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BlizzCon 2007, Day 2

Room 204: StarCraft II Lore

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Panelists:

Chris Metzen - VP Creative Development

Andy Chambers - Lead Creative Director for SC2

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It was only 2:30 PM but it had already been a long day, though I arrived in room 204 extra early to ensure a front row seat. I’d already been to the Cinematics panel and the StarCraft Art panel had just finished. But this one, this one I was excited for - really excited for. Growing up playing StarCraft vanilla and Broodwar, I was ruined for other games. No other video game had such a rich lore. This was the panel I’d been waiting for. After nine years Blizzard was finally returning to its richest and most diverse world. Once again the three mighty races, the Protoss, the Zerg, and the Terran, would descend upon each other - some to survive and others to conquer the Koprulu sector. But there was an older, more powerful threat. The Xel Nega’s return is imminent, their web tightening and the ultimate battle will soon be joined. Who will be victorious? Metzen and Chambers whet our appetite for the prize - StarCraft II is coming.

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Chris Metzen started the panel off with an explanation of the literature that had been written since the game first was released. He noted that there were several reasons why the books were written. He explained that the books written under the StarCraft license, with the exceptions of Nova and The Dark Templar Trilogy, were an attempt at novelizing the first 3 campaigns of StarCraft. He continued by saying that at some point they’d like to novelize Broodwar to eventually have the “definitive take” on those stories. As to the unspoken question as to why no other StarCraft material was created, Metzen responded, “… at the time (when they began novelizing) we didn’t want to answer the big questions, right? I knew that this sequel was not going to materialize for many years, right? We had a lot of projects ahead of us. And I didn’t want to get ahead of the bus. I wanted to pick nice safe little books that would be cool stories in and of themselves but wouldn’t necessarily put us in a bad spot and setup questions that we weren’t prepared to answer.” He continued by explaining that the Dark Templar Trilogy is really breaking that mold. At its core it is an attempt at explaining more Protoss history but it also foreshadows the events of StarCraft II. Andy adds that it’s been quite fun developing something new for the lore especially since their developing the two (the Dark Templar Trilogy and the story for SCII) concurrently. It seems like the two will really work and relate to each other in ways that haven’t been explored before between the game and its novels. The books have also served to tell parts of the story that weren't described in the game. For example, as Metzen points out later in the Q&A, "when did Tassadar and Zeratul hook-up and meet? That's a huge part of the story that we didn't show in the game." He continues, "How does Tassadar, this Executor of the Protoss, this really talented and gifted guy get jumped into this black cult that his bosses hate and by the end of it become this "twilight messiah" and take down the monster alien of the galaxy. We didn't show any of that in the game." The books are also there to try and fill in some of those gaps and tell more of the story. Metzen feels the books are a chance at redemption to tell the whole tale.

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Ghost is really the big thing that kept the hopes for more new and original StarCraft lore alive during our nine year drought. But as Metzen pointed out early in the panel, “The first rule of Ghost, is that we don’t talk about Ghost.” *Cue thunderous laughter from the crowd* Blizzard took several passes at making the game but ultimately decided to indefinitely suspend the project. Even though we never learned much about the plot or story of Ghost, Metzen says: “Ghost had a killer plot; it had a really good bad guy. It set up a really cool kind of sub-license if that makes sense. It was kind of unrelated between the greater war in the galaxy between the Protoss and the Zerg… It was more like, like a really focused sub license with its own personality its own vibe. But I’ve always been really hip to keep that alive.” However, the destiny of the game is unknown and throughout Blizzcon it was reiterated that there were no current plans to take finish Ghost, but that’s no reason to stop the story from being told. Andy and Metzen were very adamant about wanting to continue Nova’s adventures. Andy explained that they’d like to novelize the game’s story into a book, a series of books or he mentions that there’ve even been discussions about turning the story into comics or magna - “something to keep that idea rolling”. Metzen concluded the discussion of Ghost by saying, “And there’s been just internally, this is no promise, just saying, just saying, a lot of the guys on the team are like dude are we going to get a cameo of Nova? We gotta stick her in there somewhere. Yeah we might be able to get our girl in there as long as it makes sense and it’s cool; we’ll try and do what we can.” For quite some time there’s been some speculation as to what, if any, role Nova would play in StarCraft II. Now we know that at the very most she’ll have a cameo that may sometime in the future work into her continued adventures inside of the main story. It seems that Nova was an extraordinarily developed character and was to be used to gain a more personal, intimate look at the StarCraft universe than an RTS game ever could. Her character development was, perhaps, a precursor to the new single-player story mode interface. Since this new interface will allow for a more developed and personal story experience than previously offered it seems like a natural medium between the necessary movement of an RTS game and the inside look that Nova’s story would have offered into an individual character and back story.

