The Following Video features the incomplete Dustin Browder interview. Please refer to our interview transcript for the full information.
Crota: Alright, so the first question from SC:Legacy: "Why didn't Zeratul find out about the Dark Voice when he touched the Overmind in the vanilla Zerg campaign? Zeratul learned that the Overmind was created by the Xel'Naga but didn't learn anything about the Dark Voice?”
Dustin Browder: *sigh* Sorry, ask it again?
Crota: You knew you were going to get the lore questions.
Dustin Browder: I didn't know it was going to be that detailed about the last game. But go for it, I'll do my best. You might want Brian for this, by the way, but, well, I’ll try.
Crota: Ok, why didn't Zeratul find out about the Dark Voice when he touched the Overmind's mind in the vanilla Zerg Campaign? Zeratul learned that the Overmind was created by the Xel'Naga, but didn't learn anything about the Dark Voice?
Dustin Browder: Right, so I think Zeratul, following the prophecies and going back to the Overmind, really had the opportunity to ask the right questions in his searching-out of the psionics of the Overmind. In addition, he is dealing with the dead remnants of the Overmind with no defences, with no ability to protect any psionic residue that’s remaining inside to sort of suss out those ancient secrets. It allows him to get a lot deeper inside the Overmind and find out the real dirt that he wouldn’t have had when dealing with an Overmind that’s more prepared and not knowing to even ask that kind of question.
Crota: Alright. Now, moving on to Heart of the Swarm. It's been repeatedly stated that Heart of the Swarm is going to be, "What it means to be Zerg". So how is that written in the story and what can we expect to see in terms of “Zerginess” in Heart of the Swarm?
Dustin Browder: We are trying to get the idea of what means to be the Zerg through the Heart of the Swarm campaign in a number of different ways. We are doing it through the mechanics of the choices you make in story mode. The types of evolutions you choose, the types of mutations you choose, how you level up Kerrigan, should be fundamentally different from spending dollars and earning credits and hiring mercenaries, which you did in the Wings of Liberty Campaign. We have a whole series of evolution missions that allow you to see some of the story of what it’s like to be the Zerg, where you’re seeking out and absorbing other life-forms, whether they are life-forms hidden in Terran labs or life-forms that are isolated on strange, lost, and exotic worlds, to give you that sense of consumption, conquering, and evolution through these types of missions. The mission mechanics themselves are focused on aggression, on attack, a lot more than they were in Wings of Liberty. We still have the occasional defensive mission Kerrigan has to deal with, but we are trying to do everything we can to push the idea that Kerrigan’s on the offensive, that the Zerg are attacking and overcoming their enemies. There'll still be absolute threats they have to deal with but, you know, in the Terran Campaign it was often very Starship Troopers. You’re behind your Bunkers with your Siege Tanks fighting off waves and waves of enemy attackers, and we are trying to sort of get away from that in Heart of the Swarm and make the missions much more about you being aggressive, and hunting down and destroying anyone who would dare to stand against you. And in the final way I think that we’re trying to get the sense of Zerg units into the campaign is through the story itself. You know, Kerrigan has a much darker story than Raynor had. She has problems that Raynor never had to deal with. I think players will see, but this is my opinion, obviously you want to see when you actually play it. But I think players will see that Raynor’s a little naive in how he thinks, what he thinks it means to be Kerrigan. Kerrigan has problems that Raynor doesn't begin to understand. She is dealing as the Queen Goddess of the Zerg, the level of responsibility, the threats that she faces, you know? Raynor has one Battlecruiser and he’s going to "take on Mengsk", that's his big day. Kerrigan is dealing with legions of Zerg, an entire Protoss race wants to kill her, personally, for the things that she has done. And so I think it should be a much darker, more difficult experience and Kerrigan, in many cases, is going to be asked and is going to make choices that Raynor would never make. Very dark, dangerous, scary choices. Choices where the line between good and evil is very muddy or difficult to really determine, "Who is at right here?" “Who is at fault?” "What should be done?" Raynor would always find the way out to make the right choice, but Kerrigan doesn't always have that option. She has to exist in a much darker, more desperate, more serious world than Raynor’s ever had to deal with.
