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 StarCraft II  Designer Browder: 'We're Not Trying To Be Innovative'
StarCraft II Designer Browder: 'We're Not Trying To Be Innovative'
April 23, 2010 | By Chris Remo

April 23, 2010 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC

"We're not trying to be innovative," says StarCraft II design director Dustin Browder when confronted with criticism that Blizzard's anticipated PC real-time strategy title's multiplayer gameplay has not sufficiently evolved since its predecessor's 1998 release.

"We're not trying to change for change's sake," Browder told Gamasutra as part of a larger forthcoming interview conducted at Blizzard's offices earlier this week. "We're just trying to make quality, and we definitely felt there were some things in the previous game that were high quality, that we weren't super confident we could do much better."

For example, he added, "I don't have a lot of enthusiasm to make Siege Tank 2.0. Siege Tank is good."

The designer drew comparisons to other popular series whose development teams take a similar approach after hitting upon a gameplay model that is robust enough to thrive for a decade or more.

"It's much the same for the guys who make Civilization or Team Fortress 2," said Browder. "They're making iterative changes to a quality product to do something really, really great."

But he said that attitude has primarily applied to StarCraft II's multiplayer component, which is currently undergoing heavy balance testing in its large-scale closed beta test.

"For the guys who say, 'I just need something new,' we've created a whole solo play experience which we feel really scratches that itch," Browder said. "It's a brand-new experience. ... We have a very high-quality version of a non-linear experience in an RTS game, and we think that's an area where players who are bored of [traditional] RTS will have a lot of fun."

Even on the multiplayer side, Blizzard experimented with various radical mechanics changes, before deciding the game was better served by additions that stayed within the established framework.

"We tried a cover system frequently," he said, referring to systems present in Relic Entertainment series like Dawn of War and Company of Heroes.

"It prevented as much movement from happening on the battlefield, slowing the game down," he explained. "Our game is about dancing: advance, retreat, advance, using the choke points -- until, 'Oh no! The enemy went air, the choke is useless!' It's about give and take. For our game, [cover] was a disaster."

"It wasn't a perfect cover system," he admitted, noting that it existed in a prototype state rather than fully polished form, "but the early indications were poor."

Browder believes that, rather than attempting to match pace with other games, designers should identify what mechanics and dynamics work best for their own projects, and focus on those.

"A lot of players view RTS as a continuum: RTS was this, and now changes have been made, and now RTS must start from there," he said. "We don't view it that way."

"We think each game has its own style and flavor. Each game has its own strengths and weaknesses," Browder continued. "What works for us would never work for a Dawn of War, and what works for Dawn of War would never work for us. They're different games, and that's how it should be."

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Robert Morris
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What really hit me was Dustin Browder's "Were not trying to be innovative!"

Sorry, but yes you are, your always making new innovations, whether its graphics, gameplay balance, multiplayer mechanics.

If you weren't trying to be innovative, you would have released a Starcraft 1 knockoff and merely taped on a new story line.

The Beta showed plenty of innovation, and yes plenty of the same stuff.

I don't like how he picks on Dawn of War and Company of Heroes, criticising the game play as quote "It prevented as much movement from happening on the battlefield, slowing the game down,"

And that Blizzards game is quote "Our game is about dancing: advance, retreat, advance, using the choke points -- until, 'Oh no! The enemy went air, the choke is useless!' It's about give and take. For our game, [cover] was a disaster."

Seriously you thought an entirely new implementation to your game would fail? Of course these two games were drastically different that to mimic it would bring failure, Dawn of War, specially the newest series, focused on war more than it did with resource gathering. No vespene gass, no minerals, simply build points. Even more so with DOWII where you are sent to battle with a set amount of troops.

Both games offer a style of dancing! Move, countermove, advance, retreat, assault. This may be a bit of a rant here, but as one who enjoyed both Starcraft 1 and DOW 1, I found them both to be intense action rts's that brought about a multitude of tactics devised by us to destroy our opponents.

I finish up with saying that I did play and love Starcraft 2's beta, even though at times I felt like I was grinding in wow, over all I found that it was enjoyable, though at the same time I felt that it was just Starcraft on a souped up Warcraft III engine. I may be the only one with this feeling, but it doesn't mean I won't get the game and enjoy the action.

Course I still hope that lan play is an option, I would hate for the online play only bit c.c

Right I'm done here! I hope I was as constructive with my criticism as possible!

Chris Remo
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I think you are misreading Dustin's thoughts on Relic's games. He did not criticize their game play. He said when the cover mechanic was added to StarCraft, it didn't work. You even quoted him saying that was specifically in the context of "for our game," not "for their game."

Please note the article's closing quote: "What works for us would never work for a Dawn of War, and what works for Dawn of War would never work for us. They're different games, and that's how it should be." Does that sound to you like he's saying cover systems never work in any RTS game, or that Dawn of War is a poor game? It seems to me they wouldn't have tried such a system at all if they didn't think there was merit to it in the first place; it just wasn't the right system for their own game.

