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Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, has been sprinkling various bits of information about StarCraft 2 on a select few threads on Battle.net. Karune provides his take on several new gameplay mechanics and changes to existing units and reveals some new data on them.

First up, some more information about the new Nydus Worm transportation mechanic, which we have also brought up for discussion.

The worm is no longer underground and moveable. It is a spawned unit that acts as a exit/entrance to the network.

Since the Worm no longer travels to its destination, it can not be intercepted on the way. However, it is not invulnerable – the enemies of the Zerg will still have a chance to kill it before it starts hurling Zerglings at their base.

Yes, you can see and attack the Nydus Worm before it becomes fully built. The visual graphics of this are not totally complete yet.

Next up, Karune talks about two of the Terran’s new units – The Reaper and the Marauder – and their roles on the battlefield.

Reapers are actually one of the best units against any light units in the game. They kill Zerglings, workers, and even Zealots pretty well with a little maneuvering. Their mines also decimate stationary defenses, as well as tech buildings. They are no doubt one of the best raiders in the game right now.

Reapers, which have bonus damage against light-type units, are currently the best economy raiders in the game – being able to jump into the enemy base, dispense with its workers, and plant some explosives for extra measure. Aside from that, they are also quite capable against all other light units, including the basic units for the others races – Zerglings and Zealots. However, they are very lightly armored – meaning that efficient usage might require quite a lot of dancing.

Reapers on their way to another raid

Marauders on the other hand are probably better mixed, unless you are going up against an all armored ground force. Marauders work well against both Protoss and Zerg. Early game, as mentioned above, they are great for slowing Zealots while Marines do the damage. Against Zerg, they are better suited against those pesky armored Roaches with the fast regen.

Marauders are now found in almost every Terran build. The slowing effect of their attack is beneficial when coupled with the ranged Marines against the other two races’ melee units. In the later parts of the game, the Marauders’ bonus attack against armored units keep them viable. They are especially important against the Zerg Roach, which quickly regenerates and shrugs off damage, as they can focus their anti-armor attack and squash it before the Roach has a chance to recover.

Marauders

Karune answers a question about Stargates and the option of upgrading them to Warp Gates, like Gateways.

Only Gateways can be upgraded to Warp Gates. Gosh…warped in Carriers/Void Rays over an enemy base would be OP!

Next, a discussion about abilities which may or may not make it into the game:

The Molecular Disrupter is a new ability we are testing out on the Nullifier, in which the unit fires a psionic projectile which bounces between units of the same type, doing 10 damage with each hit, up to a maximum of 10 bounces. Thus, if you were to use this ability on 2 Marines (with 40 hit points each, not upgraded), both Marines would die easily. If there were 3 Marines, it would kill 1 Marine and leave the last two at 10 hp each. Currently, the ability costs 125 energy.

The Nullifier’s chain-lightning like ability, the Molecular Disruptor, joins his other two abilities – Hallucination and Force Field. This one looks a little out of place for the relatively “peaceful” caster, which has so far only passively affected battle situations with its abilities. The mechanic of only jumping between alike units feels a bit tacked on, not having any real use in any fight.

Nullifier

The Seismic Thumper is no longer in the multiplayer game, but was originally dropped on the battlefield, which slows all units within it’s radius by 50% (including friendlies). The only way to stop it was to destroy the Seismic Thumper itself.

The Seismic Thumper, an ability designed for the Nighthawk, will only appear in the single player portion of the game. An interesting idea for an ability that fits the Nighthawk’s role, it is currently out of the game, replaced by another new ability, Targeting Drone:

The Targeting Drone is similar to the Auto Turret in the fact that it does not have a timed life. It currently costs 50 energy to deploy and has 120 hitpoints (all subject to balance of course). The Targeting Drone can target one unit at a time, and increases the damage that unit takes by 50%. You cannot have two drones targeting the same target. These drones are also flying, stealthed, and immobile. They may excellent perimeter defenses and can be coupled with Auto Turret raids to maximize the damage.

