Gameplanet talks to Dustin Browder, lead designer for StarCraft II, at BlizzCon 2008.
GP: So we obviously just heard about the new trilogy design for the games, can you tell us a little bit about what prompted that?
Browder: Yeah, absolutely, so about 9 months ago we were looking through the Terran campaign and we were working on it... and working on it and working on it, and it got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. The more we worked on Raynor and his "relationship" with Kerrigan, and how he felt about Mengsk, and all these other characters that were in the original game, the bigger the story became. And then we wanted to add more characters, new stuff, because we want to give you a new experience, and it got even larger still. It got to the point where we had to make a decision, do we want to shrink this really cool thing and make it kinda small and kinda lame, or do we want to blow it all the way out - and if we do blow it all the way out, then how can we get it done without delaying the game years and years longer than we really want to do?
So it was a difficult choice but we came to the conclusion that the best move was to split it up into three different games and give gamers a great experience not one time but three different times, and looking back now at the time it was a very controversial choice for us, we were very nervous about it, we talked about it a lot, but looking back now, seeing where the campaign is, I'm absolutely confident it was the right move.
GP: Do you have any idea of a timeframe of the releases, or is it way too early to be discussing that?
Browder: I can't really say, we don't really know yet! Not for this one or even how long it's going to take us between the next one. We need to finish one of these before we can even guess at how long it will take us to get to the next one.
GP: So there will be multiplayer included in the first of the trilogy...
Browder: Absolutely, it will include all three races so you get a full experience. We're also looking at some ways to sort of learn the multiplayer experience, because some players used to use the solo campaign for that function, right, so we're looking at ways to have some tutorials, some challenge modes and stuff that gets you online and gets you a little bit more competitive - or at least make you aware of what you need to do, even if you can't physically do it yet, make you aware of what your goals are when you play a game, so you'll be able to open up the new world of StarCraft multiplayer for you.
GP: Speaking of multiplayer, I've heard that people are going to be able to create their own multiplayer games?
Browder: Absolutely, so we've had a really great mod community for WarCraft III, which has been around for years and years now. We shipped a very strong editor with WarCraft III that allowed players to create some really cool mods, whole new game types that are really almost dominating Battle.net now because they're so much fun, and we love 'em, right, we want to see this kind of thing continue forward as we go, so we've got an even more powerful tool now going for StarCraft, because we've learned so much watching the fans - both succeed and fail - with the WarCraft III editor. We've fixed a lot of those things to make it even more powerful for them. It's a little complicated right now, I'm a little nervous about that going forward, but ultimately that is the goal, to put out this powerful tool that allows players to create really... whatever they can think of.
GP: Fantastic. Speaking of creating whatever they can think of, have you seen the Spore creations?
Browder: I have seen the Spore creations, in all of their glory!
GP: What do you guys think of that?
Browder: Oh we always send them around when we get them, like anytime one comes to the office it gets forwarded to everyone in the company. We think they're great, I mean it's a really cool thing for people to be able to do.
GP: Now, getting back to Battle.net, that's all being pretty much completely revamped for the StarCraft launch. What do you think is the one feature or system that you guys are integrating now that is going to have the biggest impact on the game for the community?
Browder: Well, I don't know for sure because we're still working on a lot of the Battle.net stuff. We just had a big reset on it a little while back where we sort of looked at it and decided it wasn't going quite the way we wanted it to and we're going to try something a little bit different, so it's kind of hard to say. One of the things we're focused on is of course e-sports and replays and making sure these things are easy to get and easy to watch. Some of the stuff you'll see here are BlizzCon is our new overlay system. If you watch, you know, a soccer match or a baseball game, they'll often have all kinds of statistics about the game that will come up and inform you about what's actually going on - if one team is down 5-0, they can bring up stats that will show you why that's probably the case. So we're working on a lot of overlays that you can bring up during a live game, or while watching a replay, that will immediately tell you a lot of information about what's going on across the battlefield - who's resourcing well, who's doing the highest actions per minute, you know, who has the largest amount of money in their army right now - and that can really help you understand what's going on. So that's really what we're trying to do in many cases is expose what already existed for a large fanbase, in StarCraft, who already understood these things or was playing in a certain way, we want to make it easier for everybody to play this gameplay experience.
