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With Blizzard’s official StarCraft comic strip program, Vespene Laughs, coming to an end, we’re proud to re-introduce our own replacement – Sc2Comic.com. Here’s the first strip, another take on the original StarCraft 2 introduction video:

We’ll aim at releasing a fresh comic on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, with occasional guest artists and multi-strip adventures. Make sure you subscribe to the Comic RSS and to SC2Blog or follow the TerranoZergus Twitter feed to keep yourself up to date on SC2 Comic happenings.

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StarCraft 2 development news has been scarce, with the majority of the discussion and comments originating from BlizzCon fallout and gamer impressions from the recent PAX convention.

One of the biggest debates, one which has provoked Karune’s response, started with an elaborate post about the Zerg Queen Spawn Mutant Lavrae ability. After careful analysis, the ability was deemed overpowered while also being too simple, making the 1-hatch Queen the best (and perhaps only viable) opening for any match.

Basically, for 150 minerals, you get more than a hatchery’s worth of extra larvae. That means off one hatchery, for 150 minerals and 2 supply, you can simulate a 2.5 hatchery production. Larvae inject is really easy to use and I had no problems remembering to do it every time. I had two fully saturated bases making hydras, and I only needed 2 hatcheries to keep up. Two hatches + 2 Queens = roughly 5 BW hatches. Yes, that’s scary.

They see me Spawning, They hatin...

Karune, noticing the sincere concern of the community, posted a rebuttal and pointed out another elaborate post on the counters to this strategy.

With Terran, you will naturally want to block your choke point. This in itself will easily stop fast Zerglings, as you can use Marines to fire upon enemies from a cliff (since they don’t have LoS, just make sure you keep those pesky Overlords at bay, which is relatively easy as well). SCVs do an excellent job of repairing much faster than Zerglings can do damage at this early of a stage.

As we approach the inevitable public StarCraft 2 beta, such strategy debates and heated balance arguments are destined to emerge, and it’s encouraging to see Blizzard’s community managers paying such close attention to the various fan communities. Of course, it’s good to remember that

you can expect lots of things to still change and be changed throughout beta.

Blizzard is preparing for the launch of StarCraft 2 and the new Battle.net via various pro-gamer and eSport-supporting partnerships, like the one recently signed with GomTV. In August, Blizzard has officially partnered up with Razer, a high-end gaming peripheral maker.

The first Razer StarCraft II tournament level gaming peripherals are poised to revolutionize the RTS category. The new line of professional gaming peripherals are engineered and designed from the ground up with unique exclusive features to cater to the StarCraft II community. Razer will incorporate its expertise in design, ergonomics, technology, and professional gaming peripherals to give StarCraft II gamers the competitive edge.

Coming Soon, By Razer

The press release announces an alliance between Blizzard and Razer, with Razer committing to supplying future StarCraft 2 gamers with pro-tournament level of gaming gear and Blizzard endorsing and promoting these products – such as the Zerg Messenger bag made available during Blizzcon. The rest of the StarCraft 2 product line has not been officially released yet, for obvious reasons. For a taste of things to come, check out this SteelSeries WoW-tailored gaming mouse, complete with a billion customizable buttons for all your macro needs.

Yet another StarCraft 2 pre-beta sub-era has come to an end, with Blizzard announcing the last Vespene Laughs contest winners. This time, only two entries made the grade.

Congratulations to the winners of August’s “Vespene Laughs” Comic Contest! This was the final month of the contest, and we’d like to thank everyone who participated for their effort and enthusiasm over the past six months..

StarCraft 2 Comic - Bad MountA fatal Hydralisk Impression

To wrap this post up with some good, old-school awesome, here are a couple of giant hand-made StarCraft plushies (click to see the entire collection!).

StarCraft Probe and Plush Reaver

Plush StarCraft Probe

The first Razer StarCraft II tournament level gaming peripherals are poised to revolutionize the RTS category. The new line of professional gaming peripherals are engineered and designed from the ground up with unique exclusive features to cater to the StarCraft II community. Razer will incorporate its expertise in design, ergonomics, technology, and professional gaming peripherals to give StarCraft II gamers the competitive edge.
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This is an open discussion post about one of the more controversial, yet somewhat overlooked points of the recently unveiled Battle.net 2.0 feature list. The pay-per-game/mod/map marketplace slated to be integrated within the upcoming platform. Even within the tight circle of SC2Blog editors and contributors, there has been some disagreement regarding the Marketplace’s benefits to the modding and gaming community, and so, we have decided to publish two opposing opinion pieces on the subject, as well as a new poll, to see where the community stands on this issue.

Premium Content Marketplace Concerns:

For over a decade, Blizzard has shipped its RTS titles with powerful editors, much to the delight to the highly active and supportive mapping and modding communities.
Ever since WarCraft 2, the community has been pumping out maps, scenarios and campaigns, extending and expanding the game worlds via platforms and tools provided by Blizzard.
StarCraft and WarCraft 3 communities have provided players with thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of maps, custom game scenarios and campaigns; my own WarCraft 3 folder contains over 5000 maps, none of which were developed with monetary compensation in mind.

Even Blizzard’s MMORPG title, World of WarCraft, comes with a powerful and relatively easy to customize User Interface (UI) Application Program Interface (API), which has been taken to its limits by modders around the world. Almost every player in the World of WarCraft uses extensions and macros in order to be a better party member, professional, merchant or PvPer. Unlike RTS players, who enjoy the products of the community solely because of the unlimited growth in gameplay variance, WoW players virtually depend on quality UI enhachment for actual gameplay.

