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The second episode of BlizzCast, a new feature which gives fans a chance to get a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes at Blizzard, has been posted on Blizzard.com.

As with the last BlizzCast, we will focus on the StarCraft universe portion of the interviews.

First up, an interview with Chris Metzen, Vice President of Creative Development and creator of the original WarCraft, StarCraft, and Diablo storylines. Chris talks about his work – juggling three different stories simultaneously, coming up with new ideas and integrating them into the core of his stories, and the how working at Blizzard is like compared to other companies. Here are some interesting excerpts:

… about StarCraft in particular, how did that particular story-line get started with you?

 

We had done Warcraft II and now we’re interested in trying to do the next RTS outing in science-fiction. And early ideas like ‘well, let’s blend them together man, we can do this kind of space-vampire-clan-thing and real-time-strategy.’ … the group response is like ‘well, let’s simplify this, right. People, they understand space-ships. They understand creepy, spidery aliens. They understand psychic brain aliens, right? So let’s just cut down to the core motifs that are really classic in science-fiction. That’s where we should start.’

 

It wasn’t the story-line, specifically, the linear flow of events, the overthrow of the Confederacy, Kerrigan, Raynor, the Protoss, the destruction of their homeworld. A lot of that stuff wasn’t clear from the get-go. We were just making the broadest science-fiction universe we could and trying to make sure it really resonated with people.

Zeratul

Chris reveals the process which led to the birth of one of StarCraft’s most important characters: Kerrigan.

… the whole character of Kerrigan didn’t really exist until the middle of our construction of that first campaign. We knew we had Ghosts and the joke was – I don’t know if this is common knowledge but I think it was Command and Conquer that had a character named Tanya, back in the day. She was kind of like an assassin, a badass. And we just had this conversation one day using a Ghost character on a map, like ‘ha ha, how funny’, the whole ice-skater debacle was going on with Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. ‘Haha, how funny, we’ll make our super assassin named Kerrigan on this one map.’ And it was a total throw-away character but as we started discussing it and really getting in to this character, we kept coming back to her; she had a lot of gravity. It really created a cool, kind of triangle of tension between Mensk and Raynor and this emergent Kerrigan character.

 

Ultimately, it was pretty late in the game when we decided that she would be betrayed and become the Queen of Blades. The Queen of Blades was never an original concept; it really came about just at that, kind of in the final stretch of that campaign.

Kerrigan

 

Andy Chambers, StarCraft 2’s lead writer, reveals the mystery of the planet featured on the bottom of StarCraft2.com:

The question we have for you today is a bit of a two-parter. What planet is seen at the bottom of the page at starcraft2.com and what is happening at the planet’s surface at the red dot? People are referring to it as ‘the explosion.’

 

Well, as befits a two-part question, I’ve got a two-part answer for you. The first one is the lore answer to it all. The planet itself is Bel’shir one of the moons of the Mackan system which has not previously been seen in StarCraft I. It’s a Protoss ex-shrine world that was invaded by the Zerg and much of the Protoss have now been pushed out of the area. It keys in with the sort of jungle tile-set that you may have seen in some of our previous videos for StarCraft II. Now, the little explosion as people call it, is actually a vent for an artificial volcano the Zerg have pierced through the surface of Bel’shir to produce a heat-source for their nests full of hot magma –because it saves them having to knit little cozies for their eggs and things like that – so, that’s the lore reason.

Ex-shrine Protoss world, Bel'shir

 

The actual reason there’s a little dot there goes back even further. Goes back to our career announcement. The world that you’re actually seeing there is the same sort of brown ringed world that we saw in the announcement behind the space platform. As part of a test during that, some of our artists wanted to do plasma bombardments, little explosions going off all over the world all the time. So, when the guys in the Community Team got hold of this piece of art, they reshaded it into the green world you now see. But as part of that process, one of the little explosions carried over into the new image that you now see.

 

So, as ever, lore must be responsive to art as art must be responsive to lore, so I’ve incorporated that into the back-story for Bel’shir and it’s actually added this little unexpected bonus of like ‘oh, cool, artificial volcano. I like it!’

