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Blizzard has published a very specific request for feedback on StarCraft2.com. Having designed two different yet equally suitable Dark Templar unit models, Blizzard is leaving it up to the fans to decide which one should appear in StarCraft 2 Multiplayer matches.

Different clans take great pains to distinguish themselves through variations in weapons, armor, markings, and dress. For example, the famed hunters of the Zer’atai dress in the bones of slain zerg; the Boros are known for their blank-faced helms and heavy armor; and the Lenassa wear distinctive cloth wrappings and bear wickedly curved warp blades.

Dark Templar options

The first option represents the Lenassa tribe of dark templar, which made its debut in the original StarCraft. This unit carries a single warp blade, and a cloth shroud covers its face.

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The second option represents the Zer’atai tribe of dark templar, who wield dual scythes and wear an ensemble of heavy armor and the bones of slain zerg.

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The third and final option is to have both tribes represented: When you build a dark templar, either the Lenassa or Zer’atai dark templar would spawn randomly.

The dilemma is not complex; it is one which most companies solve behind the corporate curtains, often ending up picking the wrong model due to simply not having the tradition of crowdsourcing certain design decisions. That’s not the case with Blizzard, who often seeks direct feedback from their fans. This is another one of these occasions, so get out there and make your voice heard.

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* Click for big

The SC2Blog, devout proponents of democracy, will also be hosting a poll on the subject.

The 47th Q&A batch has been published, featuring seven answers and largely focusing on StarCraft 2 gameplay. A few interesting issues raised in this one, as well as a surprising development for Zerg transportation. No other special feature has been added to this Q&A session; without further ado:

1. In the original StarCraft, most air units can move and fire, vultures have fast rotating times and can shoot backwards and run forward instantaneously with enough micro. In StarCraft II, there have been some concerns from players who have played the game, that the unit movement animations are getting in the way of micro. Will such animation cancelling techniques still be possible in StarCraft II?

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Both macro and micro-control are very important in StarCraft II as well, and when it comes to micro-control like Vulture’s moving and shooting in the original StarCraft, it is still possible to focus on micro control with the units.

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For example, Mutalisks can fire while moving, with micro. And certain ground units, like the Marauders with the slow attack or Roaches with fast regeneration, benefit greatly from moving and shooting, but they still need to stop to shoot. The Hellion is also interesting, because the Hellion is a unit that has high burst, long delay between attacks, splash damage type, as well as a fast movement speed, so it can be used for kiting purposes as well as closing in the distance after every shot to do max possible damage. Eg, shoot once, close the gap, shoot again, close the gap even more, so that you don’t waste a single shot, but with each movement, you are doing a lot more damage.
StarCraft II also has a firing on the move unit — the Void Ray. The Void Ray can move closer to an enemy unit while continuing to fire at it, and because the damage type builds up over time, it would be more ideal to finish off that one unit that’s trying to run away or back up before engaging a brand new target.

Karune sidestepped the issue in this question, which put the emphasis on delays caused by unit turning animation. StarCraft 1 units, though based on 3D models, were merely 2D sprites on the battlefield. When changing direction, the unit sprite was immediately replaced with the one facing the direction of its ordered movement. In StarCraft 2, units and their full movement are rendered in 3D, and changing direction requires the time it takes the animation to finish. For most units, this change is hardly noticed, and changing direction is an instant operation. For others, like the Mutalisk, this delay is non-trivial, and prevents players from taking advantage of their hit and run potential.

Mutalisk raid

However, a fine example of micromanagement using Terran Marauders, which are minimally affected by this change, can be found in the first Battle Report video.

2. Do you plan to introduce consume (cannibalism) as one of the zerg features? For example, in Starcraft I, defilers ate zerglings to gain 50 energy (it is possible to introduce consume for ultralisks which will gain 50 life after eating a zergling or another unit)

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We don’t have the consume ability in the game now, but if consume is considered as necessary to the game, you will see this ability in StarCraft II. Currently Zerg has caster units like the Infestor, Queen, Overlord, and Overseer. Infestors can move while burrowed, which means it can regenerate energy again away from the battle. The Queen has already powerful skills and combat ability. Overlords can fly and mutate the creep without any energy. Overseers also can fly so that they can earn some time to regenerate their energy as well. If the current Zerg casters having the consume ability, it could make them too powerful and strong.

3. Will there be custom water units? For custom maps and Scumedit will players be able to make units that swim/float. Also will there be special units designed for water, but only available on the Scumedit, like a shark-like zerg or protoss water vessel. Obv. I know these won’t be in multiplayer ladder, I only mean for custom maps.

