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Screenshot album.
http://picasaweb.google.com/russell.glasser/StarcraftIIScree...

The shots are pretty basic, if you ask for anything specific then I will get it to you later.

As advertised, Starcraft II plays very much like the original. Other than a polished PVP experience, the functionality of the beta is pretty basic. There's no single player yet, and the AI is abysmal. Explicitly so, in fact. If you try to play a game with computer opponents or allies, you get a drop box indicating computer skill level. "Very Easy" is the only option for now.

The way the new Battle.net is set up, you get five rounds of practice matches. I won the majority of these, four single player and one 2v2. I also played two 2v2 matches with a guy I know, and we got beaten badly. Not the guy's fault, as he builds faster than me; we were just out of the practice league and into the harder players.

After the practice matches you get ten "placement" rounds where you are not officially on the ladder yet, they are just telling you where you will land in the pecking order. Based on my first placement game this morning, Terran vs. Protoss, I will wind up pretty low. I'm hopeful, though, that after getting humiliated a few more times, I will be placed against players who are as bad as I am.

Remember that this game is Starcraft, not Warcraft III, so emphasis is on building lots and lots and LOTS of units. The player who crushed me this morning was kind enough to explain that most players will rush with zealots, zerglings, or roaches, so as Terran I have to wall off my base entrance. I built two barracks and it wasn't nearly enough to crank out as many units as I should have been building. Too much money unspent. Bad sign.

Once you get deep into the tech tree, you'll probably be as lost as I was for the first few games. So rather than trying to explain high end units that I don't understand yet anyway, I'll focus on what's the same and different about the early tree and the interface.

Terran: Most unit production buildings, such as barracks, have two addons. There's a tech lab, which allows you to build advanced units as well as research special upgrades (i.e., stimpack, siege mode), and there's a reactor, which allows you to build only the basic units but lets you make two at once. In other words, you can have a barracks which acts like two barracks as long as you only want marines; or you can have a barracks which lets you build the tougher guys like marauders (SC2's less lame version of firebats). But not both.

The Terran core gameplay is exactly what you remember at the early stage. Build supply depots and barracks, then build an engineering bay for upgrades and a factory to unlock the next technology tier, then a starport for ships. Refinery over a gas vent. The main point of interest at this stage is that all the starting locations that I've seen have two gas vents instead of one.

Instead of creating a comsat facility on the side of your command center, you have a choice to upgrade the center itself to either an orbital command center or a planetary fortress. The orbital CC can do radar scans, but it can also use energy to order an extra-efficient worker with temporary life, or get instant supplies. The planetary fortress has more health and a defensive cannon. So basically, lots of buildings give you choices where you can take one useful thing or the other. Also, it seems like all three races have some kind of extra early defensive ability to defend against rushes (such as the fortress).

The basic terran plane is a transformer; in addition to flying, it can turn itself into a ground based robot. Pretty cool.

Protoss: I spent the least amount of time on the Protoss. The first time that you notice a difference in tech trees is after you build a cybernetics core. There are no shield batteries, and instead of the familiar dragoon we get a stalker (a similar ranged unit but a bit less bulky) and a sentry. The sentry, I think, is sort of a mobile shield battery. It's got an aura and some other defensive capabilities. I imagine you'd want a couple with every group of zealots. You can also research hallucination ability, so the templar don't have to do it.

The progression after that is still similar; you have a stargate, a pre-templar building, and a robotics facility at tier two, and then you have another building to improve each one separately. There are no reavers; they are replaced by the big mech things.

The other thing the protoss get is a mothership, but you have to get a stargate and a fleet beacon, which basically means getting the same top level air tech that gets you to carriers. Only one mothership can exist at a time. It is very slow moving but packs a huge punch. You do not want to get yours killed.

Zerg: OMG, I love the new zerg graphics. They really get across the concept of creepy slimy crawling things. The Creep drifts outward smoothly in a gross looking way. At higher tech levels, overlords can make their own creep by shedding this gray residue on the ground. And when you build a gas extractor, at first the only things you see are little tendrils snaking through the gas vent and encircling it. I included a screenshot of an extractor being built.

Fans of zerg will notice that when you select eggs from a hatchery and press a key to make units, it only morphs one egg at a time instead of all of them, but it leaves all the other eggs selected. So if you wanted to make a drone and two zergling pairs, you'd click the hatchery, press "S" to get a the eggs, and the press D, Z, Z. You can also still make a ton of units by tapping (for instance) Z rapidly.

The hydralisk has been moved to tier two, so you need a lair to get them. Early ranged attacks are handled by roaches, which gain health super quickly, especially when burrowed. They can also be upgraded to move while underground.

