Games For 2008: Starcraft 2

By Jim Rossignol on January 7th, 2008 at 9:05 am.

This is the first in a month-or-so of pieces on the games we’re interested in for 2008. Please do leave your comments and let us know why you’re anxious, excited, or apathetic towards these games. We need to know.

pew, also: zap

There’s an anecdote about Blizzard’s office in Irvine that I’ve promised not to publish. It’s so absurdly appropriate to their nature as games designers that I had to stand in front of a mirror and smack myself around the face to avoid reproducing it here. It’s also the /perfect/ introduction to a piece about Starcraft 2, and it’s painful to have promised not to use it.

Anyway, that same office is where I sat down and played Starcraft 2, just prior to its demonstration at last year’s BlizzCon. I should first point out that I thrashed the pants offa’ my colleague from PC Gamer Sweden in our second multiplayer session, and that I was just testing in the first game… then perhaps we should move on to some details about Starcraft 2 itself.

There’s a kind of extra gravity to the coverage surrounding those games which have enormous fanbases. It changes the demeanour of the developers and how the present the game you’re looking at. Starcraft 2’s lead designer Chris Sigaty spent a bit of time talking about “The Legacy” of Starcraft 2 which, in terms of PC gaming, is certainly one of the most impressive any game has achieved. It’s the game which turned South Korea into an international oddity, where the RTS featured in the most heavily televised, highly sponsored online leagues and tournaments the world has ever seen. It’s something I’ve written about before.

But it’s not just that: Starcraft has a huge impact on the RTS genre generally. It was a game that introduced largely asymmetric factions and nevertheless balanced them. It was the game that honed and perfected the speed base-building multiplayer games that so many thousands of gamers became hooked on. None of this would have been possible if Starcraft hadn’t been designed with an eye for detail and that dedicated played-to-artistry production value.

The legacy that Signaty and his team need to live up to is one of creating an absurdly solid, highly playable RTS that as both an approachable, faultless single player campaign, and exquisitely balanced multiplayer games. This being Blizzard, of course, the game I played last year was already as good as most RTS games we see released on PC, at least in terms of being playable, looking finished, and placing a splendid, comprehensible interface over the top of a low-end but entirely presentable 3D engine.

The real tweaks, of course, come in the varied faction functionality. Everything is based on what had gone before in Starcraft, but with various tweaks. Terran bases can be reconfigured to alter production values, for example, allowing you to pump out infantry faster in the opening moments of a battle. The more obvious changes come in the form of various super-units, which seemed like pop versions of the beasts we got in Supreme Commander. Blizzard have been careful to make sure that these ultra-expensive end-game units require support to be used correctly, and Signaty demonstrated an unsupported Thor (Dai-X style Terran mega-bot) being taken down by fast moving enemies. Like the factions as a whole, Blizzard are trying to make the additions and changes as different as possible – keeping to the philosophy of asymmetry between the various races.

Of course this is all just what we want from a sequel: keep the values of the game the same, but add new toys, new visuals, and maybe some new challenges. Ground Control 2 failed to be a genuine sequel to the original game because it broke a good deal of what made the first game so appealing – such as completing levels with a single deployment of units – was lost. Starcraft 2 won’t have that problem. Whether it will have enough to entice those left cold or sceptical by other Blizzard games seems doubtful.

It seems clear that this is going to be a typical Blizzard game: the remixed elements and improved visuals will be enough to justify the lack of genuine innovation. Blizzard understand the theory behind creating RTS games like a maths genius understands basic arithmetic: it’s a second language and they make the delivery and construction of these games seem effortless. They’re not effortless, of course, this is a game into which vast amounts of effort and money has been poured. Despite their bombast and approved presentations, the residents of the Irvine studio seemed genuinely nervous about how Starcaft 2 will be received. There are so many people, expecting so much… but they needn’t be nervous, because this is going to be a stone cold smash hit.

