The Massive 49th StarCraft 2 Q&A batch includes an informative and graphic Chat with the Devs section, and coupled with six gameplay oriented Q&As, it has shed a lot of light on recent critical changes to StarCraft 2. The developers have unveiled significant changes to Zerg graphics and the Queen unit, explained the mechanics of the recently mentioned Protoss Dark Pylon, and unveiled the brand new Terran Orbital Command.
Within hours of releasing the Q&A, Cydra and Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community managers, have provided more than 30 follow-up clarification posts to complete the puzzle. The following coverage makes use of these clarifications within the context of the original Q&A for your reading pleasure.
Chat with Devs:
The StarCraft art team have been making massive updates to the Zerg faction, adding various new animations and improving even further on the textures of Zerg units and buildings. A picture is a thousand words so check out the updates for yourself!
Zerg Drone (Before/After)
Zerg Overlord (Before/After)
Zerg Hydralisk (Before/After)
Zerg Overseer (Before/After)
Zerg Baneling (Before/After)
Throughout the development process, the team is constantly reiterating and improving on the game in every way. As mentioned before, the Infestor too is getting a makeover, becoming much creepier and intimidating – you definitely don’t want to end up helpless at the will of this thing!
Zerg Infestor Concept Art
The StarCraft 2 team has made a number of changes in each of the races as the game gets closer to Beta. These are some of the new weapons and abilities that are currently being tested on the battlefield.
If the above concept art reminds you of a certain Protoss unit, you are not the only one. The Zerg Infestor looks just like the biological counterpart of the mechanical Protoss Reaver. The Reaver is well remembered for being an extremely slow unit that depends on Shuttles for mobility – and as Karune confirmed, Infestors will indeed be relatively slow units.
The Infestor will still be relatively slow, though they have been sped up a bit from when you guys last saw it.
Overall, Zerg model improvements focused on giving the units a slicker, more polished Xenomorph-like look and have also greatly enhanced their detail. Obvious improvements include “translating” some of the model textures into actual 3D.
Protoss Dark Pylon
Long used only by the Dark Templar of Shakuras, the Dark Pylon is now used by all as the Protoss war for survival becomes more desperate. In addition to providing supply and giving power to nearby Protoss structures, the Dark Pylon has several unique abilities that require energy to use.
Proton Charge:an area-of-effect ability that gives all targeted Probes additional charge for their Proton-Cutters. Probes that have an additional charge gather additional minerals per trip when collecting resources. The Proton Charge lasts only a short time before dissipating.
Null Shield: a single-target ability that causes a Protoss Shield to shimmer and warp, cloaking the targeted Protoss unit. The Null Shield lasts only a short time.
Argus Link: a single-target ability that transfers energy from the Dark Pylon to any energy-using Protoss unit.
Screenshot: Proton Charge in Action
The Protoss Dark Pylon is a brand new Protoss building with two unit support abilities and one macro complication.
The Dark Pylon currently costs 150 minerals (50 more than normal Pylon) and has the Gateway as the prerequisite building. This of course is all subject to change while more balance testing is occuring.
As stated in its introduction, it provides the Protoss with all the benefits of a Pylon (power, supply) but its abilities give the Dark Pylon a significant advantage when used defensively at expansions or as a proxy Pylon, as well as a home-base gathering-accelerator. Its AoE Proton Charge ability benefits the player proportionally to the number of probes affected, making its construction a great investment for a well-populated mining line.
Terran Orbital Command:
The Terrans rely not only on the troops they can train on the battlefield but also on troops called from deep space. The Orbital Command allows the Terrans to make use of their orbital assets to support their fight on the ground. As an upgrade to the Command Center the Orbital Command can create SCVs and serves as a drop location for collected resources. In addition it has several abilities that require energy.
Calldown Mule: sends a single automated mining robot by drop-pod that assists SCVs in collecting resources by working around current SCV mining operations. Unfortunately the Mule is still in the prototype phase and has a limited battery supply (timed life).
Calldown Extra Supplies: sends additional supplies to a targeted Supply Depot. Generally used by Terran commanders only in an emergency to allow them to support additional troops.
Scanner Sweep: using a satellite in high-orbit, the Terrans reveal a large area anywhere on the map and detect all cloaked units within the target area.
