BlizzCon 07: Pardo demos StarCraft II campaign

Vice president of game design takes the stage to show off previously unseen material from enormously anticipated strategy sequel.

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ANAHEIM, Calif.--This year's BlizzCon is moving into the back half of its first day, but the action isn't slowing down, as game design VP Rob Pardo will soon take the stage to host an hour-long discussion and demonstration of StarCraft II. Though we've been playing StarCraft II off and on all day--with more in-depth coverage of the terran and protoss factions yet to come--we've been told to expect more material to be presented at this panel than Blizzard is showing on the BlizzCon floor.

An understandably excited crowd has packed the hundreds of seats in the convention hall, and Pardo and other Blizzard employees are milling onstage, fiddling with a PC setup and generally preparing for the demo, so things should get underway in just a few moments.

[5:38] Pardo, along with Blizzard's Andy Chambers and Dustin Browder, begin the presentation by jumping straight into a demo of the terrans.

[5:39] The first new feature shown is the command center's automatic SCV-deploy ability, followed by the reactor, which can double the output capacity of the barracks or factory.

[5:39] There's also the tech lab, an alternative add-on that lets you research new functionality for units.

[5:40] Next up: the sensor tower, which gives you a massive site range that even shows enemies moving beyond the fog of war as large red dots.

[5:41] Next is the battlecruiser, which can now specialize to use either the old Yamato gun, or a new plasma cannon that lets you decimate ground opponents.

[5:42] Next, the viking, which is basically a transformer. It acts like a goliath when it's in bipedal mech form, and it can also turn into a flyer.

[5:42] Next, the banshee, which blitzes enemy ground units with rockets.

[5:43] The banshee has no anti-air function, but it can decimate ground units like marines and siege tanks, which can't really fight back. The rocket spread seems to have a large area of splash damage.

[5:44] The presenters are whipping through the demo, next with a look at the reaper shown at the StarCraft II announcement in May.

[5:44] In addition to jumping over barriers, the reaper has a new ability: It can throw timed bombs and then flee before the bombs wreak havoc on everything around it.

[5:46] Next up is the Thor, which is so big it has to be built by an SCV. The Thor actually has a slow turn speed, so it has to rotate on its axis before it can move in a new direction. The demo shows how the Thor can walk over some supply depots, which can now lower into the ground.

[5:46] The Thor also has a stationary artillery attack similar to the siege tank's, which will utterly wreck buildings.

[5:47] However, the new cobra tank hunter shows up to exploit the weak turning speed of the Thor, attacking it from behind faster than it can turn to face the opposition.

[5:48] Next up, everyone's favorite, the ghost. In addition to the old nuclear strike, the ghost can now call down drop pods that will spawn a handful of marines behind enemy lines.

[5:49] That ends the quick terran demo. Now Pardo takes the stage to show off StarCraft II's single-player campaign, starting with a history lesson. First, Warcraft II, which had extremely simple mission flow--build a base, defeat the enemy base.

[5:50] Warcraft II's story was told through simple text and narration--no major characters, no cutscenes to speak of.

[5:51] Next is StarCraft, which featured more complex missions with triggered events. The game also featured one linear storyline through three campaigns, rather than Warcraft II's mirrored campaigns, which told two versions of the same story.

[5:52] Next came Warcraft III, which featured a wide variety of different mission types and objectives. It also got rid of the mission briefing-based exposition in favor of cinematic sequences that happened within missions.

[5:53] Finally, we move on to an actual demo of StarCraft II's single-player campaign.

An overview of StarCraft's storytelling.
An overview of StarCraft's storytelling.

[5:54] The demo begins with a camera fly-through into the dirty bridge of the battlecruiser Hyperion, where Rob Pardo points out returning hero Jim Raynor to much applause. Raynor is the central character of the terran campaign in StarCraft II. Raynor's living a little harder, drinking a little harder, and living a mercenary life against the Terran Dominion in the new game.

[5:55] Next to Raynor is Tychus, the marine shown in the original CG trailer for the game. Pardo controls Raynor, walking him up to Tychus and choosing a comment from an onscreen dialogue tree.

[5:56] The character models here are far more detailed than those in Warcraft III, though these are also rendered in-engine. Pardo says Blizzard's CG department is helping out with the graphics in these scenes.

[5:58] In addition to the characters, you'll be able to interact with computer displays on the ship to learn more about the StarCraft universe and your missions, or the bridge's front window, which lets you look outside the ship at your current location.

Jimmy Raynor on the bridge of the Hyperion.
Jimmy Raynor on the bridge of the Hyperion.

[5:58] Pardo shows how you can move Raynor into other areas of the ship, such as the engineering section, where he has a heated exchange with a mechanic.

[5:59] Another engineer complains that the crew hasn't been paid in months and is planning a mutiny, but Raynor assures him that the artifact the crew just retrieved from the Mar Sara colony (familiar to StarCraft veterans) is going to solve their problems.

