During the final stages of the beta test of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, the Blizzard Insider sat down with Lead Designer Dustin Browder to discuss the balance and design philosophies behind StarCraft II’s intricate multiplayer matches -- and get some insight into the evolution of StarCraft II’s intense strategic gameplay.
Blizzard Insider: StarCraft II introduces lots of new units and abilities that build on the gameplay of the original StarCraft. Can you discuss how a few of those ideas came about, and how they changed over the course of the beta test?
Dustin Browder: We’re always looking for ways to make the three races of StarCraft play as differently from one another as possible. One of the core things we’ve been trying to do is make the zerg feel more evil and biological -- like they're trying to get under your skin. One of the abilities we came up with a while ago was to “stun” structures with some kind of zerg slime, so that whenever you’re fighting the zerg, your buildings are often covered in ooze. This ability moved around from unit to unit during the beta test while we worked in other zerg abilities to make enemy units more vulnerable to attack. Disease, infestation, and disgusting biological attacks are all core to the zerg approach to warfare.
Insider: How have some of the classic units from the original StarCraft -- such as the terran siege tank and the protoss zealot -- evolved for the sequel?
Dustin: Many of the classic units from the original StarCraft have been updated to help them survive on the battlefields of StarCraft II. The zealot, for example, has a Charge ability that allows him to quickly get close to his enemies, which is vital when chasing down fast-moving foes. Battlecruisers have the same abilities as in the original StarCraft but now also have two kinds of plasma cannons; one kind fights off enemy air units, and the other kind is dedicated to blasting enemies on the ground. The latter is significantly more powerful, allowing the battlecruiser to really dominate ground-based opponents.
Insider: Can you tell us anything about new units or abilities you tried out that didn’t make the cut?
Dustin: We briefly tried to add a new ability in the beta test called Frenzy, which was cast by the infestor. This ability allowed the zerg to move and attack more quickly, as well as ignore the effects of stun, slow, and mind-control attacks. However, during testing we found it was most useful when cast on the ultralisk, so in the end we just gave the ability to the ultralisk. We’re always looking for ways to eliminate unecessary complexity or needless extra steps, since it’s such a fast-paced game.
Insider: How did you approach balancing such a wide range of units across all three armies and all broad spectrum of player strategies -- like turtle vs. rush and micro vs. macro? What were some of the balancing techniques used by the development team?
Dustin: We have a team that is dedicated exclusively to game balance who do nothing but play and look for those kinds of issues. Initially, we used a lot of spreadsheets to help us get into the ballpark on the basic numbers. After that we began to play-test extensively, get input from pro players, watch tournament replays, and gather feedback from the community. We also have access to a large number of statistics gathered from Battle.net®, allowing us to see which units are being used, which races are winning, and what maps they are winning on.
Insider: What interesting multiplayer strategies have you seen evolve over the course of the beta test? Have you witnessed any particularly surprising battles or memorable moments?
Dustin: We were very surprised by all of the crazy rush strategies we saw being used during the early part of beta test. Many of these we balanced out, but we kept a few of the more blockable rush strategies in. We were also surprised at a zerg strategy where players built nothing but spine crawlers, and then teched straight to mutalisks before rushing an unprepared protoss player. We've seen a lot of great tournament games with really crazy strategies. I think I once saw a game that included almost every terran unit and several Nuclear Strikes as well.
Insider: Is there anything else you’d like to share with beta testers or those awaiting the launch of StarCraft II?
Dustin: The development team would like to extend our appreciation to the beta testers who played with us and against us over the last several months -- your contribution to the game has been enormous, and frankly, we could not have made it without you. Your effort, passion, and dedication has made StarCraft II a much better game. Thank you.
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