Starcraft 2 is scheduled for release “when it’s done” but we’d expect to see something more concrete in early Spring.

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47 Comments »

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  1. Phil says:

    I’m sure Korean optometrists are already celebrating the game’s announcement.

    It does look all kinds of good though – too often its the graphics that get polish after polish while gameplay is essentially cliche1 and cliche2 mashed together, so it is nice when it is the other way around.

  2. Piratepete says:

    I really tried to like Starcraft I really did, but I’m not known for my prowess at RTS games and after being beaten by all the factions on easy with the maximum handicap I decided that the best course of action for all concerned would be to uninstall it and never mention its name again.

    Yet whenever I hear its name mentioned my ears prick up. I like RTS’s and I like the idea of Starcraft, but given its Korean importance I have a horrble feeling it will just be totally impenetrable for me, and perhaps your average gamer who can’t do 100+ clicks per minute.

    Perhaps I’ll just let the demo (if one becomes available), beat me a few times to put me back in my place, and I’ll just move along. Nothing to see here etc.

  3. Mark-P says:

    I’m quite excited about SC2. It’s one of the few games, along with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Skies, ( oh yeah, I used the dots ) that will make me violently assault my piggybank for a new PC if it turns out to be really good.

    I like what they’ve done with the new graphics, upgrading to 3D while keeping the look & feel of the old sprites and not bathing the screen in obnoxious glow effects and lasers. Some of the new units I’m not sold on – did they get a 13 year old to name them? I mean – ‘Reapers’, come on. :|

    I do hope that they don’t pander too much to the competitive Korean crowd. I find Blizzard’s RTSes to be hard enough as it is to play online, given that they seem to run them at the highest possible speed settings by default, require an arcane system of key presses to activate special abilities and force you to babysit units with a lemming-like compulsion to throw themselves into harms way. They’re not very accessible to new or casual ( as in, not playing 40 hours a week on stimpacks ) gamers.

  4. Crabbs says:

    I loved the bejeezus out of the original SC (I still occasionally put my 8800GTX to good use by firing it up in glorious 640×480) and I’ve got my fingers crossed for one thing: being able to act while paused in single-player mode.

  5. Therlun says:

    I mainly wait for Starcraft 2 to play the SP mode.
    Which is odd considering that generally I have little interest in SP games these days because the writing and game mechanics are simply so boring in most of them. In MP the other players provide for most of the entertainment, with the game only being a platform to meet and compete.

    Starcraft MP however…(applies to most other RTS games too)
    Too much micro for me, not enough diversity and taken way to seriously

    The campaigns were fun though, with varying objectives, just the right amount of scripted events, and enough freedom(and easy enough difficulty level) to try different approaches.

  6. Incognito_gbg says:

    I´m not looking forward to this. Not because of the game itself, but because it will lead to a new horde of standard-RTS-clones. a plague the strategygenre barely has recovered from since the last Starcraft-game.

    This is a game for the fans, not for people who want the genre to evolve.

  7. Bobsy says:

    As with all Blizzard games that aren’t WoW, I’m actually mostly looking forward to the bloody cutscenes. Which says a lot, I think. Nevertheless, I’m not a huge fan of RTSs but War/Starcraft are the only games other than Total War I could actually be bothered to follow to completion. Couldn’t muster the same kind of enthusiasm for the expansions, though.

    As for multiplayer… eh. It’s like playing Kasparov at chess, isn’t it? There’ll be no room for rubbishers like me, so bollocks to the lot of it.

  8. The Sombrero Kid says:

    starcraft was absolutly amazing a game i still play today when i get to gether with certain people and on my own.
    If the principles of starcraft were followed back in the day the genre would’ve evolved to a rediculous level of polish unfortunatly most publishers were just in it for the money :'( and churned out the same game with different sprites over and over again until the genre was presumed dead for nearly ten years but no Dawn of War restarted it’s heart and Company of Hero’s was it’s Rockyesque revival to Better than ever status (Company of Hero’s is the Greatest RTS ever and a spiritual successor to starcraft i’d say).

