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The fourth BlizzCon has been announced today. This annual celebration of all things Blizzard will take place in the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, on Friday, August 21st and Saturday, August 22nd. The BlizzCon 2009 event will take place at the same place as the 2008 BlizzCon.

Last year’s event was a massive success, with all tickets sold out in just one day – prompting Mike Morhaime to add 3000 tickets to the pool to meet demands. Mike also mentions 2008’s runaway success in this year’s BlizzCon announcement.

“We’ve been amazed by the incredible response to each of our previous BlizzCon events,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We’re pleased to be bringing the convention back to Anaheim this year, and we look forward to this new opportunity to meet Blizzard gamers from around the world.”

Blizzard fans should expect an event of similar proportions, and it is highly unlikely that the ticket availability window will be any wider. If you plan to attend BlizzCon 2009, you should follow the news feed closely and grab a ticket as soon as they become available.

BlizzCon will offer a wide variety of activities throughout the two-day event. In addition to serving as a gathering place for Blizzard Entertainment gaming communities, attendees will be able to enjoy:

  • Hands-on play time with upcoming Blizzard Entertainment games
  • Discussion panels with Blizzard Entertainment developers
  • Competitive and casual tournaments for players to showcase their talents
  • Community contests with great prizes
  • Commemorative merchandise based on Blizzard Entertainment’s game universes
  • A silent auction
  • More exciting activities and attractions to be announced

Speaking of grabbing, three winners of the StarCraft 2 comic contest walked away with a StarCraft 2 goody bag, each receiving

  • StarCraft II Hat
  • StarCraft II T-Shirt
  • StarCraft II Poster

With the 1st place winner receiving the coveted StarCraft 2 Beta key, as Karune has recently announced.
Here are the January 2009 winners. You can visit the official winners page to to browse through 12 more StarCraft 2 Comic sketches from the previous four months.

Starcraft 2 Comic Winner 01-2009 Third Place

Starcraft 2 Comic contest Runner up - 01/2009Starcraft 2 Comic Winner

While the community was buzzing about beta keys and beta release date speculations, Cavez, Blizzard’s Lead Designer, was busy writing his reality check FAQ and has now released it to the forums:

I see lots of questions about timelines. Here is a little FAQ.



Question: “Why hasn’t Blizzard released the Beta?” or “WTF have they been working on, I played it at Blizzcon last year and I thought it was done!”

Answer: Solo campaign is under heavy construction as is Battlenet. When these things have enough work done that we know when our release date is going to be with strong confidence we will announce the Beta. Unless something crazy happens, the Beta is going to happen this year.

The above statement, coming from a senior member of the development team, should effectively put an end to any speculation that puts the StarCraft 2 beta release date before June 2009. Considering the fact that game development usually has a 60% chance of “something crazy happens”, we might be reading a similar FAQ a year from now.

Question: “Why don’t you just give us your target dates if you don’t know the final date? We promise, we won’t get mad if Blizzard misses target dates.”

Answer: Let’s be realistic. Our target dates are not something we hit more than half the time. Putting those out there would be pretty close to lying to the fans. We are not going to do that. We want to be able to give good info, not info that we know is suspect. We’ll give target dates when we think it is very likely that we will hit them.

Question: When can we have the next Battle Report?

Answer: We were waiting on getting some improved graphics in (some of the new stuff looked REALLY rough). That was finished last week and we are now playing and looking for a good game. Once we get that game the process is reasonably quick to get it out. Once we go Beta, you guys can do these and put them up. When that happens I’m sure there will be a ton of them and I’m sure the quality of the games played and the announcing will go way up.

Question: “I notice that you haven’t actually given us any dates….”

Answer: Yeah. Sorry. We don’t want to lie about the Beta, and we don’t even want to lie about the next Battle Report. When we know a date (for anything) for certain, we’ll let you know.


Hang in there. We’re in the final stretch.

Just kidding.

Visitors to BlizzCon 2008 got a chance to play the latest StarCraft 2 build, and, as expected, this one is not without an abundance of changes, just like the one from last year’s event. As we get closer to the beta and the eventual release, these changes become more and more important, as they are more likely to stick through to the end. Without further ado:

BlizzCon 2008

* Banelings no longer require any gas to be produced, after the initial 150 gas investment in a Baneling Nest. Previously, Zerg players had to decide whether to invest in Banelings, which have an early-game crippling potential, or to use the gas to tech up. With this change, using Banelings does not inhibit the Zerg’s player tech advancement.

