A Design Exercise: Create a Starcraft Unit

10 Jul

I think we’re all familiar with Starcraft, and hopefully this means a wider range of people can participate this time around.

The challenge will be to design a new unit that fits into Starcraft — for the purposes of this exercise, the unit will be created for Starcraft 1, as all of the unit info is already exposed.

The last submissions will be accepted on Monday (the 14th).  I know, it’s short, but just give it a shot; sketch out a design at lunch — more time spent does not equal a better or more sound design.  Keep your designs short and concise, but feel free to submit multiple designs.

As with the TF2 exercise, this challenge will take game balance into consideration.  Designer David Sirlin usually comes along with the words “game balance” and he explains the strategy that should be taken when considering units in Starcraft:

Starcraft teaches us another useful balance principle as well: purity of purpose. For the most part, units in Starcraft are designed to each have a specific purpose that doesn’t obsolete any other unit. The more functionally independent each unit is, the better. The reason is that balancing is made that much easier.

So, where to start?

First up will be the constraints; for simplicity’s sake we’ll keep it to three:

  • The new unit cannot infringe upon another unit’s usefulness; it must be a viable strategic option for players.  Whether the unit promotes a new tactic or expands an existing one, it cannot upset the game’s balance.
  • The unit must fit into the Starcraft fiction, and the unit’s aesthetic design should reflect its mechanical utility within the game.  For example, it’s obvious what a Marine can and cannot do.
  • The unit should create the smallest impact possible.  This sounds counterintuitive, but while the unit must be fun and different, it still needs to play like Starcraft.  For example, a unit that requires another building to be produced is going to disrupt resource allocation and change build orders — this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if done right, but done WRONG it can have an unwanted impact on the game.

For this exercise we will also be following Sirlin’s definition of balance:

A multiplayer game is balanced if a reasonably large number of options available to the player are viable–especially, but not limited to, during high-level play by expert players.

Keep in mind that with its three different races, Starcraft is an asymmetrical game — each race has different choices to make, even if they lead to the same end.  The Terrans handle air defense differently than the Protoss, and the Zerg build units differently than the other factions; but all races are able to meet the same end goals of effective air defense and unit production.  This is a trend that continues throughout the game and is something Starcraft has managed to balance very well.

This means the existing balance is tentative, and any changes, especially a new unit, are going to have huge consequences that need to be planned for.

Have at ‘er.


16 Responses to “A Design Exercise: Create a Starcraft Unit”

  1. Duncan July 10, 2008 at 5:22 pm #

    This challenge is pretty tricky given that it would be hard to design a new unit for Starcraft for one faction without adding some kind of balance for the other two. I’m going to give it a shot anyway though.

    Unit: Magnetic Gravity Shifter
    Race : Terran
    Type: Vehicle
    Size: Medium
    Cost: 200 Minerals, 75 Vespean Gas
    HP: 175
    Requires : Science Facility

    Skills: Articulating Gravity Field (Activate/De-activate)
    Skills: [Researched] Defensive Deployment (Deploy/Return)

    When there is no high ground to take, make some of your own. The MGS is a an energy driven unit that can create a gravity altered field on the map around itself. All allied units entering this field will be elevated above ground level and treated as though they have the high ground at the cost of a unit of energy per tick. Within the scope of starcraft rules all units holding the high ground are 30% less likely to be hit and have an increased field of vision.

    If the shifter is destroyed while active all units within it’s range will take falling damage based on their size. Large units take a 60% damage penalty, medium a 45% and small a 30% penalty. Players could potentially place MGS units next to each other so when one is destroyed the other takes over.

    Alternatively it can be deployed as a defensive measure in a similar manner to the Siege Tank, where they perform a short deployment animation where they are vulnerable to attack. Using 50% of it’s energy it can deployed to create a gravity enhancing field. Causing nearby enemy units causing them to loose 30% of their ground speed. This does not have any effect on air units. The field instantly dissipates when the unit is destroyed, but does not cost energy to maintain. This cancels the effect of it’s primary field if the two where overlapped.


