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Rob Pardo, Vice President of game design for Blizzard, will take part in two presentations during GDC 2008. What is the GDC, you ask?

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The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is the largest annual gathering of professional video game developers, focusing on learning, inspiration, and networking. The event comprises an expo, networking events, awards shows such as the Independent Games Festival and the Game Developers Choice Awards, and a variety of tutorials, lectures, and roundtables by industry professionals on game-related topics covering programming, design, audio, production, business and management, and visual arts. The next conference will take place at the Moscone Center on February 18-22, 2008.

Rob Pardo

 

 

Rob Pardo will speak in two events:

 

 

Rules of Engagement: Blizzard’s Approach to Multiplayer Game Design

Speaker: Rob Pardo (VP, Game Design, Blizzard Entertainment)
Date/Time: Wednesday (February 20, 2008) 12:00pm — 1:00pm
Location (room): Room 135, North Hall
Track: Game Design
Experience Level: All

Session Description
While epic multiplayer gameplay has long been a defining characteristic of Blizzard Entertainment games, the company’s approach to achieving that result has evolved greatly over time. With each new project, Blizzard developers have applied lessons learned from the company’s previous games to continually update how they design and implement competitive and cooperative play features. In this presentation, Rob Pardo will discuss the goals the company strives for and the pitfalls it tries to avoid when developing the multiplayer elements of its games.

Future of MMOs

Speaker: Mark Jacobs (VP EA, Studio GM EA Mythic, EA Mythic), Rob Pardo (VP, Game Design, Blizzard Entertainment), Jack Emmert (Chief Creative Officer, Cryptic Studios), Ray Muzyka (General Manager, BioWare Corp.), Min Kim (Director of Game Operations, Nexon America Inc.), Jon Wood (Managing Editor, MMORPG.com)
Date/Time: Thursday (February 21, 2008) 12:00pm — 1:00pm
Location (room): Room 135, North Hall
Track: Game Design
Secondary Track: Vision
Experience Level: All

Session Description
As the popularity of the MMO genre continues to soar, veteran gamers and potential initiates alike are looking beyond WoW for a new experience that breaks through the boundaries of traditional online gaming. Several experienced MMO developers will discuss their respective visions for the future, offering insights on game design, community involvement, and the challenges facing developers of MOGs in the next several years. The majority of this panel session is reserved for the combination of audience questions and for the panelists to discuss how they see the future unfolding; specifically where is this medium going and how is it going to get there.

Idea Takeaway
Some of the most experienced MMO developers will share their vision of the future landscape of the online game space.

Intended Audience
Anyone interested in massively multiplayer gaming, regardless of the client platforms used (PC, console, handheld or mobile).

 

No major announcements are planned to be made at the GDC, but Rob Pardo’s hour-long presentation covering Blizzard’s approach to Mutiplayer Game Design will definitely provide plenty of insight into his vision of StarCraft 2 and Batlle.net 2.0.

The event is open to everyone, but admission is quite expensive. The event has many other attractions and activities, including a lecture titled “The Next 20 Years of Gaming” by Ray Kurzweil, so it should be worth it for enthusiasts.

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Kevin Yu, better known as Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, has given an exclusive interview to GameReplays, where he used to work as a Game Administrator under the name SageKing.

Karune talks about his job at Blizzard and explains what being a community manager for one of the world’s largest gaming communities means to him.

Highlights:

In college, I had actually studied Communications and International Relations, which does have some relation to what I’m doing now; but I think the passion for gaming and community building was the bulk of my ‘qualifications.’ As a child, I had always loved strategy titles – turn based games like the Civilization series, Master of Magic/Orion, Jagged Alliance, and then real-time-strategies as they began to come out, with Westwood’s Command and Conquer series, and obviously Blizzard’s Warcraft and StarCraft series.

Blizzard has always been a company which values community as a high priority. I am the one who is fortunate to be able to build upon that reputation. StarCraft 2 has always had plans to integrate the community closer with the title. I believe my job has been to further build upon that idea of community interaction, empowering the community with tools and opportunities to grow and build their own identities, as well as implement new ideas that I feel could build a closer relationship with the community and the developers.

