Who Was There: Blizzard executive vice president of game design Rob Pardo led the Starcraft II Battle.net panel, with Battle.net project director Greg Canessa also lending insight.
What They Talked About: Battle.net has the dubious distinction of taking the fall for Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty's delay into the first half of 2010. That's quite a burden to carry, considering there are an estimated 6 million eager gamers waiting to wade into Blizzard's interstellar real-time strategy warfare game.
So is the revamp to Blizzard's online networking service going to be worth the wait? According to Rob Pardo, the answer is in the affirmative, and the gaming executive delineated just why during a Starcraft II Battle.net panel today in Anaheim at BlizzCon 2009. Pardo began by emphasizing the importance of Battle.net, saying that with its 12 million users, the service outranks even World of Warcraft in terms of popularity.
However, Battle.net hasn't seen a significant update since 2003, and the changes in store are substantial. Breaking the revamp down into three core segments, Pardo began by emphasizing the "always connected experience." After noting that Battle.net has been seamlessly combined with Starcraft II, Pardo said that the service will feature persistent character profiles, which won't be deleted if a user's account is dormant for an extended period of time.
Pardo then showed the intro screen to Starcraft II, noting that players will be prompted to sign in as soon as they load the game. The launcher looks much like that of World of Warcraft, with players able to either jump into the single-player campaign or check out news and other announcements. Pardo then hit the single-player button, and players were offered the choice of going directly into the campaign or testing their skills in a skirmish or challenge mode.
Even in the single-player game, players would still be connected to their friends list, and other features such as achievements, stats, and match history were also available. Pardo then showed off a few interesting features in Starcraft II, including the ability to watch game replays as well as rewind said replays. Achievements will also be available in this mode, with these awards being the way players unlock player avatars and decals that can be placed on in-game units.
Pardo then shifted to the second core Battle.net tenet, what he called "the competitive arena for everyone." One of the detriments of the old Battle.net was that matchmaking often pitted veteran gamers against those just learning to play. To alleviate this issue, Pardo introduced a new ranking structure that divided the player base into leagues. After between 10 and 12 games, players will be fitted into a league, where they are ranked against competitors of equal skill. Because of the new persistent profiles, players will also be prevented from gaming the system, he said.
The final core value of Battle.net is to connect the entire Blizzard community, joining WOW, Starcraft, and Diablo players under one roof, much like BlizzCon. The primary way this will be done is through the Battle.net Real ID, which lets players talk to their friends across games and across realms in WOW. The achievement system will also span all Blizzard games, and players will be able to toggle how names appear in their friends lists.
Pardo noted that privacy options and parental controls will all be incorporated into the Real ID feature, and players will have to opt in for friend invites. Players will also have control over how much information they share with others.
The Blizzard executive then moved on to the custom map community. According to Pardo, the Starcraft II map editor will be more powerful than the one that was available in Warcraft III. Map publishing will also be easier, he said, as players can now publish their work on Battle.net, where other players can browse it. Beyond the launch of Battle.net, Pardo said premium maps will be available, where players have the option to charge for their work. A portion of the revenues then go to the creator, with Blizzard also taking a cut.
This option, in particular, has potential, according to Pardo, because it will attract the creme de la creme of amateur game designers to create content for Starcraft II.
Quote: "If people have a budget, look at what they can create."--Rob Pardo, in justifying the forthcoming premium custom map options.
Takeaway: While it may not be enough to justify Starcraft II's delay for the most hardcore of audiences, it appears as if Blizzard's improvements to the Battle.net service will have a lasting effect on how the company's games are played. Though slated to arrive after the launch of the service, premium custom maps have the potential to extend the life of Starcraft II. Gamers will undoubtedly be happy to know that they will be able to communicate with friends across games, as well.Watch the video