Bel'Shir from space

 

Check out the rest of the cast, which deals mainly with WoW, here:
[Transcript | Audio]

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Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, has posted a new batch of questions and answers. This batch deals with some of the questions we’ve raised in the last few posts, and introduces a new Terran unit, the Jackal:

Gameplay Blog: This past week while playing a Terran versus Terran mirror game, I discovered a new unit option from the Factory. This new unit is known as the Jackal, which is a fast vehicle like the Vulture, but instead wields a rail gun, which does an area of effect damage in a straight line at ground units.

 

My opponent built the standard Marines & Medics (M&Ms) composition while I bunkered my choke point and teched straight to a Factory with a Reactor add on, which allows me to build two Jackals at one time from a single Factory.

 

After I built a group of 6 Jackals, I rolled onto the field with my Jackals broken up in two groups with 3 Jackals each. I engaged his M&Ms with my first group, having the Marines line up around my Jackals as they naturally do while firing. Quickly, I brought in my second group of Jackals along the side to flank the M&Ms and the line attack did the rest, killing up to 2-3 units with a single focus fire command. With a little micromanagement, I was able to decimate his whole group of 15 or so units, while only losing two Jackals. That battle gave me a significant military advantage, which eventual led to a relatively quick win.

The Jackal’s rail gun has a similar area of effect mechanic to the Colossus’ new weapon, pushing its slug through multiple targets in the line of fire. Like with the Colossus, this attack method is clearly meant to counter large amounts of smaller units. It seems that the Jackal will be able to easily negate the power of the M&M combo, instantly vaporizing groups of infantry without giving them a chance to be healed.

Later in the post, Karune answers some more questions regarding the Jackal.

Q. Since no two units – especially across races – are too similar, and the jackal is a tier 2-2.5 ground unit effective against light infantry with a linear splash damage, does this mean we can assume that the lurker is either cut or completely different from it’s original incarnation?

 

The Jackal’s attack is instant, whereas the original StarCraft Lurker had an attack that would go outwards from the location of the Lurker, which allowed a player to potentially dodge the attack even if you were originally standing in its line of attack.

 

Q. So can they fire while moving?

 

They currently need to stop and fire. But if your opponent’s units are in the line of attack of a Jackal when it attacks, they will surely take damage, whereas if it were a Lurker (from StarCraft), they would still have about half a second to react and possibly dodge that attack.

Can the Jackal hit air units?

The Jackal does not currently hit air, but be assured that Terrans will have their counters to air. At the moment, they are still figuring out what unit best fits that role (such as the Thor).

 

On to the Q&A:

1. How will Marines mount into a pod? Is this done via the barracks, or an entirely unannounced building, or Dropship-like airship yet to be revealed?

 

Terran infantry currently load into the Shadow Ops building (prerequisite for the Ghost). A Ghost can then launch drop pods, which originate from that building.

2. Can a player order a Ghost in a Bunker to call Nukes and Drop Pods?

 

Yes, Terran infantry currently have all abilities except the SCV repair ability available for use while inside a bunker, including the use of Nukes and Drop Pods.

Finally, a definite answer to this issue. Aside from the SCV’s Repair ability, which has recently been ruled out, all abilities will be available for infantry inside bunkers. How will the enemies of the Terran find out where the Ghost that’s about to nuke them is located? Karune answers that question as well:

Honestly, this is completely up to balance, and of course if it proves too difficult to prevent or avoid, I’m pretty sure it will be changed.

 

Furthermore, the red dot that Ghosts project when launching a Nuke at the moment, is somewhat easily avoided.

Nuclear Launch Detected

3. What spells are specifically affected by the Nullifiers ability? Will physical spells like the Marines Stim Pack, the Ghosts Nuke, or Reaper Mines be disabled? Also, will spells cast before entering the area (I.E. Ghosts cloak) be disabled upon entering the area?

