Multiplayer Redesign 2017 First Impression

Blizzard had just announced their multiplayer redesign proposal, and this is my first impression.

Preface

The timely recent release of StarCraft: Remastered makes it difficult to not draw direct comparison to Legacy of the Void in regards to the general developer’s approach. Blizzard and the community have made it very clear that StarCraft I should stay the way it’s, and the gameplay should not be changed (see vod below). Whether the game is “objectively” best is a different question together, it is the perception that matters. The new Coke case study is a perfect example of how not to mess with a “classic”. Consumers may objectively evaluate another product better, but they still “irrationally” purchase the “inferior” product more.

On the other hand, StarCraft II has been constantly patched and redesigned. I think this makes sense on multiple levels, because StarCraft II is still the mainstream game that Blizzard want to build a competitive scene on. As Real-time strategy games, StarCraft I put more emphasis on the “real-time”, while StarCraft II put more emphasis on the “strategy”. In StarCraft II, it is relatively difficult to separate players through mechanics at the top level, and it is the strategic decision making that differentiate players. This leads to an issue that StarCraft II games will eventually play out very similarly, because players figured out that a few strategies are simply the best. This is observed at the later stage of Heart of the Swarm. Thus, as the focal RTS title of Blizzard (or even esports in general), it is justified to make big changes to keep the game fresh for viewers.

The reason I bring this up is that I misunderstood the meaning of last year’s redesign. I thought it was a big patch to resolve the major issues observed in Legacy of the Void after one year. I never expect Blizzard actually intend to make another round of redesign this year. Based on this interview, it seems like a yearly redesign is not out of question, and they simply don’t want to commit in case they don’t do it.

Overarching themes

Before I start discussing the changes themselves, I want to highlight the importance of judging the proposed changes systematically, such that the proposed changes should solve the identified problems. And the identified problems are problematic because they do not align well with the general game design philosophy.

Goal definition –> Problem identification –> Solution proposal

There are two themes to the proposed changes, and I will discuss how they fare in terms of this train of thought alignment.

Strategy over mechanics – confounded solutions

First, Blizzard want to further enhance the strategic elements over the mechanical ones. The Observer’s new active ability is the obvious change toward this direction. It allows Observer to gain additional 25% vision range by being stationary. The rationale behind this is that “Observers are selected with the select all army button (F2 by default) which can often bring Observers out of position and to their untimely demise.” It is common that pro players have three Observers in their main army occasionally, because they are using the select all army hotkey. This added ability essentially allows Observers that are placed in specific locations to remain there while you still can have an Observer selected in your army group. The same result can be achieved if players are good with their mechanics and do not rely on the select all army hotkey. Thus, this is a change that comes from a broader design perspective (more on strategy less on mechanics) and not a balance change. However, the proposed change seems sloppy as it appears to buff the Observer by giving it a bonus out of no where. In other words, this change, which is intended to target a broader mechanics issue, is confounded with balance itself, because it buff a unit even though there is no balance problem identified. Others on Reddit have come up with a more elegant solution, which is to not allow hold position units to be selected by select all army hotkey. This addresses the actual identified problem and it does not literally change a unit. Its implications are superior too, because a Zealot in hold position at the choke to prevent Zergling run by get selected. A Marine or Zergling that is positioned a specific location for vision is also not selected if it is in hold position.

This sloppy solution has other negative implications. The Overseer is given the same new ability for more or less the same reason, and the above argument still applies. Moreover, this approach is diluting the racial asymmetry design, such that two units of different races are given the same active abilities to solve a broader design issue. This racial asymmetry concern further highlights how elegant the hold position suggestion is, because it changes the basic mechanics of the game and not units. There are other passable proposed changes that are meant to address the “more on strategy less on mechanics” issue. For example, High Templar is given a negligible range attack to prevent the unit from moving forward when players A-move. I can see the benefit of it, but again, it is confounded with balance changes. You can make the same argument for Raven.

There are other changes that got me thinking whether I had read them wrong. The best example is the Widow Mine change. Widow Mines are revealed when they are reloading! The justification given is that they want “cleaning up unattended Widow Mines much easier, while still allowing the Widow Mine to perform its splash damage role if properly set up with a Terran army or used defensively.” This is such a huge nerf to a unit, and it does not align with the problem identification and goal definition. As it stands now, Widow Mine is at a right place, and no one is really thinking there is a balance issue that needs to be fixed. This nerf directly screws up the balance in TvZ and TvP. This clearly has a huge impact on the dynamic interaction of Zergling and Baneling versus Terran bio Widow Mine. I am not sure if you remember the change way back in 2013 when Overseer got a speed buff for Pneumatized Carapace upgrade, because Blizzard want to help Zerg to deal with Widow Mine better. The identified problem was that the Overseer’s relatively slow movement speed made it difficult for Zerg to engage Terran’s MMMM, and it is a good quality of life and balance change. More importantly, as highlighted by Blizzard in the link above, that they “like to approach the fix/fixes in steps than going with big jumps that might potentially break other things.” This new proposed Widow Mine change is doing the exact opposite.

