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Dustin Browder, StarCraft 2 Game Director, gave a lengthy and interesting interview to TeamLiquid, focusing on key StarCraft 2 issues such as the balance and development process, the patching strategy planned for the game, E-Sports, and, of course, the major goals Blizzard has set for itself with StarCraft 2. We bring you the important highlights.

Dustin begins by describing the early influences which led him to be interested in games, citing Dungeons and Dragons as a main one. He goes on to talk about movies and how they affect both StarCraft’s story and actual game scenarios.

We’ve got a mission in game now that’s largely inspired by 300, which obviously is not a science fiction movie but has those core dramatic moments that we really really enjoy. And that is one of the great things about being a geek and being in this business – it’s something that comes naturally.

D&D

Dustin comments about how different making games for Blizzard is:

After I got here I sort of saw the difference in quality level but also depth of the gameplay and the detailed experience the players have while playing it…and all the fine control that goes into a ‘craft experience as opposed to games made by other studios. And so it was really, really challenging to relearn – I think the hardest part was learning that I HAD to relearn it.

Would you like some WoW in your StarCraft? Dustin Browder is in a unique position, having access to the brains behind today’s most highly regarded games in different genres.

I’m surrounded by a group of guys who are so talented, who ultimately just by osmosis you can pick up so much from. One of our great strengths at this point is that we’ve been able to attract, really, really AAA talent to the studio – guys that really know their stuff. Then we are able to just teach each other as we go. I’m able to have lunch with Jeff Kaplan and Tom Chilton [game directors for WoW] whenever I want and I tell you, I learn something new everyday from those guys.

A true manifestation of Blizzard osmosis

How ideas are born at Blizzard:

I’ll get an idea and I’ll take it to a designer and we’ll talk about it and say “that’s kind of cool, we’ll see how we feel about it tomorrow”. We go back the next day and say “you know what, I like it but maybe we should change this from protoss to zerg and maybe it should be plus armor instead of % damage lost”. It will slowly get tuned and it goes through me talking with the designers, talking with Rob Pardo, talking with the lore guys, the artists, the balance guys. At that point it’s changed so much that was it really my idea (laughs)?

Truly a dream job. Talking about StarCraft balance and unit design for a living, getting payed well and making immortal gaming history in the process. Not an easy job, though:

The real challenge is making it easy to learn and difficult to master, which makes everybody happy. The casual gamer has learned it easily, the hardcore guy is finding it very difficult to master. And like I’ve said before, and you see this in World of Warcraft all the time – there’s not a hardcore gamer and a casual gamer, there’s a continuum. Casual gamers can and will become hardcore gamers if you let them.

Indeed. The hardcore gamers, then, turn back and influence the game:

The other possibility of course is that we’re wrong, and you guys are correct. And because we haven’t gone to beta yet, maybe we are seeing the wrong thing. Now while you guys don’t have enough time with it, we have a lot of time but we have a very limited player pool.

… we’ve already been in discussion with some of the high ranking players around the world. We talked to people at Blizzcon and I think we sent a professional build overseas so some of the high ranking players could take a look at it and I’ve gotten the feedback from them on that.


I really do feel like using map balance as a method of racial balance is something that the community has quite correctly evolved because we aren’t doing a lot of patches. And so you guys have taken over the balance for us in many ways by doing the map balance which I think is glorious and I think you do a great job. But initially we won’t be doing that because we know we can patch and will be patching frequently.

… some people said that and I didn’t agree with that – but that we were missing the difference between a macro player and a micro player. That we were destroying the sense of style of the player. I could be playing a micro game and you could be playing a macro game with both the same race, and we are still playing a very different game from one another. And when I saw that I was like “Ohh!” I was opening my eyes like “Thanks! THERE IT IS! That’s great! That’s genius! That’s exactly what we need to try to accomplish”.

Few companies in any industry, including software, can openly admit and even take pride in being dependent on:

  • Public beta testing
  • Constant user feedback and community modifications
  • Frequent patching and improvements regardless of expansions

As Dustin put it earlier, the methods of development and implementation are so inherently different from the industry, you have got to relearn the key aspects of development and deployment to be a product director for Blizzard.

Dustin Browder

On the balance front, the Zerg are still lagging behind:

… we’ve certainly found specifically at tier 2, the Zerg lack legitimate ways to really push an advantage. The Mutalisk has been running into a little bit more trouble with stalkers than say it would against dragoons. Where using Blink and Warp In are fundamentally game changing kinds of moments that suddenly change the relationship between these old units.