With the addition of this ability, the Nighthawk has truly become the master of defense for the Terran, able to deploy Auto-Turrets, Spider Mines and now Targeting Drones. Coupled with its detection capabilities, this is a unit that will accompany Terran armies into many confrontations, scouting ahead of the main force and preparing preliminary defenses until the heavy gear is deployed.  Aside from that, it will certainly be useful for quickly setting up a defense perimeter around any new expansion. This is a great defensive addition to the Terran, which, in StarCraft 1, had no standalone defensive structure they could rely on for protection against ground forces.

However, since all of the Nighthawk’s deployables are energy based and permanent, a limit will likely be imposed on the number of concurrently deployed abilities to prevent abuse. Perhaps, like the old Protoss Reaver, it will have to pay to manufacture some of them first.

Nighthawk gang

Finally, Karune discusses the Colossus‘ role in detail. The Colossus, which used to be extremely powerful as an individual unit in the previous builds, has been toned down somewhat and now has a more defined place on the battlefield.

In my opinion, the Colossus is the most effective when you have more than one. Three seems to be my optimal number, especially against Terran. Medivacs heal at a very fast rate, but only one target at a time. Against a group of Marines with a Medivac, one single Colossus would do virtually nothing, because the damage would be healed through easily. With three Colossi, the Marines would die in one sweep, negating any healing that could be done. A single Colossus is good at softening targets, but with more rapid healing from Medivacs and new units like Roaches, it may not be enough. At that point, you need enough to kill them in one sweep, and when you do have that, it will do significant damage to any army, especially with the additional range upgrade for the Colossus.

The Colossus has changed from the powerful assault unit it once was into more of an attack support unit. It will function best when it utilizes its extreme range upgrade (9) to target distant enemies from the safety of cliffs, or behind other, cheaper and more expandable units so it can inflict its AoE damage and soften up targets.

Some concerns were raised about the mechanism of the attack, which sweeps across in a line in front of the Colossus. The area of effect is very dependent on the position of the Colossus, and the timing of the animation also raised some questions. Here’s what Karune had to say:

Even though the beam is currently shown visually in various ways, the damage is done to all units in that straight line at the same time instantly. That line will always be based on the position you are attacking from, so in that way there is a lot of control as how to use the Colossus.

THREE Colossi is the only way to roll

Lastly, Karune reveals an interesting piece of information about Blizzard’s plans for competitive play:

The range of the Colossus is what makes it such a great support unit, as well as an awesome raider from cliffs. Additionally, all competitive maps will have cliffs to some degree.

StarCraft 2 has intergrated many mechanics which depend on cliffs and height differences. This is something that differentiates it from StarCraft 1 in a great way and adds more complexity to the game. Aside from units, like the Colossus, which can traverse these heights naturally, the line-of-sight changes add to the importance of utilizing cliffs intelligently. It’s no surprise that Blizzard will want to see these new additions in maps designed for balanced, competitive gameplay.

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Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, has posted a request for feedback for one of the Zerg’s most evolutionary unstable and important “tools” – the Nydus Worm. As witnessed during BlizzCon 2008, the Nydus Worm is no longer a unit, but a transportation gateway which can be planted by an Overseer.
This “summoning” ability only requires energy – aside from the Nydus Canal, this operation does not require any resources – and the worm will pop up after a short delay.
This represents a mild deviation from the StarCraft 1 implementation that was observed during WWI in July 2008.

Here’s what Karune had to say:

Zerg Nydus Worm
The Nydus Worm is a unit that has undergone several changes since its unveiling and we are curious to the feedback on the latest round of changes shown at BlizzCon.

