AusGamers StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Alan Dabiri Video Interview and Transcript
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 05:10pm 12/07/12 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Blizzard's Alan Dabiri to talk StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. Read on or watch for what he had to say...
Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.
AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers. You are here once again with Stephen Farrelly. Our lovely friends at Blizzard have given us another opportunity to speak to other people at Blizzard.
I’ve got Alan Dabiri, who is Lead Software Engineer, working on StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. You guys are all excited for it, I know I am. It’s been a big year for Blizzard already -- it’s been a big couple of years actually, there’s quite a few things going on -- but maybe to get a bit of a taste of who you are and where you stand on this particular project, let’s run through an Alan Dabiri day-to-day.
Alan Dabiri: Sure. So I’m a Lead Software Engineer on the StarCraft II team, and I’m kind of running the online and UI teams. So basically what that means is that anything that interacts with the Battle.net service, or anything basically that the user sees in terms of when they’re interacting with the user-interface.
We’re working on a bunch of cool new features for Heart of the Swarm, both for the Battle.net service, and for just UI features in general as well.
AusGamers: So you’re like the first wave, the first thing that anyone comes into contact with in the game, which means that you’re basically the first person that gets complained at as well, when somebody doesn’t like something.
Can you run us through kind of finding that middle-ground for yourselves, where usability is more key, to maybe some of the more complex systems that people are probably asking for? Or just old fan-favourites that people don’t realise have kind of streamlined into something else now.
Alan: Yeah, it is a bit of a struggle. We get a lot of feedback from players, so we’ve got to try and listen to what they’re saying, and what our direction is as well, and figure out that middle-ground. Some things they want don’t actually work into the new way that things work, but most of the time it actually aligns well.
For example, some of the new features that we’re adding: one of them is multiplayer replays, which is a big feature that some of the fans have asked for, and we ourselves have wanted, and we didn’t have a chance to get it into the initial game. So that’s a feature where now you’ll be able to watch replays with your friends, where right now you can only watch them by yourself.
Then, since we’re adding that, another cool aspect that we’re going to throw in as well, is basically a resume-from-replay feature, which kind of opens up a lot of cool functionality. You can essentially be watching a replay with your friend, and then decide to just say “You know what? Right here at this point, we’re going to punch-in and we’re going to start playing this game now”.
AusGamers: So even if you’ve completed the game before, you can go back into that point?
Alan: Yeah, it’s a really cool feature, where it opens up all kinds of new scenarios. Like, you can do what-if type things; maybe you just got done with the game, and your friend was talking smack to you about how he did this good or that good, and you said “well, if I had done this, I would have done better”, now you can go to that point and say “you know what? Let’s try it; let’s replay this from this pont”.
It also opens up some really cool stuff with pro-games. You can be watching a replay of like MarineKing and Nes Tea -- some really awesome game. Well, now you can jump in at a certain point, and actually play for them at a certain point. Then it has a really cool aspect to it as well for e-sports, if for some reason a tournament game didn’t succeed, or it failed for some reason -- the computer crashed, or the monitor shut off, or whatever it might have been -- now they can actually resume that game from the point, so it’s a really cool feature.
AusGamers: Right. Was that from the fans, or did you guys come up with that one internally.
Alan: It’s a feature that we’ve actually been looking at for a while that we’ve wanted to do, we just haven’t had a chance to do it yet. So it’s something that we’ve wanted to do . The fans have also been mentioning it as well, so I think everyone wants it.
AusGamers: So let’s talk about some of the bigger additions you’ve done this time around. One of the things that came out of the presentation earlier was “nothing is set in stone yet; anything can change”. There’s artwork and characters, and skins, and everything that exists, but that we’ll never see. But from a standpoint of where you’re at right now and moving forward, from a confidence level, can you talk about some of the main changes?
Alan: Sure. One of the key reasons why we’re showing this now and we have our beta coming up, is that we feel fairly good about where we are, but we’re not positive. So we want to get that feedback from players.
I think in terms of the features that we’re going to deliver and the general compositions, we’re heading in the right direction and we’re solidly there -- we have our beta coming up pretty soon here. But again, like you mentioned, nothing is set in stone. If we go out to beta and everyone tells us “Hey look, this particular unit you guys did, or this ability you guys did, it doesn’t work, and here’s why”, we’re going to tweak it.
So just like with Wings of Liberty, there were major changes during the beta. We added abilities, removed abilities, tweaked numbers, and that’s the whole point of the beta. We do our best job internally; we get feedback from pro-gamers; we get feedback from other players; but then when we go to beta, we have such a broad cross-section of players, where we can really get some good numbers and decide what we’ll ultimately want in the game.
AusGamers: Now you talked about working directly on Battle.net integration and things like that. Since Wings of Liberty, what’s changed there for you guys? What have been some of the shortcomings that you’ve come across, that maybe people don’t actually know exist, and what sort of processes have you guys gone through to change that?
