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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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Blizzard’s Macro Mechanics follow-up poll was the community managers’ way of guiding the discussion to focus on the significant changes introduced in the recent Q&A batch. This is the developers’ second major shot at introducing additional macro mechanics to the StarCraft 2 gameplay, after first trying out the not-so-well received Vespene Gas mechanics – a babysitting chore for players that had the patience, APM and will to keep regular Vespene Gas production going.

Macro Mechanics Poll Results

With each race receiving a distinct macro-related ability, the poll (over?)simplified the matter at hand. While the obvious intention was to introduce significant decision making processes  into resource and production management, the tools received by the Terran, Zerg and Protoss races differ greatly.

Protoss Dark Pylon:
Proton Charge: an area-of-effect ability that gives all targeted Probes additional charge for their Proton-Cutters. Probes that have an additional charge gather additional minerals per trip when collecting resources. The Proton Charge lasts only a short time before dissipating.

The Dark Pylon’s limited range effectively forces the player to either place the structure in the mining line’s vicinity and use the Proton Charge repeatedly to get the maximum possible economy boost, or not use the Dark Pylon for that purpose at all. The Energy boost and cloaking  provided by the Argus Link and Null Shield abilities are unlikely to see much use in the hands of a player that has placed the Dark Pylon at the mining line in the first place. If Proton Charge could be set to Autocast, a significant portion of players would do just that, due to the minimal presence of a trade-off.

Charged Probes

The obvious alternative is to give the Dark Pylon abilities so powerful, that it would force players to make decisions regarding its energy use, and not default to the Proton Charge.

On the other hand, the Terran have received quite an intriguing macro buff that shares neither the simplicity nor the single-purposeness of the Proton Charge.

Terran Orbital Command:
Calldown Mule: sends a single automated mining robot by drop-pod that assists SCVs in collecting resources by working around current SCV mining operations. Unfortunately the Mule is still in the prototype phase and has a limited battery supply (timed life).
Calldown Extra Supplies: sends additional supplies to a targeted Supply Depot. Generally used by Terran commanders only in an emergency to allow them to support additional troops.

The Terran Orbital command upgrade itself forces the Terrans to make a major tactical decision and forfeit the defensive Planetary Fortress upgrade option – not a simple decision to make in a close 1v1 game. The structure’s abilities are not limited to just macro twists, and include the popular and often essential Scanner Sweep ability.

Scanner Sweep: using a satellite in high-orbit, the Terrans reveal a large area anywhere on the map and detect all cloaked units within the target area.

A Terran player which has made the decision of upgrading to an Orbital Command and does not need a Scanner Sweep at the moment is still left with a decision: Mules are not just innocent mining machines. The Calldown’s unlimited range allows the Mule to be used to repair Siege Tanks on a remote cliff  or to scout a large remote area. The Mule can be even used offensively against Banelings and splash-damage dealers.
Unlike the Dark Pylon’s Proton Charge, the Terran’s resource mining buff is not an “autocast decision” by any means, and the player is forced to make significant tactical decisions in order to use it efficiently.

Mules

The Zerg’s macro buff differs from the straightforward Dark Pylon mechanic and the long decision route that precedes the Terran Mule.  The Queen is virtually a default Zerg unit, and is likely to be produced and used by most players due to the unit’s broad arsenal of useful offensive and support abilities.

• Spawn Larva: by injecting Queen ichor into a Hatchery, Lair or Hive the Queen can cause the Zerg structure to undergo a startling metamorphosis. The Hatchery starts to throb and green sacks swell up on the structure. Eventually four additional larva burst out of the Hatchery and land next to whatever larva are already wriggling around nearby. While a Hatchery hosts more than 3 larva, the Hatchery will not spawn additional larva, until that number drops below 3.

Spawn Larva opens the door for endless tactical choices on the Zerg’s behalf. Karune has mentioned several of the key routes:

Karune:
Being able to spawn additional larva can potentially help Zerg production quite a bit actually. Prior, when a Zerg player hatched offensive units, they were always sacrificing the creation of more drones. This ability allows more bandwidth to create even more offensive units for a big push, build more balanced with more drones and additional units, or double up on the teching effort with all drones. There are a lot of options to play with that will surely inspire many new strategies.

The added “bandwidth” provided by the Queen will allow the Zerg to continue having an advantage over the other races when it comes to production flexibility. Since the Hatchery and the larvae it produces are the basis for all available Zerg units, the Queen’s new ability will complement the Zerg race nicely as an integral part of the production process.

