HeptaCraft design goals

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HeptaCraft design goals

Postby summerloud » Mon 22. Aug 2016, 13:15

This is an overview of the gameplay design goals for HeptaCraft and how it compares to LotV

If you'd rather just see the game in action, I would recommend watching a couple of games or casts from previous tournaments:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLMm ... eUK37PNR5A

Or just dropping into Renie' stream, who streams high-level HeptaCraft almost daily nowadays:

HeptaCraft design goals

Dizzying complexity instead of perfectionistic balance

Judging from forum posts, there seem to be many people in the SC community who like to play in a set meta, doing the same builds in the same matchups over and over again, trying to perfect them. I am not one of them, and HeptaCraft is not for these people.

Making your own strats up on the fly, adjusting to builds you never saw mid-game, or surprising your enemy with a build you just came up with all by yourself, hardly have a place in high-level SC2 - yet it tends to be the scrappy, unpredictable, out-of-the-line games, that produce the most excitement for both players and viewers.

With HeptaCraft's seven factions and resulting 28 possible matchups, it will obviously be impossible to ever reach the balance of LotV. However, with the help of a dedicated team of great players, we reached a point where all factions are viewed as basically equally strong by the majority of the player base. After more than 80 balance patches since release, the time of OP units or builds and high-impact patches is definitely over for HeptaCraft. The meta however, is a vast, largely unexplored expanse of nearly unlimited possibilities.

While either of HeptaCraft's seven factions taken on its own is arguably more complex than any of the 3 races in LotV, having more usable units, upgrades, and different builds, and the resulting complexity is mind-boggling, the game still stays close enough to established principles of Blizzard's RTS games to be intuitive, unfrustrating, and immediately accessible for any player with a good understanding of RTS. Learning the game is made simple by design, with all possible upgrades and specialities of units represented by passive buttons on their command card.

Economy system that allows comebacks and rewards having more than 3 mining bases

Even though LotV's economy model is a big step up from HotS, i think some issues have been adressed in a suboptimal manner. In HeptaCraft, we tried to improve upon those.

LotV's solution to the boring 2 base / 3 base games from HotS was to reduce the amount of minerals per patch, thus forcing players to expand. This has obvious advantages and makes the game way more dynamic, however the downsides are that it did not succeed in significantly increasing the number of simultaneously mining bases, and it makes it even harder to come back from losing mining bases.

HeptaCraft's economy model uses 14 mineral patches and 2 geysers at player's starting bases, while reducing the patches/geysers at expansions to 6/1. Mineral patches start with 1800/1400 units, making them mine out much slower (all of this is done via triggers and works on all melee maps). The time workers spend on a patch has been increased, making them pair up much less effective, similar to what was proposed as "double mining" model by the community, making mining efficiency drop off at higher worker saturations. HeptaCraft also allows players to upgrade their supply cap in 3 levels up to 280.

This model has a couple of advantages over LotV's:

- A lot of 1 base builds are valid without being complete allins, increasing the amount of possible openers
- It is way easier to come back from losing a lot of workers early, since your total income will not drop off as much compared to a player with the same amount of bases but higher saturation
- It is also easier to come back from completely losing expansions, since your main base will account to a bigger fraction of your total income for the biggest part of the game
- The game spreads out over many more mining bases in late game, making harass more interesting, deathballs less viable, and generally raising the skill cap

Exciting and strong harassment that is not game-ending

Like so many things in the game, harassment in LotV appears to be a very binary thing - early Oracle gets into your worker line - you lost. Your turret finishes before the Oracle gets there - you won.

Obviously, a big part of that binary character of harassment is already fixed by HeptaCraft's economy system. But if harassment does not pay off, people will just not spend APM on it, and early game will be boring for both players and viewers.

The solution? Make harassment units ridiculously OP, while limiting the amount you can build of them, and counter that with defensive abilities.

Units like the Khala Repulsor, Nerazim Adept or Swarm Raptor tend to make new players scream "OPOPOP" the first time they see them. They are balanced by costing Terrazine, a resource that accumulates automatically at a fixed rate for all players, and is used for especially powerful untis and upgrades. They are also kept in check by defensive town hall abilities that all factions (except Raiders) possess in place of macro mechanics, and that lead to interesting, engaging and micro-intensve early game fights, that usually do not leave a player so far behind as to end the game right there, but have enough of an impact to feel satisfying and worth the effort.

More positional play and less deathballs

One thing BW and HeptaCraft have in common, that automatically increases defender's advantage, makes the game more positional, and reduces the efficency of a-moving, is a high ground advantage. Why Blizzard never included this in SC2 is a mystery to many, but along with the myriad of other dysmal design choices, it stopped being a point of discussion long ago.

Breaking apart deathballs is more complicated than reintroducing high ground advantage of course, and HeptaCraft has many more design aspects that reduce the amount of deathballs, sometimes just being a side effect of just generally good design:

- More bases in late game
- Higher efficiency of high-damage splash damage dealers, making it more efficient to break up your army and attack at different places
- Slower movement speed for these units, making them unable to keep up with the ball

Including underused high-end units into the game

High-end units like BattleCruisers or Carriers tend to be rather useless in low numbers, and OP when massed. Leading to them rarely ever being used in high-level 1on1s, while also leading to the "just don't let them get there" unbeatable late game compositions if someone actually manages to mass them.

