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With they year 2009 coming to an end, marking two and half years since StarCraft 2’s unveiling in Korea, it’s time to summarize this year of continuous teasing; feature annoucements, previews, battle reports and recurring mentions of the upcoming beta.

The first thing we covered on January 2009 is, ironically, 1UP’s post of the 25 most anticipated games of 2009, topped with the obvious reservation to curb the readers’ enthusiasm..

… both Diablo 3 and StarCraft 2 appear in 1Up’s  “25 of the Most Anticipated Video Games of 2009“, Thierry Nguyen (1Up’s writer) seems to have a very realistic view on Blizzard’s schedule, reminding everyone of its famous “when it’s done” mantra.

The first unit to receive a major adjustment in 2009 was the Dark Templar, which now comes in two flavors following the results of a poll Blizzard conducted to decide between two, equally worthy models.

On January 20, a Blizzard official – Xordiah, Blizzard’s European RTS Community Manager, made a bold public statement concerning the StarCraft 2 Beta – Blizzard has set a fixed date for the public StarCraft 2 Beta, but is keeping it a secret.
Xordiah also mentions two things which are later discovered to be key macro mechanics:

  • The Dark Pylon
  • Terran Mule – the “bigger SCV”

StarCraft 2 Screenshot of Terran being overrun

Even February 2009 started with a StarCraft 2 Beta Hoax – a fake captcha image produced by one of Battle.net forum dwellers, as well as a rumor of a leaked StarCraft 2 build. Both turned out to be completely false, with neither beta nor playable build becoming available throughout 2009.

StarCraft 2 Captcha

Towards the end of February 2009, Blizzard annouced its annual BlizzCon event and Dustin Browder posted what we’ve considered at the time a clear indication that StarCraft 2 Beta won’t be happening in 2009.

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.

Despite the gloomy predictions, nobody was under the impression that Blizzard was stalling or getting lazy – the development and art teams shelled out a massive update, drastically changing model graphics and introducing revolutionary macromanagement mechanics for all three races.

StarCraft 2 Drone

In March 2009, Beta Teasing reached new heights with the announcment (and implementation) of Blizzard’s unified Battle.net Platform, enabling StarCraft 2 Beta key owners to register via http://blizzcon.com/beta. Users could also opt-in for being randomly selected to take part in Blizzard’s various beta tests – meaning that even users without StarCraft 2 Beta keys could take part in the beta if they have set up their accounts to receive invitations.

All this teasing and beta talk was quickly taken advantage of by several trolls in order to send the community into a speculation frenzy over multiple fake “beta announcement” emails.

Blizzard Beta Opt-in

April and May 2009 were the Months of Clarifications.  Featuring multiple massive Q&A sessions, a Battle Report and lengthy Karunology posts, Blizzard’s community and Dev teams went out of their way to inform us about major changes made to StarCraft 2 in a recent overhaul. The development of StarCraft 2 is extremely well documented, and it will be interesting to come and re-visit these posts in a few years when StarCraft 2 matures.

Further, the aspects to be included in the beta have gradually been revealed during that time to be

  • Multiplayer via Battle.net 2.0
  • Replay viewer
  • Map Editor
  • No Campaign
  • Player versus AI

In May 2009, Blizzard focused on revealing even more StarCraft 2 gameplay considerations and started preparing its fans for BlizzCon. In a lengthy 11 Q&A session for SC2Pod, Dustin also revealed what is, at this time, the only hardware- based edge gamers can acquire – a widescreen montior.

1. How will StarCraft II handle widescreen monitors? If the screen isn’t going to be stretched, either widescreen or traditional format will have the advantage of seeing more of the battlefield, have you decided which one?


[Dustin Browder] Widescreen monitors will be able to see slightly more of the battlefield, but the extra visual real estate players will be getting will be quite small. Nonetheless, for competitive gaming, there will be a small visual advantage to having a widescreen.

Blizzard’s solution to previous years’ BlizzCon ticket purchasing troubles was the introduction of a strange ticket purchase queue system, which later proved itself surprisingly justifiable and had actually managed to handle the massive  burst of fans that overwhelmed Blizzard’s virtual ticket booth.

How long do I have to finalize my purchase?


Once you reach the front of the queue, you will have 15 minutes to finalize your purchase. To help speed up the process, we recommend you have a valid Battle.net account (create one now!) with up-to-date payment information ready to go, as this will be required to make a purchase from the Blizzard Store.

