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AusGamers Kaeo Milker StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:21pm 18/11/11 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm producer, Kaeo Milker at this year's BlizzCon. Read on for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here to catch it in HD.

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers. You’re here once again with Stephen Farrelly and I am here once again out of BlizzCon. I’m here with Kaeo, who works on StarCraft II -- a game I know you’re all very interested in. We’re going to talk about the new units that have been divulged here at BlizzCon and a little bit about the single-player story -- which is what I’d like to know a little bit more about.

I guess one of the big questions that I have is: we had a small interview with one of the Aussie pro-gamers last night and we talked to him about whether they feel that some of the stuff that they come across when they’re playing the game is stuff that they’d like to directly talk to Blizzard about. And I’m curious to know how you guys, internally, look at how they’re playing the game and how those two things come together and shape what ends up coming out?

Kaeo Milker: Sure. Well, we are looking at balancing the game across all levels of play. We’re definitely paying attention to the pro scene and all the tournaments. We had a multiplayer panel today where our balance team -- including David Kim -- was talking about how things are doing -- the health of the game across those areas.

As far as pro players. David has some communication directly with some pro players -- I’m not sure of the specifics on which ones -- but they participate in our public test realms when we do patches for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. I think we have open communications with many, many pro players, between our community team and our balance team.

So we’re looking for their feedback, they give us their feedback; sometimes we’re asking for their feedback. There’s definitely a back and forth there where we’re trying to react to and adjust to the requests that they have as far as issues that they’re finding in the game while they’re playing.

AusGamers: How much hands-on do you have with the decisions that go in to balance and bringing in new units and stuff like that?

Kaeo: My role is mainly on overseeing content creation on the game. So a lot of times we have design teams -- whether it’s the campaign team or on the balance multiplayer side -- that are coming up with new roles that they need for the game, then it comes over to the artwork team that I work with, or we have sound teams and all of these other content teams that are basically making all the stuff that you see and hear in the game and trying to flesh it out.

So those are the things that I do. Our whole team is involved in play testing the game and giving feedback about it all along the way. We’re all passionate about the game; about where we’re taking it. So everyone always has an opinion about new things that we’re trying.

AusGamers: Which content feeds which content. Is it multiplayer that feeds the single-player or is it vice-versa? Because obviously you use the single-player to introduce new units to players that aren’t as versed in how StarCraft plays. Or is it a case of “this would be really good for this particular mission, so let’s add it and then we try to fit it into multiplayer”?

Kaeo: We kind of took a new approach to this in our RTS games for Wings of Liberty and we’re carrying that in to Heart of the Swarm as well. Because historically, the multiplayer units had been featured prominently in the campaign and we used campaign as a training ground for multiplayer. But for Wings of Liberty and for Heart of the Swarm, we’ve given ourselves the liberty to disconnect that a bit more, which has been kind of cool actually.

We got to add a whole bunch of crazy new fun units to the campaign that are not in multiplayer and just basically make things that are fun for the campaign that we know would never work for multiplayer, but it lets us just have fun with them.

So it’s kind of two separate entities right now and we’re liking keeping it that way. It lets us make a really fun campaign and a really tight multiplayer and I think we’ll continue doing that.

AusGamers: Is there any particular units that you can think of off the top of your head that are fun for single-player that just wouldn’t work at all in multiplayer?

Kaeo: Oh sure, we had all kinds of things. In Wings of Liberty’s campaign, there was something called The Leviathan that was this giant Zerg tentacle monster thing that would come out and start just wreaking havoc with everything. We probably could not make that a very viable multiplayer unit or it would be a very one-off high-end unit like a mothership, but in the campaign it had its place and we had our fun with it.

We also took a lot of the units that we tried for multiplayer but never found a home for and we polished them and used their art and gave them new abilities and put them in the campaign for Liberty. There was something called the Cobra that was in the campaign that was a Terran vehicle that had a railgun that shot in a line -- that was a multiplayer unit that never worked out and we still wanted to use because we thought it was cool, but it wasn’t good enough for multiplayer so it goes with the campaign.

AusGamers: If there was enough outcry from fans -- even multiplayer specific players -- that liked those units in the single-player, would you consider trying to retool them to work in multiplayer?

Kaeo: Yeah, some of them we are... actually ourselves, we are still passionate about them and we think they are cool and viable and we still try to keep poking them and make them work in multiplayer. We actually have some old units in multiplayer that didn’t work in our previous attempts to get them in that the art has returned for Heart of the Swarm.

Like, the Oracle has been completely redone, but it is kind of the spiritual successor to something that we had for Wings of Liberty during development -- that we called the Star Relic -- that was just a little Protoss caster. And that guy’s kind of back in this form, but with new abilities. So there’s little things that we like that we want to make sure get a chance at some point and we’ll keep trying them, to try and kind a home.