Andy took the microphone and spent sometime talking about the “why” behind the new story mode. He said that the new mode’s roots lie in the evolution of the storytelling between Warcraft II, Warcraft III and StarCraft; “there’s been an increasing sort of emphasis on the world itself, the characters in it, the events that take place and trying to create this immersive experience.” StarCraft was one of the first RTS games to put characters at the forefront of the story. The now classic talking heads in the briefing room gave depth to characters and story, which allowed for the StarCraft story to advance through the characters. When the StarCraft II Team started talking about how to tell the story, the method had to carry the evolution forward. The team drew inspiration from games they’d enjoyed in the past that had character driven plotlines. It seems that one of the main goals of using this new story mode is to really establish and develop relationships with the characters so their fate and your dealings with them matter to you. From a single player standpoint this is great to hear. The virtues of the masterful multiplayer in StarCraft II, reminiscent of the first StarCraft, have been extolled and while the amazing balance and multiplayer aspects of StarCraft were probably the largest contributors to its lasting success, the story and its characters are extraordinary. Andy made it clear that there will be a variety of ways the story will be advanced in StarCraft II. In addition to the game play and the cinematics, the player’s choice of mission, the cut scenes, and the interactive dialogue in-between missions, will play an important role in moving the plot forward. But, Andy cautioned, the exact balance as to each mode was still being discussed. Though there will be variations from campaign to campaign, each will have different elements; for example the armory in the Terran campaign, where the player decides which units/technology to buy, will be a Terran only feature. The Protoss and the Zerg campaigns will each offer something different to the player’s experience. The issue was raised as to whether or not there would be specific missions that would require certain player actions or interactions with the environment or characters. Andy’s answer was that they hadn’t really made up their minds. He did mention that there would probably be sub-plots and sub-missions that would only be discovered/playable through certain choices or interaction. But, he continued, the exact balance between keeping the game linear for RTS game purists and more immersive for the fan boys was still being discussed.

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State of the Universe


Andy was quick to state that the creative team was keen to really continue the previous storyline and that the events of Brood War would serve as the starting point of the next chapter in the lore. It’s been four years since the end of Brood War and the Koprulu sector is wary. But, according to Metzen, things have improved since the end of Brood War, when Kerrigan forced everyone up against the wall. Here’s an update on many of the factions/characters from before as well as an introduction to some new faces.

The UED Taskforce - Metzen: “She (Kerrigan) pretty much slaughtered the rest of the UED Taskforce that came out to the Koprulu sector, DuGalle, all those guys dead.” However, it may be possible there are splinter groups that survived and are still creeping around somewhere with their own agenda. That hasn’t been decided yet.

Arcturus Mengsk - He was left alone to rebuild his own, new, Terran dominion but there is a constant, pervasive fear that Kerrigan’s ultimate attack could come at any time. He has however, been successful in consolidating much of his power.

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Valerian Mengsk - First introduced in Firstborn, Valerian is Mengsk’s son. Arcturus kept in hiding for many years for fear of Confederate reprisal or attacks.” He’s meant to take over for dad; he’s going to be Emperor Mengsk II some day, if he lives that long.” says Metzen. Valerian is the heir apparent to the new Terran Dominion. The reason the developers are excited about the “new Mengsk” is they feel that Arcturus’ story had been told through StarCraft and Broodwar. Andy explains that Arcturus went through his revolutionary phase, defeated the Confederacy, and now has become this kind of “tyranty” figure. Now the question is how will Valerian turn out? He’s been brought up by a very ruthless, power-driven man. Will he turn out the same way or will he be a benevolent character? Will he learn the lessons from daddy’s mistakes? Plus, Andy points out; there is this interesting dynamic between father and son. Arcturus pushes his son to make his own way and be his own man, so how will that influence Valerian’s development and relationship with his father? But he’ll never challenge daddy directly; Valerian’s story will really be about defining himself and his role inside the new Terran Dominion.