The new macro-related features have gathered a quite a lot of feedback, and it seems that they were much better received than the previous Vespene Gas mechanism in the eyes of the community. Since Blizzard is determined to complicate the macro portion of the game somehow, it will not be surprising to see some, if not all, of these features making it into the final game.

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Blizzard’s official requests for feedback have been up for several months, with voting now closed and the debate slowly coming to a halt on most of the topics. Official topics included the following:

  • Nydus Worm as implemented in the Blizzcon Build.
  • Medivac – the unit and its complicated role on the battlefield.
  • Protoss Warp-In mechanic – which has been demonstrated beautifully during the first official Battle Report.
  • Mothership – the problematic super-unit struggling to find a role in the competitive RTS that StarCraft 2 aspires to become.
  • Dark Templar model – a poll about the two possible models for this unit.

The most uncontroversial and well-accepted of the above turned out to be the Warp-In mechanic.

Warp In Poll Results

With a 87% approval rating among registered Battle.net forum visitors and plenty of common real-game uses that were showcased in the Battle Report, the  Protoss Warp-In is here to stay. All indicators show that the Warp-In mechanic is not just a good addition to the Protoss arsenal, but a key ability that will play a significant role in a majority of competitive Protoss matches:

  • Warp-In is available relatively early via the Cybernetics Core.
  • A Warp Gate can be transformed into a standard Gateway and back without a cost.
  • Warp-In provides significant defensive and offensive advantages, with both proxy Pylons and expansions being able to receive reinforcements from the home base

Considering how “naturally fitting” this technology is to the Protoss, it is also likely that the Warp-In mechanic will be expanded to additional Protoss production buildings, perhaps in the Legacy of the Void expansion or even earlier, even though Karune has mentioned that such plans did not exist for the current incarnation of StarCraft 2.

5)Will the Robotics Facility have a similar upgrade to the Warp Gate allowing it to warp units in?

n

There are no plans for this at the moment. Currently Warping technology is limited to the Warp Gate. Of course, we are still testing and balancing this, and nothing is set in stone

Warp-In was just one of the three feedback request topics that have targeted methods of transportation. However, the other two topics, involving the Zerg Nydus Worm and Terran Medivac, have clearly not been greeted with a similar consensus.

The Medivac’s complex role on the battlefield is an eventuality of many tactical factors. It is bound to have a large impact on the Terrans as well as their in-game allies. Here are a few key factors that have made the Medivac such a strategically deep unit:

Cause and Effect - Medivac and Reaper

  • The Medic’s inability to keep up with Reapers, the Terran’s new raider unit, prompted the introduction of a healer that could participate in StarCraft 2 Terran raids.
  • The Medivac’s built-in healing ability gives the Terrans’ new transport more space for actual raiding infantry; it does not “take” production time away from the Barracks and has better chances of survival, making it re-usable between raids.
  • Being an air unit, it can not be attacked by Zerglings and Zealots – key anti-infantry units.
  • It retains the Medic’s ability to heal allied organic (even flying) units, while being significantly more mobile. Mutalisks & Medivacs can become the new M&M of 2v2 matches.

However, all of the above can not overshadow one extremely important factor – any Terran that wants a Medic now has to build a Starport.

Medivac Poll Results

It is reasonable to assume that a significant portion of the 36% that dislike the Medivac are actual StarCraft: Broodwar players. Players that were familiar with Marines & Medics for almost a decade and are witnessing the tactical foundations of Terran gameplay being replaced.

The thread is full of arguements against the Medivac’s dual role, making many strong points for reconsideration of the unit’s abilities, as well as suggestions to amend the situation:

  1. Terran drop strategy does not necessarily imply the use of infantry, and strong Terran infantry does not always imply drops. Tying the two together via the Medivac forces players to either employ both, or effectively waste one of the unit’s key abilities.
  2. The Medivac is produced at the Starport – a production facility that requires the building of a Factory, putting it relatively high up in the Terran tech tree, on a branch otherwise unrelated to infantry.
  3. Providing the Medic with a jetpack upgrade would solve the problem that caused the change in the first place.
  4. Giving the healing ability to a dedicated support unit, such as the Nighthawk (Nomad), would evade pairing it with drops.

The SC2Blog’s question is: If it wasn’t for the StarCraft:BW Medic, would gamers actually prefer an infantry unit over a flying mechanical healer?

