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January hasn’t featured any significant official update from Blizzard (yet),  but a few pieces of information have surfaced through the constantly-growing RTS community team. Here’s a quick run down of the recent updates to the StarCraft 2 Universe.

The role and functionality of the Changeling, a shape-shifting spy unit that can be spawned by Overseers for an energy cost, has been clarified by Avarius.

The changeling’s transformation is permanent. Once it is within range of opposing forces, it will transform to that race’s basic tier 1 unit (marine, zealot, or zergling) and remain so for its duration. In the case of a team game or FFA where there are multiple races, the changeling will transform to the race it encounters first and not change again.

When questioned about the viability of the ability in high-level 1 on 1 matches, Avarius made it clear that he considers the Changeling a worthy addition to the Zerg unit roster.

I definitely think you will see them used effectively, even in high level 1v1 play. Who wouldn’t want an essentially free scout (only costs energy) to use to gather intel on their opponent? With the potential that you opponent might not kill it immediately, it can provide you with a sustained scouting advantage. Even high level players can get caught up in harassment, or base management and may miss this little guy sneaking into their base.

The next blue posts were translated by a SC:L staff member, and come from the Korean side of the Battle.net forums:

When more supply is required, and when I have to quickly build three Supply Depots at the same time, this is usually the method that I use.

1) I select some mining SCVs by drag selection or Ctrl + Left Click. It’s good to select at least three.

2) After pressing ‘B’ (building hotkey) then ‘S’ (Supply Depot hotkey), while holding Shift, consecutively left click at the locations you want to build at before right clicking a mineral patch.
3) Out of the selected SCVs, only three of them go to the selected locations and each build a Supply Depot, and once construction is complete they return to mining minerals.

That’s how automated things have become in StarCraft 2: building multiple supply depots and sending the workers back to harvest minerals is easily achieved by issuing one concentrated and short batch of commands, eliminating many of the repetitive actions otherwise required in the original game.

Building entire Tech Tree via a Single Queue Achievement ?

Another bit of info from Korea details the unit classification system, which has received a major overhaul in StarCraft 2. The new system is much more streamlined and simple, following clear rules that make hard unit counters very apparent.

Light armor, heavy armor, biological, mechanical, giant, psionic, etc. are some attributes that units can have.

For example, the Ultralisk has heavy armor biological giant attributes, whereas the Archon has the psionic attribute. You can probably tell from looking at the Archon, but not all units are divided into [light armor/heavy armor]. Damage calculation is also different from the previous game. Units attacks always do at least 100% of the damage value shown on the screen. And then, depending on the attacks property, additional damage may be dealt when attacking units with specific attributes.

For example the Archons base damage is 25, and deals an additional 10 damage against biological targets. Therefore, Zerg units (which are usually biological) take 35 damage when attacked by Archons. And in the case of the Siege Tank, its Siege Mode deals 60 damage, so it deals 60 damage to all ground units. If the old system of explosive, concussive and small, medium, large was used, then Marines would take reduced damage from a Siege Tank.

On the topic of friendly damage, Zhydaris explains which explosion is ally-friendly and which should be more carefully handled:

… exploding Banelings do not damage allied units: both your units and those of your allies are not affected at all by the acid explosion.


Reaper’s explosive charge does actually damage allies, as well as your own units and buildings, so be careful when playing with those flashing packages.

The official StarCraft 2 website has been updated with a brand new 6-page Mothership story, including a short, action packed clip of a Mothership-backed Protoss force decimating a Zerg army. The Mothership sports a slightly altered design and a new attack animation.

Ain't no ship like a Mothership

StarCraft 2’s community team has also revealed a new doodad screenshot via Twitter. The art is high-detail and worth a closer look – make sure you click on the image for the full-size screenshot.

StarCraft 2 Doodad - Tude Debris

The following concrete and un-speculative bit of info is bound to make quite a few people happy, as it serves as real evidence that StarCraft 2 is indeed being tested live on Battle.net or, at least, that it is about to be in the immediate future. The Blizzard official support page now includes lengthy support articles for StarCraft 2!

Starcraft 2 Support Pages

The guide gets quite specific and even includes a detailed StarCraft 2 Mac Version Video troubleshooting article!

There’s also some hype about the the recently announced Activision-Blizzard public conference call that will be broadcast on the internet, as it might include a clear plan of action for the upcoming months.