* The Queen is no longer a unique unit. As such, it is no longer upgradeable by itself, instead relying on global upgrades, and is treated like a normal spell caster. Its abilities now include:

  • Mutant Larva: Create three large Larvas that are not attached to the hatchery. Bring them into battle with you to create adaptive reinforcements.
  • Razor Swarm: Creates a cloud of Zerg insects, controllable by the player, which damage units caught in it over time.
  • Create Creep Tumor: Extends the range of Creep, similar to a Creep Colony.

Dustin Browder, lead game designer, commented that players saw the Queen as too much of a defensive unit and neglected investing time and resources into developing it, instead choosing to focus on the offensive in most games.

Queen

* The Mothership currently has the following three abilities:

  • Cloaking field: As the StarCraft 1 Arbiter ability, this bestows the cloaking effect to all friendly units in a small radius surrounding the Mothership.
  • Vortex: A nerfed Black-Hole, this ability only disables the units it pulls into its event horizon for the period of the spell.
  • Timebomb: This ability disables all units, enemy and friendly, who enter it for the duration of the spell.

* The Nighthawk‘s (formerly Nomad) abilities are:

  • Deploy Auto-Turret: Deploys a permanent Turret on the field.
  • Deploy Spider Mine: Deploys a “burrowed” mine on the field, ready to pop out and explode on any passerby.
  • Deploy Targeting Drones: Deploys cloaked drones which fly around the targeted unit, lighting it up with a targeting laser. This adds 50% to any damage that unit receives, and provides sight around its location.

Nighthawks

* The Vespene Geyser mechanic has changed again. As we suggested, and no doubt partly thanks to feedback from our readers, the “Replenish Gas” process is now Auto-Cast. When the gas in the Vespene Geyser is depleted, it automatically goes through the replenishing process, which takes 60 seconds – during which the workers are unemployed, and can be utilized for something else at the cost of the player’s attention. Unfortunately, this process cannot be turned off.

Dustin Browder has commented that the current gas mechanic isn’t liked by many of the developers and will likely be changed. Perhaps our full suggestion will be implemented – allowing the automatic repleneshing to be turned on and off and the player’s volition – or just scrapped altogether, in place of a system that does not require much action from the player.

Refinery

In the screenshot above, “Available” refers to the amount of gas left in the Vespene Geyser before it has to go through the replenishing process, while “Remaining” is the total remaining amount of gas in the Geyser.

* The High Templar has gained a new ability: Phase Shift. Affecting single units, this takes them out of the battle by shifting them to another dimension for a short period. Effective for both enemy and friendly units. This ability joins the Templar’s two other abilities, the Infamous Psi-Storm and Archon Warp.

* The Ghost‘s Snipe has been replaced with an ability called Psi-Round. This still deals a lot of damage to single units, but also deals an additional 50 points of damage to “Psionic” type units.

* The current unit types are: Light, Massive, Armored, Biological, Psionic and Mechanical. Structures also have the Structure property.

* The Colossus has a new upgrade, Extended Thermal Lances, which increases its attack range from 6 to 9. This is a major upgrade for the Colossus, allowing it to dish out damage from protected locations enemy units can not get to, like heightened terrain spots and fortified positions. Its attack animation has changed yet again: the beam focuses on a single position while intensifying, then sweeps across the field quickly, scorching everything in its path.

Colossi laying some hurt

* Upgrading Protoss Gateways to Warp Gates now costs 50 minerals and 50 gas. This allows warping units built from it to any powered-up location on the map and reduces some of the build time, but removes the option to queue units.

* The Lurker‘s spines and the path of destruction they form are now much wider. As well, it also receives a bonus against armored targets.

* The Battlecrusier can now utilize these three, battle-oriented abilities:

  • Yamato Cannon: As in StarCraft 1, the Battlecruiser charges up a large amount of energy, which is then released as a hot ball of death, capable of destroying most units on the ground or in the air in a single hit.
  • Missile Barrage: This new ability allows the Battlecrusier to saturate a piece of the sky with missiles, inflicting area of effect damage. Especially deadly against lightly armored fliers.
  • Defensive Matrix: The Battlecrusier can now cast this old Science Vessel ability, but only on itself. This is a temporary shield that adds a layer of protection to the already heavily armored Battlecruiser, allowing it to take even more damage.

Each produced Battlecruiser can only choose one of these abilities to utilize throughout its life – it cannot pick another or change its choice.

Battlecruisers

* The Infestor does no longer actually infest. It has also lost its famous Dark Swarm ability, and can no longer cast Disease. It now has the following abilities:

  • Fungal Infestation: Infests a single, non-massive unit, slowly reducing its hit points until it dies – creating an explosions that damages nearby units.
  • Neural Parasite: Takes control over a unit for 10 seconds.
  • Spawn Infested Marines: This somewhat senseless ability allows the Infestor to hatch five eggs, out of which Infested Marines pop out, regardless of the Zerg’s current enemy on the field.