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Workdays, despite being similar in hours, are actually not that identical from day to day. I try to start the day by answering a few forum threads where appropriate. Usually in the early part of the day, there are meetings with the community team, or with the PR (Public Relations) team, where we can update each other on the status of our current projects or brainstorm on future endeavors. In the afternoons, the activities could range from playing StarCraft 2 with the development team or community team, interviewing developers for BlizzCasts, gathering fan questions and getting answers for our Q&A Batches, brainstorming and pitching new community projects, working with the web team on collaborative web/community projects, debating with fellow co-workers on the latest strategies in StarCraft 2 or class discussions about World of Warcraft, and well?the list goes on.

You can read the rest of the interview on GameReplays.

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Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, is making Q&A history – this batch, #27, has been posted only 2 days after the last one. Unlike the 26th batch, which mainly dealt with lore questions, this one is purely gameplay-oriented.

First up, some more information from Karune’s gameplay blog about the newly revealed Nullifier.

Gameplay Blog: By the way, Im still looking for a good name for this section, that I hope everyone here could help me with Additionally, this week I want to elaborate on the second ability of the Protoss Nullifier mentioned in the last Q&A Batch. The Null Void, an ability currently at 50 energy cost, prevents abilities from being cast in an area of effect radius. In recent skirmishes with Terran opponents, when my Zealots engaged a group of M&Ms (Marines & Medics), my Nullifiers were able to cast Null Void over the enemy group, and the Medics were unable to heal for a good 15 seconds. When they retreated out of the Null Void area, I cast a second Null Void on them, and by that time, more than half of their Marines had fallen to my Zealots. Furthermore, my Nullifiers, having a base ranged attack, were able to focus fire on fleeing Marines.

 

However, I still did end up losing that game versus the Terran player, as Ghosts later on were able to devastate my army with EMP, followed with their Marauder units, replacing the old Firebat, making quick work of my ground army. GG. Next time.

Before we address this new information, here’s some more meat about the Nullifier, which Karune posted later on in the thread:

Balance Update: Nullifiers are now Tier 1.5, being built from the Protoss Gateway, requiring a Cybernetics Core prerequisite building. The unit also costs 50 minerals and 100 gas. They also have a base attack similar to a Terran Marine.

 

Thus, a player can still get them relatively early, especially if you skip the Forge, and go straight to gas. Using a Zealot and Nullifier combo is pretty decent against any Zerg based melee army, with Zealots using up your minerals, and Nullifiers, using up your gas.

The Nullifier is shaping up to becoming a very important unit for the Protoss. First, we will summarize the information about it so far:

* Prerequisites: Tier 1.5, requiring only a Gateway (150 minerals) and a Cybernetics Core (200 minerals) to be produced.

* Cost: 50 minerals and 100 gas.

* Abilities: Force Field – creates an impenetrable psychic wall that lasts 15 seconds. Null Void – area of effect “Silence” spell, cast on a location for 15 seconds, preventing ability use.

* Attack: Ranged attack for 6 points of damage.

The Nullifier is a natural early game companion to the Zealot. Its abilities allow it to effectively complement Zealots when facing either races’ early game units, either by dividing their forces or by nullifying special abilities. While not casting off spells, the Nullifier’s ranged attack will supplement the Zealots combat effort somewhat. Since they are relatively expensive gas-wise, this advantage might come at a price – a Protoss player who is Nullifier happy might suddenly find himself out-teched.

More posts from Karune further clarify how Null Void works:

Also, to clarify about the Null Void ability, when a unit is in the area of effect, it cannot use any abilities which take up energy. When the unit exits that area of effect, it can resume using abilities taking up energy.

 

For instance, a Terran Ghost will not be able to use his EMP or snipe ability while under the Null Void’s area of effect, but if it moves out of that range it can then cast those abilities.

 

In the current version of the game, Null Void if used correctly is actually able to prevent an EMP hit, allowing just enough time to cast your own Psi Storm on those pesky Ghosts. It does take some micromanagement, but nonetheless, EMP is still being looked out heavily in terms of balance.

With such an ability, the Nullifier will obviously play an important role throughout the game. Since it doesn’t require special tech-branching, Protoss players will likely end up building a few Nullifiers even if not in the first minutes of the game.