Zerg forces being slaughtered in the amazing 3rd Battle Report

Zerg forces being slaughtered in the amazing 3rd Battle Report

Moving on, some E-Sports talk from Bob Colayco, Blizzard PR Manager for StarCraft 2:

Bob: You know, we have an E-Sports team for a reason and I think you’re going to see some 3rd party stuff as well, but we definitely like to get hands on with our own things. If you look at what we’ve done with WoW Arena, we do have the tournament realms and we do regional finals that we run and we sponsor. And then there’s the grand finals which we have at Blizzcon, so I think you’re going to see a mix of things. I can’t say anything specific.

Blizzard is currently in great position to reap the rewards for creating a perfect E-Sports RTS 10 years ago. However, while user-created game servers are taboo, 3rd party competitions are certainly encouraged:

I think the important message for the community with this one would be, that we love the 3rd party tournaments as well. We love watching those, going to them and seeing them live etc. So we want to do stuff as well, and we want to promote E-Sports overall. We want E-Sports to grow and grow and grow – ideally with our game of course, but even in the wider world of everybody’s games. We think E-Sports is an important component of what video games could become, and we want to take this opportunity with Starcraft 2 to push E-Sports forward.

Blizzard E-Sports

We are trying to make this game complete – like if nobody buys any other product, this game needs to be awesome. Like if Blizzard gets hit by a meteor tomorrow and we all die, at least StarCraft II was awesome – that’s what it needs to be.

Quite a fascinating way to work and live by – if you get hit by a meteor tomorrow, make sure the last thing you did was biblically awesome.

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In a short and concentrated press blitz, Blizzard has released a wealth of new StarCraft 2 information and media, including a new HD gameplay video, 10 high resolution action packed screenshots and a batch of updated unit and building models. The information was released during a press event that took place in Blizzard’s HQ, and we’ll summarize the elaborate coverage, interviews and build updates that were uncovered during the event in this post.

The brand new gameplay video features several skirmishes, six battles in total:

  1. Large Zerg and Protoss forces clash: Ultralisks and Roaches face a Mothership, Phoenixes and an armada of Void Rays.
  2. Terran Hellion forces raid a Zerg opponent behind the lines.
  3. Protoss offensive-cannoning a Terran choke, with the Terran defending using Supply Depots, Marines and Bunkers.
  4. A massive Protoss Mothership-led force invades another Protoss base.
  5. Hellions repeatedly hit-n-run a large group of Banelings.
  6. Ultralisks rampage all over the place until a small group of Ghosts fend them off.

The beautiful high-resolution screenshots that were part of the press blitz are some of the most action-packed and detailed StarCraft 2 images yet.

Protoss and Terran in the CityProtoss Faces a Terran Armada
Mar Sara Battle
Psi Storm Hits HardActionA Protoss Phoenix Raid
StarCraft 2 Shakuras clash
Battle for Mar SaraStarCraft 2 Queen Laid Eggs
Zerg and Terran Toxic Battle

Images include a variety of beautiful terrains and battle moments with shots including a fight taking place in a sky-scraper themed terrain, a Terran force being immobilized by an Anti-Grav-abusing Phoenix armada and many other great scenarios.

You can download the entire screenshot collection here.

Blizzard’s art team, which has unveiled multiple model and texture updates over the course of the last six months, has released a batch of updated models. Worth noting are the different models for the differently-upgraded Battlecruisers, each clearly showing which path the Terran player took with the specific unit:

Blizzard has also released the latest StarCraft 2 tech trees for all three races. These are likely to make it to the beta, so if your testing intentions are serious, now would be a good time to print and memorize the following.
StarCraft 2 Zerg Tech Tree

If you haven’t been following StarCraft 2’s development and internal balancing, take notice of the fact that both the Zerg and Protoss had their cloaked units pushed up the tech tree, with both the Lurker and Dark Templar becoming Tier 3 units, and the Terran Ghost becoming a viable mid-game unit with an arsenal of useful abilities.

