One of the things I am facing in my design challenges is heroes. So, let's break down my experiences with heroes and consider them for a few moments.
Wc3: Heroes are tied to altars except in RPG maps. If they die in RPG maps because you fucked up, you lose. If they die in a B&D map, you push a button, pay the pimp some green, and they pop out again. Also, there's the odd item that lets you rez.
Brood War, Exigo: Your hero bites the dust anywhere and you lose.
Hots: Your hero autorevives. I lost one mission because of this and enormous carelessness, otherwise you kind of don't care. In RPG maps, you lose (usually) but in an RPG-like addition to BND maps (the platform) you auto revive anyways.
So, there's a bit of not really knowing what is going on. I was talking to a coon earlier and he expressed considerable dislike for the auto revive in hots. Until now, I had considered most campaigns I would create using heroes to just use the wc3 system. It seemed functional enough. But the more I thought about it, the more it really did bother me. Wc3 didn't punish you for being careless at all. Sure, my maps would be a lot harder, and having a hero out of commission for a while could be bad, but due to their huge scale, you still wouldn't really suffer diverse effects from losing your hero.
However, in BW and most memorably Exigo, despite heroes being fairly strong, I often felt inclined to hide them in places so they don't accidentally off themselves. It happened quite often in Exigo, and lead to much rage. In RPG maps, heroes could often end up with no health and prove to be a real liability despite leaning on their offensive power. In BW RPG maps, well they weren't RPG maps and I hated them. I don't like RPG maps in RTS games, but I was looking at probably having to make a few of my own to break some B&D monotony. Plus, I had a few ideas I figured I could employ to bring much needed life to the incredibly boring installation maps common in the average campaign.
First, though, I needed to figure out a big problem. How was I going to handle heroes?
My heroes are of the non-leveling variety. If I am to increase a hero's power, either through abilities or stats, I will do it through triggers. Hots talents are convoluted and largely uninteresting, while my design doesn't need an attribute-oriented system like wc3.
The death systems of all of these games have advantages and disadvantages. There's two major end of the spectrums - Heroes are horrifically OP, like in hots, or they are often a liability, like Exigo. In a big map, it can really suck to lose your hero accidentally and get totally fucked. But heroes are typically really strong, and having an expendable super unit at a whim seems silly. I want heroes to be fairly centric to your strengths when you get them, but something you need to look after.
I started thinking about something similar to Reincarnate from wc3. The actual description for this in my concept script is as follows;
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unlock - Reincarnation (passive) "When Lazarus takes fatal damage he turns into a pile of embers and is reborn with 15% of his max health after 20 seconds. This ability has a 160 second cooldown."
There's a few reasons behind this initial design. The first reason is, I don't want to fuck over the player because he wasn't paying attention and X big bad walked into your dude, or you got rammed into a really shitty defensive spot and your hero got stuck. However, I do want to punish you for being careless.
I think auto-reviving at your home is too much. Some kind of penalty should be incurred. But a monetary penalty is largely worthless. We don't have levels or anything of the sort, so some kind of level drain would be too arbitrary. Death having some kind of res sickness or debuff could have really unintended and ugly side effects in something as fast paced as my 300 apm multi-base missions.
At the same time, I wanted a system I could effortlessly employ in any kind of RPG map. This seemed to suit the idea the best. If you somehow wipe half your army but win a fight, your hero will eventually be available again, but kind of vulnerable until he, in the case of Lazarus, health steals or cooldowns his way back up. Alternatively, in the defensive situation, he'll come back a little while after the battle will have progressed or ended. The res timer is lengthy enough that it can't easily be abused, but short enough that you can weave into it with your army movements.
Of course, if he dies while it's on cooldown, it's game over.
We're talking about big maps. There won't be a map smaller than 256x256. When it comes to any kind of design or balancing decision, we need to consider all possible routes of potential for this or that action to influence or be influenced by that motion.
Since our campaign involves huge armies and multi-base gameplay, it is not unfathomable for the player to get caught off guard and out of position multiple times in a short interval. In any given engagement, you could easily lose your hero and your army. While you may still be in a really strong position elsewhere on the map, the hero's death will arbitrarily fail you. This will lead to the player trying to avoid this - the hero will get stuffed in the base and otherwise ignored. Again, on the flip side, we have the incredibly abusive hots hero system. Hots, however, also suffers from non-existent enemy AI, no such multi-base gameplay, and no real threat of losing the game just because your hero died. These problems all compound each other.
However, if we hypothetically say we are using the hots auto-revive, our heroes will still be overpowered anyways. They will be overpowered in the sense that you get an X powerful unit for nothing that you really don't need to keep alive. Our gameplay is longer, slower, more drawn out - auto revives become stronger as a result.
Plus, I feel automation is a bad thing. While Supreme Commander apologists fight to have an RTS where the entire game plays itself, I felt that the auto revive in hots and the altars in wc3 were too arbitrary. However, a system like what the coon suggested, where you have to fly something over and revive the hero yourself in X time, sounds irritating in a game environment where every action per minute needs to be valuable in tangible activity, not just adhering to some oddball mechanic designed simply to bloat actions (cough macro mechanics).
The reincarnate system sounds most ideal in a RPG environment. You can't cheese big fights with it, but if you slip up a few times it's a safety net. I can choose to pursue an RPG design where every individual fight is really tough without feeling uncertain about unexpected deaths. The safety net is minimal in such a regard, but it is there, and it's more than enough for my targeted skill level in gameplay.
The problems really begin to creep up when we consider my B&D maps. Enormous, filled with units, and home to some of the nastiest bosses, these maps are all over the fucking place and often contain multiple team scenarios. That 20 second rez leeway may as well be one second if shit really hits the fan in one of these. Players will most certainly be inclined to, at most, devote the hero to base defense.
In consideration, this is not necessarily a bad thing. We don't want our heroes to be overwhelmingly strong like Kerrigan in hots or anything in wc3. Our heroes will be super strong, sure, but the maps will be quite large scale in terms of armies and combat content. In my current concept, you will be facing down over four dozen ravens an attack group from your opponents sporting new, highly aggressive tactical AI on your second mission. No hero you command will be able to take that many seeker missiles at once. There's nothing saying that can't happen in any given map. How would we balance our revive around that?
Few things are more frustrating than losing to arbitrary mechanics or shit largely out of your control. But, somewhere, the line in the East Indian lottery must be drawn.
The easiest way out is to simply not have heroes in B&D maps. But I think having a strong hero available to help deal with all the ridiculous minibosses that will be flying around would add some diversity in a very long campaign.