Crota: Another Question. We found out you can actually lose Kerrigan, but all of a sudden the mission doesn't stop. Is there lore based upon or is that something that is going to be disabled for Brutal, and say Brutal is the true lore?
Dustin Browder: No, we feel that Kerrigan's revival is a natural part of her abilities as the Queen of Blades. That's something she can develop as she regains her power within the Swarm. We saw this throughout the last mission in Wings of Liberty. The killing of Kerrigan is a little bit more challenging than just destroying her mortal form, that you have to do maybe a lot more than that ultimately to wipe her out. And so we’ve brought this mechanic forward. Obviously it helps us a lot with the campaign, but it is part of the experience, of the game, part of the lore.
Crota: So, how would one kill Kerrigan? You said that the entire Protoss race wants to kill Kerrigan. How would one kill Kerrigan?
Dustin Browder: That's something we haven't revealed yet, what you would do to kill Kerrigan. I could hypothesize with you ways that you could potentially do that, but I imagine it would involve the destruction of her hatchery, all nearby hatcheries, and her, all at the same time, in a place where her consciousness could not really get back to any place where she can revitalize herself and continue forward.
Cable: Are there a lot of decision-making branches within the single-player in Heart of the Swarm, kind of like what we saw in Wings of Liberty?
Dustin Browder: So there’s a couple of differences in the way we built the campaign in Heart of the Swarm we didn’t in Wings of Liberty. Some of this was based off feedback we had but some of it was also based on the story that we ended up telling. Kerrigan is very driven. She is not exploring the galaxy in kind of like a mercenary, "Maybe I’ll go here, I'll take this job, I’ll take that job." She has a quest. Stuff that she wants to get done. So at the end of the day we decided that all 20 missions are going to be required. There’s no optional missions in Heart of the Swarm. Everything in the game you must play if you want to see the final missions, but we still have the choice of what order you do things in. So you can choose which world to go to, in which order. There are some worlds that come later in the campaign, so there’s still some choice in there. I would say overall it's a little less loose than Wings of Liberty was, so there’s a little bit less of “this or that”. You choose less often, but at whole, certainly our belief is, the choices feel a lot more significant when you do make them.
Cable: What was the primary focus when you guys were developing the Heart of the Swarm expansion?
Dustin Browder: Oh, I don't know how to answer that. “What was our primary focus for Heart of the Swarm?” One of the things that I think we’re trying to do with Heart of the Swarm and what we do with a lot of our expansions is trying to hit every type of player out there. We are trying to hit the multiplayer gamer, we are trying to hit the player who loves arcade games, we are trying to hit the player who loves the campaign experience, we are trying to get players who want to play by themselves, players who want to play socially. StarCraft is much bigger than one game. There are many many games smashed together in this experience and some players come to StarCraft only for one small part. Some players only play multi and some players only play campaign, and so, we are trying to provide something of quality for each one of these types of players so that they have a positive experience. They have a reason to be excited about Heart of the Swarm.
Crota: Alright, you mentioned Blizzard Arcade and I think a lot of players out there are waiting for Blizzard All-Stars. Any word on where that is? We’ve heard there’s been redesigns, revamps, back to the drawing boards?
Dustin Browder: I don't think we’ve been back to the drawing board on All-Stars. We’ve certainly done a lot of work on it. We still got a prototype team who’s doing a lot of really great work on that game. One of our goals at Blizzard is always "easy to learn and impossible to master", you know, is one of our goals in creating these games. I think we’re starting to get to that point. A lot of the decisions that we’re offering players in All-Stars now are very crisp but very difficult. It's very easy to see the decision you understand, that you understand we’re asking you to choose, but the decision itself is incredibly challenging to actually make, where it depends greatly on what's going on in the game at the time. And so, you have to really analyze the game and go, “Wow, what's the right choice right now?” I think they’re doing a lot of great work, but we don't have a whole front end up and running yet, we don't have a lot of the stuff around the game that would allow us to put it out there and show it to you guys and see what you think. We are very excited about it and we’re starting to really dial in that experience of what it feels like to hunt down Arthas as Nova, or what it feels like for Kerrigan to be attacking Thrall. We’re starting to get a sense of all these heros mashing together, it’s starting to feel really good, and we’re starting to get a really tight multiplayer experience which I think is potentially worthy of a Blizzard product. But we’re not really there yet. So, just as soon as we get anything that’s sort of in that position, we’ll start talking about alphas and betas and get it out to people as fast as possible and start getting that feedback to really help us polish and tune and create that final product.
