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The StarCraft 2 Beta is going at full speed. Thousands of players can be found online at any time of the day, testing their skill against each other, constantly improving and getting a better handle on the game. Many great games have already been played and released through replay files and YouTube videos, and this is just the beginning!

The first patch – of many to come, according to Chris Sigaty – has been released yesterday. Blizzard have been quick to assess the data and feedback gathered from the beta; the patch already introduces some balance changes among various bug fixes. Not only that, but some abilities have been completely removed from the game!

Here are the changes, followed by some clarification on their reasons.

TERRAN


Viking

The armor value for this unit in Fighter Mode has decreased from 1 to 0.
The damage done by this unit in Fighter Mode has changed from 6 (+8 armored) to 10 (+4 armored).

Reaper

The damage done from D-8 Charges has decreased from 40 to 30.
The delay between attacks for D-8 Charges has decreased from 2.5 to 1.8.

Orbital Command

The build time for this upgrade has decreased from 50 to 35.

PROTOSS


Observer

Gravitic Boosters: The cost of this research has decreased from 150 minerals and 150 vespene gas to 100 minerals and 100 vespene gas.

High Templar

Phase Shift: This ability has been removed from the game.
New ability: Feedback – Drains all energy from the target unit and causes damage equal to the amount of energy drained.

Colossus

The building pathing radius for this unit has decreased from .75 to .5625.

Mothership

Vortex: The energy cost of this ability has increased from 75 to 100.
Vortex: The target radius of this ability has decreased from 3.0 to 2.5.
Temporal Rift: This ability has been removed from the game.
Wormhole Transit: This ability has been removed from the game.
New ability: Mass Recall – Teleports all of the player’s units in the target area to the Mothership.

Nexus

Chrono Boost can no longer target allies.

Gateway

The build time of this building has increased from 50 to 65.

ZERG


Infestor

Fungal Growth: The damage done by this ability has decreased from 48 to 36.
Fungal Growth: This ability now prevents affected units from burrowing.
Neural Parasite: Functionality changed – The Infestor now channels this spell, which lasts 10 seconds or until the Infestor is destroyed. You can now target all units with this ability.

Terran Infestation: The ability’s energy cost has reduced from 50 to 25 and Infested Terrans now spawn 1 at a time.

BUG FIXES

Addressed an issue causing people to receive an “Internal Battle.net Error” message with their game client.

Muting your microphone will no longer cause your microphone to be turned off in the operating system once the program has exited.

Please note that the voice chat functionality has only partially been implemented. There are many known issues with voice chat that we expect to address in a future patch.

The “Medium” graphical settings were reconfigured to work better on appropriate machines. The video settings “auto-detect” functionality has been reset as a result.

Added a frame rate limiter to the game menus to prevent some graphics cards from running at higher frame rates than necessary.


The main change to the Terran has been the tweaking of the Reaper‘s attack, making it less effective in hit and run attacks against buildings. A common tactic with the Reapers is to quickly move around an enemy base, switching between harassing (and sometimes completely decimating) worker lines and taking down the occasional Pylon or Supply Depot. With the decrease in damage per attack, and despite the overall increase in damage per time, the Reapers will now have to stop and dedicate their attack to a building in order to efficiently destroy it.

The Viking‘s damage has been changed to allow the Terran to have a flying answer to the constant threat of the Zerg Mutalisk . Since they are light units, Mutalisks will now take 66% more damage from Vikings.

Vikings in Fighter mode

The only change to the Zerg was to the Infestor, the Zerg’s most advanced spell caster, and, unfortunately, quite an underwhelming unit according to feedback from all over the community. The new Fungal Growth ability might prove useful in Zerg mirror matches with its effect on burrowing, but the improved Neural Parasite spell will definitely come into use. Previously, this ability was limited to biological units, leaving out many of the potential threats to the Zerg unaffected. Now, and as seen in the third battle report, Neural Parasite will once more be able to take control of the super-dangerous, anti-swarm Colossus.

The most disappointing and “safest” item on the patch notes list is the Protoss Mothership. This end-game unit, which turned out to be both fun and highly effective to use in competitive gameplay, has been hit with the nerf-hammer, and might as well be renamed “Motherbiter“. Having its “Town Portal” ability removed means the Mothership is quite vulnerable considering its extremely slow speed (think Overlord), and its most deadly spell, the black-hole generating “Vortex”, has had its effect dialed down and its cost increased. Granted, the old Mothership was quite the powerhouse, perhaps indeed an overpowered one – but it’s a shame to see it stripped down of its distinctive abilities and tuned to the exact same characteristics of the Arbiter: Cloaking field, Recall, and Vortex, which is essentially Stasis Field with a cooler effect.

