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This weekend, GameMeca and PlayXP, two Korean gaming websites, have published extensive hands-on impression articles and have released numerous new StarCraft 2 screenshots which were taken during a event in South Korea. Blizzard has also released a new Fansite Q & A session via SCLegacy, spanning 9 questions, though revealing little new information.

South Korean Press Event

GameMeca’s article has been translated by SCLegacy’s editors (download the article in PDF version here). The lengthy article hasn’t revealed any drastic changes in the latest StarCraft 2 build; however, some observations are worth noting.

The amazing truth is that there was no loading time. Like eating rice after putting it in water (a common way for Koreans to cool down rice instantly while not altering the flavor SC:L) the loading time was over almost instantly

It appears that Blizzard’s developers have opted for pre-caching the game’s map data, graphics and engine during the players’ stay in the game waiting room, prior to the actual match. This is a welcome improvement over current models, and it won’t be surprising to see more developers following in Blizzard’s footsteps in newer games.

….the game being host to a fast sense of speed. From the speed of Probes mining minerals to the movement and attack speeds of the Zealots and Zerglings, and also the rate at which units killed and died in the middle of a battle. The speed was approximately 1.5 times faster than the current ‘Star’.

The above statement is in line with Blizzard’s own statements regarding average game length expectations and what’s been observed in the Battle Reports. Games are furiously fast, and army collisions often result in immediate and heavy damages due to the abundance of splash and AoE dishing units and the overall increase in game pace.

The graphics quality probably will not surpass those of the recently released RTS, ‘Warhammer 40K, Dawn of War2’, but its refined, polished look and the light, warm colors give the whole game a graceful, pristine feel

StarCraft 2 is not  graphically inferior to contemporary RTS titles, especially after the recently implemented model and texture upgrades. Having participated in DoW2′s beta, we’ve enjoyed the killing blow animations and explosive effects of Dawn of War 2, but there’s little, if any, need for improvement to StarCraft 2’s graphics.

Protoss and Swarm Clash - StarCraft 2' graphics

…when multiple workers were selected and one mineral was clicked, instead of rushing all to that one mineral they all spread out, going in different directions like the good friends they are.

And so passes the ancient art of first-second worker control.

Next is the ability to hotkey multiple selections and squads. The original selection cap of only 12 multiple selections has increased to 24, and when selecting with hotkeys it was possible to go above the 24 limit. If 25 Zealots were set to hotkey number 1, the space that showed unit details said 24 units were set to hotkey 1 and the leftover one unit was set to hotkey 2.

There is no limit on the number of selected units. However, hot-keyed control groups are limited to 24 units each, with the game automatically assigning the “overflow” units to the next control group number.

… when multiple buildings were selected it was necessary to press the unit production button as many times as the number of buildings.

It was because if you pressed the button once, the first of the selected buildings started producing, and if you pressed another time the second building produced and so on. It was the same for unit upgrades, like in the case of 10 hydras. If all ten were selected, you needed to press the Lurker button 10 times to make all ten into Lurkers.

The above mechanism is an example of the sort of brilliant decisions that make Blizzard games what they are. Players are provided with a comfortable, “automated” way of selecting multiple units and buildings, yet are given full control over the number and types of units produced/upgraded. Pressing one button does not create a horde of identical units, but players are not denied the option of producing from groups of buildings via hotkeys either.

PlayXP has published six super hi-res shots:

Thors and Ultralisk Collide in Epic BattleTerran Air ArmadaRaiders Raid a Zerg Worker LineZerg Going Old School MutalingProtoss Colossi Fight TerransBrood Lords Swarm Terrans

SC:L’s Fansite Q&A clarifies several moot points, mainly on aspects either inherited from StarCraft 1 or left unclear after previously being discussed in a vague manner during StarCraft 2’s development.

1. Are any other units aside from the Dark Templar going to have multiple models (ie. male and female Ghosts)?

Currently, we’re not considering any other units for multiple models.

2. In the original StarCraft and Brood War, Carriers have been very rarely used for competitive matches due to their ineffectiveness in small numbers because of their critical mass effect. Up until now, what changes or ideas have played with to increase their effectiveness in small numbers with or without other ships for support, and what is the current status on the Carrier? Also, what about the Battlecruiser?

