For the last few days, Blizzard has been putting on an excellent show in Cologne, Germany at Gamescom 2016. During this event, Blizzard has produced show matches, tournaments, signing sessions, a cosplay contest, hosted community streamers, provided interviews, and unveiled a host of new content for all of their franchises. This year it seems like Blizzard has worked hard to provide the Europeans with an experience similar to BlizzCon. Not since the discontinued World Wide Invitational events, has Blizzard released this amount and quality of content programming exclusively at a European event. It's a welcome change considering that the last World Wide Invitational took place June 28 - 29, 2008 in Paris, France and Blizzard's audience is now truly global.
On Saturday night, Blizzard invited the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Blizzard's Audio Director/Composer Russel Brower, to perform a special Video Games Live concert set against Blizzard montages and cinematics. The entire event was live streamed across the world and it included several never before performed pieces, including the music/choral accompaniment to the StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void intro cinematic.
Watching the Legacy of the Void cinematic come to life was impressive. In addition, the set also included music from Wings of Legacy. At Gamescom, Blizzard and Video Games Live provided an excellent performance that included pieces spanning the width and breadth of Blizzard's games. You can watch the entire concert here.
In anticipation of Legacy of the Void's release next month, Blizzard has announced a significant refresh to the StarCraft II user interface. The updates will be released with the forthcoming Patch 3.0 for all instances of StarCraft II, including Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm, and even the Starter Edition. The overall goal of the revisions was to create a more social experience in the client and the specific areas of focus were a direct result of community feedback. The update provides extensive improvements to the Arcade, the chat system, and the menus throughout the client, including the introduction of additional hotkeys.
One of the most impactful changes is that the menu navigation is has been localized entirely within the top-left corner of the screen. The Arcade menu has been completely overhauled, placing map info directly in the menu screen and moving 'Open Games' to be the default module. Accordingly, the 'Open Games' list is now quicker and easier to browse. Chat now has a permanent space along the right side of the player's screen and the interface has been designed so that it will never interfere with the new menu navigation. Blizzard has eliminated the multi-window regime from the previous design and instead has streamlined the chat experience into one chat window with multiple conversation tabs. To learn more about all of the changes, you can read Blizzard's announcement post and watch a summary video below:
Overhauling the UI To ensure this new chat system would work well with the rest of the UI, it became clear we would have to redesign the rest of the game’s screens so we meticulously overhauled the spacing, format, and content of every section. In order to give our content more space, we moved the navigation, sub-navigation, and the party panel to the top of the screen. With this extra room, we saw an opportunity to inlay new 3D scenes into every screen to further bring the StarCraft universe to life in the UI.
As an homage to the nostalgia that has persisted for more than seventeen years, Blizzard redesigned the StarCraft II campaign menu in the style of the original StarCraft and Brood War menus. While we are delighted by the throwback, technically, Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm, and Legacy of the Void represent episodes 7, 8, and 9, in the StarCraft saga. Blizzard likely wishes to avoid the resulting confusion from new players to the franchise and view the StarCraft II campaigns as a standalone trilogy. However, we would love to see an alternative naming convention the respects the continuity of the story line. Better yet, having placeholder menus for the older campaigns that open short summaries and have links to the StarCraft and Brood War game clients would be an excellent gateway mechanic to entice a new generation to experience the original source material.
The Redesigned StarCraft II Campaign Menu
The Original StarCraft Campaign Menu
The StarCraft: Brood War Campaign Menu
The new interface design appears to inspired by minimalist design principles and due to the resulting simplicity, it possesses a clean modern aesthetic. By streamlining the menu and chat systems, Blizzard has addressed many of the longstanding original user interface issues that have caused vocal and widespread concern throughout the community since the introduction of Battle.net 2.0. The community has responded positively to the portions of the refresh previewed and, perhaps more importantly, to this example of Blizzard's willingness to invest in fundamental revisions to existing systems. Many in the community have noted and celebrated the similarities between the changes inherent in this revamp and the original Battle.net features found in Brood War, perhaps proving that great gameplay wasn't Brood War's only legacy. A perfect mix of new and old, Blizzard has always been forthright about their iterative process and this redesign is a perfect example of the goodwill and success that results that come from that strong commitment to game's ecosystem. These adjustments to the UI have the potential to drastically improve both current and future fans' StarCraft experiences.
While no specific date has been announced for Patch 3.0, luckily fans do not have long to wait, the update will be coming before Legacy of the Void's launch on November 10, 2015.
