August 20, 2008 - StarCraft II is at GC 2008, playable on the show floor, but it's the same build as was present at Blizzard's Worldwide Invitational earlier this summer. So instead of writing yet another impressions piece, we talked with senior vice president of product development Frank Pearce about how things are coming along.
The issue with StarCraft II updates is that the game is in such a constant state of flux that whatever is reported on now may soon be removed from the game or dramatically changed the next time around. So right now there's a mechanic where you can pay minerals to basically get vespene gas more rapidly, which Blizzard says should create an interesting dynamic especially later on in a game as gas is required to access higher build tiers. Blizzard also said several other methods of tweaking gas collection have been implemented in the past weeks, so it's really tough to tell what'll wind up being chosen to be included in the final product.
Currently the testing for StarCraft II doesn't include that many people. "It's like a limited internal alpha phase," says Pearce. "The development team that's working on it is playing it and we've released some alpha builds to some other development teams internally and then the quality assurance department is also playing it."
Is Blizzard using some of the professional StarCraft players as StarCraft II testers? "Exposure to pro players is more opportunistic. We hosted an event in Korea that was an e-sport event for Warcraft III and StarCraft and we had a playable [StarCraft II] build that we brought along to give the pro players an opportunity to play it and give us some feedback. It's a new luxury for us to have this community of pro players playing our in-development games?so definitely when we have the opportunity, we try to leverage it."
Beyond all the unit balancing and tweaking, there remains the single-player campaign, an aspect of the game that's distinctly different from how things were handled in the first. We've heard about how the Terran campaign will star Jim Raynor who, between missions, players can control through a point-and-click adventure style of interface, talking with residents of his starship and selecting missions. Beyond that, however, Blizzard hasn't divulged much about how the campaigns of the other races might work. And today was no different.
Blizzard does, however, consider the single-player portion of StarCraft II to be the most challenging aspect of creating this game. The multiplayer balance, says Pearce, will happen if enough time is spent tweaking it, whereas the single-player features new elements. "We're trying to tell that story in a way we haven't done it before and incorporating branching missions that we haven't offered to the player." Another challenge has been figuring out exactly what to do with battle.net and how to tie StarCraft II into that, which Pearce wasn't willing to expand upon.
We asked when the field of testers might expand to beyond Blizzard's walls. "That's months away," said Pearce. "We still have to expand our internal alpha to include the rest of the organization, iterate on that feedback, and then we have to evaluate what kind of beta we need, whether we need one at all. There's a pretty high level of certainty that we're going to need a beta and then we have to decide if we want to host beta or a closed beta or both. So, months."
Expect to hear more on StarCraft II at Blizzcon 2008, scheduled for October 10 - 11.