IncGamers Network

StarCraft II Developers Talk Single Player

IncGamers were invited once more to Blizzard HQ for a chat with the devs and a sneak peek on the progress of StarCraft II development. Blizzard naturally did not want us to cover multiplayer again, and gave us a very interesting look at the new single player mode and missions.

We have many new single player screenshots, new single player gameplay footage and a very thorough preview (released tomorrow) in addition to this interview where we talk to lead designer Dustin Browder, VP of creative development Chris Metzen and VP of game design Rob Pardo.

What’s so exciting about StarCraft II’s single player?

“Well, I think the biggest thing for us is the ability for you to choose missions as opposed to on a single rail right and the ability tocustomize your technology,” Browder said to us. He thinks “those two things are the biggest things that allow the players to have a different gameplay experience then a lot of other RTS’es have given in the past.”

In terms of single player aspects of RTS games, they are usually pretty linear and StarCraft II will try and change that. He said games that take you “straight on a rail” can be fun, “but its on a rail.” With the added options for players, you can also choose just how much of the story and the universe you want to take part of. It “allows the players that are really fanatical about the lore to get very deep into the story,” while at the same time giving gamers that just want to play the missions “the service level information and move on.”

“It was more of a reaction to WarCraft III, honestly” Metzen, the loremaster of Blizzard, told us. WarCraft III and its expansion features a story that is very much embedded into the missions. It has alot of content, but also a completely linear progression. “So we took a few steps back looking as we built StarCraft II,” he said. “We identified pretty early that we wanted the feel different.” With a system where a player choose his own story “route”, it’s important that their context is not as immersed in the story. “We wanted the mission dynamics, the mission objectives and the amount of story happening to feel distinctly different from WarCraft III,” which is why the team built the Story Mode.

Compared to StarCraft I and WarCraft III, Dustin thinks the big difference is the ingame cutscenes “to get a lot of details of the story we couldn’t have done back in the day.” The technology didn’t exist back then “you either had to do a full pre-render or you had to do an ‘in-mission cutscene’ which didn’t look very good,” and was pretty limited. “There is a lot of background and a lot of action which we can see in these characters because we can do these ingame cutscenes. It gives us a lot more freedom to tell a lot more story then we ever could before.”

So, how will the missions work in StarCraft II?

Browder said “I think I am most happy with the diversity of missions”. All “-Craft” games [WarCraft, StarCraft] have had great diversity, but the team “makes sure that each mission is its own little mini game” in StarCraft II where each mission is unique. Browder said “each one of these mission could be a mechanic for a whole game but we make it just for one mission.”

[Browder is quite excited talking about the game, talking really fast,waving his hands]. “We’ve got missions on lava worlds where you’re fighting against rising lava all the time; we’ve got missions where you’re stealing relics from Protoss; we’ve got hold-outs against the Zerg.”

When picking missions, Blizzard don’t want players to just pick between what race they should play: “Each mission should feel like its own custom experience,” according to Browder, “that really gives you a chance to try out some new mechanics and play a crazy little mini-game each time you sit down to play a mission.” There will always be “something that keeps you on your toes and keeps you thinking creatively and thinking differently when you come to each mission.”

Our dear lead designer said the game is currently about 30 missions,which might change a little before release. 19 or 20 of those as part of the “critical path” of the story, but “that will also grow or shrink as we get closer to shipping and make more decisions.”

“But we have a Battle Report screen I think is enabled in the build you are playing right now,” he told us. It’s a console on the Bridge in Story Mode “where you can see a whole list of the movies you have seen and a list of missions that you have played so you can play them at will. If you choose A we also put B in that list for you.”

If you play these missions, they will not affect your continuity, but are there if you are curious of what happened in the other mission. “So you don’t have to do like some “save game shenanigans,” where you save, choose, play, load,” he said.

The campaign is very individual, and because of this “there is no co-op campaign.”

For the completionist who want to play all missions in their own continuity, “you could do it if you play the whole game twice and see everything,” Dustin said, but most will likely just use the Battle Report console.

What was your thoughts behind the start of the campaign?

“It’s a funky start right?” Metzen asked back. “It’s a strange thing. We’ve always wanted to construct something that wasn’t [a] typical video game intro,” he said. “I wanted you to get a slow start in these characters.”