For those who do not know, the Nydus Worm is a tunnel opening to a network in which you can store your army. When the Nydus Worm springs from the ground, it can allow that whole army to start pouring out from that position as seen here: http://starcraft2.com/screenshot.xml?s=84

 

Nydus Worm prior to BlizzCon

Prior to BlizzCon, the Nydus Worm had to be summoned from the Nydus Canal, and only on creep. Thus, in order to do a drop, an Overlord was usually needed to drop creep, and then the Nydus Canal could spawn a Nydus Worm at that position. Also, because of the cooldown, typically for a mass drop, a Zerg player would need multiple Nydus Canals, to spawn multiple Nydus Worms at the drop position, to make sure the enemy couldn’t easily destroy the Nydus Worms before the Zerg army could come out.

Nydus Worm at BlizzCon

In the BlizzCon build, the Nydus Worm no longer is spawned from the Nydus Canal. Additionally, it no longer needs to be spawned in on creep as well. Instead, the Nydus Worm is spawned in from the Overseer, and is based on energy cost. Thus, if you have multiple Overseers, you could easily spawn multiple Nydus Canals (which will have a ‘build time’ before the worm erupts from the ground) and ensure a higher success rate of getting your units out.
Let us know your thoughts on the new changes. Also keep in mind, most of the discussion here is about gameplay mechanics, rather than the “numbers and stats” as those will always be changed to balance mechanics (i.e. changing build times for the Nydus, energy costs, hitpoints, etc).

 

Karune has also posted the following clarification:

When units enter the Nydus Worm opening or the Nydus Canal, they are in the Nydus network. They can exit at any opening, including the Nydus Canal building. There is no actual “tunneling,” and is actually more similar to loading units in a dropship. When all entrances/exits are destroyed, all units in the network will die, so if you are a Zerg player, make sure you don’t let that happen :)

The above note describes a very safe mode of transportation for the Zerg; as long as the player ensures that at least one Nydus Network Node is alive, the transported units are not in any danger of being lost without a fight.

Despite the fact that Karune’s request for feedback is a simplistic Like/Dislike poll, which you are welcome to vote on, the SC2Blog would like to guide the discussion to a slightly more technical side:

1) Do you consider a certain Nydus Worm implementation the best one, and if so, which one?

2) If you could implement any plausible Zerg transportation method, what would it be?

3) What additional “buffs” or “debuffs” would you see fit for units after Nydus Worm transportation?

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Visitors to BlizzCon 2008 got a chance to play the latest StarCraft 2 build, and, as expected, this one is not without an abundance of changes, just like the one from last year’s event. As we get closer to the beta and the eventual release, these changes become more and more important, as they are more likely to stick through to the end. Without further ado:

BlizzCon 2008

* Banelings no longer require any gas to be produced, after the initial 150 gas investment in a Baneling Nest. Previously, Zerg players had to decide whether to invest in Banelings, which have an early-game crippling potential, or to use the gas to tech up. With this change, using Banelings does not inhibit the Zerg’s player tech advancement.

* The Queen is no longer a unique unit. As such, it is no longer upgradeable by itself, instead relying on global upgrades, and is treated like a normal spell caster. Its abilities now include:

  • Mutant Larva: Create three large Larvas that are not attached to the hatchery. Bring them into battle with you to create adaptive reinforcements.
  • Razor Swarm: Creates a cloud of Zerg insects, controllable by the player, which damage units caught in it over time.
  • Create Creep Tumor: Extends the range of Creep, similar to a Creep Colony.

Dustin Browder, lead game designer, commented that players saw the Queen as too much of a defensive unit and neglected investing time and resources into developing it, instead choosing to focus on the offensive in most games.

Queen

* The Mothership currently has the following three abilities:

  • Cloaking field: As the StarCraft 1 Arbiter ability, this bestows the cloaking effect to all friendly units in a small radius surrounding the Mothership.
  • Vortex: A nerfed Black-Hole, this ability only disables the units it pulls into its event horizon for the period of the spell.
  • Timebomb: This ability disables all units, enemy and friendly, who enter it for the duration of the spell.

