StarCraft II draws to a close this week, with the release of Legacy of the Void. Focused on the advanced Protoss civilisation, it caps the sci-fi RTS trilogy which begun back in 2010.
WIRED speaks with StarCraft II lead designer Jason Huck on the creation of the game, pleasing Blizzard's vocal international fanbase, and how it feels to be concluding a story a half-decade in the telling.
WIRED: When Starcraft II was originally announced as being split into three separate games, that was seen as controversial. Do you still feel that was the right decision?
Jason Huck: Totally. And I feel a lot of the community agrees with that. We don't hear the negativity anymore but we hear a lot of “I'm really looking forward to Legacy of the Void”.
One of the big announcements from this year's BlizzCon has been the new Covert Ops missions focusing on Nova coming to the game. With the core StarCraft II trilogy now done, what do these add?
We wanted to tell more stories and we had all these cool characters that we haven't really been able to feature as much. There are a lot of players who just play the campaigns and that's it, and our goal is give them more of the story-driven strategy game element.
[Nova] is a total of nine missions. The story arc is nine. The first pack comes out next year and that's three missions and the next pack has three and the last pack has the final three. We're pretty set on that format. If we wanted to, we could do more, maybe change it to a different format. We're open to experiment with different ways to do this.
As far as anyone knows, there's no core StarCraft game after Legacy of the Void. Where next for the series?
This is a transition point for us. There's still so much that we want to do with StarCraft and we feel like we would be neglecting it if we went to do something else. Expanding on it in these other ways — voice packs, skin packs — is something that many players want and when we told them we were going to do it they were very excited. The players want us to support the game and we've heard that clearly. They don't want us to abandon the game.
How do you go about ending a story like this, that's been spread over a half-decade with legions of fans waiting?
That was a significant challenge. The aim was to give a satisfying ending — there are no cliffhangers. This is the true ending. There's no multiple endings. That was always the goal. We want players to feel satisfied that they stuck with the story and played the game, but that it's also really fun to get there. I'm confident about it. We're giving [players] an ending that we really enjoyed and again internal feedback was really good for that. In the end it's all objective.
Have there been changes along the way? Did you always have this end point in mind?
The skeleton was always there. There were definitely changes as we worked and iterated. Plenty of internal playtesting gave us feedback on gameplay and story and we changed according to that.
StarCraft as a whole is 17 years old, steeped in lore, and with a dedicated player base — how do you achieve balance between making new instalments accessible for new players and enjoyable for veterans?
A lot of iteration on our part. We do a lot of internal “new user tests”, where we bring in brand-new players who have never picked up StarCraft. We watch them play and there are many cycles of bringing people in, watching them play and then responding to their feedback. On the other end, the challenge and the players who are really skilled — that's actually a little easier for us because we have a lot of really skilled players in the office so we can just turn around and say “come play this, how does it feel?” That's still a ton of iteration; maybe it feels too easy and we need to make it hard. That's just a ton of playtesting.
Even with gameplay tweaks, can players reasonably get invested, with Legacy of the Void being the last of three chapters?
Everything's a stand-alone. We've re-done the tutorial and we dig the training mission. If you're interested in multiplayer we have that for you but the tutorials are still a good way to learn the three races. We've changed them so it's a more story-driven experience. It sets you up so that you understand how the three races play and you can do the [three StarCraft II] campaigns in any order — though obviously we would encourage you to play Terran first [2010's Wings of Liberty]. If you're interested in the story it would make more sense to do it in that order but if you really like the Protoss you can start with Legacy of the Void. There's a lot of story so far and there are movies to help you catch up but the story is a little dense. Still, it's a great time to get into the game.
We've already seen StarCraft characters popping up in Heroes of the Storm. Are you involved in how they get presented?
Yeah, a little bit. We're fortunate in that the Heroes team and the StarCraft team are basically the same team. They're like upstairs from us. With the case of Artanis, we were able to provide feedback on the development but they had the final decision on what was best for them. It's been really fun as a developer to play their game and give feedback.
It's more of an inspirational thing. We'll see what they're doing, their battlegrounds and they'll see our missions. And because we're using the same editor it's easy to see something in their game and put it in our game. We're constantly bouncing ideas off each other.
Blizzard is an American company, but arguably StarCraft's biggest audience is in South Korea. How do you keep that community engaged?
We've had community summits there where we've flown in the pros. We had one before Blizzcon and one six months ago. We have people in Korea, a Blizzard office there. [International feedback] is treated equally. It's really important to us to get that global, balanced viewpoint, to put that together and make the decision that's best for everyone. The challenge is of course to encapsulate all that feedback into one good decision!
With Legacy of the Void out the door, how does it feel to see StarCraft II coming to an end?
That's a really good question — you never think you'll get there. It's really exciting but it's a also bittersweet in a way. But you're excited for the next thing. The team is really excited to see what we can do next. And we're really excited about Nova because she's a character we have the freedom to develop.