Before we move on to the Q&A, lets take a moment to silently stare at Karune, who name dropped a new Terran unit without giving out any information about it what so ever.

Good bye (for now), Firebat.

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1) How will the map pool for the ladder be handled? Only maps made by Blizzard or will there be opportunities for mapmakers to contribute? If so, how will new maps be selected/balanced and how often are you planning on updating the map pool?

 

[Dustin Browder] The map pool for competitive play will only be Blizzard maps or Blizzard-approved maps. We are always excited to see new maps from the community and when we see new cool maps we will definitely include them in the pool. I have no idea how often this will happen. It really depends on the map makers and our schedule. We also have some really cool plans for mod support for Battle.net for StarCraft II, which we will be rolling out to the community soon. We have all watched with great enthusiasm the impact that mod makers have had upon our previous games, especially Warcraft III, and we really want to continue to support and encourage this community.

Take a deep breath before attempting to read the next question.

2) Terran in StarCraft 1 had a very interesting dynamic in that the optimal strategy combating a Zerg would require large amounts of infantry and science vessels, whereas Protoss would require a large amount of factory units, leading to more diverse gameplay between the two matchups. This dynamic existed in mirror matchups as well – Goliaths, Battlecruisers and Wraiths were very useful in Terran vs Terran, but are rarely seen versus Protoss and Zerg (with the exception of Goliath vs Carrier).

 

Protoss and Zerg also had this trait – Protoss would often need large amounts of Corsairs, Zealots, and Archons to combat Zerg and a large amount of Dragoons, Arbiters, and Carriers to combat Terran, skipping zealots entirely until the speed upgrade is done. Zergs would frequently use Hydralisks versus Protoss, but would always immediately morph them to Lurkers vs Terran until Plague was researched.

 

For some people this was viewed as a positive aspect of SC, others are frequently disappointed that Terran cannot realistically integrate marines into their strategy vs Protoss and so forth. What style of gameplay is StarCraft II looking to attain – will each of the 9 different matchups play in a unique fashion with less viable strategies overall, or is the game looking to ensure that every unit has a useful role against every race?

 

[Dustin Browder] So far StarCraft II plays similar to the original StarCraft in that different matchups require a different unit mix. On the design team we enjoy this type of gameplay and prefer to have players use different strategies and different units against different races. Our goal is that every unit will have some use against each race, but that players will tend to prefer certain units against certain races. We are going to strive to make sure that no unit is completely worthless against any one race but there will definitely be better and worse choices depending on the enemy race, strategy, the map, and your start position on the map.

A high quality question which received proper attention. Many units in StarCraft were completely irrelevant in certain match ups. Of course, when those were designed, no one had expected StarCraft to become such a paragon of balance and gameplay. In StarCraft 2, the developers seem committed to delivering an even more polished game in terms of unit uniqueness and usability.

3) In StarCraft 1 the basic tier 1 units were balanced against higher tech units almost equally by their unique role within each race as they were by unique unit upgrades and a greater benefit from the standard upgrades.
How much effort are you putting into making lower tech units viable higher up in the tech tree in ways other than upgrades that just makes them a “better unit” such as hit points and damage?

 

(This question is brought up because of the Terran Marine +HP upgrade which IMHO is really cheap)

 

[Dustin Browder] We are putting a huge amount of effort into making sure that the tier 1 units are useful throughout the game. We are also putting a large amount of effort into trying to get as much mileage as we can out of each of our upgrades so that upgrades really change how you can use a unit (but without fundamentally altering its role). The Marine is an example of a work-in-progress unit. We think the shield looks cool, but we are still working on how it will affect gameplay. Actually, in current builds Marines+Medics+Stim are so powerful that the shield is not that necessary in a lot of matchups.

Another important question – but just like the previous one, the answer here is obvious. Blizzard won’t neglect such an issue; we can expect the same standard as in StarCraft 1, if not a higher one.

