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Some things are bound to happen. Considering the cataclysmic events that have recently hit the Korean StarCraft scene, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Blizzard has officially decided to cease their negotiations and relations with KeSPA – the Korean eSports Players Association.

Taking things public, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime discussed the issues with Yonhap News during their visit to Blizzard’s HQ, and a kind soul over at the TL forums translated a significant portion of the articles for the community. It all boils down to the following statements – and coming from Blizzard’s #1, it likely means that this is the company’s final stance on the issue.

“We’ve been negotiating with the association about intellectual property rights for the last three years, and we’ve made no progress at all”


“….We’re going to stop negotiating with them and look for a new partner”

“…Blizzard obviously has the IP rights to the Starcraft series, but those rights aren’t being respected, and we can’t keep having these fruitless negotiations with the release of Starcraft II at hand”

Over the course of StarCraft 2’s development, a big portion of which happened in the public eye since its unveiling during the World Wide Invitational in May 2007, Blizzard has made multiple statements about its eSports ambitions. Notice how this time span overlaps exactly with the three-year negotiation period Mike Morhaime mentioned above.

1) In early 2008, Blizzard RTS Community Managers released a Q&A that included an answer specifically stating the sort of role Blizzard’s eSports team is gearing up to play in their upcoming flagship RTS title:

the planning and operation of Blizzard tournaments around the world in places such as Asia, Europe and the United States. They also provide third-party support for the eSports leagues that host both online and live events using Blizzard titles.

Additionally, they help provide balance feedback to our development teams based on interaction with professional gamers and response from the eSports community. They will have an integral role in promoting StarCraft II as an eSports as they have done for the previous Blizzard titles.

To sum it up, Blizzard’s eSport’s team expects to handle the following aspects of competitive StarCraft 2 gaming:

  • The planning and operation of StarCraft 2 tournaments around the globe.
  • Support for league managing – both online and live competitive events.
  • The active promotion of StarCraft 2 as an eSport.

2) While the first statement hadn’t mentioned Korea, during BlizzCon 2008, Blizzard representatives specifically expressed their commitment to the highly-developed Korean StarCraft gaming scene.

We know about the popularity in Korea. Because Koreans love competitive gaming we’re trying to make this an e-Sport game. Just revealing the game in Seoul should tell you how much we love the Korean market.


…the e-Sports department is doing all that they can to create the best multiplayer experience. This can change depending on the players’ opinions, however. On a side note we’re preparing a WC3 tournament and are expecting to host similar leagues for SC2.

A Massive Televised StarCraft Event

3) Early 2009, in Q&A #50, the Chat with the Devs section emphasizes StarCraft 2’s inherent eSports oriented design and replay features:

StarCraft II from its conception has been designed to be an eSport and one of the backbone features to helping players learn more about their own gameplay as well as their opponents is through replays. In our chat with Dustin this week, he highlighted various features that will be available to players while viewing replays. These features are designed both to help players improve in StarCraft II as well as serve as a platform of statistics for eSports commentary.

4) April 2009, Blizzard re-iterates the unchanged goals of the eSports team:

The role of our eSports Team is to operate tournaments and competitive events for Blizzard games.  We will release more information on our plans for StarCraft II tournaments, both official and third-party, as we get closer to the launch of the game.

5) July 2009, Dustin Browder talks about Blizzard’s intentions to push for the mainstream adoption of eSports and their plans to promote public broadcasts – televised StarCraft 2 matches.


6) Towards the end of 2009, the message grows even clearer, as Bob Colayco, Blizzard’s PR Manager for StarCraft 2, provides the following answer during an interview:

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.

By this time, just a few months before the beta, Mr. Colayco is almost certainly aware of the situation with KeSPA, the failing negotiations and the inevitability of the clash that is due to occur when the StarCraft 2 beta goes live and public in Korea.

The aforementioned six public statements are, undoubtedly, just the the tip of the iceberg; a drop in a pool of statements and actions Blizzard took to make sure the message is clear: Blizzard made StarCraft 2. The future of StarCraft 2 belongs to Blizzard.

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BlizzCon, the yearly celebration of all things Blizzard, has come to a close. Unlike last year, in which Blizzard fleshed out many new details about the StarCraft 2 gameplay, in this event, the focus was mainly on the single player portion of the game.

Of course, as with all Blizzard events, the latest StarCraft 2 build was playable in the convention hall, and some changes to the gameplay and unit design have been spotted as well. Check out the last part of the post for the new screenshots.

BlizzCon 2009

The StarCraft 2 single player is going to be a completely different experience from StarCraft 1. As we now know, the three campaigns – Terran, Zerg and Protoss –  will be separated into three packages, and each is expected to offer as much content (if not more) than the entire original game.  The first package to be released will contain the Terran campaign, along with full multiplayer capability, featuring all three races, while the next two will be released as expansions in the future.