Crota: Any timeline on when you expect...
Dustin Browder: No, there's no way to know yet, right?
Crota: It's ready when it's ready?
Dustin Browder: It’s ready when it’s ready, but that’s not just something we say to people. "Ready when it's ready" is a philosophy here at Blizzard, something we live by. We haven't gone to wide alpha even within internally yet. So I need to go to an alpha internally with All-Stars, and then we can look at it and people here will tell us honestly, "Wow, you really got to get this out there, but I have some doubts..." You know? It’s very important to go through that process in a very natural way. Hopefully here in the near future, I don't know exactly when, we'll get to that space, we can do the internal alpha, and that wouldn’t form a lot more. If that alpha goes badly we’re going back to do a bunch of work. But if the alpha goes very, very well then we are closer and closer to shipping.
Crota: Alright, now moving onto some multiplayer and e-sports questions. How would you gage your success in StarCraft: Wings of Liberty and what has been your goal for Heart of the Swarm in terms of making all these units, whether or not they are going to be accepted, and whether or not the e-sports community is even going to move to Heart of the Swarm or if they are going to stay with Wings of Liberty, since that option is out there for them?
Dustin Browder: Sure. For us the success we had in Heart of the Swarm was well beyond where we imagined it could be...
Crota: Wings of Liberty?
Dustin Browder: Wings of Liberty, excuse me... We launched Wings of Liberty, we imagined that we would get maybe 100 guys in Europe or the United States to watch the e-sport event, wouldn’t that be awesome. Cause you have to remember back, that was the case. There wasn’t a huge history of massive e-sports events here in the States or in Europe. They were starting to happen a little bit, some with Quake, a little bit with Halo, and MLG was really out there trying really hard and there was some stuff going on, but then we saw when StarCraft came along, and our fans came out to support it. We saw this massive amounts of growth in e-sport, which I really think the StarCraft fans should take a lot of credit for. They built this. They are the ones that got everybody to noticed that e-sports was a thing, that this had to be real and this was... They really added a lot of firepower but there was an e-sport scene, absolutely, before StarCraft II, I'm not trying to say there wasn't. But the StarCraft II fans, I think, really really added a lot of weight to that scene. So, I feel like StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty was very successful in that sense, in helping promote StarCraft II again as an e-sport and raising e-sport into the consciousness of a lot of people in general, whether they be developers, or players, or the mainstream media, and anybody else.
For Heart of the Swarm, the more I look at it, the more confidence I have. We have tools in Heart of the Swarm we do not have in Wings of Liberty to balance this game. There is no really strong weapon we can point towards Brood Lord in Protoss vs Zerg in Wings of Liberty. There just isn't. I guess we could maybe make the Void Ray even better, but that’s going to cause us problems in a lot of other areas. But now we have Tempest, which gives us the ability, whether it's working today or not, we have the ability to balance that unit in such a way that Brood Lord has a threat on the field in tier 3 for Protoss. Which, again, reduces a lot of the pressure we have in the game right now. Right now, Brood Lord Infestor had better work. What else is Zerg supposed to do? Otherwise they are in a lot of trouble. We could totally tune Brood Lord and Infestor and we’ll totally do that, but we’re in kind of a tough spot. In Heart of the Swarm, we have many more tools now to deal with a lot of these threats. We got a better understanding of the gameplay experience and we are able to tune now for the map sizes that we’re seeing in the wild today. When we originally made Heart of the Swarm we were tuning for Lost Temple, and we’ve left Lost Temple behind how many months ago? Years ago? Lost temple is gone. Right? Both in spirit and in form, it is gone. We are dealing with maps that are way, way bigger. So this gives us some benefits in the sense that a lot of the worker rushes we used to see in the older days of Wings of Liberty are gone. Thank god, right. Who misses those? Sometimes they’re cute, but you don't want to see them every third game. “Oh, here comes the Terrans with seven marines and 15 workers and ok.” Right? That was awful. So the large maps have saved us from a lot of that and they’ve increased the amount of defensiveness in the game, because the map is a kind of defense just