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4) Some new maps used in the pro scene for StarCraft have started to include permanent spells like “Dark Swarm” and “Disruption Web” as a part of terrain. Are there any plans to allow this as a kind of special terrain by default or allow map makers to add it as a special attribute to some sections of the terrain?
Examples would be areas with decreased movement for some or all units like shallow water, terrain making units immune to missile fire like dark swarm or terrain making the units unable to fire like web.

 

If you plan to include it will it be usable on melee maps or UMS only?

 

[Dustin Browder] Our data editor allows the creation of this type of terrain. You could easily put this type of terrain on melee maps. We have not finalized our feature set for terrain yet so I dont know what will make the final cut for the default Blizzard maps.

Maps that feature permanent effects spice things up for those who’ve spent countless hours playing StarCraft. They can create interesting situations which require expert strategy to be taken advantage of, taking the standard StarCraft game to a new level.

Many RTS games have incorporated gameplay-relevant terrain features – most notably, the recent hit Company of Heroes – while StarCraft 1 players had to resort to awkward workarounds to keep up. Though creating maps with permanent spells somewhat compensates for the lack of a built-in implementation, incorporating different terrain types that change the way units behave into official Blizzard maps will provide StarCraft 2 with the added strategic depth expected from a modern RTS game.

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Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, has posted another batch of questions and answers. Today’s session deals with a few very interesting Protoss issues, both gameplay and lore-related. Karune has also continued playing a lot of StarCraft 2 himself, and has written up an excellent gameplay blog, giving us a lot of insight into the unit which has gone through the most changes so far, the Protoss Star Relic Statis Orb Nullifer.

Gameplay Blog: Force Fields are my new favorite ability! During my latest skirmish with a Zerg opponent, I was rushed early with Zerglings. The Protoss Nullifiers (previous known as the Stasis Orb) and their 15 second Force Field ability saved the day. As the attacking Zerglings charged up my ramp on the classic Lost Temple map, I simply created a Force Field in between the group of Zerglings, separating his attacking force. With their numbers divided, my Zealots easily took care of the split force of Zerglings, allowing me to make a decisive counter-attack. In subsequent games, I have found that the Force Field is quite useful in many situations, as you are able to create your own choke points, separate incoming armies, and also erect barriers as needed for your Protoss Stalkers to take advantage of their Blink ability. Furthermore, the Force Field can provide another obstacle for melee units approaching your Colossus, whereas your Colossus is able to step over the Force Field at ease. These Protoss Nullifiers at tier 1 are now one of your most effective defenses to an early game rush. Currently, the Force Field ability costs 30 energy with the Nullifiers energy capacity at 100. Next batch, well see if we can find some interesting games with the Nullifiers other new ability, the Null Void.

The Force Field ability, which used to belong to the High Templar, has now been given to the new tier 1 unit, the Nullifer. In StarCraft 1, no tier 1 unit had an ability that became available fast enough to defend against the early, dreaded Zergling rush. Building a unit like the Nullifer, which will likely have no active offensive ability of its own, at an early stage of the game instead of a Zealot or another offensive unit means the player will have to use it carefully to offset the offensive capabilities of an enemy who did concentrate on creating offensive units.

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Karune’s examples of the use of the Nullifer’s ability sound promising. This is a spell that will be easy to use for normal players (blocking a ramp and cutting a force of Zerglings in half, allowing a much smaller force of Zealots to shred them to pieces), but will undoubtedly also be a favorite of many Gosu players who will be able to destroy large enemy armies with a small force of 3 Nullifiers, a few masterfully placed Force Fields, and a couple of Stalkers.

On to the questions:

1. Do Protoss warriors actually die? What is the blue flash when they die?

In the chaos of the battlefield, Protoss warriors fight with tremendous power and grace, but even so, they can be mortally wounded. Then the Protoss’ foes often bear witness to a startling sight: the injured Protoss disappears in a bright flash of light. Such a vision has caused primitive races to quail in superstitious fear, and yet it has no supernatural cause. On the contrary, it is merely the result of teleportation, which is one of the chief strengths of Protoss technology. Protoss warriors typically have teleport mechanisms built into their armor. If the warrior is sufficiently injured, a properly functioning mechanism will automatically teleport the body to the nearest safe haven.

