Blizzard balances Starcraft II

BlizzCon 2010: Sci-fi RTS designers and balancers delve into the process behind honing gameplay; Battle.net Marketplace not before Heart of the Swarm.

Who was there: Starcraft II design director Dustin Browder was again joined by associate game balance designers David Kim and Matt Cooper, as well as multiplayer systems designer Josh Menke.

It might not be possible to see what's happening, but rest assured that it's balanced.

What they talked about: In what could be considered a continuation of yesterday's "Secrets of the Masters" panel, Blizzard's Starcraft II design and balance team returned to the stage to talk about what goes into honing multiplayer for the popular sci-fi real-time strategy title.

To accomplish the daunting task, Blizzard relies on a number of tools, including community feedback, pro feedback, tournaments, and statistics, as well as a prototyping program called "Make Combat." Browder emphasized that taken individually, these tools would be insufficient for properly balancing the game. However, taken together, they provide a comprehensive look at many of the different facets that can impact game balance.

The first step toward tuning the game, the team said, is player feedback. Since the community is made up of hundreds of thousands of players, playing millions of games, they are able to really put the game through its paces. Plus, community can inspire productive debate about strategies and counters. The drawback with community input, though, is that the loudest voices tend to come to the fore.

Pro feedback is also useful, primarily because they know the game very, very well. As such, they often offer in-depth critical feedback after truly studying the game. Unfortunately, this feedback often only takes into account a single race, since nearly all pros only focus on the Terran, Zerg, or Protoss factions. Also, it's difficult to tell whether a pro's victory is as the result of skill or imbalance.

Tournaments are also a useful balancing tool, in that competitive play tends to expose cracks in the game. After all, if there is a weakness in the game, the pros will exploit it to win. However, the sample size is small in these scenarios, and it's also difficult to tell the reason for a defeat, due to variables ranging from preparation of players to whether the competitors were playing at the top of their game or not.

The more traditional spreadsheet route of balancing is also employed by Blizzard. The team members noted that it's incredibly helpful to lay out all the different numbers side by side in a spreadsheet, as it helps them analyze build times and the cost of units very quickly. However, spreadsheets don't account for a large number of variables, including unit pathing, terrain, and strategies.

One tool that Blizzard thought would turn into the be-all, end-all form of game balancing was called Make Combat. With it, the team could simulate battles very quickly to see how certain changes would impact the tides of war. As it takes place in-game, it accounts for pathing and movement, as well as other intangibles not captured by spreadsheets, such as unit size.

However, the problem with the tool is that real-life scenarios typically never play out the way they do in these pitched battles, and it fails to take into account player strategy. In the end, while helpful, the tool creates a false sense of security for the team, they said.

The Blizzard team then broke down current win/loss ratios for one-on-one matches on Battle.net. In Terran vs. Zerg games, the humans hold an edge of 51 percent to 49 percent. Protoss hold a slight advantage of Terran, 53 percent to 47 percent. Lastly, Protoss also outdo Zerg 51 percent of the time.

These numbers, the team notes, are misleading. After all, Battle.net's matchmaking functionality aims to accurately match players by skill, so the fact that the stats are even can be misleading in terms of future game balance.

As for future developments, the team members said that they feel there is some imbalance in the Protoss vs. Terran matchup, which they plan to address. They also feel that Terran marines and marauders may gain a bit too much of an advantage from the Stimpack ability at its current levels. Lastly, they said they are also looking to possibly tweak the Protoss' psi storm.

As one bit of news from today's session, Browder also briefly addressed the Battle.net's Marketplace. First detailed at BlizzCon 2009, the Marketplace would allow Starcraft II players to sell their custom creations through Battle.net. According to Browder, though, players shouldn't hold their breath for this feature to arrive, saying that it is unlikely to be available before the launch of Starcraft II's second chapter, Heart of the Swarm, which may arrive in mid-2012.

Quote: "Every one of these tools have failed us at some critical point."--Dustin Browder, on the importance of using all of Blizzard's balancing tools together.