  9. Max says:

    So apathetic it makes me nose bleed, on this one.

  10. Mouj says:

    Well i’m pretty excited for one, being a huge fan of the original Starcraft, but i fear i might not love it as much.
    It surely looks all nice and polished, as all Blizzard games do, and it sure will be nice to get to play in it’s universe again. Thing is, i’m afraid i might not like it’s old RTS ways anymore, collection of ressources and so on.. After playing games like Dawn of War and Company of Heroes, which i thought were innovative in their gameplays, i’m not sure i’ll have so much fun in Starcraft2.. but it might be a little early to criticize.
    But i will give it a try nonetheless, for the sake of it.. and i’m pretty sure it’ll be yet another nice Blizzard hit.

  11. Seniath says:

    I’ve never been that great at RTSs, so I’m hoping there isn’t too much of a Korean-MP mentality to this one, because I thoroughly enjoyed SC single player. Oh, and I must admit, I kinda agree with Bobsy, the highlight of many a Blizzard game has always been the FMVS (the opening to the Undead campaign in War3 still sends a chill down my spine). Shallow, I know ;)

  12. Seniath says:

    Oh, and I’m sure I’ll get more excited once they start releasing info on the Zerg, they were always my race of choice. I’d like to see some more Infection mechanisms in this one.

  13. Synoptase says:

    Who said doing new with something old is easy? And who said old stuff is always the good stuff?
    How was diablo 2 or warcraft 2-3? They’re just too damn good. High expectations for a long awaited game, why would they mess up?

  14. zombie says:

    Left 4 dead where art thou?

  15. Leeks! says:

    The original Starcraft had personality to be sure, and that I admired about it. But only that. While I can certainly recognize those elements that made it the mega-hit it was, I think I was left a bit cold if only because my family didn’t have the internet at the time it was originally released (Luddites), and I think a large portion of its value lay in the multiplayer.

    Nonetheless, I was pretty excited when I heard the announcement. I had fond memories of the campaign and LAN-ing against my brothers, and I was interested to see where they were going to take it. After watching the early gameplay videos, it seemed to me that “nowhere” was the answer.

    Put simply, for all its new appendages and polish, it at least looks like exactly the same game as the original. I certainly understand the need to stick to convention in a franchise game as large as this, but–at least on a visual level–everything I’ve seen doesn’t even stack up to Dawn of War. Everything moves in an incredibly sterile way, behaving more like chess pieces than spaceships. Attacks seem to come from somewhere near the units rather than from the units themselves. All of this was acceptable in 1998, but ignoring all the development of the past ten years is nothing short of arrogant.

    That said, I’ll withhold judgment on the mechanics until I’m actually able to play the game. Blizzard certainly knows what they’re doing, and I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point. But I will say that, from what I’ve heard so far, I’m not impressed. Borrowed ideas from other games with all of their depth stripped away just isn’t doing it for me. For now, anyway.

  16. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    meh, I’ll pick it up for a SP runthrough, most like. play a couple of skirmishes, and forget about it for 6-8 months, then another go with the SP. I’m more excited about Kanes Wrath.

  17. Nimic says:

    I never really got into Starcraft. Tried to play the original a few times, but it just didn’t do it for me. And that’s despite me being a pretty big strategy fan.

  18. zaptrack says:

    Only thing I’ve really noticed about starcraft 2 is that universe at war put quotes from reviewers that basiclly said “Good enough till starcraft comes out. I guess. What asshole made me review this again?”

  19. Butler` says:

    I should imagine that “Blizzard saying” is something along the lines of gameplay over graphics, and so it should be.

    One thing sums up SC2 for me:

    They have an entire position for a game balance designer.

    Doesn’t that just say it all? I for one can’t wait.

  20. Andrew Farrell says:

    It says that they don’t have one?