    My favorite tactic as Terran is to sneak behind someones base and drop ship an contingent of Siege tanks and ghosts/marines with a small escort of Wraiths for air cover; turning an enemy’s defensive terrain into a weakness. Sometimes the terrain is arranges in a way that doesn’t really make this an option. The driving idea behind my unit is that a player can create this opportunity. The enhanced field of vision from high ground significantly boosts Siege tanks firing range.

    Since Terran are micromanagement orientated, I decided that these units skills should be energy based. With skillful management (ie, using two units and switching between them) they could be used as a more permanent fixture. If just having a patch of high ground is not enough potentially you could deploy another in defensive mode to force a player to travel around before they get into range of your main force.

    The balance to this unit comes in it’s vulnerability comes in the added risk of damage to all the units it is supporting. Particularly it is vulnerable to Ariel attacks as units in the air are not effected by terrain height. It would be highly effective against melee units as they wouldn’t be able to hit any of the supported units as long as the field is active.

    I think this unit could also potentially be a Protoss unit with some simple modification to fit their playstyle. However it would have less use as the Protos have very few small (an thus low risk) units that have ranged attacks. It was primarily a Terran design as I am most familiar with that faction in Starcraft.

  2. Pieter Parker July 12, 2008 at 9:28 pm #

    This is a really challenging one, so here’s mine: I’m also going to break down how I approached this design challenge, as I am not the best Starcraft player but I am quite familiar with both the game and their races.

    Here I broke down what the Protoss are as a race and playing style:
    -Protoss are most costly in terms of mineral, gas, and population.
    -As a result the unit is far more powerful compared to the other races.
    -Their shields regenerate.
    -Building Time for many of the units are slow compared to the other races.
    -Self-constructing buildings
    -Instantly replenishable shields via Shield Battery

    -Vulnerable to the EMP Shockwave spell
    -The archon (against Terrans)
    -Too many building prerequisites

    -Do I want my unit to have spells? -No

    -Where on the tech tree does it fit? -Robotics Facility

    -Is it a ground or air unit? -Ground

    -How does it attack? -Kamikaze

    -Does it complement how the protoss fight? -Longer build time, more power, less numbers.

    -The playing style of the Protoss is to think up a plan, and then carry it out. -Natch

    -Gateway, Stargate, or Robotics Facility? -Robotics Facility

    -Is it stepping on any other unit’s specialty? -No, it is similair to the Reaver’s scarabs but there are enough radical differences that both are viable options.

    -How are the macro/micromanagement? =It can be effective if macromanaged and the opponent has let down their guard, but it also has the ability to be used in higher level micromanagement if combined with a multi-pronged assault. There are a variety of ways this unit could be used.

    -Is it balanced? -The reward matches the risk involved as these units can be taken down quite easily, but if they manage to get through the defenses they can do some massive damage.

    -Does it fit into the Starcraft/Protoss lore? -It is a robot, and it has been established that the Protoss do not mind using suicide units as can be seen by the Scarabs that the Reaver fires, so it is not inconceivable that the Protoss would utilize a unit like this.


    Minerals: 150
    Vespene Gas: 250
    Build Time: 40
    Supplies: 3
    Hit Points: 1
    Armor: 0
    Shields: 40
    Type:ground; robotic; small

    Weapon: Concussion blast
    Damage: 400 concussion splash
    Cooldown: n/a
    Range: 0

    Weapon: n/a
    Damage: n/a
    Cooldown: n/a
    Range: n/a

    Sight: 6
    Upgrades: n/a
    Prerequisites: Robotics Facility
    Abilities: n/a

    Misc. Data: The Interloper is a kamikaze unit that is designed to hammer away at your opponent’s frontlines. It is best utilized by sneaking the Interloper in with other units, as it is ineffective when used in a full frontal assault due to it’s low hp and shields. The Interloper must get right next to the target in order to be most effective. There is a slight delay before the Interloper detonates. After exploding the Interloper is instantly destroyed.

