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A Look Back on the StarCraft 2 Beta

by Brian Leahy, Jul 19, 2010 4:30pm PDT
Related Topics – Blizzard, StarCraft 2, PC, Battle.net, Real ID

With the beta for StarCraft 2's mulitplayer finished, it's time to take a look back on the last five months as we wait another 8 days for the release of the full retail game on July 27.

It all started back on February 17 (April 29 for Mac users) with a small set of users who were able to participate in 1v1 and 2v2 ranked matches to test the game's new Leagues and Ladders system. The only AI available was a harmless opponent, not intended for serious play.

After years of criticizing the little information Blizzard released about the game and hands-on experience at the past three BlizzCon conventions, the community descended upon StarCraft 2 with a vengeance for better or worse. Alice offered some impressions of her experience, as did I after about a month of playing.

Let's take a look back on some of the major patches and balance changes, tournaments, controversies, and more from the StarCraft 2 beta.

Major Patches & Balance Changes

While the beta closed at around a 50% win rate in all racial match-ups (TvZ, TvP, PvZ), it didn't start that way. The first patch nerfed the Protoss Mothership and Zerg Infestor with some spell kit changes, but patch 2 buffed the Terrans in a big way, decreasing build times for most of the race's buildings.

That didn't stop with patch 3, which sped up Terran upgrades and hit the Protoss Zealot with a big early-game nerf. It was at this point that the balancing shifted toward nerfing for a few patches.

Patch 5 further nerfed the Protoss and Zerg, while patch 6 introduced a health nerf to the Terran SCV and the beginning of the Roach tweaks. Patch 7 introduced a few changes to deal with the strength of mass-air builds against Terran players. The balance changes would continue to roll along with relatively minor changes, save a few standout events:

  • Patch 8 - The Terran Marauder's Concussive Shells become an upgrade.

  • Patch 11 - The Protoss Phoenix gets the ability to shoot while moving.

  • Patch 12 - The Zerg Roach has its supply cost increased to 2 from 1 in a major nerf for late-game Zerg armies.

  • Patch 13 - Map publishing goes live, Facebook integration is added, and 3v3/4v4 games are now possible.

  • Patch 16 - Beta phase 2 begins with all AI difficulties added along with cross-game social features linked to Blizzard's controversial Real ID program.

Patch 9 came with the Galaxy Editor, allowing players to begin tooling with the game's map creation tools and scripting engine. Although too brief a window to allow anything polished to be released, the great variety of custom games already available makes the versatility of the system apparent.

A Quick Break for Singleplayer!

In late April, Blizzard invited the press and community out to its offices to check out the singleplayer campaign, where I was able to play some new missions. I started with the first mission from the Protoss mini-campaign that will be included in the otherwise Terran-controlled singplayer. Also available to play was the game's innovative Challenge Mode.

Challenge Mode attempts to bridge the gap between offline, single-player, and competitive multiplayer by presenting the player with tasks of increasing difficulty aimed at teaching multiplayer concepts. These could be avoiding rushes, using hotkeys for micromanagement, or developing an ability to multitask. The challenges are linked to achievements and are replayable for practice.

Tournaments

Tournaments began to be organized with prize money available to professional players. We saw the rise of HDstarcraft and HuskyStarcraft, two YouTube-based casters that made up for their lack of high-level insight with a staggering amount of 1080p video for those stuck at work or not lucky enough to be in the beta. The two teamed up and eventually ran an invitational tournament with some major prize money, which was won by Ukranian player WhiteRa.

On the other side, professional player and caster Sean "Day[9]" Plott started analyzing beta matches in Day[9] Daily, offering an extremely high-level look at some top matches. He is currently broadcasting a "King of the Beta" tournament with $3000 in prize money on the line, which has already been played, but will be streamed over the next week. The semi-finals and finals will be streamed from his Los Angeles-based StarCraft 2 release party on Monday, July 26.

Shacknews community member Pancake Humper ran his own tournament, putting two copies of the game (one LE and one standard) up as prizes for players of all skill levels. I participated and made it through a few rounds, but eventually the finals culminated in an exciting series between Demius and bongturbo. The tournament also featured amazing commentary from Blucklesworth (TL.net's Chill), Pancake, and others.

Many others streamed games, provided commentary, ran tournaments, and more. Within weeks, the community for SC2 had come alive and the benefits of the technologies of 2010, most notably live streaming and online video, have done wonders for growing the game's popularity and making it an instant spectacle.

Controversies

The StarCraft 2 beta was littered with controversies as Blizzard made several decisions that seemed to be made, at surface level, without the "player's" best interests at heart. Now, keep in mind that most of the outrage comes from an extremely hardcore audience, many of whom still play the original StarCraft.

Most, if not all, of the issues centered around Battle.net 2.0 and not the game itself. Sure, various issues were found with balance choices and the omission of some units (Lurker!), but B.net 2.0 was definitely the focus of the vitriole.

Right off the bat, players took issue with the naming conventions. Initially, players were given non-unique handles with non-unique identifiers. For example, "empathe.shack". After a few changes, the beta closed out with non-unique names and an auto-assigned, random three-digit code, for example "empathe.097". Many players wish that Blizzard would simply return to the original Battle.net practice of fully unique names.

A large part of Battle.net culture up until this point has centered around chat rooms where players could idle, ask for games, and generally meet people. Battle.net 2.0, as it stands, does not include chat rooms, instead opting for party-based chat. Players were furious with this and demanded chat rooms, which were to be added much further down the line (though most didn't seem to even realize this). While they won't make it in time for launch, Blizzard capitulated and will add chat rooms in some form in a patch shortly thereafter.

As player accounts are tied to specific regions, cross-region play is not possible with a single account. Though players can download foreign clients and change the server via workarounds, they will still require multiple paid accounts once the game launches. Blizzard originally explained that lag was the issue, but after countless cross-region tournaments have been played, it appears that the netcode is up to the task. Blizzard is looking into the issue so the book isn't closed on it, but I wouldn't bet on being allowed to easily play on multiple servers on a single account.

Facebook integration has been the subject of much ire as many saw it as an uneccesary addition, while features like chat rooms and cross-realm play went unaddressed. While it is useful for finding Facebook friends in game, the controversy is centered around Real ID, which is intended to link all future Blizzard games together in a gaming network.

The height of the controversy came when Blizzard announced that it would require real names to be linked to forum posts, but the company quickly retracted the initiative. Some chose to look at it as a boon: Blizzard is listening to the community. Others remain alarmed: what is Blizzard planning with Real ID and Battle.net 2.0?

Hell, It's About Time

All in all, I think the StarCraft 2 beta was incredibly successful. The level of polish and response from Blizzard has been top-notch and while every feature might not make it in for the launch of the game, it is clear that the company will be improving both the game and Battle.net 2.0 for years to come.

Unsurprisingly, the beta became one of the most talked about games of the last five months, eclipsing finished games and immediately dominating the RTS scene once again. Finally, next week we are (hopefully) done with stat resets, repopulating friend lists, and doing those placement matches over and over again.

Additionally, players will finally get a chance to play the game's campaign and challenge mode. There will be many more tournaments, balance patches, and improvements. The custom maps and games will begin flowing and the content contained within SC2 will multiply exponentially. It's been a long time coming (as with any Blizzard release), but next week StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty will finally be released.

See you online.




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