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As Karune has put it,

These Q&As have the intention of getting everyone on the same page in regards to StarCraft II’s current status.

TeamLiquid has gotten eleven of their questions answered in a spectacular Q&A session, with six of those purely gameplay oriented, along with two Map Editor questions and three questions covering interface and observer technicalities. The gameplay related answers are highly detailed, each pinpointing the exact mechanics and units in question.

1. How’s the current balance and what balance issues have you faced?


One of the design challenges we are currently dealing with relates to the Dark Pylon, which doesn’t seem to have enough energy tension between probe buffing and acting as an energy reserve for caster units. With Mules, Terran players have a clear strategy decision every time they chose to call down a Mule, instead of saving for a comsat scan. Similarly, Queens have to use their energy carefully, choosing between expanding creep, producing more larva, and protecting her base as a base defender. Dark Pylons on the other hand, are relatively cheap to produce at 150 minerals, provide Pylon power, allow warp-in and proxy play, cloak units, and act as an energy well for casters in strategic positions, while also supporting an economy with macro resource collecting benefits.

Blizzard’s goal of introducing significant macro-oriented decisions – to compensate for more advanced automation – seems to be successful. Players will have to time and calculate the trade-offs of using resource and production enhancing abilities. It appears that both the Zerg and Terran mechanics have been well integrated into the game, adding to the complexity of the macromanagement portion of it without being too artificial or detracting from the fun. However, unlike the relatively non-ubiquitous Command Center and Queen, Dark Pylons, which only cost 150 minerals, have enough combined energy to dilute the decision process with their less limited reserves.

Dark Harvest

2. The new lower tier availability of mass mobility such as phase prisms and nydus canals seems to prompt for an even greater need for timely ‘snipe’ abilities for players, but with removal of units like the scourge, Blizzard seems to go in opposite direction. The games of SC2 I played so far clearly presented me with the problem of being forced to deal with the consequences of certain types of harass or assault while I saw them coming a mile away, in contrast to being able to effectively prevent them. There were for example, no efficient ways of ‘sniping’ enemy observers and nomads to kill their stealth detection or destroying their medivac dropships before they dropped or finishing off that phase prism before it could deploy and warp-in a dozen or more units into my base. How does Blizzard view these issues and aim to prevent a purely reactionary type of gameplay?


It is true that in StarCraft II, the races have become comparatively more mobile than the original StarCraft. To deal with the new threats mentioned above, scouting and vision have become an even more crucial part in gameplay, as well as building placement to defend against such incursions. Observers are now lower on the tech tree compared to the original StarCraft. Missile turrets can be upgraded with larger range and hit harder as well. Sensor towers can provide early warning of incoming attacks. Additionally, Zerg base defense is now mobile, allowing for quicker adaptation to deal with incoming threats


At higher levels, an RTS will always have some reactionary play, though in some cases you can react preemptively as well, which could force the opponent to react in another way. With these new methods to both scout and defend, it will help a player deal with opponent decisions on attacking more potently. It is true, with all the new mobility mechanics, it is more likely that you’ll have to pull your probes more often and dodge attacks, but at the same time, with better defenses and new abilities like the Queen’s Razor Swarm, warp-in, and many more – you’ll be able to make the enemy pay a much higher price in performing these attacks as well.

While elaborate, this does not really provide an answer to this hard-hitting question. The new options available to players mentioned above are interesting in themselves, but the issue of the transformation of the game into being more reactive than preventative is still on the table.

It’s worth noting that the Terran do have a “sniping” unit now – the Nomad Nighthawk, which, with its new Hunter-Seeker Missile, should be able to scare off any unit away from the battlefield or obliterate a Dropship before it has managed to unload its cargo.

3. In StarCraft, there are certain upgrade thresholds where some units start to perform vastly better against certain units. For example, + 1 attack zealots kill zerglings in 2 hits instead of 3, or +1 armor marines can take 3 lurker hits instead of 2. These elements add another layer of depth to the game by making upgrades a crucial part of strategy. Do these thresholds exist in StarCraft II, and is the game being designed with them in mind?


While we don’t try to develop too many of these relationships, there are times we do try to make more rigid balance points like these when we see the need for them.
Examples:
1. Zealot –Zergling relationship is still there
2. Roach vs. Zerglings have this relationship- 3 shots to kill before, and 2 shots after (then gets countered by +1 armor by zerglings)
3. Reapers scale better than most other units in the game as they normally do 4+4dmg but get +2 per attack upgrade since they fire twice(25% per upgrade compared to the normal 10%)
4. Marine dies in 1 hit to baneling, 2 hits after combat shield upgrade
5. Marauders get just under the shield of Immortals (counters them early game), but as both sides get more upgrades, the relationship becomes muddier and goes in favor of the Immortals. (Immortals with 3 shield upgrade takes only 7 damage per hit currently)
6. The Colossus kills Marines in 1 shot until they get either armor or combat shields, after which they take 2 shots to kill.