    There are a variety of techniques that this unit can be applied to, such as Interloper drops, warping Interlopers in with the arbiter, setting up Interloper defenses around your base; etc. The naturally high speed of the Interloper allows for the player to be able to kite their opponents so that they can prevent their Interloper from taking a large amount of damage when being chased by ground units.

  3. Vanadoss July 13, 2008 at 3:34 am #

    This is a tough one, here’s mine:

    I wanted to approach this from an economic standpoint in light of the vespene gas mechanics Blizzard have announced. With their added economic choice players will have to make informed decisions for their economy based on how the game is going, their own strategy and how their opponent is acting/reacting.

    Each race has different mineral requirements based on matchup, I know that from the first game, Zerg tended to be more gas dependant in their matchups than either Terran or Protoss. Also Terran seemed to be the most efficient with their resource consumption by comparison. These racial differences usually forced a player to produce units that tended to be of a mix that would complement their resource intake – for example Protoss Zealots were a cheap, non-gas option throughout the game for Protoss players.

    In SC I play Protoss so this is where I probably know the most in terms of Protoss’ weaknesses. Any unit I would create I would like to have a use in all 3 match ups – maybe not to the same extent but a use nevertheless.

    Here’s a summary of my perception of matchup styles, strengths and weaknesses:

    Protoss vs Protoss – game made up of soft and hard counters both on the ground and air, probably the hardest to design a unit for so anything made will need to have minimal impact to not encroach on other units domains.

    Protoss vs Zerg – Ground based game involving the use of Dragoons and Zealots mainly, with High templar in support. Tends to be a very resource dependant game for both sides with games going from being micro to macro-centric quickly. As a Protoss player it’s about keeping zerg numbers and expansions in check whilst trying to maintain your own simultaneously, if either army becomes too strong or large before the other, usually the scales will tip.

    Protoss vs Terran – Map control based game with both sides vying to trap the other. Early on Protoss can gain early pressure with Dragoons, which are tipped back the other way in the wake of siege tanks and spider mines. From there it tends to be a micro and map control based game with a stronger demand for well executed macro than a zerg vs protoss game.

    With most of that taken into account here’s my unit:

    The Behemoth

    Minerals: 125
    Gas: 100
    Produced: Robotics Facility, no additional requirements.
    Population: 2

    2 unit Transport -When destroyed occupants survive (different to shuttles and similar within which the units will die).
    “Shock” – Ranged AoE ability,[edit:energy cost of 50] deals 25 damage in a small AoE (about 3 tiles) over 5 seconds
    Has no other attack.

    Health: 200
    Shields: None, but +100 shields can be researched at the Shield Battery.
    Energy: 100 max, starts with 50.
    Armor: base 1, can increase through upgrades.
    Shield upgrades do not affect this unit.

    Speed: Similar but slower than the Dragoons.
    Size: Similar to a Reaver

    Design Reasoning

    I wanted another ground option for Protoss that would give them more options when approaching a battle, rather than seriously affecting the outcome. Placing the Behemoth on the tech tree available with your first robotics bay gives Protoss the option of creating it or the Dropship as your first mechanical unit and both can add support as well as mobility to early Protoss forces.

    The use of both abilities – as a carrier of ground units as well as the ranged light AoE play a vital part in defining the Behemoths role in the Protoss fleet.

    Firstly the Transport ability is intended as a way to get Protoss forces closer to the enemy – specifically across sieged areas. The higher amount of health as well as the potential shield upgrade allow the Behemoth to tread where most other Protoss forces will not cross, especially versus Terran who love to hold onto their real estate.
    The reasoning behind allowing the units within to survive is because I wanted to force players to make a choice between keeping it alive but pulling out early or kamikaze-ing into the frontlines to gain a few extra squares on your opponents units. At medium-high cost, this heavy unit would be both an expensive economic and a military loss, and as it’s built from an expensive queue it would greatly increase the importance of making the right choice on the battlefield.