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We haven’t finalized the decision about the exact extent of support for custom maps and Scumedit yet.

4. Maps have always been important to keep SC balanced, fun and competitive. We have already seen you have some interesting new tools to help multiplayer map designers balance their maps such as tall grass that blocks vision of ground units. What other new terrain elements are we gonna see in SC2 to make interesting competitive maps?

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Currently there are Xel’Naga Watch Tower, Grass, and Destructible Rocks in the map. We will be pleased to add more if we can design other features which will make the game more exciting and balanced as well.

New terrain elements or not, map modders will find ways to implement other effects to make battlefields more complex and interesting, just like in StarCraft 1. In the pro scene, permanent spell effects such as Dark Swarm and Disruption Web can be found across the field, and Dustin Browder has already confirmed that this will be possible in StarCraft 2:

[Dustin Browder] Our data editor allows the creation of this type of terrain. You could easily put this type of terrain on melee maps. We have not finalized our feature set for terrain yet so I dont know what will make the final cut for the default Blizzard maps.


5. The Thor was built by an SCV at first, but since quite time now it is built like a normal unit in the factory. Was this changed due to design or balance reasons?

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We changed this due to the balance reason. Before the change, you could build as many Thors as you want at the same time with your SCVs, as long as you have resources, with one Barrack and an Armory. We decided that this can be too much benefit to Terran, and we changed that Thor could be built from a Factory.

It’s sad to see this new feature go, especially when it’s replaced by constructing Thors from a building which isn’t much bigger than they are.

The Thor is, in fact, as big as a Barracks

6. Zerg has cliff-scaling units?

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We want to keep three races different and they do not necessarily have the same ability units. Currently Zerg do not have a cliff-scaling unit, like the Reaper in Terran or Colossus in Protoss. However, Zerg still can expand very quickly and have other movement advantages like 30% additional speed on creep. They also have the combination of Overlord’s creep generating ability and Nydus Network as a very powerful tool to attack opponent’s main base or expansion. Also, Overlords are currently able to transport Zerg units like the original StarCraft.

Hidden within the usual spiel about race diversity is an incredible announcement about the Zerg’s transportation capabilities. After struggling with making the Nydus Worm function as the sole unit transport for the Zerg, it seems that Blizzard has given up and decided to supplement it with the previous transportation method – the Overlord’s Ventral Sacs.

7. I noticed that in the Protoss demo the Protoss buildings when warped in, had there surfaces visibly warped in, like in the original StarCraft. However, in recent builds and footage, Protoss buildings just appear after the building animation. Is this just a temporary thing, or is it really gone?

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Warp-in of Protoss buildings should be one effect for all with the final frames unique showing the specific buildings structure phasing in.

Along with this Q&A, three new, amazing screenshots have been published on StarCraft2.com, showing the latest and greatest in StarCraft 2 graphics development. Especially of note is the night-time picture, showing a well-lit fight between Protoss and Terran forces.

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2008’s First Q&A has just been posted by Karune – the 25th installment includes a new Gameplay Blog section that covers “‘hands-on’ feedback of the current builds of StarCraft II at the office”.

The Chat with devs section is brief, but includes a very important statement regarding the adjustments being made to the StarCraft 2 graphics:

Chat with Devs: This week I got a chance to talk to Sam Didier, our StarCraft II Art Director, about some of the feedback weve gotten from our most recent monthly discussion. Over the next few weeks we will be trying out a few things on the upcoming screenshots, including a reduced saturation which will increase the realism of the units and environment. This is just a test, so we will see how it goes afterwards, but we look forward to getting everyones feedback.

cute Fluffy puffy graphics

Remember the “Does StarCraft 2 look too cartoonish?” question in our last monthly discussion? Well, we have submitted quite a bit of feedback to Blizzard, and are glad to see Sam Didier is addressing exactly that problem, and aiming in the direction of increasing realism by reducing saturation. That means we can expect the game to have a darker, slightly techno-metallic look and feel – not the lively colors presented up to this point.

