Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Separating Single- and Multi-player in Starcraft II

I’m knee deep in the Starcraft II campaign and greatly enjoying it even though I’m not at home and my laptop is not taking the engine well at all. You are not getting a review from me just yet because I haven’t finished the whole thing, but I’ll take this time to talk about Blizzard’s separation of single-player and multi-player modes.

In Blizzard’s RTS games of old, campaign missions would be very similar to multi-player games. You would build up a base and deal with ever-increasing attacks until you were strong enough to attack and defeat the opponent. Single-player maps would only differ in so far as that the opponent started out with complete bases instead of an even footing but was limited in how he could attack you.

At the start of the campaign your unit selection will be as empty as this armory on the Hyperion. Both will change soon enough.

Starcraft II missions rarely take the simple form of build base, build arm, kill opponent , but even those that do offer quite the different experience to multi-player. For one, there are various units available (such as the Goliath) that aren’t available to those who play against other players. You also get to improve certain aspects of your army in between missions. These upgrades vary from a pure improvement of a unit’s strength, through changes in functionality up to complete new units for your use. Finally, single-player missions give you a lot to consider other than killing your opponent. Maybe you are on a map with tides of lava that make mining and travel difficult, or maybe you are simply trying to achieve some bonus objective instead of simply winning the game.

I think this separation is a clever move by Blizzard in general. All the new elements make it so that playing the campaign missions really never gets boring because no mission is like another. there’s always a new unit to use or a new twist to the mission objectives to take care of. I would go so far as to say that there are more fundamentally different missions in Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty than in the whole World of Warcraft.

While great for single player, this would be a pretty bad multi-player experience. Multi-player is about learning, about understanding and recognizing patterns in the game, and about formulating strategies to beat your opponent. You wouldn’t want each multi-player match to have some new unforeseeable twist in it. those twists come from your opponents and part of the fun is predicting what twists they will come up with.

Studying alien artefacts will help you improve your own technology. There might be side effects though...

Keen wonders why we can’t use all the units available in single-player when playing against others. Simply put, it would be really hard to balance and in some cases take away from the uniqueness that the individual races have. Additionally it would put quite the strain on the players when suddenly scouting a factory doesn’t mean just mean that you’ll be facing either Hellions, Tanks, or Thors but also leaves the option for Diamondbacks and Vultures. The latter two are also a good example of redundancy in the unit selection available in single-player. Both these two and the Hellions are fast skirmishers with slight differences. One can hit multiple units, one can lay mines, and one can shoot while driving but they all do essentially the same style of hit and run attacks.

These new units are fun in single-player because they allow the level designers to design missions strictly around them (such as the train robbery which greatly favours Diamondbacks), to bring back nostalgic units from Starcraft I without having to think about balance, and to introduce transitory units for the campaign. Medics, for example, were probably added to the game because players weren’t supposed to have flying transports just yet at that stage of the campaign. (The replacement for the Medic in multi-player is the Medivac which can both heal and transport units.) By separating the two types of gameplay, the designers could simply throw the medics in there and be done with it without having to worry about the implications for multi-player.

There are disadvantages as well, of course. You might find the Diamondback to be your new favourite unit and then be quite disappointed when you don’t get to use it against your friends. You also don’t really get prepared for multi-player in the single-player campaign, but that’s expected anyway if you really want to make the campaign enjoyable instead of just a set of battles against AI opponents. All in all I applaud Blizzard for this move and at least the core elements of gameplay stay the same in both modes (*cough*DawnofWarII*cough*).

  • Btw kerri, you can add me again as Peaceguard 386 🙂
    That goes for anyone that knows that name from WoW

  • Which name? kerrigan? 😮

    Some of those new units seem to be a bit OP (for the multiplayer), for example the science vessel, a flying unit which heals mechanic units around, got a DoT and is a detector. Another one is the spectre, a spectre is just like a ghost, but instead of a 60 dmg snipe, he got a 35 dmg aoe-stun at no cooldown.

    Some units are not needed at all (in the multiplayer), the wraith is a weaker viking/banshee. A firebat is a slow hellion (and does cost gas), the medics are non-flying medivacs with low health.

    Additionally does it seem a bit unfair that the terran get so many units and zerg got 6 or something like that.

  • I think I am not a big fan of that concept. I hardly started the campaign so far… but for me the campaign is a nice tool to get to used to units i wanna use in multiplayer with a nice story attached. interesting twists how you call them i would rather call annoying things that change the game all the time. i can not stand ambushes in singl eplayer missions for example if i did not have the tool to properly scout before. it jsut makes the game feel a bit stupid.
    as for the units. wouldn’t 3 very similar skirmisher units that only have small ups or down exactly favor the kind of decision making that you talk about so often? 😉 the decision to get hellion tanks are thors is kind of obvious since they have totally different purposes. getting a hellion or a vulture sounds like a more tricky decision to me.
    I’ll still go one with the campaign a bit but just a new campaign is certainly not an argument for me to buy the other parts.

  • @belthil: The main point I make about decision making is always that it has to be meaningful and I don’t really think that the choice between three skirmisher vehicles is meaningful. Especially the Diamondback is a very very narrow and specific unit that, if it was used at all, would probably only used in very well defined circumstances were it would be really good. It would essentially make the decision for you.
    scrusi´s last blog post ..Separating Single- and Multi-player in Starcraft II

  • I think it’s completely and utterly stupid. I understand the logic with ‘Decision Making’ and ‘Balance’ ; All the more reason to have a checkable box that says “Enable All”.

    Why wasn’t this done? I don’t know. I heard that Blizzard may allow all the units if you have all three versions installed ( WoL, HoS,LoV) then you can use all the units. That’s cool. Then I can spend a total of ~150 dollars just so I can play the game like I wanted to.

    I loved the campaign (While I played it.). I truly did. But my units were gone, so I took the game back, and got a refund.