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The German GameStar gaming magazine has gotten StarCraft 2’s Lead Designer, Dustin Browder, to sit down and give them a lengthy interview, primarily reiterating the changes StarCraft 2 went through over the course of the last two years and the main goals of the upcoming Beta. Team Liquid was kind enough to post a detailed translation, and you can download the entire 29 question interview here.

Some of Dustin Browder’s answers contain new information and also provide some insight about Blizzard’s plans for the immediate future.

Q: What happens during the beta test?

A: We take a look at which strategies are most popular. By that we realize, which elements work out already. Then we adapt the game into this direction, to make it even more fun. The players’ opinion has always been important to us, Starcraft and Brood War have made fundamental changes during beta and even after release. The final version of Sc2 could be vastly different from what you have played so far.

Blizzard’s utter (and justified) disregard towards official release dates puts a big fat “When It’s Done” stamp on StarCraft 2. The Beta period is unlikely to have a specific time frame, and it’s reassuring to see that the developers are willing to tweak and change the game as much as needed for it to become a masterpiece.

Q: By the way. Why did you change Zerg’s Nydus Channel? When we played the aliens the first time, we have a giant worm dig behind the enemy lines to spew out troops there. Now we can only build a building that look like a worm. The original one was way cooler!

n

A: Right, but it caused technical issues. We had difficulties with its looks and its control. It would have been lots of efforts to get it right. Also, the worm didn’t work out well in terms of balance. Therefore he won’t make it in, at least not into the first episode of Sc II, Wings of Liberty. After that we will consider what we can do with him in future. We still talk alot about him.

The burrowing Nydus Worm was one of the coolest, most ambitious and problematic mechanisms to be introduced into StarCraft 2. Showcased during the initial Zerg Introduction in March 2008, and confirmed to be removed during the BlizzCon event of the same year, the worm has received a lot of attention from both fans and the developers before it stopped being a unit and turned into a structure.

Q: Right, in the first part, you could only cross cliffs with flying units, plateau bases were therefore better protected. Since we just touched this topic: How do units benefit from being placed on high ground?



A: You cannot see them from low ground. At least as long as you do not use spotters, flyers or special talents, like the Terran scan. This can be a huge advantage, especially for Terran with their mighty Siege Tanks: As long as the enemy does not reveal them, they can blow him into pieces without resistance. Zerg profit the least from height advantage, since their ground range units do not fire very far. But with the Overlord and the Overseer they field two very good spotters. Apart from this, height differences have no effect. In SCI, there was a chance that units on the lowground would miss enemies on high ground. We removed this percentage since we do not like chance elements. The players ought to know exactly what advantage they have. And how to counter it.


Q: Apropos huge armies. In comparison to its predecessor, you are allowed to select many more units in Sc2. And that’s great. But still, some game concepts seem antiquated, for example the 3D camera that does not zoom out very far. Or the production queue that can only hold five units. Why did you change unit selection but kept the other elements the same?


A: There is a quite obvious reason for the camera position. I am not a big fan of zooming out very far from battles. In other games, this might work out, but not in Starcraft. There is so much Micro that the battles would look confusing if you could zoom out further. Also the atmosphere would get lost – the units would transform into tiny symbols and you couldn’t recognise anymore, how diligently they are designed. The feeling of fighting for a distinctive faction would get lost – and just in Starcraft, with its three characteristic races! Zoomed out very far, those battles would degenerate to a feud of ants. This might be appropriate for games like Supreme Commander, which are fully geared towards the zoom function, that have huge maps on which the units traverse very long distances. But Starcraft works differently: It happens faster, matches often last only half an hour. A zoom function simply wouldn’t fit in.

Another great call by Blizzard, which, nevertheless, is nothing short of a forced limitation. StarCraft 2, being a live 3D game, has no technical difficulty providing players with a full, zoomed-out view of the battle map – a feat that could come extremely handy if a player wanted to see his production buildings and worker line while skirmishing on the ramp leading to his base.

