April 23, 2010 12:00 PM | Simon Carless
[Rather than "trying to change for change's sake," Blizzard's Dustin Browder tells our own Chris Remo that StarCraft II's multiplayer will keep its time-tested formula, while the single-player mode will branch out.]
"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 said 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."