StarCraft 2 Terran Tech Tree
StarCraft 2 Protoss Tech Tree

The press event included an abundance of gaming time, and several attendees have published extensive impression write-ups, the most notable one being TeamLiquid’s summary of the visit. A few highlights from TL’s own and others’ impressions:

  • With Overlords no longer having detection capabilities, the lack of Zerg detection coverage makes the Protoss Phoenix + Dark  Templar a powerful combo in the current build – even more so than the equivalent Corsair + Dark Templar build of the original game.
  • Banelings can explode while burrowed.
  • The upgraded Zerg Hydralisk movement speed is on par with that of Cracklings (speed-upgraded Zerglings).
  • The Terran ability to salvage 100% of the resources invested in a building proves a fertile ground for offensive bunkering, cliffing and early-game harassment.
  • Reactor add-on cross-building compatibility allows the Terran to crank out key units such as the Medivac Dropship two at a time immediately as a Starport becomes available.
  • The Protoss High Templar Psi Storm is even more powerful than in StarCraft 1, with a larger radius, shorter duration and more total damage.
  • Ultralisks are no longer a late-game screw-you unit, but hands down the most powerful and effective physical ground unit in the game.
  • Merging different Protoss Templars together still produces the exact same Archon.
  • Cliff-walking Colossi and burrowing Infestors are not able to traverse destructible rocks.

Dustin Browder and Chris Sigaty Interviews have been released via G4TV and Joystiq, summarizing the recent development challenges and their expectations of the beta.

Here are the highlights from the Dustin Browder interview::

  • StarCraft 2 will include an online Casual Gaming League that will feature “anti-rush” map designs, a normal (slower) game speed and other care-bear perks.
  • Blizzard will push for mainstream adoption of E-Sports and public broadcast/televised StarCraft 2 matches.
  • The Beta is expected to run for 4-5 months.
  • Blizzard will seek ways to prevent uber-skilled players from plowing through the low ranks repeatedly when they create new names on Battle.net.
  • Beta testers will be added over the course of the beta.

Chris Sigaty, Lead Producer for StarCraft 2 and a long time contributor to Blizzard’s developmental efforts, has unveiled some interesting tidbits in an interview for Joystiq:

  • In two years, Chris is expected to receive the Ring – a special mark for fifteen years of Blizzard service, complimentary to the Sword and Shield which are given at 5 and 10 years, respectively.
  • StarCraft 2 has been in the works ever since World of WarCraft’s shipment in 2004 – marking 2009 the 5th year of its development.
  • Unit portraits’ lips are in full sync with the units’ voices, and the original voice actors for Jim Raynor and Arcturus Mengsk are used.

All in all, Blizzard’s official intents for this recent press blitz were quite clear and fully disclosed – the StarCraft 2 Beta is imminent; do your tech-tree homework, get your gaming rigs ready, ‘couse, hell… it’s about time.

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The German GameStar gaming magazine has gotten StarCraft 2’s Lead Designer, Dustin Browder, to sit down and give them a lengthy interview, primarily reiterating the changes StarCraft 2 went through over the course of the last two years and the main goals of the upcoming Beta. Team Liquid was kind enough to post a detailed translation, and you can download the entire 29 question interview here.

Some of Dustin Browder’s answers contain new information and also provide some insight about Blizzard’s plans for the immediate future.

Q: What happens during the beta test?

A: We take a look at which strategies are most popular. By that we realize, which elements work out already. Then we adapt the game into this direction, to make it even more fun. The players’ opinion has always been important to us, Starcraft and Brood War have made fundamental changes during beta and even after release. The final version of Sc2 could be vastly different from what you have played so far.

Blizzard’s utter (and justified) disregard towards official release dates puts a big fat “When It’s Done” stamp on StarCraft 2. The Beta period is unlikely to have a specific time frame, and it’s reassuring to see that the developers are willing to tweak and change the game as much as needed for it to become a masterpiece.

Q: By the way. Why did you change Zerg’s Nydus Channel? When we played the aliens the first time, we have a giant worm dig behind the enemy lines to spew out troops there. Now we can only build a building that look like a worm. The original one was way cooler!

n

A: Right, but it caused technical issues. We had difficulties with its looks and its control. It would have been lots of efforts to get it right. Also, the worm didn’t work out well in terms of balance. Therefore he won’t make it in, at least not into the first episode of Sc II, Wings of Liberty. After that we will consider what we can do with him in future. We still talk alot about him.

The burrowing Nydus Worm was one of the coolest, most ambitious and problematic mechanisms to be introduced into StarCraft 2. Showcased during the initial Zerg Introduction in March 2008, and confirmed to be removed during the BlizzCon event of the same year, the worm has received a lot of attention from both fans and the developers before it stopped being a unit and turned into a structure.

Q: Right, in the first part, you could only cross cliffs with flying units, plateau bases were therefore better protected. Since we just touched this topic: How do units benefit from being placed on high ground?



