The Sacrifices Of StarCraft II Made In The Name Of Sports

The Sacrifices Of StarCraft II Made In The Name Of Sports

StarCraft II could have been a prettier game, with massive Zerg Ultralisks and screen-filling Protoss Motherships. It could have been stuffed with new units like the Cybercat and Hercules transport ship. Blame designer Dustin Browder and eSports for making StarCraft II what it is: clear, simple, uncertain and a game that demands skillful players.

Browder said at his GDC presentation that trying to design StarCraft II’s multiplayer side was “insanely hard” and “like inventing Basketball 2.” But in 2005, he and Blizzard Entertainment believed that “maybe, if we really hoofed it, we could ship it in 2008.” Obviously that didn’t happen.

When the StarCraft II team began its work on the game, it looked at its competition, namely Relic Entertainment’s Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and Gas Powered’s Games’ Supreme Commander. Dawn of War featured four playable races to StarCraft’s three. Supreme Commander drowned the player with playable units, with more than 150 at a player’s disposal.

StarCraft II would stick with three races—Zerg, Protoss and Terran—and a total of 45 units. Less perceived content than its competitors, Browder said, because StarCraft II needed to be a sport, watchable and entertaining enough that people would travel for hours to watch other people play.

To make it watchable, it needed to be visually clear. “This is why the artists hate me,” he said. Browder showed concept art of the 300 ton Ultralisk, with a tiny Protoss Zealot to illustrate scale. Then he showed the in-game Ultralisk, tiny and unimposing. Browder explained that having an Ultralisk to scale would never work. Players could hide 20 Zerglings behind a beast that size, sowing visual confusion.

Units in StarCraft II, Browder said, needed to be big, but only “as big as we dare.”

To make StarCraft II a successful sport, it also needed to be simple, with just 12 to 15 unit types per race. “This is why the designers hate me,” Browder said before highlighting all the unit types that Blizzard cut from the game’s multiplayer component. Some of those units wound up in the game’s single-player campaign, but Browder and his team wanted to focus on a small collection of units.

“Too many units causes confusion,” he argued, likening StarCraft II multiplayer to another sport: football. “In football, there’s one unit: the human. Of course, there are wide receivers, quarterbacks and other roles, but when you see those game pieces moving around in a football game, you know what they’re capable of.”

He said that a small selection of units still left the game open to complexity, explaining the relationship between Terran Marines and Zerg Banelings. Banelings, with their explosive acid attacks, are a great counter to Marines, melting squads easily. That is, unless the Marines have the Stim Pack upgrade that allows them to do more damage and move more quickly. Then they’re the dominant unit. That is, unless players invest in the Banelings movement upgrade and Creep bonuses.

Those factors lead to uncertainty, a key component in keeping StarCraft’s eSport qualities intact. Skill through micromanagement and macromanagement, flanking and terrain tactics, skills other real-time strategy games tried to “scrub out,” he said, was also crucial to StarCraft II’s maintaining its sports-like nature.

Uncertainty is also one of the main reasons the dreaded Zergling Rush—a sprint to build a small army of basic Zerg units and attack—remains in StarCraft II. Browder said the Zergling Rush adds uncertainty from the get-go. “By delaying the rush, you’re just delaying when the fun begins,” he said.

Blizzard’s drive to keep StarCraft’s eSports nature intact for the sequel affected every component of the game, Browder said, from UI to story to mission design. “Was it worth it?” Browder said. “It totally was. This stuff is cool.”


    • Yes well – apparently the SC2 online scene is shrinking.

      Maybe they should have focussed more on the single player aspect then the online one – SC was a unique flower – sc2 is a forced attept to take control.

      • For people saying SC2 was a forced takeover I completely disagree. BN 2.0 may lack good chat options but it has by far the best ladder system in any game I’ve ever played. It has intelligent rankings which is very good and the custom game system is awesome. The only problem I have right now is with the players who rush early. That is a little annoying but that isnt the games problem but is my problem and others problems. The game is completely balanced in my opinion.

        • Early rushing is part of the game, trying to make it exciting as a sport. Personally I like longer games, and rushing almost always looses at higher levels of play. Unfortunately the matchmaking leaves a lot to be desired.

    • If you look at the starcraft 2 campaign though, you will see that it is a fully fledged, well-thought out game mode. Plenty of different units, varying scenarios that last for 8 hours +. But really, i just see the campaign as an added bonus for sc2. They really did perfect multiplayer imo

    • As someone who enjoys not just playing multiplayer but watching it. I can safely say that I am happy with the direction they went with the game.

      I’ve had many non-gamers approach watching GSL with keen interest because it is so clean and easy to follow.

      It is not as if single player purists got the raw end of the deal either. They did include a lot of the classic units that didn’t make it to the MP in the SP e.g. Firebat, Vulture, Goliath.

      I don’t think it is too presumptuous to think that for the vast majority of SC2 gamers, the replayability is in the multiplayer. So let’s face it. It would be naive to think that they would cater the game towards the people that will pick it up and put it down after the few hours it takes to complete the single player campaign, rather than the larger majority who will be playing and spectating this game religiously for years to come.

      • +1

        Also, with Blizzard Dota coming soonish, I expect that to reinvigorate BNET (not that it needs it).

  • Also explains why it’s esentialy starcraft version 1.2

    Traditional sports evolve at a much slower pace then the typical video game.

  • And my friends all want the Ultralisk to be made even smaller ^^;
    You really can’t please everyone.
    Also when you think there aren’t enough units, remember that there will be more units added into the multiplayer when the expansions come out, just like in Brood War =)

  • SC2 is almost perfect. Yes it isn’t a hug leap from SC1 but it doesn’t need to be. For the core players who will be playing this long into the night, months and even years after casual players have traded it back in for the latest fandangle title, it is strategically perfect and Blizzard spend a lot of time perfecting this balance.

    Don’t be naive and think Blizzard will design a game to please casual players and ONLY casual players. I am sure total Korean sales to date well exceed launch figures from the rest of the world combined, and it’s these people that demand balance and perfection from the gameplay, not units for units sake.

  • SC2 was executed almost perfectly, and I’m not quite sure in the direction of this article :|.

    All I could take from this is that it could’ve been prettier? :/..

    IMHO the game managed to move slightly away from BW yet still retain the core elements that made the franchise into what it has become today.

    • Random anecdote: My brother bought the dawn of war pack on steam recently, I watched him playing it a bit, and there was some building with a gun on it that took up literally the entire screen, and he was fully zoomed out. I commented at the time that I thought it was stupid.

      SC2 doesn’t have that.

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