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BlizzCon 2010 was massive – a massive gaming celebration, catering to fans of all three Blizzard Universes – StarCraft, Diablo and WarCraft. During our stay at the the event, Blizzard has provided us with some cool new information about its custom map plans, a few exclusive answers, as well as a wealth of information from panels and great hi-res in-game screenshots.

Kerrigan Welcomes You

Blizzard’s StarCraft 2 : Wings of Liberty FAQ for BLizzCon 2010 focuses mostly on the custom maps Blizzard’s designers have been developing, as well as providing us with a few vague statements about its Heart of the Swarm plans. In case some of you haven’t been following – StarCraft 2 Heart of the Swarm is the much anticiapted first expansion for StarCraft 2 – the second part of the trilogy.

Q: When can the general public play the official StarCraft II custom maps showcased at BlizzCon 2010?

A: The custom maps created by the StarCraft II development team are currently in a preview state, and require additional development time as well as other work such as localization, before we can release them to the public. We plan to release these maps for free over Battle.net, one-by-one, over the coming months.

Blizzard’s StarCraft II Custom Maps and Editor Panel has provided fans and visitors with many answers and was also used to unveil four internally developed custom projects, including an Official, long-term supported, Blizzard DoTA!

DoTA - Defence of the Ancients, Blizzard Style

Blizzard’s custom map production philosophy is based on the following trinity:

  1. Find the “fun factor.”
  2. Make sure the map is easy to learn.
  3. Actively seek and encourage feedback.
Blizzard's Custom Map Goals

Courtesy of SCL

Despite the fact that Blizzard is yet to receive major feedback, it does seem to take the first two statements in the list quite seriously, showcasing original, easy to learn and fun custom scenarious during the panel:

Left 2 Die

Left 2 Die
This is an evolution of the “Outbreak” Wings of Liberty Campaign mission, where the colonists on Meinhoff were infested by a zerg virus. In this cooperative mission, you and a friend will unlock, purchase, and use new technologies necessary to survive nighttime assaults by unique zerg units, repel their attacks, and purge the infestation.

Left 2 Die is a cooperative map where players hold out against hordes of zombies

Left 2 Die is a cooperative map where players hold out against hordes of zombies

Special infected are larger, more powerful enemies with special abilities

Special infected are larger, more powerful enemies with special abilities

The base can be easily overwhelmed if players don't work together

The base can be easily overwhelmed if players don't work together

Blizzard’s take on the WarCraft’s most popular mod and one of the most popular custom scenarios of any game in the world, Defense of the Ancients, looks absolutely awesome. Understanding the potential of integrating professional level DoTA play into Battle.net, it seems Blizzard has decided to take matters in their own hands.

Towers can pack a punch

Towers can pack a punch

The final objective - destroy the enemy base's center

The final objective - destroy the enemy base's center

Aiur Chef is perhaps the most peculiar mod Blizzard has even introduced – it’s an 8-player FFA map that focuses on … creating the best possible dish using the ingredients found on each map.

Aiur Chef

Aiur Chef
This is a whimsical eight-player free-for-all in which you control a chef and must scour the map for ingredients to create succulent dishes. Each round has a secret theme ingredient and three recipes to complete. Completing recipes grant you different rewards such as points, powers, or items. The chef with the most points at the end of three rounds is named the next Aiur Chef!

Explore the map for ingredients

Explore the map for ingredients

Collect ingredients and return them to kitchen stadium to cook

Collect ingredients and return them to kitchen stadium to cook

Compete against opponents for points over three rounds

Compete against opponents for points over three rounds

StarJeweled
StarJeweled combines two distinct game types into a unique 2v2 experience. The right side of the game is a match-three style puzzle game. Matching jewels and clearing them away generates energy. Energy is then used to spawn special units and activate abilities; defeat the enemy base to win.

