StarCraft 2 and Battle.netBT: Was it a stated aim for you to capitalise on the e-sports angle for StarCraft 2?
Yeah, well I don’t know about ‘capitalising’ on it, but definitely to support it. Since the beginning of development we wanted to support the e-sport community because StarCraft
was so popular with them. So we’ve added things like leagues and ladders and replays and observers, referees. All sorts of things, whereas with the original StarCraft
a lot of those things were shoe-horned in after the fact.
As a result of building them in from the start things, like the Replay functionality, are a lot more robust than in any of our past games.
We even figured out a way to do rewind!
Yeah, and fast forward.
Well, fast forwarding is easy. Rewind…not so much.
This stuff can sound mundane, but in previous replay systems in other games you couldn’t go back and forth when you’re trying to observe. We also have detailed on the fly statistics, which is great not just for e-sports people. It’s handy for shoutcasters too, if they want to show exactly what’s going on, but also for casual players who want to know how they were beaten and what went wrong. It allows them to go watch from their opponents point of view and see exactly what happened and realise things like; ‘I should have attacked at this exact moment when my army was three times faster than his, so maybe I need to learn to scout better.’
Are those the legendary flying mountains of Pandora? No.
And, you know, even though we’ve already got a really extensive feature set for launch the e-sport community, we’ve also got wishlist items that we haven’t even gotten to yet. We’ll hopefully get to them in the future and support the game even better.
Yeah, StarCraft 2
is definitely being built for the long-haul.
BT: Now, you’ve stayed fairly close to the original StarCraft in terms of basic gameplay, even in terms of how the camera is zoomed quite close in. Were you not ever tempted when you first set out to develop the sequel in earnest to just wipe the slate clean and try something completely different?
Well, in terms of the camera angle, that’s always a really controversial topic. It sounds like a simple thing, but you’d be surprised at the amount of resources, discussion and man-hours which go into deciding that sort of thing. Everyone just takes it for granted and just says ‘Oh, it works well’, but then they never give it a second thought once the game goes live – but trust me, it’s a big point of contention when we’re actually developing the game.
And there are changes. Just the fact that it’s a 3D engine now brings with it some huge challenges for the development team – things that weren’t a problem 12 years ago.
At the end of the day though, we decided we were making a sequel to StarCraft
– so, the idea of diverging very far from what the idea of the original wasn’t really an option. If you put ‘StarCraft 2
’ on the box cover of your game then there are certain expectations that go with that for fans. We have to strike a balance between honouring that and providing enough new aspects to make it feel worthwhile.
All Blue Men must die!
Something like half the units in the game, for each race, are new. That means new models, new spells, new abilities. I know there’s been some new conventions establish themselves in the genre over the last 10-12 years, like we even experimented with a cover system in the game, but when they playtested it…that’s not what StarCraft
BT: You want it to be very quick – like 20 minutes or so per game, right?
It should be about constant motion and movement within the battlefield, yeah. If you implement cover then everything gets bogged down and it doesn’t feel like StarCraft
BT: Did you worry that since, as you mentioned, the strategy genre has evolved a lot in the last few years that you might have been left behind a bit? I’m thinking of Dawn of War’s RPG focus or the way World in Conflict played with scale, for example.
When you see and play the game then I don’t think anyone is going to feel like it isn’t an extensive feature set. It’s a huge game experience. So, we haven’t experimented with the RPG stuff or the scales of view, but I don’t think anyone is going to feel short-changed.
I think the features that work well in those games and that are really good games – again, using the cover system as an example – well, they don’t necessarily work for what we’re trying to accomplish in StarCraft 2