I rank the patience of Blizzard fans right up there with the Duke Nukem Forever crowd. Perfection takes time, we get that, but those who believed that the episodic design of Starcraft II would enable quick releases might be disappointed to learn that the next installment is likely still at least another 18 months off.
Speaking at GDC 2010 in Austin Texas, Battle.net project director Greg Canessa mapped out the timeline for new online features, but accidentally hinted at the release date for Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm during question period. Based on the timelines Canessa discussed, it appears as though we could be looking at an April 2012 ship date for the second chapter in the Starcraft trilogy.
This is bad news for single player fans, but Canessa tried to raise spirits by detailing several improvements planned for Battle.net between now and the release of the sequel. Blizzard plans to patch in support for replay trading, broadcasting, and even a full overhaul to the profile configurator. If we use 18 months as our benchmark for each episode, then gamers should expect to see the Starcraft II story wrapping up sometime in the 2014/2015 timeframe. By then I fully expect to have a CPU core for each and every Zergling. The race is on Blizzard!
You know, Activison CEO Bobby Kotick, maybe we were wrong about you. You've said some pretty ridiculous things in the past, but now you've gone and mentioned a StarCraft movie. Perhaps its time we learn to forgive and forge... wait. What did you just say? Sorry, what?!
"If we were to take that hour, or hour and a half [of StarCraft II cut-scenes], take it out of the game, and we were to go to our audiences for whom we have their credit card information as well as a direct relationship and ask, 'Would you like to have the StarCraft movie?', my guess is that ... you'd have the biggest opening weekend of any film ever," he said during Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference (via Gamasutra).
"Within the next five years, you are likely to see us do that. That may be in partnership with somebody, it may be alone," he added.
Oh, but that's not all. Instead of hitting the big screen, Kotick plans to put these suckers online, where he hopes the other kind of sucker – you know, the kind far richer in wallet than common sense – will spend up to $20 or $30 to watch them. So basically, he wants to charge more for less.
We could fill an entire book with ways this idea could go horribly wrong, but instead, we'll sum it up with one word: Youtube.
You've probably heard the little devil on your shoulder whispering in your ear on at least a couple occasions: “It's easy. You'll finally get to taste victory against those jerks with no lives who make your life miserable. And besides, you don't even know them. Who cares if they're not having fun?” Now though, there's one pretty major argument against all those tiny temptations: If you get caught cheating in StarCraft II, Blizzard's gonna huff, puff, and blow your StarCraft II account down.
“If a StarCraft II player is found to be cheating or using hacks or modifications in any form, then as outlined in our end user license agreement, that player can be permanently banned from the game. This means that the player will be permanently unable to log in to Battle.net to play StarCraft II with his or her account,” Blizzard said in a recent statement.
“If a Battle.net account is banned, a player will no longer have access to the single and multiplayer content,” the developer later clarified to PC Gamer.
So basically, Blizzard has your hard-earned cash hostage, dangling over a pit of flames. You cheat, and snap! That thin cord holding it aloft tears in two, and you lose every last dime you spent on your copy of StarCraft II. Not to mention, of course, your progress, achievements, win-loss record, etc. Everything goes down the drain. Which, honestly, still doesn't sound quite as good as our preferred cheat deterrent of allowing us to personally punch each and every cheater in the face, but until we can work out the logistical kinks in that plan, this will have to do.
It's pitch black, and your teeth are chattering so loudly that you barely even notice the three simultaneous heart attacks you're having as you creep through the tall grasses of an open field. Suddenly, the bushes behind you rustle. You jerk your head so quickly that your body nearly doesn't get the chance to follow, as the hulking, foreboding figure of a baby bunny hops out from the bush. Phew. Heart attack number four averted. For now. You wipe the sweat from your brow – which, at this particular moment, is the world's most accurate model of what would happen if the polar ice caps actually melted – and continue onwards.
For about two feet. That's when you see it. Yep, there it is – right in front of you. Oh sweet mother of mercy. No, no – not the sprinting, groaning gray guy who's licking his unhinged chops and eying your neck. I'm talking about the thing behind him. That's right: a thermos full of coffee! Finally! Awesome! Sorry Mr. terrifying zombie man; just a second. You see, I need that coffee for an achievement.
The game in question? Alan Wake, a game quite capable of keeping you on the edge of your seat right up until the moment it spills hot coffee all over your lap. And it's certainly not alone. For the longest time, triple-A games polished their graphics and tweaked their ambient bunny-in-a-bush sounds in pursuit of a holy grail known simply as “immersion.” Gamers wanted it; game developers wanted it – for everything around the player to just melt away. To be utterly, hopelessly, and completely lost in the game world, without even the thinnest bread crumb trail back to reality. These days, though, immersion is about as prized as an airplane seat surrounded by screaming babies with no nearby emergency exit to fling yourself from. Or at least, it certainly seems that way.
We don’t typically report on the release of beta video card drivers, but ATI has slipped in an awesome new feature that is probably worth it if you’re playing Starcraft II. Catalyst 10.7a brings driver level Anti-Alliasing support that can be enabled through the Catalyst Control Center and helps to smooth out all the jagged edges for those who like to zoom in on the action.
Driver level forced AA support comes with a bit of a performance hit over a native implementation that could have been done by Blizzard, but if you’re rocking a relatively modern 5xxx series card you have more than enough spare horsepower to make this work.
Admittedly Nvidia has had support for this feature from day one, but ATI was curiously silent on the issue leading us to believe Radeon owners would have to do without. We are glad to hear this isn’t the case, and its certainly worth checking out if you have ATI hardware.