The Terran Orbital Command upgrade replaces the “Surveillance Center” which has been unveiled during the introduction of the Terran’s new upgradeable Command Center. Players which have upgraded their Command Center to a Planetary Fortress can not upgrade to Orbital Command and vice versa.
The Calldown Mule ability is not the innocent Macro twist it first appears to be:
Dark Pylon’s abilities has a cast range.
Orbital Command’s abilities technically don’t have a cast range, since mules can be dropped any place on the map and Extra Supplies only can be dropped on the Supply Depot. And as you know, Scanner Sweep can be used on the any map location.
Karune has later confirmed that theoretically, Mules can be called down “offensively“. Land a Mule on top of a bunched up group of enemy Marines, and a nearby Siege Tank will share his love with them in an attempt to kill it. Fortunately, the Mule Drop Pod animation lasts 5-10 seconds, providing enough time for splash-heavy units to prepare for its impact and adjust their targeting. The current state of the Mule is:
- Has the repair ability.
- Able to mine more Minerals per trip than an SCV.
- Costs no supply and has no quantity limit. The Orbital Command’s Energy is the only limiting factor.
- Has unlimited range – can be dropped anywhere on the map.
- Has SCV-equivalent attack strength.
- Has a time limit and disappears when its battery runs out.
The ability granting extra supplies, on the other hand, is a permanent Supply Depot buff, which even makes the building look differently.
1. Calldown Extra Supplies costs 50 energy.
2. Extra Supplies increases the supply output by 2.
3. You can still lower/raise your Supply Depot after calldown Extra Supplies on it.
4. It is permanent and looks different from the Supply Depot, which means you’d better take out this Depot first when you attacking the enemy Terran base.
While the Terran’s macro-complication agent is the Command Center and the Protoss receive the Dark Pylon twist, it is the Zerg’s Queen that lands the mother of all macro buffs.
The Zerg Queen has continued to evolve over the last few months. She is a fierce defender of the Zerg Hatcheries and can often be found in small groups defending the larger Zerg infestations. In addition to defending her Hatchery from ground and air threats, the Queen has several special abilities that require energy to use.
Build Creep Tumor: with a mighty push from her bowels, the Queen creates a cluster of organic tumors that generate additional creep. In recent months the Zerg have mutated to move more quickly on creep, making this an important function for the Queen.
Spawn Larva: by injecting Queen ichor into a Hatchery, Lair or Hive the Queen can cause the Zerg structure to undergo a startling metamorphosis. The Hatchery starts to throb and green sacks swell up on the structure. Eventually four additional larva burst out of the Hatchery and land next to whatever larva are already wriggling around nearby. While a Hatchery hosts more than 3 larva, the Hatchery will not spawn additional larva, until that number drops below 3.
As Karune has reconfirmed in response to a question, Queens are not unique units. This creates the possibility of coordinated multi-Hatchery, multi-Queen production bursts, which can effectively more than double the amount of units produced at a given time. The Zerg have been given an extremely flexible, purely macro oriented tool that pushes the player to make meaningful production, offensive, defensive and resource gathering-related decisions.
Being able to spawn additional larva can potentially help Zerg production quite a bit actually. Prior, when a Zerg player hatched offensive units, they were always sacrificing the creation of more drones. This ability allows more bandwidth to create even more offensive units for a big push, build more balanced with more drones and additional units, or double up on the teching effort with all drones. There are a lot of options to play with that will surely inspire many new strategies.
The Queen has also been given the perfect AoE attack, which has been confirmed to damage both ground and air, and not damage friendly units.
Razor Plague: with a great breath the queen exhales a cloud of tiny Zerg creatures that create a vast swarm nearby. These creatures attack all enemy creatures within their swarm, doing additional damage to biological targets. What makes it worse is the Zerg player can control the swarm, moving it around to attack whatever enemies he wishes until the swarm becomes exhausted and dissipates.
That wraps up the Chat with the Devs part. Enter Community Q&A section:
1) I am very curious… previously, SCVs, Drones, Probes, Vultures, Archons, and Dark Archons hovered above the ground so they were not hit by mines. My question is simple: Are there any hovering units in Starcraft 2? If there are, can they hover over shallow water?
