BlizzCon 2009 provided Blizzard with a massive stage, upon which it has made multiple important announcements concerning every single one of its game universes: Diablo, StarCraft and WarCraft. The most impacting news from this year’s event is, however, the lack of a certain, highly anticipated announcement – that of the StarCraft 2 Beta.
For StarCraft 2 fans, this year’s BlizzCon 2009 was all about two things:
- The new Battle.net – Battle.net 2.0
- The StarCraft II Galaxy Map Editor
BlizzCon served as an excellent stage to showcase StarCraft 2’s unprecedentedly powerful editor – the StarCraft 2 Map Editor called Galaxy, the new and much more presentable name replacing Scumedit. Throughout the last two years, Blizzard has released many statements boasting about the editor’s virtually unlimited powers. The editor can do anything, can be scripted to do anything, and can integrate any model, ability and UI into a playable package. Talk is cheap, and Blizzard wouldn’t be the first company to over-hype its own product in order to get the modding community on its side as early as possible.
This is NOT the case.
Watch the presentation:
- Without the need for script coding, custom units, abilities and scenarios can be created.
- Mouselook will be availiable. Associating aim/view angle with mouse movement in a 3D world gives modders endless possibilies in terms of world exploration and FPS games. Among the crowd, people could be heard mumbling “World of StarCraft… “.
- Scripting allows custom HUDs, quest interfaces and dialogue. Complete makeovers will be relatively easy to produce.
- Custom units and 3D world models are implementable as well.
- Fully custom controls and AI, as shown in the “Lost Viking” shooter game.
- Notable appearance by Nova of StarCraft: Ghost fame, making very clear the endless possibilities the Galaxy editor offers.
A Q&A session followed the presentation:
Q: Any plans for group collaboration on maps?
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.
It seems the editor is becoming a full-blown IDE, with collaboration and versioning tools. It will be interesting to see how far the higher, professional end of the modding community will push its limits.
Q: Any plans to stop map stealing?
A: We haven’t locked down on what our exact plans are. But we are going to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for it to steal from you, the mod maker.
Q: To what extent can the UI be customized?
A: We asked for lots of extra things. We’ve tried to give you as many UI customization tools as you can. One of the things we’ve added is an item system, which we don’t need, but it’s useful for modders so we’ve added it anyway.
Q: How will hero system be more flexible?
A: You can do same things as in WarCraft III? The data editor is extremely powerful.
The above question resurfaces repeatedly since the RTS community wants to make sure that a StarCraft 2 DoTA will indeed be as good and feature-full as the massively popular WarCraft 3 version, which is, itself, based on StarCraft’s Aeon of Strife custom map.
Q: Will it be possible to adjust armor?
A: Yes, we’ve made it possible to be able to reproduce armor systems of past games.
Q: Has StarCraft 2 has been pushed back because of battle.net?
A: Well, it wasn’t just battle.net. We knew we wanted to work on the game longer. As developers we want you guys to play this game ASAP, but we saw a bunch of things in the campaign that we wanted to make better. So really, the delay started with battle.net, but we saw lots of things we could do better to make this game meet your expectations. The delay has been a blessing for us.
Q: Will there be a way to save your characters?
A: We do have support for what we’re calling banks. Basically you can store info on your local system, any kind of info you want to store.
Perhaps, in the future, Blizzard will be kind enough to allocate some server-side storage space for each user, allowing custom maps to use it for securely storing game data and characters. This will let players carry certain characters, achievements and items between games: imagine a DoTA-style long running game where players can resume playing, using their stored character – or even carry it to other, similar game worlds.
Q: Any possibility to record shoutcasting in replays?
A: Not in shipped version of the game, but it’s a great idea for e-sports. There’s alot of technical details to be discussing and we might implement it in patches.
Q: Can you load multiple maps at once?
A: We supported it in WarCraft III as “campaigns” and we are looking to support it for StarCraft II. Don’t know if it will be in ship.
Q: Will you be contacting your map makers because you track their quality?
A: Yes. Battle.net will show us who made the maps and who authored it. We’ll have access to the map-maker’s account. And yes, we’ve been doing this for years.
Q: Will we see this third-person perspective in any of the actual single player missions? Will editor be in beta?
A: I don’t know if we will include the third person thing in the game. It requires lots of teaching. We are trying to get people used to RTS gameplay in the single player, let alone third-person gameplay. We are planning to ship the beta in the editor. It probably won’t be in day one, but it will be there.
Q: Is there going to be any content filtering for uploading maps? Or is it wide open for everything?
