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Developer Chat #2: Dissecting a 41 Long Q&A Session

Recently, Blizzard’s top StarCraft 2 personnel – Chris Sigaty, Dustin Browder and Samwise Didier (Lead producer, Lead Designer and Art Director, respectively) have taken the time to provide extensive answers to 41 questions submitted online, through Twitter, by the community. The result is a lot of interesting and up-to-date information on the current state of the beta, future plans for the game, and some balance talk. We bring it to you in full here:

Q: There has been talks about possibly changing the queen a bit, can you elaborate if that is indeed true?
A: We have no current plans to change the queen, bearing possible balance changes.

Q: Are there plans to release a chat utility to be used outside of game, similar to say how steam/xfire currently works?
A: Eventually we would like an external client for chat and other Battle.net related features, but we don’t have anything firmly planned at this point.

Q: What unit do you feel is completely different from when it was first designed [in both art and gameplay] within SC2?
A: The Corruptor has changed many times in his life cycle, though he was always designed as an anti-air unit. The Mothership has had a long list of different abilities that have changed substantially over the years.

The Mothership is indeed one of the units that the developers have played around with the most. Many different abilities and attributes had been given to and lifted from it before it attained its current form – some just recently, in the first two patches of the beta.

Q. Currently, FPS UMS maps are viable but prevented by lag. Are there any plans to reduce Battle.net 2.0’s minimum latency from 250ms?
A. In the newest patch latency network turns have been reduced to 125ms latency. We’d love to see an FPS-like custom map in the beta as soon as publishing is available!

The latency discussed here is the time between each game-state update over the network, translated to the delay between issuing an order and the game acknowledging it. Previously, at 250ms, this value was relatively high (although still lower than that of StarCraft 1) for modern games, and many have questioned Blizzard’s decision about it. Blizzard has previously discussed this issue and promised to review it over the beta, the result showing here.

However, 125ms of latency is still quite high for first person shooters (FPS) that rely on split-second decisions and super-tuned reflexes. These sort of games require a sub-50ms latency to really be played smoothly, and so the reduction is still unsatisfactory when it comes to this genre. Surely, not all FPS games are of the Quake and Counter-Strike variety, and there’s plenty of room for less twitchy first person experiences with the StarCraft 2 engine.

Of course, all of this is purely theoretical for someone whose connection’s latency isn’t equal to, or lower than, 125ms to begin with. Since many players will indeed not reach these relatively low latency values, Blizzard had originally opted to even the playground by setting a higher hard cap.

Q. Any plans to allow allies to see one another’s resource and supply totals as was possible in past Blizzard RTS games? If not, why?
A. We had talked about this and felt that the additional complexity was not worth it in our current UI. It was also a tool that was largely used by players in random games to give grief to their less-skilled allies. But we don’t hate the feature and could get enthusiastic about if we saw a need while playing.

Another reason to implement this feature is neglected here: as many 2v2 players – both in arranged teams and random team ups – can testify, losing an ally to a disconnection or a ragequit is not an uncommon occurrence. This is when players can often push the pedal to the metal and leverage their ability to control two armies synchronously into an advantage and win what would otherwise be a doomed fight. Of course, without this crucial economy knowledge, the task becomes that much more difficult.

Since Blizzard is concerned with player interactions and griefing, this could be painlessly implemented to work only when one’s ally is down or as a toggle similar to the one allowing shared unit control.

Q. Any UI improvements in the works for commentators, such as the ability to hide the replay bar?
A. Yes, we’re currently looking at this and will likely have some additional features when the game launches for hiding some of the interface.

Q: Which unit was the hardest/most time consuming to work on aesthetically? Are you proud of certain unit? Does one still haunt you?
A: Thor is still difficult. We want to make him big and bad ass but then there are issues with him clipping or hiding units. We’re still polishing the God of Thunder. Favorite unit would be the Stalker, Reaper and Baneling. Simple design-wise but they add a cool newness to there armies. None haunt me. Though zergling with wings and certain dark templar have haunted our fans. 🙂

The Thor has gained a lot of popularity lately, especially after the recent improvement to its anti-air attack. Still, its humongous size makes it somewhat of an odd creature on the battlefield, and its quirky behavior isn’t always easy to work with. Can you spot the hidden Marines in this picture? (click to see them!)