The hatchery can also directly generate a queen as soon as you have a spawning pool. Queens are completely different; they no longer fly, and they are pretty big. They are the Zerg's base support. They can use energy to imbue a hatchery with extra larva over a short period of time, so that you can get a hatchery with a total of seven larvae. They can also heal units, and spawn more creep. You probably need a queen at each hatchery because there are no more creep colonies; you can only generate creep from a hatchery, a queen, or (at the lair level) an overlord.

The queen is meant to be a base support unit, and this is expressed by the fact that they move a lot faster on creep than off it. Queens are birthed directly out of the hatchery and do not come from a larva, so making one won't slow down unit production. Expect to have one queen per base.

That's about all I have to say for now, unless I get questions.
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That's about all I have to say for now, unless I get questions.

The Big Question: How long do you think before it's ready for release?

Does it look polished enough that it's just a matter of balancing through Beta play testing and making sure Blizzardnet is ready to handle the load?

AI is probably still a work in progress.
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The Big Question: How long do you think before it's ready for release?

Does it look polished enough that it's just a matter of balancing through Beta play testing and making sure Blizzardnet is ready to handle the load?


Well, I did experience one 2v2 where my game locked up, and then when I restarted and got back online, my partner told me he had frozen out as well. So, one game-ending bug in about seven (?) matches so far. Other than that, during gameplay I haven't seen anything that I've noted as remotely buggy. It looks extremely solid to me at least.

Didn't get a chance to play much last night; I watched part of a replay and then played with Terrans a bit so I could click on them repeatedly and hear their "annoyed" sounds. It seems to me that Blizzard knows people like the annoyed sounds and added a lot more of them, like a dozen or so per character. While they were funny enough at the time, not many of them stuck with me. Some were variations on the speeches in the original SC, like the marine saying "Aw, I'm STILL stuck in this chicken**** operation!" Ghost says "You called down the thunder..." and then "...now deal with it." (Subversion of the assumption that he will say "now reap the whirlwind.")

A few minor odds and ends I didn't mention in my earlier post:

- Many maps have breakable rocks blocking key areas of the map. These serve partially the same function as creeps in Warcraft III. They don't fight you, but they provide an obstacle to getting somewhere. They have 2000 hit points, and it requires a sizable force of marines or the equivalent to get rid of them in a reasonable amount of time.

- There are patches of yellow minerals, which yield more minerals faster. These are good candidates for being behind the breakable rocks.

- Terran dropships double as medics now. They can heal units on the ground while hovering over them, for an energy cost of course. They are available from an unupgraded starport.

- Although they are ranged units, zerg roaches cannot hit air units as hydralisks can. I watched a replay where the player massed roaches. This seems like a popular thing to do.

- One of the things an orbital command center can do is upgrade any supply depot, doubling the supply provided. Thus, for an energy cost, you can save a lot on building depots.

- Supply depots can be ordered to drop into the ground, allowing your own troops to walk over them. Thus, you can build a depot wall and still get out of your own base.
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Love this stuff, thanks for the updates!

Questions will probably come as I think of them. First and foremost, any ideas on what the final specs will wind up looking like? Sounds like if you've had a crash already, the current specs for the beta aren't going to be adequate? My wife and I are going to take the money we're getting for annual bonuses and buy a new laptop. I want it capable of playing this game, so I'm trying to get a sense of what I'll need for that.

Have you had any matches where you and the other person agreed to resource hoard and build massive forces? I would think it'd be tough to get into producing and learning the more advanced units if everyone is rushing and trying to cripple? What happens if you rush and cripple them, and they drop out of the game? I think what happened in SC was a computer would take over, which would actually be a nice opportunity to leave them with a broken down force and allow you to explore creation of the bigger units and see what they all can do...

How receptive are they to feedback? Any word on how they're taking news about people being so upset with a lack of LAN support?

Again, thanks for the updates!

- C -
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Questions will probably come as I think of them. First and foremost, any ideas on what the final specs will wind up looking like? Sounds like if you've had a crash already, the current specs for the beta aren't going to be adequate? My wife and I are going to take the money we're getting for annual bonuses and buy a new laptop. I want it capable of playing this game, so I'm trying to get a sense of what I'll need for that.

Oh, the crash I encountered almost certainly was not a result of my system. I thought it might have been until my partner told me he crashed out of the same game. I think the game server dropped us, and the client didn't handle it gracefully, resulting in the same behavior for all players.

The only time I notice any performance issues at all on my Asus laptop is when I am watching a replay and crank the speed up to maximum (6 * normal speed). Then the framerate gets a little choppy, but this is obviously not normal competition conditions.

Speaking of replays, one other feature that I liked is that you get a slider bar to move the time backwards and forwards. You can see it if you look at some of my screenshots. The replay data obviously loads in sequentially, so you can't jump straight to the five minute mark; you have to watch it straight through the first time, but after that you can jump backwards if you wish to see an instant replay of one scene. There is like a second or two where it says "loading..." and then you go to approximately the part you slide to.