A: You cannot see them from low ground. At least as long as you do not use spotters, flyers or special talents, like the Terran scan. This can be a huge advantage, especially for Terran with their mighty Siege Tanks: As long as the enemy does not reveal them, they can blow him into pieces without resistance. Zerg profit the least from height advantage, since their ground range units do not fire very far. But with the Overlord and the Overseer they field two very good spotters. Apart from this, height differences have no effect. In SCI, there was a chance that units on the lowground would miss enemies on high ground. We removed this percentage since we do not like chance elements. The players ought to know exactly what advantage they have. And how to counter it.


Q: Apropos huge armies. In comparison to its predecessor, you are allowed to select many more units in Sc2. And that’s great. But still, some game concepts seem antiquated, for example the 3D camera that does not zoom out very far. Or the production queue that can only hold five units. Why did you change unit selection but kept the other elements the same?


A: There is a quite obvious reason for the camera position. I am not a big fan of zooming out very far from battles. In other games, this might work out, but not in Starcraft. There is so much Micro that the battles would look confusing if you could zoom out further. Also the atmosphere would get lost – the units would transform into tiny symbols and you couldn’t recognise anymore, how diligently they are designed. The feeling of fighting for a distinctive faction would get lost – and just in Starcraft, with its three characteristic races! Zoomed out very far, those battles would degenerate to a feud of ants. This might be appropriate for games like Supreme Commander, which are fully geared towards the zoom function, that have huge maps on which the units traverse very long distances. But Starcraft works differently: It happens faster, matches often last only half an hour. A zoom function simply wouldn’t fit in.

Another great call by Blizzard, which, nevertheless, is nothing short of a forced limitation. StarCraft 2, being a live 3D game, has no technical difficulty providing players with a full, zoomed-out view of the battle map – a feat that could come extremely handy if a player wanted to see his production buildings and worker line while skirmishing on the ramp leading to his base.

StarCraft 2 Can't have Simcity View Thingies

But StarCraft is neither Supreme Commander nor SimCity, and a full-map view, despite having obvious uses, would simply ruin the game. However, Blizzard should definitely consider the Zoom-out option of in-game Observers and in the Replay viewer.

Q: Since Blizzcon, you have changed many other things. Aren’t you frustrated about designing new game-content that gets scrapped again after a few months?

n

A: Hell, no! We have been doing this since years! It was always Blizzard’s philosophy to try things. In Sc2 we just started early with announcing units and abilities. Wc3 went through just the same process. Admittedly, maybe it’s a bit more serious with SC2. But that’s how it works: We develop a game, then we change it. And then we change it again. And again. That’s how we give the game the fine tuning. Of course many pieces of content accumulate that we cannot use at the moment, since they work reasonably well, but simply not great. I love that we are this flexible. We owe this to our technicians who have constructed such an outstanding engine. To rework a unit completely takes 2-3 hours at max.

n

Q: In Paris we noticed that the AI opponents play extremely strong at the highest difficulty setting. Are they cheating?

n

A: Yes, on the highest setting “insane”, the AI profits from additional resources. On all other settings, the opponents do not cheat. On the 2nd highest level “hard” they act as smart as on the highest, simply without the added resources. This is a notable improvement compared to the first game. As in many other RTS titles, the AI in SC1 would see the entire map and would know exactly where the player’s units and buildings were. In part 2, this does not hold anymore. The AI opponents have to send out scouts to find the players. Only when they find out, what the opponents are building, they adapt their tactics. If you hide units from the AI – on hills or behind bushes – you gain an advantage.

A fair AI will make StarCraft 2’s single player experience, as well as custom game allies and rivals significantly more valuable and interesting, granting advantage to players willing to “surprise” the enemy with unconventional attacks.

Q: But the day-night cycle and the weather effects wouldn’t have any gameplay effects?

n

A: We talked about it, and even tested it, but the answer’s: No. We do not want maps with differing rules. Just imagine a snowy area in which ground troops move more slowly. That would completely revert the balance. The Zerg would suffer a lot, since they are highly dependant on their speed. Or imagine rainy maps, on which the sight-range of flying units is reduced. The balance would be shaky and we would have to rebalance the races just because of the stupid rain. That might be an interesting idea for the future, but at the moment we don’t want it.

Also of note are several build updates, most notably to the Terran Nighthawk, formerly known as the Vulcan, formerly know as the Nomad, now called The Artist “Raven”. A new ability has been introduced as well:

Defensive Drone: With this drone you are able to intercept enemy projectiles, e.g. rockets of the terran missile turrets. Therefore this special weapon is especially well suited for attacks on bases. Against small bore (like the spines of the Hydralisk), however, it is powerless.

Considering the very specific use implied in the ability’s description, it’s likely adjustments to the Defensive Drone will be made somewhere down the road.