Starjeweled is a 2v2 game that combines match-3 puzzle gameplay with tug-of-war style combat

Starjeweled is a 2v2 game that combines match-3 puzzle gameplay with tug-of-war style combat

Marines constantly spawn from each side to attack the enemy

Marines constantly spawn from each side to attack the enemy

Next on the menu, Blizzard’s StarCraft II Secrets of the Masters panel revealed many of the semi-hidden Battle.net ranking mechanics – most importantly that the goal of the system is to create 50%:50% W/L records for all players. A gaming eco-system where game are constantly pinned against opponents of similar skill level, until they either graduate to higher levels or drop down a notch.

The Battle.net matchmaker is an adaptive system, which means that the more a player plays, the better the system gets to ‘know’ his or her skill level, with the ultimate goal being for each player to be paired with opponents of equal skill so they win around half of their games. The matchmaker tracks wins and losses and creates a hidden skill rating for a player over time (which is actually a rolling average composed of several different numbers).

Leagues are explained as being simply 20%/20%/20%/20%/20% per-region divisions:

Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond, respectively.
There are 5 leagues (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond), and all StarCraft II players in a region are split into these leagues by 20% increments. So, Diamond league players represent the top 20% of players in their region
.

BlizzCon Rocks!

BlizzCon Rocks!

The panel’s biggest announcement was the planned upcoming ladder wipe, and the improvement due to be unveiled in Season 2!

  • New UI Profile elements.
  • Artwork based on player’s division rank.
  • Historical season performance records.
  • Top players get more detailed profiles and featured replays.
  • A single placement match to reclaim your division placement.
  • Masters League.
  • Grandmaster League.

On top of all these new features, two new leagues will be introduced to highlight the top players in each region: the Master League, which places roughly the top 5% of Diamond players in their own league, and the Grandmaster League, a very special, elite league which is comprised of the top 200 players in each gameplay region, which will be visible to other players

Battle Net Interface In its current state

During Secret of the Masters panel, Blizzard has also revealed the following :

  • The hidden player rating consists of several parameters, and is not planned to be revealed.
  • Will consider introducing a per-race player rating in the future
  • Replay sharing feature will become available in 2011
  • Chat channels are due to be re-introduced before the end of 2010

Dustin Browder, StarCraft 2’s lead designer, was kind enough to answer a few quick questions exclusively for SC2Blog:

1) Can you disclose what % of gamers venture into multiplayer/battle.net without playing the Single player campaign and vise versa – how many players finish the campaign and don’t both with multiplayer at all?

I don’t know the exact numbers but it’s about fifty percent. About forty to 50 percent finish the campaign and a good number more than that play the first couple of campaign levels, and fewer as the campaign advances to the final level. Building the campaign was important in creating the multiplayer, and a lot of people still get involved in the storyline. Some argue that with how many people play Starcraft, campaign is not important, but we still want to keep bringing in more new players. There are always new players to be brought in.

2) The race win % gaps between the leagues can get significant – meaning it would be very tough to balance the game to fit all levels. What’s Blizzard’s most realistic goal on this? Is one level of play more important than another?

We start fixing at the Diamond level. Diamond is the most important. It doesn’t interfere with the lower leagues… well, maybe it interferes with bronze but it only matters if it the game cheeses up a lot at that level. It’s really as long as they’re having fun. There are usually 4 or 5 ways to deal with things like speed, range.. except in a couple of cases where it’s kind of tight. But we usually find a way to usually it doesn’t interfere with any of the other leagues.

Dustin’s own recent blog post on Battle.net has indeed shown that Diamond level gameplay is the most balanced of all leagues. But there are some big balance gaps in other leagues, sometimes opposite to the balance state in Diamond!

With Blizzard revealing most of their short-mid term StarCraft 2 plans, the only missing piece of the puzzle is Heart of the Swarm, which was virtually absent from all StarCraft 2 panels and events.

Q: Why didn’t you showcase Heart of the Swarm at BlizzCon 2010?


