StarCraft: Legacy – It looks like Blizzard’s moving in the direction to start doing microtransactions with Battle.net, and having Diablo beginning to associate real-world money. Are there any plans to associate that with StarCraft II for perhaps a more sustainable model for StarCraft II in the future?
Dustin Browder – I haven’t been able to figure out how to make that work in a way that doesn’t just sort of wreck esports or hurt my brain. We’ve certainly talked about it. It’s just something we can do that will allow us to continue to develop StarCraft for ten more years, as opposed to the expansion pack box model. But I haven’t been able to figure out a way that would be viable in this environment. I don’t know how many more units we can add to Void at this point. I’m for looking at Void, what am I going to add for Void, oh my goodness. So I don’t think so. We have talked about the possibility of doing skins as an option for users, but because of memory limitations, we would end up driving users out of the game. People who can play it now would not be able to play it if we added a bunch more skins because, suddenly you’re in a 4v4, you’ve got one Thor, I’ve got one Thor, he’s got one Mutalisk, he’s got a different Mutalisk. Like, you literally couldn’t play it anymore. And so, that seems a little dirty. I know that, as the games go on, we might creep up on minimum system – we might lose some people at the very, very bottom, but even we don’t want to do that. It doesn’t feel right.
SCL – Any thoughts on perhaps adding any campaign missions? Adding to the lore right now? Because we know they did that with Brood War, they let someone else add canon, and then it was really, really badly done and they rescinded it, and said, “We’re no longer going to allow anyone outside of Blizzard-”
DB – We’ve had troubles in the past. We’ve been very unsuccessful in working with other people, including some development studios that are pretty competent. Sort of not our best strength as a studio. So, it’s possible. We don’t have any plans, there’s nothing in the works, nothing’s happening on that right now.
SCL – On that angle, you guys are still developing BlizzDotA, it’s still set for coming out with Arcade and Heart of the Swarm, is that still-
DB – It’s not set with Heart of the Swarm. It’s whenever it gets done.
SCL – It was a target, right?
DB – I don’t know there was ever a target with Swarm. It’s been in and around Swarm from time to time, but now it’s definitely after Swarm.
SCL – Okay. For that, is that going to be completely free-to-play, is there going to be something like buying characters?
DB – Don’t know for sure. Obviously, the standard model, that most of the industry has adopted, is free-to-play, earn anything you want to earn, takes forever to earn it, but you could, and then buy the heroes. That’s the standard model that’s been pursued. And we’re obviously examining that model. But we’ll examine other models as well. See what makes sense for us. But it’s not planned to be a box product. So it is planned on being something that’s more digitally distributed in the way you’re describing.
SCL – So now that you’ve had Wings of Liberty underneath your belt in terms of telling a story, I know Blizzard’s all about “our games are also meant to tell stories”, what are some lessons learned from Wings of Liberty into Heart of the Swarm?
DB – Well, I mean, one of the things that I think that we definitely wanted to work on between the two are, I think, but we’ve done a little bit better job – there’s two things, I guess. One is to make sure that we feel like everything’s more properly motivated from the beginning to the end. There were spots in Wings of Liberty, where I would look at it and go, “How did we get here? What’s Valerian’s motivation right here? What’s he trying to accomplish?” and making sure that everybody, very deliberately, step-by-step, is very clear. We always knew what the reasons were, but it wasn’t always in the game. Like, we knew why Valerian wanted to approach Raynor on that battleship. We understood, in our heads, why Raynor leaped on board the ship and tried to kill him, and why Valerian had to say, “Don’t shoot me, I’ll give you what you always wanted.” But I don’t know if the game made that as clear as it needed to be. And so, we’re trying to be very deliberate and trying to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and make sure that, everything that’s in our heads actually makes it to the game in a way that’s very clear to everybody. So I think there were some clarity issues that we could have done a better job on.
The second thing that happened in Wings of Liberty is, in many cases, the motivations of Raynor kind of moved around a little bit. Like, he was after Mengsk, and then, in the middle of the campaign, “What’s he doing with Tosh?” “I don’t know, something cool.” “Shouldn’t he be after Mengsk? Or shouldn’t he be trying to chase his girlfriend? What’s he doing?” “Well, he’s playing these missions because it’s cool.” And that’s a fine game, but it doesn’t have that central story focus that makes you feel like you’re always driven towards a logical, natural conclusion. So for Kerrigan, we’re trying to make it very clear what she’s after and why she’s doing everything that she’s doing. So there’s no missions that are just, “I’m over here because the designers thought this would be a cool mission.” Right? Like, “I’m over here because, goddamnit, here’s why.” And she’s there to say it. And so, she feels much more driven, much more clear in that sense. Which I guess it somehow makes sense too. I mean, Raynor is, I mean, Raynor had an alcohol problem, looking for a purpose in many ways. He didn’t have the power to really challenge Mengsk, he felt powerless to take on Kerrigan, so it makes sense that he would wander a little bit while Kerrigan, as the Queen of Blades, is the goddess of the Zerg, the creature just driven by pure rage to burn the galaxy. And so she feels, I think, a lot tighter in that respect. So I think we’re doing a better job.
