First off: What is Terran Interceptor?
Terran Interceptor is a custom StarCraft 2 map where players fly a light air unit to accomplish a series objectives. The player’s fighter climbs and dives to avoid buildings and other obstacles, sporting heat-seeker missiles, a small cannon, afterburners for a burst of speed, and flares that confuse its enemies.
This map uses custom scripts to simulate physics. This means that the units bank to turn, fight g-forces, and convey a sense of the power of the machines depicted. Players, then, are not commanders; they’re pilots.
Here is a video of what that looks like in action:
My intention with this map, and others in the series I’ve been working on, is to offer tactile gameplay. Not quite arcade-y action, not quite simulation, but somewhere in the middle of the two.
This map in particular is supposed to be an introduction to this kind of gameplay, teaching the player how each mechanic works. Each aspect of the light fighter is explored, and given context with various challenges the player has to overcome. The challenge for me there was to structure the mission in such a way that it wasn’t a lecture, didn’t hold the player’s hand too much, and yet wasn’t prohibitively difficult.
Here is a technical breakdown of one of the signature abilities in this map: Heatseeker missiles.
Time-to-fun was actually an important metric for me when I was considering the map’s flow. During the iteration process I had to restructure the mission several times to bring that number as close to 0 as possible, while still teaching players everything they needed to know.
There are a handful of unit types in Terran Interceptor:
- Drones you shoot down
- Probes you chase after
- Turrets that shoot at you if you fly over buildings
- And a Big Bad corvette that plays the role of final boss.
Each one has different physics characteristics and abilities, showing the player just how far the rules of the playing field can flex. Some, like the turrets, are meant to shape the landscape and force the player to actually care about the terrain, offering an increased skill challenge.
One of the harder lessons that I had to learn during the development of this map, and other maps that use this type of custom gameplay, was that ff you change basic behavior, like movement as I did here, you will have to change everything else around it. The AI had to change, the UI had to change, the way the camera behaves, the way maps are laid out, etc.. I ended doing a fairly deep dive into the inner workings of the Galaxy engine as a result. It was a good experience to have since it made me more comfortable learning complex systems in game engines, but it did slow down development considerably.
Along the way, I ended up learning quite a bit about how physics engines in general work, along with some math I somehow glossed over from my school days. As it turns out, making games isn’t easy.
Another hard lesson is that this type of gameplay will never be perfect in the Galaxy engine. The way that it handles controls, the way that the scripting is executed present obstacles that are quite difficult to get around of.
Even so, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished here, and I’m going to continue working on more of it in the future.
The map is available in the StarCraft 2 custom tab. Just search for Terran Interceptor.