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This week in StarCraft 2 was marked with multiple blue posts on the official StarCraft 2 forums, topped with a seven question Q&A session for the German fan site starcraft2.4players.de. Most of the answers deal with the finer aspects of StarCraft 2, but there are some interesting new revelations in as well.

1. Are you still developing new units or are you satisfied with the amount of units for each race and, therefore, more concerned about the fine tuning and balancing?

Our philosophy has always been to keep the amount of units for each race to a certain number to keep the gameplay tight, and we are satisfied with what we have right now in terms of that number. Once we head into beta we definitely evaluate the role of each unit and will potentially add or drop units as needed based on feedback.

Throughout the development process, StarCraft 2 has gained and lost quite a few units.

2. Can you explain the movements of big melee units like the Ultralisk in detail? While running through idle units smaller units tend to move away so the Ultralisk can walk in a straight line. Will that happen only in battles or while moving your whole army as well?

The way movement collision works right now is that a unit has to be idle for it to be pushed to a new location by another unit like an Ultralisk. Generally if you are controlling your forces and they are active, you will not see this behavior.

3. In the campaign of StarCraft II, there are many optional objectives to do so that the player can choose how to play through the campaign. But there are players who want to see every cinematic and play every mission. Are there missions where you have to decide, which way you go (e.g. the Terran campaign in StarCraft I, where you decide to choose nuclear weapons or Battlecruisers), or will the player be able to play the whole campaign in a linear progression? Will there be a menu were you can replay already completed missions? If so, can you also unlock new missions in that menu?

As you play through the campaign, there will be a few cases where you must make a distinct choice that could change the outcome of a certain side plot or the fate of a specific character. These choices will be made very obvious to players, and for those who want to see all the possibilities, you’ll have the ability to go back and choose the other path. We will also have a way for you to replay completed missions or cinematic cut scenes via the story mode interface as well.

Blizzard usually provides players with the ability to go back and replay missions; providing gamers with the ability to adjust their decisions is a treat for any must-see-all-paths (/achievement-happy?) fans. Most RPG games, such as the recent Dragon Age: Origins, change plot lines and outcomes significantly according to the choices made. However, Blizzard has stated that the ending of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty will be singular, providing the set up for the rest of the trilogy.

4. In the single player campaign of Warcraft III, even races like the Naga are playable temporarily. Is something like that planned for StarCraft II too?

The single player campaign for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty will focus on the Terran campaign, but there will also be a short series of missions where players take the role of Zeratul and other Protoss forces.

5. Is the range of the stalker’s blink ability limited to the distance between him and the target area or are cliffs and trees considered; so a stalker could blink farther when he’s blinking down a cliff than if he’s blinking up the cliff?

The distance you blink is the same regardless of blinking up or down a cliff.

6. Will players be able to send resources to their allies? If so, will there be a limit to the amount of resources they are able to send?

Yes, players can send and request resources among teammates but only after a few minutes into the game. The reason for this is to minimize imbalances that could be created by one player getting a massive early economic boost from his or her partner dumping resources at the outset of the game. There currently is no limit to how many resources you can share.

We would like to see Blizzard experiment with the resources issue on a race basis. Base the ability to transfer funds on a building, for example, making this decision locked to a certain tech-tree path rather than an arbitrary amount of time.

7. Some replays were not compatible with new patches in StarCraft I. Are you working on making replays compatible with new patches for StarCraft II?

Yes, we’re working on allowing replays from previous versions of StarCraft II be compatible with new patches as they are released.

Moving on, new developments on the Blizzard home front: Karune has introduced two new community team members, neither wasting any time getting their feet wet – both have already been posting StarCraft 2 related info throughout the week.

According the Zhydaris, worker command queues can be set up to be very complex as long as you can afford all the requested resources in advance – even building an entire base in one go.

You can order a worker to build something, then move to a different location, then build something else, and then start to gather resources again. That’s just an example of the queues you could set up with the shift key.

If you order a worker to build 5 gateways, you will have to pay for these gateways immediately.
The won’t build one gateway, then wait for you to collect enough minerals, and then build another one.