Blizzard didn’t want this story line to be “the same old same old thing,” but as a top industry game developer expectations are always high, and it’sa fine line between doing somethign different and disappointing the fans who just want to blow things up.

Action components are very much needed. In either way Metzen told us “it’s an experiment to start of a little slower. It has been interesting to see the reactions. A strange experiment, so we are still kind of: “Whoo, please work!”, you know? But it has been a lot of fun.”

So, what is this Story Mode then?

The Story Mode in StarCraft II is there to “pull a lot of character interactions out of the map experience and put them in their own space,” according to Metzen who said the team wanted the game to have a bit of own sense of self: its own vibe. The intent from Blizzard is to give the space RTS “a little bit more retro than WarCraft III”, which basically was a RPG in the shape of an RTS.

“It’s a little more like adventure gaming to a degree,” he told us.”It’s a little more ambient. You can click on objects and get information about the characters, the history, without it being this linear gameplay in front of you.” Blizzard wanted to build a very different world that was attractive to the team. “So we are stilltrying to nail it in and figure it out.”

The story mode in Wings of Liberty is either in a small bar on the desert planet Mar Sara (for the first three missions), or the interior of the massive spaceship Hyperion. This is “where you come in between missions to interact with characters, buy different technologies and make some choices about which mission you might want to take next,” Browder explained. “One of the critical components of this space is that you can click on all of these characters and have conversations with these characters and learn a lot more about the StarCraft universe.”

The original plans was for the Star Map on the Bridge of Hyperion to work as an encyclopaedia for all things related to StarCraft, but Blizzard is “doing a whole different UI for the planets,” according to Dustin. Metzen explained the team “wanted the interface to be as clean as possible,” and the team “pulled a little bit more away from the grinding ‘Encyclopedia Galactica’ idea. It just didn’t take the shape that we were anticipating.”

Blizzard feel “less is more” in this instance and the game “still got alot of lore based on the planets and their histories and their unique environments,” according to Metzen. “There’s some data there that gives you a sense of the context of each planet.” Dustin also mentioned the interiors of Hyperion is full of people and objects to interact with for more background information.

Browder gave us a quick mention of all the Hyperion locations: “Now one of the first places you are probably going to go to when you come back to story mode from a mission is going to be the Armory. What you can do in the Armory is you can purchase different types of technologies to upgrade your units.

“Another place the players will often go to is the Cantina. In the Cantina there is lots of stuff you can do. This is a kind of storycentred kind of place. On of the most important things about this placeis this TV screen which gives you news reports. You can also come in here and buy mercenaries.

“Another location on the Hyperion that you might be visiting pretty frequently is the Lab. You can come here and see how your research is progressing. So you go out and you’ll look for alien organisms that you have to find and collect. Once you find enough of them you’ll unlock an upgrade.

“So once you’re done with the Lab, the last place you’re probably goingto go to is the Bridge. In the bridge we’ve got access to our mission selection. From here you can choose which kind of mission you want to do next. Between the Armory and this, this is the heart and soul of our story mode environment.”

There is currently no way to undo tech choices, respecs if you will, and the team is currently discussing it. “There is all kinds of reason not to do respeccing,” Browder told us. He don’t want players feel they have to “respec” for every mission, but “at the same time, if you actually make a mistake you may want to get rid of it. So there is not a clear answer as to which way is better.” The team is looking for somesort of clear answer. “So once we figure it out, we will go with it, but we are still debating it.”{PAGE TITLE=StarCraft II Developers Talk Single Player – Page 2} 
Can I choose any mission, and will that exclude other ones?

“We’re not locking out a lot of missions for you,” Dustin told us. “For the most part, you can come back and absolutely choose to do any mission you’ve skipped over in the past.” The only crux would be a player coming back to a very old mission might find it no longer give comparatively good rewards for the new ones that are open.

In addition, there are a few places where Blizzard does ask you to make a choice. Dustin explained “a couple of characters will come up and they’ll say, ‘Hey, help me!’, ‘No, the heck with him, help me!’ And you’ve got to make a choice about which one to help.” It will only happen between two to four times in the entire game, however. “For the most part you can come back and do any of these missions at any point down the road.”