The Infestor now possesses the ability to use his special abilities while burrowed. Coupled with his natural ability to move while burrowed, this makes the Infestor a very interesting unit for the Zerg.

* The Nydus Worm is no longer a unit. The player must now build the Nydus Network building and then “plant” a Nydus Worm with an Overseer.

Nydus Worms

* The Overseer has received the Queen’s Heal ability. The Overseer is now a fast, flying detector unit with a large sight radius, capable of “summoning” Nydus Worms and healing Zerg units and buildings.

* The Phoenix now possess the old Nullifer ability, Anti-Grav. It can now lift up units off of the ground, throw them into the air and attack them with its anti-air attack.

* The Nullifer, which lost its Anti-Grav ability to the Phoenix, now has these three abilities:

  • Force Field: Creates an impenetrable barrier on the field which lasts for 15 seconds.
  • Hallucination: Like the StarCraft 1 High Templar spell, this creates a fake version of the targeted unit, serving as a decoy.
  • Molecular Displacer

* Siege Mode for Siege Tanks is now researched at the Armory, pushing this ability further up the tech tree.

* The Hellion (formerly Jackal) has received a boost in stats and efficiency. When microed well, it can now outrun most enemies while still being able to stop and fire off a quick burst of flame.

Hellions leaving their enemies in their dust

* The Hydralisk has been reduced in tier, hit points, damage, and overall efficiency. It is now mainly used as the Zerg’s anti-air unit.

* Marines now have 80 hit points with the Shield upgrade. The Stim upgrade has been moved up the tech ladder to the Shadow Ops building, and further help arrives a bit later, from the Starport, in the form of the healing Medivac Dropship. These upgrades keep the Marines very useful for the Terran race throughout the entire match.

StarCraft 2’s latest playable multiplayer build coupled with the surge of details about the campaign, along with the StarCraft 2 beta key, are all clear indications that StarCraft 2 is entering a mature presentable stage, soon to culminate with the much anticipated beta.

BlizzCon, the yearly celebration of all things Blizzard, has come to a close. Unlike last year, in which Blizzard fleshed out many new details about the StarCraft 2 gameplay, in this event, the focus was mainly on the single player portion of the game.

Of course, as with all Blizzard events, the latest StarCraft 2 build was playable in the convention hall, and some changes to the gameplay and unit design have been spotted as well. Check out the last part of the post for the new screenshots.

BlizzCon 2009

The StarCraft 2 single player is going to be a completely different experience from StarCraft 1. As we now know, the three campaigns – Terran, Zerg and Protoss -  will be separated into three packages, and each is expected to offer as much content (if not more) than the entire original game.  The first package to be released will contain the Terran campaign, along with full multiplayer capability, featuring all three races, while the next two will be released as expansions in the future.

This new strategy gives Blizzard the opportunity to accomplish a few things, all quite positive (unless you were really anxious about playing all three campaigns without paying more than 50$ for it!):

  • The game, with full Battle.net 2.0 and multiplayer capability, will be released sooner
  • Blizzard will not attempt to rush the single player campaign to satisfy the anxious players waiting for the game’s multiplayer and esports aspects, having time to perfect it up to Blizzard standards
  • The single player campaign will offer a new, unique experience, instead of being a rehash of the same predictable formula we’ve been playing for more than 10 years
  • As full expansions for StarCraft 2, they will also introduce new units, make balance changes, and improve the StarCraft 2 multiplayer game

While this may be disappointing for players who were eager to get their hands on the Zerg or Protoss campaigns, the vast majority of players will likely be excited to be able to play StarCraft 2 sooner, rather than later, and have an assurance that two more expansions are coming in the not-too-distant future. Moreover, for those single player fans, the campaign should be much more satisfying than if it was released in cut-down form.

Quick poll: Would you want to trade places with that Hydralisk?

With beta keys for StarCraft 2 being handed out to BlizzCon attendees, it is safe to say that the beta is fast approaching. Blizzard have had a long time to develop all three races for multiplayer, and according to Chris Sigaty, lead producer, they are now finishing “Wings of Liberty“, the Terran campaign. Since the other campaigns will be released at a future time, the first package should not be far away itself – there isn’t much left to accomplish before it is released. Chris also puts the ballpark for each new expansion at around a year of development.

Zeratul about to kill someone (why else would he not be cloaked?)

