Blizzard’s Chris Sigaty on StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void and Heroes of the Storm

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Blizzard’s Chris Sigaty on StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void and Heroes of the Storm

The conclusion to the epic trilogy of StarCraft II is finally coming on November 10th this year. Legacy of the Void – the last (standalone!) expansion will focus on the Protoss campaign and bring an end to the story spanning 17 years of development. While there’s a lot of single-player content in Legacy, the multiplayer is receiving a bunch of new features that Blizzard hope will reinvigorate the eSports community and make the whole competitive aspect of StarCraft II even more attractive and perhaps slightly less overwhelming for casuals.

At the recent World Championship Series finals in Cracow, Poland, we’ve sat down with Chris Sigaty, Senior Lead Producer of StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm from Blizzard Entertainment. This interview covers the upcoming release of Legacy of the Void expansion, its features, plans for long-term support past the launch, campaign elements, as well as cross-overs with Heroes of the Storm, approach to eSports and community influence on game’s development. And a lot more! Enjoy!

SAPPHIRE Nation: Do you think people will be playing StarCraft in some form 10 years from now?

Chris Sigaty, Blizzard Entertainment: Absolutely. StarCraft and its new form of StarCraft II is our Blizzard’s chess, if you will, and we want to continue to support it and upgrade it across time, even after the launch of Legacy of the Void, so it is here in 10 years and it is really the elite competitive game that it is today and continues to be that.

S.N.: So Legacy of the Void is coming, and it’s going to be a standalone product.

C.S.: Yes.

S.N.: But it’s still a buy-to-play game.

C.S.: Yes.

S.N.: I can’t help but think that changing this model, at least for the ranked multiplayer, is the only thing that would help with StarCraft’s decreasing popularity. How would you respond to that?

C.S.: So we we do have a free way to play, it’s called Starter Edition. You can get it and play everything except for multiplayer ladder games. But you can play multiplayer StarCraft II today, any time you want. We also have spawning in the game that allows a friend to bring somebody along into the game. It’s not widely known whether that it exists, but is out there today.

“You can play multiplayer StarCraft II today, any time you want.”

We do talk about other ways to digest StarCraft II, the first step for us was making Legacy of the Void available as a standalone product, but we’ll continue to look at that over time. For now we’re just focused on getting Legacy of the Void out there.  We’ve been asked about free-to-play a lot, that’s not a focus at the moment, but certainly we talk about things like that.

S.N.: Do you have a long-term plan of continued support for StarCraft II after Legacy is out?

C.S.: Yeah, absolutely. In classic Blizzard style we do intend to ensure Legacy of the Void and StarCraft II in general get support for many years to come. We already have a number of features that we’ve talked a little bit to the community about but we’ll be talking a lot at BlizzCon this year. Features that we’ll deliver in 2016 and beyond. StarCraft II is a very important part of Blizzard’s ecosystem, the eSports side of it, but also the player community, whether it is the Arcade side, the people who love campaign, or the competitive multiplayer side – all those things are important to us and we will be supporting it in the years to come.

“We have a number of features that we’ll deliver in 2016 and beyond.”

S.N.: What’s in store for StarCraft franchise as a whole? Legacy of the Void closes the storyline of StarCraft and is supposedly the ultimate end of StarCraft saga, what’s next? Will the universe of StarCraft be alive, in the form of comics or books, after events of Legacy are over? 

C.S.: There’s more to talk about, we actually have some exciting announcements that we’ll be talking about BlizzCon that talk some more about that. I won’t be announcing anything here, right now, at the moment but the universe is something that’s near and dear to our hearts and something that we want to keep around in many forms.

Also, beyond what’s happening with this RTS game called StarCraft, we talk about: what else? We think that this is a great universe, we love it, it’s our science fiction universe, it has a lot in it and there’s so many different ways that we can provide avenues for players to digest it and play in that universe. So we’re talking about what that could be. Nothing new but to announce, but we talk about lots of different ways that StarCraft the franchise, the universe, could be experienced in the future.

S.N.: At the end of Heart of the Swarm, Raynor seems to be somehow reunited with Kerrigan. Can we see a full collaboration of this pair in Legacy of the Void, or do they just aim for the same separately? 

C.S: Well, if you remember, at the end they’re actually separate. They come to terms and they separate and go their separate ways at the end of Heart of the Swarm. That relationship definitely see some level of resolution in Legacy of the Void, they are a part of that story because it is the summary, so certainly we need to draw some conclusions there. Then of course there’s all the things that are going on specifically with the Protoss which doesn’t get too much into that, but they play a big role and we will see them both visited in various ways throughout the campaign.

S.N.: Can you tell us a bit about cool new map mechanics that will be featured in the campaign?

