Starcraft II developers discuss new units

BlizzCon 2011: Starcraft II's Dustin Browder and David Kim discuses new units and other tweaks coming in Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm.

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Who was there: Hosting this panel were game director Dustin Browder, game balance designer David Kim, and senior designer Josh Menke.

What they talked about: Browder led this extensive panel on the state of Starcraft II's online balance and discussion of the new multiplayer units in Heart of the Swarm. The opening section focused on which matchups were seen as the most balanced in casual and high-level play, and which were the most one-sided in certain parts of the world. Apparently, Terran has advantage over Protoss in South Korea, while Zerg has an advantage over Protoss in Europe.

Of course, the topic everyone was most excited about was the new units. Browder began the discussion by detailing the current issues facing the Terran faction. He admitted the team was disappointed by the performance of the Thor and the lack of a good option to countering a Protoss late-game Zealot rush when using the charge ability (outside of tedious kiting), and they also didn't want to give the Terrans any more gameplay options. They have enough already, Browder said.

With that in mind, he announced that the Hellion is gaining a transformation ability. When used, this ability changes the quick and nimble Hellion to the slow and tough Battle Hellion. This new unit retains the Hellion's flamethrower weapon, but is now a late-game counter to Zealots (while still being an early- to mid-game harassment unit). Next up was the Shredder. Browder explained that this tiny machine is a cheap way for the Terrans to control space on the map.

When deployed, the Shredder emits a field of radiation that continually damages enemy units that stand near it. However, this unit will shut off if a friendly unit, ally unit, or friendly worker enters its range. Therefore, you have to keep it away from your army to be effective. In addition, the damage from the radiation waves does not stack, so keep them spread out.

Finally, there was the Warhound. Browder described this unit as a medium-cost, fast-moving, smaller version of the Thor that functions as an anti-mech unit. What all that means is that it's great for taking down enemy Terran or Protoss vehicles either in the air or on the ground, while also letting the Thor ascend to a true uber-unit role with vastly improved damage output. You're also now limited to one Thor at a time.

Kim took over next and laid out some of the issues facing the Zerg. In the early game, he said, the Zerg have trouble countering a well-entrenched player. Instead of fighting that player directly, they must expand into an economic battle. He also mentioned that the Overseer didn't get used much, and the Corrupter had a very narrow application.

Enter the Viper, a new Zerg spellcaster unit that will replace the Overseer. It will function as a chokepoint breaker with three support abilities. Blinding Cloud temporarily reduces the attack range of all ground units inside the cloud to melee range and prevents energy-based abilities from being used. Abduct pulls a unit to the Viper's location (and is great for snatching weak units that hide in the back). Ocular Parasite lets it plant a seed into any friendly, non-massive unit, turning that unit into a detector.

The Swarm Host was next. This unit burrows into the ground and spits out waves of timed-life units called locusts, making the Swarm Host a form of "Zerg artillery." These locusts are free, they're endless, and they're designed to help the Zerg control more of the map. "It's the endless Zerg swarm knocking at your front door, and it won't stop until you figure out how to deal with it," Browder added.

"The Protoss ball of death is pretty strong," Kim said, introducing the third and final faction. He went on to add that they don't have a good raiding option in the early game, nor a viable area-of-effect antiair unit. The antiair issue was granted a hard fix with the Tempest, a new capital ship that deals--you guessed it--area-of-effect damage to air units (especially helpful for killing Zerg mutalisks wholesale) while having a ground attack as well. This unit replaces the Carrier.

For harassment, the Protoss were granted the Oracle. This unit is "very worker-friendly" and doesn't hurt workers so much as annoy them. Using the Entomb ability it can temporarily block mineral fields from being harvested by placing a field around them. Its second ability, Preordain, grants vision of a targeted enemy building, allowing the Protoss to see which units or technologies are being researched. Finally, there's Phase Shift, which phases a target building, preventing it from being attacked, using its abilities, or granting technology. So just disable the antiair structures and harass, harass, harass.