In general, it’s still better if you have as many carriers or battlecruisers as possible in the battle. However, small numbers of carriers or battlecruisers will be still very useful for supporting both ground and air units.

3. We were told recently that workers can’t patrol. This makes SCV auto-repair a lot less useful. (In Warcraft III, you could set a worker to patrol, and it would auto-repair any damaged buildings or mechanical units nearby. Great for keeping towers (and bunkers!) alive.)

SCVs can patrol, so if you activate auto-casting of the SCV’s repair ability, that SCV will repair damaged buildings or units it encounters while on patrol. The SCV will repair nearby units and buildings and continue its designated patrol pattern again after the repairs are complete.

Players will be able to assign SCVs to repair duty, leaving another repetitive StarCraft 1 chore behind. This will be a handy tool for frequently raided expansions and stretched. turtled defense lines.

4. What use does the Overlord usually see versus the Nydus Worm? That is, in what capacity is each transport mechanic used?

It all depends on a player’s choice in each case. When you want try out a sneaky and clever attack on the enemy’s base, the nydus worm can be useful in that role as a more tactical and general choice for harassing the enemy’s economy. However, you can also use a mass overlord drop just like the original StarCraft, for an aggressive, all-out attack. However, the overlord drop is riskier, as you’re putting much of your supply and the cargo in jeopardy if you encounter strong anti-air defense.

5. Can Thors or Colossi be transported in any way?

Thors and colossi can be transported by each race’s transportation units: the medivac and the warp prism.

Thors being transported by anything short of a Battlecruiser constitutes a major realism issue. Thors are huge not only visually, but “by design”, so to speak. Two Reavers were never small enough to fit in a shuttle, but a Reaver was never perceived as a multi-cannon front-line behemoth like the Thor is. Carrying a Thor inside the Medivac reverses Blizzard’s long time decision of making the Thor untransportable.

6. How do you use the Thor’s resurrection ability? Does it cost resources to use?

Thor doesn’t have the resurrection ability any more in the current build. While the mechanic was a cool idea on paper, it didn’t end up being especially practical when we tried it in internal playtesting.

7. How has more efficient AI and pathfinding affected the game? Does it make the game easier?

AI in StarCraft II is much more developed from the original StarCraft. For example, the computer is required to scout to find you now in every difficulty mode. In higher difficulty modes, the AI will adapt to what it sees you are building to counter your selected strategy with key units of their own. This means that the computer no longer cheats as far as “knowing” where you are and what you’re doing. It can only react to what it sees when their scouts find your units and bases.

The pathfinding is also much improved in StarCraft II, which will reduce some frustration when directing your units to move long distances around varying terrain. Certain melee units are also smarter about attempting to surround enemies, but we don’t believe this makes the game “easier.” Players who choose to micro their armies will still have an advantage.

8. I would like to know if the MULE can repair air units and lifted-off buildings, and in turn, could we see MULEs being called down in the front lines to repair Battlecruisers and Thors or in the corner of the map to repair a burning Command Center that was lifted off to escape an attack? Also, at what rate does a MULE repair? Faster or slower than an SCV?

The mule is only for gathering minerals or scouting. You cannot repair units or structures with the mule.

9. Regarding the “Discussion with Artosis and Idra” video – does their prediction that Zerg vs. Zerg is degrading into “Roach spam” have any validity? Will ZvZ matchups frequent a more diverse selection of units beyond Zerglings, Roaches, and Mutalisks?

We would like to see as many units as possible being used in the battle, instead of some selected units like zerglings, roaches, and mutalisks. We are still polishing and balancing units including the roach, and hope to see how the players will make various combinations of units during the beta.

Blizzard has made it clear that they’re comitted to preventing all possible match-ups from “deteriorating” into battles involving 2-3 units many times before. Unit spam is a core issue which plagues the majority of existing RTS titles, and solutions require a lot of testing, feedback and balancing – the main goals of the upcoming beta.

Blizzard has released eight new screenshots through an updated StarCraft 2 Fansite Kit, all featuring battles from the single player campaign. Accompanying these pictures are some tidbits of information from Karune, Blizzard’s RTS community manager.

Crispy Zerglings

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A Terran base is attacked by a medium-size Zerg force. The base isn’t heavily defended – but it’s enough that a few Hellion shots land well and scorch a fair share of Zerglings for the Zerg attack to fail.

