TLnet's Destructicon sat down with
Destructicon: Could you tell me a bit about yourself? Kevin, how has your experience been so far in transitioning to development, given your background of working for TLnet?
Ryan: Hi I’m Ryan Schutter and I am the lead UI designer for StarCraft II.
Kevin:As you said, I originally did work for TeamLiquid, but now I’m on the Blizzard Development Team working on both Co-op design as lead Co-op designer and in Versus. It’s been really great, not just given my experience with TLnet, but because I’ve been a fan of Blizzard games, especially StarCraft, my entire life. I grew up with StarCraft 1, grew up with Warcraft 3, and am especially exited to hear about the Warcraft Reforged announcement. For StarCraft II, I’ve been following the esports tournaments all throughout; I worked for TLnet on covering the professional scene as well as working with strategy content.
D: What do you think of the balance of the game at this point and how are you looking to improve it further?
K: So obviously we have the multiplayer balance/design patch that is coming soon after Blizzcon. I think that patch speaks to where we think the state of the game is right now. We’ve made adjustments not only to the balance of the game but also to the design of the game as well. For instance, one of our key goals in the coming year that we’re going to reinforce with additional changes, perhaps, is that we’re looking to more equalize late-game for the various matchups.
Just throughout the history of StarCraft, Terran has been seen as disfavored [in the late-game] in some matchups. So we’re trying to make it, maybe not 100% balanced or 50/50 balanced, but make it so that all races feel like they have a decent chance in the late-game depending on how they play. Our goal isn’t to ensure that each of the race’s final compositions can butt heads into each other and win 50% of the time.
We also want to encourage more interaction in the mid-to-late-game. We want to make it more skill-based. We want to make it so that your status going from the mid-game into the late-game matters a lot as well.
In addition to that, we want to bring back some of our old favorite unit compositions from the past. Muta/ling/baneling is one of the most famous unit compositions in SC2, and we saw that a lot in Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm and even early Legacy of the Void, and it’s something we know fans really want to see back, so it's something we are working towards.
D: In the most recent balance update you reverted a proposed warp prism change from a previous patch. Originally the pick-up range was 6, then it was 5 and now it’s back to 6. The change arguably lowered the skill ceiling of the unit itself due to it being easier to pick-up from a distance, but it's been popular. Are you looking to add more interactions like that to the game?
K: I think the warp prism change is one of the most successful changes we’ve ever done in StarCraft II actually. One of the things it does and some of the feedback we get from pro players is that it really allows them to differentiate themselves. For example, I was watching sOs vs Stats, where Stat warp prism micro was instrumental in helping him defend against sOs’ more aggressive tactics. I think Stats' warp prism micro is one of the most advanced and flashy in the world and I think that helps me identify with him and makes me be more of a fan of him and say “Stats is the warp prism guy” not just the standard macro toss, but he also has the best warp prism control in the world.
So to summarize, we think it increases the skill cap for StarCraft and it does it in a way which is very noticeable for the viewers back home.
D: Recently you announced a change to creep spread (increasing time of creep growth), which would slow the Zerg’s ability to spread creep. Tell us some of your thoughts behind that.
K: We’ve gotten a lot of feedback about creep spread before we announced the changes, as we were announcing the changes, and after we announced the changes. The feedback that we’ve gotten is that it’s not so much the size of the map but specifically how wide or narrow some of the passages are. For example, some maps have passage-ways which require one creep tumor to spread creep through, while others require two tumors. And we’ve gotten feedback from players that this is one of the key differentiators between how powerful creep can be on a given map. On Acid Plant you can spread creep in all three or four different directions. But at the same time it’s up to the other races to mitigate that creep spread. But they can usually limit creep spread in only one location at a time. So if they commit to stifling creep spread in one location it will just continue growing in the other.
D: How do you balance a unit that is extremely fun to play but also very strong/weak?
K: We look into how fun it is for the player using it, we also look at how fun it is for the player playing against it. If we feel it is incongruent, or there is not enough counter-play from the player on the receiving end, then we will look into tweaks. I think balance is not only about the win rate of each race or strategy, I think a lot of it is about how fun it is to play the game itself. After all StarCraft is a multiplayer game.
D: Have you considered adding new racial mechanics or expanding on the existing ones, such as regeneration during burrow?
K: I think in general our fans have come to expect what constitutes each race and the characteristics of each, so we are careful not to change those expectations too much. But something we’ve experimented relatively recently with is changing the unburrow speed of a lot of units. We think it’s a tweak that will not necessarily change the way the entire race feels and because in some ways we make it feel more "zergy" as you can have them pop out of nowhere. Those kinds of changes I think are minor enough and could potentially allow for a very interesting gameplay.
D: Some professional Korean players are near the age when they will have to start their military service. What steps are you taking to ensure a healthy competitive scene in Korea?
K: We can’t really speak as to the esports team that much, but what we can say is that we’ll keep the game nice and fresh, and updated with multiplayer balance patches up until when they’ll come back.
R: It’s great to see that a lot of pro players, as they finish their military service, start streaming again and start even competing again.
K: Yeah, we’ve seen PartinG and TaeJa come back recently and I have heard rumors of other Korean players coming back, perhaps an American too.
D: What other games do you take inspiration from when designing SC2, either the multiplayer as a whole or the Co-op commanders?
