BlizzCon 2008: StarCraft II Gameplay Panel

By Benjamin J. de la Durantaye Managing Editor, Community Sites
By Benjamin J. de la Durantaye
Managing Editor, Community Sites

Rob Pardo, Dustin Browder and Chris Metzen stepped up to plate at BlizzCon ’08 to talk a little about the game play for the upcoming title, StarCraft II. (You can read our hands-on coverage of the game here.) The crowd sitting in Hall C of the Anaheim convention center waited with bated breath as Rob Pardo stood up in a rainbow-and-ponies Diablo III t-shirt and gave his formal introduction. As the crowd cheered, you could almost see a smile of relief on the faces of the panel.

Pardo began by explaining that it was time to rethink the Real Time Simulation (RTS) single-player campaign in the StarCraft universe. He emphasized that gamers today, and particularly RTS fans want something varied and interesting. The developers no longer want to be constrained by what’s going on in the multiplayer aspect of the game, Pardo explained, and they want players to understand the lore, geography, and universe of StarCraft.

At this point Pardo introduced us to Jim Raynor, who will be starring as the protagonist in StarCraft II. The crowd once again rose to a thunderous applause. Alongside Jim, will be his old acquaintance, Tychus Findley, with whom we had become familiar during the StarCraft II trailer. Findley is the big guy in the techno-armor.

Findley and Raynor in Firefl...
erm, StarCraft II

A pride of the project has become the real-time in-game cinematics. While we were unable to see too many of these, Pardo assured us that there are many cinematics in game, working as both storyline and rewards after missions. Many of these cinematics will segue into a virtual “space” where a lot of the game play will take place as players interact with the environment and characters and select missions.

These spaces will be filled with characters, bulletin boards, television screens, wanted posters, jukeboxes and much more that the player will be able to interact with to get a bit more of the story, lore, and of course, to progress in the game itself.

The first of these spaces that we were introduced to was a back-alley space bar. The ambience was familiar - wooden stools and neon lights, and the charm set in as neo-western music played in the background. During the introduction scene to this space, one couldn’t help but feel they were watching a clip from Firefly as our hero downed a shot of malt, and spoke through the side of his mouth to meet Tychus, who had just entered the bar. While there weren’t as many snappy one-liners as one would find in Joss Whedon’s world, the atmosphere was unmistakably similar.

From there, Pardo skipped to the third mission in the game, where the goal was to protect a small base from an invading force of Zerg which were encroaching from two bridges. The game play was what has come to be expected from a StarCraft title, and slowly escalated from a light trickle of Zerg to a full-fledged infestation.  The mission ended with hundreds of Zerg pouring into the area while a rescue ship landed and a cinematic cut-scene started up.

Kerrigan returns in StarCraft II

During the cut-scene we learned that the Zerg have attacked on a massive scale across planets, killing billions in their way. The scene ended with a live news-report coming from one of the television screens in the bar, and at the very end of the report we saw a quick glimpse of Karrigan. Again, the BlizzCon crowd cheered a lengthy and loud ovation as Jim Raynor informed Tychus that she was there to “finish the job.”

Pardo then set up the screaming masses with one of the most successful twists on an announcement Blizzard has made to date. He told us that the biggest challenge they have faced in the creation of the game was how wholly enormous the stories have become, and that the story mode has demanded three to four times as many resources as previous games. He then listed the options they had at this point.

1.    They could simplify the campaign and make it more linear with fewer choices.
2.    They could make each campaign epic but release them as their own products.
3.    They could compromise somewhere in the middle, but delay the game greatly.

The response was inevitable. When given a choice of dung, slop, and plastic; plastic will win every time (unless you have a paper bag, matches and a neighbor's porch nearby). The audience roared to new levels as Pardo informed us that option two was the route they were going to take. Very few, if any, questioned why a compromise would mean a delay, and no one asked why the game could not be shipped as a single game (even if it did turn out to be several DVDs). As extra insurance that players would buy all three titles, Blizzard told us that each campaign would have a mini-Protoss campaign which would continue over all three titles. The crowd again cheered.

The product looks to be a good one, and I have no doubt it will be enjoyable. I have to tip my hat in admiration though, at Blizzard’s iconic status. If any other company had announced that their planned game was going to be split into three boxes, and you couldn’t play the entire game (in this case the mini-Protoss campaign) without buying all three titles, it would have been met with a thousand flying tomatoes.

Regardless, one thing we can be sure of when it comes to Blizzard titles is that the game will be complete and enjoyable upon release. I believe this is the whole point anyway, and StarCraft fans will not be disappointed come launch, even if their hands are a little sore from the incessant, and often unprovoked, applause.

Check out more StarCraft II screenshots here.
Check out more BlizzCon coverage here.

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