Because I know it’s an ever-evolving process, and once again there’s a lot of people that complain about certain things, but it seems like you guys are always on those forums and fighting for the right information -- the key stuff to change those things for the better.
Alan: Yeah absolutely. Myself personally, and the whole team, we read all of the same forums and community websites that everyone posts on. So we hear what people say, and a lot of it is probably stuff that we’re thinking ourselves “yeah actually, we could improve this”, and for whatever reason, either we didn’t manage to get it in time for Wings of Liberty, or maybe it just wasn’t planned yet, or whatever it might have been.
Definitely from the Battle.net, it’s kind of... at this point, there’s a very grey line between what is Battle.net and what is StarCraft II. We have such tight integration with our online service, that even like the thing I just described about multiplayer replays: that’s a game feature, but it’s also a Battle.net feature.
But some other things that we’re adding that will also improve the social aspects of the game, is clans and group support. This is something that... we have this in Warcraft III and in the expansion The Frozen Throne, and we didn’t have a chance to get it in for Wings of Liberty.
So we know that the community wants it; we wanted it; so we’re going to get it in around the Heart of the Swarm timeframe. But we decided “let’s go a step further”. Rather than just giving the same kind of clan support they had in the past, we’ve expanded it to even be like this group concept, where really it can be used beyond just clans -- now you can have social groups form these connections and play together.
Whether it’s like a BarCraft -- you want to advertise you’re having your event and everyone get together -- or maybe it’s some kind of community personality like Day 9, who people are interested in following him, so they join the Day 9 group, or whatever it might be. So it gives both from the competitive side, and then just the casual, social side: people who are just interested in perhaps just arcade maps maybe...
AusGamers: Just on that actually, it’s a really good place to go, because I’m going to profess to not being the best StarCraft player in the world or anything like that. I know the series, and I’ve been playing it, and I really enjoy it, but I’m not high-level. So from a UI perspective there, some stuff does come across as a little complicated for people that are coming into it for the first time. How do you guys approach that, and keeping that integration for the top players as well?
Alan: Yeah, that’s a constant struggle. We did a good amount of work initially, for Wings of Liberty, but it’s funny you mention that, because right now in fact, for Heart of the Swarm, we’re taking that to the next level -- we’re actually adding more helpful tools for the new user. Whether it’s improved user-interface that kind of calls out elements, and explains how things work, or maybe just cuts back on some of the difficulty that the user-interface might present for a new user.
And then, for the pro who might not care to have these kinds of training wheels so-to-speak, they get elect not to utilise that. In terms of the new user and playing the multiplayer aspect, I hear you when you say you’re not that great at Star2; I’m not a pro level either; but the great thing about Battle.net and our matchmaker, which works so well: it’ll find the right spot for me.
So even though I’m not a grandmaster player, I’ll get matched up around people of my similar skill, and so I can still have a good time -- I can have fun in that regard. So we keep looking... we’re not trying to make a game that’s only playable by the top 200 players in the world, we’re trying to make a game that everyone enjoys. So we’re focusing on and adding more things to help that area out.
AusGamers: Now matchmaking is going to lead me into another question that you guys always probably hear from those of us Down Under, and I know it’s going to be the same response, but everybody’s still wondering. Some of the competitors out there are starting to set up local servers, just for latency in matchmaking and that sort of thing.
Is it still on the agenda? Is it still a moot point? Where do we stand with the local server situation?
Alan: Nothing has really changed in terms of what we’ve talked about there in the past. I think there’s a few things there that address that. From a latency angle, we’re actually looking at some of those, and maybe there’s some changes that we can make to improve that. From a situation where there’s actually like a disconnect or what-not, I think this resume from replay feature will really help in the tournament case. But beyond that, we continue to look; we’re always investigating and finding out ways to improve the service and latency and what-not, but at the end of the day, there are some things that are out of our control.
AusGamers: With the resume replay thing -- I don’t know if you can actually talk about this -- but is that going to be integrated into other Blizzard products? Because you said it’s a Battle.net feature, so surely that would be something pretty cool for a Diablo 3 dungeon?
Alan: Sure [laughs]. While I say it’s integrated with Battle.net, it is a Star2-specific thing -- we’re writing this for Star2 -- so it doesn’t translate perfectly, we wouldn’t just be able to drop this into other games.
AusGamers: Well I’m going to wrap it up there, because that’s going to make me cry -- because that would have been such a cool feature to have in Diablo 3. But I’ve been playing the game downstairs; my other Aussie cohort who you’re going to speak to soon has been tying with me, but I’m going to beat him. But I really like the new units and the feel of the game. So... awesome.
Alan: Awesome, thanks very much.
AusGamers: Thanks very much. Cheers.