InterviewsDesigning StarCraft II: An Interview With Blizzard's Dustin BrowderInterviews - RSS 2.0
Note: This is the full transcript of an interview conducted by our sister site The Escapist. To read the interview writeup, check out "A Master Craftsman" in Issue 248 of The Escapist's weekly magazine.
-Dustin, what was your experience with the StarCraft series before coming to be the Lead Designer on StarCraft II?
Like many other people, I was just an enthusiastic fan! I played a ton of the game for many, many years, as everyone else did. I used many of the design sensibilities of the original StarCraft as goals for the other games I worked on - in many cases, not always as successfully, but with a lot of enthusiasm behind them.
-There are few games that have had the impact, or that have the following, of the original StarCraft. How did it feel to look at this impossibly high bar and think, "Okay, we need to make something better?" Was it overwhelming?
Let's call it "terrifying" - that'd be much more accurate! *laughs* The fanbase for the original StarCraft is extremely enthusiastic, and rightly so. We're talking about arguably the best RTS of all time, right? I've heard people call it not just that, but one of the best PC games of all time. You can just sense the enthusiasm for this product. Certainly as a player and fan of the original game myself, it was very challenging to be faced with the task of building a sequel to this excellent game.
-So by the time you came to Blizzard, work had already started on the game, right?
When I came to Blizzard to work on StarCraft II, the engine had been in development for several years. We actually had a working version of the original StarCraft in the new 3D engine - it wasn't a total, perfect piece-for-piece replication since it was a completely new engine, but it was a rough version. The team had ideas for new units - the idea for the Reaper been around for years; they'd been tossing around a "Dark Dragoon" concept that became the Stalker, that sort of thing.
[Blizzard VP of Game Design] Rob Pardo had set the original vision for the game: Hearken to the legacy of the original, build on the huge success of multiplayer, expand on Battle.net, and do something completely fresh and new for the series with the solo campaign. Those were the goals set for project before I got there, so the rest of the time we were grinding away at them.
-One of the most common criticisms levied against the game is that it's too much like the original StarCraft, that it ignores 12 years of new features and ideas in RTS games, like the cover system from Relic's Company of Heroes. Why did you decide to not include any of those?
I can give you a number of reasons. The main one ... if we included 12 years of features from every game that we ever thought was cool, it would be the most messed up, complicated, confused and psychotic RTS ever. You don't take everything everyone's ever done, throw it into a game and call it a success. That's tremendously dumb game design. You take what makes sense for your game. We've been inspired in order to create stuff that works for StarCraft.
We actually tried cover for a really long time, though not the Relic cover system exactly. The idea was that your units could be in certain terrain that would give bonus to defense - you could hide in the swamp, in the forest or grass. It would give your guys higher armor, more HP - that sort of thing. We tried it many, many times, and every time it was always a fail for StarCraft because it's such a fluid game.
There's a very specific pacing to StarCraft: Ebb and flow, attack and retreat, attack from this angle, it fails so you attack that angle; [the cover system] made it a lot slower, and a lot more boring. So really, what works for great games in their own right like Supreme Commander or Company of Heroes is not a lock for StarCraft. We tried a lot of these features and found them to be really unsuccessful in the game we were making.
We have to do what makes sense for our game, not their game, and they should do what makes sense for their game, not our game. There isn't just one continuum for RTS design; we're not all working on the same game and throwing all of our ideas into one big pot, working on our own games with our own goals. We added what would add value to StarCraft, but not make it too incredibly complicated. If we really wanted, we could add easily another 50 units to the game (well, it wouldn't be easy), but would it make a better game? No, it'd just make it a bigger game. I know some folks will say "bigger is better," but we don't agree.
In order for you to understand what your next move is, what your opponent's move is going to be - or what it could be, there needs to be a limited number of units available at any given moment. We could have added a fourth, fifth or sixth race, and you bet we certainly discussed it, but at what point would they feel kind of the same as the other races? In the end, they might not feel different enough, and we thought racial definition was something that was absolutely key to StarCraft.
The game feels fundamentally different when you're playing it as Zerg than when you're playing as Protoss - you approach it in a different way: That is absolutely critical. So we limited the game to just three races on purpose; not out of a lack of urgency or fear that we wouldn't have enough time - Lord knows we've taken enough time with the game *laughs*. It was out of a genuine enthusiasm to make them all feel and play really distinct, and we had a much greater chance at doing that with only three races, and just 12 to 14 units per race.
We definitely made scoping choices that made it about the size of the original StarCraft, but that was on purpose to help us deliver the high quality that we were hoping for.