    Next to explain the ranged low damage AoE. Starcraft skill has been greatly attributed to APM and micro/macro cycles. Most players will know that a unit will first target whatever is in range, secondly target whatever attacks them first, and then thirdly what the players tell them to target. the reasoning behind the ranged AoE is to draw an idle units fire onto the Behemoth, forcing a player to maintain better control of his unit, or have them attack a unit with little to no damaging ability when more important units may be around.

    An example of this would be in a Protoss vs Zerg battle where the 25 damage aoe isn’t enough to kill a zergling but may force a players idle or unmicroed units to attack the Behemoth for long enough that other units may deal some damage in the meantime. The high amount of HP of the Behemoth allows it to draw fire like this whilst other units pick units off. The other side of the coin is that if a player ignores the Behemoth for other targets, it may drop some units in an area you don’t want them – Zealots up close, or High Templar in part of your base you don’t want them for example.

    The greatest advantage of this unit is it’s health and ability to draw fire whilst protecting other units from it. The beauty of it is that because of it’s high cost it should not unbalance the game because it can be fought off with correct choices and micro, rather than any real hard counter. Because it’s manufactured at the Robotics bay it’s difficult to mass produce them and the extra expense of the Shield Battery and Shield upgrade would place a fully powered Behemoth out of the early game where it would most likely dominate an early Terran force.

    I hope you enjoyed my idea, if anyone has any questions about please email me at vanadossatgmaildotcom.
    Thanks for reading.

    • MotionSick February 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

      I think you should change energy use to 100 to let behemoth’s energy be 200 since he must have this amount of energy, nothing wrong with the unit, just the energy pattern was twisted with him, with low energy he would shine as an energy unit resistent to DA’s feedback.

      But I have an opinion, his price is like an dropship, and since he doesn’t has the air advantage of transport, he should be able to carry 4 slots.

  4. Vanadoss July 13, 2008 at 5:15 am #

    Also to add in “Shock” the ability has 50 energy cost – don’t suppose a mod could throw that in with my other post next to the ability description?

  5. Ameen Missoumi July 13, 2008 at 8:42 am #

    Zerg Creep Molter

    Tech Tree requirements: Queen’s Nest
    Cost: 100 mineral 250 vespene gas
    Type: Ground Unit
    HP: 150
    Energy: 0
    Armor: 1
    Size: medium
    Build Time: 50

    A brief history and description:
    The Creep Molter is a newly acquired Zerg gene from a remote planet. It stands 10 feet tall and it’s most defining feature is its large sac underneath an imposing bony maw. It has been known that if it chooses to, it can sacrifice itself in order to provide a new Creep patch that is not linked to the main Creep.

    Can it attack?
    No. The Creep Molter cannot due it being able to create a new creep patch.

    What are the Creep Molter powers?
    Spawn Creep- Creates an area of Creep that is large enough to place one Hatchery.
    Spawn Creep glands (research) – This increases the size of the Spawn Creep by 25%
    Burrow (Research) – Allows the Creep Molter to burrow.

    How is this balanced?
    To create a Zerg unit, I thought that I should create some sort of assault unit but that was soon thrown out the window because Zerg are already heavily assault based. I then decided to create a support unit, which would assist in helping with creating a new patch of Creep. I dubbed it the Creep Molter.
    This however is unbalanced due to the idea that, the player now does not have to “sneak” into the enemy base and get a hatchery created unless his enemy is Zerg. To balance this, the Creep Molter cannot attack.
    Also, the main power, Spawn Creep, requires the Creep Molter to be close enough for the other player to react and have a chance to kill the Creep Molter. To balance this further, once the power is used, the Creep Molter is killed and a Creep patch is placed.