Takeaway: Even the most minute of changes can dramatically impact the way Starcraft II plays, creating ripple effects that extend to one-versus-one pro matches to three-versus-three exhibitions between friends. As such, the team has to very carefully weigh the implications of a change before implementing it and then react to the outcome.

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Discussion

52 comments
Hakkology
Hakkology

Yep it may be wise to alter psi storm a bit, but one should notice that first protoss is 14th in top200 ladders. Its great to see some zerg in top 10 though almost makes me cry, 4 to be precise. The rest is terran ofc.

Sirbobislost
Sirbobislost

@ killa32130 Yeah I'd love to see him try that online

Pete5506
Pete5506

It will still take more time to make the game perfect but this latest patch is a great start

killa32130
killa32130

@coaltango Whats the point of that, boosts no skill at all. A real player could take you out way before you could do any of that stuff.

MERGATROYDER
MERGATROYDER

I thought Starcraft was made by those people from EA LA, who did Command & Conquer. Who is Blizzard?

blackfray
blackfray

@TurambarGS easier said than done :D

coaltango
coaltango

@killa32130 I have played against 3 terrans , 3 protoss & 3 zergs. all insane AI about the blocking with the photon canons thats so yesterday. 1 tip to you if u wanna block any entrance block it with the barracks or the structure with the most life points & shields. i also fortify my entrance with 6 collossi & 8 stalkers no zealots they are worthless. once i have like 6 carriers i send my stalkers on suicide missions in order to get the cap / food back to build the remaining 10 carriers. i also never waste money on upgrading my ground units. only plasma shields & air weapons & air armor. usually my battles last a quite longer than others. but fast & sneaky wins the day again my biggest strategy or shall i say tools is the APM & Chrono boost. P.S. my biggest challenge are the terrans coz they always have scan ability to counter my cloaked units

killa32130
killa32130

@coaltango I'm guessing all you do is make all the al's zerg then block your entrance with photon cannons and then slowly build up those carriers... There is no way in hell you could take on 3 insane al's at once.

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

@blackfray May be you are just bad at the game. ;)

jadefury27
jadefury27

its weird to see this much coverage for somthing without paid advertisement everywhere...

angry_roman1011
angry_roman1011

They sensed a disturbance in the...errr...how do you call that in Starcraft?

TurambarGS
TurambarGS

@ blackfray, cool down is enough, casting time would render it useless - if you see your enemy mucking around HTs, then just micro your stuff and don't fight at choke points.

blackfray
blackfray

Yeah! That's the thing i wanted to hear: "tweaking the high templar Psi storm". all the protoss need is just a few psi storms to change the outcome of a match specially against the zerg; it's totally overpowered. i hope to god they do fix the damage or may be give it a casting time.

AncientDozer
AncientDozer

Oh Blizzard. . you and balance. It always seems to be hit and miss with you with it switching from one to the other every week. Sure, Starcraft 1 is balanced NOW but it's been ten years. It better be. But then again absolute balance with three or more unique factions is a near impossibility so I suppose you'd have a hard time taking it away from Blizzard. @coaltango No offense, but what's the point of talking big in a comment section? You can say anything you want. I mean, what, is your APM over 9000? God, APM people. . they, well, nevermind. It's not important. It really isn't. What I'm trying to say is cool your jets, buddy. No one likes a braggart.

coaltango
coaltango

@bigstingman there was a time even i could barely play against one Insane AI. I just acsended. remember the saying practise makes perfect well really that a load of BS. always try something different & stick with the most ultimate strategy

bigstingman
bigstingman

@coaltango Lol wow, I can hardly even take on one AI haha. :P

coaltango
coaltango

@sSubZerOo been playing Sc1 for the past 10 years now. as for my level i always play against 3 Insane AI in SC2. yes noob 3 on 1.try that & see if u can last even 15 minutes. about my fleet i always manage to build 16 carriers to be precise. if u wanna improve ur level try playing the game with APM its the only way to dominate. or u could train under my supervision

Zolorunnin
Zolorunnin

It feels protoss always outmatches terran units when ever I play

tehepicpwnzor
tehepicpwnzor

Why is everybody hating on Starcraft 2? As someone who, to this day, has still never touched a copy of Starcraft 1, I have to say I'm pleased with SC2, and I think that $60 I laid down was well spent. Quit hating.

xCaLLeNisH
xCaLLeNisH

@Coaltango rush and carriers shouldn't be used in the same sentence.

