Full Playthrough (with commentary)
Play as a Spectre, dropped on a hostile planet, with action/RPG gameplay and fun custom abilities.
Gabriel Tosh has intercepted transmissions from the Tal’Darim to Terrans that worked with the recently deceased Arcturus Mengsk. Tosh has sent you, Spectre agent SK 114, to investigate and disrupt their plans. Explore the jungle planet Monlyth with abilities the player chooses to level up. Items dropped by bosses offer distinct playstyle changes, so players can play the way they want to. Slower paced combat makes every decision the player makes more important.
- • Create a familiar, but unique gameplay experience for fans of StarCraft
- • Emphasize player choice and make those decisions meaningful
- • Create fun, challenging bosses, and beautiful environments
Options… but not too many
If someone were to ask me whether I wanted vanilla or chocolate ice cream, I would have an easy time making a decision (vanilla). If I went into an ice cream store and was confronted with 1,000 flavors of ice cream, I would go through a long process of evaluating my options: weighing, dismissing, having a final set of flavors, etc. In the end, I would pick a great flavor, but I would always wonder what the other options would have been like, and would be left with some sense of dissatisfaction, however little.
I think the same thing applies to game design. In this level, I wanted to give the player some options, such as what abilities to level (you can’t max them all) and what items to select after defeating a boss, but I did not want to paralyze them with choices. I made the options be clear augments of styles of play people preferred. In this case it was being a better caster or auto-attacker. No testers debated long on item selection, and after reading the ability descriptions initially, had a clear progression path they followed through.
Turning Bugs into Gameplay
While developing abilities and items, I naturally ran into a few bugs. One of these bugs was for the Assassinate ability, which was initially designed to deal double damage if the target was below 30% of their total health. I noticed that it also did double damage if it brought the target below 30%. I figured out how to fix it, but I left it in because I thought it was more interesting to players and gave more leeway when deciding when to use the ability. There were a couple incidents like this that I tweaked or incorporated so I could focus on other aspects of development. When this happens, I like to call it “accidental fun.”
One of the great things about the Galaxy editor is its ability editor. It gives a staggering amount of customization and flexibility when creating abilities. Since I was a big fan of MOBAs, and was curious as to what a single-player style of their ability system would feel like, I tried it out in this map. The player has five total abilities to choose from, and can level them up to a max rank of three.
Shock Blast: Fires a blast of psionic energy into the targeted area, dealing damage and slowing enemies. Deals extra damage to clumped enemies.
Meditation: Channels inner psychic energy, preventing movement and action, and restoring health and energy.
Blinding Shot: Blinds the target, forcing it to use melee attacks, and also slows its attack speed. Deals no damage.
Imprison: Imprisons the target in psychic energy, preventing all action, but also making them immune to damage. Imprisoned targets deal continuous area damage to their nearby allies. Works on structures, but not bosses.
Assassinate: Fires a carefully aimed shot. If this brings an enemy below 30% of their maximum life, or if they are below 30%, it deals double damage.
Abilities have hidden synergy, such as imprisoning a target and meditating while they are unable to deal damage. Cooldowns and energy cost make using the right ability on the right target important. I wanted to avoid having a single ability do everything for the player. Players must look at each pack of enemies and decide, “Ok, I’m gonna CC the big guy, Blind the ranged, and Shock Blast all the little ones when they reach me and clump up,” for example.
I felt that the default inventory built into the editor would slow down the action. In order to simplify this, players simply had to select an item from a dialogue window, and wouldn’t have to worry about actually equipping it. Items give their passive benefit simply for being in the inventory itself.
What would a hero map be without sweet bosses? Not fun, that’s what. I wanted to have bosses, and I wanted several of them. I liked the epic feeling that bosses in World of Warcraft had, and how bosses behaved differently as the fight progressed. Boss fights also gave me a chance to show off the amazing effects StarCraft 2 has to offer.
For the last boss fight, I had a massive firebat chase the player, and would spawn a marauder every now and then that would slow the player, making the firebat deadlier because it would be able to get into melee range. A friend said, “You should check the position of the player and spawn the marauder away from him, so he has time to see it coming.” It’s little touches like those that make boss fights feel challenging, yet fair, because it gives players the opportunity to adjust their strategies.
Whenever I tried to get someone to test my level, they would ask, “How long does it take to play?” I would reply that they could play it for just 10 minutes if they wanted, they didn’t have to finish. Inevitably, every tester lost track of time, and after about half an hour, I would ask them if they realized they’ve been playing for that long. “No way,” they would reply, then ignore me and go back to playing. The fact that so many people lost track of time made this level a huge success for me, as it indicated how fun it was to play.
Not only was it fun to play, but it was fun to make. Blizzard made an incredibly powerful (and stable) tool for the modding community. I don’t have any strong complaints about the editor.
My only regret is that once a player beats the level, there isn’t as much replay value as I’d have hoped. Sure, you can try different items and max different abilities, but there are only a few styles of gameplay I discovered. Of course, that is to be expected with this conventional system, and it gives me something to think about for game design in the future.