Protoss, Jim’s Hands-On With SC2

By Jim Rossignol on March 14th, 2008 at 8:52 am.


It’s interesting that Blizzard are really cranking up the Starcraft 2 hype this month, especially when rumours suggest the game is still so far off. If they keep this up we’ll be properly fed up by the time it hits…

Anyway, it occurs to me that I’ve not pointed out that I was one of the first people outside Blizzard to get to play Starcraft 2. So after the jump I’ve posted an extract from my PC Format feature, published in 2007. That and the nine-minute Protoss gameplay trailer.

Blizzard’s office in Orange County, California is a (non-alien) hive of activity. We’re ushered past giant models of Starcraft Ghosts and threatening Warcraft orks and into a hi-tech boardroom with LCD screens adorning each wall. The long boardroom table is crammed with PCs, each one with its own set of ludicrous internal LEDs and flickering RAM temperature gauges. The first thing we’re going to see is a demonstration of the Terran faction as re-imagined by designer Chris Signaty and producer Dustin Browder. They cheerily narrate a sequence of small battles intended to illustrated the ever-unfolding tactical complexity of the new Starcraft game.

The first thing they show off is the way that different parts of a Terran base can be detached and flown to land on various other auxiliary base units. This allows a commander to reconfigure production on the fly. As anyone who has played the fast-paced original Starcraft will know, being able to change tactics within a few seconds can be really tough. Being able to alter the capabilities of your base, perhaps by simply shifting the focus of production from vehicles to infantry, in just a couple of seconds, could dictate the course of an ongoing battle. Starcraft has always been fast and furious, but it has also always been about knowing how and when to counter enemy units. Being able to react faster makes the Terrans more versatile than they were as a faction in the original game.

Soon the action flares up. It’s a Terran versus Terran battle. The old-school battlecruiser class units arrive, toting their new weapon upgrades. Beam-lasers and plasma-missiles are flying, but they’re quickly countered by a new transforming unit: the Viking. A swooping platoon of this new airbound unit destroys the battlecruiser formation and then, to everyone’s Transformer-noise-making joy, they land, and after becoming chain-gun toting walker-robots, they engage ground units further across the map. The walking Vikings are soon under heavy fire, however, and save themselves by taking to the air once again.

The Vikings are going to be supported by the Banshee, a cloaking air-to-ground unit with massive area-of-effect damage weapons. This a new tankbuster for the Terrans, and its stealth capabilities suggest some scary tactics for games in the future. Also new to the field are the jet-leaping Reapers – heavy infantry who can hurl out explosive charges to deal massive damage to structures and slow-moving units.

But the best is yet to come: the hulking form of the Thor. This is a high-level unit that some multiplayer games might not ever reach: a lumbering behemoth that is constructed in the field by the Terran support units. This massive unit engages the enemy with pounding heavy guns. It is illustrative of the way in which Starcraft II’s units must integrate and support each other if they want to survive. While the initial attack goes well, the marines and smaller ground vehicles with the Thor are rapidly killed, and fast, sleek Cobra tanks are able to circle the Thor and outpace its slow-tracking guns. Without help from supporting troops the giant is soon slain.

Once this demonstration is over we’re treated to a session playing with the Protoss race, who are Starcraft’s super high-tech alien. Their units are based around shield systems and energy attacks, so you can expect loads of beam weapons, electrical blasts and stealthy antics. I start out my multiplayer match rather at a loss: there are more options for the first few minutes of the game that there were in the original game, simply by virtue of there being more to deploy on the field. This means that fights in the opening sections of any Starcraft match are going to be a little more varied than they might have been in the classic Starcraft. This time around you definitely have more options – something that was a bit daunting for me, the first person outside of Blizzard to actually play the game against other people.

