With StarCraft Remastered on the horizon, GameSpot had the opportunity to play the modernized version of the iconic real-time strategy game at Blizzard’s StarCraft Remastered Summit last month. And while there are no changes to the tried-and-true gameplay, new graphics and quality of life changes will give fans a reason to jump back or keep playing StarCraft. We also sat down and spoke with Grant Davies (Senior Software Engineer) and Brian Sousa (Senior Artist) to get more insight on StarCraft’s path to the current generation.
GameSpot: What was the impetus for doing StarCraft Remastered?
Grant Davies: I think StarCraft has been such a huge and influential game over the years and it lives large in so many people’s memories that after 20 years, the time felt right to circle back to this franchise and fix some of the issues, like working on modern operating systems. Then, it kind of became a bigger thing of ‘hey, let’s give it a refresh in terms of the graphics and other things.’ That was the motivation behind it.
Brian Sousa: It’s amazing that after almost 20 years people are still playing this game, and I think Blizzard could have stepped in a little bit earlier to keep supporting StarCraft. I think we haven’t had a patch since eight years ago. People are still playing this game, and why aren’t we the ones that are supporting it? And as we did this, we’re thinking, ‘why don’t we do a whole upgrade pass on it too and see if we could keep the aesthetic, and play the HD and SD versions.’ We’re not changing any of the gameplay because that’s why people are playing it. But again, you go to these tournaments and they’re showing a 640×480 resolution screen up there and it doesn’t really hold up. So, this is one of those times where we could really make it shine again.
GS: Were there any thoughts of implementing this as a patch instead of rebranding it as StarCraft Remastered in order to push out all these assets, like 4K and matchmaking?
GD: I think when you see the 4K sprites, you start to understand the volume of work that was done here. It’s a lot more than just a small content patch. I wouldn’t say it’s a full new game because the gameplay is exactly the same as how it’s been for 20 years, but when you look at it, you go, ‘man this is totally a new experience.’
BS: All of the artwork in the game, all the menus are brand new and have been remade. And we’re even going through the old cinematics and upscaling them, and remastering the sound and everything. So, we’re doing a full pass on this. It’s just not a small content patch.
GD: And it also extends beyond the artwork even though that’s an amazing part of it. Now you can launch it through the Blizzard app and your account accesses the game, a new chat system, and matchmaking are huge features that we’re bringing in as well. So, yes it’s kind of a much bigger thing than a content patch.
GS: What effect do you think this is going to have on the StarCraft 2 player base?
BS: I don’t really know if it’s going to effect it too much. The people that love StarCraft 2 are still going to love StarCraft 2. The people that love StarCraft, we’re focusing on them. So, I hope that the people who play StarCraft 2 and never had a chance to play the original might give this some attention. Maybe we’ll get some StarCraft 2 players, but we support StarCraft 2 and we love that game. I worked on it from the beginning.
GD: I can say as a fan of both games, I watched GSL and ASL. I have room in my life for both games. That’s not going to change. I don’t envision that having an effect.
GS: The gameplay is untouched. But along the way, were there any thoughts about making some tweaks like how many units you can control at once or unit pathing? Or was it the plan from the get go?
GD: We always decided from the start that gameplay was not going to change. But when you get into the details, you can still look at each individual piece and ask, ‘is this a bug we should fix or is it that now after 20 years, it’s so established and so ingrained that people think, no you can’t change that?’ So, I guess there were a few of those smaller things around the edges where we have to engage with the community and get feedback from them and ask, ‘is this a bug we need to fix or is this something that you all rely on now?’
BS: And it’s true. People want the really strange pathing or the fact that sometimes the Reavers shot kind of just disappears because the Scarab can’t path to where it wants to go. Things like that, the pros really want. Especially in a tournament game it’s added excitement because you’re thinking, is it going to work or not? I have these units and if I just path them over here they know that some of them might not make it. The pros can always do their micromanagement. And if you’re not a pro you can send everything to one spot. They find that as not as much of a deep game because now you’re kind of like, I can bring my whole army in one attack.
GS: There’s a big difference going from StarCraft 2 to playing the original again today. I was like, ‘Oh snap, there’s a lot of micromanagement! We’ve been babied this whole time!’
BS: We talked to a lot of the pros and the community to make sure that this is what they want. We didn’t want to change anything that would upset them. One of the Protoss unit’s eyes had inadvertently changed from red to blue and we got so much backlash we had it redone. Now the eyes are back to being the color they’re supposed to be. We want the community to be happy and we listen to everything they have to say.
