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August 11, 2017

Fatal Attraction and Propagators

Fatal Attraction and Propagators
Two new mutators were added to the custom mutators in StarCraft 2 Co-op: Fatal Attraction and Propagators. The custom mode is far behind the official weekly mutations in available mutators, and so I welcome any additions. But both new mutators have their share of issues, and they are perhaps the least exciting pair to add.
 
Let's start with the Propagators mutator, which is the more interesting one out of those two. Random enemy buildings spawn propagators. Anything propagators attack turns into another propagator. The new propagators have the same amount of HP as the original propagator. They have low range, high HP (450 on brutal) and a detector ability. They can be slowed, but can't be lifted. So far so good, and it's a very interesting concept indeed.

The issue is that in practice the interaction with propagators is very binary. Players either kill propagators safely from the distance, or propagators close in and players either lose outright or take too severe losses. The games where players lose a chunk of their army, kill remaining propagators and recover are rare, but also the most fun. Furthermore, this mutator requires a lot of attention, and missing one on the minimap can easily lose you a game.

With the small changes to the mutator, close games could be more common and the mutator more engaging. The goal is to let propagators close in more often while reducing their threat when they do so. The first part is straightforward. Changes to their numbers, movement speed and life would let them close in more easily. The mutator can be combined with other mutators like “Speedfreaks”, “Just Die!”, “Polarity” and “We Move Unseen” for the similar effect. The second part, reducing their threat, is trickier but possible. The goal is to slow down their exponential growth. Good options are changes to the damage point of the attack or adding initial cooldown (in case of ability). Both serve the same purpose—extending the delay between the new propagator being created, and the new propagator attacking/propagating again. Other interesting options are that propagators lose some fraction of their current and total life when they replicate, or gain temporally speed debuff. All those changes make propagator threat more manageable after they close in.
Now let's look at the Fatal Attraction. When any enemy unit dies, a whirlwind is created that pulls nearby player's units towards the killed unit. That doesn't sound bad, but the gameplay is unfortunately different. There are three main problems with this mutator:
  1. Pull cancels orders that players issued to their units. It's annoying when a single enemy unit stops mining on several workers, cancel spells or move/a-move orders. 
  2. The pull range is very long (9). Players cannot overcome this mutator with long-range units and micro. We lose a potentially interesting counterplay that would reward player's skill.
  3. Units get stunned a lot. There is nothing more discouraging than watching your army die without being able to control it. Not being able to command your army goes against basic principles that make StarCraft fun. Yes, there are stunlocks in other games, but they are very rare and have their purpose.
What changes would make this mutator good? The solution is not apparent. There would have to be done testing to reach the best outcome. Reducing range to 5-6 would be a good start. Reducing stun length on all units sounds good, but having reduced stun length on all hero units would go long way alone.

There is also the fact that units with zero movement acceleration won't get pulled. That is true for most stationary units like sieged Tanks or sieged Liberators. I'm not sure whether it is intended. It's good that there is at least some way players can respond to this mutator, but it's not a particularly fun way.

We were given two interesting mutators, but they have big issues. I will find some place for propagators in my custom mutations, but I will stay away from Fatal Attraction for now. At least unless I want to annoy players.

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