  6. Freeze July 13, 2008 at 7:00 pm #

    Unit: Zerg Leecher
    Race : Zerg
    Type: Organic
    Size: Medium
    Cost: 100 Minerals, 120 Vespene Gas
    Take 2 supply.
    Required: Leecher Den (Roach Den)

    HP: 120
    Energy: 50
    Carapace: 0
    Move speed: fast
    Regenerating: None. Slow on creep.

    Versus ground.
    Weapon: Blood jaw (here: i dont have idea to name that)
    Range: Melle
    Cooldown: Medium
    Damage: 10

    Versus air.

    Individual upgrades:
    – Plague (Unlock Plague ability) – required Hive

    Leech (each attack suck organic victim hp and give it to attacker) / autocast or passive)
    – Plague (work on very small radius – to give effect from first SC you need something like 4 or 6 leechers) – each use cost 50 energy

    Idea for this unit comes when i saw Roach. This is imba crap. Completly take Hydralisk place on combat. I know i deny one of the rules ( The new unit cannot infringe upon another unit’s usefulness ) but this is only an idea. This unit brings big part of players favourite ability – plague. But to make effect we want we need a lot of microorganization. This unit, like Roach, give zerg some boost on the beginning of the game. But isnt imba.

    That my type.

  7. Lone Wolf December 5, 2008 at 8:33 pm #

    Unit: Generator Drone/Field Generator (whichever)
    Race : Protoss
    Type: as probe
    Build time: as probe * 1.5
    Size: Small
    Cost: 75 Minerals, 75 Vespene Gas
    Takes 1 supply.
    Required: Robotics Facility
    Role: Limited Portable Generator

    HP: 15
    Shield: 5
    Energy: 200
    Movement:as probe

    No (Direct) Attacks

    The unit can transfer it’s energy to another protoss unit, in an all or nothing fashion. Both units need to remain within range 2 for X seconds for the transfer to finish. At this point it can no longer move or maintain shields. It regains movement at 10 energy, shields at 50.

    When destroyed the Field Generator explodes doing 1/Y of it’s current energy store (rounded down, maximum 20) as damage in a radius of 1, and 1/2Y of it’s current energy store as damage out to a radius of 2 (max 10).

    X and Y are variables.

    The unit is intended to support , but can be used to perform suicide runs against melee enemies if you have no more units.

    200 extra energy for any protoss unit

    Drawn Back:
    vulnerable to ranged attack, potential to damage allies.

    The protoss produced the shield battery to recharge shields, it’s not a huge jump to say they might make something to recharge energy too.

    It’s not balanced as is, but can be balanced with a little bit of fiddling, hense the variables.

    There’s no infringement on any other units niche.

  8. Charlie April 2, 2009 at 8:15 am #

    My idea is a crabling
    250 minerals
    100 gas
    For 2
    Description=This crabling looks like a zergling but with to big fangs on its chins this crabling can not burrow but can still do basic things like most zergs like the healing technique these crablings can move a zergling speed the bonus and damage is what would make this a good unit except with those sneaky lurkers.

  9. Charlie April 2, 2009 at 9:12 am #

    my idea is a Morataker
    Look-a Goliath
    Cost-200 Both
    Terran Academy
    Armory and
    take-2 supply
    Damage/Ground-15(Impale Slashers)
    Damage/Air-20(Impact Missle)
    Energy Bonus-70
    Mind control-100 EP
    (Take over a unit)
    Pale Flare-150 EP
    (Makes a unit unable to atack)
    Miracle Heal-60
    (Full Heal)(Not Automatic)
    (Vanishes all units around the click)
    Range-Ghost Range
    Attack Speed-Marine attack speed
    Description=This Marataker is named that because of the taking ability’s and Mara for the healing.