  21. Crispy says:

    I’ve never been good at RTS games. I do like the gameplay, It’s just I can’t hack it against hotkey encyclopedions. So, like Seniath and Therlun, I’m waiting for the single-player campaign and AI skirmishes on this one.

    I liked what Warcraft 3 did with the ‘Upkeep’ feature (if you had a large amount of units your gold was mined at a decreased rate). I absolutely hate tank rushes determining victory because it feels like such a boring route to victory. When there’s an incentive to keep your army low and select a combination of units that complement eachother so you are prepared for any eventuality it seems like a much richer approach to strategy.

  22. Steve says:

    I’ve got to agree with the people who say the genre’s moved on since Starcraft. I’m sure this’ll get high scores when it comes out, but I’m equally sure it’ll have little real impact, and it definitely won’t be name-checked anything like Company of Heroes and Supreme Commander were, and still are.

    Also, Leeks! (great name, btw) is right on the money regarding the videos. They stink like bad antiques. Plus, they don’t even have the flashing screaming exploding distraction that saved C&C3 from sinking without trace.

  23. oryly says:

    What I’m really looking forward to in Starcraft 2 is the hilarity that will come out of the map editor. We’ll be getting quality maps like “Escape from Gay Planet”, “Nazzly Mobis Open RPG” and “Zergling Defense”.

  24. Ben Abraham says:

    I still play Starcraft with friends over the Internet who have recently rediscovered the joys of Internet play.

    I for one welcome our newly rendered Blizzard Overlords!

  25. Sucram says:

    I feel like I shouldn’t be excited about Starcraft 2 on account of Blizzard’s RTS being well.. a bit dull.

    I don’t care about ultra competitive play and I tend find the thought of hundreds of units clashing amongst huge explosions a rather more thrilling concept than a few dozen well crafted units plodding towards each other in order to discuss their statistics (now balanced with a 0.1s decrease recharge time).

    Yet, I am. The fact is Blizzard games tend to be just really well made, to the point where the final product ends up looking like something they effortlessly churned out and it only took so long because it’s difficult for them to reach their computers past those bags of money that people keep sending them.

    It’s sounds horrible to call games ‘solid’ or well made but compare a Bliizard RTS to something like WiC which just doesn’t work in SP, or Supreme Commander which is somehow balanced wrong to make for exciting skirmishes, or CoH which is set in a bloomin’ WWII game and you realise that the Blizzard universes are quite interesting, the SP is diverse, well paced and challenging (in the right way) and yes the CGI is very very pretty.

    Then there’s MP and for those of us who aren’t Korean, it’s easy to mock this from afar but I probably played more WCIII online than any other RTS even if I haven’t touched it since 6 patches ago. I still have fond memories of Battle.net everytime I stare at the Battlefield 2 server browser and the ranked play meant I never did have to be hummiliated by ungodly tournament freaks. Also the custom maps were fun enough to spawn a dozen web games and inspire Chris Taylor so..

    yes, I’m quite excited.

  26. Arnulf says:

    What I tremendously like about Starcraft 1 is the space opera yet cheesy storyline interspersed with thinly veiled references to various movies (Starship Troopers for instance…) and their crack jokes.

    If Starcraft 2 delivers the same, I’ll be happy. I’m not into multiplayer. I’ve seen some recordings of professional players and that cured me of any notion that I could be even remotely competitive…

    But I seriously doubt that they will be as successful with SC2 as they had with SC1. Blizzard just cannot win in that regard. Some imbalance will always crop up, and when they’ll finally nail it, it will be too late. And even if they manage to do the impossible from the start, some will just complain that it’s not SC1, it’s too slow, to resource-hungry, whatever.

    Gamers are a picky lot. You cannot satisfy them.

    And yes, one more word: Damn you Blizzard for ditching Starcraft Ghost! Damn you!