AusGamers: Now let’s jump into the single-player campaign: I had a chance to come out to Irvine and play it at the event earlier this year -- I think it was, in May. What’s changed since then? Because obviously you guys read everybody’s thoughts on it; you’ve probably got a lot of internal feedback as well.

Can you kind of run us through anything specific that you might know has changed since then, and I guess just how far along the game is going, in terms of reaching the end goal?

Kaeo: Sure. Yeah, our main focus is still on Heart of the Swarm’s campaign -- a lot of effort’s going in to that. We’re still hovering at around twenty missions for it. Since we showed it in may, we’ve continued to develop things like Kerrigan’s progression -- she starts off in the aftermath of Wings of Liberty, she’s been de-zergifed and through out the course of Heart of the Swarm is kind of building her powers back up and trying to get to where she wants to be.

So, that theme is still there, but we’ve changed some of the mechanics of how we evolve her. One of the things that we’ve tried recently is giving her abilities that you can change on the fly in your mission. In the incarnation you saw back in May, she basically would pick a focus before a mission when you were in story mode -- pick the kit you wanted -- then you would jump in the mission and use that stuff.

We’ve given you more flexibility in the play-styles now, where you’re unlocking missions as you progress and once you get into a map you can -- on the fly -- say “right now at this moment, it would be cool if I could use this thing” and re-kit her. It kind of gives you a lot more play options.

And also, since the missions are so far along now, we’re able to see how all those abilities interact with the campaign structure that we have right now.

AusGamers: Did you guys find that doing that slowed down the progression of the game that you had already set in place?

Kaeo: No, because we were already experimenting with some different things, so I think they have it pretty tuned to the way they want it right now. You may find missions where you’re limited to which things you can choose between, but it will be a little more open than before, where you were basically stuck with what you chose before you started the mission started.

Again, these are things that we’re experimenting with and we may change them. It’s playing really well right now and starting to feel really good. So I think we’re on the right track.

AusGamers: Has the story remained the same, in terms of missions and chapters and I guess, what happens progressively to all the characters in the game? Or has the gameplay kind of reshaped that a little bit, as you’ve progressed development?

Kaeo: We make slight adjustments as we go -- just because some really cool ideas come along as we go -- but I think a lot of the general direction is stuff that we’ve been pretty solid on for a long time and we’re trying to just reinforce all that story element with the gameplay element and the missions that you’re going through.

AusGamers: Now obviously in Wings of Liberty, you’re not only playing as a Terran -- there was some cool little Protoss side-quests. Can you talk about any kind of differentiation in gameplay that you’ll be having here?

Kaeo: Yeah, we don’t have any specific news on it. I can say that we’ve got our twenty or so missions. Kerrigan is definitely the focus and she’s going to be on-mission almost all the time -- if not all the time. We don’t really have anything to say about if we’re going to have your one-off Terran missions or Protoss missions or something, but that worked pretty well in Liberty. We’ll have to see where we end up.

AusGamers: Now, apart from the fact that it is such a big multiplayer game, the single-player game has this really... almost like a solitary component to it, where you become really attached to the main character. And it seems like this is Kerrigan’s... obviously, she is reclaiming her life and figuring out where she exists in. Is there going to be redemption, or is she just going to go back to being super-evil. Or will we see this lust for revenge that she has, driving the story in a direction that maybe nobody expects?

Kaeo: Without ruining things that are going on: you’re kind of along for the ride with Kerrigan as she is coming back on basically -- as she is regaining her abilities and getting control of that side of herself. So I think, throughout the campaign, it won’t just be dropped upon you -- you’ll really see the progression in that and understand where she’s coming from. So I think you’ll understand it as you’re playing through it with her.

AusGamers: Finally, I just want to end on a really good note: It seems like e-sports is actually taking off in a really, really, big way -- something you guys must be very proud of. Are you at all concerned that maybe the game... that the multiplayer is overshadowing single-player? And have you approached that in any specific way?

And if not -- if there’s no concern there at all -- what heights do you want this e-sports stuff to go? Because I heard someone saying just before in the press room, that they feel like where e-sports is now in North America, it feels like where it was in the early 2000s in South Korea. And now we know how big that is there. So it seems like it’s just on the up and up.

Kaeo: Yeah, from the ground up, we’ve really built this game with e-sport in mind -- that was one of those pillars that we were aiming for. We really wanted a multiplayer game that could be played at the highest levels competitively and could be spectated and we’ve made a lot of decisions to align the game to be successful at that.

Of course, once we finished it and pushed it out there, it was all the hands of the players and pro players and the casters and the tournaments and everyone really embraced it and made it what we hoped it could be and so much more at this point. So I think it’s still growing, it’s still building this momentum -- you’re having these BarCraft things happening, where people are gathering in public places and watching it and cheering.

