1UP: First off, some of us were wondering: Do you ever feel limited in the ability to be creative design-wise because of the StarCraft legacy? Do you find yourself caving in to pressures to appease your older fans at the cost of innovating the game?
Dustin Browder: No, not at all. Our intention all along was to create an RTS game that hearkens to the legacy of the original game. That's why we're making the sequel to StarCraft -- if we wanted to do something completely different, we'd call the game something different. Sure, there are some main points we wanted to hit as far as continuing the story from Brood War, and maintaining that frantic, fast-paced feel from the original game. But we have quite a wide breadth to work in, as far as reimagining all three races, introducing some new twists and mechanics to the units, and of course, the exciting things we're doing with the single-player campaign.
1UP: Somewhat related, how are you planning to keep StarCraft 2 interesting for pro/tourney level players with something like 300 APM [Ed note: Actions-Per-Minute, a measurement of raw clicking/hot-key pressing that's used as an informal benchmark of player speed/skill] versus more casual RTS players?
DB: It really is a big challenge for us to try and recapture the magic of the original game that made it so compelling to pro-players -- yet at the same time -- attractive for more casual players. You have to remember that the original game sold more than 9.5 million copies worldwide, so even though StarCraft today has a reputation as a super hardcore RTS game, it truly did have mainstream appeal.
Addressing the needs of both the hardcore and the casual players falls into one of Blizzard's core design philosophies, which is: "easy to learn, hard to master." It's something that's right at the forefront of our minds as we develop all of our games. As an example, most of the units in StarCraft 2 can be controlled effectively just by pointing and clicking, which is easy enough for a casual player to grasp; "if I move all my stalkers over here, they're going to shoot at the bad guys." As the casual players get more skilled at the game, they start to learn more advanced concepts -- like focus-fire -- and using abilities such as the stalker's Blink, in order to teleport up and down cliffs for maximum effectiveness.
1UP: Do you anticipate the production cycle for the StarCraft 2 trilogy to feel like making three separate games, or more like World of WarCraft and its expansions, where the bulk of the work is on the first installment, and subsequent ones are more about iterating and refining rather than inventing?
DB: Well that's the hope; that a good amount of the hard work of designing gameplay mechanics and systems, as well as the internal tasks of creating tools and protocols to develop all this content, is mostly settled at this point as we get deeper into the creation of the core game. So once we ship the core game of StarCraft 2 and start delving into the expansions, we'll have a great deal of that infrastructure under our belts and be able to concentrate primarily on content creation for the two expansion sets.
That said, we're conscious of making sure we are providing new and compelling content for the expansions. The meta-aspects of the Zerg and Protoss campaigns, for example, will work a lot differently than how we're doing things with the core StarCraft 2 game. It doesn't make sense for Kerrigan to be flying around in a battlecruiser and picking out mercenary missions for cash, which is what you'll be doing with Raynor in the core game's campaign. So we'll be doing something different with Kerrigan to get her to evolve and grow her Zerg army. Meanwhile, Zeratul's Protoss campaign may require you to engage in diplomacy with the different Protoss tribes in order to gain access to different units and technologies. 1UP: Since these are "work in progress" HUDs/interfaces, can you talk about what elements of the interface feel like they "work", and also what parts of the interface are still being tuned and why?
DB: We're still putting in a lot of work on the star map, where you select which planets or systems you're traveling to next. The tech purchase screen that we showed at BlizzCon has also been overhauled, so what you saw there is probably not how it's going to look in the final product. Other aspects of the interface, such as the "sets" that you'll explore in-between missions with Jim Raynor, are also being worked on constantly. These sets include places like the bridge of the Hyperion (Raynor's battlecruiser), and the bar on Mar Sara. 1UP: How far along are the campaigns? Was each of them at a playable state before you guys decided to emphasize more on the Terran one?
DB: The other two campaigns are definitely not in a playable state. We've put by far, the most amount of work into the Terrans -- the other two campaigns are still in planning and concepting, which is where they'll stay until we're done with the core game. All of our design and production efforts have been focused on the Terran campaign for the core game for a while now.
Storywise, we have figured out how the plot is going to run in the two expansions already, but when it comes to creating missions, the cinematics, the interactive sets, and all the nuts and bolts content, all the work is and has been going into the campaign for the core game. 1UP: There was mention of how the campaigns eventually grew too large to be encapsulated in a single title. Now that each race's campaign has more room, can you elaborate on things you could do in a 30 mission Terran campaign that you couldn't do in a 10 mission one?
DB: The primary thing we can do is structure the campaign in a non-linear fashion. Being able to focus on one race for 26 to 30 missions gives us the breathing room to give players meaningful choices as to which parts of the galaxy they want to explore first, and the ability to create side plots. It also gives us the leeway to introduce more characters, more locations, and allow us some room to explore those characters and settings in more depth. Trying to cram all of that into 10 missions at a time didn't seem feasible, and would have negatively impacted our design goals as well as our story presentation.
1UP: Okay, so that's "why" the campaign is longer. Now, StarCraft's classic "10 missions per race" structure is one that most modern RTS campaigns tend to stick to. With each campaign now being significantly longer, how will you guys make sure that each campaign doesn't start to feel stale after 12 or so missions?
DB: The key is ensuring that we offer lots of creative and interesting missions. We're not looking to throw 30 skirmish missions at players and call it a day. Each mission we create for the game is getting a lot of care and attention, and we're treating all of them like their own little mini-game. Our technology guys are giving us the tools to do some really cool things with scripting, and we hope players will enjoy the little twists and surprises that we?re building into our missions.
1UP: We know that Raynor will be a major player in the Terran campaign, but will we also be discovering what's up with the major characters of the other races (such as Kerrigan and Zeratul) in this first campaign? Or will those guys not show up until the Zerg and Protoss campaigns are released?
DB:You're certainly going to see other major characters like Kerrigan and Zeratul make significant appearances and impact in the first campaign. Yes, the campaign is focused on Jim Raynor, but bear in mind that everyone's still in the same galaxy, and all three characters are playing major, major roles in an epic story. Their lives are inescapably intertwined as they run across each other, and that will be reflected in the core game's campaign. 1UP: Touching on the non-linear campaign comment earlier, how will this affect the actual plot? Despite a non-linear mission structure, will the story still be a tightly constructed, linear affair, or will you be able to change some elements of it depending on your story? And if so, will those changes be reflected in the plot and missions of the subsequent campaigns?
DB: There's still going to be a discrete beginning and ending to the storyline in each campaign. The path you take to get from point A to point B is what's going to vary from player to player. There will be side-plots you explore where the choices you make can affect the fate of certain characters, or possibly worlds. But we still want to ensure that we're telling one single, coherent story, and that we avoid any ambiguity in the primary plot arc. 1UP: Okay, last question. Jim Raynor: why so sad?
DB:You're talking about a guy who's been betrayed by his commander, had his home planet get overrun by the Zerg, and seen his woman get transformed into a sinister monster. Wouldn't you be a little bit jaded by all that too?