C.S.: Yeah, well the one that I’m having the most fun with is actually the mechanics that are sort of global mechanics that you get from the Spear of Adun (your Protoss ship and base of operations – S.N.).

Without ruining too much, at some point early in the campaign you find this ancient relic of the Protoss past and that becomes a mechanic that you use throughout the game, calling down various weapons and capabilities of the Spear of Adun.  That’s a really fun mechanic, my favorite thing to do. There is a particular mission that’s about the fourth mission in, or depending on how you pick it can be later, but it really gets to to show you the power of these sort of global call downs that you have the opportunity to use.

LotV-Screenshot-01

The team has done a really good job of changing it up and other mission. The one I’m particularly fond of is with moving platforms – you have to move and choose where you’re going and how you use resources based on where you take the platforms to. For me those are the sorts of moments we want to give the players.

S.N.: How has the community feedback so far influenced the production of the Legacy of the Void?

C.S.: Significantly. Specifically multiplayer, but in general a lot of the new features are the result of it. We’re revamping UI almost entirely again. It was a big undertaking. Every time
we mess with that level of the game’s core interface it’s a big undertaking and I will say that that’s the area where we have the biggest struggle from a resources standpoint. We have to make sure we have enough people that can work on user interface and that’s been a focus – we wanted to revamp the user interface for this, it does a lot of things hoping for new users coming in and it speaks to a lot of the feedback the community has been giving us around chat and how you get to different modes in the game, for example.

“This has been the most courageous version of beta we’ve ever had.”

The other thing that we’ve spent a ton of time on with the community, and they’ve been right there sort of arm in arm with us, is in the multiplayer. This has been the most courageous version of beta we’ve ever had. We’ve significantly changed things in the game and we’re still changing them. But we’re confident about the game, and one of the reasons we’re confident is how we’ve been working with the community and the feedback they’ve given us, and they’ve been great. We had a summit recently, where a number of influencers and community members have came out and gave us direct feedback.

S.N.: Yeah, we’ve heard rumours about some really cool things coming down the road.

C.S.: Yeah, we’re really excited about what we have. I think it has been our best “pairing” with and communication, just working together with the community to end where we are.  Also, the reason why I am still confident about all of this is that the game doesn’t finish up at launch, the game begins at launch. We have so much more we’re gonna end up learning and knowing, the community’s gonna learn things, we’re going to learn things and then together with that feedback and our interactions together we’re just going to continue to level it up and up.

LotV-Screenshot-06

S.N.: SC2 as eSport definitely seemed to be focused on single player – the 1 vs 1. Now it seems like we could see a potential switch in multiplayer matches with more than 2 players with the introduction of Archon mode. How do you feel about this?

C.S.: It’s super exciting to have more cooperative opportunities in the game. I think one of the biggest challenges of StarCraft is, because it is such an esteemed eSports and specifically one of the most elite, I would say. You know when you’re talking to a pro StarCraft gamer that this is one of the best players of any game in the world, because it is very difficult to play at that level in StarCraft.

“I think people perceive the game only as a hardcore eSport, and it’s so much more than that.”

That also becomes a challenge for the perception of the game, I think people perceive the game only as a hardcore eSport, and it’s so much more than that, at least in my opinion. Co-op modes are big part of trying to ensure people remember that.

I mean, Big Game Hunters from oldschool StarCraft was like the way you played and although you watched these pros play, and that was great, you went with your buddies online and played Big Game Hunters and you were just having fun, either beating AI or playing against each other in a world where it wasn’t so much about how competitive you were in 1 vs 1, but how awesome the units you brought in to wipe out the other person’s base were and then somebody else did the same to you. So it was much more about cooperative experiences I think, or experiences with more players than 1 vs 1. So I think it’s a really important part of it, I think it’s an important part of people understanding that StarCraft has many different ways to have a relationship with the game and the team has really done, I think, the best job yet in StarCraft of having those opportunities to find Big Game Hunters, etcetera.

So how does Archon mode then play into eSports is, we’re taking a wait-and-see approach. We’re not specifically trying to push that this is how eSports should be. The community has already done some things (Archon mode tournaments), and it’s fun, but I personally don’t believe that that it will become a replacement for 1 vs 1 one day.

The reason why is it so esteemed for eSports that exists today, I think it’s largely that this one individual is that good at playing. Similar to tennis or something like that. That is something that’s special about it, so we don’t want to lose that. But the Archon mode does provide opportunities to have some other types of tournaments, and one of the things I feel like is kind of exciting to see is an individual, somebody that’s amazing, versus not necessarily individually elite player, but against two players that may be moderate in their skill. It would be exciting to see where those things balance out. Maybe even two in Archon couldn’t beat Polt or Mana or somebody like them. Those will provide some opportunities for some really cool stories.