Towards the end of May, Blizzard also revealed that it has reversed some of its earlier gameplay decisions – such as making the Thor transportable and returning the Ghost its EMP ability.

Thors are as big as Barracks

June 2009 had one great thing about it. Battle Report 3, made entirely of pure awesome, was released (after being leaked a bit early). If, for any reason, you missed it and want to see a broad array of StarCraft 2 mechanics, weapons and abilities abused to the max, do go forth watch it now.

Still at awe by the delivery of Battle Report 3, early July 2009 we’ve been hit with another blast.  The amount of gameplay information, new videos, images and detailed Tech Trees was so vast and its release so well orchestrated, that we’ve dubbed the update  “Pre-Beta Press Event: Tech Trees, Screenshots, Impressions“. Check it out: Full of screenshots, gameplay videos, interviews and StarCraft 2 build updates, it was one of the most singificant posts of 2009. Here are just a few items from the massive blob of info:

  • StarCraft 2 will include an online Casual Gaming League that will feature “anti-rush” map designs, a normal (slower) game speed and other care-bear perks.
  • Blizzard will push for mainstream adoption of E-Sports and public broadcast/televised StarCraft 2 matches.
  • Banelings can explode while burrowed.
  • Ultralisks are no longer a late-game screw-you unit, but hands down the most powerful and effective physical ground unit in the game.

August 2009 was the first time Blizzard openly stated that StarCraft 2 is planned for 2010. The anticipated released date range, slated for the first half of 2010 – as divulged in Activision-Blizzard’s Financial Results paper –  is highly unrealistic,  as the beta is very unlikely to be over prior to May 2010. Indeed, Dustin and co have stated that the beta will quite likely last between four to six months, if not more.

Just prior to the Battle.net and Galaxy Editor storm that was BlizzCon, Blizzard approved the release of the single player infromation pack, including pretty much everything a person considering the purchase of StarCraft 2 for its campaign value would like to know.

The Bridge

For fans following StarCraft Universe lore and eagerly anticipating the epic single player campaign, it’s a must read, but it also includes a statement we’ve been waiting for Blizzard to make for quite some time: No paid subscription for StarCraft 2.

Battle.net 2.0: “Will it require a subscription?”

We are certainly not doing that for Starcraft 2.

BlizzCon complimented the single player information batch well, covering the other two major aspects of StarCraft 2 : Battle.net 2.0 and the Galaxy Editor. While Battle.net 2.0 met the expectations of being designed to be a massive unified social gaming platform, referring to the tool presented at the convention merely an editor is a gross understatement. The StarCraft 2 Galaxy Editor was revealed to be a full-blown IDE, capable of producing games that look and function nothing like StarCraft 2.

One of Battle.net 2.0’s most innovative and somewhat controversial features is the introduction of the Premium Content Marketplace – built to provide StarCraft 2 content developers with a platform for selling their goods directly to gamers. This tool, which may later become key to the selection of games you see on Battle.net, has not received the attention it deserves -yet-. Be sure to check out the poll we’ve run on this issue since September.

October’s most interesting news piece is without a doubt the epic Battle Report 4, which featured massive clashes of Thors and Colossi, only to be abruptly aborted by a barrage of five consecutive nukes by David Kim.

Clash of Thors and Colossi

No one was suprised when, in November 2009, Chris Sigaty, StarCraft 2’s Lead Producer, stated that StarCraft 2 beta will be released no earlier than 2010.

December came and went without a lot of action as well. The only notable item was a long interview with Dustin Browder, where he revealed his game-making soul to the fans. The interview showed how dedicated Dustin – who had doubts cast on him when development began – really is to making StarCraft 2 the Best Thing Ever.

We are trying to make this game complete – like if nobody buys any other product, this game needs to be awesome. Like if Blizzard gets hit by a meteor tomorrow and we all die, at least StarCraft II was awesome – that’s what it needs to be.

It better be, after topping the respectable Wired 2009 Vaporware list.

http://www.sc2blog.com/2009/03/02/starcraft-2-macro-mechanics-poll-feedback-and-analysis/
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This week in StarCraft 2 was marked with multiple blue posts on the official StarCraft 2 forums, topped with a seven question Q&A session for the German fan site starcraft2.4players.de. Most of the answers deal with the finer aspects of StarCraft 2, but there are some interesting new revelations in as well.

