With the release of World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King on the horizon, and the internet-melting announcement of Diablo 3 still ringing in our ears, Blizzard's other mega-franchise StarCraft, and the currently in development RTS StarCraft 2, has fallen somewhat off the gaming radar. But fear not, dear readers, it's still firmly in our sights. And, just to prove it, we hunted down Blizzard executive vice president of product development and co-founder Frank Pearce at Games Convention in Leipzig to get the low down on the game every RTS fan can't wait to see.
VideoGamer.com: Some people say that StarCraft 2 is too similar to the first game. What do you say to those people?
Frank Pearce: Well the first thing I would wonder is whether any of them actually had a chance to play the build. We definitely were deliberate about honouring the legacy of StarCraft. It's a concious decision on our part to make sure the experience reminds the player of the original experience, so I guess in some ways that's good, that that's what they're saying, because that's partially what we've tried to achieve.
But we definitely wanted to distinguish the sequel from the original in some ways, and so there's a lot of new units we're implementing, that have new abilities that will provide the players opportunities for new and different strategies. We definitely wanted to deliver an evolved experience in terms of the single-player campaign and the story that we tell them and how we tell that story. We also definitely want to enhance the online experience through Battle.net over and above what was originally done with StarCraft. So when all is said and done it'll be the total package that distinguishes it. I don't think that you'll be able to point to any one feature and say this is what distinguishes it.
VideoGamer.com: Is the real time strategy genre one of the most difficult to innovate in because it has a way of working and if you get too far away from that it stops it from being an RTS.
FP: Yeah it's definitely a challenge to take the RTS to the next level in terms of what players expect. Because a mission is a mission right? You play head to head and that's sort of what's expected, but then if you deviate from it then you don't really have what players expect in an RTS.
Bob Colayco: On some level the proof's in the pudding. Maybe you look at it, on the surface it seems similar, but even a lot of journalists who had that same question in the back of their mind, once they sat down and played it, it became more obvious to them, like "OK, I get it now". So hopefully those guys who have those concerns will try the game and maybe at that point it will become much more clear to them what's going on.
VideoGamer.com: Which leads me nicely on to the next question which is when will they get the chance to play the game? Do you have even a rough ballpark for when the game's gong to be released?
FP: Not really. We still have a lot of work to do. Anyone that's had the opportunity to play it at any of the shows we've shown it at might think wow, this feels pretty good, this feels pretty complete, so why don't they just release it? But we still have a lot of work to do on the Battle.net side and we still have a lot of work to do on the single-player campaign side. And until that stuff is done, the total package isn't there.
VideoGamer.com: So at the moment you guys are focusing on the single-player campaign.
FP: Yeah and the Battle.net functionality. Stuff that's still, like I said, we have more work to do on those feature sets and we're so early in the process of defining that, that we're not even ready to talk about it publicly.
VideoGamer.com: Regarding the campaign, what kind of ideas have you got that you're looking to implement?
FP: The biggest thing for us is immersing the player in the story, as far as single-player goes. We got a pretty rich universe that we want to leverage as far as that goes. The other thing would be the branching campaign, so that the players have some choices in terms of the route they take to experience the story. And also the technologies that they choose to leverage throughout the campaign. You might be able to choose between taking siege tanks into a mission or taking Vikings into a mission.
VideoGamer.com: We've seen in some RTSs a risk-style meta-game. Is it a similar sort of thing?
FP: I don't know if I'd call it meta game so much as just....
BC:: Not like the Rise of Nations or something like that. In most RTS games we just start you with marines and then two missions later, here's your Firebats, here's your your Bolsters, or your tanks or whatever. Now, how those new things get parcelled out to you, the choice is now in your hands. What do you want next? Do you want to save your credits and get tech sooner, or do you want to just upgrade your infantry? How do you want to evolve your army over the course of the campaign, that sort of thing.
VideoGamer.com: The game is for PC and Mac only. Is it something that could ever work on console? We're seeing more and more console RTS games and lots of different console control schemes.
FP: It's not something we're specifically planning for right now. The development team is working on the game and the interface with the PC and the PC interface peripherals in mind.
BC: One barrier to entry there is just the speed of the game. If you look at how the RTS genre has evolved a lot of it has slowed things down, make things a little bit more, not a plodding place, but a little bit more of giving players more of a chance to evaluate. StarCraft is really action packed.
VideoGamer.com: I guess it's just too quick for a console controller.
FP: It would be a different experience. It would be difficult to unify those communities online because of the difference in the peripherals. So our focus right now is to make it a PC game. The chances of us taking it to the consoles are, I wouldn't say they are zero, but they are very close to zero.
VideoGamer.com: Is there potential for the StarCraft universe to branch out into other areas, like MMOs or even a console game that might be a shooter?
BC: Like a third-person shooter? (Laughs).
FP: Yeah StarCraft Ghost was something that we were working on that got shelved. Yeah the StarCraft universe is really rich, and it's got a lot of cool stuff in it that could be leveraged for any number of different genres. A big factor would be what the development teams want to work on. When the StarCraft 2 team is done with StarCraft 2, a factor is what they want to work on next, because the development teams plays a big role in deciding what they're going to do. So if there was a development team that was really passionate about leveraging the StarCraft universe for a different genre then that's something we would seriously consider.
VideoGamer.com: So this isn't the last we've seen from Starcraft?
FP: No, hopefully not! We're pretty passionate about the StarCraft universe, we're pretty emotionally invested in it, so we'll see. We leverage it for a licensed merchandise as well, like pocket novels and manga.
VideoGamer.com: With WoW doing so well, it proves that it's a great idea.
FP: It would be a lot of work! [laughs]. But the thing you have to remember about the MMO genre, especially now that the bar is set by games like World of Warcraft, WoW has been in development since, in some shape or form, 1999. There's people on the WoW team that have been on that team for nine years. So there's nine years of technology and story and content that are created, so the bar for entry into the MMO genre, whether it's Blizzard or someone else, is very high as a result. So you're dealing with a market where games have nine years invested in them. And so to look at StarCraft and say well we could make an MMO out of that. Well yeah, but how many years would we have to invest in it to create the quantity of content and the quality of experience that would be required to meet just the minimum standard that's set by the games that are out there right now?
VideoGamer.com You've made it difficult for yourself!
FP: Yeah, we've made it very difficult for ourselves and it's an overwhelming thought! I've been there at Blizzard since we started on WoW and it's been a very long and arduous journey. And to think about taking that journey again with the StarCraft franchise is a little scary! It makes an RTS like Starcraft 2 seem very achievable [laughs].
VideoGamer.com: Fans say a StarCraft MMO would be great, but they don't see your side of things do they?
FP: The World of Warcraft team is 135 people. The StarCraft 2 team is 40 people.
VideoGamer.com: That's great thanks for your time.
StarCraft 2 is due out for PC and Mac when it's done.