Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Can Blizzard top itself with 'StarCraft 2?'

Rob Pardo talks about long development cycles — and keeping secrets

[source: MSNBC]

By Kristin Kalning
Games editor

Blizzard Entertainment is one of the most successful game developers in the world, with an unbroken string of hit games including “World of Warcraft,” the “Diablo” franchise, the “Warcraft” series and “StarCraft.”

The only hitch? The company famously will ship no game before its time, which means fans often have a long wait between new releases.

Ask any game fan which Blizzard sequel they’d most like to see and the answer will inevitably be “StarCraft 2,” even from the most hardcore “World of Warcraft” addict. Released in 1998, the real-time strategy game about a war between three galactic species is considered one of the greatest games of all time. "StarCraft," and the expansion “Brood Wars,” have sold nearly 10 million units.


What took so long? The first “StarCraft” shipped nine years ago. Why has it taken so long to circle back to this franchise?

Mainly because we make our decisions on what game we’re going to work on from a creative standpoint. The team that worked on the original “StarCraft” wanted to revisit the “Warcraft” universe, and they went on to work on “Warcraft 3.” When that game finished up [in 2002,] they were excited to go back and work on the “StarCraft” universe.

We did break ground on “StarCraft 2” in 2003, but wasn’t in full production for another year or so.

How’d you manage to keep it secret for so long?

Well, Penny Arcade figured it out!

We keep games under code names and we teach developers to refer to games by their code name. And we’re just really careful about talking about the game internally. We don’t bring external folks through unannounced product areas. But I think even I’m surprised that we were able to keep it under wraps all the way to the end.

Speaking of secrets, what is your timeline for release for “StarCraft 2?”

It’s a secret! I can give you the old Blizzard mantra of: “It’ll ship when it’s ready,” but it’s something that historically, we’ve learned to keep release dates really close to the vest. I think all game developers are extremely optimistic, and we used to give optimistic dates and we’d disappoint our fans when we didn’t hit them. So now, I think we’ve just gotten more gun shy. The only thing I can give you [that’s] concrete is it’s not going to be this year. Some people were hoping, because of how advanced the game looks, that we’d have it out by Christmas, but that’s definitely not happening.


Are all of the key roles filled on the “StarCraft 2” team? And what’s the size of the team now that it’s in full production?

All the key roles are filled, and we’re running approximately 40 people.


“StarCraft 2”s biggest competitor probably is “StarCraft.” How will you top that game and convince players that this isn’t just “StarCraft” in 3-D?

That’s a really good question. It’s not so much beating “StarCraft” that’s the problem, it’s beating people’s perception and nostalgia of “StarCraft.” “StarCraft” was and is a great game, but it’s certainly an older game. Across the board, “StarCraft 2” is a better game in a lot of ways.

Will it live up to that nostalgia? Time will tell.

What new technologies can players expect to see in “StarCraft 2?”

The first one is an enormous graphical improvement by going to 3-D.

We’ve also added things like a physics system in the game…we’re not really utilizing it for gameplay as much as for graphical improvement. Like, you’ll see things like debris that will actually fall apart, which adds more immersion and a lot more realism.

Online, we’ve learned a lot. In the original “StarCraft,” there was no online matchmaking system. That’s going to be huge…for “StarCraft 2.” In “Warcraft 3,” you had to press the “play game” button and it’d put you in a game with similarly skilled people. We’re going to do yet another improvement on that system for “StarCraft 2,” which is going to be huge for the online market — especially broad market users.


Given the popularity of “WoW,” do you have any plans to go to subscription model with “StarCraft 2” or any subsequent releases?

We’re going to do what’s right for the game. We made “WoW” to be a subscription game from the very beginning. With “StarCraft 2” it’s probably going to follow more of a box model. But we’ll decide more of that stuff down the line. is pretty expensive to maintain, isn’t it?

It’s not as expensive as “WoW” to maintain! (Laughs)


But no fourth race?

No fourth race. We talked a lot about it. We ultimately decided we wanted to focus on the three races we had.

Will Blizzard remain a PC developer?

I don’t know. If you talk to our biz guys, they like the PC for a lot of reasons, but we don’t make our decisions based entirely on business or even primarily on business. We make our decisions based on the games we want to make. After that point, we make the decision on [what system] that game is going to live. And up to this point, the games we wanted to make worked best on the PC.

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