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It’s been a busy day for the good people at Blizzard Entertainment. The BlizzCon ticket sale schedule has been announced, an official StarCraft 2 Beta FAQ has been posted to StarCraft2.com, and a comprehensive Q&A interview with Chris Sigaty, Lead Producer of StarCraft 2, has been disseminated to fansites – including our own.

BlizzCon  2009 is Coming

The first batch of tickets to the “‘Celebration of All Things Blizzard” convention, BlizzCon 2009, will become available on May 16 – nine days from today, with the second batch of BlizzCon tickets becoming available on 30th of May.

Due to BlizzCon’s popularity and the small window of time of ticket availability, Blizzard has struggled with site load and purchase volume issues in recent years. This year, a brand new Queuing system has been introduced, taking advantage of the recently implemented Battle.net account system in order to make sure fans won’t run into problems purchasing the $125 BlizzCon 2009 tickets.

Here are a few important Q&As from the Queue FAQ:

Why did you introduce this queue system?


The queue allows controlled groups of Blizzard Store visitors to finalize their purchases, helping ensure that the purchasing experience for everyone goes smoothly when high-demand items go on sale in the Blizzard Store.


If I am in the queue, am I guaranteed to be able to purchase all of the items in my cart?


No. Being in the queue does not guarantee you will have an opportunity to purchase an item, as it’s possible that the remaining stock will run out before you reach the front of the queue. While in the queue, you will receive regular updates about the remaining stock of items you wish to purchase, along with an estimate of the time remaining before you reach the front of the queue.

And most importantly, what happens when you get to the front of the queue:

What happens when I reach the front of the queue?



When you have reached the front of the queue, a message will be displayed prominently to alert you, along with a link to proceed to checkout and finalize your purchase. If you do not click the link immediately, you will be taken to checkout automatically after a few moments.



How long do I have to finalize my purchase?


Once you reach the front of the queue, you will have 15 minutes to finalize your purchase. To help speed up the process, we recommend you have a valid Battle.net account (create one now!) with up-to-date payment information ready to go, as this will be required to make a purchase from the Blizzard Store.

So be sure to have your Battle.net account set up correctly and verify that it contains up-to-date payment information so you won’t run into trouble once you’ve reached the front of the queue.

In Soviet Russia, ...

StarCraft2.com has been updated with a highly detailed FAQ covering the different aspects of participation eligibility and clarifications concerning beta requirements, availability and sign-up instructions. The FAQ is available here, and you can download the FAQ in PDF format here. The most important new item on that list is the system profiling application, that scans your PC‘s specification and reports it to Blizzard.

What is a beta profile?


A beta profile is a snapshot of your current system specifications. It includes such information as how much RAM you have, available hard drive space, your graphics card and driver, and other information about your system. We gather this information to ensure that we are able to test our games on a wide range and distribution of systems.


Why do I have to download an application to create a beta profile?


Our beta opt-in application allows us to gather information about potential beta testers’ systems quickly and accurately, helping us ensure that the resulting pool of beta testers we select most closely represents the range and distribution of systems we wish to test.


How does the beta opt-in application work?


Running the beta opt-in application quickly and automatically generates a profile based on your system specifications. It then displays this information and asks if you wish to submit the specifications to create a beta profile for the Battle.net account you used to download the application.


Does the application also profile the software I have installed on my system?


No, the opt-in application simply scans the major hardware components of your system, along with your graphics card driver. Other system information, such as the contents of your hard drive, is not scanned.

Considering the fact that StarCraft is 11 years old and WarCraft 3 was released 7 years ago, Blizzard’s RTS fans may still be using 10 year old systems which have no chance of running even StarCraft 2’s single player campaign – precluding some of them from being able to test StarCraft 2 at all.

Lastly, we’ve received a Q&A Interview by Chris Sigaty, focusing exclusively on the StarCraft 2 Beta. The interview clarifies several key issues which have been mentioned in the official Beta FAQ, and explains the regional release plan.

Questions answered by Chris Sigaty, StarCraft II lead producer

Q. StarCraft II opt-ins are now available through Battle.net. Does the opt-in process mean that the start of the StarCraft II beta is imminent?


A. We’re getting closer and closer to the start of our closed beta with each week that passes. Several months ago, we expanded our internal testing of the game to the entire company, and we’ve made significant progress since then. We’re looking forward to inviting external testers into the process soon, which is why we’re starting sign-ups now.

Q. What aspects of the game will be available for testing in this beta?


A. As with previous betas for our real-time strategy games, the StarCraft II beta test will be multiplayer only, and players will have access to all three races — terrans, protoss, and zerg — and all of their units. We’ll include a selection of multiplayer maps, but they won’t necessarily include all of the maps that will be in the final version of the game. We’re making some great progress on the single-player campaign, but we don’t plan to do a public beta since we want to keep the story under wraps until the game’s out.