Activision Blizzard, Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI) intends to release its fourth quarter and calendar year 2009 results after the close of the market on Wednesday, February 10, 2010. In conjunction with this release, Activision Blizzard will host a conference call that will be broadcast over the Internet.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
1:30 pm Pacific Time (4:30 pm Eastern Time)

To listen to the call, please log onto:
http://investor.activision.com/events.cfm

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After a short hiatus in blue activity, Karune returns in full force to answer questions on the Battle.net forums, providing information on the latest changes to a few high-interest gameplay aspects: the Ghost and its abilities, the new Dark Pylon, and the High Templar‘s new spell.

Starting with a long post about EMP and the ghost, Karune had this to say:

Yup, EMP is currently on the Ghost and does 100 shield damage to all units and drains all energy in that area of effect. Having a Ghost presence in any TvP match up is crucial, especially if there are casters in the opponent’s army. In the original StarCraft, the EMP used to kill all shield hit points, but since in StarCraft II the ability has been added to the Ghost, which is more easily attainable unit than in the original StarCraft, we have reduced it’s potency a bit.

Plus a one-click ability that reduces an opposing army to half health near instantly isn’t something that we want to promote.

11 Vessles - harder to get than 11 Ghosts

EMP, formerly a Science Vessel ability, has been made weaker due to its higher availability as a Ghost ability. However, at 100 shield damage, it still has the potential to wipe out the shields of entire Protoss armies, as there are few units with more than 100 shield points. Of course, there’s always the option of bringing multiple ghosts into a battle and making them focus their EMP efforts on one group. Karune does not particularly like this tactic, though:

True, though that would be much more costly in terms of minerals/gas as well as time needed to have enough energy for EMPs. Furthermore, it would take slightly more micromanagement as well.

Convinced?

It will remain to be seen how effective Ghosts are in Terran versus Protoss games and whether or not multiple EMP attacks on single targets will be cost effective. There is no doubt that Terran players will make use of several EMPing ghosts when engaging large packs of heavily shielded units – like Carriers – especially with lockdown no longer being a part of the game, as Karune reconfirmed:

No lockdown in multiplayer.

Another interesting topic raised is the Protoss increased shield regeneration rate, which fits perfectly with the increased pace of the game. Not only do shields regenerate twice as fast out of combat, but Shield Batteries, reincarnated as the much more useful Obelisks, will certainly be more prominent in games now. “Obelisk” is the new name for the slightly less new Protoss building – the Dark Pylon, tuned down in power so that it no longer functions as a one stop shop for all Protoss needs.

The Dark Pylon is now known as the Obelisk – primarily because it no longer cloaks units and no longer provides pylon power/supply. This change was mostly due to balance, since it is relatively easy to spam Dark Pylons everywhere and instantly have a Psi Storm recharge point to decimate incoming forces.

The Obelisk is the new name for the Dark Pylon, and the Dark Shrine is the new name for the Dark Obelisk. The Obelisk still has the probe buff, but now also acts as a shield generator, and still has Argus link to transfer energy as well. The cloak ability has been removed from the Obelisk. The Dark Shrine remains the same in function, allowing the production of Dark Templars.

When put in a difficult situation, retreating with Protoss is a strategy that often times has to be used to recharge shields and regroup after attacks. Preserving Protoss units is particularly important because they are generally more expensive than the other races, have more hit points, and have that increased shield regeneration to help them fight another day.

Obelisk?

Obelisks will undoubtedly be more abundant than Shield Batteries in StarCraft 2, as they provide both shield and energy points along with the Protoss’ economy buff. Even though Obelisks do not count as proper Pylons anymore and cannot serve as Proxy Pylons, used to deploy troops from Warpgates or Phase Prisms in remote locations, they are still likely to see off-base use.

Karune was kind enough to assuage the fears of Protoss players, now dreading the Terran Infantry more than ever:

The Colossus would be the unit you are looking for. One Colossi will be able to kill a group of Marines (before shield upgrade) with one sweep of its lasers. Multiple Colossi, with upgraded laser range, will surely mess up the day of any Terran player who does mass infantry.

If Protoss players do tech towards the Colossus, they will also have access to observers very early, giving them early warning to when the Ghost is in play and where it may be shooting its EMP from.

Colossus wiping out Terran Marines with a single pass of his beam

Moving on, some more news about everyone’s favorite lightning-powered caster, the High Templar:

Time Bomb is now known as the Temporal Rift and is cast by the High Templar.