* The Nighthawk‘s (formerly Nomad) abilities are:

  • Deploy Auto-Turret: Deploys a permanent Turret on the field.
  • Deploy Spider Mine: Deploys a “burrowed” mine on the field, ready to pop out and explode on any passerby.
  • Deploy Targeting Drones: Deploys cloaked drones which fly around the targeted unit, lighting it up with a targeting laser. This adds 50% to any damage that unit receives, and provides sight around its location.

Nighthawks

* The Vespene Geyser mechanic has changed again. As we suggested, and no doubt partly thanks to feedback from our readers, the “Replenish Gas” process is now Auto-Cast. When the gas in the Vespene Geyser is depleted, it automatically goes through the replenishing process, which takes 60 seconds – during which the workers are unemployed, and can be utilized for something else at the cost of the player’s attention. Unfortunately, this process cannot be turned off.

Dustin Browder has commented that the current gas mechanic isn’t liked by many of the developers and will likely be changed. Perhaps our full suggestion will be implemented – allowing the automatic repleneshing to be turned on and off and the player’s volition – or just scrapped altogether, in place of a system that does not require much action from the player.

Refinery

In the screenshot above, “Available” refers to the amount of gas left in the Vespene Geyser before it has to go through the replenishing process, while “Remaining” is the total remaining amount of gas in the Geyser.

* The High Templar has gained a new ability: Phase Shift. Affecting single units, this takes them out of the battle by shifting them to another dimension for a short period. Effective for both enemy and friendly units. This ability joins the Templar’s two other abilities, the Infamous Psi-Storm and Archon Warp.

* The Ghost‘s Snipe has been replaced with an ability called Psi-Round. This still deals a lot of damage to single units, but also deals an additional 50 points of damage to “Psionic” type units.

* The current unit types are: Light, Massive, Armored, Biological, Psionic and Mechanical. Structures also have the Structure property.

* The Colossus has a new upgrade, Extended Thermal Lances, which increases its attack range from 6 to 9. This is a major upgrade for the Colossus, allowing it to dish out damage from protected locations enemy units can not get to, like heightened terrain spots and fortified positions. Its attack animation has changed yet again: the beam focuses on a single position while intensifying, then sweeps across the field quickly, scorching everything in its path.

Colossi laying some hurt

* Upgrading Protoss Gateways to Warp Gates now costs 50 minerals and 50 gas. This allows warping units built from it to any powered-up location on the map and reduces some of the build time, but removes the option to queue units.

* The Lurker‘s spines and the path of destruction they form are now much wider. As well, it also receives a bonus against armored targets.

* The Battlecrusier can now utilize these three, battle-oriented abilities:

  • Yamato Cannon: As in StarCraft 1, the Battlecruiser charges up a large amount of energy, which is then released as a hot ball of death, capable of destroying most units on the ground or in the air in a single hit.
  • Missile Barrage: This new ability allows the Battlecrusier to saturate a piece of the sky with missiles, inflicting area of effect damage. Especially deadly against lightly armored fliers.
  • Defensive Matrix: The Battlecrusier can now cast this old Science Vessel ability, but only on itself. This is a temporary shield that adds a layer of protection to the already heavily armored Battlecruiser, allowing it to take even more damage.

Each produced Battlecruiser can only choose one of these abilities to utilize throughout its life – it cannot pick another or change its choice.

Battlecruisers

* The Infestor does no longer actually infest. It has also lost its famous Dark Swarm ability, and can no longer cast Disease. It now has the following abilities:

  • Fungal Infestation: Infests a single, non-massive unit, slowly reducing its hit points until it dies – creating an explosions that damages nearby units.
  • Neural Parasite: Takes control over a unit for 10 seconds.
  • Spawn Infested Marines: This somewhat senseless ability allows the Infestor to hatch five eggs, out of which Infested Marines pop out, regardless of the Zerg’s current enemy on the field.

The Infestor now possesses the ability to use his special abilities while burrowed. Coupled with his natural ability to move while burrowed, this makes the Infestor a very interesting unit for the Zerg.