As Blizzard's James Waugh, Director of Story Development & Lead Writer for StarCraft II, recently announced at TwitchCon, there are five new StarCraft lore short stories currently in production. Today, Blizzard announced the release schedule for all five stories.
Blizzard has been slowly producing lore focused StarCraft short stories by various authors for several years now. The heaviest concentration of new material has consistently been released to build up hype leading up to the game launches and relevantly, these newest stories will all be published before Legacy of the Void drops on November 10, 2015. These Protoss-centric stories will likely endeavor to illustrate specific moments in their history, flesh out their culture and motivations in more detail, and act as a bridge between the previous games and what is to come in LotV. The last story, The Exit, by Danny McAleese was published on July 1, 2014.
Hopefully, these novellas will breathe some fresh air into the StarCraft lore and provide some great contextual clues for what is to come in Legacy of the Void. Check back after each short story's release for a brief summary and our review.
Today during Blizzard's TwitchCon presentation, James Waugh, Director of Story Development & Lead Writer of Legacy of the Void, and Matt Morris, Legacy of the Void Lead Campaign Designer, revealed the full version of the animated short, StarCraft Reclamation teased at the WCS Season 3 Premier League Finals in Kraków, Poland on September 13. You can watch the reveal here.
The feature acts as a prequel to the beautiful Legacy of the Void opening cinematic that was also released at the WCS Season 3 finals a few weeks ago. Reclamation takes place on the eve of the Protoss' Golden Armada attempt to retake Aiur from the Zerg. In it, Artanis, Tassadar's protege and the Protoss Hierarch, contemplates his decision to invade Aiur and the typical burdens of leadership.
Artanis and Kaldaris
The short opens with Artanis contemplating the future in solitude. When Artanis' old friend, Khaldaris, the one-eyed Protoss Zealot featured in the intro cinematic, comes looking for him, Artanis shares his uncertainty of their current course. Lamenting the diminished number of Protoss that remain, he questions the wisdom of spending more lives to retake a relic of his race's past.
When challenged by his old friend, Kaldaris, the one-eyed Protoss Zealot featured in the intro cinematic, Kaldaris reminds him that there has been light throughout the darkness. He points out that Khas, the Protoss who introduced the Khala to the Protoss - thus ending the Aeon of Strife, forged order from the chaos. Kaldalis believes that retaking Aiur represents a new beginning for a united Protoss. He argues, that remaking Aiur as it could have been - how it could be - is worth dying for. He believes in it so much that he has volunteered to lead the vanguard and one of the first to step back on Aiur's sacred soil. He expects to perish in the attempt and in doing so provide a future for his people. Kaldaris epitomizes the ideal Protoss warrior and he is ultimately successful in convincing Artanis that Aiur is worth fighting for - it is worth dying for.
The short is elegantly animated, well scripted, and exquisitely voiced. It hits most of the major notes that many fans were hoping for, and ties-in wonderfully with the Protoss ethos. It is a compelling intro to all of the themes and Protoss characteristics that Blizzard has been saying they want to include in Legacy of the Void. If the material we have seen so far is any indication of Legacy of the Void's campaign story and dialogue, it could very well be the best of the trilogy - by far. Our only complaints regarding Reclamation revolve around missing references to Fenix, Tassadar, and Adun. Those warriors represent the very best of the Protoss, and all three, directly or indirectly, were major influences on Artanis. It would have been nice to have seen them included in Artanis' recollection. He has lost much and their deeds are as much a reflection of the Protoss as they are of who Artanis has become. However, Reclamation does do all of the right things and it is a wonderful tool to hype Legacy of the Void. As Blizzard continues to explore new ways to effectively continue the StarCraft story, short vignettes like this are, in our opinion, an excellent option - more, please.
StarCraft is a series that dates all the way back to 1998, and with so much history we wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve forgotten some things along the years. With that in mind, Carbot Animations has created a video that serves as a rather jovial approach in rapidly teaching you the story of StarCraft.
In addition to the commanders already announced (Raynor, Kerrigan, and Artanis), Blizzard has announced 3 new commanders for Co-op Missions!
Swann is a mechanical master of all things Terran. With Swann, you’ll have access to unique and advanced weaponry, which you can use to wreak unspeakable mayhem across the battlefield. Beginning each game with a massive laser drill, Swann will be unable to construct a Barracks. Instead, Swann relies entirely upon his mechanical prowess, and once he’s constructed his army there is little that can stop him.