You could be forgiven for thinking that even Blizzard – perhaps the only company more powerful than the natural disaster it's named after – might not escape a run-in with and subsequent buy-out by Activision unscathed. After all, if the Infinity Ward fiasco proved anything, it's that Activision isn't afraid to bust down the doors and assert control when it feels like things aren't going its way. But unless Activision's got some kind of 24-hour hypno-ray constantly blasting Blizzard's offices, it sounds like Activision has yet to recreate the Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo developer in its image.
“Since we had our merger with Activision, it hasn’t changed anything at Blizzard,” Blizzard VP Michael Ryder told MCV. “We operate in pretty much the same way we already have. Since we have been working with Activision we continue to be who we are. We make the same decisions in the same way we always have, and the relationship with Activision hasn’t changed that.”
“For example, one of our values is that gameplay is supremely important. We talk about play nice and play fair, which has to do how we work with each other and our partners. Preserving that culture is a key part of our ability to continue to deliver great games. We nurture it, protect it and take care of it as much as we can, because it is a big part of who we are.”
So yeah, if you thought Activision might have been pulling the strings behind the whole Real ID debacle, this seems to suggest that you were wrong. Granted, we're not ready to about-face and start handing out fliers for St. Activision's Church just yet. After all, what happens when Blizzard starts pitching something that doesn't fit nicely into its steady diet of Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo? If the goose stops laying golden eggs, will its goose be cooked? Tough to say. Hopefully we'll get a definitive answer when Blizzard reveals that new MMO it's been working on.
July 27, 2010. Hordes upon throngs upon crowds upon oodles upon gobs of people have been waiting for this day, and we’re not just talking about Trainz Simulator’s incredibly devoted contingent of hardcore coal-shovelers. “Hell, it’s about time,” you probably said aloud to yourself as you slipped out of bed this morning. And yeah, it was cheesy and lame, but you don't care, because you're mere seconds, minutes, or hours away from finally playing StarCraft II.
Are you ready, though? Like, really actually ready? It’s been 12 long years since StarCraft first came out, after all. You’re probably so rusty that you’ve officially been declared the world’s first walking tetanus hazard. If only you had some sort of guide – some kind of Internet roadmap that’d put you back on the right track to StarCraft mastery.
Hey, look over there! Just beyond that break. Is that…? It is! Lucky day, huh?
We're sure Blizzard spared no expense giving the StarCraft franchise a modern makeover, but the developer won't be hearing any disembodied voices warning of depleted minerals or vespene gas any time soon. See, as it turns out, The Wall Street Journal made a teensy-weensy $100 million dollar-sized mistake.
“Activision Blizzard Inc. hasn't disclosed development costs for its Starcraft II videogame. A July 16 Technology article about the Starcraft sequel incorrectly said the company spent more than $100 million to develop the game; that figure referred to its World of Warcraft game,” reads a correction on The Wall Street Journal's site.
It's okay, WSJ. Easy mistake. Here's a pointer for next time, though: all three of Blizzard's franchises are cash cows, but only one of them lets you play as an actual cow. Then again, another one has a cow level. Huh, maybe our cow-based organization system could use a little more work.
Starcraft is arguably the most popular game of all time, and certainly one of the most enduring. Will the sequel live up to the original? Blizzard certainly thinks so, which would explain why the developer has spent over $100 million on the project thus far, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
"There is no shortage of consumers for Starcraft," Activision Chief Executive Bobby Kotick said in an interview last month. "For a game that is more than 10 years old, there's millions of people still playing it.
Despite the big budget, Activision-Blizzard fully expects the Starcraft franchise to rake in up to ten times as much in profits. Kotick described Starcraft as one of the company's seven "pillars of opportunity" during an analyst meeting last month, and said that each pillar could deliver between $500 million and $1 billion of operating profit over its lifespan.
Interestingly, Starcraft II won't use a subscription model in the U.S., though the game will carry a monthly fee in other markets, such as Korea, WSJ reports.
We don’t usually bat an eyelash when a game’s official forum undergoes a policy change, but we’re making a special exception and batting harder than a mafia hitman against someone’s kneecaps at Blizzard’s decision to switch its forum over to a real ID system. In a nutshell, this means that in order to post on, say, the official World of Warcraft or StarCraft II forums, you’ll soon have to display your real name for all 11.5-million some-odd players to see.
“The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players -- however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild,” said Blizzard’s announcement of the change.
“Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.”
Makes enough sense at first glance, right? Look closer, though, and you’ll realize that Blizzard’s missing so many points that anyone not hiding behind a giant, red bull’s-eye probably oughta duck. Foremost, there’s the issue of potential identity theft or other forms of harassment. In this day and age, odds are, if you've got someone's name, you'll find a treasure trove of personal information waiting for you on Google. Also, in these games, you are your handle. You are your character. Why play an MMO if not to become part of another reality – live another life? Worst case scenario, having your real name attached to your character could even change how you act in-game.
On top of that, has Blizzard taken a look at its own game lately? Of course there’s conflict on your forums. It’s called World of Warcraft for Pete’s sake! The trolling, flaming, smack-talking, etc is symptomatic of WoW’s intrinsic, PvP-based design, and forcing players to display their real names isn’t going to change that.
Is general hostility and confrontation an issue in many gaming communities? Certainly. “Issue” is probably understating it, in fact. But this definitely won’t fix it. It will, however, in all likelihood turn Blizzard’s forum into a ghost town. Please, other developers, learn from Blizzard’s potentially community-destroying attempt to unify its community. Think about the consequences of such a huge change before you make it. Look before you leap.