IN THE PIPE, FIVE BY FIVE
“I think because we chose to make the campaign so different to the multiplayer – we always told this half-truth, semi-lie that the campaign was a preparation for the multiplayer experience, and it never really was,” says Browder. As the campaigns in StarCraft games diverge more and more from the multiplayer experience, Browder acknowledges that it has become even harder for those who enjoy the singleplayer to make the transition to the highly competitive online landscape.
“We certainly feel like we can do a better job teaching people to play the multiplayer game. We’ve had that feedback many times. I’ve been to trade shows, to BlizzCon, I’ve run into people who play the game, and a lot of them will say, ‘I love the campaign but I don’t – I don’t play that scary [online] thing.’ So I think we can certainly do better by them.”
To aid players interested in making the transition to online, Heart of the Swarm will also include a huge suite of new training features. A revamped training mode will involve three missions that run in sequence. Each increases in pace, and each unlocks more technology while providing more objectives. Helpful tool tips will also tell players what to do at any time.
“We watch new players use it and they’re always shocked,” continues Browder. “‘I need how many workers?’ ‘Four barracks is legit?’”
“I don’t know if this will get you into grandmaster, but it might at least get you into bronze, right? That’s what we’re hoping for, for those players who are really struggling with that transition.”
In addition to new levels of computer AI, Heart of the Swarm is also adding an AI Challenge mode that can be activated without any of the barriers that came with setting up a match versus the computer in Wings of Liberty. “[It] doesn’t require you to go into a lobby, guess what your difficulty should be, try it, then pick a new map. It’ll just find you a map that’s on ladder today, automatically ramp you to your best difficulty and keep you at your best difficulty, and that will hopefully be a much more compelling versus AI experience.”
For players already invested in StarCraft II multiplayer, Heart of the Swarm brings with it the welcome addition of unranked play. Browder describes a situation many players will know all too well: “You go home, you have a bad night – maybe you’re a little sick, little tired, little drunk – and you lose five games. You ask yourself, ‘Why did I even play tonight? I just wanted to—argh, now my ranking has tanked and I’m no closer to another achievement!’”
Closely tied to that is the levelling system already being tested in the online beta. The system is designed to reward players for winning, but also simply for playing. “If you play versus AI, you get experience, if you play certain maps you get experience, if you play 2v2, 1v1, 4v1, you get experience. It’s not, as we felt it was with the achievement system in Wings of Liberty, a little too mean.”
As players level up, they’ll unlock new portraits, decals and skins. Browder acknowledges that the latter is a particularly difficult proposition. “We don’t want to get so crazy that you can’t recognise what these units are – this is still an eSport, and even if it’s not an eSport, you’re still playing competitively on ladder and trying to be serious about it, I don’t want you to be confused by whether a Zergling has metabolic boost, or whether it’s just an upgraded Zergling skin. We’re really going to be tuning these over the next couple of weeks and making sure we’ve got it really tight.”
Customisable Observer UIs will also be available come patch 2.0, but even Browder is unsure where such a feature will lead. “We started updating our obversver UI, but we thought, you know what would be a better idea? Instead of us doing that, let’s give the tools to the community because there are so many casters out there that are such specialists at doing this right now, and maybe want to have their own take depending on how they’re casting.”
Replays are also being handled differently. Now, players will be able to watch replays together, and a previously announced feature, Start From Replay, will allow players to jump in at any point and take live control of a replay they’re watching.
The most visceral highlight of the multiplayer component is the use of Domino Physics – the same creature physics used in Diablo III. Units will burst into scraps and flesh, then bounce off one another, and the environment. In the video shown, the physics were tuned right up for full effect, however, they’re unlikely to be so intense.
“We won’t be doing this much all the time because it gets really confusing and noisy,” he explains. “You can turn this off, but our goal is to ride the line where it’s really cool and not too obnoxious so that people will leave it on. We’ll keep tuning that.”
Together with what’s already promising to be a robust singleplayer campaign, these changes to the multiplayer game do a great deal to suggest that Heart of the Swarm will be very warmly received by fans of the series, and perhaps even earn the it a place at the table with its hallowed predecessors.