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StarCraft II Developers Talk

29 Jun 2009  by   Paul Younger
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IncGamers were invited to Blizzard’s multiplayer sneak peek event the third week of June, and besides checking out all the new details of the game, we also had time to talk with the people behind the game, namely VP of game design Rob Pardo, StarCraft II lead producer Chris Sigaty and lead designer, Dustin Browder.

So what’s Battle.net all about and how is it different?

The new Battle.net will completely revolutionise the current version, but Blizzard is still looking to making this experience free for anyone buying StarCraft II or future games that use Battle.net. One idea which has been discussed in different iterations is microtransactions, meaning the service is free, but added value services like starting a custom tournament, league, or the like would cost a small amount of money.

“Obviously those things have been discussed but nothing has been decided,” said Browder to us, and mentioned the small add in the current Battle.net. “We spent a lot of money on Battle.net, right, so we need some way to sustain it,” he continued, but “current mockups don’t include ads.”

Rob Pardo added: “Pretty much all of it [is free] as far as Europe and America is concerned, Asia is a little different how they do things, [but] there will be certain features that you pay for.” He mentioned WoW as an example, where “value added services” like server transfers are paid for, but “you can get the full experience of Battle.net with all the features just from buying the box.”

The StarCraft II and Battle.net teams are looking to make Battle.net more than just a meeting place. Chris Sigaty said: “We are definitely a company that is very aware of technology and were things are going, and all of us have involved in all things that have happened in the world since Warcraft III, Facebook, Myspace, all these sort of social networking sites.” He also made reference to gaming-specific networks like  Steam and Rupture as other “sites that attempt to bring gamers together,” but pointed out that they are looking at the full spectrum.

“At the core we want to make sure people get into meaningful games and play against people of their skill level and therefore have fun.

“Our aim is to deliver far better than we have done in the past, and basically connect players because the social side is important,” said Sigaty.

An example is the current Battle.net forums, which are currently the only social side to the network, but Blizzard has plans to be able to reach them directly from within the game without having to exit the game and open a browser window. “Whether it will be directly available at launch with Battle.net is something I don’t know if it’s going to happen,” Sigaty said.

How will the map-making community be intergrated?

Related to the social side of gaming is also the map-making community that has grown over the years, starting with the classic WarCraft II, and revamped initially for StarCraft and then WarCraft III. The new StarCraft II Map Editor program does everything. Players will even be asble to make their own full-size campaigns with Story Mode using all the features and tools Blizzard has. “I’m not saying it’d not extremely complicated,” Browder said, “It’s EXTREMELY complicated, but it’s possible”. No game mods are needed either, everything is possible to add to your own games using the editor.

Custom games like DotA and future user-made maps made for StarCraft II will also be easier to get to. “We’ve definitely done a lot of workaround allowing for custom maps that are very popular to come over more easily than it was in War 3,” Sigaty said, pointing out it was an ardours process in WarCraft 3. “The map data is [now] configured more successful to make them into ladders at launch.”

Joining a current game will not be possible at launch, but “we have some long terms plans to do a lot with exactly that,” explained Sigaty. “The idea of joining and looking at game types you might be interested in participating in, but want to check out first that’s something that’s possible.”

“The mission editor is something we’re really proud of,” said Pardo. “We want to do a better job to support them on battle.net this time too. Like the custom game search,” which would allow players who want to play a specific type of custom game to do so easier.

“We really want to support mapmaker at Battle.net better and be able to show what maps are popular,” he finished.

Specifically DotA-like maps will likely be available pretty short after launch, as the game already has support for heroes like WarCraft III, even if the multiplayer game don’t use them. More on mapmaking here.

Did you have a concrete plan for the single player story?

When Blizzard started working on the story of the game, they did not have a concrete plan. Browder said they “definitely had ideas where [they] thought the storyline was going to go,” and as an easter egg for StarCraft: Brood Wars, Blizzard added a mp called Dark Origins. “We really wanted to foreshadow what the next chapter of the story would be. But we definitely did not have a written narrative.”

He explained about the process of making the story for StarCraft II: “We kinda dusted all [old material] off and said ‘here is where we were, here’s kinda where we thought it was going to be.

“Then we use that as buiding blocks,” and “started talking about ‘ok what are big moments we wanna hit where are the big things we wanna see, who are our major characters’ and then we just collaboratively started to craft out the storyline from there.”

When Browder was asked if famous characters like Nova (from the cancelled StarCraft: Ghost) or Michael Liberty (character from a StarCraft novel) will turn up in single player, he said “there is a chance” with a massive grin. “There is definitely a chance, we’ll see.”

Is the single player campaign a tutorial for multiplayer?

As announced at BlizzCon 2007, StarCraft II will be released in three parts. These single player campaigns will be very different from multiplayer, with numerous units and features that are excluded from multiplayer due to balancing reasons.

“We don’t look at single player as a training ground for multiplayer, because the requirements for a very competitive player is different,” Sigaty said, explaining the single player missions will be more complex than a multiplayer game where you “only” need to wipe out your opponent.

Instead, StarCraft II has “several [other] things for the single player.” It will have “recorded tutorials that allow players to see different bits of functionality they can refer to whenever they want,” and “something we call Challenges, which is new to StarCraft II, and it’s basically very specific situations that allow players to get ready for the sort of things you might want to be thinking about when playing multiplayer.”

These Challenges include simple tasks like efficient resource gathering, to more advanced unit countering, and “micro“. We won’t see these before the game ships though, as “it’s a shipping product, it’s not meant for beta.”

Will StarCraft II be available on consoles, or over LAN?

We got quite different answers about local area networking (LAN), where both Dustin or Sigaty said they were still discussing it, however, Pardo knew immediately: “we don’t have any plans to support LAN,” he said and clarified “we will not support it.” The only multiplayer available will be on Battle.net.Regarding consoles, it looks dark for anyone wanting to try out the RTS on anything but PC.  We asked how large chance it is to see StarCraft II on consoles and Pardo replied simply: “Zero percent.”

Blizzard tries to approach each game, and see what platform it should be on. “In our opinion we just don’t feel like we will deliver the type of RTS game that we’ve been creating [on consoles].”

“We have tried in the past, we actually tried the original StarCraft on Nintendo 64. It works, it’s playable, it’s just such a different playability gameplay experience than on PC and we really don’t want to have it be that different.”

What about the Gold Fish?

We asked Browder about a little gold fish that can be seen in the animated portrait of the Protoss Immortal unit, who said “the goldfish for the Immortal is supposed to be a rare animation that plays, and it plays ALL THE TIME. It never stops playing. It’s supposed to be a little joke.”

What’s the name of the gold fish? “I don’t know [laughter]! Herbie! There you go, Herbie the gold fish!”

The full interview videos and transcripts will be available later this week. Make sure to check out our massive StarCraft II previewvideos, screenshots/art and other StarCraft II news from the event. You can also head over to IncGamers’ StarCraft channel for more detailed information and further reports from Blizzard.

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