The ban is now lifted.
This initial newspost will cover your correspondents' thoughts on the races and game-infrastructure developments while addressing any questions you may have.
+ Show Spoiler [Zerg Tech Tree] +
Karune tells us that Kerrigan’s broods constitute the weakest StarCraft II faction in in-house testing, and I believe him. Early-game terrors such as the Baneling do not transition well into mid-game; what Browder calls “board control” is lost due to the lurker’s move to T3. Four main points to note:
Overlords: Detection is still not automatically available. Thus, phoenix-DT is, for all intents and purposes, more powerful than the BroodWar equivalent. The fact that the Zerg player is required to not only invest precious gas into making his overlords see, but also protect these investments against airborne threat, makes for tough situations early in the matchup. Against one of the Blizzard devs, I razed two hatcheries, a dozen drones, a queen, and some other units with my initial two dark templar simply due to detection difficulties.
That being said, creep-drop is underused (nobody at the conference bothered to explore its potential). One duly notes the power of creep: zerg movement speed increase on the biomatter is evident and significant. A player such as by.hero or n.Die_Jaedong who has the 400+ apm available would be able to turn half the map purple – this may fix the race’s current control ailments.
Banelings: Upgraded to eighty damage. Able to explode while underground. Available in significant numbers relatively early. This is still one of the better units in the Zerg arsenal. A curiosity to note: Banelings lifted via the Phoenix’s graviton beam can now explode in the air. Your correspondent does not predict this happening in a pro-circuit game ever, but it’s an amusing oddity nevertheless.
Hydralisks: Move like crack once upgraded, and, at tier 1.5, they are in the correct placement. Zerg with no credible anti-air unit until T2 is just bizarre compared to the other two races. Hydralisks against mutalisks may actually be possible now, as the ground unit is mobile enough to defend and the air unit is not as mobile as it once was.
Mutalisks: The staple unit of Zerg masters from YellOw to Jaedong is, in the words of Browder, being “recreated” as faithfully as possible. After much pressure from the competitive scene, mutalisks have changed from clunky and useless to moderately good. Now they’re about as strong as pre-Shark muta. They perform a passable moving shot and even got a one-point damage increase. However, the lack of perfect stacking limits their viability, especially with the advent of 55-hp marines. Browder told me he would re-examine the mutalisks to see if they can stack more properly.
+ Show Spoiler [Terran Tech Tree] +
The race as a whole is considered the strongest in-house. Late game, a bionic army with appropriate support cannot be stopped. The Zerg, with the same toys they had before minus unlimited energy and with no scourge, keel over and die. Protoss puts up better resistance with high templar and colossi, but the new ghost EMP eliminate the caster threat and anti-air annihilates the war machines.
Lack of medics does not obviate early game mobility as the 125-hp marauder and his slowing grenades + the increased HP of the marines themselves allow for early aggression. Furthermore, as demonstrated by David Kim, addon compatibility between the Factory, Barracks, and Starport mean that your Starport can be cranking out Medivacs two at a time as soon as it goes up. Some notes:
Medivac: It heals faster than a medic. Terran units have, on the whole, more health. This leads to some dps problems as Zerg’s masses struggle to overcome Terrans holding chokepoints. Also, with no scourge, drops cannot be killed efficiently in transit; there’s no way Zerg can have corruptors and mutalisks patrolling to shoot them down. On paper, you might submit the Queen as a counter, but she too struggles to kill fast enough.
Bunker/Depot: 100% salvage. Early game harassment what.
Mass mobility: Terran does not have an equivalent to mass overlord/nydus worm/warp-in/phase prism shenanigans. This might be an issue but they said it wasn't in-house. We'll see once the beta hits.
Banshee: Imagine the wraith. Now, reverse its anti-air and anti-ground damage. Balance problems much? Karune agrees that countering air harass may be a problem, but if there are issues in the beta, they'll be duly addressed.
+ Show Spoiler [Protoss Tech Tree] +
Many of the eSports team members publicly admit their Reach-fanship. This is clearly evident – Zealots are stronger, storm is better, and all in all Protoss is awesome.