SCL – I don’t know if you can answer this one, but what exactly is Kerrigan now? Is she human, is she Zerg, what is she?
DB – She’s a little bit of both. She’s definitely lost a lot of her Zerg, but the mutagen has not completely left her system yet. And so then you’ll have to play the game to see what happens with that. But she is – you see her at the end of Wings. She looks human, but she still got the dreads. So she’s largely a human creature at this point. Certainly free to the madness of the swarm and the insanity that caused her. But the mutagen has not completely lost her system yet.
SCL – And how many psionic powers is she going to have? Because she had some as a ghost, she had Psi Storm in Brood War-
DB – No, she doesn’t have Psi Storm. She’s got her own set of abilities now. Psi Storm in Brood War was a bit of a function of, “This hero needs to have a power and we had this power and she couldn’t put it on.” We have the ability now, with this engine, to put any set of powers we want, and she has quite a set of powers she can choose from across the game.
SCL – We asked about singleplayer improvements from Wings of Liberty to Heart of the Swarm. Fans have been hearing about planned tweaks to Battle.net quite a lot, and there’s a pretty long list of them. What’s on the top of your priority list right now?
DB – Well, we’ve got to finish and get 1.5, which is this Arcade patch, actually up on the live, so that’s within a couple of weeks we should be done with that and ready to go, so that’s the top priority. That’s got to happen. After that, there’s so many things, I say if you put a gun to my head and say, “You only get one,” I would say, “continue from replay” would be the one that I would want the most. But there’s a bunch of stuff we want to do. We want to do groups, we want to do clans, we want to do shared replay watching. The fans have been asking for that forever. And rightly so. That would be so fun. Especially when I play in team games. I play in a tournament with Rob Simpson, he and I play within a Blizzard tournament. We lose. But we play, and it’s fun to watch. It would be great to watch the replays after. It would be really fun to be able to do that together, and we can’t really do that right now, which is a shame. So there’s a whole bunch of stuff. I don’t know what the top top top is for everybody else, but there’s just a bunch of stuff we got to get done.
SCL – In terms of overall balance, are you happy where everything is at in Wings of Liberty?
DB – We’re never “happy”, but we’re in a good spot. I’m seeing right now a fairly good distribution of races, little light on Zerg still, across all the major tournaments in terms of things like the top sixteen and all that. Still seeing a few too many wins in Korea from the Terrans at the GSL but we’ll see. That’s started to even out a little bit more. Certainly better than it was a couple months ago. Which is very gratifying to see. We’re hearing complaints right now from our Terran players in regards to the +2 range on the Zerg Queen, so that’s a concern to watch. We felt like Terran players were able to contain the Zerg too easily with only four or five Hellions and that didn’t feel right to us. At the same time, in the mid- to late-game, Terrans were sometimes just exchanging Hellions for Drones. “I’ll just send the Hellions. Yeah, yeah, I’ll just- yeah, they’re all dead, but I killed a whole bunch of Drones.” Like, oh my god. That doesn’t feel like strategy, that feels bad. We felt like this change was correct, but it is causing some ripples in the community, and so we want to wait and see how that stabilizes.
In looking at the stats on Battle.net as of this morning, we were within one percent, which is really good for us. Win/loss across all regions, all matchups, everywhere in the world, except Terran Masters and Grandmasters – excuse me, North American Grandmasters and Masters for Protoss versus Zerg. In that matchup, Zerg has an advantage right now. In North America only. At Masters and Grandmasters only. Does that spread? Don’t know, we have to watch and see. Does it suddenly go Korea, North America, and China, and like, “Okay, this is real.” Or does all the strategies from the other regions sort of cross-pollinate into North America and that match stabilizes again? Don’t know. So we’re going to have to watch that and see. So we’re never “happy”. We’re always watching, but at the same time, there are no planned changes in the works. We are in-between ideas right now, and we’re going to see if anything new comes along.