Next, Karune discusses the Roach‘s role in the game and the fact that it’s here to stay. Currently, it functions primarily as a damage sponge with multiple upgrades, perhaps even one for underground movement.

Most likely the Roach will be in the game – much of the balance work that is done is making sure it fits its role as a damage sponge. Throughout the balance process, the team has been playing around with lots of numbers in regards to how it regenerates, the upgrades the Roach has in terms of speed and health regen, as well as even the ability to have the Roach move while burrowed. None of these variations have deemed to be written in stone, thus we’ll just have to keep you updated as we move closer to beta and actual player testing.

Zhydaris cleared a lot of things up with a few detailed answers concerning “simultaneous casting” and “smart casting”. First of all, here’s a list of abilities that trigger simultaneous, all-unit, one click casting:

  • Stalker Blink
  • Zerg Burrow
  • Battle Cruiser Defensive Matrix
  • Baneling Explode
  • Viking Mode Switch

Smartcast abilities, on the other, hand include:

  • High Templar Psi Storm
  • Disruptor Force Field
  • All Zerg Mutations

Stalker’s Blink, Zerg’s Burrow, Battle cruiser’s Defensive Matrix, Baneling’s Explode, Viking’s switching from air-mode to ground-mode: you’ll only have to press the key once to trigger the ability for all the selected units at once (be careful with those Banelings!)

High Templar’s Psi Storm, Disruptor’s Force Field, Zerg’s mutations (Zerglings to Banelings, etc.): smart casting will kick in here and you’ll have to press the key for every selected unit.

Zhydaris later gives a detailed and helpful example as to why exactly mutations are now smart-cast:

Here’s one occasion where I think you might need smart casting. Let’s assume you have 20 Zerglings currently selected, you don’t have a lot of vespene gas and you feel the need for 5 or so Banelings. Without smart casting you’ll have to manually select 5 of these little dodgy creatures and then morph them, or else you’ll be mutating all of the 20 Zerglings into Banelings (and deplete your vespene reserves in the meanwhile).
With smart casting on the other hand you’ll be able to mutate 5 of them in a matter of seconds without deselecting them, just by pressing the key 5 times in a row.

Obviously this is just an example, but I feel that smart casting has a role to play here.

Will this change to the control mechanism be accepted? Similar changes to StarCraft’s most basic controls have been hotly contested, and this one will likely not go by smoothly as well.

Avarius, the other new blue, has posted some interesting information about how the Protoss’ Immortal comes into play against Zerg. Since the Immortal is most effective against high-damage dealing units, a concern was raised that it might be ineffective against the Zerg’s swarmy nature.

A good amount of zerg units are affected by the immortal’s Hardened Shield. They are particularly effective against roaches, ultralisks, and spine crawlers. Also, Psionic Storm and Nuclear Strike do not appear to be affected by the Hardened Shield as the immortal I just nuked disintegrated gloriously.

The new Blues have been ramping up their activity on the forums lately. Is this a result of the addition of new reps, anxious to contribute their takes on the game? Perhaps Blizzard is trying to restart the hype machine prior to the announcement of the imminent beta?

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This weekend, GameMeca and PlayXP, two Korean gaming websites, have published extensive hands-on impression articles and have released numerous new StarCraft 2 screenshots which were taken during a event in South Korea. Blizzard has also released a new Fansite Q & A session via SCLegacy, spanning 9 questions, though revealing little new information.

South Korean Press Event

GameMeca’s article has been translated by SCLegacy’s editors (download the article in PDF version here). The lengthy article hasn’t revealed any drastic changes in the latest StarCraft 2 build; however, some observations are worth noting.

The amazing truth is that there was no loading time. Like eating rice after putting it in water (a common way for Koreans to cool down rice instantly while not altering the flavor SC:L) the loading time was over almost instantly

It appears that Blizzard’s developers have opted for pre-caching the game’s map data, graphics and engine during the players’ stay in the game waiting room, prior to the actual match. This is a welcome improvement over current models, and it won’t be surprising to see more developers following in Blizzard’s footsteps in newer games.

….the game being host to a fast sense of speed. From the speed of Probes mining minerals to the movement and attack speeds of the Zealots and Zerglings, and also the rate at which units killed and died in the middle of a battle. The speed was approximately 1.5 times faster than the current ‘Star’.