Have you had any matches where you and the other person agreed to resource hoard and build massive forces? I would think it'd be tough to get into producing and learning the more advanced units if everyone is rushing and trying to cripple? What happens if you rush and cripple them, and they drop out of the game? I think what happened in SC was a computer would take over, which would actually be a nice opportunity to leave them with a broken down force and allow you to explore creation of the bigger units and see what they all can do...

These are all strategy suggestions which are probably great ideas and way above my abilities in the game thus far. :) Right now I'm just proud of myself if I manage to keep cranking out workers, spend most of my money, and not panic about what to do next. In the 2v2 games I mentioned, what would frequently happen is that we would mass forces together in some particular spot, and then my partner would charge in without letting me know. I would invariably be fiddling with something in my base, so I'd go back to the action and see all his troops dead. Then I'd rush in after and die too. That's my brilliant tactics right there.

As I said, this is Starcraft and not Warcraft III. Battles are FAST. Fast enough that I usually don't know why I lost a skirmish when we appear to have about equal looking armies.

How receptive are they to feedback?

I don't know how receptive they are, so I'll just answer by referring you to the beta forums:
http://forums.battle.net/index.html?sid=5010

I don't remember having to log in before viewing it.

Any word on how they're taking news about people being so upset with a lack of LAN support?



Again, thanks for the updates!
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Oh sorry, hasty submit:

Any word on how they're taking news about people being so upset with a lack of LAN support?

Um, no idea. People have been upset with the lack of LAN support for a while. The first thing I have to do when I fire up the game is log in to Battle.net, which is now an extra hassle because I hooked up a Blizzard authenticator and have to fiddle with my six digit key every time. I don't know if this will change with the single player campaign, but from what I read, it sounds as if they really want to push this "always connected" feature, so that friends can see what you're doing and when you earn achievements and such.
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Speaking of replays, one other feature that I liked is that you get a slider bar to move the time backwards and forwards.

Okay, I'm gonna ask the maybe not-so-obvious follow-up question here and see whether or not you can post any video of replays?

Another question though this is more to satisfy curiousity than that it would have meaningful impact... When you replay, can you only watch what you viewed at the time? Or do you get to replay the match where you can see any spot on the map that was opened? i.e. Your partner rushes while you were fiddling at your base, can you replay it later to see what happened in the opponent's base when your partner rushed? Even beyond that, is the entire map open, such that you can watch video of how your opponent went about building their force? I would think something like that would be HUGELY beneficial, and frankly I'd probably watch video 3x whatever amount I was playing.

(Which basically means I'd need somewhere around 72 hours in a day...)

I don't know if this will change with the single player campaign, but from what I read, it sounds as if they really want to push this "always connected" feature, so that friends can see what you're doing and when you earn achievements and such.

Ugh... Hopefully it does. I don't really care to be connected all the time.

- C -
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Okay, I'm gonna ask the maybe not-so-obvious follow-up question here and see whether or not you can post any video of replays?

I'm pretty sure you wouldn't get much out of me posting MY videos, unless there is something specific you want to see. If it is possible, then a quick YouTube search should turn up much more interesting stuff.

Another question though this is more to satisfy curiousity than that it would have meaningful impact... When you replay, can you only watch what you viewed at the time? Or do you get to replay the match where you can see any spot on the map that was opened? i.e. Your partner rushes while you were fiddling at your base, can you replay it later to see what happened in the opponent's base when your partner rushed? Even beyond that, is the entire map open, such that you can watch video of how your opponent went about building their force? I would think something like that would be HUGELY beneficial, and frankly I'd probably watch video 3x whatever amount I was playing.

Have you played Warcraft III? Other than being able to scroll back and forth, the replays work pretty much the same.

But if you haven't I'll elaborate. When you go to a replay, you can scroll around the map freely, just as if you were in the game. By default you have an omnipotent perspective; you can see both players' bases and units. If you click on a player-owned object, you see their resources (minerals/gas/supply) on top of the screen.

When you select anything you can hover over the image on the control panel to get a tooltip on what the unit does, what its upgrades are, and what prerequisites are required to build it. This last part was not available in WC3 and is really handy for learning the tech trees. Objects you select will be marked with a solid circle, while objects that a player has selected will be a dotted circle of their team color.

You can also use a drop box to put you in one player's perspective or another. This does not change your camera position, but it does put that player's fog of war on you, and lock the display to that person's resources. You can also toggle fog on and off.

There is also a checkbox you can use to see your chosen player's camera position at all times, so you can watch the replay hands-free if you wish. I found this hard to follow, but I think some viewers like it.
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Awesome stuff, thanks a lot for sharing!