Speaking of scorched units, Karune has mentioned that many of the new art updates to the game involve animations, particularly the death sequences we had recently discussed.

Many of the newest art updates have actually been made in the animations, weapon particles, and in special effects, which are much harder to show in screenshots. For instance, HellionsMarines to a crisp when they are destroyed by the flames. Dark Templars also end up eviscerating Marauders in a ruthless fashion. In our next batch we’ll see if we can emphasize on some of these new additions made.

Projectile vomiting

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This screenshot is another one in the “base comes under attack by endless Zerg forces” series, which has become a favorite for Blizzard recently. In this shot, we can see the new and improved Roach attack – an Acid Spit – thicker and more menacing than before. As well, the Creep seems to be colored differently than before, having a more greish hue. This is likely a result of either the single player setting, where this shot is taking place, or perhaps a change meant to implement different Creep for different team colors.

Protoss air attack

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The Protoss attempt an attack on a Terran base, defended both by Missile Turrets and a few Vikings. Failure is imminent, and we get to see the hurt being put on the remaining units along with a Phoenix returning its pilot’s soul to the Khala. Unfortunately for the Terrans, the Protoss have also beamed down a ground attack force, and it seems that their economy is about to enter a depression.

Enemy at the gates

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Another Terran base is being swarmed from all directions in this shot. Will the Zerg ever run out of units to throw at their enemies? Hopefully not.

Fighting in the fields

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In this shot, Protoss and Zerg forces are fighting over what looks like a Terran settlement – implying that we will see those in the single player campaign. The Colossus’ weapon, seen here in all its might, has received a buff to its effectiveness. Here’s what Karune had to say:

The Colossus in the latest round of balance has had it’s damage increased, with its attack speed decreased a bit, giving it some more burst. With a couple of these on the field, it is quite effective at decimating armies of light armor units.

Well-aimed shots from two or three Colossi will now be able to devastate many of StarCraft 2’s smaller units in the first laser shot, increasing its usefulness and making the added attack cooldown less important.

Colossi crossing the deep sea

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Colossi are seen here again, this time emerging from the sea, their legs streching all the way to the bottom while the head-turrets fire freely. Did the Colossus get another buff? Not just yet:

The Colossi, like other ground units, will be able to move through shallow waters only. In this screenshot, it shows experimentation of having Colossi move through slightly deeper waters, but there are no plans at the moment to make the Colossi traverse all water terrains.

Lastly, Karune mentions a new mechanism for the Nighthawk’s deployables, which, as we have suggested, will now be tied to resources instead of energy:

On the balance side, in the latest round of changes, the Nighthawk builds mini defenses such as the auto turret based on resources now, instead of energy. This effectively forces players to think more in how they plan to use the Nighthawk’s support functions based on their resources. Additionally, these ‘almost instant’ drops on the battlefield could easily change the tide of a battle or even wreck havoc on an unsuspecting enemy economy.

Auto Turrets: now on sale

Recently, the official StarCraft 2 website has been updated with four beautiful new screenshots. The images tell stories of epic battles, serving as great reminders that StarCraft 2 is not just a micromanagement fest, but also a game of great wars and battles involving huge armies.

Without further ado:

A giant "LASER"

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This screenshot features a bona fide Terran siege, stationed on a cliff overlooking a lightly defended Protoss base. The few Phase Cannons and two Colossi are no match for the devastating fire power the Terran have brought in for this assault.

Swarm

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The next screenshot is all about the Zerg. Although this Protoss base is better positioned to handle an attack and has more weapons in place to defend it, the swarm engulfs it from all sides, leaving little room for the Protoss to maneuver.

Defensive Matrix

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This one shows the Terran Defensive Matrix ability for the first time. The Matrix, previously a Science Vessel spell, is now an ability that Battlecrusiers possess – however, it can only be used on themselves. Two other Battlecruisers, which have elected to go with the Yamato Cannon ability instead, are also seen, and the difference between the design of the different Battlecruiser types is visible as well.

bunkers2

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Lastly, this beautiful screenshot shows StarCraft 2’s newly discovered quality – the night time scene. In this one, the Terran army is holding a heavily defended choke point against the Zerg attack. Since the attack is not coordinated and the Terran forces are well-positioned, this one isn’t likely to break through.

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.

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