    ;)

  27. Phil says:

    Judging from the trailer, the tone of the game will indeed be a “space opera yet cheesy.”

    Hopefully it’ll stick to the style of the superb human campaign from the first game. The sense of momentum, desperation and just general good plotting for me got a little diluted with the tedious internal xeno-politics and high fantasy twaddle of the later levels – in other words halo2 syndrome seven years before the first recorded case.

  28. StolenName says:

    IN regards to your article on Korean gaming – bookmarked/printed/archived.

    Ahh, was never any good at StarCraft but I did manage to complete the story modes, then Brood Wars and was left DYING for another taste.

    I absolutely loved the 20 minute hi-res demonstration that was available online. Seeing the new super-units in action was amazing. The bullet slowing ability on the mother ship was simply insane – how the hell did they think about htat? I’m really looking forward to just learning how the fuck all the new units and tweaks work together – actually, I’m more excited at seeing how the professionals manage to orchestrate their attacks.

    Hmm, wonder if you’ll still be able to Zerg rush?

    On another note, I’m currently building a new computer to accommodate for all this years new PC games. God, haven’t had something that lives up to current specs for ages and I’m getting a little bored with consoles these days.

    I’ve dubbed the PC I’m building – The Fish Project. Don’t ask WHY I’m building a giant PC that looks like a fish, I just am, though I’m certain it’s going to fail horribly – espcially at cooling :|

    Whatever happens, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Skies (yeah Matt, I typed it out too! Had practice though) and StarCraft 2 are on the top of my must play PC list, as well as a stack of older games I’ve missed out on over the years. You know, might go back and try Supreme Commander, Crysis, maybe even games such as CoD4 single player to really see what the graphics are like in a resolution better than 800×600 hahaha.

    Looking forward to the rest of the series~!

  29. Butler` says:

    @Andrew Farrell says: It says that they don’t have one?

    Not unless I’m very much mistaken:

    “Game Balance Designer

    The StarCraft 2 team is looking for a talented and enthusiastic game designer. This position will focus on play balance, systems balance and multiplayer gaming.”

    That in itself says a lot. Perhaps less so for those inclined to stick to the now archaic concept only referred to as “Single Player”.

  30. SwiftRanger says:

    Looking forward to this mainly for the singleplayer campaign as well.

    Blizzard made some mistakes with the WarCraft III campaign (poor cohesion, too many new characters you didn’t care about) but did very well again in the Frozen Throne (except for that Orcish action RPG bit).

  31. Turin Turambar says:

    I am not very interested. Looks like Starcraft 1.5 to me. I still have not hear any new features, except some new ‘special’ abilities from the new units.

    I will play for the campaign. MP? Too much micro, too little strategy.

  32. Butler` says:

    @Turin

    That could be said about Warcraft III with its Hero classes, but they aren’t including those in SC2, so the emphasis should be back on strategy.

  33. Darius K. says:

    Hah. Nice open.

  34. Andrew Farrell says:

    Ah no, the point I was making was that it’d be strange to only start thinking about game balance at this point, but I assume that this new employee will be part of a team of balancers (the collective noun is troupe, I hope).

  35. TychoCelchuuu says:

    Relic has a “game balancer” on staff too. I’d imagine most game designers for real time strategy games might as well have that job title, since beyond saying “LETS PUT A PROTOSS DUDE ON SURF BOARD” and figuring out hotkeys, all there is left to do is balance stuff.

    I’ve always enjoyed Warcraft II/III more than Starcraft. Not quite sure why. Part of it seemed to be the incredible fragility of your guys in Starcraft; win or lose, your marines are going to be blown apart into gooey bits at a much higher rate than your footmen. Still, Blizzard is the top in the field, and no matter how much I love Company of Heroes, there’s always a little voice in the back of my mind that says “this is awesome, but if Blizzard had made it, it would be more balanaced.” And when it comes down to multiplayer RTS games, balance is a gigantic factor.