[6:00] The most important feature of the engineering section is the technology console. You'll earn money from finishing missions, and you can spend your profits on new units and new tech abilities for them between missions. Pardo buys the viking unit, as an example.

[6:02] Back on the bridge, you can access the star map to see all of the planets you can visit, as well as zoom in on one world to see and hear a number of facts about that world.

[6:04] Pardo heads down to a planet to show off a mission in action. The objective here is to infiltrate a protoss encampment and retrieve an artifact they're protecting. The mission begins with a command center and a number of vikings (in jet form) flying in to establish a command post. Pardo skips the base-building step and takes his vikings straight to the protoss location.

[6:06] The vikings aren't enough to breach their defenses, so Pardo uses a cheat command to spawn a ludicrous number of battlecruisers and Thor units, which utterly erase the protoss defenses from the map.

[6:07] After taking the artifact, you'll end up back on the bridge, and you can talk to the available characters about new topics related to the previous and future missions. However, Tychus has disappeared from the bridge, and Raynor is able to ask his second-in-command about Tychus' whereabouts.

Terran forces mix it up planetside.
Terran forces mix it up planetside.

[6:08] True to his alcoholic tendencies, Raynor will be able to visit the ship canteen. The graphics in the cutscene as Raynor approaches the bar are easily the most impressive of a Blizzard game yet, with real-time shadows, extensively detailed bump-mapping on Raynor, and so on.

[6:09] Shock! Raynor is stopped in the corridor by a shadowy figure who turns out to be the protoss dark templar Zeratul, who warns Raynor that a mysterious race, the Xel'naga, have returned, and that the artifacts are the key "to the end of all things."

[6:10] Pardo ends the demo, wrapping up with some of the game's key new features. You can choose your own missions, which will have more varied objectives than before. The new between-mission gameplay will allow for a more complex story with more subplots, as well.

[6:11] What's next? "The return of Kerrigan." Massive applause. Expect to see a major Kerrigan-related campaign for the zerg in the future. Then there's the protoss campaign, called "Mystery of the Xel'naga," which ties into the Xel'naga artifacts mentioned during the demo.

[6:12] Now on to a Q&A session.

[6:13] "We're not trying to reinvent StarCraft, we're trying to reimagine it."

[6:14] Work on the zerg will begin in earnest in the next week, and StarCraft III is "a long way away." Duh.

[6:15] How will Blizzard bolster the StarCraft II community in the wake of World of Warcraft's extensive community features? Blizzard will expand on battle.net--Pardo says to look at the way battle.net evolved between StarCraft and Warcraft III. Expect a similar jump to StarCraft II.

[6:17] Will your decisions affect the way the missions and story play out? It might, depending on the campaign and the mission. The zerg and protoss campaigns will be quite different from the terran one; they obviously won't feature a mercenary group amassing wealth and buying new units, for instance.

[6:17] The technology you buy will carry over from mission to mission in the terran campaign, but the individual units won't.

[6:20] Will StarCraft II support DirectX 10? Yes, but it won't require DirectX 10.

[6:22] How will the interface improvements factor into competitive StarCraft leagues? A number of new micromanagement-heavy gameplay features will appear that the most advanced players will use to show off their skills and dominate competition.

[6:23] Will characters like Raynor, Kerrigan, and Zeratul appear within missions themselves, using unique graphics? StarCraft II is more of an "army game" that focuses on unit critical mass, though those story characters may show up sporadically in missions.

[6:24] The game will ship with a fully functional map editor that will hopefully be better than the one included with Warcraft III. The panel promises full support to the mod community as well.

[6:25] Will the first game's voice acting return? Casting hasn't been completed yet, so it's "all up in the air."

[6:27] No cooperative gameplay in the campaign itself, but they hope to provide support for co-op in other ways before the game ships.

The heroic trio, Rob Pardo, Andy Chambers, and Dustin Browder, answering questions.
The heroic trio, Rob Pardo, Andy Chambers, and Dustin Browder, answering questions.

[6:32] Will Blizzard ever do an RPG or first-person shooter? Pardo: "Wait and see. Come to future BlizzCons." The crowd begins to chant "Ghost!" rabidly, to which Pardo responds, "Good thing we didn't cancel it. We just put it on indefinite hold!"

[6:33] Will we see equivalent units in each faction? No, the goal is to make each of the three factions as different as possible.

[6:34] Will there be any what-if, alternative endings? No, you'll be able to take different paths in the middle that will all end up in roughly the same place.

[6:36] Surprisingly, some of the units from the first StarCraft that have been removed for the sequel have actually been built and will be available for modders to use.

[6:36] Final hardware requirements haven't been determined, but Pixel Shader 2.0 will be required.

[6:38] The Q&A ends, and so does the panel. Look for more info on StarCraft II as BlizzCon continues.

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