The above statement is in line with Blizzard’s own statements regarding average game length expectations and what’s been observed in the Battle Reports. Games are furiously fast, and army collisions often result in immediate and heavy damages due to the abundance of splash and AoE dishing units and the overall increase in game pace.

The graphics quality probably will not surpass those of the recently released RTS, ‘Warhammer 40K, Dawn of War2’, but its refined, polished look and the light, warm colors give the whole game a graceful, pristine feel

StarCraft 2 is not  graphically inferior to contemporary RTS titles, especially after the recently implemented model and texture upgrades. Having participated in DoW2′s beta, we’ve enjoyed the killing blow animations and explosive effects of Dawn of War 2, but there’s little, if any, need for improvement to StarCraft 2’s graphics.

Protoss and Swarm Clash - StarCraft 2' graphics

…when multiple workers were selected and one mineral was clicked, instead of rushing all to that one mineral they all spread out, going in different directions like the good friends they are.

And so passes the ancient art of first-second worker control.

Next is the ability to hotkey multiple selections and squads. The original selection cap of only 12 multiple selections has increased to 24, and when selecting with hotkeys it was possible to go above the 24 limit. If 25 Zealots were set to hotkey number 1, the space that showed unit details said 24 units were set to hotkey 1 and the leftover one unit was set to hotkey 2.

There is no limit on the number of selected units. However, hot-keyed control groups are limited to 24 units each, with the game automatically assigning the “overflow” units to the next control group number.

… when multiple buildings were selected it was necessary to press the unit production button as many times as the number of buildings.

It was because if you pressed the button once, the first of the selected buildings started producing, and if you pressed another time the second building produced and so on. It was the same for unit upgrades, like in the case of 10 hydras. If all ten were selected, you needed to press the Lurker button 10 times to make all ten into Lurkers.

The above mechanism is an example of the sort of brilliant decisions that make Blizzard games what they are. Players are provided with a comfortable, “automated” way of selecting multiple units and buildings, yet are given full control over the number and types of units produced/upgraded. Pressing one button does not create a horde of identical units, but players are not denied the option of producing from groups of buildings via hotkeys either.

PlayXP has published six super hi-res shots:

Thors and Ultralisk Collide in Epic BattleTerran Air ArmadaRaiders Raid a Zerg Worker LineZerg Going Old School MutalingProtoss Colossi Fight TerransBrood Lords Swarm Terrans

SC:L’s Fansite Q&A clarifies several moot points, mainly on aspects either inherited from StarCraft 1 or left unclear after previously being discussed in a vague manner during StarCraft 2’s development.

1. Are any other units aside from the Dark Templar going to have multiple models (ie. male and female Ghosts)?

Currently, we’re not considering any other units for multiple models.

2. In the original StarCraft and Brood War, Carriers have been very rarely used for competitive matches due to their ineffectiveness in small numbers because of their critical mass effect. Up until now, what changes or ideas have played with to increase their effectiveness in small numbers with or without other ships for support, and what is the current status on the Carrier? Also, what about the Battlecruiser?

In general, it’s still better if you have as many carriers or battlecruisers as possible in the battle. However, small numbers of carriers or battlecruisers will be still very useful for supporting both ground and air units.

3. We were told recently that workers can’t patrol. This makes SCV auto-repair a lot less useful. (In Warcraft III, you could set a worker to patrol, and it would auto-repair any damaged buildings or mechanical units nearby. Great for keeping towers (and bunkers!) alive.)

SCVs can patrol, so if you activate auto-casting of the SCV’s repair ability, that SCV will repair damaged buildings or units it encounters while on patrol. The SCV will repair nearby units and buildings and continue its designated patrol pattern again after the repairs are complete.

Players will be able to assign SCVs to repair duty, leaving another repetitive StarCraft 1 chore behind. This will be a handy tool for frequently raided expansions and stretched. turtled defense lines.

4. What use does the Overlord usually see versus the Nydus Worm? That is, in what capacity is each transport mechanic used?