GP: Now, we've heard that StarCraft II is a natural evolution from StarCraft. Obviously there's been a lot of stuff that's changed in the RTS arena in the last 10 years, so have you been taking those things on board, or have you just gone right, OK, StarCraft worked in these ways so StarCraft II is going to, you know - not quite a throwback, but--
Browder: Yeah, we've definitely looked, obviously we're all fans of gaming in general, so we've looked at all these RTS's, we've played all of the major RTS's - certainly I have, and many of the people on the teams have played even weirder ones that I've never even found, right - so we're playing a lot of these games, and any time we see something that's really interesting, we'll definitely look at it, but it needs to make sense for our game. StarCraft is a fun game, and at the same time we want to add to it but we can't just add whatever. There's a lot of really great ideas out there that work in certain games, that would simply probably not work for our game, and the biggest reason for that is usually - not always, but usually - game speed. StarCraft runs really fast. You have to make decisions extremely quickly and that's kind of the core to the action-strategy experience that is StarCraft, so when we look at a lot of other features, they often fall down for us, we can't really find a way to make them work in our game, just because StarCraft moves so quickly.
GP: Just getting back to the trilogy thing, obviously the first one is the Terran campaign, and that focuses primarily on the relationship, and then the second one which is the Zerg campaign focuses mainly on Sarah herself...
Browder: It will focus on Kerrigan, absolutely, you'll be playing as Kerrigan throughout the Zerg campaign, leading her swarm on her crusade across the stars. We haven't worked out exactly what all that is yet, but you can definitely imagine that Kerrigan has a lot of enemies out there, there's a lot of people that would love to take her down, the Protoss are extremely angry with Kerrigan for a variety of reasons. So yeah, you'll be playing as Kerrigan, battling with the Zerg.
GP: So then where does the Protoss - the third game in the trilogy - where does that fit in?
Browder: Well that will be the last one we'll do, and you'll be playing as Zeratul, and the Protoss as we've said many many times before are a race in crisis - they are slowly dying out, they are being ground down by the harsh, brutal realities of the StarCraft universe, and they may not get to last. So the Protoss campaign is in many ways just a fight for survival - like, this is a race that is divided among many tribes, they need to try to unite their tribes in some kind of coherent force and try to survive against all of the threats that the galaxy is throwing at them.
GP: So each of them will be playable as a completely standalone game, if you've never played StarCraft before - if you pick up, say, the second one focusing on the Zerg, would that still make sense to someone coming in off the street or would it be better to have a bit of backstory?
Browder: You'd be better off of course knowing what's come before, they are chapters and the events of one chapter are going to lead into the next chapter. But we want to make each one a very complete experience, we don't want any cheesy cliffhangers where you get to the end of the game and go "oh my god, I guess I'll wait for the next game, and then I'll find out what happens" - we want to make sure that each one has a very clear beginning, middle and end. So it's certainly our hope that you could step into the Zerg campaign. You'd be a little bit in the dark as to what came before, what happened to Raynor and all of that, you know, how Kerrigan got to where she is, but at the same time once you got past that you should be able to go all the way through to the end and have a very complete story experience with a nice arc for that character.
GP: Excellent. So how much of the story has been written at this stage - you were saying the Protoss isn't necessarily...
Browder: No, we don't have a lot on the Protoss, we have a very rough, smoky, ghosty outline for the Protoss, a little bit more on the Zerg but not a lot, but the Terran is really starting to come together.
GP: Excellent, and you still can't give us any kind of suggested release date for any of this?
Browder: No, I don't want to be wrong! You know, one of the worst things that we can do is lie to our fans, and that's what we really try to avoid. We don't want to tell the fans an untruth, we don't want to say "it's gonna be this" and then six months later ... (shrugs) "not so much". So we don't like to give out the dates, but even then, like, I don't even really know. We're working so hard to get this done, and things keep changing or we keep changing our mind about what's good enough, sometimes something that didn't seem like it was going to work suddenly does, and we're like "oh my god, that works, that's a month we don't have to do, that's wonderful", and then sometimes something we've put three or four months into suddenly... "this isn't working... we need to start over on this". We're such perfectionists on it, ultimately it is a moving target.
GP: So obviously it will be done "when it's done"...
Browder: When it's done, absolutely.
GP: Thank you very much for your time!