Q. Will we be able to try the new Battle.net during this beta?

A. You’ll be connecting to and playing on the new Battle.net in the StarCraft II beta, and you’ll definitely have a chance to play around with a few of the new features — but what you’ll see in the beta is really only a taste of what’s to come.



There is no mention of two important components of StarCraft 2:

  • SCumEdit, the much anticipated and powerful map editor
  • The enhanced replay viewer

StarCraft 2 Replay Viewer Includes Detailed Ingame Data

Both these features are of key importance to the community. Replays and custom maps are the fans’ bread and butter, and their absence is bound to disappoint many should Blizzard decide not to make them available during the beta.

Q. What updates and changes have you made to the game recently?

A. We’re constantly tweaking the gameplay and balance, and we will be all throughout the beta process, but perhaps the most visible changes have been made to the zerg. Our art team has done a polishing and iteration pass on many of the zerg unit models and structures, so players can look forward to seeing a lot more detail there. Compared to the versions you’ve seen before, the zerg units and bases now look a lot slimier and more sinister.
We’re also really looking forward to seeing testers try out the new gameplay mechanics we’ve introduced to each race, like the proton charge for the protoss and the MULE for the terrans that allow them to harvest minerals faster. The zerg also have a spawn larvae ability that gives them a new way to expand their production. We’re hoping these abilities increase the strategic tension for players and force some tough tactical decisions when managing economies and micromanaging battles.

Updated Spawning PoolUpdated Queen

Q. Which regions can join the StarCraft II beta test?

A. Our plan is to include multiple regions and countries in the StarCraft II beta-testing process. We’ll be starting with a North American beta, where testers from the United States and Canada, as well as Australia and New Zealand will be able to join. We’ll then phase in testers in other regions such as Korea, Taiwan, and Europe as soon as we’re able to set up in those areas.

It is not entirely clear whether BlizzCon 2008 attendees that have acquired a StarCraft 2 Beta key but are not living in the aforementioned regions will have access to the beta.

Q. Why aren’t you running StarCraft II beta simultaneously in all regions?

A. It’s more efficient from a development standpoint to phase in each region one at a time. A big part of the beta test involves setting up new hardware and networking infrastructure, which is not a trivial process. If we set up one region at a time, we can more quickly address any issues we run into at the start, and take the lessons we learn from that experience to establish a smoother setup experience for the next region.
We can also implement all sorts of gameplay and balance changes, view the results, and react to what we’ve observed much more quickly in a single test environment, as opposed to getting bogged down trying to push those changes out across several test environments. Once the major issues are ironed out, we can expand the testing to additional regions. Going region by region will also put us in a better position to test localized versions of the beta.

Q. Will testers be allowed to write about the beta? Take screenshots and videos?


A. Yes! Beta testers will be free to write about their experiences playing the beta as well as take screenshots or videos. We’re really looking forward to getting the game into players’ hands so we can hear their feedback, since that will help propel us into the final stages of development and balancing. We’ve been working hard on StarCraft II, and we can’t wait to finally be able to hear what everyone has to say about it.

This is an important aspect of the beta, as it allows fans who won’t get to participate in it a chance to enjoy the beta process, during which the game will be explored intensively and changes will constantly be made.

The third Fansite Q&A session has been released, with Dustin Browder, Blizzard’s Lead Designer, answering 11 questions for SC2Pod. Dustin took the time to clarify multiple game design and visual aspect issues, and also stated openly that Blizzard is looking forward to the beta crowd to take the new game mechanics for a ride.

1. How will StarCraft II handle widescreen monitors? If the screen isn’t going to be stretched, either widescreen or traditional format will have the advantage of seeing more of the battlefield, have you decided which one?


[Dustin Browder] Widescreen monitors will be able to see slightly more of the battlefield, but the extra visual real estate players will be getting will be quite small. Nonetheless, for competitive gaming, there will be a small visual advantage to having a widescreen.


2. When cloaked units move you see a graphics effect hinting their presence. Can you see some trace of the Infestor when it is moving underground?


[Dustin Browder] The Infestor while burrowed will be like any other burrowed unit, and will not be seen unless there is a detector nearby. On the other hand when the Infestor moves above ground, there is a (visual) slime trail the unit leaves in its wake, which disappears over time. We are also discussing the possibility of having some type of visual that may imply an Infestor is moving while burrowed nearby, similar to how cloaked/stealth units currently move above ground.

StarCraft 1, as well as some other RTS games, provides players with hints of cloaked/burrowed unit presence. Exposing the hidden unit’s position gives observative players a chance to adjust their positions or even use AoE attacks to hit the unit – all that without negating the unit’s tactical advantage. Could a burrowing Infestor leave a blurry sand trail similar to the Dune 2′s Sandworm trail?