Jim Raynor - According to Metzen, Jim Raynor is based on a character from the movie "The Rush", sort of a "gritty undercover Texas cop". Metzen continued to praise Jim: “I love Jim Raynor, I love this guy, he’s the one honest cop in a universe full of demigods walking around and he’s just a dude, right? No superpowers, he ain’t the brightest guy, you know, but he’s just a cool cat; he just doesn’t give up.” But four years later we find Raynor’s almost lost the war against Mengsk. Mengsk has rebuilt and is the charismatic media darling but since Brood War Mengsk has used the media in a savvy way to “dismiss” Raynor. He’s succeeded in marginalizing Raynor and as a result Raynor’s Raiders are running out of money, they’re running out of belief and Raynor is drinking heavily. Which is definitely unlike the Raynor we remember; it seems as though his past and his guilt are catching up with him and lay heavy upon him. He hasn’t been the fire-up, ready-to-do-good guy in quite a while; he’s still trying but he seems a little lost. Metzen assures us that “we’re going to make our boy into a hero”. Metzen expounds by explaining that any mystique the license may have is because there are these great races and then simple folk in the middle. The great allure, the great mystery is how, in a universe full of demigods, does a simple man in the middle, who’s just trying to find himself and his mission, affect the fate of the universe? The different relationships between Raynor and the other characters also provides an interesting dynamic that both Metzen and Andy love. This ordinary guy has met some of the most important and influential Protoss in the galaxy, and his “girlfriend” wound up being the Queen of Blades and that lends a certain mystique to this character. I got the impression that these relationships will play a more prominent role this time around, and will provide a richer story because each of those relationships is so different. Raynor is back and it seems, through Metzen’s eyes, Raynor will end up being (is) the ultimate protagonist in the SC universe, which is definitely interesting considering there are so many sides to route for who all think they’re doing the right thing.

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Matt Horner - He was in first introduced in the novel, Queen of Blades, as the captain of Hyperion. Now he takes on the role of the enthusiastic motivator. Metzen says he’s a good guy and believes in Jim and the causes very much. It sounds like Matt acts as Jim’s conscience and he attempts to keep Jim focused and on the right path.

The Kel-Morian Combine and the Umojan Protectorate - While Mengsk’s new dominion’s power has increased and been consolidated these factions are still “relevant groups in the sector and they’re still vying for their own control and resources while Mengsk grows in power.”

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Kerrigan and the Zerg - At some point she just pulled back to Char. No one has heard or seen anything from Kerrigan or the Swarm in close to four years. Everyone’s just waiting for the hammer to fall. It’s been quiet, really quiet says Andy. Kerrigan’s had four years, she’s poised to sweep everything but she just hasn’t done it. While neither Metzen nor Andy would go into much detail about Kerrigan or the Zerg, Andy did mention that some of the big shocks/moments/events will occur in the Zerg campaign. They wouldn’t say anything else, and even apologized, “we’d like to” said Metzen, “because it’s really good.” finished Andy.

The Protoss - They’ve been forced out of their home world. Now they’ve been regrouping on Shakuras. But the Protoss from Aiur are having a hard time accepting the demonized Dark Templar. And much of what’s been happening in the past four years has been the Protoss reconciling themselves to the fact that they are each a half of the same race. Some of the Protoss have understood that “white templar, dark templar, there really is no difference” and still others are having a hard time understanding this. The Protoss civilization, socially and psychology, has devolved back into their tribal states. Their technology has obviously adapted but not all that significantly.

Artanis - Artanis is the one who is trying to hold it all together and lead this sort of renaissance of rediscovery. A student of Tassadar (or the “Twilight Messiah” as Metzen refers to him), Artanis really believes in Tassadar’s dreams and the teachings. Artanis now holds the rank of Hierarch, similar to a President. He’s got a long, hard road to travel and he’s trying to strike a balance between each half and each faction as he tries to reunite the splintered race.

Zeratul - While Artanis is bogged down trying to heal the race, Zeratul, “who could, perhaps, be a big help in all this” says Andy, is no where to be found. He disappeared right after the events of Brood War and he still harbors quite a bit of guilt for slaying his Matriarch, Raszagal. Zeratul is traveling the stars searching for clues, for answers; he’s trying to figure out what’s going on. Metzen interrupted Andy at this point and says, “Remember a map, uh, Dark Origins? A secret mission in Brood War where he meets a kooky cat named Samir Duran, who has, oh I don’t know, a kind of breeding thing going on, with what looked to Protoss and Zerg, you know, Hybrid creatures. And um, he suggests that some great cosmic event is about to unfold, and that leaves Zeratul very… troubled.” Metzen does let slip that Zeratul will wind up find what he’s looking for; he is going to find those clues and get a vision of what’s coming, that is “really going to trip him out”. And then can Zeratul make it back in time to rally our heroes to face impossible odds.