We, among many others, have been testing the voice system integrated into Battle.net 2.0 and the game, but without great success. Communications have been choppy and unclear compared to modern stand-alone solutions, and it was clear that this is an unfinished feature. While it’s obvious that Blizzard will eventually get it right, this is perhaps the most immature aspect of the recently launched gaming platform.

Calculation Still Wrong

One of the most important patch-related questions has finally been answered conclusively. Will replays from previous game versions remain viewable? Answer:

Old version replays? Yes please.

As has been mentioned before, different display aspect ratios provide slightly different gaming experiences, giving (and denying) a certain edge depending on one’s system setup. Check out this animated gif to get a clear idea about how StarCraft’s field of view adjusts to the gamers’ monitors.

StarCraft Screen Ratio animations

While Blizzard has claimed that the difference will be minor, the above illustration makes it clear that it is not. If you have a 4:3 or 5:4 aspect ratio monitor and you intend to play StarCraft competitively, it’s probably time to move on.

Moving on, the thirteenth Blizzcast has been released, and it’s beta all the way. Very interesting comments from the senior people in charge of StarCraft 2, Dustin Browder and Chris Sigaty, which we will highlight here.

  • Blizzard hopes to release a patch at least once a week, promising to react as much as on a daily basis.
  • How radical can changes get? Dustin Browder: “As much as necessary”.
  • Is it possible that units will be introduced or removed from the game? Dustin Browder: “Absolutely”.
  • The planned period for the beta was 3-5 months, but Blizzard is currently targeting 3 months.
  • The Galaxy editor will be release late in the beta with a “major content patch”. No information on what else this may include.
  • The developers believe that the beta and feedback they get from the community is critical to the game’s success.

Some select quotes:

So community, you guys, will be doing a lot of interfacing directly and sort of bubbling up the big points to us.

… if we discover something that is a fundamental mistake, absolutely we will add or cut as necessary to make this game as good as we possibly can by the time it ships.

There’s definitely areas where we’ll be watching, areas where we’re nervous, we’re pretty convinced that we may have made a terrible mistake but we’re going to keep watching and see what happens. So far, things that I am convinced must be broken have not yet proven to be so. This is largely I think because other units are overshadowing them and preventing them from being that powerful, right. As the community plays, we’ll see what they find to be truly powerful and then we’ll see what really shakes out of it.

What we’re really trying to do is get players to have some additional strategy and choices when it comes to their base building and their economy, right. We really want to push that part of the game. We want players to be able to choose which type of player do they want to be. Do I want to be a player who can maximize my economy but maybe is not quite as good at commanding my forces on the battlefield or am I a player who is really good at commanding my troops out on the front line but maybe I don’t focus as much on my economy or do I want to try to balance both together.

… for sure the main central focus of the beta is balance for us.

As we continue to cover the beta, up to date news items, interesting tidbits, replays and videos will be posted on our Official Facebook page. Do come visit us there or check out the feed at the upper right corner of this page.

Surprise Nydus attack!


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Another April Fools’ has gone by in wait for StarCraft 2. As expected, the fan sites’ beta tease was indeed bogus, and it appears that, in accordance with our analysis of the game’s state, the beta will not be released any time soon. In the latest BlizzCast, Dustin Browder, lead game designer, gives the word:

A lot of the stuff people are seeing in-game right now, I know we’re showing a lot of material, I know people are looking at it saying, “If this looks really good, it must be close to final.” That’s certainly not how the art team feels about it right and they’ve been going over it and hitting individual units as we go forward, individual races, and the Zerg in terms of their buildings and even their units are still the furthest behind in that respect. There is still a lot more work to go into the Zerg , for instance the hatchery, the lair, the hive are all going to go under massive revisions here in the next couple of weeks as we really punch up the art to really represent these iconic, critical, central buildings to a Zerg base.  So there is still a lot of work to go into it

It’s going to be a while before StarCraft 2 is widely available, unfortunately.

Something good did happen this April 1st, though. The Terran Terra-Tron!

TerranTerraTron

To create a truly comprehensive defense for high-priority, mineral-rich regions such as the volcanic uplands of Redstone, the terrans needed to devise an entirely new concept in battlefield strategy. Terran military engineers, led by Goraion Systems’ head of development Dr. Ron Volt, have been working day and night to design a new kind of base for the terran armies: the titanic Terra-tron.

The Terra-Tron, Blizzard’s April Fools’ unit for this year, is a true marvel. Composed out of the entire base, it’s equipped with enough armor and fire power to take down whole armies. While we won’t be seeing it in the normal version of the single- or multi-player game, Karune does confirm that just like last year’s April Fools’ unit, the Tron will make an appearance in the map editor. Make sure to watch the videos of it transforming and terrorizing the city.

