So it's here, it's out, and no doubt you're all carving your way through hordes of zerglings right now as you enjoy Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. As you know the new Battle.net service, and as a result the servers for Starcraft II, when live at 12 AM on Tuesday. Several hours before that though, Strategy Informer had the immense privilege to sit down with Michael Ryder, Executive Managing Director of International Operations, and Carl Chimes, the Lead Software Engineer, and chat to them a little bit about their hopes and aspirations for the game.
Strategy Informer:So, we're currently 8 hours from the official launching of the Starcraft II servers and from when the game is given to the world - how do you feel?
Carl Chimes: We're incredibly excited, but also we don't quite believe it - it's been a long time coming. (Understatment of the year? - Ed)
Michael Ryder: Yeah it's pretty exciting. I mean we have so much going on since this is a global launch. Since I'm interested in all of our international operations I'm keeping an eye on it - we've already got stuff happening in Asia. I'm excited now but I'm also a little bit worried, but I don't think anything will go wrong. I will be kind of relieved when everything is up and running and we know things are going well.
Strategy Informer:Speaking speculatively now - this trilogy aside, would you want to do a 'Starcraft 3' ? Do you think the franchise would warrant it? Where do you see things going from here.
Chris Chimes: So at Blizzard we make the games the developer wants to make, but at the moment we're completely focused on Wings of Liberty, and then the two upcoming expansions after that. It's too early to be even thinking of what could happen after that.
Michael Ryder: I think it's too far ahead to even speculate about that at this point.
Strategy Informer:Just to clarify then - the two games that are going to succeed Wings of Liberty, are they proper expansions or stand alone games? Will you be exploring the more modern DLC avenues?
Michael Ryder: It's kind of a nomenclature thing. They're expansions because they're built to play around the base game which we're shipping tonight. But Blizzard expansions are not typical expansions - they're quite large. So in some ways because we want to explore the story from the perspective of the Zerg and Protoss, they're more than just typical expansions, you might even think of them as standalone games, but we think of them as expansions.
Carl Chimes: Yeah the way we're thinking of it, the two expansions are expansions that come after Wings of Liberty. You can think of it as Wings of Liberty is the main game, with its single player missions and then the online multiplayer. The expansions would then have entirely new content in the single player, and would also enhance the multiplayer.
Strategy Informer:In the past Blizzard has experiment with the home console scene. There was Starcraft 64 and even Warcraft 2 on the Playstation - will Blizzard be experimenting again with Starcraft 2?
Michael Ryder: We're always looking at other things we could be doing - I mean we play console games ourselves, so we know what's going on with the consoles. But we think about the game and then we think about what platforms would work best. Currently the PC and the Mac is where we are, but we're always considering the possibilities for what could really enhance the player experience, but currently we don't have anything to announce.
Strategy Informer:Let's talk about the story in Starcraft 2 briefly - I mean it's a pretty epic story, better than some Hollywood games in fact. How much importance do you think Story has in the RTS genre?
Carl Chimes: As developers we think the story is absolutely critical. We know many players love a good story so we set out to look at that. But the same time we had to make a fun and engaging game, so the single-player campaign we came up with is pretty unique. We have combined cinematics of just over an hour, spread over 29 missions which each has completely unique gameplay. There's also the new concept of the story mode where you get to move around the ship in between the missions, interact with characters, objects etc...
Michael Ryder: I think the story and the characters actually help immerse the player in the game. It's all those things that create a story and adds to the experience.
Strategy Informer:What prompted you to develop this new 'Story mode' in-between missions?
Carl Chimes: We just thought it would add to the game, but also we wanted an opportunity to explain more of the back-story without forcing it on the players during missions. The story mode is more or less optional, it's in the background - you can be as engaged (or not) as you want to. Some people just like to cruise through the missions and they have that option too.
Strategy Informer:The strategy genre has changed dramatically since the original Starcraft - what do you think about that and how (it it all) did it affect the development of Starcraft II?
Carl Chimes: As I said, at Blizzard we just make the games we want to play, that's it. It's good to see other companies try new things, and come up with interesting games, but I think we've come up with the ultimate real-time strategy game in Starcraft II.
Strategy Informer:And what do you think when everyone keeps saying "PC Gaming is dying" or "Strategy games are dying"?
Carl Chimes: Well, as I said, we just make the games that we want to make, and as we come up with each idea we decide which platform makes the most sense for that idea.
Michael Ryder: I think that the foundation of Blizzard has been to focus on the players and on what they want as opposed to what we want. We've based our philosophy around the belief that if we make a great game and execute well, support it well, then it will do well. We don't see any reason why it won't happen again with Starcraft 2.
Strategy Informer:Any news on that Starcraft: Ghost game you were working on?
Michael Ryder: We don't really have anything to announce - there's nothing really happening there so to speak. But that doesn't mean that one day we won't do something with it, but for the time being we're just focused on other things.
Strategy Informer:And what are the chances of this 'next-gen MMO' that Blizzard are supposed to be making being Starcraft related?
Michael Ryder: I can't really say. We're looking at a number of ideas, but when we have something to share we'll be sure to make an announcement on it.
Strategy Informer:One last question then - Obviously little is known about the upcoming Starcraft II expansions at the moment, but do you have any idea how long we'll have to wait for them? Are we talking Wings of Liberty wait time here?
Michael Ryder: Our overall philosophy will always be that we don't want to ship a game before it's ready to go so we'll ship them when they're ready. But I think our aspiration is that it would be ready... even though we don't have any dates to announce, we don't expect players to have to wait too long.
And there you have it. We tried, but Blizzard are well schooled in the art of politely avoiding the decent questions, so we're just going to have to console ourselves with the fact that the game is actually here, finally, and should more than tide us over until anything us Blizzard related turns up. Stay tuned for our official review coming later this week.