The recently mentioned Brood Lord has been finally revealed, and it is not entirely dissimilar to the Zerg Guardian and Swarm Guardian predecessors in neither look nor purpose.

Brood Lord

Blizzard’s game designers have finally given StarCraft 2’s Protoss a Shield Battery, in the form a High Templar ability – making the Templar Energy- for-Shields quite an intriguing trade-off, considering the high value most Protoss players place on the Templar’s energy reserves. Of course, this will strongly depend on the exact exchange ratio determined by careful balance.

High Templar
*new Ability*
Plasma Surge: This ability is similar to the shield battery in sc1 as it allows the ht to recharge the damaged shields of all friendly protoss units in a selected area

As the game nears its beta, the changes we see become more and more important – they  have a very good chance of sticking until the game’s release. However, Dustin has made abudantly clear that the developers will not shy away from making  signifcant adjustments to StarCraft 2’s units and mechanics based on the feedback gamers will provide over the course of the beta period.

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Last weekend, Dustin Browder had emerged from Blizzard’s Dev campus and has given quite a lengthy interview to Ziff Davis’s 1UP, one of the world’s largest gaming websites. The interview contained few unknown details, but, again, has provided an updated “State of Development” view on StarCraft 2.

Ironically, while both Diablo 3 and StarCraft 2 appear in 1Up’s  “25 of the Most Anticipated Video Games of 2009“, Thierry Nguyen (1Up’s writer) seems to have a very realistic view on Blizzard’s schedule, reminding everyone of its famous “when it’s done” mantra.

1UP: First off, some of us were wondering: Do you ever feel limited in the ability to be creative design-wise because of the StarCraft legacy? Do you find yourself caving in to pressures to appease your older fans at the cost of innovating the game?

Dustin Browder: No, not at all.

RIGHT. StarCraft fans are not only loyal and passionate, they are also quite loud. While Blizzard has the amazing knack for delivering masterpieces in consecutive fashion, Blizzard’s fan base deserves credit for providing the constant stream of feedback most companies can only dream of.
A significant portion of said base has been familiar with StarCraft’s look and feel for a decade, and while gamers do not want to end up with StarCraft 3D, it’s safe to assume that the change will not be as drastic as it was with WarCraft 3.

game sold more than 9.5 million copies worldwide, so even though StarCraft today has a reputation as a super hardcore RTS game, it truly did have mainstream appeal.

Televised starcraft

StarCraft is perhaps the closest thing to becoming the modern equivalent of chess. While many gamers are familiar with the game’s basics and have played some multiplayer StarCraft games, there also exists a large group of professional players, which has taken the game to a depth level matched only by games which have existed for centuries.

So once we ship the core game of StarCraft 2 and start delving into the expansions, we’ll have a great deal of that infrastructure under our belts and be able to concentrate primarily on content creation for the two expansion sets.

Remember that technically, StarCraft 2’s multiplayer experience won’t be finished either. As mentioned earlier, every expansion will contain new units (or mechanics) which will add to each races’ arsenal. The expansions are projected to be released year after year in consecutive fashion, which means it’ll take StarCraft 2 a minimum of two years to reach the point where the multiplayer game is finalized with all available units. This is when the game can begin the long process of balancing, hopefully maturing slowly into a masterpiece worthy of its legacy.

It doesn’t make sense for Kerrigan to be flying around in a battlecruiser and picking out mercenary missions for cash, which is what you’ll be doing with Raynor in the core game’s campaign. So we’ll be doing something different with Kerrigan to get her to evolve and grow her Zerg army. Meanwhile, Zeratul’s Protoss campaign may require you to engage in diplomacy with the different Protoss tribes in order to gain access to…

liberty wings tech screen

This is quite different from StarCraft 1 and just about every other RTS game to ever hit the market. Blizzard’s investment in the not-part-of-actual-RTS details of the Single Player Campaign is quite staggering.

We’ve put by far, the most amount of work into the Terrans — the other two campaigns are still in planning and concepting

…Being able to focus on one race for 26 to 30 missions gives us the breathing room to give players meaningful choices…

Three months ago, on October 13, the status did not appear be much different...

according to Chris Sigaty, lead producer, they are now finishing “Wings of Liberty“, the Terran campaign.

Dustin Browder: You’re certainly going to see other major characters like Kerrigan and Zeratul make significant appearances and impact in the first campaign…

It looks like Blizzard is working in full force to finish the first part of the single player campaign while finalizing the multiplayer game in order to launch StarCraft 2 within the next few months. Will we see a beta soon?

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