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Dustin Browder, StarCraft 2’s lead game designer, has given an interview to IncGamers’s brand new StarCraftWire.net. He discusses everything from the map editor to super units in length and provides some insight into the gameplay design process.


So when will the Starcraft II editor become available to modders?


I don’t know yet, it’ll certainly be shipped with the game but I don’t know the answer to whether it will be earlier. That would be cool though.

Could the StarCraft 2 map editor be released before the game? Blizzard has not done this before, but some other companies have turned to this move to increase interest in their game before it is released, especially if it has been baking in the development oven for a long while.

Concerning 3D graphics, what’s tools do you need? In StarCraft it was just using paint and opening it and just adding new units. What 3D do you consider for modders? Will you be giving your own editor for the graphics?


I think we may ship the art tools but you still have to have a 3D program, there’s no way around that.


Well, StarCraft seems very… “conservative” would be a good word I suppose. Were there any other concepts that you discussed at the beginning of the development process that you ended up scrapping because you felt; “no, we want it to be like it was”?


Some… By the time I started working on the project three years ago the team really wanted to make a game that was true to the legacy of the original StarCraft. So in terms of “are we being too conservative or not?” We talked about that every day. It was a constant discussion.

It’s obvious that the same debate the fans are always engaged in – is StarCraft 2 enough of a “new game”? – is shared by the developers as well. Currently, it looks like Blizzard has managed to stay true to StarCraft 1 while enhancing it in almost every possible way and while introducing new ideas that further differentiate the races, creating a new experience if not a completely new game.


When asked about the Rock-Paper-Scissor relationship between units, Dustin provides a good explanation for how unit interactions in StarCraft work:

It’s not even just that, of the relationships in StarCraft; lot of them aren’t even Rock Paper Scissors, which is one of the things that makes the game so exciting. One of the standard RTS paradigm is that we use the Rock Paper Scissors but a lot of the relationships, especially in the early tech tree of StarCraft, are positional based. It’s not so much *whether I beat you* its *where do we fight*.


Zerglings will crush Zealots in the open field. They’ll just overrun them completely, and these are both the core units. Whereas the Zealots, at the choke, will just kill hundreds of Zerglings based on the Zerglings getting all trapped up behind. So in addition to where you fight there are also the questions of micro that are really interesting.


What we are really worried about are overlapping roles, it’s a constant struggle for us, but if you go there and play it now you can find a couple:


Player: “What about these guys”
Dustin: “Yes, I know!! They overlap, oh my god”.

Many RTS games completely rely on unit statistics and their predictable interactions to determine the outcome of battle. It is indeed one of StarCraft’s greatest strengths that so many other factors affect the result of an engagement between units, and produces equal match ups between even the lowliest of units and the most powerful ones.

Colossus and friends


Which particular unit has been the most problematic one when working, balance wise, not only for the Zerg but the other races as well?


The Mothership – hands down.


What is the problem with it?


Well, by its size it doesn’t look like a super unit from other RTS games. The problem here with super units is we want every unit to be a decision. There’s no point in shipping a unit if the player says: “I have to build that, it’s powerful, I should always build that. If I get to this tech level, I build it.”


We don’t have that in StarCraft II, the games meatier then that; you have to work for everything. So we don’t like the “super units”… The Mothership visually seems to suggest that, but at the same time we don’t want that to be part of the core gameplay experience so we’re continually balancing the ship, we’re continually looking for a new spell kit for this unit to make sure there are reasons to build it, really solid reasons, and really solid reasons not to build it.


Today the really solid reasons not to build it, and it’s been this way for many months, is the Mothership can’t really, cost for cost, defend itself effectively in the air. This means you can’t have air superiority dumped on the Mothership. If you already have your superiority, go for it, the Mothership is a good addition, but like I say; “it’s been a big pain.” It’s not helpful that it’s located at the end of the tech tree against how fast StarCraft games can be and how brutal it can be. There is a great chance that you can die within the first three or four minutes. So even in our play test process we don’t get to see this unit as often as we like:


Designer: “Did you get to play with the Mothership”
Tester: “Well, no, we didn’t, we topped out at the Immortals and Stalkers/Colossus”
Designer: “Ok ok ok, play again, play real hard”
Designer: “Did you get to play with the Mothership”
Tester: “No, no, we didn’t really get that high in the tech tree”


So once in a while it happens and then we’ll get some data but it just makes it a lot more complicated. We get a lot more data obviously on play testing Stalkers, Zerglings, Marines and all these guys because you see them all the time.

The Mothership is one of the units which has gotten the most attention – both from fans and from the developers – and has changed a lot accordingly. The Monthly Topic initiated for its sake generated a lot of comments and ideas, and Blizzard is still trying to nail down the right formula for making this unit worthy of the StarCraft 2 Protoss.


How did you decide to change the Queen that dramatically? Like, from a flying unit to a ground unit, from a mass unit to one-only unit?


It started conceptionally as kind of a story hit, we felt like the Queen was an opportunity to create a creature that owns the base, that lives inside and that she somehow lays eggs maybe, she’s monstrous and evil – like a Queen that you may see in an ant hive or a film.


We wanted that Queen, because we felt like the old Queen didn’t really hit that vibe. For example; that Queen could be called any other name and you’d be fine with that. It wasn’t a Queen in the classic sense, so that was the core idea.


How could we make this unit into something that feels like the Queen and we tried it a bunch of different ways and for awhile she was laying eggs to create weak organisms, so for example, there’d be different types of Hydralisks running around. That was kind of fun but then it got confusing, like which Hydralisk could attack me in the air, and what do I counter that with, I don’t remember.


So it was kind of a problem, so we’ve sort of settled down on this base defender which seems pretty successful, I don’t know if it’s really good enough for StarCraft II [but] that’s what we’re going to find out. It seems pretty fun.

The Zerg Queen is another unit that has gone through many changes, but this one is more set in its role due to story considerations, unlike the numerous incarnations of the Terran Thor and the Protoss Mothership. While the current “base mother” role is not likely to change, there is still plenty of room for flexibility left in terms of implementation.




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