A: Not sure yet, but our plan is to have a rating system where players flag the map and our staff comes by to confirm and the person will be warned/banned.
Modders will also have water and lava control, despite the fact that Blizzard has made it clear that it does not wish to make liquid a “playable surface” by default. Of course, with the editor’s virtually endless capabilities and the newly added control schemes, we’ll be seeing naval warfare StarCraft 2 maps soon enough.
Most importantly, Blizzard’s statements clearly indicated that the StarCraft II Galaxy Map Editor will be available to players during the StarCraft II beta, and that during the beta, custom games will be available for play over the new Battle.net.
The StarCraft 2 Galaxy Map Editor, as an editor, is what StarCraft is as an RTS, what World of WarCraft is as an MMORPG, and what Diablo is as a hack’n’slash. It’s an industry standard.
Providing an incentive to really push the Galaxy editor to its limits, Rob Pardo, Blizzard’s design lead, has revealed plans for launching a fully-featured marketplace for StarCraft 2 mods. At launch, the marketplace will provide gamers and modders with a streamlined free distribution channel for the newly created mods, and full commercial features will be added as the game and community mature.
Imagine what could happen if you could hire a small dev team and use StarCraft II almost as an engine. This is an opportunity for [modders] to share in the rewards of our success.
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.
Blizzard has built an impressive set of development tools for StarCraft 2, but making gamers pay for mods in order to encourage adoption is quite a novelty. The Apple Store model will be used, where a portion of the map’s cost will go to Blizzard, the rest to its actual developers. It’s important to note that payment will be reserved to special mods and total conversions and not the normal custom maps Blizzard RTS players are familiar with. Dustin himself has said that even DoTA would not qualify for payment.
Moving on, some more interesting details have surfaced during the art panel.
Art Panel video 1:
Beautifully rich worlds, with unique doodads and terrain, each with a different look and feel – as if designed for an entirely different game.
Environments shown in the video include:
- Bel’Shir – a rich Protoss world, with nature unbound and forests untouched.
- Valhalla Installation – Terran Thor construction station.
- Castanar Installation – Laboratories for Zerg research.
- Monlyth– a Protoss world with distinct Protoss structures.
- Avernus – doodad rich tech/lab installation.
- Redstone – lava planet with reactionary doodads and changing lava levels.
- Zhakul’Das – a dark ancient world.
- Port Zion – a tech junk world.
- Korhal – a very rich Terran world, with monorails, billboards, skyscrapers and even pedestrians.
Art Panel Video 2:
Death animations include actual physics, so multiple death animations also produce particles which interact with the world in a random way. Each unit will have 4 or 5 different death animations, each corresponding to different ways of dying. It should be noted the Zerg building death animations are extremely bloody, and it is reasonable to assume that StarCraft 2 will include a toned-down, less bloody mode, in order to not set off too many age restriction alarms in certain countries. Be sure to watch the entire video, as it features the Terra-Tron, Blizzard’s live and kicking (and burning, shooting and cutting) April fool’s joke.
Terrible, Terrible Damage
The unveiling of the features and interface used in Battle.net 2.0 came as no surprise to most StarCraft fans, most of whom already configured their new accounts as a requirement for participation in the StarCraft 2 Beta, and were eagerly anticipating Blizzard to come out swinging with more information about the massive platform.
And by massive, we mean the largest in the world. Rob Pardo has confirmed that Battle.net is currently the world’s largest gaming community, topping World of WarCraft by a mere 500,000 users – 12 million.
The new Battle.net online gaming system is not, in itself, a new concept or a groundbreaking development. Each and every one of its components has been available in different gaming services or in the current Battle.net version. However, in keeping with Blizzard tradition, Battle.net 2.0 is going to be the most refined and functional of them all, taking the best features available and polishing them to the extreme. This official word from Blizzard sums it up well:
… will include a complete set of around-the-game features including a state-of-the-art matchmaking system, achievement system, social networking features, structured competitive play options, a marketplace, and much more. Our vision is to create an environment where gamers can compete online, develop an online persona, and stay connected to friends and the rest of the community while enjoying our games.
Logging on to battle.net, the player also connects to a Battle.net-styled, fully-featured instant messaging client, where he can communicate with his friends (who may be logged on to Battle.net from any of Blizzard’s games), set a status, and make announcements. All of this is achieved with a very elegant tab system, allowing easy access to chat rooms, conversations with friends, and forming games.
Battle.net’s integrated social platform will follow players into games themselves, as an overlay that can be accessed at any time during the game.