Unit upgrade arms races were, and will remain, one of the finer and most rewarding aspects of a close battle. A team of  two +1 Zealots could stop hoards of unupgraded Zerglings, greatly improving the cost efficiency of early upgrades. It seems that these special relationships are particularly abundant when it comes to the Terran Infantry of StarCraft – with Reapers, Marines and Marauders all receiving unique benefits.

Zealots holding ground against attacking Zerglings

4. In the original StarCraft, upgrades would give different units different degrees of improvement, such as a fully upgraded zergling gaining a total 60% attack increase, compared to a dragoon that would gain 30%. In comparison, Warcraft III upgrades were designed so that the percentage improvement per upgrade was approximately the same for each unit. Will upgrades scale in this manner in StarCraft II as well?


Yes, StarCraft II will follow an upgrade system similar to that of the original StarCraft. Many of the new upgrades really help in almost creating a new type of unit out of a previous one. For example, in early game Stalkers can kite Zealots and easily handle them with micro. When Zealots gain charge, they will easily catch those Stalkers and tear them up. Similarly, when Stalkers get blink, they can continue to micro and use terrain advantages to fight those Zealots. On that same note, Zerglings with their attack speed upgrades make it a far deadlier unit, in line with the original StarCraft. As a design philosophy, we really wanted to make several upgrades allow a shift to the balance of power, creating new battle scenarios as players tech up.


5. In SC and WC3 you can dodge attacks using dropships/zeppelins, or with teleportation spells (ie. blink), or even just superior mobility (in the case of lurker spines).
Can projectiles (and lurker spines in particular) be dodged in SC2?


Yes, certain projectiles/abilities like the Lurker spines, Psi Storm, nukes, and the newly-introduced Hunter Seeker missiles can be dodged.

Hidden Lurker, jumping Marine

6. Are submerged supply depots any different than regular supply depots other than the way that units can pass overtop when they are submerged? I.E. Does the opponent need detectors or anything to see/attack them, do they have the same health, armor, and additional supply count as un-submerged supply depots? Are there any benefits to not having supply depots submerged(other than walling purposes)?


The only difference between a submerged supply depot and a raised supply depot is the ability to path (or not path) over it.


Map Editor Questions


7. Is it possible to create maps which wrap around? So that the right edge leads back onto the left, creating a spherical space?


Yes, it is currently possible to create a map in which units can move from one side to the other, though there isn’t coding provided yet that would allow units to shoot from one side to the other.


8. We have heard many times that the map editor is capable of almost anything, but does this hold true for melee as well? Will you be able to implement map related features, such as different types of terrain (slowing, damage over time, energy regenerating, etc.), portals, or bridges and such, for ladder/melee maps?


Yes, players will be able to create special areas on the map as mentioned, though players will probably have to create them using invisible objects with those properties rather than have those properties be tied with the actual visual texture itself.

Since this feature already exists in the WarCraft 3 map editor, the mantra of “the StarCraft 2 Map Editor is all-capable” is not even necessary here… especially considering Karune’s recent boastful remark:

The Map Editor makes breakfast if you know how to code it.

Technical Questions


9. What, if any, function will the F2 through F4 keys have in StarCraft II? Has there been any thought of adding additional keys (F5 through F8) to serve as location hotkeys?


We are working on this now and will give the community an update when the roles of those keys have been decided.


10. Will observers and replays have a player’s view option, not just see what they have selected but actually move the screen to what they are viewing?


Yes, viewers will be able to watch from any player’s perspective.

This is a very interesting new concept for observers in RTS games. Following the player’s view at all times will allow a unique insight into his playstyle and also make sure the observer is always looking at the action. That is – if this interpretation is true, since the answer given is somewhat vague and noncommittal. Things like mouse movement and view are local processes which are not transmitted over the network, so this is not a trivial feature. In WarCraft 3, a similar function was achieved by having the observer follow the units currently selected by the player. Unfortunately, this usually lead to the screen view jumping around incomprehensibly most of the time.

11. Will people be able to join games after they’ve started (as an observer) and will you be able to boot observers (or people that abuse the ping function) from games?


No, players will not be able to join after a game has started, though we have yet to decide how to handle observers in a game and who has the right to boot players.

Also of interest are the questions which Blizzard had received from TeamLiquid but has not provided an answer for:

1. What strategies/units are being used in different matchups? In BW terran for example uses exclusively mech against protoss, could you give some brief examples of what it’s like in SC2 right now, and how it has evolved during development?