Plasma Surge is no longer in the multiplayer version of the game, but will still be in the editor.

I am protected.

Time Bomb, previously a Mothership ability – demonstrated way back in the original StarCraft 2 introduction video, is gone from the game, replaced with the more mundane “Temporal Rift”. What does it do, Cydra?

Temporal Rift creates a distortion field at the target location. Ground units caught inside of this field have their movement speed, attack speed, and ability cast times slowed by half. And it lasts 30 seconds.

No longer will missiles slow to a crawl when meeting the huge time distortion field created by the dreaded Mothership. Instead, the High Templar has been granted a glorified, area of effect, slow spell. Coupled with Psi Storm, this ability can be devastating to the affected troops which will have a hard time moving away from underneath the surging lightning bolts or the Colossus’ earth-scorching beam.

***

Today, Blizzard has also released the 52nd installment of the Q&A series. This batch belongs to the Map Maker series and spans 8 map creation and custom script programming related questions.

1. Does it still use the JASS language, or perhaps an upgraded version of JASS?

StarCraft II uses an entirely new scripting language, which we’ve called Galaxy. This language is very similar to C, and anyone familiar with programming in C will have no trouble picking it up.

2. Is the language event-driven or object-oriented?

The language itself is not object-oriented, although most of the native functionality is based around operating on game objects.

Blizzard has finally named the puppy publically: the Galaxy scripting language. A fitting name for a tool so often described as able to alter any property and behavior in the StarCraft 2 Universe.

3. In comparison to the Warcraft III Editor, how much more, if any, can the GUI of the game be edited (it was extremely limited in Warcraft III)?

The in-game UI layout is externalized in data files to a large extent, however there is no editor support for working with these files. So it will be possible to customize the game UI, it just won’t be a user-friendly process.

StarCraft 2 is unlikely to gather a massive UI modding community like WoW has, but since the possibility of UI modding exists, we will , no doubt, see detailed manuals pop-up after a few brave and clever souls document the process.

4. Are there new noteworthy functionalities in the Starcraft II Editor, or will the new editor just have general improvements?


I can’t think of a single editor feature from WarCraft III, large or small, which has not been improved in at least some way for StarCraft II.

5. Will the ability to communicate among triggers, for instance via actions or conditions, be improved in the new language?

One significant new feature of the Trigger Editor is support for custom function definitions, including actions and conditions. This means you can create your own actions that are built up from other actions (or custom script code), then use those in triggers just as you would any other action.

6. How does “Hero” support differ from the Warcraft III Editor? Or is it practically identical?

We’ve been working hard to create a hero system that is even more flexible than WarCraft III’s. For example, map makers will have the ability to define any number of custom attributes that modify a hero based on its level.

Dota Allstars Background

The inevitability, and Blizzard’s own encouragement, of a StarCraft 2 DoTA mod is clear to anyone following the trail of Q&As since the announcement of Scumedit. DoTA has become an important and integral part of the professional (and mainstream) WarCraft 3 scene, and the creation of a similar mod will definitely contribute a lot to the StarCraft 2 gaming community.

7. Will there be a public API for the programming language?

As with WarCraft III, there is a large set of “native” functions representing game functionality that can be accessed through scripts. If this is what you mean by “public API”, then yes.

8. Will there be improvements on the “Garbage Collector” for the new language? For example, in JASS all local variables need to be set to null at the end of their use, and certain data-types need to be removed from the game (such as Locations) at the end of their use to avoid memory leaks.

Galaxy features a robust garbage collection system for all native types, which is a huge improvement over WarCraft III (which technically did not have a garbage collection system at all). The script memory leak issues from WarCraft III will be a thing of the past.

Everything about Scumedit and Galaxy is bigger, better and more robust; it is the eventuality of 10 years of modding and map creation coupled with Blizzard’s own ideas for improving these aspects of StarCraft. It will be interesting to see just how far modders take this new tool and whether or not they are able to one-up the legendary DoTA.

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The official Battle.net forums were flooded with many questions after the latest Battle Report, which constituted the first showcasing of StarCraft 2 in four months. Karune and the blues did their best to answer some important ones, which we have collected in this post.

First up, Cavez on the new Hydralisk melee attack:

It does not change the damage at all. It has the same attack rate and does exactly the same damage as the regular hydralisk attack. It is just visual.