The player statistics screen features recent game history, achievement progress, and just about any relevant piece of statistics about the player’s performance in every aspect of the game.
Match making has received a great focus in Battle.net 2.0. Blizzard is attempting to provide the complete gaming experience for players of all levels, implementing a system that will match players against each other based on their skill levels. This will be made even easier considering Blizzard’s anti-smurfing measures. Another interesting change further complicates the ladder process by dividing it into separate leagues and divisions.
Seven Leagues will be created:
These leagues will be broken down further into divisions, which will be comprised of similarly-skilled players, 100 in each. Players will be ranked against others in their division, and there will be seasons of play. Tournaments will be held at the end of the season to determine division winners, who will go on to compete for the league championship. This elaborate system ensures that all players can play in a competitive manner even if they aren’t “pros” and enjoy this aspect of StarCraft 2 as well.
The match making system also allows arranged team play, and these teams will maintain their own skill-ranking and be independent of the player’s skill level in his 1v1 endeavors or those achieved with other teammates.
Another improvement comes to creating and hosting games. Players will be able to create a game in private mode, invite their friends, and then open it up to the public. Soon enough, no one will remember the days when a game’s host had to kick people joining his game while frustratingly messaging his friends to join, trying to keep slots open.
The game searching screen has not been neglected, of course, and offers the best tools available to sort through the thousands of concurrent games expected to take place on Battle.net, allowing players to easily focus the search on their game of choice, whether they’re looking for official melee maps or for the most customized mods.
Lastly, Avatars and Decals will be unlocked to players as they win games, similar to WarCraft 3.
Watch it all in the Battle.net 2.0 presentation, where it was also announced that, for the first time in an RTS ever, rewinding is now possible in replays:
Battle.net 2.0 presentation Pt. 2:
In other StarCraft 2 news, the voice actor for Kerrigan, the infamous Queen of Blades, has been replaced. The new Kerrigan will be voiced by Tricia Helfer, better known as Six from the hit show Battlestar Galactica. Tricia has participated in video games before, performing as Kane’s aid in the last Command & Conquer game.
BlizzCon 2009’s playable build also included several unit statistics and role adjustments: Roaches have gained a significant HP boost, but their uber-regeneration is now active only while burrowed, changing the details but keeping the “burrow-dancing” mechanism intact. Colossi had their beam damage increased, and are now capable of wiping out many Tier 1 units, workers included, with a single pass of their laser beam.
The Thor has perhaps finally found its role on the battlefield, as a 300/300 costing beast that deals 60 damage to ground units and 40 damage, with a splash effect, to air units. On top of that, it has regained its fan-favorite barrage ability.
Zerg Brood Lords, StarCraft 2’s Guardian version, will now be mutated to from Corruptors instead of Mutalisks. This will allow Zerg players to quickly switch between air superiority, once achieved with the help of Corruptors, to a devestating air to ground force which will go unopposed. Zerg Lurkers require a lot of tech to produce – first, a Hive is required to upgrade the Hydralisk Den to a Lurker Den, in which the player will further have to research Lurker aspect. This path might be worth going through, though, as Lurkers have also received an upgrade granting them greatly improved attack range.
More on the Protoss front, the High Templar’s Psi Storm now has a cooldown, which will be another limiting factor for its use aside from energy. The purpose of this change is likely to encourage use of the High Templar’s other abilities. The Immortal, the Protoss’ damage tank, has been moved to the Robotic Facility, and will not be able to warp-in anymore.
Finally, what is the main reason the beta has not been announced during Blizzcon? Dustin said:
“At this stage in development, the Zerg is having a lot of issues“
Dustin went on to say that there’s a difficult issue with the Zerg’s iconic units – The Zergling, Hydralisk and Mutalisk – which are very hard to either change or remove from the game. This has made evolving the Zerg to deal with the changes to StarCraft 2 very challenging, which is part of the reason why they are currently not competitive with the Terran and Protoss races. These were indeed changed much more in StarCraft 2: the Terran no longer have Medics, Marines have had their health buffed, and Siege Tanks have been relegated to a more secondary role. The Protoss have lost their mainstay unit, the Dragoon, and the Reaver has been removed as well. The Zerg have their core three units in the same exact role, and the rest of the units have been implemented around them.
It will be interesting to see how Blizzard will deal with this issue, and whether or not they feel brave enough to drastically alter, or even completely remove, one of these basic Zerg units.
All the screenshots released during BlizzCon are available here.Google+
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