A Protoss warrior who is badly injured but still living may be placed in a dragoon–or latterly an immortal–shell to continue to fight. This is the choice of the individual warrior. Some warriors elect to shoulder the burden of remaining among the living instead of joining the sum of Protoss lives embodied in the Khala. It is worthy of note that the lives of individual Protoss that have passed into the Khala are no longer coherent entities, and the Protoss cannot speak with their dead per se. However, there are memories and strands of experience that can be accessed. Only the most skilled Protoss preservers can locate and follow specific desired strands of knowledge. The tremendous value of preservers comes from the fact that they carry within themselves and can access the sum total of Protoss experience at an individual level.

2. Will there be more ways to give energy(mana) to a caster?

 

Protoss casters will have an ability to transfer energy from onecaster to another. This ability will allow for a lot of micromanagement opportunities to maximize the amount of energy to a single caster, for the maximum number of special abilities casted.

An interesting new twist. A tight group of Protoss casters will basically share a pool of mana, so that a Protoss player will only need one of every caster (and a bunch of the most efficient units in terms of mana/resources) to cast off any spell he likes, as many times as he wants. Karune’s answer leave room for many questions, though

1) Will all types of casters be able to transfer energy?

2) Will different spell casting units be able to exchange energy? A Mothership accompanied by a few other casters might end up being absurdly too powerful.

3) Is there a WarCraft-like cooldown mechanism in place to prevent the abuse of powerful abilities? You thought indefinitely blocking ramps with Force Fields was bad? Imagine the same with Psi-Storms.

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The only example of a similar mechanism in StarCraft 1 belongs to the Zerg Defiler, who had the Consume ability – allowing it to eat up friendly zerg units, replenishing its Mana in the process.

3. On what kind of energy are based Protoss shields? If they are based on PSI energy, how can be possible for a Terran EMP attack to drain their energy?

 

Protoss energy sources are highly esoteric because their starting point was the Protoss’ use of their own psionic powers to protect themselves; to charge their tools and weapons; and to make, manipulate, or meld matter. Over time technological advances have enabled the Protoss to mimic these psionic processes to the extent that the Protoss can now construct inorganic devices to tap into the same universal processes to power shields, drives, weapons, and robots. Thus, for example, the energy field projected by a pylon that powers Protoss structures cannot truly be called psionic in nature, just as the shields protecting a zealot are not purely technological constructs. Rather, the two processes are so closely interlinked that they are almost the same. As a result, Protoss power sources and particularly their shields are vulnerable to disruption by technological means such as EMP weapons. Similarly such power sources can be restored or recharged from artificially stored energy.

4. Are you planning to make another statue, for example, statue of Kerrigan?

 

We are planning to fully explore the high end collectibles realm with plenty of StarCraft II merchandise, and yes, there are projects already in the works.

 

Karune has continued answering a few more questions in the thread, clarifying issues concerning the force field ability and the Nullifier’s appearance:

The Nullifier has a new aesthetic appearance different from the Stasis Orb.

 

Q. Can the force fields be attacked and destroyed before 15 sec? If so, how much hp do they have?

Force Fields are invulnerable for their casted duration.

 

Q. Would it be possible to block off ramps indefinitely with enough Nullifiers?

 

Yes, you could block off a choke point for a very long time. Although, there is probably more than one way to enter your base :)

 

Q. And what if force field is casted on some ground units? Would it work like stasis field by immboilizing and making them invulnerable?
Or maybe just trapping them instde the field?

 

Currently, units below the Force Field will not be immobilized. When they exit from one side of the Force Field, they will not be able to cross back through the Force Field.

 

 

Karune, if you read this, how did the testing of Ghosts as a tier 1,5 unit turn out?

 

I think the Devs are liking the Ghost as a more used unit than in the original StarCraft. It is still up in the air, to if they will keep the EMP ability, but we will see in time. Balance tweaks will still be happening on the Ghost of course, but it is likely it will stay as an earlier created unit than in the original.

The Ghost, along with the Mothership, were the only two units that were important enough to warrant a monthly discussion topic. The general consensus regarding the Ghost was positive, with the only reservation being its extensive list of powerful abilities. Blizzard’s devs, it seems, are on the same page.

 

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