Starcraft Beta Test at Full Steam

Blizzard is at the front lines as its strategy game makes progress through the Battle.net test.

Less than a week since Blizzard's multiplayer beta test of Starcraft on Battle.net began, the game has already undergone significant improvements both toward stability and gameplay balance. All the while, hundreds of testers from around the world are competing against one another, filing bug reports, having a blast playing the game, and becoming increasingly excited about the finished product.

Far from just a marketing move, Blizzard is taking the Starcraft test very seriously and literally working day and night to apply finishing touches to the product. Blizzard staffers can be found on Battle.net during most hours of the day (you'll even spot employees dialing in from home during the wee hours), fielding questions, accepting bug reports, and even challenging other players. You'd think the makers of the game would be plenty good at it, and you'd be absolutely right - GameSpot experienced Blizzard's Starcraft prowess firsthand in a fierce Protoss versus Terran battle (let's just say the Terrans have seen better days).

Several patches, installed automatically through Battle.net, have already been issued since last Friday. While all three Starcraft races - Terran, Protoss, and Zerg - were all competitive to begin with, minor adjustments have since been implemented, which further balance each in turn. For instance, the Terran Goliath, a powerful all-purpose mobile suit, now inflicts less damage. The mysterious and deadly Protoss Archons lost the devastating Mind Control spell altogether. And the rampaging Zerg Zerglings now take longer to produce, making early-game grunt rushes less effective. Though the presence of three drastically different races makes Starcraft exponentially more difficult to balance than the typical two-sided real-time strategy game, all three species are represented equally on Battle.net - and for what it's worth, GameSpot staffers have played as, won with, and lost to each in turn in just about every combination.

Other additions include the implementation of a tournament ladder-style ranking system and permanent registration of wins and losses. Starcraft already performs well with up to four players even across a standard modem connection, though it does begin to slow when five to eight players compete at once. Even so, streamlining network play and improving performance on low-end machines remains a priority for Blizzard. At the same time, it is increasing Battle.net bandwidth significantly to make sure lag is at a minimum once the finished product ships.

Though the beta test has already improved Starcraft noticeably, Blizzard is committed to making sure everything is just right before shipping. To that end, staffers manning Battle.net are unwilling to predict when the product will ship, reassuring dozens of anxious testers (and Diablo players!) that they'll sit tight until they feel Starcraft is good and ready for the retail shelves.

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