While the TvZ problem is obvious and intuitive, the TvP problem changes the relative strength of certain openings. As we all know that, Stargate opening is the most popular opening in the TvP match up, and Terran have come up with different ways to adapt to it. One of them is based on the relatively weak detection of Stargate opening whereby Terran drop Widow Mines in Protoss base to force the Oracle(s) to go back to Protoss base temporarily. This is also the reason Terran use the Cloak Banshee (usually proxy) opening in the mix of builds (see vod below). The proposed change basically allows Protoss to react against Widow Mine drop by pulling Probes away to minimise damage (nothing changes), then just use the Probes to kill the Widow Mines without the need to fly the Oracle back. This further gives Protoss incentive to only use Stargate opening in the match up, and it is against the general design philosophy of giving players choice. In fact, one of the main design goals of Oracle is to address the passive early game of Protoss by giving them an early game offensive unit, and this proposed change may just make it one dimensional again but in a different direction.

Unnecessary complexity

The second theme is making units more complex unnecessarily. It is not about having too many spellcasters or too many spells for one unit, but it is the unnecessary differences in unit performance for the “same” thing. For example, Cyclone’s first four anti-air lock-on shots are quicker. The reasoning behind this they “want the Cyclone’s Lock-On ability to feel a bit more impactful than it does currently”, and the proposed change seems so heavy handed for its intention. If you want Cyclone to be more “impactful” in terms of damage, you can always increase its base damage without making it so complicated. Fungal Growth’s change also gives me the same impression of unnecessary complexity. What is the problem identified that warrant a change for Fungal Growth to function differently when it is on creep versus off creep? I am not sure if these changes are just poorly thought out, or maybe it is just a matter of poor communication that the reasoning behind the changes is not appropriately elaborated.

Big design changes

Mothership Core and Nexus

Through out the years, many have argued that it is difficult to make changes to Protoss because of their fundamental mechanics. I never expect Blizzard to take such a big experimental step to redesign Mothership Core and Nexusat the matured product stage of Legacy of the Void. Personally, like many others, I never like Mothership Core. The rest of Protoss is so heavily dependent on it that it feels like a hero in Warcraft III. The change is so big that it is hard to know how it will work and interact with so many different things in the game. With that being said, I have some concerns about how the new Nexus abilities may not work as well as intended.

The new Chrono boost gives 100% increase in work rate speed. Think about that for a second. Yes, it basically doubles the speed. I know the intention to have different abilities that use the same pool of Nexus energy forces players to make strategic decisions that will result in interesting game play. However, when you can double the production speed of a unit or the research speed, the choice appears to be obvious. You can use it on a Twilight Council upgrade or an Immortal for an attack that requires a dedicated reaction, then that gives you the priority of being the offender by default in any match up. I know the energy required is doubled to compensate for the double effectiveness of Chrono boost, but the math is not that linear. Players can save energy and use multiple Chrono boosts one after another on the main investment (e.g., Blink), so this design change buff the strategy and tech choice made by Protoss. The “unselected” choice does not get weaker, so this could be an overall buff for Protoss.

Mass Recall is interesting, and it can be potentially abusive. You can teleport any unit anywhere on the map without a “teleportation tool” being at that starting location. This is something that does not even occur in Warcraft III, because the teleportation scroll requires the units to be next to the hero that carries the scroll. Now, you can teleport any unit without a Mothership Core or Mothership in proximity with the units, and that seems insane in late game. I know it costs 100 energy, but it is way too good in late game when you have five Nexus. There is no counter play to prevent that from happening, because you can no longer attack the Mothership Core. More importantly, there is no down investment by sending the Mothership Core or Mothership to attack with an army, and Protoss can choose to teleport back or use Nexus’ energy for defence (shield recharge with Photon Cannon). It is difficult to judge how this ability works out without testing it.

Shield recharge is a very interesting replacement for Pylon Overcharge. It gives Protoss more flexibility, and it is less of an one button and be safe thing. Again, it is difficult to judge.

These abilities get me wondering how the interface select which Nexus’ energy to be used if you have multiple Nexus selected at the same time. It would be awkward if you have three Nexus and all of them have 60 energy, and you cannot use Mass Recall that costs 100 energy.

Mech and Raven

It is not a redesign unless Blizzard come up with ways to make mech work. Raven’s Repair Drone essentially makes it the Medivac of mech, and I have a mixed feeling towards it. You don’t want to engage mech directly in general, so the Repair Drone may seem like a poor fit for the overall design. However, it can be very effective to hit a Cyclone timing with Raven support. You can visualise it as a stronger version of Hellbat with Medivac. Thus, as a whole, I am sceptical as to whether this change works as intended.

