We all like to speculate what StarCraft 2’s release date is going to be. Let us take a look at the development cycles of previously released Blizzard game, and perhaps gain some insight into their development process.
Announced in 1996, after development had already started somewhere in 1995.
Diablo had four alpha versions prior to release. Alpha 1 was ready in May, 1996, a year into development, when the game was still turn based. Alpha 2 made the game more similar to the final version, with real time play. Alpha 3 came in July, 1996, with alpha 4 coming shortly after.
A short time later, a pre-release demo, based mostly on Alpha 3, was released to selected magazines.
A couple of months after that, a beta was released to 1000 lucky fans. Its main purpose was to test the multiplayer aspect of the game on Battle.net, a feature which was added very late in the development cycle.
The completed game was officially released on January 2nd, 1997 – merely 7 months after the first alpha was revealed. Hellfire, the single player expansion pack, was released on the 24th of November of the same year. It was developed by Synergistic Software, a Sierra division.
Quite a quick development cycle for this game, even though it was mostly created by 2 people.
The development of StarCraft started in 1995. The Blizzard team was trying to create a game that would surpass WarCraft II in the strategy genre. An early alpha version was first displayed in the summer gaming event, E3, on 1996. This version was heavily based on the WarCraft II engine, and was criticized for being “WarCraft in space“.
At the beginning of 97, a new alpha was shown to the public. The game became more refined, and now looked closer to the final version.
By April of 97, StarCraft has reached early beta status. It has received a major overhaul – no longer was it based on the old WarCraft II engine. It was now done on a much improved engine, capable of supporting the game the Blizzard designers had in mind. More units were added, and old, more cartoon-like designs were scrapped.
The final beta version was revealed at the beginning of 1998. The engine was slightly upgraded once more, more units were added, the final unit names were in place, and the deadline was fast approaching.
The game was eventually released on April 1st, 1998. 3 years in development, and only 2 years after it was first shown in E3, after which it was almost completely reworked.
An expansion pack, Brood War, was announced shortly after release, and was available at the end of 98. A closed beta for the expansion, released to test the balance of the newly added units and features, was made available to a select few, myself included, a couple of months earlier. The beta received many patches, balancing the game back and forth, until reaching the perfect formula.
On a personal note, it was one of the best periods of my life. Being a part of the development process, testing new strategies, and playing with the top players was a very interesting and satisfying experience.
Diablo II was announced on July, 1998. The original release date was advertised as 1999, but that was soon delayed.
A small stress test beta, featuring only one character and one area of the game, was publicly available a short while before the game was released. It was followed by a smaller closed beta. The game was finally released on July 5, 2000, 2 years after being announced.
An expansion pack, Lord of Destruction, was released exactly one year later.
Announced in August, 1999, at the European Computer Trade Show. The game initially promised 6 distinct races, but that number soon dropped to 5, and reduced to 4 by release . Blizzard first described the game as an “RPS”, or “Role Playing Strategy“. The focus was diverted from resource collection and base management, and directed at the hero and his small party. In fact, normal units could not even travel on the battlefield without a hero accompanying them.
During development, the game evolved beyond these role-playing formulas. Each new video and gaming event showed the game progressing to become a more solid RTS game, until the eventual release on July 3, 2002, almost 3 years after it was announced.
The Frozen Throne, an expansion pack, was released exactly one year later.
World of WarCraft
Blizzard announced World of WarCraft on September 2, 2001, at the European Computer Trade Show.
A beta, designed to refine the game and serve as a stress test for the online servers, was released on July 2004. The game was released a few months later, on November 23, 2004 – marking the 10th anniversary of the WarCraft franchise.
It took a little more than 3 years from announcement to release, with the game being in development for about a year and a half before.
Burning Crusade, an expansion, was released on January 16, 2007.
StarCraft 2 was announced at Blizzard’s Worldwide Invitational in Korea, on May 18, 2007, in front of an audience numbering in the thousands. It has been in development since WarCraft 3 was released, almost 3 years before. Blizzard has kept the game’s development a secret for all that time – a longer period than all their other games to date.
Since StarCraft 2’s formula is very solid already, major changes to the gameplay mechanics, design or engine are very unlikely at this point. As Blizzard have stated themselves, the game is already in advanced stages of development, even though they’re still calling what we’ve seen so far an “early alpha”.
The last major Blizzard projects (WoW, WC3) took 4-4.5 years to complete. Knowing this, and judging by the state the game is in, we speculate (and hope!) that StarCraft 2 will eventually be released 10 years after the original game, somewhere between April and July, 2008.
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