Gameplay Blog: With the new year, I thought everyone might enjoy a small new section to the Q&As that will happen periodically, featuring some hands-on feedback of the current builds of StarCraft II at the office. This past week Ive been able to play a few 1 versus 1 skirmish games with our new balance designer, David Kim. Even at this early stage, StarCraft II is shaping up to be an incredibly diverse game in terms of strategy. In addition to many of the original StarCraft strategies (which Ive been tending to stick with), there are several new strategies based on both the newly introduced units, as well as hybrid combinations of legacy and new units. One of the most interesting strategies in our current build is the Nomad rush. Nomads are both effective at supporting an ongoing battle with Auto Turrets (which have building armor) and defending against a raid with rapid deployment, but are surprisingly very effective at raiding as well. Im not talking about minor harassment, kill a probe or two, type of thing. Get four of these Nomads into a mineral line and you can deploy 8 Auto Turrets in no time, wreaking havoc to even a moderately defended position. Each Auto Turret is like having an instant Marine, with rapid fire, and building armor. Could this replace Siege Tank drops? Probably not, but these Auto Turrets dont cost minerals or supply.

tURRETThe strategy being described in the Gameplay Blog should not surprise any RTS veteran – almost every early build or even a final yet immature version of an RTS game will usually include strong strategies based on units which are usually intended for support or spell casting.

1. Does the Nomad have all the abilities an SCV has? (Of course it has its own abilities, but it would be interesting to know if you can at least temporarily replace lost SCVs with Nomads in a game.)(broodwar.de)

No, Nomads will not have the abilities of a SCV. The buildings a Nomad will be able to build, will be unique to the Nomad unit. And you cant gather resources with a Nomad.

That’s quite an interesting and daring decision – the implementation of a support unit with its own array of buildings which cannot be constructed by regular workers. At this point, it is safe to speculate that these buildings are not part of the Terran tech tree, but support structures such as the Auto Turret.

2. How will damage against Protoss Shields be calculated with the new damage bonus system?(Starcraft-Source.com)

Protoss shields will take up the characteristics of their normal armor type. For example, if a Protoss Zealot with light armor gets shot by a Terran Ghost with plus light armor damage, the Zealots shields will also take that light armor bonus damage. On the same note, if a Protoss Colossus were to be hit by a Protoss Stalker with bonus damage towards armored unit, the shields would also take that additional damage.

In StarCraft 1, all Protoss shields were treated equally, and enjoyed neither bonuses nor penalties when facing any damage type. Such implementation was logical, due to the nature of the shield – be it a machine, a building or an organic unit, its shield is effectively unrelated to what is inside. StarCraft 2’s new armor mechanics have changed all that, and the shield’s defensive qualities depend on the unit it protects.

3. Artwork and rumors about SCII have shown Terran cities like Augustgrad. Will Starcraft 2 contain building doodads as seen in the original artwork (ie. skysc#@!&rs, homes, etc)? (starcraft.org)

Yes, many of the original iconic doodads will be recreated for StarCraft II.

4.Can the shadow ops contain “one nuke and one drop pod” or “any 2 of nukes and drop pods”? (thewarcenter.net)

Currently, the Shadow Ops can contain both a nuke and a drop pod at the same time, but will not be able to contain two of one type within a single Shadow Ops building. Drop pods can be loaded with 12 infantry units of the players choosing. On certain maps, a fast expanding SCV drop pod strategy may prove highly effective.

CasperDespite the fact that Shadow Ops (along with the Ghost’s abilities) will undergo many changes prior to StarCraft 2’s release, such an implementation does make sense – the Terran Ghost can launch a Nuclear strike and call for a Drop pod, but not launch two consecutive nukes or summon 24 units to the battlefield.

5. Will the native resolution of Starcraft 2 be widescreen or 4:3? (gamereplays.org)

The plan is to have both of those resolutions supported, along with everything between 5:4 and 16:9. Larger screens will have slightly more viewable range than a smaller screen, but from our tests, the differences will be very minor.

Nowadays there is little reason to limit a game to certain ratios or resolutions – but how about dual-screen support? This feature has been implemented successfully in two leading RTS titles – Supreme Commander and World in Conflict, but considering Blizzard’s popularity in Internet cafes and among casual gamers, StarCraft 2 should focus on maximizing single-screen UI.

One of the major issues people have with StarCraft 2, at this stage of development, is the updated control scheme. The new User Interface (UI) constitutes a major overhaul to the now-outdated, almost-10 year old system of the original game. Among the obvious improvements, some changes are the cause of many arguments that are raging all over StarCraft 2 fan sites and forums.

The changes all deal with automation. The new UI will require less attention from the player and will not force him to micro-manage his game as much as the old one did. Some people argue that this represents a cheapening of the game and the skill it requires to play, while others claim that this is a logical progression and a clearly warranted update to the outdated control scheme.

In this post, we will review the proposed changes:

1) Auto-Mining Peons

In StarCraft 1, every peon (Drone, Probe or SCV) a player built out of his headquarters building would idle near its selected rally point. Unlike other, more modern games of this type (including Blizzard’s WarCraft 3), it was impossible to rally the workers to the resources by right clicking them. Instead, a player had to manually select each and every one of his peons and send them to the a mineral patch or to the Vespene Gas extractor. When selecting a group of workers, high level players would still send them to the minerals individually, since they tended to clump together trying to mine one patch, slightly reducing efficiency.

