To call Blizzard's upcoming PC real-time strategy game StarCraft II "anticipated" would be a bit of understatement. The game's release, over a decade after its wildly successful predecessor, begins next year with the debut of a base game, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, focusing on the Terran faction, followed by two expansion sets featuring the Protoss and Zerg.
Blizzard has demonstrated its customary exactitude in carefully preparing the game and its infrastructure to go out the door. This most recently manifested itself in a delay, thanks to stated difficulties getting the next generation of the Battle.net service up and running concurrently with the game's launch.
Of course, that tech shift alone isn't even taking into account Blizzard's atypical polish-focused and lengthy development process.
To find out more about the story behind StarCraft II, Gamasutra recently sat down with the game's lead producer Chris Sigaty, and with him delved into the practices and pressures that have led to the game that will ship its first chapter in 2010.
You're the lead producer. When the game has been in development for this long, and the team is, I assume, quite large, how do you manage all that?
Chris Sigaty: The best way to summarize it is "project manager." My overall responsibility is to make sure the project is driving forward. That can be communication with other teams -- we have a lot more than just our team working on this.
We have a Battle.net team that's working with Battle.net, wehave cinematics, we've got audio, we've got platform technologies; [we're] trying to tie up those pieces and be the communication between all that, setting the schedule. We have to identify roadblocks and problems that are coming up in the future, to ensure we have a clear picture of where we're heading.
Has the scope changed at all as the project has grown and spent longer and longer in development? It's been a while.
CS: Ages. Yeah. It's changed a lot. I would say one of the biggest [changes] was how we set about what we wanted to do. It was really up in the air in the beginning. We said, "Okay, we definitely want to do StarCraft II. We're going to do it. Well, what's it going to be?"
In the multiplayer game,we were pretty confident out of the gate. We talked a lot. We wanted it to hearken [back] to the original. We wanted people to feel a sense of nostalgia when they got in there and played it. But I think that was it.
The other two things that we identified [were] single-player -- we want to step out from where we've been with WarCraft III and StarCraft before it -- and then online and the online experience. We wanted to throw out a lot of [Battle.net].
So that's what we said, but what we meant, we didn't know. A lot of what has taken so much time for us is figuring out what exactly that is. The other thing that all throughout that really did have an impact was that World of Warcraft came about. The team was working hard on it while we were working on WarCraft III and [expansion pack] The Frozen Throne.
After those shipped, there was so much to do. We wanted to launch the game. It affected our team. There was a pretty significant impact on our team. I was pulled off the project for multiple months. Our entire art staff was. But we've always been that way. Blizzard has thrown our forces around as necessary for projects.
I would say really what you're talking about is the length of time we've had really figuring out what it is. Even this last year, even though we knew a lot more about what story mode is, we're still figuring out little details. Even as you guys are looking at it now, we're still changing things and tweaking. The last year has been really fruitful in us figuring [it out]: mercenary mechanics, tech purchases, research, how many items are highlightable, that sort of stuff. It's really come together over the last year.
We were watching a demo downstairs, and [lead designer] Dustin [Browder] was saying that even at this point, you're still weighing how the persistent quest mechanic will work.
CS: It's crazy to be showing you guys, with that being the case.
How do you afford to still have those kind of decisions not fully made? [N.B. At the time this interview was conducted, StarCraft II had not yet been officially delayed into 2010.]
CS: How do we afford not to? The bottom line is we got feedback on it, and people were very confused by it. We recently did a pretty big development-wide feedback session, where we sent out builds to a bunch of the development teams to play and give us feedback. That was one of the areas where we got a lot of [feedback like], "Well, I'm not really clear what this research is. Is this just information? Am I supposed to click stuff?"
We're doing a bunch of reaction to that right now. We've done some of it already. Mercenaries are much more unified with the look and feel of tech purchases. Research has not had that pass; we're doing that right now, [with the player] feeling more of a sense of choice rather than just getting information. So, I don't know how we can afford to do it, but we need to do it because that's our own internal feedback.