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Silendas - During the Q&A (see below), Chambers mentioned a Protoss female character - Silendas. There wasn't much information revealed about her, except that she'll be Artanis' assistant and the new executor.

The Xel’Naga - The whole Xel’Naga concept always brings up tons of questions - Would they come back?, what’s the true origin of the Protoss and the Zerg?, where’s this all going?, is there a way bigger overarching mythology under all these events that we’ve seen begin to happen in StarCraft I?- Will StarCraft II answer all these questions? “Absolutely” said Metzen, “well, ok, most of them, there’ll be fifty more by the time we’re done with this”. “But we’ll try” finished Andy.

That was all the information they gave during their “lecture” if you will but then came the mighty Q&A.

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Most of the questions that were asked weren’t all that relevant or didn’t get answered all that well but I’ll pull out some of my favorites (paraphrased for brevity).

Q: Will Terrazine gas and the Specters make an appearance in SCII? Or will that be saved a Ghost storyline?

A: Ghosts are a very cool idea in their own right. Specters are Ghosts+++ in development. Mengsk didn’t just pick-up where the Confederacy left off with the Ghost program, he and the new Dominion have injected some new ideas into it. The idea of this weird new substance could effect certain psychic abilities and the specters are both ideas that Blizzard is very “keen” on exploring in the future but as to the question of whether or not they’ll make it into SCII is still being discussed but (SPOILER: yeah they might make it in there - Andy).

Q: Why did the UED have the same technology as the banished Terran prisoners?

A: “That’s funny, we were just talking about that the other day, not necessarily because of StarCraft II - well there’s a spoiler for you” Metzen answered that this part of the lore was clumsily handled. The humans on Earth should have had a far more advanced tech tree. The official reason was that the UED stole all this stuff why they got here and left all the “big guns” at home. Now why they did that - Metzen doesn’t know. But Andy and Metzen are going to keep developing and the history of the UED, why it was sent, and why they used local technology instead of the super “uber tachyon lasers” from home.

Q: What about the voice actors?

A: For the units - 50/50 because some of the units’ voices will be coming back - but because they’re coming back and they’ll look quite similar, we don’t want them to sound exactly the same so they’re the exact same unit. So there might be different voices or sounds to give them a fresh personality, but some of the actors will be returning. No final decisions have been made yet. For the characters - Here Metzen says that guy that did Zeratul and Duke’s voices is deceased - Jack Ritschel. Metzen emphasized that it has been almost ten years these roles were originally cast. Blizzard wants to make sure that the voice still fits with the Kerrigan. Metzen did say that Glynnis Talken had been back in the studio and that she sounded great (Glyniss actually confirmed on her blog that she would be reprising her role as Kerrigan). As for Raynor, while Robert Clotworthy (the original voice of Raynor) has said he’d love to do Raynor’s voice again, Metzen loves a new guy that has come in to the studio and read for Raynor. He says from his, a creative, perspective he wants to get the character right and that this new guy is much closer to what he had originally envisioned for the character. But he does realize that we, as fans, have an emotional attachment to the original voice and they haven’t quite decided what to do on that one. Recording the voices for many of the other characters has even started yet and Blizzard is still debating internally what they’d like to see whether it is a new voice or a returning one for an iconic character.

Q: Is there any good left in Kerrigan? Is there anything challenging her for control of the Zerg?

A: Broodwar is the story of Kerrigan becoming the undisputed ruler of the Zerg, so that’s really the starting point for StarCraft II. As for there being any good in her or any humanity left in her - that’s an interesting idea/dynamic that might be explored in the story. What a classic Blizzard non-answer.

Q: What about the characters that you played as in the original and Broodwar (the Cerebrate, Executor, and Magistrate) are they dead, replaced?

A: “Dead. Gone.” In the new Terran campaign you’ll be taking on the roll Jim Raynor, you’ll be controlling his conversations with the characters etc, but at the same time some characters will refer to you as Commander, “so we’re really merging the two ideas…” Metzen feels that while the approach taken in StarCraft was cool, when you took five steps back it didn’t make sense trying to work the characters into the story. There were actually some early drafts of SCII that followed the former games’ approach but it just came off too clunky and it was too difficult to try and change the story to accommodate the new characters you’d be playing as.

Q: Why is Kerrigan called the Queen of Blades?

