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Yes, it’s real this time. The rumor frenzy was justified. Predictions proved to be correct. This is not a drill! The StarCraft 2 beta will launch this month, and it’s as official as can be.

During the much-anticipated conference call, broadcast live to the public, the following slide went up as Mike Morhaime, Blizzard’s president, was talking:

BETA!

Mike also mentioned a mid-2010 release date for StarCraft 2, in line with previous Blizzard representatives’ estimations of 4-6 months of beta testing.

Indeed, there is no doubt about it. Battle.net 2.0 was likely the reason for the previous delay of the beta, which was promised to begin last year. With the new Battle.net preview page going live yesterday, Blizzard has made it clear that most preparations are complete and that the time for the beta has come.

Battle.net is about to undergo the greatest update in its long and storied history as one of the world’s most successful online gaming services.

Welcome to the SC2 Beta!

These are the opening words on the new Battle.net preview page, launched just a couple of hours ago. The preview site has all the information about the new Battle.net features, screenshots of the service, and a short video interview with Greg Canessa, project director for Battle.net.

Since information about the new Battle.net hasn’t been scarce, the page itself doesn’t reveal much that isn’t already known. It serves as an aggregate of information about the service, officially showcasing it to the world. Indeed, the gaming industry should take note of this new service, as it is sure to capture the attention of many gamers who will become more loyal to Blizzard and their games than ever before.

Login screen

Here’s a rundown of the information presented on the page and in the interview:

The new Battle.net will be completely integrated into the game.

  • Saved games will be associated with the player’s Battle.net account and will be stored online.
  • Each player will create a StarCraft 2 Battle.net character, which will serve as his persistent identity, keeping records, achievements, unlockable rewards, friends lists, and so on.
  • Each player can select his own avatar and customize it to some degree; some of the avatars available and the customizations will only be available after being unlocked.

Player screen

As mentioned before, the new Battle.net is not just about the games anymore – it provides a fully-featured social experience that stretches beyond the battlefield. Seamlessly integrated friends lists, status updates, messaging options and other social networking features abound. All of Blizzard’s online games will be represented, each with their own characteristic style. As well, a new “Real ID” feature will be implemented, allowing players to form friendships that transcend characters and come into the real world, creating a bond that will follow them through any Blizzard game or player avatar. Real ID will place the emphasis on real names and identities and provide a richer social infrastructure.

At this point, Real ID is strictly optional, and players will be able to rely completely on their anonymous avatars.

Social networking

The information about Battle.net’s marketplace and matchmaking services have already been fleshed out before.

Another interesting change further complicates the ladder process by dividing it into separate leagues and divisions.
Seven Leagues will be created:

  • Pro
  • Platinum
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Bronze
  • Copper
  • Practice

In short, matchmaking will be more friendly to newcomers and pro-gamers alike, featuring leagues that players will automatically be assigned to after playing a few games. Blizzard wants to encourage “local competition” by putting you in your “skill neighborhood” in order to facilitate fun and competitive games. As well, the fan-favorite and often neglected (in other RTS games) arranged-team feature will be available, allowing friends to team up and find a match together in the same team.

Boxer on the Platinum league

The new custom game service will include a feature called Map Publishing that will let map designers publish their maps online, distributing their creations immediately. Likewise, players will be able to browse the service and look for specific map and game types. Later, Blizzard will introduce a more advanced version of this service – the StarCraft 2 Marketplace – allowing players to rate, comment on, and even buy mods if their creators choose to put a price tag on them. Blizzard has previously assured us that only mods that they approve and that they deem worthy will be allowed this privilege.

Custom games listed by popularity. No Big Game Hunters?

Lastly, check out this picture of the game launch screen, featuring a new 4v4 map – Extinction!

Extinction

The month of February began with a reinvigorated, hopeful, and well justified beta rumor frenzy. Blizzard has been contacting gamers, websites and certain individuals about their StarCraft 2 beta access, and all eyes will be focused on Blizzavision’s public conference call, only 3 days away. Blizzard is setting up the pieces for the most massive RTS game beta test in history – a beta that will test not only StarCraft 2’s mechanics and balance, but also the revolutionary gaming platform Blizzard has been working on for a long while.

