20th May 2010 | 22:57
Starcraft 2 is perhaps the most anticipated PC release of the year.
The title's open beta is well underway - and proving hugely popular, pulling in both old and new fans of the franchise.
With a release finally confirmed for July, we caught up with the game's lead designer at Blizzard, Chris Sigarty, to ask him all about the game's development - and its imminent launch...
How has the Starcraft 2 beta gone for you so far?
It's gone fantastically so far. We've had a lot of great feedback from fans. We've also had a lot of specific feedback mixed in about what to do with particular races, how this one or that one has a particular weakness.
One of the things we try to ensure is that we know where that feedback is coming from: Is this a newer player who isn't as a good or a very skilled player. And then we also compare that with data we see on our side - who's really won and lost, what their skill level is etc.
Between the two things we can tip the balance in the way we want it. We're actually pretty happy with where we are. We've been pretty surprised about how balanced it is at this point, but there's still a lot to do. We'll be doing patches almost very week to get us to the point we want to be before launch.
How's has Battlenet 2.0 held up through the beta process?
Battlenet is actually running really well. The system has been really stable. It's much more of a content system for us than what we had previously. Rolling out patches and all that is all-new on this system - and we've worked through the complexities of sorting out bugs our end in the pipeline. My feeling on Battlenet right now is that it's very difficult to communicate to the end user how cool it will be at launch because it's centred on P2P right now and just matchmaking.
My biggest concern is that people are using the beta as a demo - and it's really not representative of what will be the final Starcraft 2. It's representative of the P2P aspect of the game. We changed the matchmaker a few weeks ago and now it's much more accurate.
Any chance you may bring LAN support coming to Starcraft 2?
No. We've made the choice at this point that we're not including LAN. The biggest part of this is when you look back, we changed the feel of Starcraft 2 around getting away from Battlenet being this place you go up to do the hardcore gaming and that you're always connected to.
The experience is shared as much as you want with friends - but those things are tracked as you do it and we felt like staying connected is a part of that, so that's been our main driving force. You don't have to worry about going and clicking the scary Battlenet button to go do that and login. As a part of that, we feel like LAN is not necessary feature.
It's been 12 years since Brood War. What's been the main reason for such a big gap since we've seen a standalone Starcraft release?
The biggest factor in that is Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft. This team has a lot of the original veterans that actually worked on the original Starcraft, but when we shipped Starcraft and then Brood War, it's not like we at that point said, "We're doing a Starcraft 2". We had in the back of our mind, "Some day we should probably do that," but this gap period went on to Warcraft 3.
Then of course World of Warcraft came up in the middle, that was a massive undertaking and it affected the company in many ways as well. So after Warcraft 3 we made the decision that we were going to do Starcraft 2.
Then after going through the process of figuring out what that meant and dealing with things like how we were going to handle World of Warcraft, you know, let's use portions of this team to do that, we finally got where we need to be to do it.
So we went from the decision that we were definitely going to do it, to thinking about what it was going to be and then finally making it.
Blizzard began development on Starcraft 2 in 03/04. Why do you need that extra time?
We made the decision to make it in 03, but we didn't really want to get into it in earnest until after World of Warcraft. We began thinking: 'What would we need to do this?'
The truth is when we did make the decision we were going to do it, it was very clear to us. Sure, we wanted to establish a sense of nostalgia for people that did play the original game but, to a point, it's new: 60 per cent new units, improved UI, a new graphics engine and other things.
Then we had these two sort of huge factors, which were: 'We're going to be really innovative on the single-player side - totally a step forward compared to what we did in the past - and we're also going to revamp Battlenet to be totally new and cool.
It was a lot of iteration to get where we are today. We needed a full dev team ready to begin in earnest and large enough to do it.
I'd like to get your general thoughts on the RTS genre. Do you think it's as popular as it was back in the days when the original Starcraft launched? Does it give you any concerns over the potential audience for Starcraft 2?
I don't know. Overall, the total popularity of the RTS has probably fallen a bit - yet I've seen a tonne of really cool and innovative directions that RTS has gone in. My perception is that they aren't selling as well but I don't really know.
But one of the things for me that has been interesting about it is that people have changed what's crucial to an RTS - now it's all about blowing everything [traditional] out of the water.
People do crazy different things - sometimes to the level of getting away from the essence of what was established previously.
Our feeling is: 'Hey, this is a really solid play style and great gaming method'. We're being very innovative but also making sure we don't alienate people.
So for me, I feel pretty positive that with Starcraft 2 we'll spark a resurgence in RTS gaming. As far as PC gaming goes, it's definitely still alive with World of Warcraft so we don't think it's dead yet.
We've got Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void coming to Starcraft at some point in the future. How far into development on those two titles are you?
The original [journey] was conceived with a total complete story arc so we know those big points - but the details are still being talked about and discussed now.
I've said this before, but our estimate is 18 months approximately from when we launch Wings of Liberty that we would be looking at getting Heart Of The Swarm out.
Have you got any ambition or would you consider a move onto console with this second Starcraft?
Console is not on the radar for us but there have been a lot of interesting moves in that direction [elsewhere]. There's been some pretty cool things on the control side.
I still think that at least from our perspective that it feels like the mouse and keyboard just lends itself to this style - but you know we're getting closer and closer all the time. So when we see that optimum moment, I think it's certainly possible that we'll explore that junction as well. But it's not on the radar right now.
Are you hoping Starcraft 2 may reach a wider audience than the first game ever did?
Yeah, that's my hope. I don't really know what the perception is from a player who's first game is Guitar Hero - I don't know what their perception is of Starcraft, or Starcraft 2. I don't know that they have a sense of awareness, but I think they're going to come across it somehow - whether it's through friends that play World of Warcraft or who are into RTS, or whether they're just casual gamers that come across it.
But I hope that they do come across it and they make the leap. We've done the right things to make sure that they have a good time. Then, hopefully, word of mouth will spread and people realise that RTS - although, technically there's a lot more to think about and do and often the learning curve is higher [than your average game] - we can get them into it and they can have a good time.