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Inside StarCraft 2 Q&A 49 – Analysis and Summary

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:

Art Updates
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
StarCraft 2 New 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.

A Mechanical Infestor
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.

Mules and Orbital Command

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.

Zerg Queen
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.

15 Larvae Hatchery

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.

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29 Comments to “Inside StarCraft 2 Q&A 49 – Analysis and Summary”

  1. BarGamer — February 25, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

    *Drools over the Zerg updates.* This update fortells Zerg micro being very important, as Queens have the promise to quickly create swarms to punish the turtling Terrans. Add in Roach burrowing micro, and you pretty much have an unstoppable army.

  2. N00bc4nnon — February 25, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

    This update was a breath of fresh air. The new zerg model designs are excellent, particularly the hydra and the hatchery. The macro mechanics sound great and i can’t wait to try them

  3. Lipton — February 25, 2009 @ 9:43 pm

    This was def the best Q&A batch about StarCraft 2 since they started doing these imho :)

  4. martix — February 26, 2009 @ 4:00 am

    Hooray for the model updates 😛
    And just about everything. This has got to be one of the best QA’s ever.
    They finally dumped that stupid gas mechanic for something that actually works :)

  5. SCV_Operator — February 26, 2009 @ 4:18 am

    Awesome. I heartily approve all these changes! Exactly the sorts of things that I want to see in this new game.

  6. TL_Chill — February 26, 2009 @ 7:27 am

    I disapprove of SC2

  7. aviv — February 26, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

    God damn!! when this game will be ready??

  8. Puma — February 26, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

    I don’t understand why Blizzard is including MBS, which is just to make macro easier for non-experts if I understand it correctly, but won’t think about adding other features that make modern RTSs more accessible. I’m mostly thinking of multiple monitor support and elaborate command queuing. In general, it seems like Blizzard wants to give the UI a retro feel.

  9. jake — February 26, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    this all looks good, but I have 2 questions about the zerg. if the infestor can move while burrowed is it really necessary to treat its movement the same way as a reaver. I can see the benefit, but burrowed movement is so cool. unless its been removed and im unaware. and also, how will units and structures effect the birthing of Nydus worms? will units just move out of the way or the worm birth beside a structure, or will these cancel the worm all together. or will it violently destroy whatever it comes up under, adding a new edge and wepon of zerg gameplay.

  10. redrach — February 26, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

    I believe the mechanics of summoning a Nydus Worm with an Overseer is exactly the same as that of building a structure. So you select the Overseer, click on “Summon Nydus Worm” or w.e. and click on the spot you want it to emerge at. If the spot is free, the worm starts up its unburrow animation, else it reports an error.

  11. Anonymous — February 27, 2009 @ 1:41 pm


    A super shoutout thanks to whoever runs this SC2 blog for collecting all of this valuable information into one cohesive article. I know exactly where to go to get all of the news.

  12. Johnner — February 28, 2009 @ 3:28 am

    I am not very thrilled about all these ‘mining perks’. just seems like a bunch of annoying things I will need to keep casting and casting and casting…

    The new investor is definitely an improvement though.

    I would like to see more unit development, and maybe more macro and race specific…

    like.. a protoss shield battery… give it an upgrade so every unit inside that radius regenerates faster until the mana of the building runs out.. or something.

  13. jamvng — February 28, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

    Johnner: “I am not very thrilled about all these ‘mining perks’. just seems like a bunch of annoying things I will need to keep casting and casting and casting…”

    Well in a way, how was having to go back to your expansion(s) and make workers mine minerals (ie SC1) not “annoying”..all this is just to increase macro…These mechanics just make it as necessary as in SC1 to have to go back regurlarly to your bases to check on everything and make sure your economy is running as efficiently as it can (since automining takes out tht component in SC2)

  14. Battlardm — February 28, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

    I have to agree with Johnner up there, I think Blizz is doing this wrong this time..

    it shouldn’t be a bunch of spells to be cast over and over again, that is just tedious and annoying. It should be something like this…

    Dark Pylon: you can toggle, having a dark pylon, you can use extra gas supply and convert them into faster mining for protoss probes.

    this way, you just select once. Marco-ing your economy to what you need, not casting the same spell over and over, I can see how that is annoying.

  15. Battlardm — February 28, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

    what I mean is.. if there’s an ability with a ‘pro’, it should come with a ‘con’. so people shouldn’t just blindly use it over and over and over.

  16. redrach — March 1, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    All the macro abilities specified have cons, actually.
    Proton Charge takes away energy from the Dark Pylon which you could have used to cloak your units.
    Summon MULEs takes away energy from the Orbital Command which could have been used to call down supplies, or scan for invisible units.
    Spawn larvae takes away energy from the Queen, as well as requires you to spend more resources to make use of those larvae.

    These sort of indirect cons are better than more explicit ones.

  17. John mo — March 2, 2009 @ 5:42 am

    More explicit cons will be better.

    I have to agree, it will turn into one of those
    ‘everyone has’ things, so rather than just being cool, it turns into a nuissance.

    as a player has NO CHOICE but to use those skills to keep up with the rest… when everyone has it, everyone has to use it, then it takes away the thinking of it…

    I sure hope blizz sees that. I am talking this as a set-back on the direction really.

  18. Bill — March 2, 2009 @ 10:25 am

    “I am not very thrilled about all these ‘mining perks’. just seems like a bunch of annoying things I will need to keep casting and casting and casting…”

    I have to agree with this. Please don’t add complications for the sake of complications, Blizzard. I want to play a game, not do chores. God damn you APM people. At least MBS seems safe.

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