One thing that's been weighing heavily on my mind is the concept of race design. That is, how is a race designed? What central themes unify the entire race? What is the difference between a random coalition of units and an actual race?
We all know how each race is supposed to feel like.
Terran: The Terran humans are rugged and adaptable. They love their big guns and heavy machinery, probably because without these assets, the Terrans would surely meet their demise. They are not many in number (like the Zerg) and they are not particularly strong when alone (like the Protoss).
Protoss: The Protoss aliens are advanced beyond our imagination. Each Protoss unit is costly, but that means their units are the strongest around (a Zealot beats a Marine and a Zergling, etc.). They heavily utilize psionic powers such as their Pylon matrix and High Templars casting Storms. Each unit is so precious to them that even the Zealots are teleported out of the battlefield before they die.
Zerg: The Zerg is the Swarm, filled with many fast low-cost units. An individual Zergling will not be able to accomplish much, but 1,000 Zerglings might. Each Zergling is a speedy little critter and entire Zerg armies descend upon you rapidly with little warning. They require no technology, only the pinnacle of evolution itself.
This is what Zerg should look like.
Where did these "race designs" come from? Well, the answer lies in the game's predecessor - StarCraft and StarCraft: Brood War. For the most part, Blizzard has been sticking to these race designs, but recently, I have started to notice a disturbing trend.
The Loss of Identity
In a post by a fellow TeamLiquider, he or she mentioned that in Heart of the Swarm, Terran needs to play more like a Zerg. My mind immediately jumped to this conclusion: Terrans must rush to the lategame as fast as possible, power their economy, then build a super slow and powerful deathball army. In other words, I have begun to identify Zerg as the slow, expensive army. Obviously, this is due to the Infestor/Brood Lord/Corrupter army that is so popular in Wings of Liberty.
This is what Zerg actually looks like. Shamelessly stolen from Ver's thread - Lings of Liberty: The Rise of the Patchzergs.
What about Protoss? Well, it is true that their army still consists of the fewest number of units. However, I'm sure many of you have experienced this - their units just feel more fragile than their Brood War counterparts. In Brood War, I could trust a Dragoon (well, I wouldn't trust it to move, but you get the point...) but in StarCraft II, I feel like the Stalker is so fragile. I'm scared to have a Stalker face a Roach, I'm scared to have a Stalker face a Marauder. Many arguments have been made about how the Warpgate research leads to weaker Gateway units, but the point is this: I have begun to identify Protoss units as fragile, they are not strong enough by themselves. They need numbers (such as a Blink Stalker timing that overwhelms the Zerg) or heavy support (Colossus, Templars, Archons, Motherships, oh my!).
Finally, there is Terran. It is hard to comment about Terran because the play styles are so diverse, from mech to bio to biomech to sky to skymech to biosky. Many people agree that Blizzard designed the Terran race best, although many also complain that Terran can be "fixed" through changes such as increased Tank damage. Certainly, Siege Tanks are not as strong anymore - if I have a decent number of Zealots or Zerglings, I feel comfortable attacking directly into a Tank line.
Balance and game design are two important aspects of the game. Without balance, a competitive progaming scene and the casual ladder scene suffer greatly, with certain races becoming foolish choices or the outcome of a match being decided at the very start. Without good game design, the game is doomed as a spectator scene - for example, if the only viable unit for Terran was the Viking and every TvT was just a battle of who could get more Vikings out, would you still enjoy TvT?
Race Design Leads to Game Design
Yet I contend that another equally important aspect of the game is race design. When I play Zerg, I should feel like a Swarm, not a moving bulldozer. In fact, I believe that race design is even more important than game design because the unique identities of each race lead to good game design.
Those who promote good game design might encourage the addition of a strong, expensive unit to the Zerg arsenal. This unit might promote good micro and positioning, might increase defender's advantage, might encourage multitasking, might break up the deathball, etc. In other words, this unit might be ideal for game design.
The problem with this is that such a unit is distinctly Protoss and should not be given to the Zergs. By only giving each race the type of unit that is suited for them, this creates a separation of identity. Zerg doesn't feel like Protoss which doesn't feel like Terran. They have distinct play styles. This creates interesting gameplay, simply because two distinctly different play styles clash against each other.
There are a lot of complaints about deathball vs. deathball fights. However, what about Brood War TvP? Many people would praise Brood War TvP, and the dynamic is slightly different. In Brood War TvP, the Terran builds what is essentially a deathball - a doom army of Siege Tanks, although there is much positioning and strategy involved. The Protoss must be everywhere on the map, relentlessly expanding, and overwhelming the Terran with numbers. Thus, Brood War TvP is slightly different - it's not deathball vs. deathball, but rather deathball vs. non-deathball.
Perhaps it's not the deathball which makes gameplay uninteresting, but the prevalence of deathball vs. deathball in every game. Right now, each race can create a deathball, leading to tons and tons of games which are deathball clashes. However, what if the entire Zerg race was designed to be fast-moving and low cost, forcing them to abandon the deathball style? Then half of the games (ZvT, ZvZ, ZvP) would look different, and perhaps more interesting to watch.
Maybe we wouldn't have to see this every game...
If every race were very different from each other, then every non-mirror matchup would become a clash of play styles. In turn, the mirror matchups would become more interesting, even the "deathball race" mirror matchup, because we wouldn't see deathball vs. deathball every single game, only in one matchup.
Unifying a race does not mean limiting a race's strategies. For example, make Protoss units strong and expensive, and remove Warp Gate and ridiculous mobility. Now, Protoss has a strong identity, but that does not mean every Protoss must play the same. MC can utilize the strength of Protoss units and devise great timing attacks, HerO can utilize the fact that Protoss units are strong by splitting them up and harassing - after all, even a small clump of units will be able to fend for themselves. Another Protoss (I don't know, Creator?) might favor a macro deathball style. However, no matter how you use the units, you know that Protoss units are strong and Zerg units are inherently weaker - and it is this conflict which will produce good games.
Disclaimer: This post is just my opinion, I am not an expert game designer so I do not pretend to hold all the answers. I am just presenting this opinion in hopes of starting a community discussion.
Important, but not as important as balance/game design (153)
Not important at all (18)
Slightly important - I guess Zerg Colossi would feel weird (13)
942 total votes
Your vote: How important is race design to you?
Your vote: How important is race design to you?
(Vote): Not important at all
(Vote): Slightly important - I guess Zerg Colossi would feel weird
(Vote): Important, but not as important as balance/game design
(Vote): Very important - I chose X race because I wanted to play a certain way!