A: The development team is already hard at work on Heart of the Swarm, but we’re still in a relatively early stage of development on the first StarCraft II expansion set. We look forward to showing off the game in the coming months.


Q: When will you release Heart of the Swarm?


A: We know that players are eager to find out what happens to Jim Raynor and Kerrigan next in the epic StarCraft II saga, but it’s too early to share a release date at this time.


Q: Will there be a Heart of the Swarm beta test? When?


A: We’ll announce more information about potential beta testing as we draw further into development on Heart of the Swarm.

BlizzCon 2010 itself was an awesome celebration for fans, gamers and Blizzard staff – check out to following gallery for pictures from the many panels, contests , concerts and tournaments that took place during the event.

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Despite the release of the first major balance patch for StarCraft 2 last week – or perhaps because of it – many discussions about StarCraft 2’s state of balance have been taking place, possibly even more than during the beta, when things were constantly changing and before people have had the chance to experiment with the game thoroughly.

Is StarCraft 2 balanced? While only little time has passed since the game’s release, many already argue that the game is not as balanced as StarCraft 1, especially when it comes to the Zerg race. The Zerg have indeed been on the receiving end of quite a few nerfs during the beta. Particularly of note is the Roach, originally geared to be a fast, cheap, regenerating tank unit – which, during the beta, has had its armor rating reduced from 2 to 1, its supply cost increased from 1 to 2, its burrowed move speed reduced by 30%, and its regeneration changed and nerfed again and again to the point where it now regenerates more slowly and only while burrowed – a research that is only available at Tier 2, unlike in the original game, where Burrow is Tier 1.

Indeed, many players complain about the Zerg’s lack of viable options in the early-mid game: the limited ability to tech and macro at the same time (making a Queen prevents the Hatchery from being upgraded to a Lair); the extreme need to be reactive against Protoss and Terran early game attacks, which are themselves more diverse than what the Zerg can field during that period of the game; the much more demanding macro mechanic, requiring constant attention that one is severely punished for lacking; the lack of mobility before creep tumors can spread, and the competition between those and energy reserved for injecting Larva. All of these issues and more are even making some pro-gamers rant about the state of the game, a few going as far as as “threatening” to switch to a different race and to stop playing Zerg altogether.

IdrA, one of the most famous American Zerg players, has published his thoughts on the recent patch here.

The balance problems in early game ZvT come down to the fact that terran is simply stronger and much more diverse early on, zerg has to rely on hard counters to have any chance to survive, but cant scout in time to implement them.

Interestingly, in a recent interview, Chris Sigaty, StarCraft 2’s lead producer, said that he himself finds Zerg difficult to play and that he tends to avoid the experience:

I avoid playing Zerg as much as possible because I find them to be just more complex in general. Zerg, or rather larvae management is harder for me to deal with, so I don’t enjoy playing them as much.

On the topic of 1v1 balance problems, Chris does not seem convinced that any exist:

You can go up and read on the forums at any one time and there are a bunch of different theories about balance and imbalance. We’re being very cautious about making large swinging changes right now because at the highest level things are actually very strong. The things that we’ll probably be addressing are the 2v2 and larger scale games. Ultimately, the 1 to 1 is what we want to keep as sacred as possible, but as a result right now there are some things that we need to address in the 2v2 at the higher level. We’ll be looking at ways to do that without affecting the 1v1 balance.

Discussing the next patch, Chris slates it to be released by the end of this year, calling it “the e-sports patch”. Finally, and after months of being in demand, chat channels will be introduced:

largely our e-sport patch. A couple of big things that will be in there are support for the season rolling, so players can look at the history of how they did in past seasons. There will be bugfixes, balance changes and tweaks, too. Chat is the other major thing we want to get in there next patch. We’ll also add more significant features to the editor.”