As Zagara, you’ll experience with profound clarity why the Zerg are referred to as the Swarm. You’ll multiply your economy at breakneck speeds, and spawn units in relentless waves to assault your opponents. Zagara herself will be present on the battlefield, hosting a repertoire of abilities to lend aid to your efforts. Zagara can call down sacs that rain damage and more Zerg creatures, or spawn potent Hunter Killers to take down priority targets. Zagara can even increase the combat prowess of all friendly units by sending them into a frenzy.
Vorazun leverages the advanced technology of the Protoss with the cunning and adaptable aspects of the Dark Templar to devastating effect. Gain access to some of the most mysterious powers of the Protoss, such as Dark Archons, and use ancient technologies to perform powerful feats—like stopping time itself. With Vorazun, you’ll have some of the most versatile tools in the StarCraft universe available to you . . . the question is, will you be crafty enough to claim victory?
Blizzard recently announced a new partnership with Random House LLC to publish new novels set in Blizzard's various universes. While only novels for Warcraft and StarCraft were disclosed, the announcement did hint that there may be future plans for tales set in Blizzard's other IPs.
This new publishing line will launch in March 2016 with the novel World of Warcraft: Illidan by William King, followed by an original StarCraft novel by New York Times bestselling author Timothy Zahn.
This announcement marks the first true StarCraft novel since Heart of the Swarm's 2012 Flashpoint by Christie Golden. However, several other short stories have continued to be published on Battle.net in the intervening years. The most recent of which was The Exit by Danny McAleese. Not only do expanded universe projects benefit the fans, they also provide yet another means for players to become engaged in the universe. For people already invested, additional transmedia works reinforce that loyalty and passion. Perhaps it is most fitting for StarCraft branded projects that they form and maintain such a unique and powerful symbiotic relationship. Abathur would likely approve of the elegant efficiency.
It appears that the StarCraft novel by Timothy Zahn will provide Blizzard an opportunity to push the story forward, past the StarCraft II game trilogy and focus on the aftermath of the Koprulu Sector as we have known it so far. Utilizing novels, with their limitless potential for world building, seems to be a good move by Blizzard to bridge the gap between the current story and whatever is next. Hopefully, the novel(s) will be long enough to provide serious depth, mature story lines, compelling characters. One of the developers once told us that the novels give the Blizzard the opportunity to illustrate a particular aspect of the story definitively. With fidelity to that vision and high caliber writing, quality StarCraft lore could live on beyond the games for years to come.
Today, Blizzard released details of each of the in-game goodies included with the purchase of either a physical or virtual BlizzCon 2015 ticket. Similar to prior years, the items will unlock shortly after BlizzCon begins and players will receive at least one in-game reward for each of Blizzard's current flagship games. BlizzCon 2015 will take place in Anaheim, California November 6-7, 2015. While tickets to attend the two-day convention have been sold out for some time, the virtual ticket is available for $39.99.
World of Warcraft - Murkadin Pet
After consuming the shin bone of Gul'dan, this fiesty demon hunter was caged for 10,000 years by his brother Murkfurion. Now he’s ready to unleash his finfernal rage in pet battles across Azeroth!
Heroes of the Storm - Nexus Battle Beast Mount
Teams will tremble and Cores will crumble when you storm into combat astride the mighty Nexus Battle Beast!
Hearthstone - Blizzard 2015 Card Back
Hearthstone on phones, Tavern Brawls, Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, and more—a very cool year, indeed.
StarCraft II - Portraits
Show off your status as a galactic BlizzConquerer with a pair of Legacy of the Void–themed portraits invoking the mysteries of the Xel’Naga and the power of the Spear of Adun.
Diablo III - BlizzCon Pennant, Pet, and Portrait
A trio of treasures awaits! Fly the colors of the BlizzCon crusade with an all-new pennant, and mrglgllglgll the demonic hordes with your Murkgoblin pet and portrait.*
The StarCraft rewards are a little underwhelming. Something BlizzCon themed would have been preferable. For example, a special BlizzCon inspired unit skin, ala the 2014 & 2015 BlizzCon Heroes of the Storm mounts, or a unique Allied Commander mission, would have been exceptional. We will just have to console ourselves with all of the new campaign, features, UI, modes, units, and skins coming with Legacy of the Void's imminent release.