Part I: First Contact
+ Show Spoiler [Blizzard] +
first glimpse of the new Blizzard HQ! I was stretching my arm outside the driver car window [I was passenger] ...
As most know, on Tuesday, SoG and I had the honor of representing TeamLiquid at the Zerg release press conference. Situated at the new Blizzard HQ in Irvine, CA, the seven-plus hour event allowed us a glimpse into SCII’s development so far as well as its future path. Yet it was only a glimpse – it was an appetizer, a teaser, an experience that left me excited but still reaching for more.
+ Show Spoiler [Gate] +
a view of the front gate. we were both taking pictures at this point. he was still driving.
I flew in Tuesday morning after a short plane hop from SF. semioldguy picked me up at the airport, and we headed over to Blizzard. The first ones there, we sat around for awhile, looked at bits of random art, and waited for everyone else to arrive. We even posted on TL [after which the rest of staff told us to ‘get to work’]
+ Show Spoiler [Semioldguy] +
semioldguy working real hard. we were browsing TL on the comps behind him.
And get to work we did. Heading up to the second floor, where the machines awaited, you could feel the excitement of the two-dozen or so press there. Yet, I barely finished a 1v1 against semioldguy [PvZ. Reach’s race cleaned up the zerg infestation, despite having pink psi blades. More on that later] when we were presented with the opportunity to interview three men leading the whole StarCraft 2 project: Chris Sigaty, Lead producer; Dustin Browder, head designer; Samwise Didier, art director.
Thoughts on Chris
As the lead producer, he manages the whole thing. He organizes the various teams, from programming to video, from sound to balance, everything is run by him. The most salient points I garnered from conversing with him:
- Everything – from minute details of gameplay to the direction the entire game is taking – is subject to change. Nothing is set in stone yet. So when things happen to the medic, or when the art is too bright, don’t proclaim the end of days and the coming of the apocalypse. Just state your opinion in a cogent manner, and Blizzard will (and does) listen.
- As for community feedback, currently the game is in alpha stage. That basically means it’s being played internally, with the occasional build release for the media. The next step is to get all 2000+ Blizzard employees playing, after which they’ll move it to beta. Sigaty looks forward to feedback from people when they are actually able to try the game out for themselves instead of simply hypothesizing about it.
- They do have two ex-progamers on the dev team. They’ll also look for more progamer feedback come beta. Progamers aren’t really available to hire in bulk, unfortunately.
- Press events such as this one, blizzcon, wwi – Sigaty is in charge of running those. Fires like these pop up; he has to deal with them. He also looks at all community feedback, so talk – they’ll listen.
Thoughts on Dustin
This man is the guy who announced it. The guy developing it, making the big decisions regarding units, balance, storyline, whatever. You’ve seen him, you know what he looks like, and what he does. When we met him in person, you get the feeling that he really does care about the game, and wants to make StarCraft II a success – not only financially, but as a game and an e-sport as well.
- Singleplayer events have been decided. Now it’s just ordering them, making sure the non-linear format works. It’s not completely done, but the ideas are all there. Also, this time around, they will include more ways to lose; it won’t just be countdown timers or losing a hero, but they want the AI behavior to actually endanger the player.
- The week at SC2 goes more or less like this: Monday/Tuesday are brainstorming days where they think about how they want to balance/change everything. Wednesday/Thursday are programming days. Friday is a playtesting day. Then they go back on Monday/Tuesday to repeat the process all over again. Every week comes a new build, every week the game changes. Nothing is set in stone.
- Since entertaining signature moves [Kim Sungje’s reavers, Park Jungseok’s storms, Lee YoonYeol’s mass irradiates] have been removed or de-powered, I asked him how he planned to replace them. While a BC with a plasma turret can decimate a similar amount of units as a reaver, anyone can use an upgraded BC while not everyone can make their shuttle shoot scarabs. This is still a concern of mine.
- There are many, many new mechanics being added to the game. The idea is that, in StarCraft 1, players discovered more and more tricks with rather basic mechanics; if they include more abilities, players will discover even more little bugs to play with. I’m undecided on this one – on one hand, more abilities such as the stalker’s blink may be cool and different, on the other, SC1 had a lot of tricks you could do with simple dragoons – see Reach vs TheRock, or Kingdom vs Rage. [Dancing feels.. different, now.]
- After the 2v2 tournament I talked to him about MBS. He understands that MBS makes macro too easy, but wants to include it in order to cater to the casual community. However, he realizes that he has to add something to make macro comparatively difficult –and if he isn’t able to, he is willing to cut out MBS. To paraphrase his words: “if it dies, it dies”.
Thoughts on Sam
This guy draws much of the concept art you see. He also makes the call on artistic decisions in SC2. He’s a fun guy, a great artist, and all-around devoted to making SC2 not only look good, but look playable.
- The saturation and the grit and all that – most of it is just lighting issues. SC2’s lighting engine is rather different from its previous games, so things differ from their concept art and whatnot. Also, in-game it looks far different than in screenshots. Personally, I like the look of most things.
- Team colors are a big issue for Protoss. Against semioldguy I had Zealots with pinkish psi-blades and big pink cotton ball Archons. Not only did I initially confuse it with a Dark Archon and spaz a bit [what the hell is a DA going to do against his mutalisks?!] but it just looked out of place. IMO Protoss is bronze/blue; taking out the blue really emasculates them. I thought about telling Sam to just call Reach and ask what he thinks.
- As for the hydralisk/lurker look, and why the lurker doesn’t seem like it evolved from the hydra, Sam is pursuing a ‘unique silhouette’ with regards to units. He wants each unit to have its own profile this time, since they have the polygon count to do so. In SC1, he says, the hydra/lurker/ling all had similar head structure – in SC2, he doesn’t want to have that limitation. He did say he would explore slimming down the lurker head.
- Weather effects, day/night, bright shiny WC3-like lighting – those things Sam thinks are pretty, but if they detract from gameplay and visibility, he won’t include them. He is considering them for single-player, but if the community decides against it, it’ll be limited/not there at all. For example: ashworld used to have periodic spurts of flame from the lava, a la The Princess Bride. Then during a test game, a fireball zoomed across the player’s main base, and he thought he was under attack from some crazy flame being. Result: random fireballs cut. I wouldn’t worry too much about WC3-ish weather effects.
- On the forums, Sam completely ignores random flamers. It seems like common sense, but there are still people who insist on saying U SUx pLZ BURN1!!1!!1!1233!@onEELeVnty!!@1!1. If it’s constructive, he’ll listen – as with regards to Terran saturation, zealots’ profile, things like that – but don’t just bash stuff; it serves nobody any good.
- Three Random Tidbits: Yes, the Viking is inspired by Transformers. No, the Colossus is not taken from CnC3 – it has four legs, not three. The original Thor was going to be a massive tank, but they changed it into the walker it is now - the old tank model for the Thor is the new siege tank.
After finishing our chat with these personages, your correspondent returned to the battlefield to test his mettle against his partner, and other sites. More on that later - stay tuned!
Love and luck,
Preview of what's coming up: