Blizzard is going to integrate the StarCraft II single-player experience together with multiplayer, Lead Producer Chris Sigaty explained to us at BlizzCon, by giving players achievements in story mode, and single-player 'challenges' that will upskill players so they will be more ready to compete when they go into multiplayer the first time - rather than just being cannon fodder and getting their "ass handed to [them]".
Additionally, single-player saved games and (possibly) some game settings will be stored "in the cloud" on Battle.net's servers, so you can potentially play StarCraft II "at work" (note: unless you work at Blizzard, or have a very laid back boss, this may not be advisable), then come home and continue playing where you left off. While you're playing, if you're connected to Battle.net you'll also receive friend status notifications.
Sigaty revealed that many aspects of the game's user interface will change in the later expansions, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void. The interface in Wings of Liberty is designed to fit the Terrans, and some different mechanics will be needed for the Zerg and Protoss campaigns. The first expansion (the second part of the trilogy) will focus on Kerrigan and the Zerg.
GP: We have some questions here from our forum community members. I'd like to start by talking about the difference between the multiplayer and the single-player side of things with StarCraft II. With the announcements that we've heard about Battle.net it seems the game is now more multiplayer focused, is it fair to say that when playing the single-player side of things you're a bit of a second-class citizen?
CS: Not at all. We definitely feel like the single-player experience is integrated online. Achievements are a huge reason for that, because if you're connected you gain achievements as you play through, and the achievements try to 'breadcrumb' players through fun and interesting ways to go through the game. It also breadcrumbs them through other single-player elements of the game, not just the story part. We have challenges which are new, and part of our achievement system tries to get them into that. One of the big failures or areas that we felt could have been improved in StarCraft and in the WarCraft games was that when you get into the Battle.net experience you come from single-player and you think, "wow, I just finished the single-player campaign, I'll go play a little bit of multiplayer," and then you get your ass handed to you. So the challenges we hope will bridge the gap. We're also doing a lot of things to 'step you in' that aren't about just being competitive 1v1, but things like playing against AI with people, that sort of thing.
Back to the original question, no - we are trying through achievements to ensure that the story mode stays integrated. Another thing is that saved games are going to be on the [Battle.net] service, so playing at work, coming home, being able to continue where you left off - that's all a part of that experience. So we feel like those are the bones we're throwing in the single-player direction, tying it to being connected up. Not to mention being aware of your friends and your community - while you're there playing single-player it will pop up notifications, like "Doug just came online", "Chris came online".
GP: So when you're saying the saved games are stored on the server too, what about things like key mappings and settings?
CS: We're going to explore that on a case-by-case basis, so currently we don't have hot keys there. If we do that - and it's one of the things that's come back on the table because of our shift in schedule - that would be a great example of something that would stand out. Things that tie in to hardware, for example your resolution, that sort of thing, that obviously won't stay up there, it will be specific to the system. But where it makes sense we'll definitely save it onto the service.
GP: Initially it came out that there was going to be no LAN play whatsoever, but now it's come out that there's actually going to be a 'guest' LAN function. Can you step us through how that will work?
CS: We're exploring this right now. We want to put technology in the game so that when you detect the situation that makes sense for people to connect [directly], you still will require a connection [to the internet], you will need to be able to ping Battle.net, but effectively what we're exploring right now is that if you are on a local subnet and you connected you would actually, at least for some games, potentially pass packets directly. But that's for an improved player experience - we want to make sure people have the best experience possible - but a connection is still required to start that game and to continue while you play the game.
GP: Blizzard is hiring quite a lot at the moment, are any of these jobs going to the StarCraft side of things?
CS: Yeah we're certainly looking for some jobs in the StarCraft II area. We've had requests out on the design side for quite a while. Currently - these aren't even posted yet, but I'll give them to you if you wanna send them out there! We're looking for a Senior UI Designer-slash-Artist - either or both, all in one if we can find it - that's an area that we certainly will continue to need enhancements in as we go into both expansions. Additionally we are looking for another programmer that would do user interfaces as well.
GP: So you're looking to actually change the user interface after Wings of Liberty, for the next instalment?
CS: Absolutely. Not necessarily in the core game, from the sense of mini-maps and all that stuff, but all the elements like the tech purchase and research things that you see in story mode they're going to be different mechanics entirely. We'll probably for Heart of the Swarm [the first expansion] centre a lot more on Karrigan, and she's not a mercenary - she deals with the Zerg. We're discussing maybe tying into talents or something like that for her, so we'll have a different UI for that. It's always an area that we end up really crunching those guys so we want to have more bandwidth to be able to deal with doing more user interfaces.
GP: Can you run us through how it works when you've got friends who are playing on different ladder tiers for 1v1 play, so you've got like a gold player and a silver player, can you tell us how those players are going to be able to play together?
CS: If you're talking about on the same team, in 2v2 what it does is for your first match, if you're gold and I'm bronze and we're buddies and want to play some games, for our first match it will take some aggregate of the two, and then throw you into a match and you'll play. From there on out you'll start getting a combined rating and it will put is into the tier after we've had a few matches. So it might say we're actually silver together, or whatever we're determined to be. It tries to guess as best it can based on a combo of both of our scores who we should be matched up against, and then it will eventually put us into a division based on a few games.
GP: Was that all very tricky to integrate?
CS: Yeah, we're still working on some of it right now and integrating some of it, but I think going through it has been a long trial to find out what we want out of this. I'm really excited about it, for me I'm a player who loves playing but I'm never going to be up there at the top, so the whole division concept of putting me into a different tier makes a lot of sense. I think it's going to play out a lot better for more players this way.