in terms of its size. And it’s given us this benefit of seeing a lot more units in the game and a lot of tier 3 armies, which is always very exciting to watch. The downside is that it’s allowed a lot of these races, Zerg in particular, to play very greedy and there’s not a lot of tools the other races have at this point to really, really threaten them. But now, we can put in things like the Oracle. We can put in things like regenerating our Mutalisks. We can put in things that can really punish players. We can put in Siege Tanks with earlier siege mode, because the maps are so large it's not the end of the world. You know? So we can tune for this game. I mean, maybe all of those are bad, we don't know for sure yet, we are still in the beta. But we can tune for the large maps in a very meaningful way without upsetting the entire e-sports scene, which is what would happen right now. I can't go into Wings of Liberty to start messing around with the numbers higgledy-piggledy. Every decision has to be as careful as we can make it. Ultimately, as small as we can make it so we’d not do too much damage to the gameplay experience. But for Heart of the Swarm, we have a beta. We can really try some stuff and we can really tune for these maps. I think when you combine the fact that we are adding more tools, when you combine the fact that we can now tune for the map sizes that we are all planning to play on for quite some time, when you combine the fact that we have two years of learning on e-sports behind the scenes. We had no e-sports of any significance for this specific game. We had Brood War experience we could look at, but the game’s already so different. Now we have many, many years, two and a half years of e-sports behind us that we can use to leverage. The fact that I can go home and watch guys like Grubby and Idra stream Heart of the Swarm tonight and factor that into our balance for changes we want to make tomorrow. I think it's going to be a way more balanced experience than anything we could possibly have done in Wings of Liberty. I'm just not at all nervous that people won’t want to play it. I think it's going to be a way better game.
Crota: What do you think the average gameplay, like the average game life, will be in e-sports. Alright, so what do you think the average game length will be now. With the increased map sizes and Zergs being greedy, what have you guys seen to be a favourable product? I know no one wanted to see the seven-minute worker rush...
Dustin Browder: Four-minute worker rush... Yeah that's really awful. I feel if you got to a fifteen or twenty minute game as an average it's going to feel good.
Crota: Real-time or StarCraft time?
Dustin Browder: Real-time. I think that's going to be a more favourable experience, but obviously what you want is some variation. You want to have the occasional six minute game and you want to have the occasional forty-five minute game, a really epic game. But that’s always forever been our goal and I think that works for playing on the ladder and I think it works for e-sports as well.
Cable: Will we see any more new units?
Dustin Browder: No. We are pretty convinced. Not locked in stone. If we see something different we’ll change our minds, but right now there are no plans for any additional units.
Cable: You brought up the new skins that will be unlockable achievements based on your levels. Will those transition at all into micro-transactions in the future?
Dustin Browder: That's not our plan. We have no intention at this time of making skins a micro-transaction experience for StarCraft. There's a number of concerns. One is just the clarity, the readability of the experience. StarCraft plays way fast. Even these skins I'm nervous about and we are going to be studying them very, very closely to make sure that we haven't made any egregious errors in the clarity in looking at these units, whether there's an upgrade on that unit or what. Because we do use the art to indicate upgrades to players quite a bit. You know, the shields on Marines, that kind of thing. So we have to be very, very careful not to do damage with that. And also, artists have spent a lot of time making sure the game looks good as it is. If we start changing all the art out they have no confidence that they’re going to be able to make it as polished as they are. We are really looking at it as a light reward at the top end of this achievement system. We are not really at this time planning to have 50 more of these as rewards or certainly 50 more that we are going to sell to anybody. That’s not really our intent. Our intent is just to offer this as a small reward as part of this achievement system.
Crota: Will there be an option to view everything as base? Let's say you are Idra and you hate anything extra on the game.