 

Only abilities which require energy usage will need be unable to be cast while in the Null Voids area of effect. Additionally, the Null Void ability will disengage cloak by units such as the Ghost. It also currently reveals burrowed Zerg units, but this is still being debated in terms of balance.

Karune had already explained how Null Void works in this regard. This time, Karune also addresses the Burrowed Zerg issue, which we have discussed last time this subject came up. This is more than just a balance issue, and it’s good to know that it’s being looked at.

4. Last we heard, Veterancy was active for the Terran but we havent heard anything about it since and are quite curious is it still in the game?

 

Veterancy will likely be seen in the single player campaign, but will not be in the multiplayer game.

Unit veterancy

5. In StarCraft, some units had instant attack animations (Corsiar, Mutalisk, Vulture). This allowed people with good micro to make these units move and shoot. In contrast there were units that had an attack animation which required the unit to stop and shoot. This allowed people with good micro to dance (move, shoot, move shoot, maximizing the distance travelled without the unit losing any shooting time). In Warcraft III, units tended to have attack animations which took as long as the cooldown for the attack, making micro actions such as these non-existent.

 

Will units in StarCraft II have attack animations that last as long as the cooldown for their attack, similar to Warcraft III? or will players be able to dance (moving in between shooting) like in StarCraft? Also, will there be any units with instant attack animations that can be micromanaged to move and shoot like in StarCraft?

 

Balance will be the first priority when determining the animation duration for units. With that said, there will be certain units that players will be able to dance with, and there will be other units which will force the unit to stop and fire. Some units in StarCraft II will not only need to stop and fire, but will do additional damage to a target while it focuses. All of these characteristics which determine how a unit will be used in competitive play will be chosen based on balance.

The only unit we know of that does additional damage the longer it fires is the Warp Ray, which we haven’t heard anything about recently. This is a new weapon mechanic in StarCraft, and it will be interesting to see which other units get to use it.

It should be noted that a third option used to exist – the Cobra, which is now no longer a part of the game, was able to fire while moving.

6. When a unit is cloaked or burrowed, can the sensor tower still see the unit in the fog of war?

 

Yes, the Sensor Tower will reveal all units in the fog of war, including cloaked and burrowed units. Sensor Towers are currently a staple to any Terran defense or offensive.

Radar marks

In another later post, Karune responds to a question about the proliferation of area of effect weapons in the Terran race, and provides an update about the Banshee:

The Banshee now has a single target attack. It will still be able to cloak and is still only able to hit ground targets.

 

It is true that Terran does have various area of effect attacks now, though most of them all require micromanagement.

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During a presentation at GDC08, given by Rob Pardo, Blizzard’s Senior Vice President of Game Design, the audience was treated to a picture of a new Zerg unit:

Ultralisk!

There’s little doubt to the identity of this unit, which obviously resembles the infamous Ultralisk of StarCraft 1. Blizzard had already mentioned plans to bring back the Ultralisk in StarCraft 2:

The Ultralisk figures heavily in our current plans, but as with everything else relating to units and balance, this is subject to change.

ultralisk1.gif

 

Is this a sign of things to come? Blizzard must have known that fans will take note of any new Zerg related information, even if so cleverly hidden inside a game-design presentation.

 

 

Other notable slides in the presentation include the following, which deal with the UI:

unlimited-selection.jpg mbs.jpg

When discussing balance, Blizzard takes the opportunity to remind us about the inevitable beta, which will help them perfect the game:

beta.jpg

Rob also took the time to answer a few questions regarding game design across all of Blizzard’s games:

Q: You were saying about not letting super-weapons into the game…

 

A: In a competitive player versus player game you want to avoid weapons, skills, tactics, that one player can get that the opposing player doesn’t feel they can realistically stop. As an example, in Descent 2, they introduced powerful weapons — a new player could pick up a power-weapon and one-shot you. You don’t want that.

Check out the rest of the presentation, which deals with Blizzard’s approach to MMOs, over at WOW Insider.