Blizzard have not emphasised urgency on the missions. “Like a quest in WoW will say ‘Oh my god, we’re being attacked! [high pitched tone] Any time you want to show up will be cool’.” Even though the NPC is in peril “she will wait, just like a quest in WoW will wait for you”. It’s still a strategy game and Blizzard want “to preserve that choice” according to Browder. The team is not making 50 or 60 missions just to be able to exclude them by player choice, since the development of one map “is about a three or four month endeavour to build.”

What about those mercenaries, are heroes no longer in maps?

“One of the things we really loved about WarCraft 3 are hero units,” Browder explained. “We still have some hero units in StarCraft 2, like Jim Raynor and Tychus, they are on maps, but they only really exist on maps where it is appropriate for them to be.” He explained the “heroes really need to be on a map that is designed for them in order to be usable and visible on the battlefield so they don’t get killed by some random thing that you didn’t even notice.” He mentioned the original StarCraft heroes saying “we did have some heroes in the original StarCraft and they spent a lot of time in the back of bases. Kinda hanging out and hoping not to get killed.” The team really feels like” if you have got to hide Raynor in the back of your base it’s not cool.”

Metzen added “if you do have a hero on a map he has got to live, you know?” He didn’t remember the exact way it works in all maps, but “it’s about that simple.” He also said there could be an alternative, allowing “a gimmick: instead of letting him just blow up and die he takes a knee, he’s hurt, and you got to get a Medic there to get him back on his feet.” Blizzard is trying “to fade away from the hero-based mechanics,” according to Metzen, “but there is a few of them there that are really cool. Dungeon robbing type scenarios are pretty cool.”

“They need to be on a map where there is only a handful of guys,” Browder added. “They got their buddies and they gotta go and kill the bad guys. If there is a commando raid and you break into a Dominion Labor taking nuclear weapons deep under an infested world to blow up a hive. Then Raynor and Tychus will show up with their armour and weapons to really deal some rough justice to the enemy.”

The team really liked hero units in WarCraft III, however, and they still “wanted to have some elite units that could appear on any map and you wouldn’t care if they got killed.” These are special forces type units who can take a beating as well as deal “terrible terrible damage” to the opponents. “And if they get killed its cool, you don’t care. It’s fine, you can get more mercenaries back in the next mission.” It’s just that you have access to the cavalry, just purchasing their services from the Cantina on Hyperion.

They do not grow between missions if they survive. Browder explain that “if we put in a reward where they got a benefit from a grow then in many cases I think you feel obligated to make sure that they survive. StarCraft is a blood and guts kind of game. Units live and die all the time and as a hard-bitten Commander of a StarCraft universe we want you to be comfortable with that.” They can get brutally killed and “it’s totally cool just to move on.”

Hero characters in StarCraft II will not be able to carry items like in WarCraft III, but Blizzard has added the ability to put in items for mod makers, “but it’s not something we typically use in StarCraft environment” according to Browder. “They are not around often enough for you to collect a lot of items, but we are working on the interface having the UI available for people who want to make mods because we know there is a huge tradition of mods from WarCraft III that are dependent upon that interface”

Will StarCraft II feature Achievements?

“We do have some achievements that you can use to show off to your friends,” Browder told us, explaining “not all the interface is in yet [but] that will be one measure of success in a mission.” There are plenty of achievements in single player mode, but “if you want access to achievements and your friends lists and all the good stuff that comes with it then you have to be connected.”

The current Achievement count is about two to four per mission, and Browder did say “it might be a little bit much but we are still looking at the details on how we want to implement that.”

On Hyperion’s Bridge, the Battle Report console is made just for this.”We play them for Achievement points, that primary reason why we play those missions,” Dustin explained.

The main difference between difficulty modes, besides the actual difficulty, is what Achievements a player can complete. For instance,”in some missions there is like a timer element that’s going to be MUCH faster on a hard or insane level then it is on normal,” Dustin told us, and this also affects how hard it is to finish cerain Achievements.

So, will be completely free to play, or have fees/microtransactions?