When you select anything you can hover over the image on the control panel to get a tooltip on what the unit does, what its upgrades are, and what prerequisites are required to build it. This last part was not available in WC3 and is really handy for learning the tech trees. Objects you select will be marked with a solid circle, while objects that a player has selected will be a dotted circle of their team color.

Do you have the ability to watch other players' games where you weren't a participating player? Or maybe, do you have the ability to join to watch a random game in progress to watch it?

There is also a checkbox you can use to see your chosen player's camera position at all times, so you can watch the replay hands-free if you wish. I found this hard to follow, but I think some viewers like it.

I'd love this as an instructional tool...how are the better players navigating the screen, and what are they looking for? etc...

- C -
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Do you have the ability to watch other players' games where you weren't a participating player?

Sure, as long as they uploaded their replay somewhere. The only restriction is, I think replays only record the chat text that would have been visible to the people playing. So in 2v2, no insight into what the opposing team was saying to each other.

Or maybe, do you have the ability to join to watch a random game in progress to watch it?

Not random, I don't think. If somebody creates a custom game, they can open up slots for observers to join before it starts. This is also like Warcraft III -- we used to do it for tournament matches.
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Played another game last night, and while I'm getting better, I don't think I uncovered much significant new insights into the overall game.

I played Zerg vs. Protoss. My early build order is getting more instinctive, which is good. One thing I neglected to mention earlier is that builds get rolling much faster than in Starcraft 1, because you start out with six workers rather than four. Also, for advanced players there used to be a trick where you would move each worker to a separate mineral patch manually. That is no longer necessary. If you target six drones at one mineral patch, they're head towards it and then quickly scatter to their own spots on arrival. Also, supply for zerg starts out with a capacity of 11 rather than 10.

Now I'm starting to remember how the zerg build order translates from the original:
1. Spawn drones until you have 11.
2. Spawn an overlord.
3. Spawning pool.
4. Make another drone after you lose a drone to the pool.
5. Overlord spawns, make more drones until pool is almost done. Then make zerglings.
6. Make a queen if you have the money. (New!)

Oh yeah, another new thing for zerg is that you can set different rally points for workers and for troops. If you pick a hatchery and right-click on a mineral patch or gas geyser, then right click an open space, your workers will pop out on the resources and your troops will pop out on the other spot.

I built a lot of early zerglings and managed to stop the protoss from expanding. I could see that he only had one zealot, so I tried to harass his probe line a bit. However, he was able to build more soon enough that I had to retreat.

Built some roaches, then went and stopped his expansion again. I was feeling pretty good at this point, and I was remembering to use the queen to add more larvae to both hatcheries. I also expanded. Nevertheless, I must have been too slow to build either hatcheries or overlords, because I wound up with more money than I could spend again. I also didn't take advantage of all the four gas geysers at my two bases, because I wanted to crank out hydras and tech to mutalisks, and it took too long.

I was darting in and out with my little army until he built a bunch of cannons. But I didn't make many base defenses, so when he finally got a force of zealots, stalkers and sentries together, I was caught off guard. I had been trying to pop up some ultralisks to deal with his ground troops, but my tech was just a bit too slow. I lost.

I think my main problem here is that I'm still too busy playing with different parts of the tree and do not feel comfortable just generating a million of one or a few units. Most of my losses see my opponent with a much bigger army than me, even though the stats this time indicated that I outmined him by a respectable margin.


On another note, here's a neat thing I've learned about protoss. When you reach a certain tech level, you can convert your gateways to warp gates. Warp gates produce the same troops, but if you rally them near a pylon anywhere on the entire map, they will spawn there. There is a cooldown which makes the production time the same as a normal gateway, but the troops appear very quickly.
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1. Spawn drones until you have 11.
2. Spawn an overlord.
3. Spawning pool.
4. Make another drone after you lose a drone to the pool.
5. Overlord spawns, make more drones until pool is almost done. Then make zerglings.
6. Make a queen if you have the money. (New!)


At the end of that I found myself expecting
7. Profit!
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Are you saying there is no one-on-one play? You know, me against the computer? Is it all on-line play?

Thanks for all the info Kazim,
Ron
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Are you saying there is no one-on-one play? You know, me against the computer? Is it all on-line play?

In the beta right now, you can only play if you log in. You can play 1v1, 2v2, or FFA.

There is no single player campaign, but you CAN create a custom game and then add computer players, either to your team or an opposing team, and not have any human opponents. Decent AI either has not been written or is not available to us in the beta. The computer opponents generally don't tech much, don't expand, and trickle a few troops at a time into your base until you go kill them. It's not even enough challenge for practice, but it's good to do if you just want to finish them off quickly and build all your building to see what they do.
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