Their third and final new unit is the Replicant, which has one ability. It can transform into any non-massive unit. The huge downside is its cost, which is currently set at 200 minerals, 200 gas, and four population. However, you do receive all the upgrades the copied unit has as well. You can even copy enemy workers and construct your own enemy structures, although this ability may be removed before the final release.

At the end of the discussion, Browder dropped a rapid-fire series of additions to other units and structures in the game. The Ghost's cloak ability is now a fixed cost for a fixed duration, thus requiring less babysitting from the player. Reapers now regenerate health when outside of combat, increasing their harassment potential. The radius of the Science Vessel's EMP ability has been reduced. Battlecruiser has a speed boost ability that functions on a cooldown to get it into combat faster. Banelings can move while burrowed. Hydralisk have a speed upgrade. Ultralisk has a new burrow charge ability that lets it move a short distance underground before bursting out and damaging nearby foes. Corrupter has a siphon ability that lets it attach to a building and harvest resources from it. Nexus has a defensive ability that basically turns buildings into photon cannons to defend against attacks. Nexus also gets a recall ability to bring units back to it; this will let Protoss players bail units out of bad fights and be more aggressive.

The Baneling is still an absolute terror.

Did you catch all that? Keep in mind that these changes are a work in progress and can change without notice. After a brief question-and-answer session, the trio concluded the panel and thanked everyone for their attendance.

Quote: "We do take [the results] of every single major tournament very seriously."--David Kim, on analyzing unit balance in Starcraft II.

Takeaway: The developers on Starcraft II have a lot of ideas on how to make the game better, and they're not afraid to try them out. Some will work, others will flop, but the important thing is making the effort. For a game with such a diverse audience, and a steady stream of updates and expansions, absolute balance is almost certainly out of the question. And that's what keeps things interesting.

Discussion

67 comments
JackHoleFace00
JackHoleFace00

I like the additional upgrades to everything, but some of the units are weak. Especially for the Protoss. Replicants (which isn't even a new unit; just copies an enemy unit) and the Oracles? Really? Totally lame. Hopefully they throw both of those out.

supertuberculos
supertuberculos

here is an idea on improving your multi player make a god damn LAN option, seriously if you are really that concerned about it, make it so they have to be logged in to battle net to use it

2bitSmOkEy
2bitSmOkEy

It's already hard enough trying to figure out what your opponent is doing, especially in the t v p (or p v t if you prefer) match up. They have to keep a similar amount of units per race in HoTS so that it doesn't just turn into a straight up guessing game.

Hector_01
Hector_01

hmmm i kinda dont like the idea of removing units when this is meant to be an expansion. I think the problem is with sc2 is its too heavily focused on the competitive esports side of things. I think making thor a one unit only thing like the mothership will be kinda cool although it will be interesting to see how useful it actually is. Oh and i wont be buying this day one just like sc2. I think blizzard regard themselves a little too highly when their games arent THAT amazing.

stEElyDaN909
stEElyDaN909

He said in the interview there would be a "Liberty Mode", which would let players play the old version of SC2 if they preferred that. Don't worry, if you really need to play with carriers THAT badly, you still can.

HyLeRo
HyLeRo

i love how some elitists think that carriers are useless and not pro and theyre prolly in silver league. a thought i had was that its gonna be hard calling this an "expansion" when it doesnt expand but lower unit options. and really more terran units? the game frankly looks lame and unless the legacy of the void changes things for the better, im sticking to wings of liberty multiplayer

z0rph
z0rph

@FreedomPrime I've got to disagree with you that "Carriers are for skilled players, The reason why people don't use them is simply cause they just don't know how to use them nor to they know what other units complement them." If that were true we would see them used a whole lot more by pro gamers. Quite frankly a carrier transition just isn't viable in most situations, especially at the highest levels of gameplay. That being said, I'll certainly be sad to see such an iconic unit go. They were a lot of fun in casual situations.

PseudoElite
PseudoElite

How can you have Starcraft with no Carriers? :(

bramterris
bramterris

@Dark_Infinite League of legends is a game? When did this happen

Vejita2128
Vejita2128

A mediocre expansion to a mediocre game. Why should I be excited again?

adancata
adancata

Milking the cow, couple of new units to buy this one and 2 more in the next expansion to buy that too. If i remember they said multiplayer will not change....