Another StarCraft 2 related answer from the last BlizzCast deals with the game’s new air model. Here’s a summary of  Dustin’s comments:

  • Zerg Mutalisks are still used for fast raiding operations
  • In large groups, they are also useful for late-game direct assaults
  • The Terran Banshees can power right through base defenses with their powerful anti-ground attack
  • The Protoss Void Ray is similarly threatening
  • Protoss Carriers have a much longer range than in StarCraft 1
  • Dedicated anti air units, like the Zerg Corruptor and Protoss Phoenix, serve an important role to counter the aforementioned threats

Corruptors

Moving on, a new Terran Nighthawk ability has been revealed, along with some more news about the unit’s other ability. Here’s what we know about the Hunter-Seeker Missile:

  • Costs 75 energy, has no cooldown
  • Slowly moves towards a unit and detonates on impact, dealing 150 AoE damage
  • Meant to deal with slow units, such as spell casters or stationary ones
  • Requires the Fusion Core (prereq building for Battlecrusiers) to be researched
  • Runs out of fuel and harmlessly falls to the ground after 15 seconds

On paper, this cooldown-less ability sounds extremely powerful. With an energy upgrade, the Nighthawk can release three Hunter-Seekers one after the other, devastating entire Tier-1 armies or taking out key units from mixed armies. All this assuming, of course, that the enemy doesn’t immediately retreat his targeted unit to safety. It’s likely that the targeted unit will be marked so that it can be moved out of harm’s way by the player, though this hasn’t been confirmed.

Nighthawks

This ability overlaps somewhat with the Ghost’s Psi Round, another ability geared towards caster-hunting. It’s also interesting to note that all of the Nighthawk’s abilities have returned to being energy-dependent, with Auto-Turret only costing 50 minerals.

Finally, Karune answers a question about rallying troops into transports. Taking automation a step further, Karune confirms that units can be rallied directly into transports – a mechanism which will see plenty of use in the hands of a infantry drop-happy Terran. Karune also answers another question about what happens when an ally drops from the game:

1) Yup, you will be able to – and you can also rally straight into transport units like dropships as well.
2) Yes- though currently all the resources your ally makes after he leaves will go directly into your pool of resources. This is by no means final or balanced yet- there will be changes still.

With MBS and Dropship rally, a deadly infantry drop takes just a few clicks to prepare.

Medivac Dropship

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BlizzCast #6 has been released a few days ago, featuring a (relatively short) portion dedicated to StarCraft 2. The discussion focuses on the design process and the interaction between artists and developers while trying to find a role for, and balance, the units of StarCraft 2.

Karune, Sam and Dustin working

Karune met with Sam Didier, art director, and Dustin Browder, lead game designer. They discussed StarCraft 2’s state and fleshed out the process required for successful unit creation, from conception to implementation.

…..you know, does it start from a gamplay element like you guys have a specific unit in mind for a certain gameplay mechanic or does it actually start from the art side,….

Which later got quite an interesting response from Sam, providing a fine example of how a gameplay-based unit was introduced to StarCraft 2.

Sam Didier:
Yeah we did all drawn inspiration from some of the giant walking robots and tripods but if you notice our Colossus has four legs, not three. So our tripod is way better then everyone elses because we have one more leg. Take it!

The Thor has been pushed all around the tactical spectrum – from a long range, mobile sieger to an AA Flak station. It is discussed lengthily as the unit with the most incarnations, one which has changed significantly throughout the development process.
Sam Didier elaborated on the problems of applying gameplay functionality to a well designed unit with very explicit features:

The problem with it we had in the concept is we had these giant guns on his shoulders.  ‘Real cool!  Yeah that looks awesome!’  Well anytime we have something cool in the art like that we have to justify it in gameplay.  So it had these giant guns, what’s it do? Well we already have a siege tank that rains death upon the battlefield so what do these big guns do?  Rain bigger death?  That makes the siege tank obsolete.  So we couldn’t do that. So one of the problems with this unit is we went with the art first and because it had the big cool guns now were trying to figure out what to do with it design wise.

Thor and small animals

And a small teaser of the much anticipated single player campaign:

Sam Didier: All you guys out there listening, you should have seen how big it was before uh . . . we had to make it playable.
Dustin Browder: (laughs) They’ll see that version in solo play I’m sure.

But more importantly, Dustin describes the eventual Thor as the front-line damage sponge and a great AA support unit.