8. Are there still plans for making the editor available during the beta period?

14. Will there be backwards compatibility for watching older replays on newer versions of sc (for example by keeping all the patch data of previous versions backed up)? Will we be able to watch replays online with friends? If so can replay games be host publicly instead of private only?

15. Are there any plans to allow players to save a game state from a replay or immediately play from that point? In a similar manner, will there be a “Save on disconnect” feature, allowing players to resume games where one player disconnects, in the way they would a saved game?

In other news, Blizzard has officially released the second Battle Report – be sure to watch it, because we intend to spoil it soon.

Battle Report

Lately, we’ve been given an inconsistent stream of mixed messages, in an almost “good news, bad news” fashion. The good news is that images ready for Beta and pre-Beta StarCraft 2 players have been found on Battle.net’s servers. The bad news is that despite the fact that it has been a week, no Blizzard representative has mentioned the find, but the images haven’t been pulled down either.

The existence of these images and the fact that Blizzard has not pulled them down might very well mean that there are people that are using Battle.net and are actually seeing these images.

Full Banner image and box
Pre-Beta StarCraft 2 box
Header image – see linked image name
Beta StarCraft 2 Box image

It’s plausible that these are the real images placed in interfaces that are used by people that have access to the pre-beta testing of StarCraft 2. This is what an account with pre-beta access may look like:

(Courtesy of StarCraftwire)

On Friday, 10th of April,  Blizzard has also released the much anticipated second StarCraft 2 Battle Report – which was pulled down minutes later, before anyone had managed to grab a copy. The report was available on StarCraft2.com, but now, all that remains is the image of the Blistering Sands map, on which the battle took place.

A day before the leak, Karune had assured us that the real Battle Report launch is right around the corner:

Localization is just about finished and we are clearing it through a few more legal channels, as certain countries are more cautious when it comes to gore in video games. I know I’ve been telling ya, but it shouldn’t be too much longer. Will keep you updated.

Finally. Blizzard has released a high-resolution, well narrated, well played and action packed StarCraft 2 video. The Battle Report features two of Blizzard’s “game balance designers” (dream job ?), Matt as Protoss and David as Terran – fighting for dominance on StarCraft 2 Alpha map “Kulas Ravine”. It is narrated by none other than Dustin Browder – StarCraft 2’s lead designer, who is accompanied by Robert Simpson of  the eSports devision.

StarCraft 2 Battle Report Intro

Kulas Ravine was obviously not a randomly chosen map – it incorporates virtually all of StarCraft 2’s new battlefield elements:

And the game itself could not have served as a better showroom for all of StarCraft 2’s novelties.

Observer Battle Information Box:

All throughout the game, the observers enjoyed a multi-mode, translucent information box, providing data summaries for:

  • Resources: Current Mineral, Gas and Food counts
  • Production: Unit, Research and Construction
  • Unit: Total unit count summary

StarCraft 2 Information Box

Observers were also able to see units’ Health Bars and player’s commands – however it remains unclear whether the Observers enjoyed the additional info during the live game or via a replay viewer.

Destroyable Barriers:

Played a major role from the very beginning, culminating in an epic Barrier destruction race to save/destroy an expansion. The Terran’s ability to lift n’ load ® allowed David to take advantage of an isolated natural expansion for quite a while, only to find himself unable to assist the mining SCVs when a Colossus barged in later on.

Xel’ Naga Watch Towers:

Multiple Watch Towers placed in the middle of the map provide the controlling player with invaluable ground movement information. The Watch Towers have been captured right at the beginning of the match and have changed hands multiple times as the players struggled for mid-map dominance.

Kulas Ravie Map

Proxy Pylons:

Protoss remote warp stations. Absolutely vital for the Protoss’ ability to keep the pressure on from the very start. The Pylon is a great point of retreat and regroup and serves as attack launching spot. The enemy will have great trouble in attacking other targets as long as a well placed Proxy Pylon remains in place.

Marauder Kiting and Trapping:

Charging Zealots are not really avoidable for most ground units. Upgraded Zealots close the distance extremely fast, and swarm enemy units in a fashion that would make Zerglings blush. However, even these units have been kited (to some success) by Maraueders.
The Marauders themselves have played a cetral and vital role throughout the game – used to lure and trap (by stunning shots) units early on, deliver deadly assaults in numbers, and to successfully kite (hit and run) when outnumbered has positioned the Marauder as a key weapon in the Terran’s arsenal – a status that the Firebat has never attained.

This is the very first of many millions of StarCraft 2 replays to come – a must for every StarCraft 2 fan.

Watch

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