SCL – And the additional range upgrade on the Phoenix. Are you guys seeing that utilized heavily in order to counteract Mutalisks?
DB – Not heavily. But I’ve used it and I’ve crushed people. Crushed people. So I know it’s powerful. I know it’s good. Whether the community will agree with that is more of a long-term question for me at this point. But I know it’s ridiculously good. And I don’t quite buy, “Fleet Beacon’s too far away.” If you want to win, it’s right there and it can be incredibly dangerous. And so, I’m not a Masters level player, so what do I know. I could be totally wrong. But you know, David Kim plays at Grandmaster, and he’s crushing with it as well. So sometimes, we can be right or wrong about these things. There’s no way to really know at this point. A lot of the players aren’t using it yet, but again, players haven’t been using Warp Prism, and suddenly, they are. And suddenly, it’s awesome. So the metagame moves around, and what’s possible and not possible is difficult to know. So, we’ll wait and see with that one, see what happens. I know it’s mighty. Whether or not it’s mighty enough or early enough is, I think, more the question.
SCL – Question about the Pylon being able to warp in up on the high ground. Is that being argued back and forth or are you guys just going to say, “Encourage Warp Prism, Pylon on the low ground cannot power buildings on the high ground?”
DB – I’m kind of hanging on to that, but we’ll see what happens. I kind of think we should say you can’t warp up on the high ground. I think that’s too destructive, I think that’s largely a cheese maneuver, and it mostly promotes cheese. And it’s not really about – I think it promotes too many all-ins, I think it’s too difficult to counter, it was never our intention for the pylon in the first place. I’d be fine with it, even though it wasn’t our intention, if I didn’t feel like it was promoting a lot of cheese and a lot of abusive builds. But we’ll see. So that’s our feeling right now is “no”, that we will stop that, but we’ll see what happens.
SCL – Going further on the balance side, once Heart of the Swarm comes out, obviously the balance for that is going to be different from the balance for Wings of Liberty. The first part of the question would be: would you be balancing both games actively?
DB – Probably. Yes.
SCL – And then, would there be certain changes between the two games, even with units that are in both games?
DB – Probably. It would almost have to be at that point, right? Because you have different counters. Like, I might not need a counter in Wings, but I do need it in Swarm. Maybe the Swarm Host does this in Swarm, but in Wings, there is no Swarm Host. So what do I do? So we’ll definitely be watching the balance on both games and doing whatever we can. As long as we have fans for Wings of Liberty, and as long as we feel like there’s something we can actually do, we’ll be there to help.
SCL – So, for tournament support, would you be focusing completely on Heart of the Swarm?
DB – It kind of depends on what happens with the tournaments, doesn’t it? If we end up with a split community, that’s going to be a challenge for us. If we end up with most of the community still in Liberty, then that’s something we can easily focus on for tournaments. If most of the community goes to Swarm, then that becomes an easy choice too. We’ll see what happens.
SCL – I’m sure you guys experimented with increasing the range on the Carrier, because a lot of the time it is mentioned that the Tempest does everything the Carrier can, but better, and it feels like it’s because it has further range. Was there any discussion on trying to increase the Carrier’s range on the Interceptors?
DB – Sure, but what would that do that the Tempest doesn’t do? Except that the Interceptors can be shot down. We felt like – I’m not done with the Carrier. The Carrier might still make it. Right now, I’m waiting for somebody to say why the Carrier has to be in the game. We feel like, at a certain point, if a unit changes too much, it should just be a new unit. At a certain point, “We’re going to make a Medic with 200 hitpoints and it’s built from the factory.” “Okay, that’s not a Medic, that’s a Medic Bot.” And that should be something else, right? And so, at a certain point, we feel like, now you’re just holding on to the art to hold on to the art. You should do something new, something clear to players, “This is something new, and this is good at something different.” And so, we feel like, if you want to have a 22 range Carrier, that’s a new unit. That’s a whole other thing. Especially if the Interceptors aren’t involved. Like, it doesn’t make any sense at all. So, we can certainly keep the Carrier, mostly from the fans that I’ve heard is, “Please don’t cut the Carrier because it’s cool.” I haven’t heard anybody say, “Don’t cut the Carrier because here’s the incredibly important mechanical thing that it does.” So, if we learn that, at some point, like, “Here’s what it does,” then that would be a reason to keep it. Or we could just say, “Ah, the heck with it. It’s cool, no one will ever build it, but we’re just going to in case people are happy that they have a unit they’ll never build.” Which, I look at it and go, “Really? We want a unit that we’re never going to build? Okay...” I guess I could go with that, it’s not terribly upsetting, it’s not like it’s going to ruin the game, because no one will ever build it. Or they’ll build it in these very tiny fraction of a percentage. But it could be okay. I don’t know, we’ll start discussing that one quite a bit. What’s your feeling, you think we should keep the Carrier? If so, why?