If Spider Mines stay in the game, then there will be hovering units. Shallow waters are currently just a visual effect and will not ‘play’ differently.
2) How does the Mutalisk attack work in StarCraft II, what defines its bouncing pattern? Is it random or not? If not, what is the criteria that defines how it bounces?
Regardless of the position of the Mutalisk, when its attack hits a target, it will then acquire the next target based on proximity to the first target. The attack will always bounce to the next closest target.
3) Is it possible to toggle off Multiple Building Selection (MBS)?
Blizzard is sticking to its stance on MBS, establishing it as a basic game mechanism.
4) Balancing of 2v2 team play: Roaches + Medivac are too over powered for 2v2 team play unit combinations?
The regeneration rate of the Roaches and the healing of the Medivac will not stack upon each other.
5) What is a good counter for Zerg against Marines, which are upgraded from the original StarCraft?
Zerg actually have a few options that are quite effective. Zerglings can catch Marines out in the open and surround them relatively easily. Secondly, Banelings with the burrow ability are also very effective. There is nothing more gratifying than watching a group of Marines walk over a burrowed Baneling. When it unburrows – BOOM! Another counter that can be used are Roaches with burrow. A player can burrow a Roach at low health for it to regenerate back to full health in seconds, at which point it can unburrow and begin attacking the Marines again.
In late game, Infestor’s with their fungal scourge ability, which causes a biological unit to take damage over time until the unit explodes and does an area of effect damage, decimating groups of Marines easily if the opponent is not fast to react. Additionally, Ultralisks with their new cleave attack as well as 200 more hit points from the original StarCraft also make them an excellent counter to massed Marines.
The Roach has been confirmed to regenerate fast enough to survive Psi Storms, so Blizzard’s decision to deny this biological unit the additional healing source was made due to obvious killability issues. Karune’s description of the burrowed Roach’s regeneration capabilities promises that we will be seeing a lot of Zerg Roach micro, perhaps even forcing opponents to bring detectors to every fight so they can finish off Roaches trying to escape the heat by burrowing.
6) How do you keep the Baneling from exploding on targets that you don’t want them to hit?
The Baneling now has an ‘attack building’ ability now which allows players to have more control over what the Baneling attacks. Players no longer need to worry about Banelings accidentally exploding on a building when they actually wanted it to hit a unit.
And so ends another massive update, which has included significant changes to game mechanics, the introduction of new buildings and abilities, new upgrades to existing units, and perhaps the final graphical touch ups for the Zerg race.Google+
The fourth BlizzCon has been announced today. This annual celebration of all things Blizzard will take place in the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, on Friday, August 21st and Saturday, August 22nd. The BlizzCon 2009 event will take place at the same place as the 2008 BlizzCon.
Last year’s event was a massive success, with all tickets sold out in just one day – prompting Mike Morhaime to add 3000 tickets to the pool to meet demands. Mike also mentions 2008′s runaway success in this year’s BlizzCon announcement.
“We’ve been amazed by the incredible response to each of our previous BlizzCon events,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We’re pleased to be bringing the convention back to Anaheim this year, and we look forward to this new opportunity to meet Blizzard gamers from around the world.”
Blizzard fans should expect an event of similar proportions, and it is highly unlikely that the ticket availability window will be any wider. If you plan to attend BlizzCon 2009, you should follow the news feed closely and grab a ticket as soon as they become available.
BlizzCon will offer a wide variety of activities throughout the two-day event. In addition to serving as a gathering place for Blizzard Entertainment gaming communities, attendees will be able to enjoy:
- Hands-on play time with upcoming Blizzard Entertainment games
- Discussion panels with Blizzard Entertainment developers
- Competitive and casual tournaments for players to showcase their talents
- Community contests with great prizes
- Commemorative merchandise based on Blizzard Entertainment’s game universes
- A silent auction
- More exciting activities and attractions to be announced
Speaking of grabbing, three winners of the StarCraft 2 comic contest walked away with a StarCraft 2 goody bag, each receiving
- StarCraft II Hat
- StarCraft II T-Shirt
- StarCraft II Poster
With the 1st place winner receiving the coveted StarCraft 2 Beta key, as Karune has recently announced.
Here are the January 2009 winners. You can visit the official winners page to to browse through 12 more StarCraft 2 Comic sketches from the previous four months.