Mr_Houda
Mr_Houda

@Coaltango .. no zerg rush can match ur fleet of cloaked carriers!!!?? what exactly is ur definition of a rush .. ur comparing a very very early game move 2 a late game army , had by a lame cower in base until u have ur carriers and ms ready !!! which will almost never happen against any descent player :D

sSubZerOo
sSubZerOo

@Coaltango that goes to show your a very low level player then.. Not only are carriers easily countered (especially with zerg due to corrupters), but you have 0 map control.. And it would take forever to get a sizable fleet.. By that time any half decent zerg player out there.. At very least has three to four bases, so he has you out macroed... And he scouted so he knows exactly what your doing and will easilly counter it.. Lastly you won't last long because he will just rush and take out your probe lines.

Khrushchev007
Khrushchev007

@joeblow2131231: What are you even talking about? Blizzard spent 12 years working on this game, and the end result is almost flawless. If you think that SCII was a half-hearted effort, then that makes almost every game ever made a joke. And they have raised the bar. It would be very impressive if another RTS came along within the next year which can surpass it, dare I say even the next 3 years..

a_sh0pping_cart
a_sh0pping_cart

@coaltango Yeah I'm sure. While you spend years and years putting out carriers, zerg will be harassing you all day with mutas and roll into your base with ultras.

joeblow2131231
joeblow2131231

@bakalova Agreed. I was a die hard sc fan, but this release was half assed. SC2, diablo3 and cata are just quicky meh releases of the same old same old as placeholders until they release their next gen mmo. Everything coming out of blizzard now is just meh; and its sad because they are one of those big companies who have the resources to raise the bar. But oh well.

Quietpower09
Quietpower09

Terrans are powerful enough. Hell I want Blizzard to downgrade the Siege Tank radius by several inches, because my marine troops can literally be sniped by those damn tanks.

bakalova
bakalova

All this says to me is we had absolutely no idea,what the f----k we were doing developing sc2 for 7 long years.Our development process was a mess,up until two years before release.We knew we couldn't just continue spending millions for nothing and delaying the product infinitely,because it was in danger of getting canceled. So we decided to cover up our .........and sell a 3rd of a product with the tag line "We have so much content,we cant push it all out at the same time"BFS But now we have absolutely no content whatsoever,no story,no multiplayer- design philosophy,no campaign progress,no voice work,nothing,not even a general direction.We have to start from scratch,but we have no idea what to do A|G|AIN.So be prepared for another 2.5 years."Hey its the same time-frame other good devs take to release full-blow sequels,you know those with new engines and actual content to support them.But we can afford that,thanks to our milking machine.Bless those clueless WoW ..............." Take this for the anger infested rant that it is,even if it does contain some truth.I just knew they were going to screw me over.Every promise goes out the window when milking is involved.Post launch features are now post HOTS.Really?From 18 months to 2.5 years?Really?From marketplace and social features = :( From we have content for 3 games,to we have no general direction or prep-work done.Really?

coaltango
coaltango

Protoss has always been the strongest team with abilities like shield, cloack & chrono boost. no zerg rush can match my fleet of cloaked carriers.

tehepicpwnzor
tehepicpwnzor

The Zerg are uber-awesome late game, but until then, they suck.

payne6705
payne6705

Those numbers are totally misleading every time I play as zerg against any player of any race a Zerg rush decimates them. Yeah its totally cheap and annoying, but I was sick about losing every round to ppl rushing. Fight fire with fire.