On the other hand, a big portion of the Nydus worm discussion focused around figuring out how exactly how the Nydus Worm works, with almost 3 times more people voting “Not sure what it is”.

Nydus Worm Poll Results

Here are a few clarifications:

  • The Nydus Worm of BlizzCon is no longer a unit. It does not move or cost food.
  • An Overlord that has been upgraded to an Overseer can “cast” a Nydus Worm for a mana cost, if a Nydus Network has been built.
  • Units that have entered a Nydus Network building can exit at any Nydus Worm. They are destroyed if all Nydus Worms are destroyed.

The SC2Blog’s own discussion of the Worm’s fate was slightly more “productive”, perhaps due to the detailed comparison between the Unit and Building states. If you’re still unsure about the Nydus Worm’s mechanics, check it out.

Despite the radical change (compared to the Protoss and Terran methods of transportation), the main complaint was actually about the Worm not being innovative enough. A massive burrowing transport unit would have been a challenge to implement and balance, but “playing it safe” by giving the Overseer a sort of Arbiter Recall ability just feels forced and constitutes a huge waste of gameplay potential.

Real Bursting Nydus Worms

Mobility is obviously a key tactical aspect for any race, and despite the major differences between the mechanics, the Nydus Worm, the Medivac and the Protoss Warp-In are all solutions to the same known problem, which must come to a resolution by hook or by crook by the time the game hits beta.

The Mothership, on the other hand… is a solution in search of a problem to solve.

The discussion itself was kicked off by Cydra:

If Zerg has the Queen and Terran has the Thor, Protoss has the Mothership!

And despite the fact that the thread includes several good suggestions, we’d like to go back to the massive Mothership poll we ran for a few months, which has narrowed the discussion to a very specific niche – what should the actual role be? Abilities can be replaced, prices can be adjusted, overpowered units can be nerfed… but what the Aiur should it actually accomplish on the battlefield?

Mothership Poll Results

  1. Straightforward Capital Ship. Massive shields and armor, high-damage output and a few combat abilities. A supreme offensive tool.
  2. Disruption and Damage. An offensive support tool, with significant AoE damage and punishing abilities like the Black Hole and the Planet Cracker.
  3. Mega-Battery. The ultimate mobile support unit, feeding mana and shield energy to the army. Can absorb a lot of damage, regenerates quickly.
  4. Air Domination Station. A flying AA fortress of damage and disruption. Anti-air AoE damage, Force Field and Lockdown type of spells, a disease-like aura that causes AA damage.
  5. Support Fortress. A flying castle with an array of battle control and support spells that can protect/recharge/hide friendly units. Also possesses abilities to disable/slow/lock down enemy units.
  6. Super Troop Carrier. Highly armored and with multiple defensive abilities and teleportation. Able to transport entire fleets and armies across the battlefield.
  7. Flying Factory. The Mothership can build ANY Protoss unit and warp it to the location it’s at. “Production” costs 110%.
  8. Base Breaker. Focused on abilities which cause significant damage to buildings, locking down production, disabling defenses and paving the way for attackers.
  9. Annihilator. The Mothership has a 5 minute “recharge” timer. Acting as a superweapon, the Mothership is equivalent to a Nuke in terms of damage output. Once charged and removed from its dock, the Motership’s “Unleash” ability becomes available.  An “unleashed” Mothership delivers massive damage to air and land units around it for 15 seconds.
  10. Power Plant. The Mothership has a wide radius aura, which: powers buildings, accelerates production by 15%, adds 40 energy points to all shields, doubles regeneration rate, and stops all enemy regeneration and healing abilities.

Top results: Support Fortress with 501 votes and Capital Ship with 538 votes.

Every option represents a unique and specific role, and over 2200 votes have been cast by our readers – with only 2% voting for “Other”. Considering the voting demographic and the amount of votes cast, the above data can easily be considered a correct statistical representation of StarCraft 2 fans’ wishes for the Mothership’s role on the battlefield.

Unlike the four aforementioned requests for feedback, the recently closed Dark Templar poll was quite simple – Blizzard has two 3D unit models, and the team just couldn’t decide which one will be used in official multiplayer matches. Sadly, almost 3000 people voted on the subject, with the discussion thread spanning 24 pages – more than all actual gameplay topics combined…

Dark Templar Poll Results

Blizzard has demonstrated time and time again – by completely redesigning units, reducing color saturation, adding and adjusting game mechanics – that it not only requests feedback, but actually listens. And delivers. When it’s ready.

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