LotV-Screenshot-07

S.N.: Tapping into this, StarCraft is generally perceived as an elite game, with a very active elite players scene. How do want to fight this perception, how do you want to convince casual player to not be afraid of jumping into StarCraft II?

C.S.: I think part of it is just making sure people are aware that that’s in there, that this game did not come out of watching pros battle – it came out of Big Game Hunters, it’s really a game we’ve designed to be fun, ultimately, a game that has this element of learning throughout in it. There are many fun challenging experiences you can have that don’t go there. So the biggest one is messaging, I think.

“You can have a relationship with StarCraft in many non-competitive ways.”

The second thing is just ensuring the game has opportunities that demonstrate that. So Archon mode does give that opportunity, our co-op missions,  that we were previously calling Allied Commanders,  are this other big element. As you complete the campaign of the game, you can now sort of progress into co-op missions and play with a friend, with increasingly difficulty challenges versus other commanders, and you have a commander that you control on these co-op missions.

We think that’s gonna be a great way to show that you don’t have to go off to 1 vs 1 ladder land if you don’t want to. You can have a relationship with StarCraft in many non-competitive ways. But again, I think getting it out there and just reminding people that there is this thing, so they don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because there’s such a great competitive eSports at this elite level there, there’s nothing else. To remind them that there is this fun to be had as well.

S.N.: You’re working on Heroes of the Storm as well. So just to jump a little bit into Heroes-specific things, are you planning to introduce an ARAM-like (All Random All Middle) mode to the game?

C.S.: We’re talking about a lot of different modes right now. Heroes has some very exciting things coming up in front. I’m not gonna spoil anything, but a lot more will be coming up at BlizzCon.

S.N.: What’s the relationship between Heroes and StarCraft II now, especially when it comes to engines and technologies. How do these cross over today? How do things that you’re developing for StarCraft II influence the Heroes and vice versa?

C.S.: That’s a great question. Both games came from the same engine, but we’ve gotten to the point now where they’re getting different enough on technology that they are developing independently, but we are then crossing back over technologies. One of the things that we have in StarCraft II, that we just got into beta recently, is automated tournaments and that is something that we will ultimately bring back over to Heroes as soon as time permits.  Because the technologies in engines are so closely tied together at this point, we have some advantages from a technology standpoint.

There’s just so much knowledge from people that came from StarCraft II. People who understand how we make different levels, for example, and how to use the script to do great effect and allow us to make battlegrounds and heroes because of the knowledge and experience we’ve gained through StarCraft II. So there’s a lot of synergies there, but they are separating more and more as we go forward here, because the games do play differently and there’s different emphasis on playability and things like that.

S.N.: You’ve had to have a pretty big change in your workflow, I imagine, when the portion of the StarCraft II team just became a Heroes team, right? And StarCraft II had obviously a different model and process of content distribution or update cycle. How did you manage to do this switch?

C.S.: Very, very carefully and it was also very different. We are working in a manner today where Heroes – because it’s a constant content game that is constantly dropping the new hero or a new battleground or skins or whatever into the game – it had to completely change its process. That process is very different and it’s constant.

“Heroes is dropping things like every three weeks at most, and sometimes more frequently than that.”

Heroes is dropping things like every three weeks at most, and sometimes more frequently than that. That just means you have to have a different frame of mind, have a different way of planning, a different way of talking about it to the team. So StarCraft and Heroes are very different today, but you’ll hear some things that are changing with StarCraft as well at BlizzCon. But they’re different, and even when we get to where we want with StarCraft and its process, Heroes is just a different beast, being free-to-play and in constant content development.

S.N.: We’ve got a lot of self-proclaimed pro players who think that they’re better than others just because they played these other MOBA games like League of Legends. New or casual players, however don’t necessarily want to be matched with or against these kind of people. There’s a certain level of elitism becoming a bit more evident as Heroes gain on popularity. How do you want to fight these?

C.S.: I think the biggest challenge that we have today is that we’re missing a core feature that we want to get out there as quickly as we can, which is our Grandmaster league. Once that exists, that level of really proving who’s the best of the best there can be more clearly shown.

“We’re missing a core feature that we want to get out there as quickly as we can, which is our Grandmaster league”

It may be true that people coming from other games that have been at the pro level in those do very well in Heroes, but there’s enough differentiation there that I think it’s still developing. It’s too early to say, just because you or your team was really good in some other MOBA game means that you’re gonna be great at Heroes.

Our game has a lot of “crazy” thrown into it, with the specialist roles and the different mechanics from battleground to battleground. So I’m hopeful that by demonstrating more clearly who is at the top end of the things through Grandmaster being available, which we are working on, and giving it a little more time to develop out, that will just become more clear through the system that we provide.

S.N.: Do you have any specific technical improvements that Heroes or StarCraft II engines are getting in the future, like DirectX 12 support for example? It seems to be a great addition especially to RTS games.