StarCraft 2 Can't have Simcity View Thingies

But StarCraft is neither Supreme Commander nor SimCity, and a full-map view, despite having obvious uses, would simply ruin the game. However, Blizzard should definitely consider the Zoom-out option of in-game Observers and in the Replay viewer.

Q: Since Blizzcon, you have changed many other things. Aren’t you frustrated about designing new game-content that gets scrapped again after a few months?

n

A: Hell, no! We have been doing this since years! It was always Blizzard’s philosophy to try things. In Sc2 we just started early with announcing units and abilities. Wc3 went through just the same process. Admittedly, maybe it’s a bit more serious with SC2. But that’s how it works: We develop a game, then we change it. And then we change it again. And again. That’s how we give the game the fine tuning. Of course many pieces of content accumulate that we cannot use at the moment, since they work reasonably well, but simply not great. I love that we are this flexible. We owe this to our technicians who have constructed such an outstanding engine. To rework a unit completely takes 2-3 hours at max.

n

Q: In Paris we noticed that the AI opponents play extremely strong at the highest difficulty setting. Are they cheating?

n

A: Yes, on the highest setting “insane”, the AI profits from additional resources. On all other settings, the opponents do not cheat. On the 2nd highest level “hard” they act as smart as on the highest, simply without the added resources. This is a notable improvement compared to the first game. As in many other RTS titles, the AI in SC1 would see the entire map and would know exactly where the player’s units and buildings were. In part 2, this does not hold anymore. The AI opponents have to send out scouts to find the players. Only when they find out, what the opponents are building, they adapt their tactics. If you hide units from the AI – on hills or behind bushes – you gain an advantage.

A fair AI will make StarCraft 2’s single player experience, as well as custom game allies and rivals significantly more valuable and interesting, granting advantage to players willing to “surprise” the enemy with unconventional attacks.

Q: But the day-night cycle and the weather effects wouldn’t have any gameplay effects?

n

A: We talked about it, and even tested it, but the answer’s: No. We do not want maps with differing rules. Just imagine a snowy area in which ground troops move more slowly. That would completely revert the balance. The Zerg would suffer a lot, since they are highly dependant on their speed. Or imagine rainy maps, on which the sight-range of flying units is reduced. The balance would be shaky and we would have to rebalance the races just because of the stupid rain. That might be an interesting idea for the future, but at the moment we don’t want it.

Also of note are several build updates, most notably to the Terran Nighthawk, formerly known as the Vulcan, formerly know as the Nomad, now called The Artist “Raven”. A new ability has been introduced as well:

Defensive Drone: With this drone you are able to intercept enemy projectiles, e.g. rockets of the terran missile turrets. Therefore this special weapon is especially well suited for attacks on bases. Against small bore (like the spines of the Hydralisk), however, it is powerless.

Considering the very specific use implied in the ability’s description, it’s likely adjustments to the Defensive Drone will be made somewhere down the road.

The recently mentioned Brood Lord has been finally revealed, and it is not entirely dissimilar to the Zerg Guardian and Swarm Guardian predecessors in neither look nor purpose.

Brood Lord

Blizzard’s game designers have finally given StarCraft 2’s Protoss a Shield Battery, in the form a High Templar ability – making the Templar Energy- for-Shields quite an intriguing trade-off, considering the high value most Protoss players place on the Templar’s energy reserves. Of course, this will strongly depend on the exact exchange ratio determined by careful balance.

High Templar
*new Ability*
Plasma Surge: This ability is similar to the shield battery in sc1 as it allows the ht to recharge the damaged shields of all friendly protoss units in a selected area

As the game nears its beta, the changes we see become more and more important – they  have a very good chance of sticking until the game’s release. However, Dustin has made abudantly clear that the developers will not shy away from making  signifcant adjustments to StarCraft 2’s units and mechanics based on the feedback gamers will provide over the course of the beta period.

    

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