While the community was buzzing about beta keys and beta release date speculations, Cavez, Blizzard’s Lead Designer, was busy writing his reality check FAQ and has now released it to the forums:
I see lots of questions about timelines. Here is a little FAQ.
Question: “Why hasn’t Blizzard released the Beta?” or “WTF have they been working on, I played it at Blizzcon last year and I thought it was done!”
Answer: Solo campaign is under heavy construction as is Battlenet. When these things have enough work done that we know when our release date is going to be with strong confidence we will announce the Beta. Unless something crazy happens, the Beta is going to happen this year.
The above statement, coming from a senior member of the development team, should effectively put an end to any speculation that puts the StarCraft 2 beta release date before June 2009. Considering the fact that game development usually has a 60% chance of “something crazy happens”, we might be reading a similar FAQ a year from now.
Question: “Why don’t you just give us your target dates if you don’t know the final date? We promise, we won’t get mad if Blizzard misses target dates.”
Answer: Let’s be realistic. Our target dates are not something we hit more than half the time. Putting those out there would be pretty close to lying to the fans. We are not going to do that. We want to be able to give good info, not info that we know is suspect. We’ll give target dates when we think it is very likely that we will hit them.
Question: When can we have the next Battle Report?
Answer: We were waiting on getting some improved graphics in (some of the new stuff looked REALLY rough). That was finished last week and we are now playing and looking for a good game. Once we get that game the process is reasonably quick to get it out. Once we go Beta, you guys can do these and put them up. When that happens I’m sure there will be a ton of them and I’m sure the quality of the games played and the announcing will go way up.
Question: “I notice that you haven’t actually given us any dates….”
Answer: Yeah. Sorry. We don’t want to lie about the Beta, and we don’t even want to lie about the next Battle Report. When we know a date (for anything) for certain, we’ll let you know.
Hang in there. We’re in the final stretch.
Blizzard’s official requests for feedback have been up for several months, with voting now closed and the debate slowly coming to a halt on most of the topics. Official topics included the following:
- Nydus Worm as implemented in the Blizzcon Build.
- Medivac – the unit and its complicated role on the battlefield.
- Protoss Warp-In mechanic – which has been demonstrated beautifully during the first official Battle Report.
- Mothership – the problematic super-unit struggling to find a role in the competitive RTS that StarCraft 2 aspires to become.
- Dark Templar model – a poll about the two possible models for this unit.
The most uncontroversial and well-accepted of the above turned out to be the Warp-In mechanic.
With a 87% approval rating among registered Battle.net forum visitors and plenty of common real-game uses that were showcased in the Battle Report, the Protoss Warp-In is here to stay. All indicators show that the Warp-In mechanic is not just a good addition to the Protoss arsenal, but a key ability that will play a significant role in a majority of competitive Protoss matches:
- Warp-In is available relatively early via the Cybernetics Core.
- A Warp Gate can be transformed into a standard Gateway and back without a cost.
- Warp-In provides significant defensive and offensive advantages, with both proxy Pylons and expansions being able to receive reinforcements from the home base
Considering how “naturally fitting” this technology is to the Protoss, it is also likely that the Warp-In mechanic will be expanded to additional Protoss production buildings, perhaps in the Legacy of the Void expansion or even earlier, even though Karune has mentioned that such plans did not exist for the current incarnation of StarCraft 2.
5)Will the Robotics Facility have a similar upgrade to the Warp Gate allowing it to warp units in?
There are no plans for this at the moment. Currently Warping technology is limited to the Warp Gate. Of course, we are still testing and balancing this, and nothing is set in stone
Warp-In was just one of the three feedback request topics that have targeted methods of transportation. However, the other two topics, involving the Zerg Nydus Worm and Terran Medivac, have clearly not been greeted with a similar consensus.
The Medivac’s complex role on the battlefield is an eventuality of many tactical factors. It is bound to have a large impact on the Terrans as well as their in-game allies. Here are a few key factors that have made the Medivac such a strategically deep unit:
- The Medic’s inability to keep up with Reapers, the Terran’s new raider unit, prompted the introduction of a healer that could participate in StarCraft 2 Terran raids.
