The StarCraft II team recently unveiled their progress on the StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm single-player campaign, which explores the fate of Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades.
To learn more about this next evolution in StarCraft II’s gameplay and storytelling, the Blizzard Insider recently sat down with Game Director Dustin Browder. Read on to get the behind-the-scenes details of the upcoming StarCraft II expansion, and be among the first to peer into the Heart of the Swarm.
Now that the player is shifting perspectives from the terran to the zerg, how will this alien point-of-view affect the gameplay and storytelling mechanics of StarCraft II’s single-player missions?
Kerrigan is a creature consumed by pure rage. She has been infested, tortured, and hunted. She grew to command over a third of the power of the entire sector, and she has to deal with problems of a scope that Jim Raynor could never even imagine, including the dark unknown of the Xel’naga and all-out genocidal wars against the protoss. To put things into perspective, Raynor is a central figure in the StarCraft story, but he remains just one man. Kerrigan became a goddess worshipped by billions of zerg who would execute her every command without question.
As a comparatively insignificant creature, Raynor cannot understand what it means to be the Queen of Blades. We hope to convey that epic sense of power and scale through the Heart of the Swarm campaign.
Can you give any specific examples of how the hive-evolution mechanic in Heart of the Swarm will work differently from the tech upgrade mechanic used in Wings of Liberty?
We are trying to focus the player on finding new DNA from exotic and strange creatures around the sector so that you really feel like the key to zerg success is finding and infesting the immense, deadly monsters that live on the most savage planets in the galaxy.
The Swarm is going to evolve differently than your army upgraded in Wings of Liberty. You will be able to choose new abilities for your units, much like you could in Wings, but you can also permanently change your units into new creatures. For example, the zergling can be changed into a swarmling or into a raptor. Swarmlings spawn three zerglings instead of two when hatched from an egg, while raptors leap into combat with their enemies. Once you make this type of choice you are locked in to that unit, so your decision should carry considerable weight, and the end result should feel like a very different unit.
What kinds of new zerg units can players expect to see in the single-player campaign?
It’s still too early to know which units will make the final cut. We are trying to create mutations of many of your favorite units from StarCraft lore that allow you to really feel like you are mutating and evolving your Swarm. We are also exploring bringing in creatures that have been previously seen but never controlled in StarCraft.
In Wings of Liberty, players controlled Jim Raynor for a few missions. Will players get to do the same with Kerrigan in Heart of the Swarm? If so, how will her gameplay differ from Jim’s?
Kerrigan will appear on almost every map in Heart of the Swarm. Unlike Raynor, Kerrigan is a creature of power that leads her army from the front, smashing aside siege tanks and destroying battlecruisers with her psionic abilities. And unlike Wings of Liberty, the mission isn’t over if she dies. Kerrigan will be able to revive at the nearest hatchery if she is killed, allowing you to use her aggressively against your enemies.
Kerrigan can also be upgraded over time, gaining new powers that allow you to use her in a variety of different ways. You will be able to choose which powers you want to use before every mission, allowing you to evolve Kerrigan before each battle.
In addition to Raynor, Wings of Liberty also had some important supporting characters such as Matt Horner, Gabriel Tosh, and Tychus Findlay. Who are some of the supporting zerg characters that will be accompanying Kerrigan in Heart of the Swarm?
We are hard at work at creating the fierce creatures of the zerg that Kerrigan commands between missions. We have Abathur the evolution master who controls the genetic vector of billions of zerg species. Abathur will teach the player all he or she needs to know to thrive in the brutal and violent world of the zerg. Through Abathur, we'll make it clear that “survival of the fittest” is the essence of what it means to be zerg.
Early in the campaign you'll also conquer a lesser zerg brood commanded by Za’gara, a zerg queen who remained in hiding on Char after the events of Wings of Liberty.
What are the challenges of adapting the zerg units or zerg gameplay to the mission structure established in Wings of Liberty?
The zerg economy is harder for players to manage and can be difficult to use correctly in the campaign where so many new challenges and objectives are being thrown at you at once. Certain units like mutalisks are balanced very specifically for multiplayer and can quickly become too powerful in the campaign. Banelings are also balanced for multiplayer and are generally far too weak in campaign where your enemy has a large resource advantage.
We are still too early in development to know how many other things are going to go wrong, but we're prepared to face many more challenges in balancing the campaign going forward.
Thanks for your time. Are there any other details you’d like to share before you go?
We are hard at work on the campaign, on new multiplayer units, on Blizzard All Stars, and on our Map Marketplace. We really appreciate all of the support and enthusiasm for StarCraft II from all of our players around the world. We’ll roll out new information just as soon as we can get it to you.
We are extremely excited about the success of StarCraft II and the positive response we’ve received regarding the Wings of Liberty campaign, and we think Heart of the Swarm will deliver an even better experience. Additionally, the eSports response has been absolutely phenomenal. eSports organizations are popping up all over the world, matching extremely high caliber players against one another. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the exciting matches, I highly recommend you look into one or more of the leagues out there including the GSL, MLG, and the NASL.
See you online!