StarCraft II: Shadow of the Xel'Naga

StarCraft II: Shadow of the Xel'Naga is a custom campaign for the award-winning Real-Time-Strategy game StarCraft II. Each map is unique and based on a different sub-genre of strategy games. Additionally the campaign offers co-operative gameplay. All maps can be played alone or with a friend. The story is based on the eponymous StarCraft novel, written by Gabriel Mesta.

Key Features

  • 7 highly varied maps, based on a different sub-genres of strategy games. Multiple types of objectives, units, and abilities per map.
  • Story based on the novel Shadow of the Xel'Naga: A violent storm uncovers an ancient xel'naga artifact on the colony planet Bhekar Ro. All hell breaks loose when this temple calls hostile aliens.
  • High quality terrain and cinematics, supported by many custom assets.
  • Playable in single-player or two-player co-operative mode on 4 difficulty levels.
  • Available in English and German
  • Free to play for everyone on the StarCraft II Arcade.

How To Play

Anyone who owns the free StarCraft II Starter Edition can play any map of the campaign. Simply start StarCraft II, go to the Arcade tab, type in "Shadow of the Xel'Naga" or "sotx" in the search tab and you can select any of the 7 maps to create a new game. It is recommended that you start with "Chapter 1: Welcome to Bhekar Ro".

Direct Links

Update Information

Mission 1: Welcome to Bhekar Ro

Map Specific Features

  • Introduction to setting and characters
  • Varied objectives supported by semi-linear level design
  • Two unique heroes with different playstyles and sets of skills
  • Drivable vehicles used to overcome distances and kill enemies

Map Creation Summary

I wanted to create a unique campaign experience by including a two-player-co-operative mode and develop each map based on a different game genre. For a strong background story I decided to base the campaign on the StarCraft novel Shadow of the Xel'Naga.

In the first playable prototype the player's hero could drive around in a vehicle and completed objectives like collecting items, killing hostile units, repairing bridges and threshing small animals with the vehicle. The use of the vehicle was so much fun that I added a second one for the co-op partner so both players could use vehicles at any time.

I split the map into three sections. The first and last are short and linear with focus on story. The second part is very open and promotes the use of vehicles to complete numerous objectives. Over time I added more features to specific objectives, abilities for the heroes and their vehicles and rescuable units. I started work on terrain and cinematics after the gameplay was finished.

Mission 2: Uninvited Guests

Map Specific Features

  • Point & click adventure gameplay with puzzles instead of combat
  • Custom inventory system: inspect, use, combine, or give items
  • Multiple choice dialogues
  • Fixed camera angles (optional)

Map Creation Summary

The story for Mission 2 provided the opportunity for a non-violent map. I took advantage of my experience with puzzles, to create a Point & Click Adventure map.

Prior to the creation in the editor I documented map flow, enemy unit types, usable item types, combination of puzzles. Each of the players would control a different hero with a unique set of abilities. Both heroes are able to pick up and use items and talk to NPCs. I implemented an optional camera system with fixed angles, similar to the classic Resident Evil games. I created lists of how many tasks each hero had to complete. This way I made sure each hero was used as often the the other.

When I was happy with the gameplay I started working on the visuals and cinematics. I created a unique look for each area. For example: The town center looks like a construction site that is constantly being worked on because of the bad storms on the planet. The outskirts are dry and the environment alone had to appear dangerous.

Mission 3: A Shadow in Between

Map Specific Features

  • MOBA gameplay with endless enemy waves
  • Two heroes with unique playstyles and sets of abilities
  • Heroes gain experience to upgrade their abilities
  • Inventory and shop systems for usable items

Map Creation Summary

Inspired by games like League of Legends I created a prototype map in which enemy AIs would send units towards one another. The players would use a heroes of units to assist an allied AI. These heroes would gain experience from slain enemies and upgrade their abilities with enough experience. One hero uses stealth while the other uses its healing abilities. All of the map can be played with any play style, by any hero, while the heroes still benefit most when working together.

Due to the inability to save games on the death of a hero does not end the map in defeat, but merely makes him unavailable for a few seconds. Similar mechanics exist in all maps of the campaign.

