Designing StarCraft II: An Interview With Blizzard's Dustin Browder

John Funk | 6 Apr 2010 15:22
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-StarCraft: Brood War has a very entrenched competitive scene. How did you guys focus on trying to crack that shell and get them to try SC2?

We hope that if we make a good game, they'll come over: If we build it, they will come. We're just trying to make it a really great game, and even though I hope that they'll give it a try, I don't expect every BW player to embrace SC2. Many of these guys have 10+ years with Brood War, and they're going to love that game no matter what we do with StarCraft II and that's how it should be. We're going to make the best game we know how to make in the StarCraft universe with StarCraft's design sensibilities. If it's good enough, then people will come play it. We're pretty sure we'll get some of the Brood War guys to come play it, but we really don't have any expectations of a specific level of success on how many Brood War players we'll get. We just need to make the game the best we can, and we'll see who comes along.

It's certainly our goal to surpass the first game. We have had the advantage of looking at Brood War, looking at what was successful and what wasn't successful, and we really tried to pick nothing that's not successful (though fans would argue, I'm sure). I think we've made improvements in a lot of ways.

-The game is really, really merciless online, and new players are bound to be slaughtered. Are you going to have any sort of multiplayer tutorial to each people "Hey, start building marines ASAP or you're going to get killed by four Zerglings"?

We have a battery of tools to help us get over this. We have all kinds of tools! I expect the new player to play the game's single-player campaign for 20 to 30 hours to familiarize themselves with resource harvesting, attack-moving, the basics - we have a giant tutorial right there to get them started. Then we have Challenge maps, an undetermined amount right now - the number constantly changes - but around 10 maps that teach you the basics of competitive play. They teach you how the unit counters work, what the best counters in the games are, they teach you how to harvest efficiently.

A lot of new players, they build 9 SCVs and think they're totally done, so the map will teach you how to harvest effectively. We have a rush Challenge - we embrace the rush! - to show new players that a rush can be super easy to defend against if you don't panic, and stuff that seems overwhelming and unstoppable is actually perfectly stoppable. We embrace the rush, because if it's easy to do, it should be easy to stop.

They don't understand that their workers can fight, and that 4 Zerglings are no threat to 12 workers. These Challenges are mini-missions that you play for 5 to 10 minutes. You need to learn a lesson, it'll be explained to you, then you get to practice what you've learned. We have 3 difficulty levels for each mission, and there will be achievements tied to the challenges, to get new players to try them out and understand what's going on. That'll get you to a place where you get to know the basics of how to play actual human opponents.

Our final and most important line of defense is our matchmaking system. The beta's a lot smaller than what we're hopefully going to have at launch, and that skews things. With a player concurrency of 3000 in beta at the peak right now, and nothing but the most hardcore StarCraft players having signed up at all, you run into a situation where a handful of the newer players are going to log in and have a very unpleasant experience.

Unfortunately, we're not here to make you happy - this is not a demo, it's to work out our gameplay balance and to stress test If all of our players aren't having fun in beta, then I'm sorry, too bad, but it's not our goal. Some players who are just getting crushed in ranking matches right now? I expect when Day 1 occurs and we launch, hopefully there will be hundreds of thousands or millions of players picking up the new game. We'll have bucketloads of new players and experienced players alike, and I think everyone will have a much better time.

We aren't doing anything but putting the Very Easy AI in Beta; we want testers to play multiplayer and hash out balance issues. New players who are running into walls but still sticking with it and giving honest feedback are really helping us out. When the game comes out, if the Challenges and campaign aren't enough, go play against the AI - we're going to have five different difficulties, and doing that should get players feeling very comfortable with their chosen race or races.

And the last thing - and we're gonna change up our UI a bit to make this more obvious - is that newer players should consider team games. It buys them more time to build up an army, there are other players to help to give them advice, and there's also what's called "distributed guilt." If I lose a round of Modern Warfare 2, I don't feel bad personally, I blame the other people on my team - those dummies obviously cost us the game! But I am personally ready to try again. In 3v3 and 4v4, newer players are going to have a lot more of a positive experience.

1v1 is the "hardcore arena raiding" of StarCraft. In the beta, as part of testing things we need to test... it'd be like if we opened up the demo for WoW, and everyone was automatically at level 80 and we started everyone just doing top-level arena. The new players would be freaking out! "What's going on?! I don't know!" It's a very challenging place to play for new players; since the important things that we have to know if 1v1 and 2v2 are balanced, and if our servers can handle the load. The new players who are really trying, and sticking with it... God bless 'em.

-CAN StarCraft II have as much of an impact as StarCraft I did? Is it even possible for a single game to be so influential these days?

Who knows? All we can do is build the best game we can make and hope the fans embrace it - get millions of them together and then we'll maybe know the answer to that question. We just try to make the best game we can possibly make. It's like... what the team tried to do with WoW? No one thought WoW would be so big; we were hoping for 500,000 subscribers, tops! All we can do is make the best game we can - you can't set out to sell 10 million copies; if that's your goal, it'll paralyze you. Your goal has to be to deliver a quality experience, you have to do the best you can and see what the fans think. They're the ones who make the game big, not you.

-The original game firmly established phrases like "Zerg Rush" into gamer culture. Is there a new phrase or meme you'd really love to see come out of this game?

Uh... I guess if there was one, it'd be "Terrible, Terrible Damage." I have gained a reputation for this phrase after the Battle Reports started coming out, and the community really made fun of me for it. I repeated it a little too much in the first one. They pointed it out, I responded with "I'm a dumbass," but it's kind of become it's my catchphrase.

Honestly, I don't know! I know we're seeing lots of crazy tactics and rushes in the beta now that so many people are getting their hands on it and putting their creativity to work.

Ultimately what made StarCraft great - what will make StarCraft II hopefully great - is that yeah, we work really hard at making a game, and the community works really hard at loving it. The community and development team worked together to make StarCraft what it was, and honestly? Its success wasn't even half on our end. The community invented e-sports. The community invented's success - yeah, we made the service, but they were the ones who used it in vast numbers. The community showed us just what was possible with modding in StarCraft and Warcraft 3. We didn't invent DotA, that was all them! We'll have to wait to see what the community does, and exactly what it is they'll chose to do? We have no idea. We can hope for the best.

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