The ease with which the very best StarCraft players can slip into SC2's multiplayer is evident from the dominance of familiar names in the upper echelons of the beta ladders, but the steps taken to allow the participation of those who would stare blankly at a Baneling with no idea how to use it are impressive.
The revamp to Battle.net, which integrates online multiplayer tightly into StarCraft II, is a core reason for some lengthy delays, but Blizzard belives it'll be well worth waiting for. For the first time, it's offering a wide-open window to new players, one previously held shut by the twin arms of ignorance and fear of the hardcore. Sigaty reckons this will help pull new players into to competitive play: “Battle.net was a place you went to, and it had this perception, I think, that it was a hardcore place, and you only went there if you were really into the game. But now the online experience is integrated, you're always online, your friends are always there, so it's not a scary thing.”
The lessons of will be reinforced through video tutorials and match replays that you can view through Battle.net, Sigaty says. “Our intention with SC2 is to save replays up to the network and let people download and watch them, paying attention to the pro and platinum leagues and what players do so they can learn.”
Battle.net's ubiquity extends beyond hosting games and replays. Its robust friends and matchmaking systems is to be complemented by support for modders tinkering with the code. Blizzard understands the importance of modders and mapmakers in extending their games beyond their typical lifespan. “Our hope is that there's going to be entirely new styles of games coming out of StarCraft II. Warcraft III's tower defense maps were a phenomenon, and we want people creating things like that,” says Sigaty.
With time pressing before the game needs to be rubber-stamped and shipped, Sigaty outlines how his team is trying to squeeze in as much useful content for those with the knowledge and inclination to fiddle with the base game. “We're trying to also include examples of things that people can look to as roadmaps for games they can make, things like tower defense maps or (another Warcraft III hero-on-hero RTS) Defense of the Ancients maps.”
The desired result will be these industrious types uploading maps, tweaks or even entire game modes to Battle.net, and letting others download them and add to the game's legacy.
[MPU]“We've seen some amazing stuff without a centralized download location, so we think sky's the limit once we're able to bring in something like that online.”
Sigaty takes community seriously—when I quizzed him he was up to speed on all recent strategies, namechecking tactics like the Planetary Fortress rush (fly your moveable Terran fortress outside an enemy's base, set it down, build massive cannon on it, win) and speculating on areas the community might expand into next.
“We're totally paying attention. We have community teams in every region and we're reading through our forums constantly.” By the time you read this, Blizzard will have implemented a feature suggested loudly by beta testers: the ability to refocus the camera on a specific spot of the map you're interested in, and call it up with a keystroke. You don't get this kind of player/developer interaction from many other game makers.
At the time of this writing, StarCraft II sits tantalizingly close to release-worthy perfection—in fact, most developers would have shoved it out the door long ago and tuned balancing based on the feedback of paying customers. It's this meticulous attention to detail and quality that make Blizzard's games so anticipated—and so difficult to wait for.