BlizzCon 2011: StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm preview

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After teasing StarCraft II fans with the prospect of expansion packs over a year ago and a trailer earlier this past summer, Blizzard Entertainment used its annual BlizzCon fan festival to unveil the latest details on Heart of the Swarm. Chris Sigaty, production designer on StarCraft II, said the event makes the perfect announcement platform because Blizzard can get immediate feedback from its most passionate fans.

Players are a resource

For Sigaty, the most exciting part of BlizzCon was watching the opening ceremony with the introduction of the multiplayer units. He said the cheers from the crowd that erupted were particularly gratifying as a developer.

From a multiplayer perspective, Blizzard has been paying very close attention to its fans. Sigaty said that doesn’t necessarily mean that when people say, “I want a new Oracle unit on the Protoss,” that they deliver that. By watching fans’ games, listening and observing, the team found niches that they feel will help enhance the races, while still continuing to keep their diversity.

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“Multiplayer-wise, we’re revamping a lot of abilities and units, and even removing some units in multiplayer for Heart of the Swarm,” said Sigaty. “We just announced our multiplayer units (check out our in-depth look at the new multiplayer units) for StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and players were able to play them and give us that feedback prior to beta. It gives us a great opportunity to get insights before we head out into beta. Hopefully, we’re ahead of the game as a result.”

StarCraft II is adding things across the board,” said Sigaty. “We feel like there’s lots of different customers for StarCraft II. There are the players that are into it for the campaign. There are the players that are in there for the super-competitive multiplayer gaming experience. Then a whole group of players in there for custom games and the experience around things like DOTA-style games, Tower Defense games, or the Star Jewel game that we released ourselves.”

Refining the swarm

Attendees at the convention were able to get hands-on play of the campaign, which was the first time U.S. gamers were able to have that opportunity. They were also able to experience some of the changes Blizzard made across the story mode of the campaign.

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“With the Campaign, we’ve got to continue the story from Wings of Liberty into Heart of the Swarm and focus on Kerrigan and her story, while rallying around the Zerg,” said Sigaty. “We’ve generally known where we’re going with the story and want to deliver the rest of the story to people. That was something that was a no-brainer. We are also working on things you see all the time. We’ve added a bunch of features across the last year, including chat channels. We’ve made some changes to the mechanics of how you evolve your swarm, so there are some features there on the campaign side. Anywhere we could find them, we listened to fans to make improvements while still continuing to develop our games.”

Enter the Arcade

Blizzard also talked about the StarCraft II online service. The customer game interface, which previously had been called the Marketplace, has been renamed Arcade. Sigaty said this is the new custom game interface that will launch with Heart of the Swarm for StarCraft II.

“Basically, it’s a revamp of how custom games and surface content is seen by the players,” said Sigaty. “You have to dive through a lot of menus to find that stuff today. It’s much more in-your-face and easier for people that are looking for new games through StarCraft II in there. From a features standpoint, we’re adding reviews, and rating systems. There’s a five-star system that we can then use to surface content. If it’s great content, but maybe isn’t being seen by a lot of people or isn’t popular, we can still surface that content because it got high stars. There are lots of different ways to get into games. We’ve also added a bunch of tools for mod makers so they can make higher quality content as they move forward.”

After years of waiting for new game experiences from Blizzard, fans are finally getting a steady influx of new material from the developer. And the second StarCraft II expansion pack is still in the works, bringing the trilogy to a culmination in a few years.

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