As in any Starcraft game I began by hitting the resources hard and making some zealots – the basic Protoss soldier – to scout the field of battle. Having produced a few more units I began to come under attack. First by an enemy Dark Templar, whose cloaking ability could not be countered by anything I had built, and then by the Collossi. These giant “four-legged tripods” can scale small cliffs and rake anything they encounter with vicious energy beams. It wasn’t long before my measly defence buckled. Defeat. Silently, inwardly, I cried hot tears of shame.

The second bout was to be different. My opponent (a skinny Swedish gentleman who seemed determined to beat me) did not appear from the map’s fog of war for many long minutes. I rapidly built up a primary and secondary base, gaining as much resource as quickly as possible. I left one side of my base relatively exposed, hoping that he would make his first attack with some of the older, more familiar ground-based Protoss units. Choke-points are a great way of holding off enemies, and mining and setting turrets up along their sides can really deliver some killing blows. Of course, he chose flying units.

I encountered the Tempests first – flying cruisers that deployed swarms of disc-like attacking drones. I despatched these only to run into something rather more serious: a mothership. The giant rotating UFO was in the advanced stages of upgrade, and scorched the ground with lasers, devastating my attack force. I smiled to myself, knowing that my own slow-moving mothership was closing in, unknown to him. And then: disaster. I had miscalculated where my own ship was, allowing my opponent to drop a black hole on my mothership, sucking it into a deadly dark vortex. My base was wide open.

The Swede began to burn his way through my weak flank. I clicked at the options in frantic dismay. All I could do was to retreat to a third base and try to rebuild. Luck suddenly shone down on my ailing armies. My opponent spent too long wiping out the last remnants of my primary and secondary bases, meaning the tertiary base had time to pump out a counter force. I first hit his convoy of back up troops, and then defeated the damaged mothership – Protoss shields may repair, but they have have no method of fixing the weak hulls of their craft once damaged. My horde surged through his nearby base defences and delivered the killing blow.

It’s the capacity for Starcraft to be so engaging, and so fast, that makes moments like this, where certain death can be turned into ultimate victory, into gaming legend. Starcraft II perfectly recaptures the tooth-and-nail pace of the original game, but seems to provide even more flexibility.

It should also bring us some interesting new angles exclusive to this game. Signaty revealed that Blizzard have “some really interesting plans for Battlenet, and plans for single player and Battlenet.” He went on to explain that the community would be well catered for with the release of a revitalised map-making kit. “Another big thing is that the map editor is a next generation tool, our programmer Brett Wood has been working on this since Warcraft III and has just run with the right way to do tools and editing. We’ll be really excited to get this into the community’s hands and get them using it. We’ve also set up a new community team to allow us to work with the community, because we’ve not interacted with the the players as well as I had hoped we could have in the past.”

We too will be interested in how that turns out. And, looking back now, months after my encounter with SC2, watching the latest videos, I can see that what seemed near-finished at the time was simply a test build. They’re building more and more on top of it, and the visuals are looking more detailed all the time. There’s every reason to believe that this will be an astonishing RTS. Blizzard can’t seem to help themselves.

Finally, here’s nine minutes of lovely Protoss action:

GameTrailers, you’re the star of our craft.

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17 Comments »

  1. madaimer says:

    Nice work on beating the cocky sweede

  2. sigma83 says:

    I’ve always loved the Terrans thematically (ditto Space Marines) but I was quite rubbish at them. I was much better at zerg, although this implies I was actually good at the game- I wasn’t. But I still think the humble Terran Marine is the best RTS unit ever. The Dreadnought from 40k is a close second.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Love the matrix effect.

    Sigh, I just know I won’t stand a chance in multiplayer. Can’t wait to the pro gamers though, here’s hoping for a National Geographic documentary about it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5Fd6fHNdsE
    This guy just straight kills Koreans. Also notice how much the narrator loves not having to talk about monkeys and the true horrors of war.

  4. Zuffox says:

    The first thing they show off is the way that different parts of a Terran base can be detached and flown to land on various other auxiliary base units. This allows a commander to reconfigure production on the fly.