I made sure each area had a unique look, with at least one highlight players would recognize immediately when moving the camera quickly. These highlights include infested command centers, fissure cracks or glowing rocks.

Mission 4: Xeno Defense

Map Specific Features

  • Tower Defense gameplay with strategic positioning of structures
  • Two heroes with different buildable structures and abilities
  • 15 types of defensive structures, 4 areas, and 20 waves
  • Structures gain experience to upgrade their damage or life

Map Creation Summary

For a change of pace I wanted to create a Tower Defense map, with limited base control and resource gathering.

The map consists of 4 small areas that have to be defended from enemy waves. Each area is unique in terms of layout, enemy unit types and towers that should be built. Players have some time before each wave to train workers that gather resources, research new types of towers, build towers, or scout the surrounding area for more resources. A lot of time went into fine-tuning all areas. Each area offers unique challenges, and both heroes should built towers, as different from one another as possible.

Between the defence of each area the players are be able to complete optional objectives without time pressure. I added puzzle elements to the optional objectives. For example: There are hidden Lurkers in the area and the players has to build Missile Turrets to detect them. Missile Turrets can't attack ground units so the players have to built additional long-range towers to kill them.

Mission 5: Twilight

Map Specific Features

  • Stealth gameplay where players have to avoid or stun enemy units
  • Realistic enemy vision cones reactions based on spotted heroes
  • Multiple types of enemies with varied behaviour
  • Enemies can hear running heroes

Map Creation Summary

I like games like Commandos or Desperados that allow creative freedom when dealing with enemies so I wanted to create a map with similar gameplay.

I emulated the vision cone feature: Enemy units no longer react to the heroes controlled by the players if they are not inside their vision cone. This instantly allows multiple ways on how to deal with enemies. The heroes can make enemies face an other direction, make them investigate areas or stun them. I also created a walk/run ability for the heroes. Running is faster but will alert nearby enemies. The enemy AI reacts differently depending on what they see or hear: Initially they just patrol an area or face a specific direction. If distracted by players they investigate the disturbance by walking towards it. When spotting player units they run after them until they are caught, out of sight or incapacitated.

The level design starts very linear to teach the players all map specific features of the map. It gets more open after some time and players are able to use abilities very creatively.

Mission 6: First In, First Out

Map Specific Features

  • Dungeon crawler with multiple boss fights
  • Four types of playable units with unique abilities
  • Units gain experience, new abilities and can be promoted to hero units
  • AI-controlled hero unit that follows and protects player units

Map Creation Summary

Inspired by indoor missions made famous by Command & Conquer and StarCraft I wanted to create a map that focused solely on the micro management during combat.

In addition to fighting multiple enemies in small corridors I wanted to include boss fights that require quick reactions. To further distinguish this map from other maps in the campaign I limited the use of hero units. Players control a handful of units, that gain experience through combat, learn new abilities and become more powerful with each level. At maximum level a unit could be promoted to become more powerful hero units. The story in the book also demanded that I include the character "Lieutenant Scott", I didn't want any player to control him so I added him as an AI-controlled ally.

Due to the inability to load games on losing all player units does not end the map in defeat. Instead the current area is reset. This way the players aren't forced to restart the map from scratch and only lose progress of 10 minutes at most.

Mission 7: The Phoenix

Map Specific Features

  • Very large map with open space that allows many strategies
  • Classic Starcraft 1 tech-tree with many types of units and structures
  • Call down nuclear strikes or summon the terran flagship Norad III

Map Creation Summary

The idea of building a base and having large armies clash seemed like a perfect conclusion to this epic campaign.

I divided this mission into two parts: The first part is about holding a position for a fixed amount of time. After that the objective is to destroy the enemy bases. While the tech-tree remains the same for both players each of them has special abilities. These abilities can scan an area, call in additional units, supplies, and even powerful nuclear strikes.

To make the gameplay even more interesting I implemented a feature I call "Supercharge". For each enemy building that is destroyed all units and buildings of that race get a 5% life/shields increase. This effect can stack, making enemies much more powerful than before. This effect starts wearing off when a building isn't destroyed for some time. This feature motivates players to be more careful and alternate attacks between the enemy bases while waiting for the effect to cool down.