SCL – Something I’ve noticed is that the new units in Heart of the Swarm seem to interact pretty interestingly with the Carrier, such as the Widow Mine. Because if those jump on to Interceptors, they could negate a lot of damage.
DB – That’s interesting.
SCL – Also, there’s the Warhound-
DB – No, it’s only ground.
SCL – With the Warhound no longer being the Goliath wannabe, the smaller Thor, what is the Terran answer to Mutalisks?
DB – Well, you still got the Thor, you still got stim Marines, and you’ve got the Widow Mine, which attacks ground and air.
SCL – Okay, so you’re shifting all of that to the Widow Mine? Because right now, it is Thor and Marine and, for the Mutalisks, the Thor is too big-
DB – Yeah, I agree with the big. The big is a real problem. And so, we still think that the Thor is a viable choice for the midfield. “I want to protect my army,” or whatever. You can totally do that. Or “I want to protect a very specific location,” I can do that. I feel like the Widow Mine will hopefully be the answer in conjunction with the Missile Turret to deal with the base defense stuff. But the Widow Mine will hopefully be the answer. We’ll see how that works. But the Widow Mine is one of the challenging units to balance, because it’s a sapper. Because it does sacrifice itself, so its price has to be very perfect. If it’s too expensive, then you only use it on big things. If it’s too cheap, use it on everything! It’s broken! And so it’s really difficult to get that one right.
SCL – Beta, summer 2012, it was in the fact sheet from the press kit. Are you guys looking for early summer? Later summer?
DB – I don’t know yet. I really don’t know. That’s not me just playing coy. I really don’t know the answer yet. We’re obviously trying to get it as soon as we can, we know the community’s very hungry for it, we got to get this 1.5 patch done, we’ve got to see – get a better understanding of what our release date is for sure. Once we know that, we can work sort of work – not for sure. When we get a ballpark, we can work back from that to a beta space, but yeah, we’re getting pretty close. We’re getting pretty close, and I can’t wait to get it out because I’m dying to play games against a larger variety of people. I’ll play people more my skill level, it’s hard to find guys that suck as much as I do in the office.
SCL – The version of Heart of the Swarm that’s on the floor here at MLG Anaheim, versus the version you guys have in the office, I know that you had the creep spread, that mechanic that didn’t make it in, what other things are there that you feel will make it in to Heart of the Swarm?
DB – That’s the biggest one. That’s the only unit that I’m aware of that we cut from this build which was like, “Nope, can’t show it,” which was very distressing for all of us, because we knew we wanted to get it out there. But that’s the only new unit that we’re serious about, that we believe in. Actually, the only unit at all in the build that we’re not showing here today.
SCL – Is that also the Nydus Worm that can attack?
DB – So we have two things in there. We have two new Nydus Worms, basically. We have the Nydus Worm that you can put on the battlefield that vomits creep in a direction and it keeps channelling, and it just sprays it. So you’ve got this highway of creep. So you can put it outside some guy’s base and create a creep highway into his base. We got some new tech that puts creep crawling up buildings. It doesn’t do anything, but it looks cool, so you see like a bunker is all half-slimed, and the Marines inside are waiting for the doom that’s coming their way. So that’s cool. And the other one is a Nydus Worm that only attacks buildings. So, it allows you to fly in with an Overseer, or an Overlord, and drop this down next to a critical Pylon, or a critical building, and spawn a couple of these things and start beating on the buildings. So, when the units come by, it can’t even fight the units. It only will attack the buildings. So that means it’s a new type of way of raiding again. Can’t use it on SCVs, feels different from the Mutalisk, but it gives the Zerg an option to really mess with the enemy. Because there’s scenarios with Zerg right now where the Mutalisk raiding is glorious, and then they shut it down, and you’re like, “I guess I’m done raiding.” And that kind of – that’s sounds fun, we want to split up the armies, spread everybody out, get everybody doing different stuff and make the deathballs a little smaller. And so we feel like if we can pull people apart and especially if you can do it without beating up workers. I mean, how many workers get killed in StarCraft games? Like, StarCraft II is the meanest game. You do not want to be a worker in a StarCraft II game. So that’s why we like the Oracle, you know, that raids without killing workers, I like the idea of this Nydus Worm, that raids without killing workers.
SCL – Thank you for your time.