Seeing how some of StarCraft’s units already had a different attack depending on whether the target was on the ground or in the air, it’s not so much of a stretch to have units change their attack when approaching close-combat range. It will be interesting to see if this evolves into a different attack, stat wise – just like the difference between StarCraft 1’s Goliath ground and air attacks, and similar to the highly developed mechanism found in the Dawn of War RTS games.

For example, the Space Marine Dreadnought can use its flamers or long range assault cannons from a distance – but when it gets close enough, it starts grabbing enemy infantry units, crushing them in its giant, mechanical hands – dealing significantly more damage, and often killing them in one strike.

Dreadnaught crushing Banshees in its huge, mechanical hands

Next up, a bunch of Planetary Fortress goodness from Karune. When asked about its usefulness compared to the Orbital Command, he replied:

Currently in testing, the PF (Planetary Fortress) is already quite beefy – It’s ground attack has been buffed to 40 damage and has a 6 range. When upgrading to a PF, your command center also gets +2 building armor, making this building a very formidable obstacle, especially with 20 SCVs repairing at the same time. There have been many games I’ve seen the PF hold off raiding forces and sometimes even attacking forces by itself and SCVs. While I wouldn’t think it’d be wise to convert your first Command Center to a PF, converting strategic expansions could be helpful, such as those at high yields or may be farther away from the rest of your bases.

n

On a side note cause I’m sure somebody is wondering this as well – the PF upgrade costs 150 minerals and 150 gas whereas the Orbital Command upgrade costs just 150 minerals. The PF prerequisite building is the Engineering Bay and the Orbital Command prerequisite building is the Barracks.

n

The PF does splash damage as well.

The Planetary Fortress is a real beast. The Terran Command Center is one of the toughest buildings in the game as is, and transforming it into a splash-damage dealing, heavily armored fortress, which can be fixed by plenty of SCVs at the same time (due to its girth) will make Terran Expansions hard to take down without dedicated effort. It’s so powerful, in fact, that some use it for offensive purposes:

Yup, they make for some pretty humorous games, though keep in mind each one of these are a 550 minerals and 150 gas investment. It takes quite a bit of time to build + upgrade, but if you could pull it off early game (assuming your opponent does not scout) it will surely keep them bottled up until tier 2 or 3 where more mobility comes online. To mount an attack on a Planetary Fortress takes quite a good number of units. Usually it would be better to bypass it if you can.

This is of course more of a gimmick than a strategy that will have high success repetitively :)

Boxer, take notice.

Planetary Fortress. Don't mess with it.

Cydra has also confirmed that a Command Center with upgrades can not be salvaged – which effectively commits the player to the cost and permanent location of the upgraded Command Center.

Once you upgrade your Command Center to Orbital Command or Planetary Fortress, you can’t undo the upgrades. And you can’t salvage them.

This brings the list of limitations to:

  • Can’t be lifted.
  • Can’t be upgraded to a different setup or downgraded back to a Command Center (for lift-off purposes).
  • Can’t be Salvaged.

Cydra mentions the first known nerf to the Orbital Command‘s MULEs, which previously possessed the same attack as SCVs and had no line of sight calldown limitations.

True, as long as you have line of sight on the spot, you can drop MULE. On the enemy’s Siege Tanks, on a ramp, etc. However MULE can’t attack or repair.

It’s worth noting that the Orbital Command’s calldown subject has changed from being an ordinary mule to being a MULE. The all uppercase MULE is an acronym, perhaps a reference to Lockheed Martin’s  Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment (MULE) vehicle, but it’s just as likely to be Blizzard’s small tribute to the legendary M.U.L.E multiplayer video game of 1983.

Central to the game is the acquisition and use of “M.U.L.E.”s (Multiple Use Labor Element) to develop and harvest resources from the player’s real estate. Depending on how it is outfitted, a M.U.L.E. can be configured to harvest Energy, Food, Smithore (from which M.U.L.E.s are constructed), and Crystite (a valuable mineral available only at the “Tournament” level).

Karune has clarified that the Baneling’s method of transportation in the recent Battle Report – walking – is there to help differentiate it from upgraded Banelings, which roll instead.

Yes. In the current build, Banelings are no longer roll but once they get the movement speed upgrade, they have the rolling animation.

Walking Banelings

Lastly, Cydra reconfirms some previously-revealed information regarding the Nighthawk and the Xel’Naga Watch Tower, while adding tidbits clarifying its behavior around Infested Marines and the Nighthawk’s deployables:

Nighthawk has the detecting ability.