FreedomPrime
FreedomPrime

@QQabitmoar no, you rush phoenix at the start, harass their workers which give you an early advantage and cripples their economy. Then you make sure to have a few cannons to protect the early game rush, fast expand and then move to carrier production. Game match.

FreedomPrime
FreedomPrime

Wait, one thor at a time!!!! OMFG yes!!!!! thank you blizzard!!!! Terran's are OP and they needed to be nerfed.

FreedomPrime
FreedomPrime

I really don't understand why they are removing unit's. why not just add units and just balance the old units like the old expansion's!? Void rays are so OP right now its crazy.

FreedomPrime
FreedomPrime

Carriers are for skilled players, The reason why people don't use them is simply cause they just don't know how to use them nor to they know what other units complement them. sad to see them go. Protoss= superior race.

Bowserpwns
Bowserpwns

I don't really care about the carrier thing, being a Zerg player myself, but i love that the Viper is essentially a Deflier that can fly. And banelings that can move while burrowed? I can finally beat an entrenched Terran player in the early game!

Cantido
Cantido

Terran OP! Terran OP!

Peppytron
Peppytron

No more HuK carrier pushes :( But the units seem cool enough, cant know how it will play out exactly 'till I used them myself.

Jonathan53
Jonathan53

The swarm host looks to me like it's fills in the Lurker's old role. For the terran, the hellion transform sounds good, but I worry that it might make them a bit too valuable, seeing as how they were already a pretty good unit. I'm pretty scared of the warhound. For my team, it looks like I'll need to practice with the Oracle in order to micro well enough for it to matter, and the replicant sounds mostly useless, even if it can copy enemy workers. Building a new tech path from the ground up is way too costly and time consuming to be viable in a competitive game.

Jonathan53
Jonathan53

Why is my carrier gone? Honestly, I never used them in a competitive match, and they're not as useful in SCII as they were in Brood Wars, but still... They were my favorite unit anyway! They'd better make the Tempest really friggin' cool so that the transition will be easier.

Sniper-Gamer
Sniper-Gamer

I call OP on the Swarm Host. It's essentially an invisible Brood Lord.

couchtater12345
couchtater12345

Please stop whining about the omission of Carriers, I mean seriously, who used them? They're terribly cost-ineffective units that rarely got played, especially in pro league. I'm glad they're being replaced. Though honestly if that ball thing can replace a worker and build different race buildings than Protoss is going to own.

Daemoroth
Daemoroth

@R3NeGaDeAnGeL, I don't get the cash AH hate. If you go to eBay, you can STILL buy Diablo II items there for real cash (And there are many real-cash sites out there beyond that). All Blizzard has done has acknowledged the fact that people are willing to pay for certain items, and since the only way to "prevent" that would be unacceptable from a gameplay point-of-view (All items BoP), they instead create an AH that buyers know they won't get screwed over and have the seller run off with their cash. Personally I don't like it, but I do understand why they did it - they're not "creating" a new market with the cash AH, it's already there. They're just moving it to a more reliable system. That aside, I'm really going to miss "Carrier has arrived".

ThorukHai
ThorukHai

Holy crap, let's be honest here. Every single one of you guys is going to buy this game the day it comes out, and you've been following every tidbit of information on it and Diablo with bated breath. Stop pretending you're going to boycott these two games, when you know deep down you know you're getting it at midnight. It's their game, they'll balance it how they see fit, and stop camplaining like your world is ending because the stupid carriers aren't going to be in multiplayer anymore.

ibra_unit
ibra_unit

i think it's time for me to switch allegiance to Relic Entertainment * reinstalls company of heroes gold edition and downloads latest patch *

SergioMX
SergioMX

Damn, the carrier was one of my favorite units. It's like taking away the battlecruiser... I will miss "Carrier has arrived".