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After a couple of posts dealing with map making, Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, is back with some more gameplay-related information, straight from the latest build of StarCraft 2.

A topic that has brought up some concern, revealed in the last gameplay Q&A, is the new abilities-inside-Bunkers mechanic. Here’s a short recap about the new Bunker:

  • Holds and protects 4 infantry units
  • Units inside can use special abilities
  • Can be salvaged like other Terran buildings, enabling an inexpensive “Bunker-Push” strategy

Karune posted some new bits of information about the abilities available inside a Bunker:

The Null Void ability currently prevent units inside bunkers from casting.

 

Repairs can only happen from outside of the bunker.

 

Medics inside bunkers will be able to heal units inside a bunker, but Medics outside of a bunker will not be able to heal units inside a bunker.

While Medics will be able to heal units from the safety of the Bunker, SCVs will not be be allowed do the same for the Bunker itself. Of course, with medics being protected in the Bunker and able to heal SCVs outside of it, the SCVs themselves will receive part of the protection the Bunker offers by extension. Will Medics become the main inhabitants of Bunkers from now on?

A few more important questions remain about the Bunker and the abilities units have inside it, as we have mentioned in the last post. Mainly, whether or not powerful abilities, such as the Ghost‘s Nuclear Launch, will be allowed.

Karune then discusses the Nullifier‘s Null Void ability further. We have voiced our gripe about its unintuitive effect on burrowed units in the past, and this answer doesn’t serve to elucidate the matter.

Null Void only stops abilities that costs energy, which does not include abilities mentioned above, such as Blink, Overload, Repair, and Build Interceptor. On the other hand, Null Void will act as a detector, allowing cloaked units to be seen in its area of effect.

The Null Void ability will not affect “innate” abilities that facilitate the core function of a unit. The Burrow ability is an exception: it does not require energy, meaning Null Void should not have an effect on it. On the other hand, it does count as a contingent cloaking mechanism, although an obviously non-psi/technological one. Allowing Null Void to reveal burrowed units would make this ability more magical than technological – making its name, and its use in StarCraft 2, somewhat unfitting.

 

Moving on, Karune explains the changes the Colossus has recently gone through in greater detail:

The current attack is a modification of the original beam attack. Visually, it fires a wide beam on the battlefield, able to kill 5 Zerglings standing in a row horizontal to the Colossus.

 

In terms of micro, you will be more focused on not ‘clumping’ your units together, rather than any actual dodging. The beam fires at one time and will not be a moving beam from one side to another.

Some more info about the Colossus’ ability to walk over buildings:

The Colossus can currently walk over smaller buildings such as Supply Depots, but not over large buildings such as Command Centers. At the end of the day, what the Colossus will or will not be able to walk over will be determined through balance.

 

Lastly, Karune reveals another Medic ability and its effect and gameplay use:

Medics in StarCraft II currently have an area of effect Flare ability (50 Energy), which allows the player to see an area near the Medic. This Flare will not act as a detector, but is great for attaining vision of high ground to spot for the Siege Tank, allowing it to hit targets otherwise not targetable.

Hidden Siege Tank

The StarCraft 1 Medic‘s Flare ability had a different function: blinding enemy units. This ability did not see much use, aside from in virtuoso plays, and has been replaced with something more relevant. Aside from gaining higher-ground vision to allow friendly units to fight back against hidden attackers (remember, StarCraft 2 Siege Tanks no longer reveal their location when attacking), the new Flare also has importance for other abilities:

Q: Is vision needed for Reapers to jump up cliff? If so, does Optic Flare come in handy?

 

Yup, this will be great for Reapers to back door, or in team games for Stalkers to Blink to strategic positions.

Units that can travel through different heights will require vision of higher destinations. This means that for early game Reaper raids, Flare will be absolutely essential – at least until Starports are available and the Terran air force comes into play.

An exception to this rule is the Colossus, which is tall enough to view the higher ground himself:

The Colossus will be able to see on top of cliffs, allowing it to climb up without a ‘spotter.’

Colossi on top

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