Blizzard’s Korean community representative commented on the topic and summarized Blizzard’s intentions in the following response:

(Credit for translation goes to our friends at IncGamers)

We know that all of you are very curious about the development of the Beta with the release of many Starcraft 2 Beta Testing related news across various news portals.

Unfortunately, the specifics of beta testing have not been finalized yet and I cannot give you a definite answer through this thread.

But we are trying our best to make the necessary preparations ready and introduce Starcraft 2 as fast as we can. I can definitely say that the Beta test will not just involve industry experts and other VIPs but rather will involve all fans of the franchise.

We understand how long and excruciating the wait was, and we also understand what you want the most right now as well.

We will tell you about any specifics that become finalized as soon as we can.

In the meantime, Blizzard has made some standard updates in the form of new features on the official site and new bits of information from the blues, Blizzard’s official RTS community managers.

The StarCraft 2 website has been updated with new fan art, all very inspiring StarCraft works.

Zhydaris took the time to post about the updated Zerg Baneling mechanics on the Battle.net forums in response to a 5-question inquiry by a fan.

Baneling Art from 2005

1 – The Banelings cannot detonate while burrowed, they have to unburrow first and then explode. I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, probably exploding while burrowed would be a better warfare tactic”. You must understand that exploding in the name of the Zerg is indeed a great satisfaction for a Baneling, thus they prefer to unburrow in order to showcase their enthusiasm for their role by exploding with a smirk on their face. If you zoom close enough you will see a little smile on their little glowing face of theirs. Ah, gotta love the Banelings.


2 – They’ll wait for your command. If you don’t tell them to explode, they’ll just wait while staying burrowed. That’s nice for setting up ambushes.


3 – They always wait for your command.


4 – They’ll not behave like Infested Terrans. The attack-move command is not going to be interpreted as “Go and explode at this location”, but rather as “Move to this location and attack any enemy unit. If you can’t spot an enemy unit, just sit there”.


5 – It’s comparable to a D8 Charge, yes, the explosion covers pretty much the same area.

The above answers clear the air (if not to most Zerg players’ satisfaction) about the Baneling’s most dangerous, coolest and problematic property – the ability to act as a powerful underground mine. Some players will undoubtedly be disappointed that Blizzard took the safer (balance-wise) path of forcing the suicidal Zerg unit to unborrow prior to exploding. Of course, this won’t prevent them from still being very dangerous in this role.

Zerg units were not alone in getting blue attention, as both Terran Reapers and Protoss Nullifiers were mentioned by Blizzard’s community teams. Most importantly, the Nullifier, the superstar of the freakishly awesome 3rd battle report, has been renamed to Sentry and has received an updated unit model.

StarCraft 2 Sentry

Kapeselus took the time to clarify how the Reapers’ D-8 charges act once deployed. The D8s have a 2 second delay before exploding, providing some panic dodging time, and are indestructible, at least in the current build.

In the current build you cannot destroy D-8 Charges. By that I mean that you can select them, but they are indestructible (they don’t have HP like other units do, just like units caught by Arbiter’s Stasis Field in SC:BW for example). If you are playing against Reapers though, you can still dodge the charges, as it takes them around 2 seconds to blow up.

He also answers some follow-up questions about the dangerous use of the charges against buildings:

D-8 charges don’t stick to buildings. You can only throw them directly to the ground and if you target a building they will just appear next to it. They also only damage ground units, so they won’t do any damage to your buildings if you manage to lift them off before the charges blow up.
You cannot damage burrowed zerg units if they are not affected by any means of detection. For example if you raid your opponent’s mineral line and he burrows his drones you won’t be able to damage them without a detector, like for example a Scanner Sweep.

D-8 Reaper raids are going to be a major issue for enemies of the Terran to take into account when constructing their bases. Clumped up Supply Depot farms, undefended worker lines, or expensive, high-tier buildings – all will be easy pickings for quick and painful Reaper raids.

Last but not least, Matt Horner – one of StarCraft 2’s key Terran characters – has been awarded with his very own lore page on the official StarCraft 2 website, being added to the respectable list of heroes: Jim Raynor, Zeratul and Tychus Findlay. Read it here.

“…he was young, smart, idealistic, and bored.

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