K: I’m very familiar with RTS in general, but especially Warcraft 3. I played a ton of WC3 custom games and also helped work on them such as Footmen Frenzy and Castle Fight, so I have a lot of depth in that field. But I will say that one of my weaknesses as a game designer is that maybe I don’t have as much breath as some of the other game designers that are very fortunate to be working for Blizzard.
And now I am working on playing all of the best games of the year to find new inspiration for Co-op commanders as for Versus. Speaking of Versus, we do tend to get a lot of inspiration from Co-op as well. We try all these wacky, crazy abilities in Co-op and some of them we found are really fun and sometimes we think, hey maybe we can use this in multiplayer.
D: Leading into that question, what mechanics would you like to experiment with from other games, if any? Specifically something like cover — if you could implement that into SC2, how do you think that would work?
K: I know Ryan plays a wide variety of games and has a lot of experience with the different mechanics of other games.
R: My focus is primarily on the UI and user experience with the various systems that we have. What we are doing is often looking at other games and seeing the types of systems that they put in to support their product or to make it easier for the players to engage with the various types of gameplay that they have. And we’ll see what’s working and what’s not.
We actually have such a variety of games inside Blizzard and it’s great that I can actually, without even looking outside the company, reach out to various designers and ask them “why did you do this?” or “have you encountered this problem?”. And I can even go to lunch with them or just talk to them about their various experiences.
K: Specifically: we experimented with a new mechanic altogether of procedural generation and it’s something we’ve never done in StarCraft before. And for me, at least personally, a large part of that was due to inspiration from other Blizzard games such as the Dungeon realm of Hearthstone. So that’s just an example of a type of inspiration we receive from the other games.
As for your specific question regarding cover, cover is something found in other RTS and it is something usually map wide. We try to design commanders and maps separately, so maybe we can have a commander that can make his own cover, like maybe a forcefield mechanic, but that would be maybe more of a map design.
D: Do you plan to have more interactions between the units and the maps at some point?
K: Map design is something we are heavily looking into for the upcoming year. We want to add potentially new features or new options for map makers to put on the map. For example: on one map we experimented with neutral missile turrets and we got a lot of interesting and fun games out of those, maybe they could be a bit more refined but this is just a starting point and I am very excited for the future.
D: Could something like the lava mechanic make it into multiplayer?
R: We did have a map like that; I believe it won the Red Bull tournament.
D: What were your goals when you decided to turn to the F2P model for StarCraft II, and have you achieved those goals since making the switch?
R: So, primarily the goal for F2P was to get the game to be accessible for a large number of players. And it has absolutely been successful! We have had a lot of new players come into the game and they are still playing it. So F2P has been great, not just for the newer people playing it but I think it has helped on the esports side as well. I think a lot of the people that have come into F2P have become interested in WCS and I think that has been a pretty successful process.
K: And, just anecdotally, I was at WCS Austin to get player feedback, and watch some games of course. And I talked to some fans and I was like “So, how are you here?”, “What brought you here?”, “ How did you get into StarCraft?”. And I had two instances, one where the people had come in just from F2P, and the second instance where they had played StarCraft before, but because of F2P he was watching the games with his son. Just like the commercial we ran last year.
D: What paid content do you have planned for StarCraft II? What kind of extra free content?
K: Well of course we have the Zeratul Co-op commander which you can purchase pretty soon.
R: We’ve been running the Warchest program for the last couple of years, which is an event we do once or twice per year that allows players to pay to gain access to this event and play the game to unlock rewards such as unit skins. We are doing another Warchest hopefully before the end of the year, we’re trying to get it out in December. We’ll also be doing a few things differently with it, we’re putting in building skins in addition to the unit skins so players can complete their collection and have a total army converted to the “Special Forces” for Terran, the “Forged Protoss” which is basically the Tal’Darim for Protoss, and the “Simulant Zerg” which has been the super popular skin from Warchest 3 for which we’re adding the building skin now.
The other thing we are doing differently now is we’ll allow players to earn XP for the Warchest and unlock those rewards through Twitch. So they will be able to just watch StarCraft II content on Twitch, hopefully find a channel that has the extension in it, and they will be able to earn XP watching those and unlock the rewards. We are looking at the Warchest as a good long term way to support the game in addition to Co-op commanders, but we are also constantly updating the multiplayer for the game. We are looking into ways to improve the custom games and arcade as well as reward content that we give out in line with events. For example, during BlizzCon we have a bunch of drops and those kinds of things, we’ve recently also added race banners as a reward that makes it easy to have something we can hand out at events.
D: Do you see a situation where you won’t want to develop any more new Commanders for Co-op? In other words, what do you think is the “right” amount of Commanders for players?
K: So we don’t have anything to announce right now but we are definitely dedicated to creating new commanders in the future. We know there is definitely a huge appetite for new commanders with additional skill-sets, like the “prophetic vision” ability for Zeratul or Tychus’ hero focused style of play, but nothing additional for now.
D: Overwatch League, in terms of esports, is one of the most successful products in Blizzard’s repertoire. What kind of lessons are you drawing from Overwatch World League, and how would you implement those in SC2?
R: It’s difficult to speak for the esports team, but we do look at the OWL, we love what they are doing, it’s a really entertaining game. We don’t know exactly what the esports team is learning from that but from our side we are watching and seeing what lessons we can take from spectating and see if there is anything we can do to improve StarCraft.
D: Lastly, do you have any closing comments?
K: Please cheer for me. I promise to show good games!
R: WCS Finals are gonna be awesome!
D: Thank you both!