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StarCraft II – Press Day // Preview

StarCraft II – Press Day // Preview

StarCraft II Preview / Press Day

StarCraft II – Press Day / Preview

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StarCraft II is one of the most highly anticipated games of the year and fans of the series have been wishing for it to arrive for almost every day of its eight year development. As such we here at GamingHeaven were naturally delighted to be invited to the pre-launch exhibition in the UK, an event that would provide us with an opportunity to not only learn more about Blizzard’s long awaited sequel but also to get our hands on some of the single player campaign levels ahead of schedule.

When Blizzard launched the original StarCraft back in 1998 it quickly became something of a phenomenon. The game captured the imagination of players all around the world, in particular South Korea where trade sanctions had prevented the Japanese console developers such as SEGA and Nintendo from finding an audience. That coupled with the proliferation of internet cafes being opened across the country enabled StarCraft to become the competitive game of choice. The demand for new content saw Blizzard release the expansion pack “Brood Wars” in December 1998 and sales continued globally.

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As of now the game has sold over 11 million copies worldwide, with its popularity in South Korea becoming the model for e-sports in other countries. StarCraft is televised and South Korean players make not only a good living through playing the game but they are also treated like sporting celebrities. The popularity of the real time strategy title meant that a revisit to the world of Terran, Protos and Zerg was always likely but it also meant it would have to be handled very sensitively. The question of how best to proceed was one very much at the forefront of Blizzard’s thinking. As Bob Colayco, Blizzard’s Public Relations Manager, paraphrased at the start of the days presentations:

“How do you honour the legacy of the first game and still bring something fresh to the table?”

To ensure continuity the same development team behind the original game and Warcraft 3 were recalled and they were tasked with not only creating a game that would have a single player campaign to trump their previous efforts but also one that would progress the multiplayer aspect of their games. On the showing at this prelaunch they look to have succeeded.

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The storyline of the campaign game picks up four years after the events in Brood Wars with the Zerg forces, led by Kerrigan, returning to finish the job they started in their last successful war against the Terran and Protos. With Arcturus Mengsk left to rebuild the Terran Dominian, Jim Raynor is left acting as a mercenary for hire on his ship The Hyperion. When the invasion starts again in earnest living billions of people dead it draws old enemies to try and combine forces against an unrelenting foe, even prompting the reappearance of some old friends from the first games to offer their assistance.

With Wings of Liberty being the first of three games, rather than three campaigns being combined into one as in the first game, the level of detail here is unparalleled. As the details about the campaign are revealed to us Blizzard declare that they have “created their most ambitious single player campaign to date” and it isn’t hard to see why. The Wings of Liberty story arc will take place across 29 missions and feature branching storylines depending on the outcomes.

Gone is the old real time strategy staple of moving from mission to mission with little more than a cut scene to connect the story. Players will spend their down time wandering around The Hyperion and interacting with characters, something that not only leads to more detailed characterisation but also hints at missions to come. Some missions will only be able to be discovered through this interaction, so conversing with the people on board the ship becomes a welcome distraction and an important game mechanic.

However there are plenty of nice touches also. The Cantina provides an area where players can watch humorous news casts and TV shows that draw you further into the universe and it even features an interactive jukebox. Here it is also possible to hire mercenary units which now operate differently than previous titles. Rather than have to build them in game, taking time and resources, they can now be hired in advance. They will still cost an upkeep and contribute towards the unit total but they will be useable right at the start of the game, giving an opportunity for a head start in those harder missions.

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The other part of the ship we are shown is the Armoury, which will enable players to choose any unique upgrades that their units will have going into battle. The Armoury will remain persistent in the single player campaign so all upgrades will be available across all missions but Blizzard were keen to stress that the Armoury will remain only in the single player campaign and will not be transferable to the multiplayer experience.

