest issue with 2 hour long SH games in ZvZ ZvP and ZvT(Mech), and would you consider a complete rework of the unit or would you prefer sticking to tweaking other units/abilities to make it less… Boring(?) to watch.

We believe ZvP is the biggest concern of the three matchups. The issue here is a combination of Swarm Hosts, base defenses, Vipers, and Corruptors. We’ve tested the Tempest changes and discussed with some knowledgeable casters/players around the world. We came to the conclusion that while this change is solid to solve this ZvP issue, it hasn’t really been happening in tournament games recently, so it’s better to wait before making any further changes.

For ZvT, we believe this sort of stalemate happens not because of Swarm Hosts, but mostly because of the strength of Mass Ravens in the late game. We haven’t been seeing as many of these games compared to the late game PvZ games. When we evaluate these games, it looks to us like Terran players are sometimes delaying moving out because reaching a critical mass of Ravens could win the game, if they can reach that point at a decently even economy.

There have been so few pro level 1-2 hour Swarm Host games that it’s difficult to make a clear call in this area. For example, we’re always analyzing games, and recently, the only pro game that came close to this was the HerO vs. Rogue game which lasted 37 min. With that said, we are aware on the EU ladder that this type of strategy is more common and we’re still discussing it frequently with EU players and casters to see if we need to start testing other changes on the next balance test map.

Question 7

Hello Mr.Kim. Do you consider to implement daily automatic battle.net tournament like in wc3?

Yes. As we mentioned previously, this is a high priority for us and something that we’re exploring around the next expansion.

Question 8

Can you takes us through how you designed a unit, the step by step process? (with as much or as little detail as you’d like to give)

I personally don’t know a lot about game design and figure you would be one of the best people in the world to ask about it.

We have a multiplayer design team that work on unit designs. Each person on this team brings ideas to our meetings. The ideas range from something so crazy that you might think it can’t ever work in SC2 to easier-to-try-right-away ideas. Within the actual meetings, we try to prove or disprove why the idea can or can’t work, and we talk about ways to improve the idea to make it fit for SC2, or we brainstorm new ideas that branch off of these ideas. Most of the ideas don’t go anywhere, but if a unit concept is viable enough to try in game, we implement it into a test environment and try it out in our regular playtests. We then repeat this process until we find something we like.

This is why when someone asks who designed unit X, we can’t really give an answer because it’s always a team effort.

Question 9

Has the recent popularity of Starbow and its Brood-War-like gameplay influenced your approach to LotV in any way?

Most people agree that large-scale fights that end in a matter of seconds aren’t fun, or good for the competitive scene (not for the progamers, and certainly not for the audience). They don’t reward skill, since there’s usually not enough time to execute any micro maneuvers beyond the most basic splits and casting a few aoe spells.

We definitely look at popular mods for ideas for SC2. Not only mods, but it’s just very common for our designers to just explore games they are playing currently. One interesting story I’d like to share is back when the last Hearthstone alpha started internally, so many of us were playing the game so much that our multiplayer meetings were full of TCG-like ability ideas which took us to interesting areas creatively. Of course we can’t do things like “when this unit enters play, something disruptive happens to the enemy,” but often times crazy ideas lead to reasonable ideas that can actually work in a completely different type of game.

Question 10

Putting balance aside, I want to ask something about free units.

In my opinion, a core part of any RTS is to think about when you can engage. Inefficient engagements will lose you the game in the long run. The swarm host kind of defies this philosophy because as long as the SH itself is safe (which isn’t that hard because of the range of locusts and static d), the locusts can take any engagement they want and still be cost efficient. 30 locusts to kill 1 zealot? That’s cost efficient because 100 minerals is more than 0 minerals.

What is your opinion on this matter? Do you think free units can have a place in a RTS? For example, would you be open to removing the interceptor cost to make the carrier more viable?

Yes free units can have a place in RTS, and free doesn’t mean it’s OP. There’s a cost to using Locusts and it’s not completely free. You still need to make Swarm Hosts. Say the damage of Locusts went down to 10% of what it is now, even though yeah it’ll still be true that X number of Locusts will be able to kill units for “free,” Swarm Hosts/Locusts will not be used much due to how cost inefficient they are.

Another area we’re exploring with the Swarm Host is the design of the unit especially in terms of the entertainment aspect of it. Because of how fast Locusts spawn, it’s very common for us to watch the Observer camera go to the location where the Locusts are spawned. Often times, they just walk towards the rally point and die, meaning we didn’t need to look at those locusts. Naturally, we’re looking into this area.

