The Korean Connection
Blizzard chose to reveal StarCraft II in Seoul, South Korea because of the Koreans' unparalleled adoration for Blizzard's games. Make no mistake: as much as American gamers love 'em, we've got nothing on the Koreans. The country is home to more than 25,000 PC baangs—the Korean term for a cybercafe where patrons can play PC games for a few dollars per hour—and its professional competitive gamers can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and are treated like rock stars.
It's this atmosphere that allowed Blizzard's third World Wide Invitational event (which featured professional Starcraft and Warcraft III competitions) to draw a crowd large enough to fill an Olympic stadium. The crowd went nuts when the StarCraft II announcement was made—each demonstration of a new unit or ability was met with oohs and aahs from the audience. Outside the stadium, there was a general party atmosphere, complete with carnival rides, costume contests, and autograph signings by Blizzard developers.
Meet the new interface, same as the old interface
While the designers of many newer RTS games have gone out of their way to reinvent the interface, Blizzard is applying the “if it ain't broke” approach to StarCraft's original design. Every potential alteration is hotly debated within the team, from camera zoom levels to the number of units selectable at one time (currently, the team is testing the option to let you select an unlimited number), in order to fiercely prevent the StarCraft feel from being diluted with unneeded changes. In the Protoss-styled interface we saw (Blizzard stresses that everything it has showed us is still in alpha and subject to change), the only difference from StarCraft's classic design is the addition of RTS staples like idle peon buttons and control group tabs displaying what units are bound to each number.
On the multiplayer front, Blizzard is taking great pains to guarantee that StarCraft II becomes every bit the competitive game that its predecessor is; the original remains the de facto multiplayer RTS tournament gold standard. (StarCraft: Brood War is once again an official game for World Cyber Games 2007.) To that end, the team has already consulted with some of the top competitive StarCraft and Warcraft III players from Korea for the balance and design process, and are taking their needs into account. “I love to watch these guys play at a level that, at least back with StarCraft and even with WarCraft III, we didn't intend for you to be able to do,” says Sigaty, adding that he fully expects to see players use StarCraft II's new units and abilities in ways the team never imagined.
“Everything in StarCraft is about choices you make as a player. It's not about making the one right unit or the one right structure.”
– Dustin Browder, Lead Designer, Blizzard Entertainment
Evenly matched opponents may battle for longer, but the ideal StarCraft II multiplayer match will last less than 20 minutes, says Browder. “You're in, you're fighting, you've won, you've lost, you're done. 'Hey, you know what I wanna do? I wanna play another [match].' We want to keep the pace up so you play a lot of different games, you can see a lot of different stuff, and you can try a lot of different stuff.”
On the back end, Browder and Sigaty promise “big things” in store for BattleNet, Blizzard's multiplayer online interface and matchmaking system, and hint at improved ranking and spectator capabilities for StarCraft II.
If you're worried that Blizzard's success in the multiplayer arena means that the single-player campaign will be neglected, have no fear. According to BattleNet statistics, a large portion of people playing StarCraft, even today, play its single-player mode exclusively, which is all the motivation Blizzard needs to put a lot of effort and ambitious planning into the single-player experience. The team isn't ready to talk about the campaign's storyline yet, but we were able to glean that it will pick up 10 years after the events of Brood War (what a coincidence—it's been almost 10 years since the game came out), and that some familiar faces will show up. Judging by their sightings in early trailers and concept art, appearances by the Zerg-infested human Kerrigan and the Terran hero Jim Rayner are pretty much guaranteed.