  36. Turin Turambar says:

    @Butler:

    If the game is anything like the first Starcraft, i won’t consider it as “coming back to the strategy realm”.

    @TychoCelchuu:

    If Blizzard made CoH of course the balance would be better, but it would be in a whole different subgenre of RTS. From Warcraft I & II to Starcraft to Warcraft III, they don’t seem interested in RT[b]S[/b] with bold S, unlike Homeworld or CoH, games from Relic.

  37. DigitalSignalX says:

    There’s no doubt SC will sell decently on it’s nostalgia chops alone, and I’m sure I’ll own a copy too just for the single player. The real test though will be if it recaptures enough of a following, and critical acclaim to go with it, to successfully launch the StarCraft MMO we’ve all been hearing about. That strikes me as what the real fear is at Bliz, whether or not to greenlight a massive new MMO and all the inherent risks.

  38. BrokenSymmetry says:

    Why is RPS so enthusistic about a game that is not going to do anything new at all?

  39. malkav11 says:

    I’ll play singleplayer, I’m sure. I was hoping they were going to do a little more with it than they seem to be doing. The way Starcraft was a significant evolution over Warcraft II, and Warcraft III likewise over Starcraft (yes, I know some of you hate the RPG heroes. I don’t.).

  40. StolenName says:

    What prerequisites does a Game Balancer need? I imagine someone whose spent much of their waking hours competing in a variety of multiplayer online games that understands a variety of game styles. Or is it a much more technical position?

    I’m more of a console gamer and journo rather than PC gamer or developer so I’m kind of interested in this role…

  41. Butler` says:

    @StolenName
    Quick answer: Maths
    Long answer: Read the link :p

    @Turin

    Its strategic depth stems from the unique races i suppose. At the end of the day if it wasn’t deep, it wouldn’t be the number one competitive RTS of all time and still played as an eSport to this day.

    I’ve seen some compare it to chess, atleast as near as video game has come.

  42. Nobby says:

    I cant say I’m very interested in Star Craft 2, the original just didnt grip me at all.

    But I’m excited because other people are excited. How strange.

  43. Ian Kiigan says:

    A new StarCraft is a terrifying prospect really. I’ve been playing the original since it first came out, and BroodWars since that first came out, and some friends and I still play that almost daily online. I love the fact that it runs on any old PC – it runs under VMware within Linux just fine, it runs on ancient MacOS9 machines just fine.

    We’re sad enough that we use voice comms to co-ordinate games, we test ideas and strategies out, and review recordings of matches to learn from them. It’s a big deal and I’m still learning new things about it all the time. I even like it enough to watch the Korean pro tournaments with commentary on Youtube. I can sort of relate to sports fans as a result of my obsession with this game… StarCraft is unquestionably my favourite videogame of all time – all the keyboard shortcuts are forever hard-wired into my fingers. I know many people who never play any other videogames, but they play StarCraft.

    Now despite saying all the above, I’m sure nutters like myself are just the tip of the iceberg – StarCraft has such a rabidly loyal following that the pressure on the StarCraft 2 team to deliver must be truly nerve-wracking. I’ll remain quietly optimistic, but StarCraft casts a big shadow and I daresay that many of the purists will take a lot of convincing to switch over to the new one. As for me, it’s really the only game launch I’ve ever considered taking time off work for.

  44. Ian Kiigan says:

    PS for anyone interested, check out KlazartSC’s excellent English language StarCraft commentary:

    http://youtube.com/user/KlazartSC

  45. drunkymonkey says:

    I mixed the Starcraft buzz first time it came round, and tried getting into it too late. Therefore, as a fan of Blizzard’s work on the Warcraft series, I can’t wait to at least have a go at this. I don’t think that Blizzard have an equal in terms of releasing extremely accessible, polished and clean games.

  46. Andy Johnson says:

    Yep, SC2 definitely looks like it’s shaping up well.

    But Diablo III news would really get me excited.