So the Thor does two things for the Terrans: It gives them a sort of tip of the sword kind of unit, something you can push up front that can take a lot of damage from enemy fire.  It’s very survivable, very tough, very hard to kill.  And you can use that sort of push past an artillery barrage or push directly into an enemy base to sort of lead your smaller lighter marines into battle.  And it’s also got these huge cannons on its back that can strike against air targets so you can use the Thor to defend your forces from enemy air threats and it’s a very powerful weapon in both of these roles.

While discussing the portrait animations found in StarCraft 2, the Marauder is mentioned as having one of the better portraits, and Blizzard were even kind enough to provide an example – watch the following video for several portraits which were revealed in detail during the BlizzCast. (courtsey of SCLegacy)

The rest of the StarCraft 2 portion deals with generic development decisions, providing insight into the workflow and development enviroment key Blizzard game designers enjoy.

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Episode 4 of the BlizzCast series has been posted on the official Blizzard site. BlizzCast is a series of recorded interviews and Q&A sessions, dealing with the latest developments and happenings in the Blizzard game universes.

This episode of BlizzCast features one item of interest for StarCraft 2 fans – the Community Q&A session, providing very thorough answers to interesting questions. The Q&A is also accompanied by two new, action heavy screenshots.

BlizzCast

Answers are provided by Mike Heiberg, senior game designer, and David Kim, associate game balance designer.

First, they are asked about the reason for the decreased mineral collection rate by workers. This was previously reported to be 5, but is currently at 6 units per trip, down from 8 in StarCraft 1.

The rate of collection for StarCraft 2 was planned to be similar to that of StarCraft 1, with the reduction in per-trip numbers originating from the increased unit pathing efficiency. To counterbalance that somewhat, SCVs will now have to spend less time on the mineral patch to acquire a full load.

However, both David and Mike comment that mineral collection feels faster now. The maximum rate of collection is achieved when 3 SCVs are used for each mineral patch, and it’s easier to see when this limit is reached in StarCraft 2 compared to 1.

The next topic is about the improved unit pathing. As an example, David and Mike describe how Zerglings easily surround Zealots from all sides, packing closely next to each other so more Zeglings can get a piece of the action. This creates a situation where smart players will push their Zealots against the wall or put them on choke points to minimize the amount of Zeglings they have to deal with simultaneously.

Zerglings gang up on a few helpless Zealots

* Click for Big

David KimYeah and the wrap around itself is a little easier to pull off I guess because the A.I. takes care of some of that for you but you do still need the micro if you want to get the maximum out of your melee units.

Another important change is to deceleration. In StarCraft 1, this was less precise, and units could sometimes slow down in a way that put them before or after the location they were ordered to go to. In StarCraft 2, this mechanism is much more precise, and units know when to start decelerating to reach the specific location.

Mike HeibergRight, a lot of times you’d be floating your guardians in to take out some spore colony or something and they’d float a little too close and you’d be like “Whoa!” and you’d have to back a couple of them out. They’re a little more intelligent now about not floating directly into danger when they don’t have to.

Next, the developers discuss resource consumption and its effect on the strategies available to each race. They state that there are more options to choose from in StarCraft 2, which also makes scouting more important.

The last question deals with Infestation, Corruption, and Mind Control. Both Infestation and Corruption are time limited, and the inquiry was about a more permanent ownership changing spell, like the StarCraft 1 Dark Archon Mind Control ability.

Mike sums it up nicely:

Well when we were doing the classic Starcraft mind control we were finding that it actually resulted in some pretty big swings in balance where basically you mind control a large unit, say a Battlecruiser, and now the difference in power from the two different armies is like two Battlecruisers because he lost one and you gained one. So seeing as in Starcraft II we have a few more of those high impact units, we have Colossi, we have Motherships, and Queens, that’s a very scary type of spell to be still bringing into the game, I mean we have more opportunities for those large swings in balance.

A powerful spell like Mind Control would have to be restricted to specific units and leave some of them out, and Blizzard does not like implementing such artificial constraints.

Further, the devs discuss Infestation and its limited effect on StarCraft 1, which resulted from the difficulty in pulling it off.

Mike HeibergRight, in classic Starcraft infesting someone’s command center was really more of an insult.

The StarCraft 2 infestation will be even higher on the tech tree, requiring both the tier 3 Infestor Pit and Infestation research, but will be easier to manage. Since Infestation is going to be easier and the Infested Marines free, the effect will only be temporary.

Infestation!

* Click for Big

As for Corruptors, the developers mention that introducing this mechanism instead of using simple mind control creates new gameplay decisions:

Mike Heiberg: Right we want to allow those types of little micro decisions where in the middle of the battle: “Should I focus on his guys, his Corrupters? Should I focus on my own corrupted units because I’m not getting them back?  Or should I back off and make those basically invalid because there’s nobody nearby for them to be messing with?”.

 

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