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Interview: Chris Metzen talks StarCraft 2

Kevin Kelly

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Chris Metzen, Blizzard's VP of Creative Development, has a lot of things to keep in his head as the loremaster / worldbuilder / storymaster at Blizzard, and he's been busy utilizing all of those titles on the Terran-heavy StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty and its two planned expansion packs that will focus on the Zerg and Protoss races. Ensconced in an office that overlooks the bustling Blizzard campus, Metzen's office is packed with enough action heroes, statues, and toys to open his own store, which is (for some unknown reason) a requirement in the gaming industry.

We talked with Chris about how Blizzard is spreading this story out, what the expansions packs hold in store, how he feels about offending South Korea, and more. If you're done searing your retinas with the newly released game footage, then jump on by and read the full interview just after the break.

Gallery: Starcraft 2 (04/19/2010) | 13 Photos

Joystiq: Given that this is going to be three games, do you think that it encompasses all the lore that you guys wanted to tell or are there still going to be plenty of stories in the StarCraft space?

"The decision to split the campaigns into separate boxed expansions bought us tidal waves of freedom in terms of really letting the story breathe"

Chris Metzen: Well, I'd imagine that there's always going to be stories in the StarCraft space. Already we've got like beats or themes or hooks that will clearly keep going after this story is finished. You know, just affects of certain characters that we've grown to love over the last couple of years. Like, "Ah, this guy is going to be doing X and Y down the road." Provided there's products after these three, we have no idea if there will be. But ultimately, the decision to split the campaigns into separate boxed expansions bought us tidal waves of freedom in terms of really letting the story breathe and really letting these characters breathe. Like in the Starcraft 1 or the Warcraft 3 vein where you had pretty much all the race campaigns crammed into a single box, in those products you'll have some pretty good themes and some clever bits, but it's all kind of hyper-compressed, and sometimes strangely decompressed in a weird way in terms of the level flow.

So this allowed us to really craft a story that just breathes and just really inhabits its own space. And each of them really has its own themes and characters, and really its own identity. And it doesn't feel rushed. We've never developed a campaign at this scale before and it's been awesome. The big trick is too much freedom, they talk about feature creep, it's kind of like story creep. You know, you still have to try and pull it back in and construct something that is achievable and not let it spin out too far into space. But it's been good. And it feels good. It feels like a rich experience.

WoW happened in between StarCraft 1 and StarCraft 2. Did you learn anything from that game that you've brought to StarCraft 2?

Boy, let me think about that. It's not so much WoW ... I'm sure that there were many. I'm not conjuring any great ones off the top of my head, but I can tell you from WoW, which was such a giant project and really the main character of WoW was the world itself – it was kingdoms and art kits and races and cultures – I'll tell you, by the time StarCraft really got up and running, StarCraft 2, myself and others were desperate to get back into something that was just about people, just a small handful of characters. Granted, it's got its mythology and its big grinding galactic conflict, but it's so much more focused. It was good to be able to focus back in again and, from a fictional standpoint, or a franchise standpoint, reinvest in those smaller components.

You know, the character-driven stuff, the kind of characters that fans react to. Where Warcraft's just got hundreds of characters, potentially. It felt like our ability as storytellers or just kind of franchise crafters, I guess you would say, got a lot more honed this time around. We were coming packing from WoW, but we go to execute against this thing at a much higher level from having been through WoW. We dealt with kind of meta-concepts and big world-based ideas. It was good for us to get back in the saddle and just refine that world-building experience.

What are your thoughts about the Adults Only rating the title has been given in Korea?

You know, I haven't even talked to anybody about that. I saw it the other day, but I've kind of been an ostrich in the ground for the past week. But yeah, we'll see how that shakes out. I haven't really gotten any heads up about it. I know we've been back and forth with the rating boards a number of times, but, you know, we shall see. I'm not sure what the change was about, necessarily, unless they were just specifically looking at multiplayer units fighting or whatever at a certain level of the game. I don't know. I have no idea. If they were looking at single player ... there are scenes taking places in bars and such. There's no bars in South Korea, right? So maybe they were greatly offended. [laughs] I don't know.

