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Beta season is on the horizon! A total of 38 StarCraft 2 beta keys will be given out by TeamLiquid and SC2Forums, so if you’re capable of making videos, baking cakes or are willing to write an extensive StarCraft guide, now is your time to shine.

StarCraft 2 Beta Key Contest

The video contest, taking place between the 1st and 14th of the June, asks fans to submit StarCraft related videos on the following subjects:

  • Outpost Outtakes:
    Best podcast oriented video. Examples would include (but are not limited to) a webcam show, a creative commentary on a match, or a voice-over of an existing StarCraft cinematic.
  • I’m an “SC”:
    Best fan-made StarCraft 2 commercial.
  • Psi Report:
    Best “coverage” of StarCraft 2’s release. Should be in news broadcast format. Examples would include a reporter covering StarCraft 2’s release or interviewing fans about it.
  • Auir’s Funniest Videos:
    Best general comedy video.
  • Carapace of Creativity:
    Most creative overall video.
  • Mutalisk Muse:
    Best cover of a StarCraft theme or StarCraft music video.

For instance, here’s the first person to camp out for StarCraft 2…

Here’s the quick rules briefing:

  • Minimum 720×480 resolution.
  • Minimum length 1:00, maximum length 3:00 (Not strict).
  • Can be submitted via YouTube, etc. but must be available upon request in avi video format.
  • Must be StarCraft related.
  • Must be PG rated (no excessive violence, profanity, nudity, etc.).
  • No illegal acts may be displayed in the video.
  • Submitted videos must be original content and not include copyrighted material outside of Blizzard Entertainment owned entities (this includes music).
  • All videos must be submitted by June 22nd, 2009.

Check out SC2Forum’s full video contest and signup details and more creative samples on the contest page.

StarCraft 2 Beta Key Banner

Team Liquid’s 20 key giveaway contest is a bit more diverse, allowing players to bake, write or win their way into the coveted beta.

  • Bake a cake (or similar original StarCraft inspired pastry)
  • Write a guide
  • Join a multi-discipline StarCraft tournament series.

Both sites have slightly adjusted their initial contest schedules, have published eligibility rules and participation requirements (for instance, players from China can’t participate in TL’s tournament) – so be sure that you’re in the green before applying.

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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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Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager, has been sprinkling various bits of information about StarCraft 2 on a select few threads on Battle.net. Karune provides his take on several new gameplay mechanics and changes to existing units and reveals some new data on them.

First up, some more information about the new Nydus Worm transportation mechanic, which we have also brought up for discussion.

The worm is no longer underground and moveable. It is a spawned unit that acts as a exit/entrance to the network.

Since the Worm no longer travels to its destination, it can not be intercepted on the way. However, it is not invulnerable – the enemies of the Zerg will still have a chance to kill it before it starts hurling Zerglings at their base.

Yes, you can see and attack the Nydus Worm before it becomes fully built. The visual graphics of this are not totally complete yet.

Next up, Karune talks about two of the Terran’s new units – The Reaper and the Marauder – and their roles on the battlefield.

Reapers are actually one of the best units against any light units in the game. They kill Zerglings, workers, and even Zealots pretty well with a little maneuvering. Their mines also decimate stationary defenses, as well as tech buildings. They are no doubt one of the best raiders in the game right now.

Reapers, which have bonus damage against light-type units, are currently the best economy raiders in the game – being able to jump into the enemy base, dispense with its workers, and plant some explosives for extra measure. Aside from that, they are also quite capable against all other light units, including the basic units for the others races – Zerglings and Zealots. However, they are very lightly armored – meaning that efficient usage might require quite a lot of dancing.

Reapers on their way to another raid

Marauders on the other hand are probably better mixed, unless you are going up against an all armored ground force. Marauders work well against both Protoss and Zerg. Early game, as mentioned above, they are great for slowing Zealots while Marines do the damage. Against Zerg, they are better suited against those pesky armored Roaches with the fast regen.