A: *They had just talked about this issue between themselves recently and at first Metzen couldn’t remember what he and Andy had come up with.* But then he did remember: Kerrigan’s title is an honorific one. Blades is a core unit to ripping apart species and what better title to describe the greatest agent of the race, of the Swarm. She was designed to be this thing - it was what she was built to be, probably a title given to her by the Overmind.

Q: StarCraft Movie?

A: If we were to do a movie - it wouldn’t be about Nova (maybe a TV show?) “I’m just talking!” warns Metzen as he pretends to get a call from Blizzard’s PR “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SAYING?”. There are no current plans for a StarCraft movie but that would be “Sweet”.

Q: What about infested Stukov and Braxis?

A: Metzen: “Oh yeah… why oh why did we think that was cool *hangs his head*” Andy: Infestation was a fascinating subject - Stukov was an experiment for the Zerg in infesting other humans. It may be something we (Blizzard) may want to touch on or do with other characters. The whole concept of the Zerg - there’s a subtle level of alien invasion, what happens when humans get infected by this hyper evolutionary virus and become something else. The story itself was two dimensional and is really a door to the future. Metzen: “That was pretty good - and almost completely pulled out of your ass.”

Q: In Christie Golden’s novel, Firstborn - what is the creature and what is up with the Temples?

A: Metzen: The temples are all different (Shadows of the Xel’Naga, Firstborn, the one on Shakuras) but they are all tied together, all part of a larger theme tied in with the stuff that is starting to happen, the stuff that has been happening for some time. What that connection is - “I don’t want to tell you.”

Q: What about the obvious similarities between Medivh in Warcraft III and Zeratul in StarCraft II, both come with warnings, etc?

A: Metzen: “Yet more evidence I’m a one trick pony.” People are more likely to listen to Zeratul and do what he says; the story will play out quite a bit differently than Warcraft III’s. Andy: The warning that comes too late is a classic storytelling technique that you see time and time again.

Q: What characters are in the Protoss campaign will we play as Zeratul or Artanis?

A: Andy: We haven’t made up our minds up. They both are very compelling characters and would offer some different parts to the story. Andy would rather have a single strong lead in the campaign rather than rotating between characters.

Q: Are there any plans for any female Protoss units or characters?

A: Yes. Silendas (sp?) is the new Executor, which is as explained by Andy: Artanis’ chief of staff or the commander of the armed forces. There are both male and female Protoss forces. But neither Andy nor Metzen have decided how the Protoss reproduce.

Q: Will Fenix return - again? (Asked by SC:L’s very own Zero!)

A: Andy: “Sometimes you kill characters off and people really miss them and you go screw it - let’s bring him back he was cool - and sometimes you don’t".

Q: Who or what is actually controlling all the Zerg life forms?

A: Metzen: “…since Brood War there’s only one mind controlling the Zerg (as far as anyone knows). After Brood War she whacked out all the (remaining) cerebrates, so as far as anyone knows she is in sole control of the swarm. But that sure is an interesting theme *wink wink*”

Q: “If I go see Rush like you were talking about - will I find out if he gets the girl?”

A: Metzen: “That movie had a brutal ending - so don’t base it off that.”

Q: “World of StarCraft?”

A: Metzen: “One isn't enough?”. "But really", continued Metzen, "we don't have any plans for something like that. WOW was being developed side by side with Warcraft III but there are no plans to do something like that with StarCraft II."

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Conclusion

The lore panel was an amazing experience. BlizzCon was amazing but this was the creme de la creme. Having played this game for so long and enjoying the story and the characters for so long it was great to learn more about it and learn more about the people that created it. After the panel I hung around as was able to meet Chris. He signed some stuff for me and then we started talking about StarCraft: Legacy. He knew of the site and said he really digged it. I explained to him that much of our user base loves the lore and how great it was to meet him and learn more about StarCraft II. He’s a great guy and who knows? We might even get a couple of surprises thrown at us ;). Unfortunately Andy was gone before I had a chance to say hi to him but I’m sure I’ll meet him in the future. These guys were really great with all the fans and despite all their success they were really down to earth and cared about what everyone had to say. These guys wrote StarCraft - and that was over nine years ago - imagine the possible twists and turns to the story now. StarCraft II is definitely in good hands. What’s written above is all I’m allowed to share about the story or the lore - right now. But rest assured, this game and its story are going to be amazing.

~LoA

Metzen and I
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The Lore Panel Video

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