Nodashi
Nodashi

@Joedgabe Whut? 1 - release date for a blizzard product? Welcome to the gaming world, Blizzard never EVER gives release dates. 2 - It was a crappy unit, that's why they removed it. It was not OP by any stretch of imagination. They should have balanced it instead of removing it tough, it's a very iconic SC unit.

R3NeGaDeAnGeL
R3NeGaDeAnGeL

No carriers, Pandas in WoW and a new crappy talent system, diablo 3 auction house and online play only with still no release date...blizzard has been an epic fail for me lately.

MindwalkerX
MindwalkerX

No need to overreact, I'm pretty sure that carriers will still be present at the "universe", maybe you will have to face some in zerg campaign or maybe they will be available at Legacy of the Void, like Firebats, Vulture, Scouts, Medics, Wraits, Goliaths and etc. in WoL, they just will not be present at multiplayer for balance issues.

Bane_09
Bane_09

I dislike the fact that they are removing units, this better not be full retail price you greedy monsters

Llama345
Llama345

Just like everyone else on here I want to know why are you getting rid of the carriers. and the problems they mentioned about each race, I thought that was part of their DNA? Zergs have a hard time beating an entrenched Terran team, while the protoss were strong you would generally whip them with a good air strategy. @n8b1979 lol yea man wtf is that about haha.

n8b1979
n8b1979

Please do not remove the carrier! You guys destroyed WoW with pandas, don't start working on destroying SC2 as well.

Neo_Sarevok
Neo_Sarevok

@ azurik It better be an expansion, period. Some people over at Activision-Blizzard were thinking about treating it as another fully-loaded retail game and charging a standard retail price for it!

feleas
feleas

@FastAce I think I was one of the few who actually did use carriers as I would mass them with stalkers to create a good hit-run harass army. Wasn't meant to kill, but sure kept the enemy off my team so that they can go destroy their bases.

feleas
feleas

Why get rid of the carrier?!??!!?? Blizzard...... shame.....

Pete5506
Pete5506

Why take away one of Protosses signature units

prostar343
prostar343

Not the Carrier!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. =(

m4a5
m4a5

Removing the Carrier is a -10 towards Blizzard. That was the coolest unit the Protoss had. If they saw it as not being used enough they should power it up or make it cheaper...

mugupo
mugupo

Removing carrier isn't a deal brocker, consider almost no protoss player heavy depend on them, they just just mass ray since they faster and can kill building faster. Carrier is more like a support unit.

k0r3aN_pR1d3
k0r3aN_pR1d3

Why not just bring back Corsairs? They were an awesome counter to Mutas and Ovies.

Architeuthis
Architeuthis

The Carriers are iconic, but all the same, I'm gonna trust Blizzard on this one. They do their best to balance things, and if it doesn't work, I'm sure they'll bring the Carriers back. Remember, there's still another whole expansion to come after HotS, and even after that, they will inevitably continue to update things for many years to come.

Devastation3000
Devastation3000

It's not SC II ideas that will flop. It's the game, they took away the atmosphere the original SC and SC units had...

SephirothIsKing
SephirothIsKing

I'm surprised by the fact that people are upset they are removing the character. I know it's early on, but the Tempest is probably going to be a much better unit. If anything I thought Protoss would be happy that it looks like they will have a beast for a T3 air unit. Let's be honest who really used the carriers anyway? That's the reason Blizz is making this and getting rid of the carrier, to actually give protoss fearsome air units and so it isn't just the colossus deathball every game. I know we aren't all pro gamers but I honestly can't say I've ever seen one pro 1v1 game where carriers were used.

Joedgabe
Joedgabe

A release date would be nice =[ it's been over a year already. Carriers been abusive since SC1 anyhow... especially against the Zergs. How annoying was it to kamikaze those things with all their little ships flying around. Cry all you want your unbalanced double health unit is no more D:

tetelande
tetelande

one thing, arent Banelings that can move when burrowed a littel OP

QQabitmoar
QQabitmoar

@justcxprime Voids, phoenix and carriers? Sure, if your opponent let's you get 5bases unharrassed, sure.