Dune 2 Sandworm

3. The Colossus’ attack mechanic has changed a number of times, how does it currently work?


[Dustin Browder] While this is still going through balance, the Colossus currently does 23 damage but attacks twice and has 6 range, which players have the option to upgrade later to 9. When the Colossus attacks a target, it does a horizontal spread of damage in relation to where the Colossus is facing. This type of area of effect attack is extremely effective at eliminating massed lower hit point units.


4. How are the new macro mechanics (Mule, Spawn Larva, and Dark Pylon) working out so far? Are they often used during gameplay testing? How much more per trip than an SCV does a Mule mine? And is it Mule, MULE or MUL-E?


[Dustin Browder] The new macro mechanics works great in the internal testing but we are really looking forward to how players will use it in the beta. Currently the MULE mines three times the minerals of a normal SCV per round.

Dustin Browder is probably correct in his expectation that the community will abuse the newly introduced macro mechanics in ways internal testing can’t even begin to predict. During the early days of StarCraft 1, it took the Reaver Drop more than 3 months to be discovered – and that’s just putting two units together.

Nobody can anticipate the unit combinations and original strategies that will arise within hours of public beta play, and it’s safe to assume that people will find quite a few original ways to abuse the MULE.

5. What is the status of the Radar Tower? It overlaps heavily with the Missile Turret in terms of function. Does the “view” into the fog warrant the creation of a new building with an additional cost of 25/100, the additional health notwithstanding?


[Dustin Browder] The Sensor Tower is no longer a detector since the Missile Turret already serves that purpose. However, with the Sensor Tower you can see enemy units in the fog of war and you can ‘salvage’ your Sensor Tower when it is no longer needed anymore.


6. You recently updated the 3D models for a couple of units (Baneling, Drone, Hydralisk etc), making them much more detailed. Which other units can expect to receive similar updates?


[Dustin Browder] All of the Zerg units and buildings are being updated in the same fashion. There have already been several updates, though we are currently polishing up the Infestor, Roach, and Corruptor. As needed, new models may also be created during this period. The Infestor, Brood Lord, and Spawning Pool, and Ultralisk Cavern have new models from which the community has previously seen.

As revealed during the massive Q&A 49 Batch (almost three months ago),  Zerg art is getting a major and much welcome overhaul, with highly detailed 3D models and better textures.

7. How is the soundtrack coming along? Will any of the music themes from SC:BW make a reappearance in StarCraft 2 or is everything new?


[Dustin Browder] There will be some edited versions of soundtracks based on the original StarCraft music in addition to many new tracks lead by the original composer of StarCraft, Glenn Stafford.


8. Do air transporters (like Medivac Dropship and Overlord) have to land or do some sort of special animation before dropping loaded units?


[Dustin Browder] Currently only the Medivac has an animation while it unloads units. All transporters like including the Medivac, Warp Prism and Overlord unload units one at a time with a slight delay between each unit, which is subject to balance.


9. How much damage does the Void Ray deal? What are the time intervals and how much does the damage go up?


[Dustin Browder] The Void Ray does 6 damage in the first stage, 12 damage in the second stage, and 24 damage in the third stage. Each attack stage ramps up every 3 seconds.

The Void Ray has amazing offensive potential, especially against buildings and large, slow targets; an unchecked Void Ray unit deals quadruple damage. This unit has great “base cleanup” capabilities, and is likely to be a high-priority target in any battle due to its damage-dealing mechanism.

Void Rays attack Buildings on a Busy Day

10. What is the current status of the Corruptor? Does it still have its turret mechanic? If so, how does it currently work?


[Dustin Browder] When the Corruptor kills an enemy air unit, that unit will be turned into a stationary ‘turret’ upon death. That turret currently does 7 damage, has 6 range, and can target air as well as ground units and buildings. The turret will also be player controlled so you can force fire with them as well.


11. What have been some of the hardest choices you have had to make during the development of StarCraft II?


[Dustin Browder] There have been many tough choices in designing StarCraft II – Amongst the most difficult would be what parts of the original StarCraft should be in StarCraft II. Next would be what new mechanics are worthy of introduction to the StarCraft universe. Balancing visual appeal with the serious game play that StarCraft has always offered has always been challenging as well. Overall, we hope that the choices we have made will give our players the best possible StarCraft II experience.

The StarCraft 2 developer team’s greatest concern and challenge remained the same throughout the entire time passed since StarCraft 2’s announcement – making it worthy of its heritage.

StarCraft 1 is a masterpiece, and the introduction of stronger PCs, better graphics standards, broadband communications, and even other modern and well polished RTS titles by competitors (and Blizzard itself!) did not make StarCraft obsolete. Neither will StarCraft 2, probably – while it has a good chance of capturing a strong professional following, it still has the 11 year old masterpiece predecessor to compete with.

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