1. Are you still developing new units or are you satisfied with the amount of units for each race and, therefore, more concerned about the fine tuning and balancing?

Our philosophy has always been to keep the amount of units for each race to a certain number to keep the gameplay tight, and we are satisfied with what we have right now in terms of that number. Once we head into beta we definitely evaluate the role of each unit and will potentially add or drop units as needed based on feedback.

Throughout the development process, StarCraft 2 has gained and lost quite a few units.

2. Can you explain the movements of big melee units like the Ultralisk in detail? While running through idle units smaller units tend to move away so the Ultralisk can walk in a straight line. Will that happen only in battles or while moving your whole army as well?

The way movement collision works right now is that a unit has to be idle for it to be pushed to a new location by another unit like an Ultralisk. Generally if you are controlling your forces and they are active, you will not see this behavior.

3. In the campaign of StarCraft II, there are many optional objectives to do so that the player can choose how to play through the campaign. But there are players who want to see every cinematic and play every mission. Are there missions where you have to decide, which way you go (e.g. the Terran campaign in StarCraft I, where you decide to choose nuclear weapons or Battlecruisers), or will the player be able to play the whole campaign in a linear progression? Will there be a menu were you can replay already completed missions? If so, can you also unlock new missions in that menu?

As you play through the campaign, there will be a few cases where you must make a distinct choice that could change the outcome of a certain side plot or the fate of a specific character. These choices will be made very obvious to players, and for those who want to see all the possibilities, you’ll have the ability to go back and choose the other path. We will also have a way for you to replay completed missions or cinematic cut scenes via the story mode interface as well.

Blizzard usually provides players with the ability to go back and replay missions; providing gamers with the ability to adjust their decisions is a treat for any must-see-all-paths (/achievement-happy?) fans. Most RPG games, such as the recent Dragon Age: Origins, change plot lines and outcomes significantly according to the choices made. However, Blizzard has stated that the ending of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty will be singular, providing the set up for the rest of the trilogy.

4. In the single player campaign of Warcraft III, even races like the Naga are playable temporarily. Is something like that planned for StarCraft II too?

The single player campaign for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty will focus on the Terran campaign, but there will also be a short series of missions where players take the role of Zeratul and other Protoss forces.

5. Is the range of the stalker’s blink ability limited to the distance between him and the target area or are cliffs and trees considered; so a stalker could blink farther when he’s blinking down a cliff than if he’s blinking up the cliff?

The distance you blink is the same regardless of blinking up or down a cliff.

6. Will players be able to send resources to their allies? If so, will there be a limit to the amount of resources they are able to send?

Yes, players can send and request resources among teammates but only after a few minutes into the game. The reason for this is to minimize imbalances that could be created by one player getting a massive early economic boost from his or her partner dumping resources at the outset of the game. There currently is no limit to how many resources you can share.

We would like to see Blizzard experiment with the resources issue on a race basis. Base the ability to transfer funds on a building, for example, making this decision locked to a certain tech-tree path rather than an arbitrary amount of time.

7. Some replays were not compatible with new patches in StarCraft I. Are you working on making replays compatible with new patches for StarCraft II?

Yes, we’re working on allowing replays from previous versions of StarCraft II be compatible with new patches as they are released.

Moving on, new developments on the Blizzard home front: Karune has introduced two new community team members, neither wasting any time getting their feet wet – both have already been posting StarCraft 2 related info throughout the week.

According the Zhydaris, worker command queues can be set up to be very complex as long as you can afford all the requested resources in advance – even building an entire base in one go.

You can order a worker to build something, then move to a different location, then build something else, and then start to gather resources again. That’s just an example of the queues you could set up with the shift key.

If you order a worker to build 5 gateways, you will have to pay for these gateways immediately.
The won’t build one gateway, then wait for you to collect enough minerals, and then build another one.

Next, Karune discusses the Roach‘s role in the game and the fact that it’s here to stay. Currently, it functions primarily as a damage sponge with multiple upgrades, perhaps even one for underground movement.

Most likely the Roach will be in the game – much of the balance work that is done is making sure it fits its role as a damage sponge. Throughout the balance process, the team has been playing around with lots of numbers in regards to how it regenerates, the upgrades the Roach has in terms of speed and health regen, as well as even the ability to have the Roach move while burrowed. None of these variations have deemed to be written in stone, thus we’ll just have to keep you updated as we move closer to beta and actual player testing.

