Blizzard's attention to detail and perfection are well known, nevertheless the California-based developer has a monumental task ahead of them with the impeding release of StarCraft II.
Released over 10 years ago and still played by many today, the original StarCraft achieved epic success worldwide. The legion of fans it has amassed would be unlikely to take kindly to sweeping gameplay changes in the sequel.
With this in mind, we met with the Lead Producer for StarCraft II, Chris Sigaty, at Blizzard HQ in Los Angeles. We asked Chris what we can expect from the multiplayer side of the game, as well as how the newly revamped Battle.Net is shaping up.
Dan: Would you say that the multiplayer was the most important aspect of creating StarCraft II? For example, did any changes you have to make with balancing units for multiplayer affect the single player storyline?
Chris: From our perspective and looking at online stats, we found with our previous games, StarCraft and Warcraft III, that only about 50% of people ever even log on to the online service, and therefore at a very basic level single player is as important as multiplayer is. Generally, the multiplayer tends to keep people around for the long haul, and that is why StarCraft is important to this day - and Warcraft III in the same way - so it's a very important part.
But there is a large contingent of people that are very interested in the story and very compelled to play the single player experience, so we look at it as a 50/50 split in the middle. As far as the multiplayer balance, it's really set specifically for playing games competitively against one another or the AI. Single player is not set up as a training ground to let you go off and play multiplayer, or anything like that, and we do very different things in there. In fact, drastically so in this game. If you looked back to Warcraft III, our last RTS, most of the units that were in the campaign were in the multiplayer game, and although there were some unique characters, all the core characters were the same. This time around we actually have a lot of unique units that are only appearing in the single player and they won't appear at all in the multiplayer. Things like the Firebat, which was removed from the multiplayer in StarCraft II, is actually in the campaign.
Dan: How robust is the map editor that will be coming with StarCraft II? Would I be able to just jump in and recreate the original StarCraft?
Chris: Absolutely. This is our most powerful editor by far. We look at it as part of the big package of any of our products now, at least on the RTS side.
You are going to have a great multiplayer experience, you are going to have a great single player experience and you are going to have a fully featured editor that will give you the power you need to create the visions you have in your own head and to grow upon it. I think we have achieved that success, certainly with WarCraft III allowing for DOTA and that sort of thing. With this it is definitely a step further and we have done a lot of things that aren't really apparent on the surface, but are pretty huge strides for us. This morning you guys saw the score screen in the shoutcast. That score screen is actually created via data, it's stored in the map and the map says "here are the things I want to display on the score screen, track these things and then show them at the end".
In our previous games they were hardcoded score screens, so you could make DOTA but when the game ends you may be presented with a screen that displays something that is different than what you need for that style of game. Now a player can go and edit those things, and make their own score screens. If you are making a tower defence game, for example, that says you created this many towers, destroyed this many towers or whatever you might what to do in your particular game. We are really trying to take it yet another step further, we have already spent a lot of time putting in some of the features that a DOTA player might want, although we don't necessarily know or even think that DOTA is going to be the StarCraft II mod, it could be anything but we are certainly trying to put as much power as possible into the end users hands.
Dan: In the shoutcast today, we were shown the match stats at the end of the game. With the relaunch of Battle.Net, will that sort of information be tied to player accounts? Will you be able to follow someone and see how they play?
Chris: We aren't talking about the specifics at this stage but I can tell you we are certainly going to incorporate some level of stats and some level of information that people can go through and see. We have some of that now with Warcraft III, for example you can go and check out the stats of the last few games a person has played, so we intend to have some level of functionality that way.
Dan: Still with Battle.Net, do you think replays are likely to be attached to player profiles?
Chris: We are still talking about the specifics of what that is, but certainly our intention is to have the ability to watch some replays up on the service, but how that plays out, we are still working through right now.
Dan: Is the relaunch of Battle.net tied to the launch of StarCraft II or the multiplayer beta?
Chris: Certainly we are striving for the soonest possible dates and targeting the (North American) summer for the beta this year, of course we wont ship anything until it is ready, but the intention with regards to beta vs. final is that the beta will be a glimpse into where Battle.Net will be when we launch.
But it won't be fully featured and the final game will have some differences, hopefully as minor as possible because it puts us between a rock and a hard place as we need to be reacting to feedback we are getting, plus be adding features so we want to try and make it as close as possible.