Marauders are now found in almost every Terran build. The slowing effect of their attack is beneficial when coupled with the ranged Marines against the other two races’ melee units. In the later parts of the game, the Marauders’ bonus attack against armored units keep them viable. They are especially important against the Zerg Roach, which quickly regenerates and shrugs off damage, as they can focus their anti-armor attack and squash it before the Roach has a chance to recover.

Marauders

Karune answers a question about Stargates and the option of upgrading them to Warp Gates, like Gateways.

Only Gateways can be upgraded to Warp Gates. Gosh…warped in Carriers/Void Rays over an enemy base would be OP!

Next, a discussion about abilities which may or may not make it into the game:

The Molecular Disrupter is a new ability we are testing out on the Nullifier, in which the unit fires a psionic projectile which bounces between units of the same type, doing 10 damage with each hit, up to a maximum of 10 bounces. Thus, if you were to use this ability on 2 Marines (with 40 hit points each, not upgraded), both Marines would die easily. If there were 3 Marines, it would kill 1 Marine and leave the last two at 10 hp each. Currently, the ability costs 125 energy.

The Nullifier’s chain-lightning like ability, the Molecular Disruptor, joins his other two abilities – Hallucination and Force Field. This one looks a little out of place for the relatively “peaceful” caster, which has so far only passively affected battle situations with its abilities. The mechanic of only jumping between alike units feels a bit tacked on, not having any real use in any fight.

Nullifier

The Seismic Thumper is no longer in the multiplayer game, but was originally dropped on the battlefield, which slows all units within it’s radius by 50% (including friendlies). The only way to stop it was to destroy the Seismic Thumper itself.

The Seismic Thumper, an ability designed for the Nighthawk, will only appear in the single player portion of the game. An interesting idea for an ability that fits the Nighthawk’s role, it is currently out of the game, replaced by another new ability, Targeting Drone:

The Targeting Drone is similar to the Auto Turret in the fact that it does not have a timed life. It currently costs 50 energy to deploy and has 120 hitpoints (all subject to balance of course). The Targeting Drone can target one unit at a time, and increases the damage that unit takes by 50%. You cannot have two drones targeting the same target. These drones are also flying, stealthed, and immobile. They may excellent perimeter defenses and can be coupled with Auto Turret raids to maximize the damage.

With the addition of this ability, the Nighthawk has truly become the master of defense for the Terran, able to deploy Auto-Turrets, Spider Mines and now Targeting Drones. Coupled with its detection capabilities, this is a unit that will accompany Terran armies into many confrontations, scouting ahead of the main force and preparing preliminary defenses until the heavy gear is deployed.  Aside from that, it will certainly be useful for quickly setting up a defense perimeter around any new expansion. This is a great defensive addition to the Terran, which, in StarCraft 1, had no standalone defensive structure they could rely on for protection against ground forces.

However, since all of the Nighthawk’s deployables are energy based and permanent, a limit will likely be imposed on the number of concurrently deployed abilities to prevent abuse. Perhaps, like the old Protoss Reaver, it will have to pay to manufacture some of them first.

Nighthawk gang

Finally, Karune discusses the Colossus‘ role in detail. The Colossus, which used to be extremely powerful as an individual unit in the previous builds, has been toned down somewhat and now has a more defined place on the battlefield.

In my opinion, the Colossus is the most effective when you have more than one. Three seems to be my optimal number, especially against Terran. Medivacs heal at a very fast rate, but only one target at a time. Against a group of Marines with a Medivac, one single Colossus would do virtually nothing, because the damage would be healed through easily. With three Colossi, the Marines would die in one sweep, negating any healing that could be done. A single Colossus is good at softening targets, but with more rapid healing from Medivacs and new units like Roaches, it may not be enough. At that point, you need enough to kill them in one sweep, and when you do have that, it will do significant damage to any army, especially with the additional range upgrade for the Colossus.

The Colossus has changed from the powerful assault unit it once was into more of an attack support unit. It will function best when it utilizes its extreme range upgrade (9) to target distant enemies from the safety of cliffs, or behind other, cheaper and more expandable units so it can inflict its AoE damage and soften up targets.

