'StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops' Lead Designer Talks Gameplay, Terrans And Tactical Nukes


The first part of StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops, the first-ever DLC campaign for StarCraft II, is coming out on March 29. The other two mission packs in the DLC are coming out later this year, and the whole campaign will explore the role of Nova in the Terran Dominion in the years after Legacy of the Void. The campaign is going to bring some new mechanics and features to StarCraft II and is the first phase of the game’s life after Legacy of the Void, the final campaign. iDigitalTimes recently interviewed StarCraft II lead game designer Jason Huck to discuss Nova Covert Ops, the game’s new mechanics and the future of StarCraft II. 

Nova Covert Ops Gameplay: Lead Designer Talks Gameplay, Features And More StarCraft II DLC

1.       What was the inspiration behind doing a new Terran campaign following Legacy of the Void?

Nova Covert Ops Mission Pack 1 Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

When we started talking about developing more missions for StarCraft II, we looked at other cool characters in the universe that we wanted to explore and what other stories we could tell. Nova unsurprisingly became the focal point of these discussions. While she only briefly appeared in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm, she’s always been a very interesting character that we and the fans love. We felt like returning to the Terran side for the next story was only natural, and focusing a story around Nova and the Terran Ghosts would also be a fun design space to explore. To distinguish this campaign from the scrappy mercenary story we told in Wings of Liberty, we felt it would be fun to focus the gameplay for Nova Covert Ops around black ops technology and what it means to be a Dominion Agent. The player will get to play with all sorts of new black ops equipment and technology that top Dominion scientists have developed over the course of this campaign.

Jason Huck, lead game designer for StarCraft II. Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

2.       What new features and mechanics are in the works for Nova Covert Ops? What are you most excited about?

As with all of our campaigns, we are introducing new mission and gameplay mechanics throughout the experience. One of the biggest changes we’ve made to our installation missions (missions where you control only Nova and a small handful of units) is modifying the way detection and cloaking mechanics work. While not trying to spoil too much here, when certain missions call for Nova to be stealthy, instead of using the traditional large detection circles in other StarCraft II missions, we are using a vision cone-based system that only detects cloaked units within that cone. This change to the cloaked gameplay mechanics has allowed us to develop more meaningful interactions in the environments and with units in the gameplay.  This is something we are excited to continue to build on in the future.

3.       Will there be gameplay mechanics outside of the missions themselves, á la the Hyperion and the Spear of Adun?

The Nova Equipment System Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

Yep! We’ve developed two new systems for Nova Covert Ops that we are very excited about. The first is our Nova Equipment System. As you play through the game, Nova unlocks more weapons, suits and gadgets that broaden her skills and abilities. For example, while Nova is most known for having her ghost rifle—the C-20A Canister Rifle—she could alternately be equipped with a shotgun that gives her the ability to do widespread area damage for those operations when going loud is required. Ultimately, it’s up to player preference when it comes to loading out Nova with the various pieces of equipment. The other system for Nova Covert Ops is our Unit Technology system. This one is more familiar to players, as it allows the player to make dramatic changes to their army units in the game. One upgrade that we think is cool is a new Jump Jet ability for the Siege Tank that allows it to get to higher ground locations that it normally could not get to and thus getting a strategic advantage over the enemies.

4.       How heavily will installation missions feature in the campaign? Will Nova play a major gameplay role, like Kerrigan did in Heart of the Swarm?

Nova Covert Ops Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

This is still StarCraft II and a wide variety of mission types is what we feel to be most fun for the player. A few installation missions throughout the experience exist, but the majority of missions are still base and army building missions with Nova doing some of the heavy lifting or tactical precision strikes (again, it’s all about how you kit her out in the equipment system). Nova is present in every mission, although we’ve consciously tried to make her not as powerful as Kerrigan—Nova is still human, after all. That doesn’t mean we’ve intentionally made her weak—far from it actually, as she is still the best Dominion ghost out there. She can always drop a tactical nuke if the going gets tough.

5.       Will Nova Covert Ops follow the pattern of the other StarCraft II campaigns, where new units and structures unlock gradually? Does the first mission pack ease players into the campaign or do they jump right in?

The campaign has a bit of an accelerated start, but still does unlock new units and upgrades gradually over time. It isn’t as rigid or defined as previous campaigns though – some missions may give the player access to two or three units immediately and other missions may not unlock anything new (aside from unit technology or Nova equipment). We want players to feel like they have access to the near limitless resources and technology of the Dominion and therefore have the right tools for the job.

6.       Will each part of the mission pack work as a standalone experience? Will anything carry over between campaign missions?

Nova Covert Ops Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

Nova Covert Ops is designed to be a linear storytelling experience so I don’t think you’d want to play mission pack 2 or 3 before playing mission pack 1! You would miss a lot of cool stuff!  All the equipment and unit upgrades that a player unlocks in the first mission pack of Nova Covert Ops carry over to the second and third mission packs as well, so you’ll get to continue to play with all the cool things you’ve unlocked in past missions.

7.       Could you explain the decision for Nova Covert Ops to only require StarCraft II Starter Edition?

We felt like removing all barriers to playing Nova Covert Ops is the best decision for our players, so allowing it to be played with the free version of StarCraft II just made sense to us.

8.       Are you considering other single-player DLC in the future? What about additional multiplayer content?

Depending on the success of Nova Covert Ops, we will consider doing more of this in the future. There are plenty of other characters in the StarCraft universe we’d love to explore from a story and gameplay perspective. The StarCraft universe is rich and vast with potential and I’m super excited about the things we’re working on right now. We’ve got a bunch of crazy cool stuff planned for StarCraft II multiplayer and Co-op missions that you’ll be hearing about in the not-so-distant future!

StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops is out on March 29 (which means you still have a little time to preorder, if you hurry).


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