StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is the first expansion for Starcraft II. The expansion includes additional units, as well as mulitplayer changes over Wings of Liberty. The campaign focuses mostly on the Zerg race and spans 27 missions. We were able to sit down with David Kim, one of Blizzard's mulitplayer developers on Heart of the Swarm and ask him YOUR questions!
Will Heart of the Swarm changes to non-Heart of the Swarm units be made to Wings of Liberty as well? (Will those who did not buy the expansion still be able to enjoy the gameplay changes?)
Because most of the new changes are factored into the new units of the expansion, we are not planning on making those changes in Wings of Liberty. Wings has been balanced for about two and a half years, so we feel it’s in a good state right now. Introducing major changes, like for example, the Hydralisk to have a speed upgrade at tier two, is a huge change to the unit and we didn’t really want to mess around with that in Wings.
What is the tactical purpose of the Hellbat, in your opinion?
The original reason why we put that unit in was to provide a backbone/meatshield unit for mech units. So let’s say you’re going with a mostly factory-based strategy, we were planning for the Hellbat to be a core unit. When we put it in, it was working as intended. One of the biggest problems mech units have against Protross units is charged bullets, which Hellbats counter well. After we but the Hellbat into the beta, we saw that it could also really benefit through bioplay too. So we added the bioflag to the Hellbat. So, if you go with the existing Wings strategy of Marine/Maruader/Medivac, if you add Hellbats into that, the Medivacs can actually heal the Hellbats, and the synergy is actually pretty good there too. Hellbats could be a generic meathshield unit, no matter the strategy.
Is the Burrow Charge meant to break siege lines or meant to smash mass light units?
We don’t have Burrow Charge anymore, we first put it in when looking the Ultralisk, and we asked ‘How can we make this unit more valuable?’. We started with the weakness and made it big and clunky. When we played with it in the beta, it was a big powerful unit and it can be difficult to get in. But once it’s in, it does some serious damage. So what we had was a sort of beefy unit, that did sort of high damage, but it could teleport around and get to areas quicker. We ended up backing off of that and removed Burrow Charge, and just increased the damage of the Ultralisk. Now it actually does high damage against everything. The weakness is still there. But because the strength is there, it’s a more viable unit.
The Hydralisk has changed dramatically through Starcraft; right now it feels like a support unit more than a core unit. David Kim has responded saying it’s one of the most used units in the beta. Could you shed let on the reason why some of the changes were brought in, and some player reactions to them?
Initially, in Wings of Liberty, Hydralisk were kind of the counter unit you never brought out, and I think that's because of two reasons. One, we wanted the Roach to be the core range Zerg unit on the ground, and two, we were still thinking that the Hydralisk would be a viable as an air option, but because Infesters turned out to be much better than expected, everyone was preferring to go Infesters to deal with air units instead of Hydralisks. To fix this issue, we introduced the speed upgrade for the Hydralisks. There is a bit of overlap with roaches, but we feel like the combo of roaches and hydras are better than just picking one entirely. What we are seeing in a lot of pro-play [is] a lot of players are going blindly Hydralisk. Our community doesn’t quite see eye to eye on that, and one of the most popular feedback suggestions is on the improving the Hydralisk. While we are watching for the feedback, in the games that we see, we're seeing that Hydralisks are very core for the game. So we’ve been very mixed on them and we’re just waiting on altering them further.
What is the level of involvement of pro Starcraft players in the design process?
This time around, we had a pro player only forums to gain feedback that way. It didn’t go that well, because most pro players are biased to their own play-style and their race choice. In the forums, it was a bit of popularity contest. A lot of people would support one well-liked player, but if it came from a player who doesn’t really have that community respect, they would quickly dismiss their ideas. What the forums did allow us to do though was to locate pro players who were less biased and more logical to help us out. We developed a more personal relationship with those players to get more detailed feedback.
What is the most surprising or dramatic gameplay changes in Heart of the Swarm?
There hasn’t been too many surprising things happen yet, but I think those moments will happen when we create new units for the expansion, we expect them to be used in a certain way. For example, the Zerg Viper. We’re expecting them to be used against Siege Tanks or Colossi because of the intent of those abilities for that unit. But if we look back at Wings of Liberty, there were a lot of examples of people using units in ways we didn’t foresee. We know these moments will happen in due time with the Heart of the Swarm.
What would you say are the biggest barriers-of-entry for new Starcraft players and how did you approach this issue with Heart of the Swarm?
I think the biggest barrier is the PVP component. If you are playing in a game online, you mostly think about playing against other players, and to solve those kinds of difficult barriers, we’ve introduced a variety of AI difficulties, and also a matchmaker that takes care of the problem of what level of opposition to play against. The system figures these things out for you. You can start learning to play that way. Heart of the Swarm’s entry experience isn’t so much against players, but against AI opponents. We also have a introduced a training mode for multiplayer. We think the barrier has been lowered, even through Starcraft can still be one of the more difficult games to play online.