This new strategy gives Blizzard the opportunity to accomplish a few things, all quite positive (unless you were really anxious about playing all three campaigns without paying more than 50$ for it!):

  • The game, with full Battle.net 2.0 and multiplayer capability, will be released sooner
  • Blizzard will not attempt to rush the single player campaign to satisfy the anxious players waiting for the game’s multiplayer and esports aspects, having time to perfect it up to Blizzard standards
  • The single player campaign will offer a new, unique experience, instead of being a rehash of the same predictable formula we’ve been playing for more than 10 years
  • As full expansions for StarCraft 2, they will also introduce new units, make balance changes, and improve the StarCraft 2 multiplayer game

While this may be disappointing for players who were eager to get their hands on the Zerg or Protoss campaigns, the vast majority of players will likely be excited to be able to play StarCraft 2 sooner, rather than later, and have an assurance that two more expansions are coming in the not-too-distant future. Moreover, for those single player fans, the campaign should be much more satisfying than if it was released in cut-down form.

Quick poll: Would you want to trade places with that Hydralisk?

With beta keys for StarCraft 2 being handed out to BlizzCon attendees, it is safe to say that the beta is fast approaching. Blizzard have had a long time to develop all three races for multiplayer, and according to Chris Sigaty, lead producer, they are now finishing “Wings of Liberty“, the Terran campaign. Since the other campaigns will be released at a future time, the first package should not be far away itself – there isn’t much left to accomplish before it is released. Chris also puts the ballpark for each new expansion at around a year of development.

Zeratul about to kill someone (why else would he not be cloaked?)

Moving on from the technical details, we also have some fresh tidbits about the game and story:

In each campaign, the player will control a major character and follow it throughout the game. As you might have guessed, these will be Jim Raynor for the Terran, Kerrigan for the Zerg, and Zeratul for the Protoss. Controlling your character means more than just moving a hero around on the battlefield, though – the non-RTS portions of StarCraft will resemble more of an RPG.

SC2 Starmap

The game will also provide the player with choices to make about how to proceed in it and perhaps even pose dilemmas that will affect the course of action and plot, but likely not the final outcome. It will feature many more missions – some optional – and allow interested players to explore the StarCraft universe in greater depth and detail. For the Terran campaign, Blizzard have revealed the Starmap, with which the player will navigate and reach chosen missions.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful that this aspect of the game will reach the magnificence of other similarly themed games, such as the other SC2 – Star Control 2, and will more likely stay at the same level of the Command & Conquer inter mission breaks.

SC2 Starmap (?)

Throughout each campaign’s non-linear ~30 missions, the player will also gather resources, with which he will be able to purchase single player-specific upgrades and technology. Players will have to make smart choices with their upgrade paths and pick the right units and technology to fight their chosen battles with. Missions are promised to be much more diverse, as Blizzard tries to avoid the normal “build up a base and kill everything” dead-end formula.

The expanded campaigns will also include many other interesting characters, some of which we’ve seen before, and quite a few new ones. Some new names that have been mentioned are:

  • Valerian Mengsk, son of Arcturus Mengsk from the original StarCraft
  • Tychus Findlay, who we first met in the original StarCraft II cinematic
  • Rory Swann, a former Kel-Morian worker who lead a unsuccesfull revolt. Saved by Jim Raynor, he now serves on the Hyperion as the main engineer, trying to keep the war-torn battlecruiser in fighting shape
  • Gabriel Tosh, a Ghost with supposed ties to Nova of StarCraft: Ghost fame, provides Raynor with his expertise
  • Dr. Ariel Hanson, a young scientist who is also Raynor’s love interest (until he runs into Kerrigan again, at least)

Raynor and Tychus are all bummed out since their supply of alcohol ran out

Blizzard is trying to create something new and exciting for the single player portion of the game. This type of game development is new to Blizzard as well, and it is not surprising that it is taking a long while for them to meet their high standards. By separating the process and releasing the multiplayer game with only a portion of the single player campaign, they are giving themselves the opportunity to perfect the game without delaying it further. The result should please most fans, and provide everyone with a great gaming experience – or so Blizzard, and everyone else, hope.

Finally, Blizzard have also released a few amazing in-game screenshots, featuring new tilesets and giving us a glimpse at the newest unit redesigns.

Here are some notable excerpts:

* A Thor guarding the entrance to the Terran stronghold, completely surrounded by lava

Chillin\'

* Jackals, now called Hellions, roasting a huge pack of Zerglings to a crisp with a few fell swoops

Hellion barbque

* The Battlecruiser unleashes its new Missile Barrage on a few poor Zerg fliers

Missile Barrage

* The Medivac Dropship in action, healing Marauders, who come under attack by Roaches

Roach Attack

Wish I had one of these healing rays at home

* A group of Nighthawks, the new design for the old Nomad, come under attach by Archons, who have also received a small facelift

Nighthawks

* A few more shots of the new Nighthawks, which seem to have borrowed their design from the more sleek and less square and bulky Protoss, alongside their deployed Auto-Turrets

Nighthawks

Nighthawks laying Auto-Turrets

That’s all for now. When the dust settles and all reports from our operatives are handed in, a complete gameplay follow-up piece will be published.