For the Carrier, we believe the issue is that Carriers are mostly just A move capital ships. The main cool factor of this unit is that they see play once in a while. If they were seen often, We don’t think 10+ Carriers being A moved is all that interesting to play with or watch. This is also a unit we’re trying various things with in order to have a more interesting unit that is still a Carrier. If we can first solve that, then we believe we can balance it correctly to have them more cost effective.

Question 11

The (very) lategame seems to be boring to play and watch for most match-ups. We have a lot of situations where the players are not being able to attack efficiently which makes for very stale games. We have a lot of turtle units in the latgame that slow the game down (e.g. broodlords, swarmhosts, mothership, colosse, lategame mech, tvp happy ghost style etc.). It feels like that a lot of players including pros try to avoid getting into this position by ending the game in the midgame.

Do you agree with those concerns? Are you planing to make the lategame more dynamic and more fun?

More action throughout the game is definitely one of our most important goals. While we don’t agree that most late games are boring to watch right now, this is just an area we need to continue working on. It really depends on the game. If both sides are just sitting back not attacking, we agree it’s not that fun to watch. Long games where there’s constant action are fun.

One thing to note here is defense always gets stronger over time. Think back on any strategy or timing that players had trouble defending against. Eg. Medivacs when the speed boost was first introduced vs. now, there’s a clear difference in how much easier it has gotten even though the unit hasn’t been changed. We internally joke around by saying things like “we think this harass option is OP right now, but we probably need to buff it 2 years from now.” And it sometimes actually turns out to be the case.
Eg. Medivac back in Wings was OP, it was buffed in HotS.

Question 12

Hey David, What do you think of the maps these days in HOTS. I know in broodwar, alot of things balance wise were simply changed through different maps. Do you think this is a direction you would move towards in the future?

For instance there is talk about nerfing the blink stalker for TvP. If the build does become way too dominant in the matchup, would you consider fixing this through maps? Or is it a better option to allow freer map design and instead change unit stats in your opinion?

It’s a bit of both. Both the numbers in game as well as which maps are used in the current season have a big impact on game balance. Both are important.

Our current plan on maps is to swap out more maps that promote different types of play. And because we will be swapping out more maps per season going forward, this naturally means we can more easily do what you suggest, such as balancing the game a bit better through the use of maps.
We’ll be talking more about next season’s maps in the coming weeks (not just 1v1 maps, but team maps as well). You’ll notice that balance via map design is something we’ve been pushing for.

As a final post today,

Thanks for all the questions and comments. Every day, we internally discuss issues such as those that were brought up in this thread.

Just to touch on some popular topics to finish things off:
– We think the BW high ground mechanic is not necessarily better than SC2. Each has its pros and cons.
– Force field – we’re discussing whether there needs to be more counters, but we believe Force Fields themselves, when used very well, are in a good place.
– Units clumping naturally – This really rewards split micro which is one of the coolest micro moments SC2 provides. If units auto spread, marine splitting vs. Banelings won’t be as cool to watch.
– Players don’t need to expand more than twice – We disagree. There’s a lot of variety out there whether it’s 2 base play, 3 base play, or constant expansion play. Take a look at ZvP: it’s extremely common for Zerg to take the 4th base around the time Protoss takes the 3rd.

With that said, your feedback is what largely drives what we evaluate, and all of these topics as well as the other areas discussed today remain a major focus for us. Thank you very much. We look forward to doing this again soon.


Unfortunately, we did not get any concrete new information on the future of Starcraft II or Legacy of the Void from this Q&A session. What we did get, however, is a glimpse into the general direction of the balance team at this time. Kim shared enlightening stories on some of the methods the team uses when creating new units, redesigning the ones they have, and adding new mechanics. Of particular note is the delightful anecdote about drawing inspiration from Hearthstone. While he did note “Battlecry” is not suitable for Starcraft, Banelings already have “Deathrattle: Melt faces.”

Kim also revealed that their primary concern in balance patches is toning down overpowered or imbalanced units rather than finding ways to bring seldom used units into the forefront. This explains why the Carrier, Nydus Worm, and Battlecruiser have been permitted to be bench warmers for the duration of Heart of the Swarm. However, Kim did hint at possible redesigns coming to the Carrier in the next expansion. Perhaps there is hope for these neglected behemoths yet. But as to getting too excited about it, listen to the Battlecruiser and “Take it slow.”

Perhaps the most exciting tidbit is when Kim indicated that at this stage they are contemplating and testing various redesigns for the Swarm Host rather than continuing down avenues such as the Tempest buff they had previously tested. This is the best possible news for those of us who enjoy watching European Starcraft II as, contrary to Kim’s claims, professional games have seen increasingly frequent use of Swarm Hosts in all match ups to the detriment of tournament schedules everywhere.

Down with Brannigan-esque warfare!

Brian Matteson


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