Do you have a new favorite voice over line in this game?

I've got a lot of them. There's a character we made up named Tychus Findlay who's kind of Raynor's old war buddy. And this guy just kills me. We were recording, and we recorded for over a year, and every day a guy named Neil Kaplan came in to do the voice. I would just giggle the whole time because he's just riffing and, [does his best Tychus impersonation] "He's just a real angry man." Just throwing out these one liners.

Are we going to hear your voice again this time? "Battler Cruiser: operational" is one of our favorites.

You know, I didn't actually get to do any of the character stuff, but I did a couple units -- the Marine in the battle cruiser or whatever. There was something about the battle cruiser pilot commenting on the lack of martinis on the bridge as he's trying to win his battle or whatever. I don't remember exactly what the line was, but it was a lot of fun to get back into the unit thing. There's all sorts of lines I just giggle at. Hopefully, people will respond to the muddy humor throughout the single player.

You're not really involved in the multiplayer, but has anything surprised you?

Yeah, that's not my realm. But we're always totally surprised at how quickly people just up and running are breaking every kind of motif. Like, "Oh this is safe" and then Boom! "Holy cow!" Accounting for people's creativity. But it's always that way. We're always kind of stunned at how quickly people become ninjas.

You're calling the next two installments expansions, but will they have equal amounts of content per title?

I think you have to look at it terms of multiplayer and single player. For multiplayer, Wings of Liberty pretty much has everything you need to play each of these races. So each expansion set will have probably additional units or whatever. I don't want to get caught rolling out bullet points, because I don't know. But that's pretty close.

Additional units that'll be in the multiplayer?

That help to balance the multiplayer, right. Just like our normal expansion sets for RTS. I don't know that it will really be all that much different from the kind of content or expanded support content we've put out before. But in terms of the single player component, the two expansions will be at least as robust as the shipping game. And our expansion sets usually are. Actually, I think the Frozen Throne expansion we did for Warcraft 3 did technically have one less RTS campaign. It took more the shape of an RPG campaign. But there was still ... per data point and piece of art, like it was a robust expansion set. We're always going to do that. These chapters are vital and they're huge. Like those boxes, while technically expansion sets, are going to be a lot of work and really dense experiences in and of themselves. And I kind of look at the whole thing as "the story". It's just kind of broken into chapters.

In the single-player campaign you get to play as Zeratul and use some Protoss forces. Is that the only crossover in the single player from the Terran missions?

"The next one's Zerg heavy"

Let me think about that. For the most part, there's kind of a string of meaningful Zeratul missions that counter-balance certain parts of the broad story themes playing out. Like he'll reveal more of what's going on than Raynor knows. But I think that's about it for Wings of Liberty in terms of really having a robust play experience with another race. But it will probably play out with the additional expansions in similar ways. The next one's Zerg heavy, then it's like you'll have kind of like a mini-campaign of one of the other races that kind of is contrasting certain story elements that are taking place that you would not see as the Zerg player. It was a lot of fun and it's just like a nice little spicy thing in there to keep it fresh, and wound up being just the right story thing to do to make it all make sense. So I think we'll chase that paradigm to some great degree with the upcoming ones.

A collector's edition for Wings of Liberty was just announced. Could there be a collector's edition for the expansions when they come out? Added content and everything?

Oh wow! I hadn't even thought about that yet. Not being a marketing dude or whatever, it really comes down to the level of fan excitement. And if it just felt like an event then that might be a nice reason to provide people a product version of it that is sexier, has deeper tchotchkes. It just all comes down, I think, to how people respond to it. It's hard to say.

WoW has done it with each of its expansions.

Right. Tremendous amount of content. It's almost like a whole new SKU, although it's technically not. But it's all about fan reaction. At the end of the day, the WoW fan base seems to be hip to pick up those products. It just feels more exciting, more marquee, kind of an entertainment event. And if people really rally around Wings of Liberty and feel that the next couple chapters could be as exciting, I don't see why we wouldn't.

Thanks, Chris. Nice seeing you again.

You too! Thanks for coming out.

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