- The Medivac’s built-in healing ability gives the Terrans’ new transport more space for actual raiding infantry; it does not “take” production time away from the Barracks and has better chances of survival, making it re-usable between raids.
- Being an air unit, it can not be attacked by Zerglings and Zealots – key anti-infantry units.
- It retains the Medic’s ability to heal allied organic (even flying) units, while being significantly more mobile. Mutalisks & Medivacs can become the new M&M of 2v2 matches.
However, all of the above can not overshadow one extremely important factor – any Terran that wants a Medic now has to build a Starport.
It is reasonable to assume that a significant portion of the 36% that dislike the Medivac are actual StarCraft: Broodwar players. Players that were familiar with Marines & Medics for almost a decade and are witnessing the tactical foundations of Terran gameplay being replaced.
The thread is full of arguements against the Medivac’s dual role, making many strong points for reconsideration of the unit’s abilities, as well as suggestions to amend the situation:
- Terran drop strategy does not necessarily imply the use of infantry, and strong Terran infantry does not always imply drops. Tying the two together via the Medivac forces players to either employ both, or effectively waste one of the unit’s key abilities.
- The Medivac is produced at the Starport – a production facility that requires the building of a Factory, putting it relatively high up in the Terran tech tree, on a branch otherwise unrelated to infantry.
- Providing the Medic with a jetpack upgrade would solve the problem that caused the change in the first place.
- Giving the healing ability to a dedicated support unit, such as the Nighthawk (Nomad), would evade pairing it with drops.
The SC2Blog’s question is: If it wasn’t for the StarCraft:BW Medic, would gamers actually prefer an infantry unit over a flying mechanical healer?
On the other hand, a big portion of the Nydus worm discussion focused around figuring out how exactly how the Nydus Worm works, with almost 3 times more people voting “Not sure what it is”.
Here are a few clarifications:
- The Nydus Worm of BlizzCon is no longer a unit. It does not move or cost food.
- An Overlord that has been upgraded to an Overseer can “cast” a Nydus Worm for a mana cost, if a Nydus Network has been built.
- Units that have entered a Nydus Network building can exit at any Nydus Worm. They are destroyed if all Nydus Worms are destroyed.
The SC2Blog’s own discussion of the Worm’s fate was slightly more “productive”, perhaps due to the detailed comparison between the Unit and Building states. If you’re still unsure about the Nydus Worm’s mechanics, check it out.
Despite the radical change (compared to the Protoss and Terran methods of transportation), the main complaint was actually about the Worm not being innovative enough. A massive burrowing transport unit would have been a challenge to implement and balance, but “playing it safe” by giving the Overseer a sort of Arbiter Recall ability just feels forced and constitutes a huge waste of gameplay potential.
Mobility is obviously a key tactical aspect for any race, and despite the major differences between the mechanics, the Nydus Worm, the Medivac and the Protoss Warp-In are all solutions to the same known problem, which must come to a resolution by hook or by crook by the time the game hits beta.
The Mothership, on the other hand… is a solution in search of a problem to solve.
The discussion itself was kicked off by Cydra:
If Zerg has the Queen and Terran has the Thor, Protoss has the Mothership!
And despite the fact that the thread includes several good suggestions, we’d like to go back to the massive Mothership poll we ran for a few months, which has narrowed the discussion to a very specific niche – what should the actual role be? Abilities can be replaced, prices can be adjusted, overpowered units can be nerfed… but what the Aiur should it actually accomplish on the battlefield?
- Straightforward Capital Ship. Massive shields and armor, high-damage output and a few combat abilities. A supreme offensive tool.
- Disruption and Damage. An offensive support tool, with significant AoE damage and punishing abilities like the Black Hole and the Planet Cracker.
- Mega-Battery. The ultimate mobile support unit, feeding mana and shield energy to the army. Can absorb a lot of damage, regenerates quickly.
- Air Domination Station. A flying AA fortress of damage and disruption. Anti-air AoE damage, Force Field and Lockdown type of spells, a disease-like aura that causes AA damage.
- Support Fortress. A flying castle with an array of battle control and support spells that can protect/recharge/hide friendly units. Also possesses abilities to disable/slow/lock down enemy units.
- Super Troop Carrier. Highly armored and with multiple defensive abilities and teleportation. Able to transport entire fleets and armies across the battlefield.