I'm a huge Dawn of War fan and I didn't interpret anything Dustin said as being a criticism of that series or Company of Heroes.

Robert Morris
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I know that he said that, but to me it still came off on the wrong foot for me at least.

If anything, I felt more irked over his quote about not trying to be innovative.

I would think any expansion of a game has innovation, graphical improvements, fixes in AI, implementation of better game play mechanics, even if it uses what is already offered by the game, it still is an innovation in a way isn't it?

I know we don't always change things, kind of like the pistol the M1911, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. I agree with this, and I can see him saying that Starcraft has many working aspects that don't need to be fixed, but still isn't there always room for improvement elsewhere?

Don't get me wrong, I would actually be a little annoyed to play a Starcraft game that was exactly or closely mimicing Dawn of War, sides as a WH40K vet, I kinda always saw Starcraft as Warhammer just with a different paint job, but jokes aside, I still love and enjoy both games for their game play and story!

Chad Metrick
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"We're not trying to change for change's sake"

I think that's the main point. I see way too many games that try to force outrageous new concepts on the player without, it seems, even stopping to think whether it's even better, fun, or a good idea at all. Sometimes it's just best to tweak what you already have (see Super Mario Galaxy 2.)

Andrew Grapsas
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"Browder believes that, rather than attempting to match pace with other games, designers should identify what mechanics and dynamics work best for their own projects, and focus on those."

Amen! Shooters could learn a thing or two.

Robert Morris
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True true, but still even focusing upon your own works, you develop innovations to improve your own game don't you?

Now I'm not calling every tweak and turn an innovation, but the changes from SC1 to SC2 I think has been some major leaps and bounds, and I'm not talking just graphics.

The gameplay, new units, removal of old units.

I thought this was very well thought out, and to me it certainly showed innovation through the use of game mechanics if anything else! (enjoying this discussion by the way)

Chris Remo
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As a heavy player of the StarCraft II beta, it would be very difficult for me to go back to SC1. It feels very archaic at this point. The point of SC2's existence is clear to me; it feels more modern. But it's also clear Blizzard wasn't trying to introduce changes at all costs; the game has been significantly refined and evolved, but the underlying dynamics have been largely retained, at least on the multiplayer side, because Starcraft's muliplayer dynamics continue to offer extremely high levels of depth, exploration, and competitive play.

Robert Morris
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Ahhh neat news I didn't catch on that Chris, did you take a look at how they are helping the new players with understanding key shortcuts and utilizing them in game?

Something us vets have over the newer players is the keyboard memorization I think. Slapping a key here and there to get units cracking and production moving has always been important.

Kotaku has played the game recently and it seems a lot of the intro levels helps players learn the keyboard shortcuts!

I find this to be an extremely important innovation in game design! How often do we truly truly help the players understand and learn the most important features of a game? We know the fps's look up down and so on so forth, but RTSs have always been tough, every second lost moving the most meant another second for the opponent who knows his keyboard, or the AI to pump up their army!

I'm still looking forward to this games release!

John Kinsey
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StarCraft is easily the best RTS I've ever played. All the other ones I've tried just aren't as good...for me anyway. I'm looking forward to having a similar amazing experience with SC2. I'm glad that Blizzard isn't trying to add new things for the sake of adding new things. I think that is a problem when it comes to sequels. It seems some devs just add a lot of new features that aren't really helpful just to have them. Anyway...really looking forward to the game.

Erik Yuzwa
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It gave me warm fuzzies to read Browder giving his own mark of respect / acknowledgement to the team that sacrified everything for making SC1 the magic that it was.

I still remember an interview with the dude (Metzen?) who checked out a laptop during final phases of SC1 testing while in the hospital with his wife who was in labour..

Bart Stewart
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["Browder believes that, rather than attempting to match pace with other games, designers should identify what mechanics and dynamics work best for their own projects, and focus on those."]

“Amen! Shooters could learn a thing or two.”

Well said, Andrew, but the same goes for MMORPGs, which are desperately in need of publishers who comprehend that mindlessly cloning the aggro/buff/class-based leveling mechanics polished by WoW is a mistake.

A good design is about what works best for a particular game, regardless of genre. Some consistency in user interfaces is not a bad thing, but gameplay features ought to be tailored to each game regardless of what works for other games.

Chris Remo
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Yes, there's a whole set of "challenge modes" in SC2 aimed at helping both new and experienced players learn important skills like how to use hotkeys, how to manage multiple battles at the same time, what units are best for particular situations, how to use units' special abilities, and so on. It's a great suite of minigames.

Browder's quote was primarily in reference to the fundamental nature of online StarCraft multiplayer. I tried to indicate that in the story but may not have done so sufficiently. There's plenty of brand new stuff in the single-player, the challenge modes, and the framework.