Pardo answered the question by saying Blizzard is still finalizing that. He said: “I know the big question out there is: ‘is there going to be a subscription to or anything like that’, and we’re certainly not doing that for StarCraft 2.” Blizzard’s approach on business model for a game is to do ‘what’s right for the game’.” Monthly fees on World of WarCraft might be a hit, but not necessarily so for StarCraft II “because it’s an entirely different sort of a game.”

More information will be released in the future. “I don’t want to put the scare out there that it’s somehow subscription based because we’re not gonna do that,” he clarified even further. might possibly have smaller “microtransactions”, however, as “value-added services.” Pardo did not give any examples on how this could work on, only referring to WoW’s character name changes and the like.

What are your plans to combat piracy, and is excluding LAN mode going to help?

This has not really been a big issue in the past, but the discussion of excluded LAN mode has brought it up again. However, Pardo assured us “piracy really historically has not been that big of deal for [Blizzard].” He said there has been a few examples, but “for the most part we can shut down those services.”

Dustin also said “I think the most powerful solution for piracy is to try to create a compelling experience so people don’t want to go elsewhere. That is ultimately our best weapon.” There will always besome hacker who manages to crack software, and Blizzard is instead focusing on “trying to make the experience so strong that players really want to come to [] to get that experience.”

“Even if those services exist,” Pardo explained, “I don’t think there is any way they are gonna compare with the sort of features that we are going to build in our version of” He mentioned World of WarCraft, and the fact there are pirate servers for it right now. “You can do your own setup servers and gear emulation technology but it’s just not going to be as good.”

Beside the actual content, there would just not be enough players on the pirate services to reach “critical mass”, making people rather logon to where there will be plenty of players to meet your skill level. “So there is a lot of things that have going for it and I’m just not overly concerned about the small amount of piracy that I think will exist within StarCraft II,” Pardo finished.

A level of “DRM” will also be used by limit installation. Dustin explained “you need to connect once to install the game.” While singleplayer will be available offline, installation must have an internet connection in order to proceed. You are also required to have or signup for a account in order to install the game. All achievements and friends lists etc will be available as soon as you logon, but the actual single player game is available anyway.

“You can [play single player offline], but we don’t encourage it.” Browder said. “We totally allow it if you want to do it,” but the point is “you don’t get access a lot of the stuff.”

This is not the way they think of LAN mode, however. At the time of the interview, 80.000 fans had signed an online petition to convince Blizzard to include it. Today that number is 98.000. Since LAN mode is one of the main reasons for Blizzards “-Craft” games’ [WarCraft & StarCraft] popularity, many have speculated what could be behind this decision, and most have attributed it to piracy. Pardo said it was not, explaining “I’m just saying that getting rid of LAN is not getting rid of piracy.”

Dustin added “that’s really not why it was done either.” Piracy, he said, is not the motivating factor to remove LAN. “The really big reason for looking at this is we’re trying to create an integrated experience. When you log into StarCraft you’re logging into Battle.Net. When you sit down to play, when you’re playing solo play – hopefully – you’ll play on with us. You’ll have access to your friends list [and] you’ll have access to your achievements.”

He argued that if you add LAN to the equation, players can’t get achievements or take part of features, so it feels “a little bit dumb”. There is also a lot of content “that really comes from that we would have to duplicate again specifically for LAN.” For Blizzard “it was a combination of making a better user experienceand also just trying to get the game done. These are some of the bigger issues there.”

While they did not say so specifically, it seems the extra work, and lack of offline achievements are worth it for single player, but not LAN. They were, however, thinking of not even allowing single player offline at one time. Pardo said Blizzard “actually thought about, ‘well, what if we just go full ahead’,” but decided “maybe it’s not quite time for this game.”
What about downloadable content (DLC)? Especially for single player?

Many publishers use DLC as an additional way to promote legal use of their games. Browder said Blizzard has “always done multiplayer stuff before,” and the company has had “downloadable content since 1996, 1997 with downloadable maps. I am sure will continue this with some sort of project like that.”

He also promised “a bunch of stuff that I am sure will occur on in terms of feature improvements for the core game itself that will not be quite worthy enough for one of our expansion products, but we want to do it now. So I am sure there will be stuff in between.” Blizzard have also planned “trial versions and all kinds of stuff,” according to Browder, but Blizzard “will do those after release though, like we’ve kind of done with all the Blizzard games,” Pardo added. “We always do those after release.”


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