HeptaCraft's solution for capital ships is basically the same as for harassment units: make them very strong, but unmassable by making them cost Terrazine. This leads to compositions with a couple of capital ships, which not only look awesome, but are also much cooler to control than compositions that only contain the same units from mid to end game.

More fun for low-APM players while simultaneously increasing the skill cap for high-APM players

Fellow old-school BWers - I dont know how your wrists are holding up, but being in my mid-30ies, my APM dropped to levels where while still being able to wrestle my way into Master's league the last time i tried, I simply cannot enjoy the game as much as I want to, because most of my APM has to go into stupid rote mechanisms and I never get to do the cool stuff I see pros doing.

I know this tends to split people, but personally, the version of LotV I had the most fun playing was the beta where macro mechanics were completely removed. HeptaCraft combines a complete removal of Macro mechanics with another design aspect that might seem heresy for some old schoolers: Lots of autocast abilities.

A good example is the Nerazim Annihilator: it has the Shadow Cannon ability from LotV campaign, doing 200 damage to a single ground target, set to autocast by default. This makes it fit the faction identity of the Nerazim in a great way, being a high burst damage unit that is good for hit and run, but whos DPS drops off dramatically over the course of an engagement, making it terrible in deathball vs deathball scenarios. If the Shadow Cannon ability was not on autocast, the Annihilator would just be underpowered for low APM players, and hard to use in an army with multiple other spellcasters for high APM players. Having the ability on autocast makes it an interesting unit that automatically behaves in a certain way dependant on the way you use it, while still giving high APM players a way to differentiate themselves by switching off autocast and manually aiming the ability on the most choicy targets.

Interesting abilities that require skill and thought and can be counterplayed instead of boring binary instant-effects

We have all seen it a thousand times: A couple of ghosts gets off an EMP before the inevitable rauder/rine deathball moves in - GG. A couple of HTs get off their feedbacks before the other player can react - GG. That kind of binary mechanic that reduces the outcome of games to a split second decision is frustrating to play and not as exciting to watch as some people at Blizzard seem to think.

Since a recent patch, HeptaCraft actually has an ability similar to Feedback, called Mana Burn, on the Raider's Spectre. Just comparing this one ability to LotV's feedback shows the different design philosophies at work here. While LotV's Feedback is instant and undodgable, Hepta's Mana Burn works over time, giving the other player the ability to react by still getting a storm off, or morphing his HTs into Archons.

Similarly, many other high-damage attacks and abilities in HeptaCraft have to be aimed well and can be dodged. Many even deal friendly splash damage, turning a battle into an interesting dance of different spells, abilities and effects, that require more than just pressing a button.

Another great example is the Void Ray: Blizzard seems to think that pressing a button before engaging equals micro. When was the last time you got excited by someone switching on their Void Rays, or had extra fun while doing so?

Just like autocastable abilities, many units in HeptaCraft work in a certain way without requiring you to press any buttons. The Nerazim Grav ray reduces the movement speed of its targets and later pulls them in. The Tal'Darim Vampyr gains energy by attacking enemies and heals allies by attacking them. Many more units differ greatly in efficiency depending on the way you use them and on their positioning, instead of requiring you to press certain buttons at the start of an engagement.

Balancing the Siege Tank

The Siege Tank has always been one of the most iconic units in SC, and the lack of strong tank-centered mech was always one of the biggest points of community criticism in SC2. Blizzard recently stated that they want to dramatically increase the amount of damage tanks do, in order to make the more useful. Guess what? I highly doubt it will work the way they are doing it. Siege Tanks will always be underpowered in small numbers and/or overpowered when massed, making mech Terran a boring turtlefest.

The reason Siege Tanks worked in BW, but do not work in SC2, is twofold:
- Smart firing: This one is very easy to fix, yet apparently not considered by Blizzard. In BW and HeptaCraft, Siege Tanks do not smart fire, meaning if you dropped a single Zealot from a Shuttle next to a pack of 10 Tanks, all of them would fire on the single Zealot, rendering them vulnerable while on cooldown, and killing friendly units next to said Zealots with overkill splash damage. Eliminating smart firing on Siege Tanks allowed us to balance them in a way where even a couple of them have a big impact on an engagement, without making them dominate all ground units when massed.
- The unholy trinity of high-HP a-move units: Well layed out since the start of WoL (http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/starcra ... g-with-sc2), but hence ignored by Blizzard and (in part, grudgingly) accepted by the remaining playerbase, the idea of fast, high-HP, high-anti-armored DPS a-move units ran counter to everything that made BW great from the start. Personally, I can still remember seeing the Marauder for the first time in one of the WoL alpha battlereports from Blizzard, and thinking WTF is this unit.
In HeptaCraft, massable Infantry generally has lower HP, and is thus handily eliminated by Siege Tank lines or similar splash damage units. This leads to both more positional and more dynamic gameplay, as slowly advancing Tank lines are hard to break, while fast moving infantry can outpace and outharass the more immobile heavy splash units. This is also one of the things that breaks apart deathballs in HeptaCraft.
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