As part of our ongoing celebration of all things StarCraft, we're hosting a Starcraft smörgåsbord, with a different theme for each of the days leading up to and the week following SC2's release. This article is a part of the "Everything We Know About StarCraft Day", the first of the bunch, and harkens back to the day the LAN parties stopped--when it was announced that SC2 would not allow for games to be hosted over local networks, our October 2009 issue.
Blizzard giveth; Blizzard taketh away. With one small upgrade, StarCraft II becomes the ultimate training tool for competitive multiplayer strategizing. But with another modest modification, this very same game places an enormous restriction on…multiplayer gaming. We investigate both changes, and tell you what each really means for the final game.
The ability to step back is a huge step forward for RTS replay watchers
Since the dawn of competitive real-time strategy games, the best way to improve your own play is by studying an epic match between two great players. But watching replays has always been a pain in the butt. In the age of Blu-ray and on-demand video, these downloadable replay files have been stuck at the equivalent of the 8-track—practically the Stone Age. You can view them and fast-forward just fine, but if you were watching what one player was doing in his base and you wanted to catch a glimpse of his opponent's game-changing move on the other side of the map, you couldn't rewind—you'd have to re-load the replay and watch the whole thing again until you get to the part you want to see.
Rewinding sounds like it should be easy, and technically it could be done, but it presented a problem: the saved game files would go from a couple of megabytes to hundreds, making them much more difficult to post and trade online. The downside outweighed the benefits.
But now, in StarCraft II, Blizzard is implementing an ingenious innovation that will revolutionize the way we watch replays. The new system works something like streaming video on YouTube. You'll still download a small replay file from the internet, but as you watch the game will auto-save every 10 to 30 seconds (Blizzard is still working out how frequently the save points will occur). This will create that monster-sized rewindable save file on your hard drive, allowing you to easily skip back and see the events you just witnessed unfold from a different perspective. You still can't skip ahead to the climactic ending battle until you've watched the whole thing, though, since the game must run out the replay to create the save point—but you can fast-forward through the game to do it.
With hard disk space so cheap these days (a terabyte drive can be had for less than $100), a 200MB replay file on your hard drive won't even be noticeable, and if you need the space back you'll be able to delete it once you've watched the game. Plus, you'll still have the original small file that you can archive and watch again later.
There are more new replay features coming, too. After launch, Blizzard plans to add mark-up tools to allow commentators to draw on the map like in a football telecast—but unlike those in C&C3, these markings will stick to the map rather than moving around with the camera as you scroll. With these, and presumably a few other tricks Blizzard has up its sleeve, StarCraft II replays could become must-watch events.