Nullifier: Forcefield is quite good. It costs 50 energy only, and lasts for a respectable time. The unit itself costs 100 gas though, and gas is harder to get than it was in SC1. So it’s not particularly game-breaking. It might help to get one earlier on to block runbys though.
Dark Pylon: It’s now called the Obelisk, and is not a pylon (does not power, does not supply). It also does not cloak. Right now it powers up your workers (macro mechanic) and acts as a shield battery. I find this macro mechanic far better than the old broken-gas gimmick. Also, the choice between Obelisk or Pylon is a critical one that the devs themselves are unsure about – some swear by Obelisk-first whereas others cannot bear being supply stuck. It’s a good building, and I enjoy its inclusion.
Immortal: Due to balance reasons, this unit may be moved to the Robotics facility. This puts it higher up on the tech tree, but I really don’t see why this is necessary. It’s not a particularly critical unit due to the Siege Tank’s lessened importance anyway.
High Templar: Psionic storm is back, bigger and better than ever. It deals 120 damage (yes, more) over 4 intervals (yes, less) over a larger area (yes, larger) and has a sick animation best described as SC1 storm meets WC3 flamestrike. Most of my games revolved around massing enough high temps to storm everything to kingdom come. With smartcasting, now everyone can be like Reach! A great, fun, cathartic, but not imbalanced unit.
Warp Gates: They produce units faster on top of performing their instant-warp duties. Impressive indeed. Many of the Blizzard devs watching me play other devs criticized my late transition to warpgates, being unused to it. They're researched from the cybercore for 50/50, so I understand their strategic reasoning. I would like to note that I simply opted for an in-base horror proxy and did win with it.
Mothership: It moves very, very slowly. I fail to see its usefulness in most games, as the only way to get it to the battlefield is to make a proxy pylon and warp to it. Browder is OK with it being a marginalized unit though - he notes that SC1 had its own share of "fuck you" units in the scout and queen.
Replays: These show resource count, unit count, building count, infrastructure investments - all the statistics you could ever need. They also show FPview and can rewind. Yes, replays now rewind.
B.net 2.0: They couldn't talk about this. Nor could they talk about single-player. However, LAN is right out due to Bnet 2.0 features that they could not discuss.
Game mechanics: MBS is in. Unlimited unit selection is in. No surprises there, but they did confirm it for sure. They're also not coding in a way to disable the windows key, as it would disqualify them from the Games for Windows tag. Ally color changes are in, and they're working on implementing F2-F4.
Summary statistics: These now provide build-order information as well as some other relevant information. Think bwchart ported in-game.
ESPORTS: Blizzard's partnership with GOM is a move into e-Sports (a term tossed around at least twenty times during interview sessions; also half the employees I met were in "e-Sports"), which will... receive further coverage once they discuss B.net 2.0. I am proud to note that the e-Sports staff are proper men who are fans of Reach.
Other: As for those who are displeased with Blizzard's handling of the beta and public relations, I assure you that Karune's explanations in our interview were perfectly sufficient. The game is in a playable state, but the server infrastructure required to handle 30-40k users is not in place. Thus it is now a purely logistical issue, and he estimates beta within a relatively short timeframe.
I suggested July 17, citing Science. Karune waffled on a response. This is a clear affirmation of the Kennigit Intelligence Department's findings.
Congratulations to SC2GG for defeating us in sub-5 minute dual rush games on wide ramps. This illustrates the need to use intelligent building construction in the new SC, as zealot/probe won't cut it anymore. I'm sure they'll cover their win in detail, though it can basically be summarized as 2gate+9pool x2.
Also, congratulations to SC2GG for crashing a Blizzard arcade machine with a single button press.
I did indeed drop a fairly entertaining solo match against Karune. My other games against devs, despite being all wins, were not nearly as interesting. If there's interest I'll provide a battle report as best as I can remember.
As always, feel free to ask questions and now that NDA is lifted I'll do all I can to answer them. Apologies for the roughness of this post as I have been entertaining family visitors from Taiwan/working/otherwise busy.
LR + sog