Moving on from the technical details, we also have some fresh tidbits about the game and story:

In each campaign, the player will control a major character and follow it throughout the game. As you might have guessed, these will be Jim Raynor for the Terran, Kerrigan for the Zerg, and Zeratul for the Protoss. Controlling your character means more than just moving a hero around on the battlefield, though – the non-RTS portions of StarCraft will resemble more of an RPG.

SC2 Starmap

The game will also provide the player with choices to make about how to proceed in it and perhaps even pose dilemmas that will affect the course of action and plot, but likely not the final outcome. It will feature many more missions – some optional – and allow interested players to explore the StarCraft universe in greater depth and detail. For the Terran campaign, Blizzard have revealed the Starmap, with which the player will navigate and reach chosen missions.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful that this aspect of the game will reach the magnificence of other similarly themed games, such as the other SC2 – Star Control 2, and will more likely stay at the same level of the Command & Conquer inter mission breaks.

SC2 Starmap (?)

Throughout each campaign’s non-linear ~30 missions, the player will also gather resources, with which he will be able to purchase single player-specific upgrades and technology. Players will have to make smart choices with their upgrade paths and pick the right units and technology to fight their chosen battles with. Missions are promised to be much more diverse, as Blizzard tries to avoid the normal “build up a base and kill everything” dead-end formula.

The expanded campaigns will also include many other interesting characters, some of which we’ve seen before, and quite a few new ones. Some new names that have been mentioned are:

  • Valerian Mengsk, son of Arcturus Mengsk from the original StarCraft
  • Tychus Findlay, who we first met in the original StarCraft II cinematic
  • Rory Swann, a former Kel-Morian worker who lead a unsuccesfull revolt. Saved by Jim Raynor, he now serves on the Hyperion as the main engineer, trying to keep the war-torn battlecruiser in fighting shape
  • Gabriel Tosh, a Ghost with supposed ties to Nova of StarCraft: Ghost fame, provides Raynor with his expertise
  • Dr. Ariel Hanson, a young scientist who is also Raynor’s love interest (until he runs into Kerrigan again, at least)

Raynor and Tychus are all bummed out since their supply of alcohol ran out

Blizzard is trying to create something new and exciting for the single player portion of the game. This type of game development is new to Blizzard as well, and it is not surprising that it is taking a long while for them to meet their high standards. By separating the process and releasing the multiplayer game with only a portion of the single player campaign, they are giving themselves the opportunity to perfect the game without delaying it further. The result should please most fans, and provide everyone with a great gaming experience – or so Blizzard, and everyone else, hope.

Finally, Blizzard have also released a few amazing in-game screenshots, featuring new tilesets and giving us a glimpse at the newest unit redesigns.

Here are some notable excerpts:

* A Thor guarding the entrance to the Terran stronghold, completely surrounded by lava

Chillin\'

* Jackals, now called Hellions, roasting a huge pack of Zerglings to a crisp with a few fell swoops

Hellion barbque

* The Battlecruiser unleashes its new Missile Barrage on a few poor Zerg fliers

Missile Barrage

* The Medivac Dropship in action, healing Marauders, who come under attack by Roaches

Roach Attack

Wish I had one of these healing rays at home

* A group of Nighthawks, the new design for the old Nomad, come under attach by Archons, who have also received a small facelift

Nighthawks

* A few more shots of the new Nighthawks, which seem to have borrowed their design from the more sleek and less square and bulky Protoss, alongside their deployed Auto-Turrets

Nighthawks

Nighthawks laying Auto-Turrets

That’s all for now. When the dust settles and all reports from our operatives are handed in, a complete gameplay follow-up piece will be published.

Before we get into the gory gameplay, balance and multimedia details which were revealed during BlizzCon, here are two important and confirmed bits of information our readers should know about:

Michael Morhaime

1) As confirmed by Mike Morhaime, President of Blizzard Entertainment, this year’s BlizzCon attendees receive StarCraft 2 beta keys.

No, the StarCraft 2 Beta was not announced, and no planned schedule exists. However, it is reasonable to assume that Blizzard will make the beta available before 2009’s Blizzcon.

2) During the StarCraft Gameplay Panel, it has been revealed that StarCraft 2 will be released as a game trilogy:

  • Wings of Liberty (Terran)
  • Heart of the Swarm (Zerg)
  • Legacy of the Void (Protoss)

The trilogy is required only for the single player campaign, and the full-featured multiplayer (Battle.net) experience will be available to players who purchase even just one of the above. Splitting the game into 3 distinct products was an uneasy development decision, according to Rob Pardo, who said it was made due to StarCraft 2’s giant single-player project scope, among other considerations.

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