Chris Remo
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Have you played the SC2 beta? is enormously more fleshed-out than it was in SC1, and the latest content patch they released yesterday has added even more stuff, including achievements and a heavily redesigned UI.

As a side note, I was a pretty big player of Battle Chess back in the early 90s.

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ken sato
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Like the article but wish that the title was different, it sort of skews the reader from the get go. It does get the reader to read the article though.

After taking a look at the beta and tool set, it is plainly obvious that 'iterative' and 'innovation' should not be seen as 'same GDD' and 'recycling'. While the industry likes to use the word IP or franchise for titles, this feels like an entirely new game and doesn't just look it. The number of small changes have weight but more importantly, as time goes on, you can see the differences those produce.

A term that keeps getting used in CoD:MoD2 is 'rage quit', something that I used to chuckle at as when I first heard it, the comment was more a factor of an INDIVIDUAL response rather than a community-wide one. It was a term whose value came from a 'heat of the moment'--a sure sign of how intense and invested a player was...and not a specific failure in balance or design.

How times have changed...

So what I would like to point out the term 'cheese', a reference as if some method was an exploit or a breaking of game play. I can't say I've seen a player quit in the middle of a fast attack and, more importantly, I've seen tactics change from balancing issues from supply base to barracks front door blocks. The beta is producing not just bug fixes and balancing metrics, but a whole range of new takes on traditional strategies and tactics.

From a BETA...not a release candidate or gold master, but from a freakin' beta. Look at any title--go on, I'll wait!!!--that has been released, even FPS titles with a large base and you'll see how rare this is. The mind boggles at the amount of investment this takes an the maximum risk reduction Blizzard is getting back in return. From prima facia, it looks to be considerable and is exposing not only title issues but additional operational factors that, at least from my research, are being addressed in turn.

Freaky when you consider the investment and development costs.

From not just playing but also looking at some of the channels of replays on youtube--shoutcasts, I believe is the term--I am not just seeing new strategies emerge but player who have different playing styles apart from the traditional community. (Search for 'the little one', you find yourself asking 'why didn't I think of that!!!')

So in summary:

(1) Starcraft 2, fun for consumer even at BETA.

(2) The title, while definitely a sequel, looks different and has a considerable level of small changes that make it feel like a completely different game. (The goal, I believe.)

(3) Engagement with the community of core players without alienating new core audience. (This title I believe will remove any stigma to RTS except for those development teams that have had projects canceled or not 'greenlighted' because of the moniker.)

I am really looking forward to the project post mortem on this. Gama guys and ladies, if you can get this one posted across all departments, I can see high market value for that!

scott stevens
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I agree with the comments from the article and the readers that are pointing towards just sitting down to make the best game you can. This may or may not include some new and innovative gameplay ideas or mechanics, and you sort of find out the right way to make your game awesome during production. I don't particularly think making the graphics better is being all that innovative - unless you really push the bar and introduce some new technologies in the process.

I work for a small, independent game studio (Tall Chair), and we're working on a defense game for the iPhone/iPad right now. And during the testing/tuning phases of the project we're taking a real hard look at some of the new ideas that have been introduced to this title, from the stand point of - "Does this make our game better?", and "Does this fit into the world we're creating here?".

Sometimes defining your game in a specific genre can cripple the creative process and clamp down on innovation - we've had some real challenges to some of the ideas for our game come up because the ideas "don't fit within a Tower/Turret defense game." And once we broke down the walls of pigeon-holing our game into a specific, pre-defined genre we have been able to make room for new ideas and new ways to play our game that are perfect - for our game. Might not work in a different game all together, but maybe someone else will take some of the ideas we are presenting and roll them into a game they're working on - and do them better. This is how games will evolve.

Curtis Cooper
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I agree with the gist of Browder's comments. Look at the Dawn of War franchise. The first game was an RTS masterpiece. Then they tried to innovate in DoW2, and the result was crap. They would have done far better to just take the first game and improve the graphics, sound, path-finding, AI, single-player campaign, and online multi-player experience. Refinement sometimes is really the answer over innovation.

Tobias Rau
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@Curtis: you say this game here:
war2 is "crap"? a critics score of 85 and a user score of 8.2 is "crap"?

Relic didn´t innovate the DoW concept for innovations sake! They definitly created a new subgenre. Maybe not polished yet but pretty good as the first of its kind. This is more than any Starcraft itteration achieved or will achieve!

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Curtis Cooper
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@Tobias Most of those reviews weigh the single-player component more heavily than multi-player, since that is what is more popular. On that basis, maybe 85 is a fair mark.

Reviews aren't everything, though. I played DoW2 multi-player. It is hands-down inferior to the original DoW in every way. DoW2 is at best an average RTS game, whereas its predecessor was excellent.