Zhydaris cleared a lot of things up with a few detailed answers concerning “simultaneous casting” and “smart casting”. First of all, here’s a list of abilities that trigger simultaneous, all-unit, one click casting:

  • Stalker Blink
  • Zerg Burrow
  • Battle Cruiser Defensive Matrix
  • Baneling Explode
  • Viking Mode Switch

Smartcast abilities, on the other, hand include:

  • High Templar Psi Storm
  • Disruptor Force Field
  • All Zerg Mutations

Stalker’s Blink, Zerg’s Burrow, Battle cruiser’s Defensive Matrix, Baneling’s Explode, Viking’s switching from air-mode to ground-mode: you’ll only have to press the key once to trigger the ability for all the selected units at once (be careful with those Banelings!)

High Templar’s Psi Storm, Disruptor’s Force Field, Zerg’s mutations (Zerglings to Banelings, etc.): smart casting will kick in here and you’ll have to press the key for every selected unit.

Zhydaris later gives a detailed and helpful example as to why exactly mutations are now smart-cast:

Here’s one occasion where I think you might need smart casting. Let’s assume you have 20 Zerglings currently selected, you don’t have a lot of vespene gas and you feel the need for 5 or so Banelings. Without smart casting you’ll have to manually select 5 of these little dodgy creatures and then morph them, or else you’ll be mutating all of the 20 Zerglings into Banelings (and deplete your vespene reserves in the meanwhile).
With smart casting on the other hand you’ll be able to mutate 5 of them in a matter of seconds without deselecting them, just by pressing the key 5 times in a row.

Obviously this is just an example, but I feel that smart casting has a role to play here.

Will this change to the control mechanism be accepted? Similar changes to StarCraft’s most basic controls have been hotly contested, and this one will likely not go by smoothly as well.

Avarius, the other new blue, has posted some interesting information about how the Protoss’ Immortal comes into play against Zerg. Since the Immortal is most effective against high-damage dealing units, a concern was raised that it might be ineffective against the Zerg’s swarmy nature.

A good amount of zerg units are affected by the immortal’s Hardened Shield. They are particularly effective against roaches, ultralisks, and spine crawlers. Also, Psionic Storm and Nuclear Strike do not appear to be affected by the Hardened Shield as the immortal I just nuked disintegrated gloriously.

The new Blues have been ramping up their activity on the forums lately. Is this a result of the addition of new reps, anxious to contribute their takes on the game? Perhaps Blizzard is trying to restart the hype machine prior to the announcement of the imminent beta?

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Dustin Browder, StarCraft 2 Game Director, gave a lengthy and interesting interview to TeamLiquid, focusing on key StarCraft 2 issues such as the balance and development process, the patching strategy planned for the game, E-Sports, and, of course, the major goals Blizzard has set for itself with StarCraft 2. We bring you the important highlights.

Dustin begins by describing the early influences which led him to be interested in games, citing Dungeons and Dragons as a main one. He goes on to talk about movies and how they affect both StarCraft’s story and actual game scenarios.

We’ve got a mission in game now that’s largely inspired by 300, which obviously is not a science fiction movie but has those core dramatic moments that we really really enjoy. And that is one of the great things about being a geek and being in this business – it’s something that comes naturally.

D&D

Dustin comments about how different making games for Blizzard is:

After I got here I sort of saw the difference in quality level but also depth of the gameplay and the detailed experience the players have while playing it…and all the fine control that goes into a ‘craft experience as opposed to games made by other studios. And so it was really, really challenging to relearn – I think the hardest part was learning that I HAD to relearn it.

Would you like some WoW in your StarCraft? Dustin Browder is in a unique position, having access to the brains behind today’s most highly regarded games in different genres.

I’m surrounded by a group of guys who are so talented, who ultimately just by osmosis you can pick up so much from. One of our great strengths at this point is that we’ve been able to attract, really, really AAA talent to the studio – guys that really know their stuff. Then we are able to just teach each other as we go. I’m able to have lunch with Jeff Kaplan and Tom Chilton [game directors for WoW] whenever I want and I tell you, I learn something new everyday from those guys.