The one thing that may really make mech work is the Mule change that allows it to mine gas. All the previous changes advocating mech in the history of Starcraft II target the unit designs, and this is the first change that gets to the core of mech. If you have played mech, you will know that you’re always starve on gas but have too much mineral. One of the biggest challenges to buff mech units is that it inevitably buff bio as well, because bio composition usually mixes in mech units for support. Then, bio has to be nerf in order for mech to be seen as an equally viable option, and this results in a net nerf to Terran itself. This is also reflected in the subtle nerf to Mule’s efficiency to mine mineral in this change. All in all, this new proposed change on Mule may just be the key change that allows mech to be more viable.

I have not played with the new changes. Please let me know in the comment how it works when the Refinery already has three Scvs, does the Mule have the same efficiency problem like there are four Scvs mining the Refinery normally?

Raven has always been in a weird position that it does not have a clear identity, so it is nice to see it being redesigned. The Shredder Missile basically weakens mass Raven in the late game, and it also solidifies its role to be more of a support unit. Thus, from a unit design perspective, it seems like a good change. On the other hand, the Scrambler Missile is very interesting, because it has great counter play potential that can create those memorable moments in game. However, it is likely to be only used in Terran mirror match up. It may sound good on paper to use it on Warp Prism, but it is too difficult to cast it on the Warp Prism due to the difference in movement speed. If the Warp Prism can get into position that allows this ability to be used, you might as well use other choices like Vikings. If it is bio versus bio, Viking works better against Medivac in general and it is easier to use.

Scrambler Missile may not work as intended against mech in Terran mirror match. Let say it is bio versus mech, the bio player will have a hard time to make Raven due to the Tech Lab requirement on Starport, and this is in conflict with Medivac production. Even if the bio player makes Ravens, it is difficult for Scrambler Missile to be impactful because it is single targeting. It does not work as well as Blinding Cloud against Siege Tanks. Further, it is a lot more effective for the mech player to use Scrambler Missile on bio player’s Raven instead, and that makes Raven weak for bio to use against mech. Then, if it is mech versus mech, Viking and Liberator do the same job better. Therefore, Scrambler Missile may not work as well as intended.

Other changes

Good potential changes

There are quite a number of good potential changes. For example, Liberator’s vision nerf is a good change that does not change the interaction itself. Other changes for Ghost, Infested Terran, Viper, Colossus, and Swarm Host are reasonable for their goals.

I want to specifically highlight the Stalker change. I have always been critical of Adept’s role for Protoss since its introduction in Legacy of the Void. Although most have voiced their opinion on the low usage of Zealot due to Adept, I always find Stalker to be a silent victim. Let’s use TvP as an example, Adept is better than Stalker for ground battle in early to mid game, and the anti-air role has been replaced by Phoenix. Even Blink Stalker timing has been replaced by Adept with Glaives. The only justification to pick Stalkers over Adepts is for defensive Robotic Facility opening that you can use Stalkers to deny drop well, and also to prevent Terran from scouting. Therefore, this Stalker change embraces the general role Adept now has, and enhances the effectiveness of Stalker in its niche role.

Bad changes

The Widow Mine change is really bad. It better not get finalised.

Some changes are basically “Neo Steelframe” level. You probably don’t even know what “Neo Steelframe” is, read here. These changes include, Cyclone’s new Armor Piercing Rockets upgrade, and Smart Servos upgrade. Resources are better spent elsewhere.

The Disruptor change itself is debatable, and I will not call it bad. But the additional change for Disruptor’s ability to have a brief cool down after it is unloaded from Warp Prism seems like another poor change that complicates things unnecessarily to fix a problem created by another change.

Conclusion

The solution confound and unnecessary complexity issues should definitely be addressed. I am quite disappointed at how sloppy some changes are, for example, the Widow Mine change. The main focus is on Protoss’ redesign of Mothership Core and Nexus, and the changes are too huge to make a well informed judgement now.

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4 thoughts on “Multiplayer Redesign 2017 First Impression

  1. The Mules work very strangely, because they have their own cooldown seperate from scvs on refineries, and the time the mule is inside the refinery takes multiple scv trips before the mule comes out. Mules also cannot be stacked on refineries which is a little bit strange. I don’t like how mules work, I feel on gas they take far too long to even makr a couple trips. If someone could actually test the mules and crunch the numbers, that would be excellent. Feel free to comment and correct me if anyone finds anything interesting.

    1. The only thing I think it makes no sense is the mineral collection nerf. I’m all for the other changes, I really want to see them tested extensively, and ideally would like to seem them all in game, but this one seems just wrong, because it seems like they’re buffing Mech at the expense of Bio.

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