It all depends on a player’s choice in each case. When you want try out a sneaky and clever attack on the enemy’s base, the nydus worm can be useful in that role as a more tactical and general choice for harassing the enemy’s economy. However, you can also use a mass overlord drop just like the original StarCraft, for an aggressive, all-out attack. However, the overlord drop is riskier, as you’re putting much of your supply and the cargo in jeopardy if you encounter strong anti-air defense.

5. Can Thors or Colossi be transported in any way?

Thors and colossi can be transported by each race’s transportation units: the medivac and the warp prism.

Thors being transported by anything short of a Battlecruiser constitutes a major realism issue. Thors are huge not only visually, but “by design”, so to speak. Two Reavers were never small enough to fit in a shuttle, but a Reaver was never perceived as a multi-cannon front-line behemoth like the Thor is. Carrying a Thor inside the Medivac reverses Blizzard’s long time decision of making the Thor untransportable.

6. How do you use the Thor’s resurrection ability? Does it cost resources to use?

Thor doesn’t have the resurrection ability any more in the current build. While the mechanic was a cool idea on paper, it didn’t end up being especially practical when we tried it in internal playtesting.

7. How has more efficient AI and pathfinding affected the game? Does it make the game easier?

AI in StarCraft II is much more developed from the original StarCraft. For example, the computer is required to scout to find you now in every difficulty mode. In higher difficulty modes, the AI will adapt to what it sees you are building to counter your selected strategy with key units of their own. This means that the computer no longer cheats as far as “knowing” where you are and what you’re doing. It can only react to what it sees when their scouts find your units and bases.

The pathfinding is also much improved in StarCraft II, which will reduce some frustration when directing your units to move long distances around varying terrain. Certain melee units are also smarter about attempting to surround enemies, but we don’t believe this makes the game “easier.” Players who choose to micro their armies will still have an advantage.

8. I would like to know if the MULE can repair air units and lifted-off buildings, and in turn, could we see MULEs being called down in the front lines to repair Battlecruisers and Thors or in the corner of the map to repair a burning Command Center that was lifted off to escape an attack? Also, at what rate does a MULE repair? Faster or slower than an SCV?

The mule is only for gathering minerals or scouting. You cannot repair units or structures with the mule.

9. Regarding the “Discussion with Artosis and Idra” video – does their prediction that Zerg vs. Zerg is degrading into “Roach spam” have any validity? Will ZvZ matchups frequent a more diverse selection of units beyond Zerglings, Roaches, and Mutalisks?

We would like to see as many units as possible being used in the battle, instead of some selected units like zerglings, roaches, and mutalisks. We are still polishing and balancing units including the roach, and hope to see how the players will make various combinations of units during the beta.

Blizzard has made it clear that they’re comitted to preventing all possible match-ups from “deteriorating” into battles involving 2-3 units many times before. Unit spam is a core issue which plagues the majority of existing RTS titles, and solutions require a lot of testing, feedback and balancing – the main goals of the upcoming beta.

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…the future. But not just any arbitrary future. There is an actual date, as well as plans for releasing additional StarCraft 2 Beta Keys to accommodate Blizzard’s hunger for crowdsourced QA.

Stefanie GwinnerFew, if any, had doubts about the upcoming beta, and considering the fact that many of us already got our hands on a StarCraft 2 Beta Key, its eventual arrival  is almost inevitable. However, this is the first time that a reliable source has received a confirmation about an existing timetable directly from Xordiah –  Blizzard’s European RTS Community Manager.

The original source is the massive German 4Players.de website, and the report’s key points were accurately translated by IncGamer’s SCWire.

  • Blizzard has a fixed date for the beta. However, it’s still a secret.
  • The multiplayer part of the game is basically done except for a few details.
  • There will be several more opportunities to participate in the beta to come (including competitions, perhaps a kind of story competition or similar).
  • In the current build (internally at Blizzard), there is a Dark Pylon with a cool ability, which enables Probes to harvest faster within the reach of the Pylon.
  • The Command Center now has a new, cool ability that creates a “bigger” SCV, which is better at harvesting.
  • Supply Depots can be upgraded to give +2 Supply.
  • Xordiah, who is a “Protoss Fetishist”, is very happy.
  • This build’s Immortals are extremely strong.