Gooshnads
Gooshnads

As a Toss player, I realize that we've received no buffs since release. Zergs have gotten a buff and Terrans have received an unjust debuff the second time around... That whole factory nitro packs business along with increased build times has literally made it so that Terrans have little in the ways of cheesing. Yeah no one likes cheesing but at least it adds some sort of extra flavor into the matches... If you suck, you lose by it, if you're decent, you win because of the other player cheesing =P

s4dn3s5
s4dn3s5

I think Tier2 toss are a lil bit op, but otherwise the game is pretty well balanced

Miroku32
Miroku32

@kinger256 well for themselves they aren't, just mass lings and blings and you can get those thors. The problem is that Thors aren't alone and you can expect a rine ball, hellions or tanks. Mutas can magic box but rines with stimpacks own them bad. So yeah, nerf Thors or rines a little.

D3thN1gh7
D3thN1gh7

Well I hope whatever tweaks they make to the game won't break it. Right now World of Warcraft is kinda broken with patch 4.0.1. Of course it will be fixed in due time but it does suck for awhile when a game gets broken with such huge changes.

duron2
duron2

i dont have problems with marine marauder as zerg. but those dam VIKINGS!!! Their range drives me nuts, and their ability to quickly move to ground like damm, and they can make 2 at once...

Welshmun
Welshmun

i think they should balance the helion for the terran, or make a unit for the terran to counter zeolot rushes on 3vs3, also the thor needs more balancing against spam air units, thats my input for the terran.

x-TwilighT-x
x-TwilighT-x

I don't think any one race is more powerful than the last. It's quite simple really. Every unit has a counter. Just gotta know what it is. Unless of course they keep nerfing some of the units. Than marines, zergling, and zealots will be the only units worth using.

TheGreatmars
TheGreatmars

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

_rafael
_rafael

Hi, I've created a petition to save our beloved Tychus, if you want Tychus in the next chapter of Starcraft 2, sign it please. If you know any other interesting forum, you could post this petition. I don't know if I'm allowed to post this. I don't like to sign petitions too, so I understand it. http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?savetych Thanks,

Memoryitis
Memoryitis

LOL! More nerfs for the terran to come, man they are going downhill arent they.

MMaestro
MMaestro

Ah yes, the difficulty of "balance." Seeing as Starcraft 2 uses over half the same exact units from Starcraft 1, the sheer amount of time and effort being put into balancing the game is quite sad.

mofofighter
mofofighter

plz don't weaken stimpacks, terrans are already nerfed enough

eyeball2452
eyeball2452

You'd think that iterating on a 10+ year old game would be easier to do. I'm just saying, many of the tactics haven't changed dramatically. I guess it's like the old NBC promo, if you haven't seen it, it's new to you? Gogo SC1.5 imo.

killa32130
killa32130

@Gammet25 no way, if you can macro hard they're the best, which is why i stick to terran because i am not korean lol.

killa32130
killa32130

I still feel like those warp rays or what ever the hell they're called are still OP. I wish they rebalanced the mother ship so it does not suck or cost so much, you know it sucks when 1 battle cruiser can kill it and it costs 100 less gas and it does not even have to use it's special cannon thing ability "yomato cannon?".

fattass21
fattass21

@stesilaus well at least its not as over powered as it was in sc1 now XD

Stesilaus
Stesilaus

I hated the Protoss' "Psi Storm" ability back in the first Starcraft game: One unit, one shot, huge damage to an entire army! Sure the other races had "area affect" abilities, like the Zerg's "Plague", the Terrans' nukes and the Terrans' "EMP blasts", but these were either late-game abilities, or ones that were tricky to use because they were slow or short-ranged. "Psi Storm" was available relatively early, instant and castable at a pretty long range too! :evil:

Gammet25
Gammet25

Zerg is still the weakest race here in SC2. Terran and Protoss needs to get nerfed Four gates and terran balls are extremely unforgiving. Zerg needs more buffs.

kinger256
kinger256

Miroku32 What are league are you in? What your saying is absolute trash. Thors are nowhere near overpowered.