And those are all the kind of things that we would dream of, but here it is happening today. And as far as competition of single-player and multiplayer, we kind of always knew we were making two distinct games. There are things that someone might like either or, or they might love both of them, but we’re putting very specific things out there for people to enjoy and our hope is that it’s all fun and that they find something for everyone in it.

Which I think at this point -- looking at the success StarCraft II has had already and continues to have -- I think people have really embraced all of the things we have done on the campaign side as well as the multiplayer side.

AusGamers: Ok awesome. Well, we’ll leave it there. Thanks once again and congrats on the game -- it’s looking fantastic. I can’t wait to get out there and get my hands on it. Cheers.
Read more about StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Posted 06:44pm 18/11/11
i'd still rather be playing total annihilation :D
Posted 08:20pm 18/11/11
Big problem with the whole "Single player units not in multiplayer" to deliver richness, is that the game is damn near impossible for a first time RTS player. Every person who I've known who loves space, sc-fi and intricate plots of rebellious double-crossing martyr heroines and epic ancient superpowers, gives the single player a go, may or may not complete it, and never transition to multiplayer because the mechanics are nonsense to them.

Although I'm not exactly complaining, I'm just stating that it's difficult for a person to enjoy the whole game without previous training grounds like sc1, bw, wc3/tft, and perhaps more updated RTS's like 40k games.

Overall I do personally find that the game is excellent with amazing after-sale support in patch and updates adding balance and game fluidity and the single player enhanced by all the optional achievements as well as the rather enjoyable storyline.
Posted 08:39pm 18/11/11
Hmm I know a few people who never played online RTS before sc2, and played the s*** out of it - trog probably most prominently?
Posted 08:52pm 18/11/11
Don't worry I played Age of Empires before Skythra so I'll be awesome
Posted 09:09pm 18/11/11
starcraft multiplayer is only good for custom games so who cares about unit balance trolol
Posted 02:50am 19/11/11
Not sure if you're disagreeing with what they said about the game, or disagreeing with my sample of friends being relevant..

If you're saying that "SC2 has a very easy to learn, hard to master" which is a pretty large mantra from blizzard in general, I'd say this clearly is the mindset of games like WoW, but not as strong with SC2.

I'd call SC2 uncompromising. Which is perhaps the reason of it's current e-sports success.
Posted 07:16am 19/11/11
I bought SC2. Played about 1 hour of singleplayer, then went to multiplayer and played 1 custom match and one test match thing. Have not touched the game since. Hate what RTS's have turned into now. Where's my AoE.
Posted 10:38am 19/11/11
If you're saying that "SC2 has a very easy to learn, hard to master" which is a pretty large mantra from blizzard in general, I'd say this clearly is the mindset of games like WoW, but not as strong with SC2.
Wow, I would definitely say SC2 is hard to master. I played a lot of MP and every time I felt like I was getting somewhere skill-wise, I'd get pitched against someone that would put in my place so efficiently and ruthlessly that I had to crawl back to Solitaire while the shell shock wore off.

I am not really sure of the point of your original post - are you talking about MP or SP or just the game in general?

I didn't finish the SP campaign, not because I wasn't really enjoying the gameplay, but I just find it basically impossible to pay attention to SP games any more (since, oh, December 1993 this has been a problem for me). I got maybe 6 missions in and then just gave up and moved over to MP.
Posted 03:40pm 19/11/11
nar cbf'ed ... try moderating by removing what you dont like not the whole post f*****g incest product
Posted 09:18am 20/11/11
not to mention wow was easy to learn, easy to master, it just souly depended on how many hours you wanted to sink into it, skill had 0 to do with wow.
Posted 12:40pm 20/11/11
One thing separated SC2 from other RTSs is how it destroyed custom games.
Posted 10:56am 02/12/11
I dont get this. Not one single bit.....

SC2 is the only remaining RTS that retains the essential RTS qualities of the original and the best RTS games that have ever been made.

Command and Conquer, the original SC, Warcraft,

All these modern RTS games have completely lost their touch, like DOW2, it is not an RTS at all, neither is C&C4.

I love SC2 because of how easy it is to play, and how simple it is. It is EXACTLY like the RTS games of the mid-late 90s that I hold so dearly.
Posted 10:59am 02/12/11
SC2, as well as W3, have defined custom games. Players have created entire games themselves via custom games, it is absolutely amazing what some people have done.

I do not understand all the hate on SC2 in these comments. I am not even a hardcore SC2 player, i love the game and play as often as I am able, but I am not like those people who do it for a living.

SC2 Multiplayer is all about having the right strategy, not only for building your own base, but for countering the strategy of your opponents, and unfortunately, in team games, a lot of it depends on your team also having a good strategy.

If you think you can just jump into MP and start pumping out whatever comes to mind with no thought at all, then you will not last 5 minutes.
Posted 11:06am 02/12/11
ruse is an rts, and it is good,

alot smaller field than others, and almost a dark reign but much pretty and based in WW2 feel
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