Lastly, Chris makes a comment regarding balance and the time it took to achieve it in StarCraft 1:

[Balance] is an ongoing process that, honestly, will take a year of longer to do. Even after Brood War was released we still patched and continued to drive towards a really solid final balance.

Will patches be enough to balance the game, or will an expansion, introducing new units, be necessary for that purpose? Is the game balanced right now? Is the Zerg race “broken”? If you have an opinion on the subject, now’s the time to voice it! We are putting up a new poll on the sidebar to the right to investigate what you think about this important issue.

***

Chris Sigaty also took the time to talk to PCGamer about the upcoming BlizzCon 2010 event and, most importantly, Blizzard’s decision to not show any aspect of StarCraft 2: Heart of  The Swarm at the convention.

We’re still working on the details [of the expansion],” explains Chris, “and the last thing I want to do is to talk about theoretical things instead of talking about what’s real.

However, Blizzard will hold a story panel with a Q&A with the fans, tying some loose ends from Wings of Liberty. Some Heart of The Swarm bits of information can be expected despite the promises to the contrary.

http://www.sc2blog.com/2010/07/08/starcraft-2-beta-phase-2-begins-brings-patch-16/
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If you intend to attend the Anaheim Convention Centerת October 22nd and 23rd, for this year’s BlizzCon, here are a few quick reminders and updates regarding both ongoing and closed contests:

Now that's a costume

Blizzard has also announced that Tuesday, September 21st, will be the day of the first major StarCraft 2 Patch – the 1.1. Servers are expected to go down and re-emerge with a new and improved version, one that has been discussed in length in a recent Situation Report.

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BlizzCon 2010, Blizzard’s massive annual event – the celebration of all things Blizzard –  is a bit more than two months away, scheduled for October 22nd. During the wait, Blizzard is offering a few opportunities for its fans to win good money by putting their creative side to use – offering big prizes in Fan Art, Movie and Music contests.

The Fan Art contest, undoubtedly the most popular and easiest contest to participate in, offers the following prizes:

  • First Place:
    Wacom Cintiq 21UX and one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online
  • Second Place:
    NVIDIA video card, one copy of Adobe Photoshop CS5, and one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online
  • Third Place:
    One copy of Adobe Photoshop CS5 and one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online

You can see what the Cintiq 21UX is about in the following video:

The virtual BlizzCon ticket is worth $40, and includes the following:

  • Expanded live coverage over four Internet channels offering 50+ hours of HD BlizzCon programming
  • BlizzCon 2010-exclusive World of Warcraft in-game item
  • Access to exclusive BlizzCon merchandise
  • Complete coverage of panel discussions, tournaments, and game-related announcements, plus exclusive interviews and epic closing ceremonies
  • Enhanced video on demand and DVR functionality

The Music contest offers even more lucrative prizes, with the entries having to meet simple criteria:

To enter, simply submit your song before September 27. Entries must be no longer than two minutes in length, in MP3 format, and meet the requirements listed in the official rules in order to be eligible to win.

  • First Place:
    $2,000, one Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment boxed set signed by Blizzard Entertainment composers, and one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online
  • Second Place:
    $1,000, one Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment boxed set signed by Blizzard Entertainment composers, and one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online
  • Third Place:
    $500, one Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment boxed set signed by Blizzard Entertainment composers, and one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online

Blizzard Echoes Of War

Blizzard’s BlizzCon 2010 Movie contest offers $11,000  in cash prizes alone.

To enter, create an original movie (up to three minutes in length) using footage from Blizzard Entertainment games, and submit it before September 27.

  • Grand Prize:
    $5,000, one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online, and an “Oswald” award statue
  • First Place:
    $3,000, one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online, and an “Oswald” award statue
  • Second Place:
    $2,000, one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online, and an “Oswald” award statue
  • Third Place:
    $1,000, one BlizzCon Virtual Ticket to watch the event live online, and an “Oswald” award statue

Blizzard Oswald Award

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