Xel’Naga Watch Tower only can be activated by the ground units.
Infested Marine can activate the Xel’Naga Watch Tower but Auto-Turret can’t.

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Another April Fools’ has gone by in wait for StarCraft 2. As expected, the fan sites’ beta tease was indeed bogus, and it appears that, in accordance with our analysis of the game’s state, the beta will not be released any time soon. In the latest BlizzCast, Dustin Browder, lead game designer, gives the word:

A lot of the stuff people are seeing in-game right now, I know we’re showing a lot of material, I know people are looking at it saying, “If this looks really good, it must be close to final.” That’s certainly not how the art team feels about it right and they’ve been going over it and hitting individual units as we go forward, individual races, and the Zerg in terms of their buildings and even their units are still the furthest behind in that respect. There is still a lot more work to go into the Zerg , for instance the hatchery, the lair, the hive are all going to go under massive revisions here in the next couple of weeks as we really punch up the art to really represent these iconic, critical, central buildings to a Zerg base.  So there is still a lot of work to go into it

It’s going to be a while before StarCraft 2 is widely available, unfortunately.

Something good did happen this April 1st, though. The Terran Terra-Tron!

TerranTerraTron

To create a truly comprehensive defense for high-priority, mineral-rich regions such as the volcanic uplands of Redstone, the terrans needed to devise an entirely new concept in battlefield strategy. Terran military engineers, led by Goraion Systems’ head of development Dr. Ron Volt, have been working day and night to design a new kind of base for the terran armies: the titanic Terra-tron.

The Terra-Tron, Blizzard’s April Fools’ unit for this year, is a true marvel. Composed out of the entire base, it’s equipped with enough armor and fire power to take down whole armies. While we won’t be seeing it in the normal version of the single- or multi-player game, Karune does confirm that just like last year’s April Fools’ unit, the Tron will make an appearance in the map editor. Make sure to watch the videos of it transforming and terrorizing the city.

Another StarCraft 2 related answer from the last BlizzCast deals with the game’s new air model. Here’s a summary of  Dustin’s comments:

  • Zerg Mutalisks are still used for fast raiding operations
  • In large groups, they are also useful for late-game direct assaults
  • The Terran Banshees can power right through base defenses with their powerful anti-ground attack
  • The Protoss Void Ray is similarly threatening
  • Protoss Carriers have a much longer range than in StarCraft 1
  • Dedicated anti air units, like the Zerg Corruptor and Protoss Phoenix, serve an important role to counter the aforementioned threats

Corruptors

Moving on, a new Terran Nighthawk ability has been revealed, along with some more news about the unit’s other ability. Here’s what we know about the Hunter-Seeker Missile:

  • Costs 75 energy, has no cooldown
  • Slowly moves towards a unit and detonates on impact, dealing 150 AoE damage
  • Meant to deal with slow units, such as spell casters or stationary ones
  • Requires the Fusion Core (prereq building for Battlecrusiers) to be researched
  • Runs out of fuel and harmlessly falls to the ground after 15 seconds

On paper, this cooldown-less ability sounds extremely powerful. With an energy upgrade, the Nighthawk can release three Hunter-Seekers one after the other, devastating entire Tier-1 armies or taking out key units from mixed armies. All this assuming, of course, that the enemy doesn’t immediately retreat his targeted unit to safety. It’s likely that the targeted unit will be marked so that it can be moved out of harm’s way by the player, though this hasn’t been confirmed.

Nighthawks

This ability overlaps somewhat with the Ghost’s Psi Round, another ability geared towards caster-hunting. It’s also interesting to note that all of the Nighthawk’s abilities have returned to being energy-dependent, with Auto-Turret only costing 50 minerals.

Finally, Karune answers a question about rallying troops into transports. Taking automation a step further, Karune confirms that units can be rallied directly into transports – a mechanism which will see plenty of use in the hands of a infantry drop-happy Terran. Karune also answers another question about what happens when an ally drops from the game:

1) Yup, you will be able to – and you can also rally straight into transport units like dropships as well.
2) Yes- though currently all the resources your ally makes after he leaves will go directly into your pool of resources. This is by no means final or balanced yet- there will be changes still.

With MBS and Dropship rally, a deadly infantry drop takes just a few clicks to prepare.

Medivac Dropship

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