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Reports from Leipzig and AMD’S SIGGRAPH Paper

ATI – AMD’s “Advances in Real‐Time Rendering in 3D Graphics and Games Course“, during the highly technical SIGGRAPH 2008 conference, included a whole chapter dedicated solely to the implementation of the shader framework and the rendering techniques used in StarCraft 2.
As the name implies, the paper, which won’t be an easy read even for seasoned programmers, is a part of a course with the following prerequisites:

Prerequisites
This course assumes working knowledge of a modern real‐time graphics API like OpenGL or Direct3D, as well as a solid basis in commonly used graphics algorithms. The participants are also assumed to be familiar with the concepts of programmable shading and shading languages.

Raynor

The StarCraft 2 engine definitely has a split personality, and for a good reason – there is a fully interactive, playable “Story Mode”, which requires a completely different form of real-time rendering. Rendering four high-resolution characters and a detailed static environment is quite unlike rendering two hundred units with hundreds of constantly changing lighting sources, but both of the above scenarios must be supported by the same engine.

Starcraft II is supported by an engine that in many ways has a split personality; during normal game play we typically render scenes from a relatively far away distance, with high batch counts, and a focus on action rather than details. At the same time, we really wanted to push our storytelling forward with Starcraft II, and this is where the game’s
“Story Mode” comes in. In this mode, the player generally sits back to take in the game’s rich story, lore and visuals, interacting with other characters through dialogues and watching actions unfold….


…story mode generally boasts lower batch counts, close‐up shots, and a somewhat more contemplative feel – all things more typical of a first person shooter.

All technical details aside, Chapter 5 includes one over-quoted statement which presumably reveales the GPU system requirements for StarCraft 2.

Yet we also wanted to utilize the full potential of any available hardware to ensure the game’s looks were competitive. This meant supporting a widerange of hardware, from ATI Radeon 9800/NVIDIA GeForce FX’s to the ATI Radeon HD 4800s and NVIDIA GeForce G200s, targeting maximum utilization on each different GPU platform.

The above statement effectively puts the minimum requirement bar at an ATI Radeon 9800 or at Nvidia’s GeForce 5 family – cards which have been introduced more than 5 years ago. Blizzard’s developers are staying loyal to their tradition of aiming for the mainstream and putting an emphasis on gameplay instead of intense system punishment.

StarCraft 2 Single player screen

Reports from the Game Convention in Leipzig are streaming in, but considering that the presented build is actually identical to the World Wide Invitational one, nothing major is expected to be either announced or discovered during the event.
IGN’s brief interview with Frank Pearce, Blizzard’s senior vice president of product development, hasn’t revealed much, but it did confirm that there is no super-secret  StarCraft 2 closed beta testing group, and that the beta is months away at best.

Currently, the testing for StarCraft II doesn’t include that many people. “It’s like a limited internal alpha phase,” says Pearce. “The development team that’s working on it is playing it and we’ve released some alpha builds to some other development teams internally and then the quality assurance department is also playing it.”

We asked when the field of testers might expand to beyond Blizzard’s walls. “That’s months away,” said Pearce. “We still have to expand our internal alpha to include the rest of the organization, iterate on that feedback, and then we have to evaluate what kind of beta we need, whether we need one at all. There’s a pretty high level of certainty that we’re going to need a beta and then we have to decide if we want to do a host beta or a closed beta or both. So, months.”

Another interview was given to VideoGamer, with Frank’s line remaining consistent – things are going well, but the game is far from being being ready to be released.

VideoGamer.com: Which leads me nicely on to the next question which is when will they get the chance to play the game? Do you have even a rough ballpark for when the game’s gong to be released?

FP: Not really. We still have a lot of work to do. Anyone that’s had the opportunity to play it at any of the shows we’ve shown it at might think wow, this feels pretty good, this feels pretty complete, so why don’t they just release it? But we still have a lot of work to do on the Battle.net side and we still have a lot of work to do on the single-player campaign side. And until that stuff is done, the total package isn’t there.

The second part of the interview, however, is interesting, and sheds quite a lot of light on the development and decision making processes inside Blizzard. When the interview touches WoW and the possibility of a StarCraft MMO, Frank puts things in perspective by reminding that World of WarCraft has been in development since 1999, and says that bringing the StarCraft Universe to the same level won’t be easy.

VideoGamer.com You’ve made it difficult for yourself!

FP: Yeah, we’ve made it very difficult for ourselves and it’s an overwhelming thought! I’ve been there at Blizzard since we started on WoW and it’s been a very long and arduous journey. And to think about taking that journey again with the StarCraft franchise is a little scary! It makes an RTS like Starcraft 2 seem very achievable [laughs].

VideoGamer.com: Fans say a StarCraft MMO would be great, but they don’t see your side of things do they?

FP: The World of Warcraft team is 135 people. The StarCraft 2 team is 40 people.

During the interview, Frank also confirms that unlike StarCraft (which was ported to Nintendo 64), StarCraft 2 is not planned to be ported to any sort of console, mainly due to the game’s fast pace.

FP: It’s not something we’re specifically planning for right now. The development team is working on the game and the interface with the PC and the PC interface peripherals in mind.

BC: One barrier to entry there is just the speed of the game. If you look at how the RTS genre has evolved a lot of it has slowed things down, make things a little bit more, not a plodding place, but a little bit more of giving players more of a chance to evaluate. StarCraft is really action packed.

All in all, It looks like once again, StarCraft 2 fans are going to have to wait for BlizzCon for real news and information about the game.

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