Q: How does the dev team accomplish making StarCraft II units and maps “blend” together, despite three distinct races?
A: The races are pretty simple as we follow basic guidlines. Terrans are grey, bulky and grimy. Protoss are gold, smooth surfaced and regal. Zerg are brown, purple and spiny. With maps we usually try to make the textures more simplistic to help the units pop out. Sometimes when the texture gets too busy or dark (i.e. Creep) we lose units on them. We are still working on that issue.

Q: Will Real ID have more privacy controls for people nervous about sharing their real name/what they’re playing?
A: There will be parental controls available to prevent accounts from using real ID. Other than that players should create Real ID friends with people that they feel comfortable sharing their name with.

Q: Last Dev Chat, Terran was behind in all 1v1 and 2v2 matchups. How do the racial matchup numbers look now? Any outlier matchups?
A: We have several tools to measure race balance. The simplest is the win loss by race, factored by leagues. In Platinum and Gold leagues the numbers look like this.

  • Terrans vs. Protoss 46% – 54%
  • Protoss vs. Zerg 51% – 49%
  • Terrans vs. Zerg 51% – 49%

I do not have the more interesting numbers that factor for player skill. The last time I saw these numbers Zerg were ahead of Protoss, Protoss were ahead of Terrans and Terrans and Zerg were fairly even.

Obviously there is a lot more work to be done and more beta time in front of us but we are very pleased with the current numbers.

Considering how complicated and profoundly different StarCraft 2’s races are, achieving such a level of balance in less than three months of beta is undoubtedly a win for Blizzard.

Q: Are there any plans to allow creep to spill over the edge of cliffs?
A: We do not plan to have creep spread down cliffs. We like that there are some restrictions to creep movement.

Q: Do you think you will add any new units (or take any out) before release or is the current unit roster definite?
A: I doubt we will cut units but I expect that we will make some changes to current units. The Phoenix and Corruptor are currently being evaluated and may see some changes in the next few weeks.

Previously, the developers made it very clear that they’re not afraid to cut (or add) new units during the beta. As the beta progresses and the balance solidifies, the chances of seeing new units diminishes.

Q. Currently the Map Editor has a small variety of unit/item models for mappers to use. Will there be additions to usable models?
A. Yes. Currently the beta is limited to objects ONLY in the beta, which is a limited number of tilesets and no campaign units or objects. There will be a much larger set of models and assets for mappers to use at launch.

Q. The Hydralisk attack animation has gotten a lot of complaints in beta. Will it get its acid back as a part of its attack?
A. The Hydra attack was always meant to be spines. In the original game you couldn’t see that so we gooped it up. Now with Banelings exploding goop and the Roach attack’s looking all gooby, we thought that the Hydras would look more unique having the original spine idea incorporated back in.

FYI: Goop and gooby are Samwise trademarks.

Q. Do you plan to implement 3v3 and 4v4 match-ups at some point during the beta? If so, when?
A. We do intend to release 3v3 and 4v4 matchmaking in the beta around the middle of May. We will likely limit the number of maps because we still want players to primarily focus on 1v1 games to continue to help test balance.

Q: With the large discussion on Zerg changes, is there any planned? Or do you believe that they’re not being used fully?
A: We are looking at changes to the Corruptor. We are looking at the balance on Ultralisk and Infestor. We are not planning to introduce new units at this time, though we shall see as Beta progresses. =)

The Zerg race still stands out as the one most in-need of refining. Since many Zerg match-ups still revolve around fewer units than the two other races, Blizzard will definitely seek to make other options more attractive at all levels of play.

Q: Will we be able to use original units for the map editor before release?
A: No. The beta editor will not include campaign units prior to release.

Q: Do you feel that micro needs to play more of a role in SC2? Will moving shot be re-introduced?
A: I don’t that we need MORE micro in SC2. We have a ton of it. But we are always looking to make the game more fun. A large number of units do drift in SC2 as they shoot (I assume that is what you are asking about). However our engine is a lot more precise than the original StarCraft so when you tell a unit to do something, it does it. We did find a few units this week that we felt were less responsive than we wanted (Hellion for example) and we will be making some changes to make them more responsive in a future patch.