A true manifestation of Blizzard osmosis

How ideas are born at Blizzard:

I’ll get an idea and I’ll take it to a designer and we’ll talk about it and say “that’s kind of cool, we’ll see how we feel about it tomorrow”. We go back the next day and say “you know what, I like it but maybe we should change this from protoss to zerg and maybe it should be plus armor instead of % damage lost”. It will slowly get tuned and it goes through me talking with the designers, talking with Rob Pardo, talking with the lore guys, the artists, the balance guys. At that point it’s changed so much that was it really my idea (laughs)?

Truly a dream job. Talking about StarCraft balance and unit design for a living, getting payed well and making immortal gaming history in the process. Not an easy job, though:

The real challenge is making it easy to learn and difficult to master, which makes everybody happy. The casual gamer has learned it easily, the hardcore guy is finding it very difficult to master. And like I’ve said before, and you see this in World of Warcraft all the time – there’s not a hardcore gamer and a casual gamer, there’s a continuum. Casual gamers can and will become hardcore gamers if you let them.

Indeed. The hardcore gamers, then, turn back and influence the game:

The other possibility of course is that we’re wrong, and you guys are correct. And because we haven’t gone to beta yet, maybe we are seeing the wrong thing. Now while you guys don’t have enough time with it, we have a lot of time but we have a very limited player pool.

… we’ve already been in discussion with some of the high ranking players around the world. We talked to people at Blizzcon and I think we sent a professional build overseas so some of the high ranking players could take a look at it and I’ve gotten the feedback from them on that.


I really do feel like using map balance as a method of racial balance is something that the community has quite correctly evolved because we aren’t doing a lot of patches. And so you guys have taken over the balance for us in many ways by doing the map balance which I think is glorious and I think you do a great job. But initially we won’t be doing that because we know we can patch and will be patching frequently.

… some people said that and I didn’t agree with that – but that we were missing the difference between a macro player and a micro player. That we were destroying the sense of style of the player. I could be playing a micro game and you could be playing a macro game with both the same race, and we are still playing a very different game from one another. And when I saw that I was like “Ohh!” I was opening my eyes like “Thanks! THERE IT IS! That’s great! That’s genius! That’s exactly what we need to try to accomplish”.

Few companies in any industry, including software, can openly admit and even take pride in being dependent on:

  • Public beta testing
  • Constant user feedback and community modifications
  • Frequent patching and improvements regardless of expansions

As Dustin put it earlier, the methods of development and implementation are so inherently different from the industry, you have got to relearn the key aspects of development and deployment to be a product director for Blizzard.

Dustin Browder

On the balance front, the Zerg are still lagging behind:

… we’ve certainly found specifically at tier 2, the Zerg lack legitimate ways to really push an advantage. The Mutalisk has been running into a little bit more trouble with stalkers than say it would against dragoons. Where using Blink and Warp In are fundamentally game changing kinds of moments that suddenly change the relationship between these old units.

Zerg forces being slaughtered in the amazing 3rd Battle Report

Zerg forces being slaughtered in the amazing 3rd Battle Report

Moving on, some E-Sports talk from Bob Colayco, Blizzard PR Manager for StarCraft 2:

Bob: You know, we have an E-Sports team for a reason and I think you’re going to see some 3rd party stuff as well, but we definitely like to get hands on with our own things. If you look at what we’ve done with WoW Arena, we do have the tournament realms and we do regional finals that we run and we sponsor. And then there’s the grand finals which we have at Blizzcon, so I think you’re going to see a mix of things. I can’t say anything specific.

Blizzard is currently in great position to reap the rewards for creating a perfect E-Sports RTS 10 years ago. However, while user-created game servers are taboo, 3rd party competitions are certainly encouraged:

I think the important message for the community with this one would be, that we love the 3rd party tournaments as well. We love watching those, going to them and seeing them live etc. So we want to do stuff as well, and we want to promote E-Sports overall. We want E-Sports to grow and grow and grow – ideally with our game of course, but even in the wider world of everybody’s games. We think E-Sports is an important component of what video games could become, and we want to take this opportunity with Starcraft 2 to push E-Sports forward.

Blizzard E-Sports

We are trying to make this game complete – like if nobody buys any other product, this game needs to be awesome. Like if Blizzard gets hit by a meteor tomorrow and we all die, at least StarCraft II was awesome – that’s what it needs to be.

Quite a fascinating way to work and live by – if you get hit by a meteor tomorrow, make sure the last thing you did was biblically awesome.

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