Rob Pardo and Chris Metzen hosted the Starcraft II gameplay panel here in Anaheim this afternoon at BlizzCon 2008 -- they showed off, for the first time in public, some of the adventure-based gameplay and ingame cinematics that will come with Blizzard's next RTS release (or next three RTS releases, as the case may be).

After the break, what we saw of Starcraft II's Terran campaign, and Rob Pardo explains the reasoning behind Blizzard's decision to turn Starcraft II into three separate games.


Pardo started off the talk by talking about Blizzard's goals for Starcraft II. With Powerpoint slides flying, he said that Blizzard wants to emphasize player choice in the game (by creating branching storylines and paths for characters to take), and really immerse players in the Starcraft universe. To that end, Starcraft II won't be your normal RTS -- there are ingame cutscenes and what might best be described as "interactive menus" in between the RTS stages. You'll choose what to do next and what paths to take by clicking on interactive 3D environments, like living menus on the screen.



Pardo fired up the demo, and it started with a cutscene showing Jim Raynor (the Terran "anchor" -- Kerrigan and Zeratul will lead the Zerg and Protoss campaigns, similarly) hanging out in a dusty bar, finding faith in a bottle. In bursts a new character, Tychus Finley (the marine we saw getting his suit on in the cinematic), who says he's got a job for Raynor, and in a detailed cutscene fills in the backstory: Mengsk has taken over the world, the Dominion rules all, and Finley just got out of prison and has a job filtering goods over the black market. He recruits Raynor to obtain an alien artifact, and then control goes to the player, who can navigate the scene that Raynor and Finley are standing in.



The in-game cinematics looked excellent, actually -- Pardo told us that the cinematic team has been working a lot on real-time effects, and working to get the look up to Blizzard standards. Unfortunately, they're not quite as good as pre-rendered Blizzard cinematics, but what is, really? And the versions we saw were works in progress -- you could tell that some actions weren't quite matched up or complete.

In the environment (an interactive 3D panorama, basically), there are all kinds of things to click on -- a jukebox that plays music (it only turns on and off at this point, but eventually you can imagine that a Warcraft tune will probably be hidden in there), an artboard with various photos and mementos on it that Raynor will tell you about as you click on, a television that will play the latest news from the Starcraft universe (likely whatever mayhem you've caused in your last mission). And of course, there's something to click on to actually start the mission.

Which Pardo didn't do -- instead, he used a cheat code ("skipmission," though of course that won't work in the final game) to move to the next cutscene. He didn't show off RTS gameplay at all -- this demo was all about the stuff in between the RTS stages, and how Starcraft II builds up the story and the characters when you're not real-time strategizing.



And speaking of building up characters, eventually it's discovered that Raynor isn't so down-on-his-luck after all -- he's got a warp class jumpship that can come pick him up when the Zerg rear their ugly head. On the ship, there are three more different environments to explore, each with their own gameplay tweaks: in the ship's cantina, you can meet new characters, and in the ship's armory, you can talk to an engineer and upgrade your technology. And on the ship's bridge, the universe really opens up, and you can see all of the various available missions to run and visit. He showed an early version of the star map -- it looked kind of like the Mass Effect map, where you could choose which missions to run and get a little briefing for each.

Pardo then turned the game off, and it was time to make the announcement: he said that with all of this adventure gameplay and all of these cinematics and missions Starcraft II was just getting too big -- they wanted every race to have its own filled-out story, complete with options and branching paths and full characters. And so, said Pardo, they had three options: cut back and do less, open up and make three games, or delay the game greatly while still compromising. He asked the audience what they would have done, and they cheered when given the option Blizzard chose: there will be three different Starcraft II games, one for each race.



Multiplayer, he said, won't be affected -- all three races will be playable in multiplayer in each game. Each game will have its own plot and story. And because they separated them, they'll do more in each one -- bonus missions, sidequests, easter eggs, and so on. And they'll try to mix them up as well -- there's a Protoss mini-mission in the Terran campaign, and so on.




Finally, Pardo showed off a few cinematics being worked on -- one, called "Kerrigan's Dream," was just a sketched mockup of Kerrigan while still human, being left on the planet surrounded by the Zerg closing in. And the second was actually one minute of the game's four minute intro cinematic: Zeratul, the Protoss Zealot, fought his way through some Zerg baddies before meeting up with Kerrigan herself, and the cinematic ended and the game began with a great line by the Queen of Blades herself, to Zeratul: "I knew you'd find your way here, eventually."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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