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A new feature has been launched on the official StarCraft 2 site, and today’s update is the first of its type. The Planetary Update gives us the background story of Char, one of the main points of contention in the StarCraft universe. Along with the history of the place, the page also contains two new concept art pictures and a new amazing screenshot of a battle taking place on the planet’s surface between Zerg and Terran forces.

Char currently serves as the primary hive planet of the Zerg. It’s a volcanic hell, with temperatures that shoot right up to 800c when its orbit brings it close to the sun. It also has a Terran-constructed space platform, termed “Char Aleph”, which now serves as an orbital nesting site and hatchery.

Char

There has been a great deal of speculation over the zerg choice to occupy Char, given its harsh environment and total lack of any organic life forms to exploit. Theorists are evenly split among the ideas that Char forms a useful jump-off point to the core worlds of terran and protoss space, that its inhospitable nature makes it easier for the zerg to defend it, or that Char’s high radiation levels promote an increased rate of mutation in zerg organisms to enable forced evolution of specialist strains.

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Regardless of the reasoning, the zerg presence on Char has ensured that the planet has remained a cauldron of battle. Protoss and terran forces have attempted infiltration missions on the planet with varying degrees of success. Huge and bloody battles were fought there amongst the zerg themselves as the Queen of Blades overthrew the cerebrates controlling the Swarm. Four years ago three entire fleets met their demise when they confronted the Queen of Blades on Char. The Queen of Blades emerged as the dominant power in the sector after an apocalyptic battle that destroyed a Terran Dominion fleet, a protoss armada, and finally the UED expeditionary force. Since then the zerg have remained curiously quiescent, apparently content to remain on the worlds they infested so rapidly during the initial invasion.

The screenshot that was coupled to the update reveals a few new Zerg structures and a new design for the Terran Jackal.

TvZ

* Click for Big

screenshot highlights

  • The new Baneling Nest, the prerequisite building for morphing Zerglings into Banelings.
  • The new Jackals have 2 front wheels, providing them with a buggy look, distancing them from the old Vulture design.
  • The Infestor Pit is the prerequisite building for Infestors, and also serves as the place for Infestor upgrades.

That’s it for this planetary update.


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Zerg Rumors

Is the Zerg race going to be announced a week from today? A Team liquid forum post brings to our attention the fact that on March 10, in an official Blizzard event in South Korea, the Zerg race will be showcased to the world for the first time. Demo stations will be set up, allowing visitors to play StarCraft 2 with all three races. Frank Pearce, vice-president of Blizzard Entertainment, will also be attending the event.

It’s important to note that the source of this information are Korean gaming sites, and that Blizzard has not officially confirmed this yet.

Ultralisk

 

STARCRAFT: I, MENGSK

A new book has been announced for the StarCraft universe: I, Mengsk. Written by Graham McNeill, who is also known for writing Warhammer books and codexes.

I, Mengsk is a look at three generations of the Mengsk family from the inside out…what shaped Arcturus and the years of his life we haven’t seen yet: the relationship between his father and his son. It’s a novel about what it means to be a Mengsk, a story of fathers and sons, and looks at whether a man’s destiny is his own and how it is shaped by the generation before it.”

 

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here, with the Starcraft novel entering the final straits. I’ve begun the final third of the book and so far it’s going well, the pace is good, the vibe I’m getting from the characters is good, the plot’s moving forward at the right pace and, best of all, Blizzard seem to be liking it so far.

The book will join Christy Golden’s StarCraft 2 novels in stores on December 28, 2008.

 

Arcturus Mengsk

 

Karunology

Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, has answered a few gameplay related questions that were posted on Battle.net.

In response to a question about whether or not units are able to use abilities inside a Bunker that’s being salvaged, Karune says:

In the current build, when you initiate Salvage on a Terran Bunker, units inside the Bunker will no longer be able to use their abilities.

Much of the mechanics around Salvage are still to be balanced, though I don’t think it would be terribly hard, especially since the duration it takes to Salvage a building can be changed easily.

Karune also addresses a few questions about the recently announced Protoss Nullifier:

The Nullifier will be a mechanical unit and there has yet to be a screenshot. Hopefully, we will get one out to everyone shortly, with the new changes to the overall colors of StarCraft II as well.

 

One key thing to note about Nullifiers being ‘Mechanical’ is that it will not be affected by certain abilities, such as the Snipe ability from a Ghost. Certain casters will be more vulnerable to those biological focused abilities such as the High Templar.

Nullifiers are shaping up to becoming very powerful units that will be effective throughout any StarCraft 2 match. We will not be surprised to see them moved higher up in the tech tree – perhaps to the Robotics Facility, where Protoss mechanical units normally reside.

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