Enhanced WoW User Interface

During BlizzCon 2009, Blizzard has finally unveiled what we assume to be the current, well thought-out vision of the new Battle.net.
A Battle.net that follows you everywhere – into your single-player games, into the campaign, you friend lists and interactions, you account settings and data, you system setup (as anyone who has enrolled into the beta can testify), and without a doubt, your payment info.

Now, considering the fact that Battle.net will not be a pay-per-play service (no matter how many false rumors start regarding this issue), all of the aforementioned points are not in any way negative. Blizzard is just leveraging its gaming worlds and infrastructure to create a better social, gaming and competitive experience.

The Marketplace, however, stands out in the Battle.net feature list not because it’s the only one which might cost gamers money, but because it’s the only one that does not, in fact, cater to gamers. As Rob Pardo put it, one of  Blizzard’s primary concerns is to ensure that leading modders and game developers make use of its tools, and the Marketplace will be launched as an incentive for luring them in.

We want to make sure the best amateur game designers out there are making content for StarCraft II, and not for Kongregate or Steam or anything like that.

The marketplace is not aimed at community generated maps and home-grown Tower Defense games, but premium, commercial, moderated and approved maps and game mods.
Blizzard will be the one moderating the maps and approving the marketplace-worthy content, so you are unlikely to be charged for downloading the latest Micro Wars Footman Extra 1.5 because someone added an extra level. Blizzard will be in charge for drawing the invisible line between maps that took months of true amateur effort to create but have to be distributed for free, and maps that were professionally designed and developed over a couple of weeks that will bring in tens of thousands in download dollars.

Not Worthy of Monetary Compensation

Blizzard will be the gatekeeper and moderator of content, creating clear segregation between amateur and professionals, and forcing gamers into chain-reaction purchasing in order to play with friends who have acquired these premium-developer maps.
Upon deployment, Battle.net 2.0 will undoubtedly become the biggest and most advanced integrated gaming platform in the world, with hundreds of thousands of concurrent users and millions of page/screen views per minute. If anything, it is Blizzard’s best interest to inject professional, original and exciting content into the system, free of charge for its users, in order to keep people coming back and using the system, monetizing the platform in other, less intrusive ways.

Premium Content Marketplace Advantages:

On the other hand, the new marketplace could provide an impetus to take the StarCraft 2 engine to heights never seen before and never imagined possible with the old editors. When discussing the marketplace, a few important details and statements by the developers have to be considered.

Firstly, lets take a look at the most famous and one of the most invested in custom maps in any Blizzard game to date – Defense of The Ancients. This WarCraft 3 custom map has a larger player- and fan-base than most  popular original titles which use their own game-engines. It is being played on pro-level in tournaments. It has had songs written about it. Last year, Gamasutra declared that DoTA is “likely the most popular and most-discussed free, non-supported game mod in the world“. Surely such a well-developed, extremely popular, and highly praised custom map would achieve premium status?

Not according to Blizzard.

Both Mike Morhaime, Blizzard’s president, and Dustin Browder, lead game designer, have stated that maps such as DoTA will NOT make the cut for premium status and will NOT require payment. The reasoning? They only use WarCraft 3 assets, without significantly adding any new content to the game, such as new mechanics and interfaces, sound effects, models, or voice acting.

Evidently, Blizzard will employ strict criteria to decide which maps will be worth your money. Karune has mentioned this recently:

Premium maps will have requirements, but those are still to be determined.

Premium status will be reserved for the cream of the crop of StarCraft 2 mods. This is perhaps a good term to use for differentiating premium and non-premium maps. While DoTA is a custom map, using the original game’s units, map sets, animations and models, a ghost-esque total conversion, such as the concept presented during the Galaxy Editor Blizzcon presentation, would be a true mod and would indeed deserve premium status.

Further, with the promise of monetary reward, StarCraft 2 mods could be taken to the extreme. Development teams would be able to form, supported by publishers (or perhaps Blizzard themselves?), and create entire new games using the Galaxy Editor and based on the StarCraft 2 engine. Indeed, proper support for large developmental efforts is planned:

Q: Any plans for group collaboration on maps?

n

A: Yes, there are plans to give modders and artists products and share it with other people. You can import triggers so a person can work on a different part of a map.

Just like Id software engines, such as the ones used for Doom and the Quake series, have been licensed and used to create many other games due to their technological superiority, the StarCraft 2 editor will allow the StarCraft engine to be taken to new extremes, producing creative content thanks to its flexible nature and ease of use. Blizzard has already confirmed that modders will be able to create entire single player campaigns, attach achievements to them, and even use the ranked match-making system if they create highly competitive games.

All in all, this change will benefit everyone involved: from the developers who invest a lot of time and effort into their creations, to Blizzard, who deserve all the credit for supplying them with this versatile platform, to gamers, who will enjoy the fruits of these endeavors.

* * * *

Knowing where the modding and gaming communities stand on the issue of paying for premium content should be of great concern for Blizzard, even they haven’t initiated an open discussion on the topic. Hopefully, quantifying the community’s views and opinions on the issue can help Blizzard provide both gaming and developer communities with the best experience possible. Be sure to vote in the poll on the sidebar and state what you think of the upcoming Marketplace platform.

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