It is a different game, we did make a new engine. We will never be able to duplicate the controls of the original StarCraft exactly.

Q. Will you be adding a timer in-game so we can stop using stop watches/clocks ?
A. We know a stop watch is desired in-game by the community and are currently discussing the feature. This is not likely to happen by launch, but is definitely something we’ll consider for a patch shortly after we’ve shipped the game.

While it may sound outlandish to casual gamers, using a clock to know exactly how long the match has been going on is not uncommon in higher levels of play. StarCraft is a game of timing, after all, and one needs to know when a Dark Templar attack might arrive to take care of detection or when a 2-base Mutalisk raid is likely to come in full force. The builds, tech levels and strategies the enemy is practicing are only meaningful if one also knows the stage the game is in.

Q. Any plans to implement a clan system that automatically adds “clan tags” in front of your ID?
A. Clans are definitely something we plan to implement in the future. No specific date has been identified yet. They will likely correspond with the first expansion or a future patch.

Q. Are there plans for a “Do Not Disturb” option that prevents incoming messages from showing?
A. Yes. You will have options when StarCraft II officially launches to turn off incoming messages and prevent toasts while playing the game. This may not be available in the beta prior to release.

Q: Do you plan on rework/rebalance of the Forcefield or are you already statisfied with it.
A: We are never “happy” about anything in the game.=) We are always looking at everything and trying to see if it works or it is broken. We think Force Field is a fun ability that has a lot of great uses that introduces a ton of new strategy into the game. We worry that it might be a little powerful. We are looking at some nerfs to the Sentry to create a higher cost for Protoss players who choose to bring too many Sentrys to a fight.

We will continue to evaluate the ability as we do all abilities during the beta and beyond.

The Protoss’ ability to instantly create a wall or a choke at will is seen as incredibly overpowered by some. While this very cool ability leads to highly skillful and entertaining play, it might indeed offer too great of an advantage in the hands of capable players. It will be interesting to see what solution Blizzard goes with for this issue – assuming they deem a solution necessary. An HP value instead of indestructibility, perhaps?

Q: Art direction in beta looks great so far. Will the Star Map make an appearance of some kind or has it been cut completely?
A: On behalf of the StarCraft II art team, thank you. We use the star map in the single player alot but it isn’t like what we have shown previously. A big galactic map is something I really want to use for future expansions.

Q: The damage modifiers have been slowly weeded out through the patches, have you thought about getting rid of them completely?
A: StarCraft had a damage system that was similar to ours only it was more complicated and a lot less clear. We are very happy with our damage system as a significant improvement over the original StarCraft and will continue to use it as a balance tool to try to create the best strategy game we can. There are no plans to cut it.

Q. Will multiple building selection for Terran stay like it is now and why is it so? (e.g. 2 barracks with different add-ons in one control group requiring the Tab key to switch between them seems odd)
A. We are changing the way Terrans build from their buildings with different add-ons. I get confused about what is live and what is in the version I played at the office today. =)

If it isn’t out now you’ll see it in a future patch.

Q. Will you ever give the Medvac a follow command that does not force it to pick up units ?
A. We hadn’t planned on it, but I can look into it. =)

Q. Are there any plans to giving Reapers more of a late-game viability, similar to the Zealot charge?
A. If we need to we can always add upgrades that make units more powerful in the late game. We have no current plans for the Reaper. Frankly the meta-game has not settled down enough yet for us to know what is and is not really useful in the end game. But I would worry about the Reaper and your suggestion is interesting.

Because of the Reaper’s extreme fragility, it tends to lose its usefulness when more units and static defenses can be found on the battlefield. In most games, the Reaper is sort of a one-trick pony. Once the enemy knows you’ve got a few, it becomes very hard to make any use of them past the early game.

Q: How far in the ‘long term’ are those plans which allow for swapping to U.S. servers on an E.U. account – or a global account?
A: Jumping to the region you want is definitely in the long term plan for Battle.net, although we do have some concerns about communicating properly to the player what’s happening if they choose this because it WILL affect the latency of the game. As far as a date on when, I don’t have one yet. There are a number of features that we want to make sure get out their first and jumping to different servers is lower on the priority list at the moment.