This is also true of the new addition to the game, the Research Points. These are earned by completing secondary missions on campaign maps and can then be utilised to access technology from both Protos and Terran tech-trees. These include special units straight of the history of the StarCraft universe, ones that will give players a huge advantage in their ability to complete certain missions. It was stressed that these technologies will not be available in the multiplayer game as well, bar one or two exceptions.

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This is a decision made mainly for balance reasons and to ensure a fun experience players of all levels and abilities. Indeed, if the single player campaign sounds like a hugely impressive feat the level of attention paid to the multiplayer game means that it should make for one of Blizzard’s best online gaming experiences to date.

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Key to this is the development of the new Battle.net, Blizzard’s client for seeking out and connecting to games online thus enabling players to pit their wits against competitors all over the world. There have been several reports of the new Battle.net features in the build up to the release of StarCraft II, not least of all that it will integrate with Facebook and enable players to populate their friends lists with those they know who also happen to have the game. It’s not as entirely straightforward as it sounds.

An optional setting for those using Battle.net will be to use something called “RealID”, which is effectively using your real name and e-mail address as opposed to an avatar. The Facebook integration feature will send out invites to your friends and fellow RealID users who can then accept them in order to be visible on the shared friends list. That is only the tip of the iceberg though with Blizzard keen to push the social aspect of gaming. As one must be always connected to Battle.net in order to play the game the option to leave “broadcasts” is now available. These serve like notifications to all your friends, such as when the player will be free for games, what type of matches they are looking for or anything else they care to communicate. The chat between friends will also be cross-game, so anyone wanting to play some StarCraft II in between WoW guild raids will now be able to find like-minded friends with greater ease than before.

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There is also a much greater focus on the competitive aspect and making it more accessible to those who may feel a tad intimidated at trying to play catch up to a game with a thriving competitive scene. Upon first entering the realm of online play, players will be asked what skill level they are. If they select new then they are entered into the Casual League. Here parts of the map are blocked off to stop rushes that would end the game quickly and the game speed is set to normal as opposed to “fastest” which is the norm for competitive play. There will be a competitive arena for everyone, divided into mini-leagues based purely on skill classifications, which will replace the previous system of having everyone ranked together. Blizzard explained this was to give players a better sense of working towards something and achieving things, rather than simply looking at their rank and feeling decidedly average.

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Speaking of achievements Blizzard has included some unlockable avatars and decals that can be used to decorate gaming profiles in a more unique manner before. With more achievements and rewards they hope this will not only allow for a greater degree of customisation than before but will also lead to community based interaction as players ask one another how to unlock certain items.

Although the presentation didn’t go too much into the actual game mechanics there was the opportunity for those assembled to play some of the single player campaigns and the multiplayer beta. Without wanting to give too much away one of the keys to any strategy in this new game is going to be how players handle terrain. Each level is layered and occupying the high ground can be beneficial for a number of reasons. Some units will be able to fly to those parts of the map whereas others that are earthbound have an increased range or do more damage to units in the air. There are also whole sections of maps that have pathways blocked off but can be opened up when the right units destroy the blockage, something that creates a new tactical element to the game.

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It isn’t just the game mechanics that have seen a radical overhaul but the game engine itself. One of the big reveals were that all the between mission cut scenes in the game, of which there are 45 minutes of footage, are all rendered by the game engine, they are not cinematic. They certainly look cinematic though, especially the detail on the characters face. Using a new technology called “Face Effects” the characters expressions and lip synching are all done each time automatically by the program without the need for manual editing.

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With the presentation coming to a close there was plenty to get excited about and we had a concept of just how huge an impact this game was going to have. A truly global phenomenon it would be available in twelve languages with Blizzard offering around the clock support for players. Razer were even on hand to talk about their new products that were designed specifically for StarCraft II but couldn’t reveal too much except to say they were proud of what they had created and they would be revealing more around about the same time as E3.

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For now those lucky few of us will have to make do with playing the beta, which closes at the end of this month. Be under no illusions though, if you’re not excited about the arrival of StarCraft II then you should be.

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StarCraft II

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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