* The Nydus Worm is no longer a unit. The player must now build the Nydus Network building and then “plant” a Nydus Worm with an Overseer.

Nydus Worms

* The Overseer has received the Queen’s Heal ability. The Overseer is now a fast, flying detector unit with a large sight radius, capable of “summoning” Nydus Worms and healing Zerg units and buildings.

* The Phoenix now possess the old Nullifer ability, Anti-Grav. It can now lift up units off of the ground, throw them into the air and attack them with its anti-air attack.

* The Nullifer, which lost its Anti-Grav ability to the Phoenix, now has these three abilities:

  • Force Field: Creates an impenetrable barrier on the field which lasts for 15 seconds.
  • Hallucination: Like the StarCraft 1 High Templar spell, this creates a fake version of the targeted unit, serving as a decoy.
  • Molecular Displacer

* Siege Mode for Siege Tanks is now researched at the Armory, pushing this ability further up the tech tree.

* The Hellion (formerly Jackal) has received a boost in stats and efficiency. When microed well, it can now outrun most enemies while still being able to stop and fire off a quick burst of flame.

Hellions leaving their enemies in their dust

* The Hydralisk has been reduced in tier, hit points, damage, and overall efficiency. It is now mainly used as the Zerg’s anti-air unit.

* Marines now have 80 hit points with the Shield upgrade. The Stim upgrade has been moved up the tech ladder to the Shadow Ops building, and further help arrives a bit later, from the Starport, in the form of the healing Medivac Dropship. These upgrades keep the Marines very useful for the Terran race throughout the entire match.

StarCraft 2’s latest playable multiplayer build coupled with the surge of details about the campaign, along with the StarCraft 2 beta key, are all clear indications that StarCraft 2 is entering a mature presentable stage, soon to culminate with the much anticipated beta.

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BlizzCon, the yearly celebration of all things Blizzard, has come to a close. Unlike last year, in which Blizzard fleshed out many new details about the StarCraft 2 gameplay, in this event, the focus was mainly on the single player portion of the game.

Of course, as with all Blizzard events, the latest StarCraft 2 build was playable in the convention hall, and some changes to the gameplay and unit design have been spotted as well. Check out the last part of the post for the new screenshots.

BlizzCon 2009

The StarCraft 2 single player is going to be a completely different experience from StarCraft 1. As we now know, the three campaigns – Terran, Zerg and Protoss –  will be separated into three packages, and each is expected to offer as much content (if not more) than the entire original game.  The first package to be released will contain the Terran campaign, along with full multiplayer capability, featuring all three races, while the next two will be released as expansions in the future.

This new strategy gives Blizzard the opportunity to accomplish a few things, all quite positive (unless you were really anxious about playing all three campaigns without paying more than 50$ for it!):

  • The game, with full Battle.net 2.0 and multiplayer capability, will be released sooner
  • Blizzard will not attempt to rush the single player campaign to satisfy the anxious players waiting for the game’s multiplayer and esports aspects, having time to perfect it up to Blizzard standards
  • The single player campaign will offer a new, unique experience, instead of being a rehash of the same predictable formula we’ve been playing for more than 10 years
  • As full expansions for StarCraft 2, they will also introduce new units, make balance changes, and improve the StarCraft 2 multiplayer game

While this may be disappointing for players who were eager to get their hands on the Zerg or Protoss campaigns, the vast majority of players will likely be excited to be able to play StarCraft 2 sooner, rather than later, and have an assurance that two more expansions are coming in the not-too-distant future. Moreover, for those single player fans, the campaign should be much more satisfying than if it was released in cut-down form.

Quick poll: Would you want to trade places with that Hydralisk?

With beta keys for StarCraft 2 being handed out to BlizzCon attendees, it is safe to say that the beta is fast approaching. Blizzard have had a long time to develop all three races for multiplayer, and according to Chris Sigaty, lead producer, they are now finishing “Wings of Liberty“, the Terran campaign. Since the other campaigns will be released at a future time, the first package should not be far away itself – there isn’t much left to accomplish before it is released. Chris also puts the ballpark for each new expansion at around a year of development.