Q: Will there be cross-game communication options for people who don’t want to use RealID?
A: There are no plans for cross-game/realm communication without Real ID.

Q: Would you ever bring back the cobra for the thor? Seems like it would be a much better fit and fix mech.
A: The Cobra was not that fun. He is OK for solo but he does not have the precise control with his “fire-on-the-move” ability for multi. There are no plans to cut the Thor.

The long forgotten StarCraft 2 Terran Cobra

What’s a Cobra, you ask?

Q: Are there any plans to change the current high ground advantage to the Wacraft III/StarCraft mechanic or other alternatives?
A: No. We like the high ground rules and we think they are cool for StarCraft II. The random high ground from StarCraft just didn’t seem right for a such a skill based game. The clarity of “if you can see, you can shoot” makes a lot more sense to us.

Q: For several Australian players at a LAN, who have logged into a custom Battle.net game, will the game be local once initiated?
A: You’ll be connected through Battle.net. However, we’re locating game servers more strategically to allow the best possible game experience from where you play. For Australia we are by default routing games through the Oceanic region which should provide a much lower latency experience.

Q: Blizzard you ROCK!
A: You rock! Thanks so much for taking the time to join in the chat today!!

Q. Do you plan to redo the Hatchery (Lair, Hive) art so that it represents the classical evil, sharp-looking building from StarCraft: Brood War?
A. No changes will be made on the Hatchery and its upgrades. We added some of the sinister, spiny-ness (is that a word?) to newer buildings like the Infestation Pit and the Baneling Nest. The core buildings were revamped to be more of what a standard zerg building would look like. They now look like upgrades to the Hatchery as opposed to completely new structures.

Q. Will there be any more voice acting changes for the units and such before the final release?
A. No, the actors are final, though we may choose different “takes” they did in the studio or change some of the processing on their audio.

Tricia Helfer, StarCraft 2's Kerrigan

Q. Any plans to put decals on units as well? As they are now only on buildings, you don’t see them much.
A. There are decals on some (Marine and some others), but the units are already so small and clean we don’t want to mush them up with decals. We could put them on larger ones, but there weren’t enough big bad boys to do this to. Plus, it would delay the game. Do you want to be personally responsible for delaying the game? 🙂

Q: Really excited about campaign. Can you tell us about a mission that was a challenge to create?
A: We have a mission that takes place in deep space around a Xel’Naga space platform. This ancient floating artifact has powerful “Rip Fields” around it that warp time and space, doing damage to all of your units so long as they are in a Rip Field. Creating this exotic location and balancing the difficulty of the Rip Fields was challenging.

StarCraft 2 Includes many mission-specific terrain features and mechanics

Blizzard recently showcased some of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty‘s single player’s original mission design and innovative campaign mechanics, demonstrating a few of the mission-unique units, artifacts and features that players will encounter over the course of the campaign.

Our biggest campaign challenges usually center around creating really unique game mechanics that tie to the story. It’s easy to make a battle, it’s hard to make a battle that really pushes your skills as a commander and asks you to do something you have not done in our game before.

Q: SinglePlayer – will we see installation missions in Zerg hives or tunnels? Always wished for this in StarCraft.
A: We’d prefer not to ruin any further surprises . . . 😉

Q: People think zerg is boring and doesn’t support much diversity in playstyles, but it doesn’t mean imba. How do you feel about this?
A: We are always working on our race match ups and we will continue to do so. We have certainly heard this complaint. We think we have the tools to solve the problem. If we get more play out of Infestor, Corruptor and Ultralisk we think we might have a more fun and more diverse race. If that doesn’t work then we’ll evaluate what else we can do. We have some time left in the beta as well as patches after the beta is complete (not counting expansions) to continue to work on these races to meet our quality standards.

Still I don’t think the Zerg are boring. They can do some fun stuff.=)

Q: You boast fewer classic “kill everything” missions but will there still be some in the campaigns? They have their place!
A: There are a few missions that allow you to “play with your toys” and just crush the enemy. They usually have some kind of twist (like you are fighting on a giant space platform that contains several highly unstable fusion reactors) but they are at their heart missions where your objective is to search and destroy.