C.S.: Yeah, so we are talking about those things. I don’t have anything to announce right now. Our next update Heroes has actually got a ton of optimizations and things coming in on all fronts, but not DirectX 12 explicitly. DirectX 12 is something that we’re looking very closely at, with the advent of Windows 10 down and everything that’s coming. It’s important that we are talking about that, but I don’t have any specific time frame for when we get that out.

“DirectX 12 is something that we’re looking very closely at”

S.N.: Any other graphical improvements that you could name?

C.S.: There are tons of specifics. Things like new effects that we’re adding to the game, like physics effects that are going into Heroes, for example, to deal with capes, some things, that allow the game to animate better, but not a specific one off engine update that I can think of off the top of my head right now.

S.N.: I remember from BlizzCon that there was this effect of going from a cinematic-like scene right into the map. Like during those bombardments from the Spear of Adun.

C.S.: Yeah, yeah, and that’s a good example, but there’s not a new one I can think of to mention that’s coming up soon.

SC2_gamescom_Allied_Commanders__Co-op_02_png_jpgcopy

S.N.: What has happened to that old promise of giving players an ability to monetize their content created on the StarCraft II engine, that map/mod marketplace?

C.S.: Yeah, so we’ve been watching what’s happened in the ecosystem recently, there’s been some other attempts at doing this on other services. We love the Arcade community, we do have some updates to how Arcade is seen caters is seen with Legacy of the Void and some improvements on that, but there’s going to be more focus on that next year.

“Honestly as far as monetizing individually, that’s something that we did say that we’re gonna do many, many years ago when we thought that was going to be possible.”

Honestly as far as monetizing individually, that’s something that we did say that we’re gonna do many, many years ago when we thought that was going to be possible. That’s not something we’re focused on in the near term.

In the near term we’re focused on opportunities working with individuals and seeing what we can do that does provide some of that element to some of the developers that are out there already, but working on more case-by-case basis rather than adding in a full system that everybody can use. But we’ll see in the long run whether we can do something like that. In the near term, again, it’s been brought back down in scope just because of our current capability and bandwidth.

S.N.: It’s kind of related, but how do you view the various stuff that Valve’s been doing recently with community-based addons, skins of other creations, and their whole Workshop idea? On a second note, on the eSports side of things – the crowdfunded tournaments. What’s your opinion on those?

C.S.: I think it’s amazing, they’ve done a really cool job of doing some really exciting things working with the community itself. We’re not in a place to do that. From an obligation standpoint we’ve got all these things we’re focused on right now that we feel are a core of the game experiences, and we don’t have people working directly on anything like that. But we do see a lot of smarts in it and hope for some future opportunities that way, but nothing specific to announce right now.

“Valve has done a really cool job of doing some really exciting things working with the community itself. We’re not in a place to do that.”

On the eSports side of it – very cool too. They’ve clearly found an awesome way to engage with people. It’s something we talk about, but again, nothing specific to say. We’re keeping on with our WCS system next year. We will talk talked more about it in the near future. There will definitely be some tweaks and changes to it, but it will exist. Similar with Heroes, will be going into a WCS-like system that’s more official. This year it was just a Road to BlizzCon due to time, but we will be moving on to something more official next year.

S.N.: From the media perspective, at least, things like big prize pools – The Invitational scale prize pools – basically put Blizzard to shame. These certainly drive some level engagement and popularity, just because of the big number involved. What’s your view on that?

C.S.: The big numbers… they do cause spectacle, and they cause media attention specifically, especially from groups that don’t know anything about the ecosystem that exist there and the players that exist there. But I think it can also hurt the existing ecosystem. You can literally cause that the only time for there to be an importance, or are people looking in, is when spectacle exists. And we’ve always tried our best to create an evenness to it.

“The big numbers… they do cause spectacle, and they cause media attention specifically, especially from groups that don’t know anything about the ecosystem that exist there and the players that exist there.”

Since we interact with so many different companies and community members that are running these things, we want to ensure they have the opportunity to shine as well, and if we do too big of a prize pool or do something like that, we do worry about that ecosystem. So it’s something that we’re very much paying attention to, but dipping our toe lightly into the water there and just looking at how that all works and considering how does it work with our ecosystem the right way.

Creating creating that level of spectacle is something we certainly could consider, but personally I would be worried to just go do the same exact thing because it would have a potentially negative impact on the overall structure and infrastructure we have today.

S.N.: Thank you very much, Chris!
C.S.: Awesome, thanks for coming, really appreciate it!

Jakub "Kumbol" Misiura
Jakub is the Editor-in-Chief of a group of Polish fansites about Blizzard games - WoWCenter.pl and HotSCenter.pl. He lurks on twitter @kumbol.

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