The first details of the oncoming expansion for StarCraft II, Heart of the Swarm, have been released. We talked with StarCraft II producer Tony Hsu about what will be different in the Heart of the Swarm compared to the Wings of Liberty campaign and what Blizzard does to ensure there are no story inconsistencies in the campaign.
So, Heart of the Swarm is the first addon for StarCraft II. What’s new?
Well, you know first and foremost where you left off: Wings of Liberty was a very terran-centered campaign where you were dealing with Raynor, you were dealing with the small men, you were dealing with the Hyperion, your little group of rebels. More than anything you were able to just affect a small, little bit of the world. But with Heart of the Swarm we are able to give you Kerrigan’s perspective, we are able to give you the Zerg’s perspective of some of the issues and some of the goals with what the Zerg deal. So as opposed to trying to libert a small town, you’re siegeing planets, you are taking over large areas and you are leading invasions.
As far as new things for story mode, there is Kerrigan’s Battle focus. This is one of the big things. As opposed to having Raynor, who is very mortal. As he dies on the map, you lose it and it’s a little bit frustrating. That respect, Kerrigan really is the heart of the army. She’s able to lead you into battle and she can be on the forefront. One of the things we we’re doing with having battle focuses are different ways for you to configure how you want to play Kerrigan: Currently we have „Spec Ops”, where you can play a little bit more stealthy and use her to kind of hit and run and to have different psychic abilities. One of the other Specs that we have is, in regards to our current build, „Corruption”, which is kind of a support role, so that you her to infect enemy opponents and you can use them for your Zerglings to swarm enemies. In having different battle focuses, as you play through the game, more abilities will unlock, more focuses will unlock and that will fundamentaly change how Kerrigan can lead your army. And the great thing about it is, that if Kerrigan dies, as oppesed to losing a mission, she can always come back because she is such a powerful being. She ready to come back to the battle again and she can continue to lead your armys from the forefront.
Actually, I just had to test that, because Kerrigan usually never died in these two demo missions if you play them normally. But if you explicitly test that, then you see how these mechanics work and that there is a cooldown before you can revive her.
You said the story opens up a bit, because Kerrigan knows a lot more of what is going on. Already in Wings of Liberty Kerrigan makes some notes that she is really knowing what is going on and Raynor doesn’t know anything about it. So will we get to know more about what Kerrigan really knew in Wings of Liberty? All this major background?
Yeah, definately. I think you will get to see a lot more of that and, like you said, being able to play Kerrigan and being able to interact with the Zerg characters Abathur and Izsha. The whole premise of Izsha is that she is an advisor that Kerrigan created in the past to kind of keep a lot of her memory and to keep a lot of things that weren’t on the immideate tip of her mind but that she wanted to remeber. So, as you are playing through the game and you interact more with Izsha, you will have more of those things revealed to you. And as you are playing through the campaign, you’ll find more of what Kerrigan’s religion is, beyond just strictly survival of „The Protoss are out to kill me, the Terrans are out to kill me, Mengsk wants to kill me and I don’t know if I have any friends in this universe.“ You know, as you are going out and you are gathering your brood and you bring them together, you know Kerrigan has an agenda and those are the things that you will discover as you are playing through the campaign. You know, more about the prophecy, more about who and what she is as a person, how she evolves and how she grows.
So, Izsha and also Abathur take kind of the role the cerebrates had in the original StarCraft with Daggoth giving you advice how to build your troops and how the swarm evolves. So these characters take now over their roles as the cerebrates are dead?
I think one of the things that we wanted to make sure is that Kerrigan had companions. But we wanted to make them feel very zerg in field that they are part of the hive mind and even Abathur loots the fact that when they didn’t have a queen they were completely lost and they were worse then feral beats and Kerrigan had to bring them back together to make the Zerg whole once again. This is very important for the Zerg. And as you are playing through the campaign to your hub, additional characters join you through your progresses. They will definately be Zerg characters as well, giving you that perspective of how the Zerg think, how they interact and how the whole brood works together.
When I though about what there might be in heart of the Swarm, as after Wings of Liberty Kerrigan was kind of defeated and out of the game, so I thought you might include be some flashbacks from older times with Kerrigan. Is that an option that you considered?
Those are all possibilities. I mean, one of the things with StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is that want to make sure that we are moving the story forward, but in doing so in some cases we have do some backstory, for instance for the Kerrigan betrayal cinematic that we had in Wings of Liberty. That was really a lot of the view and a lof of the voiceovers and dialogues from the original StarCraft. And it gives you that perspective of what happened in that scene with Kerrigan being betrayed by Mengsk, but from her perspective. So, as the story moves forward, if the opportunity .. presents itself, we will definately have the ability to revisit old areas or old memories or to fill in holes where you might previously have questions and haven’t played StarCraft or haven’t played Wings of Liberty in order to help drive the whole story forward.
Speaking of stuff that has been introduced before: Due to all the novels and books that have been released and driving the story, there is a lot more now going on in the StarCraft universe. Although there are some characters that have been mentioned in the books and in Wings of Liberty, there is not really much from the events that happened in the books being mentioned in Wings of Liberty. Is there a special reason for that you really don’t reference certain events and will you maybe change that in Heart of the Swarm?
I think there are things that we’ve referenced. For instance, even in Wings of Liberty we’ve mentioned the Spectre program, we’ve talked about Project Shadowblade. We had those things come from the books and we brought them into our game. Or you know, for instance, one of the things that you even saw in the teaser trailer, is that Nova is clearly a part of this game and she obviously was from our former Ghost game, but since then been developed in our books and then flashed out more of a character that we brough her into Wings [of Liberty] and we’ll bring her into in Heart of the Swarm as well. What you’ve seen so far is just a vers small sneak peak of what we had to offer from the early part of the campaign. As you play through more there is always the opportunity to bring more characters from books, lore from books or even the greater perspective of the StarCraft universe. Since we have this is expansion and we have Legacy of the Void left, there is still a lot of story that we want to tell.
Keeping into the story stuff: In some situations you provided really detailed information, for example on your website there is this planet overview and you write something like how large the population of Korhal is. Aren’t you afraid that this might be too much information leading to too much constraints later on? For example if you have billions of people living on Korhal, some fans will ask „Hey, two centuries ago there were just 30,000 settlers. How can you have such a huge population growth?“
I don’t really think that putting more information out there offers more contraints. More than that it actuallys offers opportunities. Looking at a hypothetical number of you know Korhal might have a small population and than it suddenly has a population boom, those are things that could be explained through books, through side stories of whether it is through genetic engineering or whether it’s through a part in culture. Something like haveing Korhal with a big population suddenly becomes small, something obviously happend here. So, I think in providing this information out there, that is one of the things that makes StarCraft II such a successful IP. Beyond having an amazing game, it is that we really care and pay attention to the story. We have flashed out characters, we provide a lot of the back story and a lot of that technical data. So if you wanted to play the game, you can play the game, but if you are really into much more of lore and the story and the characters and you want to find out more about the world, we have that information available to you, much like in story mode, where you have conversations and characters. As you play through Heart of the Swarm, you can actually just play through the missions or you can actually spend the time talking to the characters, learning much more about the richness of the story and why people are as they are.