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October 21, 2017

Aspects of Co-op commanders

There are several aspects to co-op commanders that I find important for their design. I tried to keep these in mind when writing my UED design exercise. Those aspects are following:

  1. Theme
  2. Fun gameplay for all skill levels
  3. Tools for every situation
  4. Diverse gameplay
  5. Interactions between commanders
  6. Role in mutations

I. Theme

A strong theme is always necessary. Co-op commanders have to play, look and feel differently from one another. Some players will appreciate different gameplay, some the art style and some the history behind the commander.

II. Fun gameplay for all skill levels

It has to be certain that players across all skill levels can play the commander and experience his gameplay the way it's meant to be played. His core mechanics shouldn't be locked behind a certain level of skill being required to execute them. On the other side, a commander also has to reward micro, multitasking and other forms of skill shown by players.

While that is true, there can be significant differences between commanders. Often, commanders focus on a particular set of skills and leave other skills alone. A good example is Nova - she rewards player's micro, but her macro is almost non-existent. Stukov on the other hand requires very little micro and focuses on macro and strategy. This diversity makes the co-op experience more varied and gives every type of player a commander to enjoy.

III. Tools for every situation

A commander needs various tools to deal with all kinds of scenarios. Examples vary from getting a solid grip on the early game, dealing with sudden enemy threats, to scaling well against late game enemies. Solid anti-air options, mobility and balanced resource spending are points around which a commander has to be balanced.

It is alright for certain commanders to be weaker in different scenarios, but only to a certain point. Zagara has great early game, but she doesn't scale well into late game. For the same reason, she struggles with mutators that force her to trade away units constantly. Another example is Swann, who has a great late game presence, but can struggle in the early-mid game. All these differences make commanders interesting, but commanders should always have some ways to overcome their problems. Completely relying on the ally to fill the holes would be frustrating for both players.

IV. Diverse gameplay

In my opinion every commander should have more viable ways in which players can play them. That sort of thing adds replayability, depth and gives each commander more tools that they can use on different maps and situations. One of the ways to achieve this is to make multiple unit compositions viable.

Good examples of this would be Karax, who can focus on turrets or an army; Swann has several viable compositions, as do Kerrigan and Abathur. Some commanders, such as Alarak, Stukov, Artanis, Vorazun or Fenix, could easily have multiple compositions that are viable with a little more work, but the balance and fine-tuning of those commanders isn't quite there. Nova is a special case with her fluid composition. Each unit available adds a lot of diversity to the possible compositions. It's an idea that works very well, but shouldn't be overused.

V. Interactions between commanders

In Co-op there are always two players. Two players that are not just playing alongside each other, but together. The more ways a commander can help their ally, the better. Being in a team with certain commanders feels different and gameplay is changed.

Good examples of this are Swann, whose Vespene Drones offset the usual gas economy; Karax can take care of defenses and aid with Spear of Adun and energizers; Artanis' Guardian Shell or Vorazun's Emergency Recall, Black Hole and Timestop. Kerrigan can also help immensely with Omega Networks. A not as good example would be Kerrigan's Malignant Creep. While it does increase damage significantly, it doesn't change gameplay and players likely won't notice this "hidden power"[1]. On the positive side the Malignant Creep's regeneration negates the Black Death mutator for workers on several commanders.

VI. Role in mutations

This might be perhaps the least important aspect of the commander, and it's not easy to take this into consideration when designing a commander. Strengths and weaknesses will often show up late. But it's preferable if a commander excels at least in one thing. Each mutation poses a particular problem. Some commanders like Stukov do well against a wide variety of mutators, and so are generally very successful. Some commanders like Artanis or Zagara don't perform as well, but they have their strengths and will use them, when a particular mutation comes up. Then there is a commander like Fenix, who does well enough on regular missions, but doesn't excel at anything in particular. He is not powerful enough to do well on a wide variety of mutations, and he lacks specialized strengths that could be useful in at least some mutations.

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