Dustin Browder: I’ve had this feedback twice today now, “Will there be an option to turn everything on as base so you don’t see the skins at all. I don't think we have a plan for that. I think our hope is they’re not obnoxious enough that that will be a problem, but I'll certainly take that feedback and will be something we’ll talk about.
Cable: Two more e-sports type questions. First is, "Will we see any stream links or embeds into the Heart of the Swarm client?"
Dustin Browder: We don't have the ability or the techonology right now to allow you to embed the streams directly into the client, but that's something we’d like to talk about, something we’d like to look at going forward.
Cable: And the last one is, "What are Blizzard's goals with regards to e-sports for Heart of the Swarm, and will Blizzard be taking the same, more, or less of an active role in e-sports?"
Dustin Browder: That's a good question. I don't know exactly what our plans are for e-sports yet, for even this coming year. We are still in many ways still discussing the aftermath of BWC and how we thought about how these events worked. We’re still getting feedback from a lot of people around the world about internally what they thought, how this worked, how much effort it was, and what we want to do for the future. Our commitment to e-sports is absolute. We feel like this is an entertainment form. It is beautiful and wonderful and amazing, and it brings people together from all over the world and it's an absolute blast. You know, Mike Morhaime is a huge e-sports fan, he asks me all the time if I saw the match last night, I've been to his house to watch GSL finals. You know, the leadership of Blizzard is absolutely commited to e-sports, but specifically what our role is?. I don't know personally what it is yet. I don't know that everybody at Blizzard even knows yet. There're lots of ideas for things we could be doing to help. One of our concerns of course is, this is a ecosystem and this is an ecosystem where people, who are hardworking people, are doing everything they can to make a high-quality product. And if we come in and start throwing our weight around too much, we could damage it. We could convince people, "Ahh, Blizzard is just going to make me do what they want to do! I don't have any choice here, why am I even doing this anymore?" We could make a mistake and tell people to do the wrong thing which actually hurts their viewership. At the same time, if we do nothing, that seems... there might be things we can do that are positive in the space, so we’re really trying to be careful and not screw it up. I guess this is the short answer. Make sure we don't do anything that upsets the viewers, or the casters, or the players, or the tournament organizers. You know, I went to a e-sports conference in Valencia last year which was hugely useful for us to get feedback from these guys and talk to them directly and get a sense from them what they were looking for from us, the type of leadership that they would want us to take and I know that we have people here in the organization that are still actively talking to those people, trying to work out with them what makes the most sense.
Crota: Is Blizzard going to do another World Championship?
Dustin Browder: I don't know.
Bob Calayco: We’ll get to that in the coming weeks.
Crota: Did you find it successful?
Dustin Browder: Yeah, it was cool. Blizzard World Championship was a total blast. We sort of made our share of mistakes in it and we certainly learned a lot in the process. I don't want to say we were perfect by any stretch and we had a lot of challenges with it as well. Certainly we had a lot of positive feedback, especially the European series seemed to go very very well. A lot of very positive feedback from our European office and from European players. That was a lot of fun and I certainly think we could learn from that going forward.
Cable: As a pretty active member of the community, especially with regards to BarCraft, I can tell you a lot of people think it was one of the most important, most meaningful tournament of all so far.
Crota: If you’re looking for praise, I’ve only heard praise for it.
Cable: Everyone says this means something. “He is a world champion.” My other question is, what do you feel about the saturation level of e-sports events because there has been comments that Blizzard could help decrease the oversaturation by guarding it a little better?
Bob Calayco: We don’t really have firm answers to these kind of questions. What I would just look back at, Mike made some comments toward the end of WCS and maybe in some interviews afterwards, what everyone agrees on is, tournament organizers, players, like, people in the ecosystem asked us to take a more active role and create more structure. WCS was a step toward that. What we are doing in 2013 and the specific answers to these questions, we haven't arrived to that, but we’re actively speaking with all these people in this space right now. So, too long; didn’t read: we don't have the firm answer today, but hopefully really soon we can come back to you guys.
Crota: Alright. Well, hopefully soon, and hopefully you invite us back. Thanks again.