GD: And some cases, it’s not so quick. The community is divided on some issues. Some people think it should be changed, some people don’t think it should be changed. It can be challenging to navigate that.
GS: As for compatibility with old StarCraft, people within StarCraft Remastered can play with people on the original?
BS: It’s across the board. If you wanted the free, original one today and you never upgrade and then Grant plays the remaster, I can still play him even though it’s an older free version. So, the gameplay doesn’t change at all. That way if you do play the old standard version then there’s no problem. And it also makes it cool because even replays from like five years ago work.
GS: Is there anything you’re doing to try and garner new players? Make it more beginner friendly? Many people are really good at it already. So, is there a reason for new players to jump in now since it’s remastered?
GD: I would say there’s two things. One is the new graphics. That’s an awesome opportunity for people that come in now with the graphics being 4K. And the second thing is matchmaking. I can see why people might be turned off the idea of going in and playing people who’ve been playing for 20 years. You’ve been playing for two minutes and you’ll get smashed all the time. But with matchmaking, you get matched against people who are your skill level. You’re going to get equal matches, and you’re going to progress and get better at the game.
BS: And I think if you play for the campaign, you learn how to play the game and you can take that knowledge into multiplayer games. In some games today, multiplayer is completely different. It’s one of those things back in the day. These are the units you get in the campaign and you know exactly how they all work and this is going into multiplayer you have your expectations already set for what can be done.
GS: Now that there’s going to be matchmaking, is matchmaking also going to be in the original or is that a Remastered exclusive?
BS: It’s a Remastered exclusive.
GS: And you’ll only be matched with people on Remaster.
BS: Yeah. It’s new content, new experience.
GS: Is there or was there any thought about having silver, gold, diamond, platinum leagues? Different tiers as seen in StarCraft 2?
BS: There are definitely different ideas kicked around for matchmaking. And it’s always an open conversation the same way it is with all Blizzard games. It’ll definitely be changed as we go forward and figure out exactly what the community wants from it. I think the idea of a global leaderboard that we’re running with at the moment is a pretty cool way to figure out who’s number one and you can also see relative to your friends as well.
GS: That’s how you’re going to balance matchmaking: your position on the global leaderboard?
GS: Are modding and map creator support going to be pretty much the same as before?
BS: Yeah, and we’re actually doing a couple of things with the editor to make it a little easier.
GD: Because ramps are a big thing that’s been added by the community since the release of StarCraft and that’s something we want to move to support in the StarCraft editor. Whether it’s something we’ll roll out exactly in time with this release or whether it’s something that’s coming soon, that’s an open question at this stage, but we’re definitely committed to working with the modders and the map makers to make that experience better for them.
GS: Are there any features that you worked on since the beginning that were left out and decided against or tabled for the future?
BS: So I know in the beginning we sat down. ‘This is what we want, this is what we need to do. We need to at least make the game exactly how people remember it and everything is just high resolution.’ And then we sat down and said, ‘what can we do in addition to that?’ And we’re still getting some of those features and we have a brand new lighting system that we’re showing off, which it adds depth maps, normal maps, emissive to the units in the buildings that really make them pop off the screen a little more, which is also an option. So, you can play the game flat how it’s always been played or you can turn on the lighting, and explosions will show lighting off of the buildings and things and give them a little bit of depth. Kind of like a fake 3D, 2.5D we’re calling it. But in the end for all of the features that we want to add in there, we got most of them in.
GD: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s also something as I talked about a little bit before. We need to be really careful, because sometimes something might seem like a slam dunk feature, but then as you start to talk about it more and talk to the people who’ve been playing the game for 20 years, not all of them might be on board as this being a good thing to add. We’ve been very careful in what we’ve added and made sure that everyone was happy.
BS: It was mostly to make sure that the gameplay always stayed the same and it would just be more aesthetic, rather than anything that would affect the game itself. We don’t want to give an advantage to one player because they have the HD version. It has to play exactly the same, pretty much the same. So we were just playing around with how it looks but not the size of the silhouettes or anything.
GS: I probably already know the answer to this, but was there any thoughts on console versions?
BS: No plans for a console version.
GS: Can you speak to Warcraft or the Diablo remakes? Is that still something that’s being tossed around in terms of ideas?
GD: We’ve released a couple of patches for Diablo 2. I think we’ve done a few for Warcraft 3 now. But nothing else today.