The above list is full of good news. Blizzard has already handed out thousands of beta keys, and as it seems, will hand out many more via various competitions which will be run on official fansites and on Battle.net. The SC2Blog will likely have a chance to hand out more beta keys via competitions, similar to the one we held in September, which sent 4 of our readers to BlizzCon.

We're gonna need a bigger SCV, sir.

It’s interesting to see that Blizzard’s recent balance tinkering touched upon resource gathering, with both Protoss and Terran receiving perks – the Protoss Dark Pylon and the super-SCV are mentioned strictly as economy buffs. This is clearly an attempt to elaborate the “Macro” portion of the game, which, as many of those who’ve had a chance to play say, is lacking. Blizzard’s previous attempt, involving the new gas mechanics, has accumulated an impressive amount of negative feedback. Will these changes bring about the extra complexity demanded by the StarCraft pros?

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Four months have passed since the last discussion topic, which focused on the Baneling. This month’s topic moves the spotlight from the single unit to a core gameplay mechanic which will affect every aspect of StarCraft 2.

At the Worldwide Invitational in Paris, we had the opportunity to show you a new StarCraft II client. With this client we introduced a new idea on how our Gas Mechanics work. This would give the player more options and more economy choices. In the following days, Dustin Browder went more into detail on how these new mechanics can affect the game-play and we were able to get even more questions answered in the following Batch of the StarCraft II Q&A. Now we would like you to give us your feedback on the way Gas collection works now.

For more information about the new Vespene Gas mechanics, make sure to read our earlier posts on the subject. First, the original post with Dustin Browder’s introduction of the changes, and second, the Chat with Devs part of Q&A 41, which contained a detailed explanation with updated numbers.

To recap (current numbers, subject to balance changes, in parenthesis):

Each resource location now has two Vespene Geysers. These start with a relatively low amount of gas (600), which allow workers to carry a full load in each trip (6). When the geyser is depleted, this number is reduced (2), and the player is offered a choice to replenish the geyser for a mineral cost (100).

The repleneshing process requires the player to select the geyser and hit a button (or shortcut key), which takes the geyser offline for a short period (45 seconds), during which workers can not extract gas at all. This pumps gas back into the geyser (600), allowing workers to resume Vespene Gas extraction at full efficiency.

Vespene Gas Refinery

Our thoughts on this matter remain unchanged from previous discussions:

All these major changes have been implemented to StarCraft 2 for one purpose: complicate the “macro” portion of the game, which has been downsized severely with the introduction of new and improved user interface aspects, and mainly, Multiple Building Selection (MBS).

 

These changes will steal some of the added focus to the micromanagement portion of StarCraft 2, which pro-gamers, who’ve had a chance to play the game extensively, have reported about, and divert it back to base and economy management.

The monthly discussion topic is an excellent opportunity for StarCraft 2’s fans, be they pro gamers or causal RTS players, to voice their opinion about this change to the resource system – a central part of StarCraft 2.

As always, Blizzard has three specific questions they wish to receive answers for:

* What new strategies and choices do you think the player would have and have to make with the new Gas Mechanics?

 

* How do you think this change will effect Zerg, Protoss and Terran?

 
* Do you like or dislike the change? Why?

 

* Additional feedback you might have

Additionally, the SC2 Blog’s questions are:

1) Do you think the need to “babysit” the Vespene Geysers adds to the depth of the game, allowing players to put more thought into the resource management process, or is it going to become a dull, mindless chore?

 

2) Resource collection in StarCraft 1 has always been very straightforward. With the introduction of Yellow Minerals and the complication of the Vespene Gas collection process, this aspect of StarCraft 2 has been expanded. Would you like to see StarCraft 2’s economy simplified, or perhaps complicated further?

 

3) Unlike in StarCraft 1, Workers can now be automatically ordered to start harvesting resources as soon as they are produced, using a rally point, without requiring further action from the player.

Should it be possible for “Replenish Gas” to be set on Auto-Cast, making this process automatic as well?

The new Vespene Gas mechanics are likely to become an important and significant part of every StarCraft 2 game, regardless of race or skill level. Blizzard has proven time and time again that they listen closely to fan feedback – this is your chance to leave your lasting impression on StarCraft 2.

Yellow Minerals(?)

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