- Flying Factory. The Mothership can build ANY Protoss unit and warp it to the location it’s at. “Production” costs 110%.
- Base Breaker. Focused on abilities which cause significant damage to buildings, locking down production, disabling defenses and paving the way for attackers.
- Annihilator. The Mothership has a 5 minute “recharge” timer. Acting as a superweapon, the Mothership is equivalent to a Nuke in terms of damage output. Once charged and removed from its dock, the Motership’s “Unleash” ability becomes available. An “unleashed” Mothership delivers massive damage to air and land units around it for 15 seconds.
- Power Plant. The Mothership has a wide radius aura, which: powers buildings, accelerates production by 15%, adds 40 energy points to all shields, doubles regeneration rate, and stops all enemy regeneration and healing abilities.
Top results: Support Fortress with 501 votes and Capital Ship with 538 votes.
Every option represents a unique and specific role, and over 2200 votes have been cast by our readers – with only 2% voting for “Other”. Considering the voting demographic and the amount of votes cast, the above data can easily be considered a correct statistical representation of StarCraft 2 fans’ wishes for the Mothership’s role on the battlefield.
Unlike the four aforementioned requests for feedback, the recently closed Dark Templar poll was quite simple – Blizzard has two 3D unit models, and the team just couldn’t decide which one will be used in official multiplayer matches. Sadly, almost 3000 people voted on the subject, with the discussion thread spanning 24 pages – more than all actual gameplay topics combined…
Blizzard has demonstrated time and time again – by completely redesigning units, reducing color saturation, adding and adjusting game mechanics – that it not only requests feedback, but actually listens. And delivers. When it’s ready.Google+
Please note that there is no official announcement of a StarCraft II Beta start date. Beta keys to winners will be distributed during the StarCraft II Beta process.
The above statement was made by Karune to curb the community’s enthusiasm over the announcement of the the first StarCraft 2 beta key contest.
It happened to be that Karune’s announcement regarding the beta key giveaway came amidst a significant rumor storm caused by the Captcha beta image hoax that followed Xordiah’s mention of an existing timetable for the beta as well as plans for beta key competitions.
That same evening we have also received an (unofficial) message that insisted that a functional StarCraft 2 multiplayer demo of a recent build has been stolen in France, cracked, and that its torrent is already being seeded. In the context of the above events, the sudden addition of beta keys to the contest might have been an indication of Blizzard’s awareness of the leak, with the announcement being part of a broader “Given lemons, make lemonade” strategy.
Luckily, that was not the case – the only news that mattered was posted by Blizzard’s officials, with the Captcha being outed as a hoax, and we have yet to receive a proof of an existing, playable and redistributable StarCraft 2 demo.
The comic contest is currently the only way the general public (the part that has not attended Blizzcon) can get their hands on StarCraft 2 beta keys, and artists have all of February to try and craft a worthy “Graphic Novel”.
StarCraft II Beta Keys are up for grabs to the funniest, wittiest, able to cause a fun chuckle in your fellow StarCraft fans!
As a FYI, we will be adding (2) StarCraft II Beta Keys to the Vespene Laughs 1st place winner’s prize package each month for the StarCraft II Comic Contest. The rules will be updated accordingly for the February round of entries. Additionally, we will also reward previous 1st place winners of the contest as well with the beta keys as well.
This contest will be the first of various contests that will begin offering a chance to get into the StarCraft II Beta. If you know there isn’t a funny bone anywhere in ya, don’t worry, there will be plenty of other opportunities, just keep checking back with us.
Blizzard has a long running WoW comic tradition and the official gallery is home to more than 260 comic sketches, some being of amazing artistic quality, while others are recognized for their comedic value. The official StarCraft 2 comic contest winners page currently holds just 6 sketches, with the following being our personal favorite:
Creating a comic is very time consuming, especially if the characters are not recurring and the graphics are unique to the sketch. Perhaps the following sketch, the winner of the official September 2008 competition, will give hope to the graphically challenged:
In confirmed and official news, the ESL event, held in Paris, France, will give its visitors a chance to play StarCraft 2 on multiple high-end (Intel® Core™ 2 Extreme and Intel® Core™ 2 Quad) laptops, availible at the publically open eSports arena.Google+
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