GP: So when the expansions come along, how are you going to be able to separate out different game types within Battle.net?
CS: We're still talking about that. The way we did it in our other games is you actually launch the game in that mode, so you basically say "I'm going to start in The Frozen Throne mode," or "I'm going to start in Reign of Chaos mode" and the same thing in StarCraft, it was basically "I'm going to play classic," or "I'm going to play Broodwar." We've gone back and forth on this, whether we want it to be something that you can just on the fly change. Generally we will require a restart because the data that applies to that gameplay is actually loaded as the game runs. So we probably will require a restart at some time, but where that UI is and all that, we haven't really finalised it yet.
GP: When you do your beta period, obviously we don't know when that's starting...
CS: No, and I wish I could give you a date, but honestly, we don't even know. We were targeting the summer, it's drifted beyond that. There's still a lot to do, but as soon as we can. It's certainly the next thing that we need to do, the big sort of thing that's out there, but there's a lot of things to do still in the meantime.
GP: What's the major holdup do you think?
CS: It's not meeting our quality level yet overall. The online experience for the beta is critical, and there's still a lot of features that we're plugging in right now to get those things done and to meet that quality level. So we're not going to be feature-complete when we launch the beta but we want to have as much in as we can, so we can be iterating and reacting on a smaller level, not adding the major features after it starts. So we're still working really hard on that right now, that's primarily our focus, for the beta.
GP: So when you actually start the beta and all the information starts coming back, how do you collate that and then learn from it? Because there's going to be a lot of rubbish as well as good stuff...
CS: Sure, absolutely. It's case by case and ultimately a lot of it will come down to Dustin saying "I think this is real", and our community will be paying attention to it, we'll be observing games and watching. Also it depends on what aspect you're talking about, Battle.net itself or user interface - that would generally be through forums and feedback that we get, there's so many ways to get info now and generally our team isn't large enough to sift through all of it, so our communities do that - you know, web sites will highlight particular issues, and say, you know, these are the things we think are the most important ones to address. On the balance side we have other additional info that we can look at like the maps that are being played most commonly, we can watch replays and see where things are breaking down, that sort of thing, and also through forums and the community giving us info, like "pro-gamers are saying this is broken, here's a replay to demonstrate" then we'll say OK, let's have a look at it and maybe we'll find that no, that's not true, you did this or that. So we do have to do the research and figure out what's legitimate and what's not.
GP: Looking at the way the custom maps are integrated in StarCraft II, is it your expectation that down the line eventually StarCraft II will sort of consist of a game engine and pretty much everything else on top of it will be community developed? Is that the goal?
CS: Not necessarily, we still are going to develop our own maps, to do our own core to this multiplayer experience. But we definitely have set it up so that when phenomenons like DotA or whatever come out and become very popular we can more easily transition it to a fully supported ladder, that sort of thing. As an example, the score screen is something that is now completely customisable through the editor, and we didn't have that capability in WarCraft III. So now if you wanted a DotA map that showed number of heroes killed, number of creeps killed or whatever and you want to customise it that way, you can do that up front. Now it's much more ready to just move right over and be kind of integrated. We still would have to do some work, but even in the configuration of what you would see when you want to create a game is much more customisable by us in reaction to something, so we could very quickly get up a ladder or something around a new style of game. So no, I still see us continuing to add our own content and our own maps and to really support that core gameplay, but beyond that, yeah, the community is what we look to to say "this is cool", and it's not even up to us to say "yes it is", the community says "yes it is" and then we go "OK".
GP: Were you surprised by the success of DotA? Or when you first saw it did you know that it was going to be big?
CS: Well you know before DotA specifically there were a bunch of those Aeon Strike style maps, where there's armies that you're influencing and you're a hero killing along the way. DotA was really the sort of the 'best' version that came along at the end. But it's hard to say, I mean at the beginning there were a lot of tower defense maps that I remember were the most popular, and I kept going through a lot of that, but then I fell off paying that much attention to it. The success of DotA is certainly impressive, it's everywhere, it's huge. It's definitely the most popular custom game in there, and it's similar to how tower defense maps have developed into their own genre really, so has DotA and that style of map. Or entire games in fact, there's games coming out recently, even one that just launched which is influenced completely, 100 per cent, by DotA, so that's pretty cool.
GP: So with the tower defense genre, WarCraft essentially created that genre from scratch--
CS: The community did, really.
GP: Yeah, and now there's the adaption of it, you've got desktop tower defense and that Pixel Junk Monsters is a great game too--
CS: Yeah, I know! Crazy stuff.
GP: Have you integrated those sorts of ideas into StarCraft II map design?
CS: Not really, I mean we've tried gimmicks - we haven't gone quite that far where you're playing tower defense in story mode or anything like that, no. But what we're going to try to do by launch is make sure that there's some examples of games like that, that players can reference, so if they want to go that route they can see how the functionality would work in StarCraft II to do that. More as a source of reference than being the 'ultimate version' or anything like that. So we intend to have a 'DotA light' map that's available so people can check it out, then they can go and make the better version of it. Same thing with the tower defense, we have that and a few others. We have right now the beginnings of an internal concept map that a guy made which is a third-person shooter in the game, you know it's not quite the Unreal 3 engine or anything but it's still really cool that he was able to pull off that sort of stuff, and it was just a side project which he did for fun.
GP: Last question: Is there any chance of StarCraft: Ghost being revived?
CS: Umm... I ultimately don't make the call on that, but if everybody loves the story, loves the characters, maybe... but right now there's no talk about it.