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This proved to be a major hindrance to slower players – having to focus on one’s base to keep the economy going every time a new peon popped out meant having less time to focus on the battle itself.

This system would be replaced with something that already exists in WarCraft 3. All the player has to do is select the HQ building, right click on the resource location, and the built workers would get to work right as they came out.

SC2Blog Verdict: This should have been patched into StarCraft 1 by now.

 

2) Multiple Building Selection

Many recent RTS games have reduced the focus on building multiple buildings with the exact same purpose, like StarCraft does to increase the potential rate of unit production. StarCraft 2 still keeps to this formula, though, but an improvement in this scheme is proposed: Instead of having to select each building individually and issuing the unit production order, multiple buildings of the same type could be selected. That way, a player with 4 Gateways would be able to click once to produce 4 Stalkers (assuming he has sufficient resources for them).

This would streamline the often-tedious procedure of keeping unit production going, especially considering StarCraft’s 5 unit queue limit for each building and the need to churn out units like mad in some matches. Again, this reduces the player’s need to focus on his base and allows him to manage his units in exploration, battle or positioning on the field. Will this really reduce the gap between newbies and professional players?

SC2Blog Verdict: Another logical improvement.

How often do you build fewer than two Stargates?

 

3) Automatic Unit Formation

In StarCraft, and more than likely, in StarCraft 2 as well, unit positioning plays a very important role. The brilliantly executed meld of melee and ranged attacking units lives and dies on the starting position of each unit as it enters the battle. A group of properly positioned Marines, helped by a handful of Firebats, could repel a much larger number of attacking melee units like Zealots or Zerglings. The same attacking group would annihilate those Terrans if they managed to surround and/or separate them, taking few losses.

StarCraft had a very unforgiving unit formation/pathing system. Often, units (un)managed by less skillful players would march to battle in a single file and die before firing a single shot. Players had to make sure each and every one of their units were positioned smartly to make the best use of them, according to the threat they faced and the conditions of the battlefield.

The StarCraft 2 developers are now entertaining the idea of creating automatic unit formations. We do not yet know the nature of these formations, but can speculate as to how they will be implemented. Other RTS games have several formations you can choose from (e.g. box formation, arrow, straight line) while some do as much as make sure your melee units are positioned at the front while weaker, ranged units are protected in the back. How far will StarCraft 2 take automatic unit formation?

formation.JPG

SC2Blog Verdict: Properly positioning units and “formatting” them to best take advantage of their strengths while hiding their weaknesses is one of the most important and skill demanding features of every RTS game – with StarCraft being no exception. We hope Blizzard doesn’t take this too far. We would like to see improvements to general pathing, however.

 

4) Context-Dependent Unit Behavior

Issuing an attack-move order? In StarCraft 1, Medics grouped with Marines who were given this order would run head first into the enemy while the marines paused to attack from a safe distance. In StarCraft 2, the dev team promised, the Terran Medics will receive additional training, allowing them to interpret their commands in a smarter way. We don’t yet know of other examples for more educated unit behavior, but with this precedent, others are sure to come.

SC2Blog Verdict: While we’re usually proponents of streamlining the game and increasing automation, this might be taking it too far. The player should be the one deciding what units do – even at the cost of them performing stupid moves when he doesn’t notice. If there’s anything that differentiates the pros from the noobs, it’s their ability to control all their units quickly and skillfully at all times.

 

5) Smart Casting

Another improvement to the normal (as of StarCraft 1) behavior of units. Previously, a group of the same units with a special ability who were given a command to use the ability would all activate it together. This would result in 12 Ghosts all locking down a single Carrier, a group of Templars Psi-Storming a single spot on the field, or Queens using up valuable energy by casting ensnare on a single position.

In StarCraft 2, “Smart Casting” would allow the player to use abilities when selecting a group – only this time, only one of the units (the closest one, no less) would use it. A smart player would select a group of Templars, shift click a few locations on the field, and cover a huge area with a devastating super Psi-Storm.

Formation Psi-Storm in StarCraft 1

SC2Blog Verdict: We approve. The end result of this is the same, only less mouse clicks are required. Careful planning will still be needed to execute a good move, just like in StarCraft 1 – but this time, it won’t require superhuman dexterity.

 

Any changes to the winning formula that is StarCraft would obviously lead to many arguments among fans, and probably among the developers themselves. We will all have to decide which update is essential to the game and will allow all players to enjoy it better, while making sure they do not detract from the skill required to master StarCraft 2.

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