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Q & A With David Kim

Q & A With David Kim

At the recent G-Star event in Korea, we had an opportunity to talk to some of the GSL’s top competitors and get their feedback on the current state of StarCraft II. This was also a good opportunity to show our players around the world how pro player feedback influences the act of balancing StarCraft II.

While we’ve made a number of balance tweaks over time, at this point the overall game balance is quite solid. There are always variations from region to region, so we rarely make a balance decision based on the numbers from a single region, or even a single tournament or tournament series. While we’re likely to see more changes in the future, we’re going to remain cautious when making even small changes, since they can have sweeping (and sometimes surprising) effects on overall balance. The purpose of this feature is to highlight some of the feedback we received from pro players, and to discuss our perspectives based on that feedback.

MULE -- Too effective when used on high yield mineral patches.

Concerns about the MULE are something that we hear most frequently from the player community at large, but it’s also feedback that we’ve seen from some pro players specifically with regard to high yield mineral patches. In fact, the GSL recently removed high yield patches from its maps in response to this concern. This change seems to have worked out well for the GSL so far, but all the other major tournaments that didn’t remove high yield resources from their maps are still showing very good race representation, so the change doesn’t appear necessary.

There are a lot of potential reasons this could be, but we’ll examine a couple of the most likely. First is that the change really did reduce terran effectiveness in the GSL specifically, but because the terran race does unusually well in Korea, it all balanced out. Another possible reason could be that there is an advantage to terran players from using MULEs on high yields, but it’s not significant enough for the removal of high yield resources to result in a noticeable effect on overall performance.

Regardless, we don’t jump to conclusions and we’re still investigating. If further research suggests conclusively that MULEs do offer too much of an advantage to terran players when used on high yield minerals, we’ll consider an appropriate course of action then.

Spawn Larvae -- This requires too much management; even pro players are unable to manage Spawn Larvae perfectly.

Our stance on this kind of issue is simple: We intentionally make different aspects of the game difficult for the different races. We want each of them to have asymmetric advantages and disadvantages that contribute to very different play styles, but still result in a satisfying, balanced game at the end of the day. Spawn Larvae is more difficult to manage than Chrono Boost or MULEs, but zerg has other advantages -- for example, unit production is relatively easy to manage for zerg compared with the other races. Making side-by-side comparisons of isolated elements won’t show you the whole picture because StarCraft II is asymmetrically balanced, meaning that if a race is strong in one way, then it’s probably also weak where another race is strong.

We also like to see this kind of feedback, because making games easy to learn but difficult to master is one of Blizzard’s core game design philosophies. So, we don’t see it as a problem that, even at the pro level, perfect mastery hasn’t been achieved yet.

Reapers -- Give Reapers back the early-game speed upgrade.

We tend to agree that Reapers can stand to see some improvement. We like the unit, but the problem previously was that Reapers with Nitro Packs were too effective versus zerg in the early game. Unfortunately, after losing their role in early-game harassment, Reapers haven’t proven to be a very powerful or useful unit at most stages of the game.

As we discussed at BlizzCon, we’re taking a hard look at the Reaper, and we’re experimenting with different options to see where Reapers can fit into the terran arsenal with Heart of the Swarm.

Terran -- Stop nerfing us!

There will always be changes as we develop StarCraft II, and we try to minimize nerfs as much as possible. We don’t like making changes unless they’re necessary. Still, we will continue to make small adjustments that we feel need to be made to achieve the best balance possible, and we don’t keep score regarding who is getting the most or the fewest changes. Ultimately, we’re invested in the success of all three races, and we want to make all three perform well.

EMP -- Radius decrease is too significant.

We feel that the dynamic between protoss and terran especially was in need of a change, and this was an efficient method of achieving that. We’re still paying close attention to how the change to EMP affects this matchup globally, as well as on the tournament stage.

Choke Points -- More variance in choke point placement on maps.

We love variety, but maps play a significant role in how balance is achieved, and with that in mind, we need to maintain a certain amount of consistency in map features. For example, all of our 1v1 maps feature relatively close natural expansions, while our 2v2 maps lean toward starting teammates relatively close together.

Ramps into starting positions are another feature which we try to keep pretty consistent. Certain ramp structures, such as particularly wide ramps, would favor fairly specific builds, which is why the ramps leading from starting positions are all alike. We still want diversity in the map pool though, so the ramps leading into natural expansions display more variety, since we see a greater diversity of strategies even when those ramps differ from the norm. This way, an essential terrain feature becomes more interesting.

We also look for other ways to make maps interesting and unique, though it’s difficult to do that without potentially hurting a map’s tournament potential. Typically, tournament map creation is subject to a lot of restrictions, which is also why so many tournament maps share features with one another.

Khaydarin Amulet -- Bring it back!

We wanted to change the dynamic between the protoss and other races, and we like to make small changes to do that. Unfortunately, when the Khaydarin Amulet was still available, we would see players do things like spread pylons everywhere simply to gain the ability to warp in High Templars and storm passing armies. Also, because High Templars were often warped in to cast an immediate storm, there wasn’t a lot of decision making about which ability would be used -- in the vast majority of cases, it would be one cast of Psi Storm, which would deplete all available energy. Also, positioning wasn’t a consideration in too many cases, since the unit would appear, cast storm, and then effectively be forgotten for that battle.

We like the way the High Templar work now, because, while they remain very powerful, some thought and consideration must go into how they’re positioned and which spells are used.

For Heart of the Swarm, we’re exploring better ways to handle energy upgrades, since we’re not quite satisfied with how they work currently.

Void Ray -- Damage output is difficult to read in-game.

We like the visuals in StarCraft II to have clear meaning, and this is good feedback. We'll take a closer look at how the graphic communicates damage output to players at various skill levels. If it does turn out to be unclear, we’ll find ways to improve it.

Protoss Play Style -- More variety please!

This was another issue that came up at BlizzCon. We’re definitely looking at ways to give protoss players more tactical options and more strategic paths. We’ll probably achieve this via new units which will be added in Heart of the Swarm.

We do have good reasons for delaying a large change like this for the expansion. Not to be taken lightly is the fact that balance is actually quite good right now, and major play style changes can have a disruptive effect on balance. Also, patches are intended to fix issues in a small, incremental way, not to introduce entirely new playing experiences and sweeping changes to gameplay. That kind of change is much better left for an expansion, where new units and dramatic shifts in strategy are expected and welcomed.

In short, we do want to give protoss players a better variety of strategic options. We’ve learned a lot from Wings of Liberty, and we’re hoping to achieve an even better and more varied competitive environment overall. In Heart of the Swarm, we expect to see the strategic options available to all three races grow.

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