Zeratul about to kill someone (why else would he not be cloaked?)

Moving on from the technical details, we also have some fresh tidbits about the game and story:

In each campaign, the player will control a major character and follow it throughout the game. As you might have guessed, these will be Jim Raynor for the Terran, Kerrigan for the Zerg, and Zeratul for the Protoss. Controlling your character means more than just moving a hero around on the battlefield, though – the non-RTS portions of StarCraft will resemble more of an RPG.

SC2 Starmap

The game will also provide the player with choices to make about how to proceed in it and perhaps even pose dilemmas that will affect the course of action and plot, but likely not the final outcome. It will feature many more missions – some optional – and allow interested players to explore the StarCraft universe in greater depth and detail. For the Terran campaign, Blizzard have revealed the Starmap, with which the player will navigate and reach chosen missions.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful that this aspect of the game will reach the magnificence of other similarly themed games, such as the other SC2 – Star Control 2, and will more likely stay at the same level of the Command & Conquer inter mission breaks.

SC2 Starmap (?)

Throughout each campaign’s non-linear ~30 missions, the player will also gather resources, with which he will be able to purchase single player-specific upgrades and technology. Players will have to make smart choices with their upgrade paths and pick the right units and technology to fight their chosen battles with. Missions are promised to be much more diverse, as Blizzard tries to avoid the normal “build up a base and kill everything” dead-end formula.

The expanded campaigns will also include many other interesting characters, some of which we’ve seen before, and quite a few new ones. Some new names that have been mentioned are:

  • Valerian Mengsk, son of Arcturus Mengsk from the original StarCraft
  • Tychus Findlay, who we first met in the original StarCraft II cinematic
  • Rory Swann, a former Kel-Morian worker who lead a unsuccesfull revolt. Saved by Jim Raynor, he now serves on the Hyperion as the main engineer, trying to keep the war-torn battlecruiser in fighting shape
  • Gabriel Tosh, a Ghost with supposed ties to Nova of StarCraft: Ghost fame, provides Raynor with his expertise
  • Dr. Ariel Hanson, a young scientist who is also Raynor’s love interest (until he runs into Kerrigan again, at least)

Raynor and Tychus are all bummed out since their supply of alcohol ran out

Blizzard is trying to create something new and exciting for the single player portion of the game. This type of game development is new to Blizzard as well, and it is not surprising that it is taking a long while for them to meet their high standards. By separating the process and releasing the multiplayer game with only a portion of the single player campaign, they are giving themselves the opportunity to perfect the game without delaying it further. The result should please most fans, and provide everyone with a great gaming experience – or so Blizzard, and everyone else, hope.

Finally, Blizzard have also released a few amazing in-game screenshots, featuring new tilesets and giving us a glimpse at the newest unit redesigns.

Here are some notable excerpts:

* A Thor guarding the entrance to the Terran stronghold, completely surrounded by lava

Chillin\'

* Jackals, now called Hellions, roasting a huge pack of Zerglings to a crisp with a few fell swoops

Hellion barbque

* The Battlecruiser unleashes its new Missile Barrage on a few poor Zerg fliers

Missile Barrage

* The Medivac Dropship in action, healing Marauders, who come under attack by Roaches

Roach Attack

Wish I had one of these healing rays at home

* A group of Nighthawks, the new design for the old Nomad, come under attach by Archons, who have also received a small facelift

Nighthawks

* A few more shots of the new Nighthawks, which seem to have borrowed their design from the more sleek and less square and bulky Protoss, alongside their deployed Auto-Turrets

Nighthawks

Nighthawks laying Auto-Turrets

That’s all for now. When the dust settles and all reports from our operatives are handed in, a complete gameplay follow-up piece will be published.

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