GamesCom 2011 – Interview with StarCraft 2’s Jonny Ebbert

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Jonny Ebbert

I had the chance to sit down with Starcraft 2’s Senior Designer, Jonny Ebbert, for an interview at GamesCom, and what a pleasure it was. A genuinely nice guy who is always looking out for gamers, we started chatting about what to expect with the next StarCraft 2 expansion, Heart of the Swarm.

Okay Jonny, give us a quick overview of what StarCraft 2 Heart of the Swarm is going to be about.

Its all Kerrigan, this is her story. She’s been depowered greatly by the events of the last game, which has left her vulnerable, and the only way that she can regain her standing, according to her, is to kill the person that she feels is responsible for everything bad that has happened to her in life, Arcturus Mengst, who is head of the Terran Dominion.

Of course, Mengst is surrounded by the best Terran armies in the galaxy, so in order to take him down, Kerrigan is going to need to reform the scattered zerg swarms across the galaxy, and become the Queen of blades once again.

So this is a completely different Kerrigan that we’re going to start the game with?

Oh yeah, she’s not the same person she was, as her new state has once again allowed for certain emotions to resurface. Guilt, accountability, she feels them all again, sometimes stronger than ever, and she hates herself becaue of it. The first time that Kerrigan became the Queen of Blades, it wasn’t her choice. But this time, she plans for it to be voluntary.

What’s new to Heart of the Swarm, that we never got to see in Wings of Liberty?

Plenty, first off, there will be decisions that you’ll make during the main campaign, choices that will be permanent and stick with you until the end. We’ll also have more environmental hazards, so watch out for those during a mission.

You’re also going to start every game with Kerrigan, who is a new powerful asset to your army. She’s stronger than Jim Raynor, but not so powerful that she’s unstoppable. Remember when she would come onto screen and start tossing your tanks around?

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Yeah, I was swearing quite often when that happened.

Exactly, where’s the challenge in being overpowered at the start of a game? Instead, Kerrigan is going to have to take over rival Zerg Queen nests, defeat them and absorb their DNA, co-opt into her, so to speak. With that she’ll gain access to new types of abilities, which she can choose and swop in and out before battles, as well as grow stronger in between missions.

So why the new focus on these RPG mechanics for Starcraft 2?

I wouldn’t really call it an RPG feature, there are no experience points or levelling up, so its a simple idea that will be there in order to make the game deeper. These are tools that we’re giving gamers in order to spice things up, hook them in and ultimately enhance the core game.

We also want these upgrades to affect your army as well, make managing it more meaty.

KerriganUpgrade01-you can select a different battle focus for kerrigan before each mission copy

Will these abilities have branching sub-skills in order to make them more effective?

No, that would make things two complex. What you’ll unlock, is say two abilities in a kit, which you can choose from, in order to shape Kerrigan into the character that you want her to be. Keep it simple we say.

What has been left behind in Wings of Liberty, what design decisions have you made in order to make the game better?

First off, we’ve rethought the way we handle entire campaigns. One of the complaints form Wings of Liberty, was that the campaign was just far too long, it dragged on and got repetitive. With Heart of the Swarm, we’ve got a smaller campaign, but a more unique one at that. Every mission will be different, such as one where you’ll be racing to collect Zerg eggs against a rival queen before an avalanche hits the two of you.

Certain things just don’t work for the game, so we’ve ditched those and compressed the cool bits to fit in nicely. Likewise with the AI, we’ve had problems where players were given units that were great for distractions, but obviously that doesn’t work on an computerised AI. So we’re addressing that as well.

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Oh, and certain units have proven to be way too powerful, so we’re going to be balancing them considerably, but I cant say which ones yet.

Have the fans surprised you with anything so far, seeing as how they have access to the editor?

Holy shit, you won’t believe the things that we see from the community! Yes, they’re constantly surprising us with things that we never thought were possible. In fact, we like to collect these surprises, and retire to the theatre with a beer to go watch this videos at the end of the day. And we’ll be watching this incredible ambush being setup for the opposition, and we’ll be shouting at the screen, don’t go in there! Its incredible, and we’re paying attention to what the fans are doing, so that we can create a better game.

EvolutionChamber03-Roach upgrades copy

How is StarCraft 2 doing on the competition side, is it finally replacing the original as a tournament favourite overall?

Yeah, its getting there. Its proven really popular, thanks to the deep gameplay we’ve created. One of the problems with the original game, was when you started an online match, if you knew what your opponent was playing as, you’d just create a predetermined build in order to counter him. Not very challenging actually.

Now, we’ve got a richer metagame, a stable one that has surprising strategies for victory popping up the whole time. Hopefully Starcraft 2 will last for just as many, if  not more years on the competition circuit.

Thanks for your time Johnny, we’re all looking forward to playing Heart of the Swarm when it releases.

And I’m looking forward to everyone enjoying it!

Last Updated: August 22, 2011

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia’s M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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