    You and your puns – it’s starting to take over maddeningly.

  5. drunkymonkey says:

    Damn! This Hands-On has made me want the game even more! I mean, I’ll be pitifully bad at it, like I am with all RTSs, but I’ll play along happily in any case.

  6. Phil says:

    I’m willing to bet everyone who’s posted here, in fact, anyone who has visited or even heard of this site could beat me at Starcraft – I just lazily turtle till the nukes show up.

    More relevantly, this game just keeps looking better and better.

  7. Seniath says:

    After the sudden influx of SC2 related news the last few days, I decided to reinstall SC…only to discover to my horror that I don’t have the CD Key with me here in Leeds. Luckily, I’ll be able to nab it at the weekend when I go home, but still…

    Also, we had a 9m Terran trailer on Wednesday, a 9m Protoss trailer yesterday…here’s hoping for a 9m Zerg one today?

    Edit: Oh, this is an old trailer :(.

  8. Anthony Damiani says:

    I could have sworn I saw this exact footage during the initial promo material, albeit in Korean.

  9. matt says:

    SC2 does look more and more promising every time i check back on it or it comes by in the news.. I was such a big fan for such a long time of the orignal Stracraft, i can’t wait to get my hands on this one, and the everlasting fun it promises..

  10. Cyren says:

    Signaty revealed that Blizzard have “some really interesting plans for Battlenet, and plans for single player and Battlenet.”

    I guess he’s referring to achievements here? Or could he be alluding to a co-op “single player” Starcraft campaign that I keep dreaming about?

  11. neoanderthal says:

    @sigma83, I agree with your assessment of the marine. I’ve always had good luck with squads of marines and supporting SCVs. Always had the best luck with the terrans, and the worst with the protoss.
    I just found the zerg and protoss tech trees to be a bit too deep for me.

  12. sigma83 says:

    Zerg tech trees? There’s a sunken colony, what else is there?

  13. sana says:

    I think I’ve read it somewhere that many people of the old StarCraft team left Blizzard since then. Regarding this fact and the balancing problems they have at World of Warcraft, although I’m not sure whether I should compare MMO balancing to the RTS kind, I fear that StarCraft 2 might turn out to be quite the disappointment and not live up to the classic’s fame.

    It looks great, though, yes it does.

  14. Larington says:

    I just love the fact that Blizzard is a company that is so concerned about its reputation (IE Brand image) that they refuse to put out a product the *developers* aren’t happy with, that scores them all sorts of kudos even if the reason is based in business (But business sense in this case rather than business risk paranoia).

    And it means their games tend to be all sorts of polish – All the material I keep seeing for SC2 validates that this game will also be all sorts of polish.

    And I can’t wait to get the box, open the box, install the game, and not emerge from my room for a week.

  15. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    I just noticed you spelled it “ork.” Well done, Jim. Row row. Fight the power.

  16. sinister agent says:

    “gg”? Ew, nerd humour.

    It does look rather promising, but I worry about two things – the vastly powerful mega-weapons will turn it into a tedious rebuild-’em-up if they don’t give them significant weaknesses (C&C Tiberian Sun, anyone?), for one thing.

    The other is that while they show off the tactical possibilities and countering attacks in skirmishes, when it comes to a large battle all you can do is throw a mixed army at the enemy and hope for the best.

    The greatest improvements they could make over the original are both in AI – pathfinding and decision making. It’s useless having all the units be good against a particular enemy if you have to direct each one to target the right enemy manually, or watch them all fire randomly and get slaughtered because the Korean guy at the other end clicked faster than you. And I won’t be amused if I still have to spend half the game babysitting expensive soldiers who run off into a minefield every time I turn my back for two minutes.

    That said, what they’ve done so far looks impressive indeed. I’m sure I will be scowling at my inferior pc for being unable to run it.

  17. NegativeZero says:

    Am I the only one that thinks the Thor has an eerie resemblance to the VB-6 König Monster from Macross / Robotech?

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