Q: Will the map editor be revised to be more newbie-friendly around release?
A: We have plans to put some new user help files online and additional help text, but overall the editor will not get many more newbie-friendly options as making custom maps is a pretty technical endeavor and there is already a lot of great information appearing all over the web to help with more complex development.

Q: Please clarify response: Has the 125ms latency update been in effect since the last update or will it be available with the next?

A: We put this in a while ago in the US to see what the community response was. We did not announce it (even internally) to see who noticed. There was suprisingly little response to such a huge change. But some of us noticed and we thought it felt better.

Q. The latest we’ve heard, the single-player campaign would feature about 25+ missions. Does this include the optional missions?
A. There are 29 total missions in the campaign. In a single play through you can get to 26 of them if you do everything. You’d have to play again to see the other optional missions. Of course, your experience through how you play those missions can vary widely depending on the technology, research, or mercenaries you’ve decided to purchase along the way.

Q. Getting custom script into maps is currently complex. Are there plans to implement Galaxy scripting directly into the editor?
A. There are currently no plans for Galaxy script editing in the editor itself. However, through the Import Manager it should be pretty easy to add in your scripts as necessary. Are you having trouble doing it that way?

Q. Flying units fly through the Colossus. Will there be any changes to make sure they fly over them?
A. No changes on this one. We realize this could look doink, but in a 3D game, the higher the flyer, the closer to the camera it is. We could shrink the flyer, but then its scale would be off when looking at the art from certain angles (mostly single-player). We could shrink the Colossus but then his/her/its cliff walk would look bad. We thought that it was okay enough that it would only be noticed by the most(!!)eagle-eyed fans of our games. Good job!

A Protoss Colossus towering over puny Zealots and Marines

Q: Any plans to allow players to pick what races they want to fight vs off of ladders so they can get some practice in ? (ie: custom game search for only people playing X race)
A: We are aware of the issue of players not wanting to try new races or strats on the ladder and so we know there is a desire to play “unranked” play to get some practice. I like your idea, though I don’t know that we could get to it before launch. Sounds like something we would have to consider for a future patch.

As far as unranked play goes we are discussing it, what we still have time for is the big question.=)

Q: Can you detail how the map publishing feature is going to work?
A: Sure. Map publishing will allow the user to store a few maps or mods associated with their account. You can choose to publish a map privately which will not display the map in the custom game list when you open it up, but you ca invite your friends into a game on the map to help you test your map and ideas. Once you decide the map is ready for the rest of the community to play you can publish it publicly and then the map will be available for the rest of the community to see and start playing games with.

Q: Please please please let us, excited mac users, know when we can expect the client to be available on the EU realm.
A: We’re targeting next Monday to release the European English, French, and German versions of the StarCraft II Mac beta. 🙂

Q. After the beta has commenced, how many CPU cores will StarCraft II be optimized for upon final release?
A. For launch, StarCraft II will be optimized for dual-core only. In the future we will definitely be looking into other optimizations to support additional cores, but do not have specific dates yet.

With the introduction of 3v3 and 4v4 games, even high-end gaming rigs will be challenged by the amount of actions, pathing calculations, physical interactions and concurrent Pretty Explosions that a 1600-food battlefield introduces.

Or… one could produce an infinite amount of Overlords.

Q. Will Dustin Browder PM me his name & identifier so i can show him how to play his own game? =p
Dustin: Sir, you could not handle my terrible, terrible damage. But if you are playing in Platinum, I often play in the evenings and you may get your shot. Just play everyone to the best of your ability and sometime you may end up showing me how to play. =) Hell, I lost 4 in a row yesterday. Mabye one of those was you?

Samwise: You don’t want to play Dustin. He can’t even beat the UI, let alone the AI.

Chris: Only if you’re willing to cyber . . .

That’s all for this epic Q&A session. Chris, Dustin and Samwise deserve a lot of credit for putting it all out there, though it certainly looks like they’ve had fun doing it!

Q: There has been talks about possibly changing the queen a bit, can you elaborate if that is indeed true?
A: We have no current plans to change the queen, bearing possible balance changes.

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