Between the twin pillars of single-player and multiplayer lies a new entity: a set of tests that Blizzard dubs Challenge Mode. Sigaty explains: “They're missions that go into very specific ways of playing. Things like rushing, using spellcasters effectively, unit countering.”
Challenge Mode acts as the real bridge between the other two styles of play, and will explain and then test a player on the advanced concepts used by the pros. (Here's hoping for one that teaches you how you're expected to click 150 times per minute without a mouse-finger like a bicep.)
According to Sigaty, Challenge Mode is like being back in school, albeit a school where you're given control of murderous bugs and asked to run up to heavily armed teachers and eat them before the bell rings for lunch. This intensive schooling will, Blizzard hopes, prevent people from feeling put off by their first steps into the whirling, dizzying online experience, as potential players have been in previous games.
“Challenges attempt to teach some of those things other players pick up by stomaching a number of losses. We try our best to help people not go in there not knowing anything and then have bad losses a few times in a row and say 'this isn't for me.'”
What to do with all of these finely honed counter-rushes and warping-sneak attacks once you've drilled them into your head and your index finger? There's only one place left to go: the toe-to-toe, pause-and-you'll-die, oh-god-the-panic multiplayer.
“It's a stressful but fun experience,” says Sigaty. “I compare it to playing an FPS. We were getting games where you have landslide victories, and now we're at a point where you're either effective or could've been effective if you'd just realized a few things.”
Sigaty maintains the beta is nothing yet but a balancing act to test the resilience of the newly revamped Battle.net system, and the game's race vs bigger race vs race-with-more-legs asymmetry. Standing underneath the lopsided pile, propping it up with quicker reload times or unit prices is Blizzard. Keenly aware that one slip, one mildly overpowered unit, could bring the whole house of hardcore multiplayer crumbling down amid cries of “OMG OP!!!” the team is churning out patches to tweak core aspects of the game and the little dudes you control.
The biggest change in beta balance so far has been to the Terrans. “They were buffed up fairly intensely, and we're continuing to look at that. We're still seeing some people feel like they're still not there yet,” says Sigaty.
Patch notes reflect this concern, reducing the time of infantry upgrades—vital to defend against early rush gambits—by a significant 30 seconds. Bringing long-range weaponry to bear earlier levels the playing field significantly.
These tweaks work both ways. I asked Sigaty about his approach to overpowered strategies, and that StarCraft staple, the rush. “People will figure out rushes, and we need to make sure they're not too abusive, but we don't want to shut down the rush as a key part of the game. Another example: we're seeing a lot of use of [Protoss] warping right now. We're coming up with ways to make it part of the Protoss arsenal but not make it overpowered.” Shortly after our interview, a beta patch sapped the shield strength Zealots—the base Protoss melee units—from 60 to 50. It's the little things.