  10. Action_Ability April 2, 2009 at 9:31 am #

    Ability caster
    This Ability caster can only do ability’s suck as healing and Nexus Teleportation and some more because this is mostly a near useless unit
    it can still be helpful like that it has a 100 energy bonus and cheaper spell prices and energy prices go lower.
    Look-a monster with 2 legs and 4 arms.
    (Heals Units by 2 HP)
    Nexus Teleport-25
    (Allows you to go to any of your allys are your nexuses)
    Bad Eye-10
    (Causes the Unit to see at a 25% range)
    Happy Heal-35
    (Heals half 50% of health)
    Free kill-5
    (Kills a unit at least under 100 HP Only)
    (Transforms you to a random unit pick and keeps you of the map and shows you as a ally to the other players)
    About This ability-takes 2 Energy while you are still transformed.

  11. Razor_Bkl April 4, 2009 at 12:03 pm #

    My idea of a unit is a unit that can be useful and one witch can not do splash and can not do anything bad to allys
    Attack speed/ground-ghost
    1:flashback/creates a little flash damaging most of the opponents health.
    2:MagePower/sends a medium size flash around the unit killing all surroundings.
    3:Suicide kill/kills the unit while leaving a dangerous pit for 5 seconds which will kill anything that touches it.
    Command Center with

  12. Fuck you starcraft creater April 14, 2009 at 10:33 pm #

    Operation Requirement
    These are the units details
    Speed-Slow as reaver
    Requires-8 types of buildings (Any)
    build Time-450 Seconds
    Specialty-Can allow you to build Fuck cannons with penises coming out also can let you build anything even building/Units FUCK YOU ALL

  13. MotionSick February 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm #


    Size:Medium(Uses 2 slots on dropship)
    Costs:125 Minerals 75 Gas
    Weapons:Machine Cannons 9×2 Damage(Bonus+1 per tech)
    Cooldown:17 Range:6 Targets:Ground Type:Normal
    Armor:1 Ground Speed:Same as Goliath
    Build Time:44
    Sight range:8

    An ground assaulter for the terran, It complements goliath forces for its superior ground weapons, but lack its ability of air fighting, making it not an substitute for goliaths and marines, also doesn’t removes siege tanks since it can’t attack defeses at long distances, It’s uses are for taking out more efficiently units that enter the deadzone of siege tanks than the goliath, but this reinforcement comes at the price of less goliaths to deal with air marauders or less siege tanks that could make defenses crumble faster.
    Good to complement drops and destroying Zealots and Zerglings that treaten stacioned siege tanks.

  14. MotionSick February 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm #


    Size:Small(2 slots on shuttle)
    Costs:150 Minerals 100 Gas
    Weapons:Psionic Sword 25 Damage(Bonus +3 per tech)
    Cooldown:30 Range:Melee target:Ground Type:Normal
    Psi Beam 10 Damage(Bonus +2 per tech)
    Cooldown:22 Range:4 target:Air Type:Concussive
    Hit Points:100 Shields:50
    Armor:1 Grounds Speed:Just like Zealot(Also benefits from Leg upgrade)
    Requires:Gateway-Citadel of Adun
    Build Time:50
    Sight Range:7
    Abilities:Shield Reinforment(En:50) AoE:2
    Increases shield armor of units affected by 1 for 3 minutes(or shield drains)
    Blessing of Fury(En:50)[reasearched at citadel of adun)AoE:units close to Paladin(Firebat’s Range)
    decreases Zealot’s cooldown to 15 for 3 minutes.
    Blessing of Vitality(En:75) AoE:2 [Researched at citadel]
    units affected recieve regeneration of thier Hit Points at the same speed they regenarate their Shields for 3 minutes.

    Note:Al pally skills affect only ground units
    Note2:Pally’s energy increase is reseached at citadel

    An protoss troop suporter that can be used as an Mutalisk/Scourge marauder


  1. Design Review: Create a Starcraft Unit « Vancouver Game Design - July 15, 2008

    […] Vancouver Game Design « A Design Exercise: Create a Starcraft Unit […]

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