It's funny to imagine Blizzard's eight core values as bullet points on the back of a self-help book for video gamers: Gameplay First; Learn & Grow; Commit To Quality; Think Globally; Embrace Your Inner Geek; Lead Responsibly; Every Voice Matters and Play Nice; Play Fair. In outlining the eight tenets its staff must always adhere to, Blizzard's head honchos have carved into virtual stone gaming's version of the Ten Commandments. If we follow them religiously as we twat wild boars with sticks in World of Warcraft, will we go to virtual heaven when we die?
One of the eight core values, however, seems particularly apt when it comes to StarCraft II. "Embrace Your Inner Geek" Blizzard co-founder and StarCraft II executive producer Frank Pearce's Powerpoint slide says. Here we have the sequel to a 12-year-old game that South Koreans and a handful of Westerners can make a living out of playing professionally. Here we have a real-time strategy game, perhaps the most hardcore of all game genres. And here we have science fiction in all its cliché-ridden glory: beefcake marines, mysterious space elves and terrifying insect-like aliens.
So when Frank takes me through his presentation of what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest games of 2010, I embrace my inner geek with all the might of an imaginary bear hug, as so many of you have already done while playing StarCraft II's multiplayer-only beta.
If the beta has taught us anything, it is that, when it comes to multiplayer, StarCraft II is a lot like StarCraft: three races - terran, protoss and zerg - base building, resource gathering, big armies, a top down perspective, a vibrant, colourful art style and a markedly familiar feel. The game might have new units, like the jet pack carrying Terran Reaper, but fans who were there back in the day (when it comes to StarCraft, back in the day actually means something) will be able to pick the sequel up and party like it's 1998.
But what of the single-player? At a time when Relic Entertainment is re-writing the real-time strategy rulebook with its role-playing-esque Dawn of War series, and modern tastes demand more accessible, plot-driven experiences, what is it about StarCraft II's single-player that moves the series forward? That's what I'm in a plush West End hotel with Frank to find out.
On the reverse of Blizzard's glossy A4 promotional sheet for the game, there's a picture of Tychus and a quote: "Hell, it's about time." Damn straight.
Wings of Liberty, the first of three planned StarCraft II games, is set four years after the events of StarCraft expansion Brood War. Sci-fi cowboy Jim Raynor is leading a rebellion against Dominion emperor Mengsk aboard his battle cruiser The Hyperion. StarCraft II's story is told through hammy cutscenes, with voice-acting lifted straight out of the Serenity stable of science fiction, but they're all beautifully rendered in real-time by the game's impressive graphics engine. "The technology for the engine is really quite cool," Pearce enthuses. "It's come a long way since the original StarCraft." Of particular note are character faces, which all look superb. In one early cutscene we see Raynor drinking in a bar, disconsolate. In walks his old chum Tychus Findlay, a cigar-chomping ex-convict who stomps about in the biggest blue suit of space marine armour you ever did see. Tychus has a business proposition: he knows a bloke who'll pay top dollar for alien artefacts liberated from the Dominion. The two trade gravely-voiced insults before coming to an arrangement.
In a later cutscene the horrible zerg turn up, attacking the Hyperion as it makes its getaway with the aforementioned artefact. The Queen of Blades, the zerg who used to be the human Kerrigan and Raynor's former squeeze, is leading the attack. Raynor blames himself for Kerrigan's unfortunate capture, and has turned to drink. "I always knew she'd be back," Raynor says. "What's she after?"