Some concerns were raised about the mechanism of the attack, which sweeps across in a line in front of the Colossus. The area of effect is very dependent on the position of the Colossus, and the timing of the animation also raised some questions. Here’s what Karune had to say:

Even though the beam is currently shown visually in various ways, the damage is done to all units in that straight line at the same time instantly. That line will always be based on the position you are attacking from, so in that way there is a lot of control as how to use the Colossus.

THREE Colossi is the only way to roll

Lastly, Karune reveals an interesting piece of information about Blizzard’s plans for competitive play:

The range of the Colossus is what makes it such a great support unit, as well as an awesome raider from cliffs. Additionally, all competitive maps will have cliffs to some degree.

StarCraft 2 has intergrated many mechanics which depend on cliffs and height differences. This is something that differentiates it from StarCraft 1 in a great way and adds more complexity to the game. Aside from units, like the Colossus, which can traverse these heights naturally, the line-of-sight changes add to the importance of utilizing cliffs intelligently. It’s no surprise that Blizzard will want to see these new additions in maps designed for balanced, competitive gameplay.

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More than a year after its introduction, the Mothership persists in posing a challenge for Blizzard’s developers. As Dustin Browder mentioned in a recent interview, the Mothership is still a unit with no distinct role on the battlefield. Neither overpowered nor blatantly weak in its current form, the Motership’s flaws are not that obvious. Unfortunately, Blizzard’s designers simply don’t receive enough feedback from testers to ameliorate them.

… once in a while it happens and then we’ll get some data but it just makes it a lot more complicated.

While the majority of the community isn’t able to provide feedback regarding the current build, additional pointers from StarCraft fans just might save the Motership from ending up as a glorified arbiter. Up until now, gameplay reports by fans haven’t been positive either, and it appears that even a month of discussion wasn’t enough.

Concerning the Mothership, it’s pretty much useless. It comes with all its abilities fully upgraded, but since you build it from the Nexus, you’d have to go all the way across the map to get into your enemy base.

The SC2Blog will be conducting a poll, designed to let the community voice its opinion on what it considers to be the role best suited for a MOTHERSHIP – one that’s positioned at the top of the Protoss tech tree.

Here are the options. Choose wisely.

  1. Straightforward Capital Ship. Massive shields and armor, high-damage output and a few combat abilities. A supreme offensive tool.
  2. Disruption and Damage. An offensive support tool, with significant AoE damage and punishing abilities like the Black Hole and the Planet Cracker.
  3. Mega-Battery. The ultimate mobile support unit, feeding mana and shield energy to the army. Can absorb a lot of damage, regenerates quickly.
  4. Air Domination Station. A flying AA fortress of damage and disruption. Anti-air AoE damage, Force Field and Lockdown type of spells, a disease-like aura that causes AA damage.
  5. Support Fortress. A flying castle with an array of battle control and support spells that can protect/recharge/hide friendly units. Also possesses abilities to disable/slow/lock down enemy units.
  6. Super Troop Carrier. Highly armored and with multiple defensive abilities and teleportation. Able to transport entire fleets and armies across the battlefield.
  7. Flying Factory. The Mothership can build ANY Protoss unit and warp it to the location it’s at. “Production” costs 110%.
  8. Base Breaker. Focused on abilities which cause significant damage to buildings, locking down production, disabling defenses and paving the way for attackers.
  9. Annihilator. The Mothership has a 5 minute “recharge” timer. Acting as a superweapon, the Mothership is equivalent to a Nuke in terms of damage output. Once charged and removed from its dock, the Motership’s “Unleash” ability becomes available.  An “unleashed” Mothership delivers massive damage to air and land units around it for 15 seconds.
  10. Power Plant. The Mothership has a wide radius aura, which: powers buildings, accelerates production by 15%, adds 40 energy points to all shields, doubles regeneration rate, and stops all enemy regeneration and healing abilities.  

Cast your vote in the poll to the right, and leave any additional feedback down in the comments, especially if you voted for the “Other” option.

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