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The BlizzCon 2008 Art Panel presentation was similar in format to the Worldwide Invitational 2008 Art Panel. It was presided over by Samwise Dider, Blizzard Art Director, and Brian Sousa, Senior 3D Artist for StarCraft II. However, the panel began with the Q&A session due to technical problems.

Q&A Session

The following are some of the main points covered during the Q&A Session:

  • “The art isn't finished till the game ships.” - Samwise

  • Blizzard has not decided how many full-scale movie cinematics there will be, but there will be many in-game cinematics. This should be good news though; in the StarCraft II Lore Panel, Chris Metzen mentioned that the in-game cinematics are so much more interesting than the pre-rendered because the in-game cutscenes show off the story better and the writers are given more time to fine-tune the in-game cinematics. The pre-rendered cinematics offer less room for modification or improvement because they must be planned out ahead very early on in the process - since Blizzard loves to do multiple passes this is particularly troublesome. Both the pre-rendered and in-game cinematics will be story-intensive.

  • The Dark Templar are a motley assortment - they are not militaristic or pristine. There are two Dark Templar models in the game, one has a scythe and the other has a warp blade. Samwise also mentioned that a Dark Templar with two blades might be added later. These Dark Templar variations will be spawned randomly. However, there’s not much point in giving the Zergling, for example, anything special because they are harder to eyeball.

  • StarCraft II is the first Blizzard game to seriously work with lighting. Lighting makes or breaks graphics – it is necessary to find lighting that looks good and bend it to the environments. The lighting for multiplayer maps for StarCraft II will all be the same.

  • The Protoss’ gold metals contrasted well with the grimey and rusty Terrans and the organic Zerg. In StarCraft II, depending on the light, gold will change from bright to dark to banana-ish gold.

  • Blizzard’s art team’s advice for breaking into the graphics industry is to focus on modeling and texturing, especially with a strong drawing background. After you learn how to model and texture, you can pretty much model anything.

  • Next, Samwise talks about the art of the Xel'Naga. The Xel’Naga are the mother race – they are what the Protoss would take their architecture from, but with some Zerg influences while still being unique.

  • Zero, one of StarCraft Legacy’s staff members asked about the Infestor. Samwise replied that the Zerg were the last race that they began working on. Right after the Zerg announcement, the art team went to polish the Terran and Protoss - they have yet to do that pass on Zerg.

  • Samwise then outlined the basic artistic differences between the three franchises. He claimed that it’s difficult moving between the Diablo, StarCraft and Warcraft universes:
    • Warcraft - super hero elements, giant shoulder pads, giant weapons, more humor.
    • StarCraft – darker, still heroic, but not as silly. Colors are not as bright, shiny and speckly, but rusty & dingy.
    • Diablo - more dark, more down to earth, more realistic. Unique compelling characters - even realistic guys are larger than life with bold silhouettes and superhero proportions.

  • When asked about the Zergling, Samwise replied that the Zergling in StarCraft was like 8 pixels - they don't even know what a Zergling looked like. The cinematic Zergling was a Hydralisk head on a weird body. The StarCraft II Zergling will get wings as upgrade visual. The Marine will get the riot shield.

  • There will be 20 unique environments for StarCraft II.

Post-Panel Interview
(SC:L-Exclusive)

After the art panel, when most of those present had left, the StarCraft II art team stayed behind a few minutes for pictures and extra questions, which opened up an opportunity for an interview with Brian Sousa, Senior 3D Artist for StarCraft II. At the March 11th Zerg release at Blizzard HQ, a question was asked regarding the option of weather and day/night features appearing in StarCraft II. At the time, weather effects were being played around with, but the results were not turning out very well, and day/night features had not been tested, as it was the least on the list of priorities. This has recently changed, with efforts being made to give a more realistic representation by adding a rain effect to the greener worlds and snowstorms for the ice worlds. Brian related Samwise's story from March 11th about the lava world terrain being given random fireballs dancing around the map. The results didn't turn out well because at least one point during the game-play, the player would mistake a fireball blocking their view of the base as an attack. However, Brian did mention that should weather effects be used, it would be a constant feature, and there would be no imbalance to it. For example, if your vision is blocked 50% by the snowstorm, everyone else on the map will only have 50% vision as well, and there would be no advantages or disadvantages given to any unit as a result of the weather. The point behind this feature is to be fun, but to keep any multi-player game evenly-matched.

Next, Brian Sousa described the work being done on the new day/night transition for the StarCraft II maps. Currently work is being done on a transition between day and night. Brian gave an example of one mission within the Terran campaign where the mission will be timed, and when you begin, it will be light, but as time progresses, it will get darker and darker. If the mission hasn't been completed by the time darkness fully sets in, you lose. Another example is a mission where there is a constant transition between light and dark. Within various places on the map, there will be lights set up, and if the darkness sets in and one of your units isn't within the protection of one of the set lights, they'll die. Of course, these missions, as well as the effects within them, are all subject to change by the time the final product, or rather, part one of the trilogy, goes gold.

One thing that Brian Sousa made clear in the interview is that one of the priorities in the final product is that it will be fully supportive of competitive play. In competitions, there would be no weather or light transitions (such as light/dark transitions and different light angles) being used, or simply, anything that could distract the focus of the player from the game. The ability to have weather effects or changes in the lighting, if they are included in StarCraft II, will be mainly used for single-player or casual multi-player games.

~Zero

Presentation


The general art development process is to be creative and experiment often; if you try a dozen different things, the odds are that at least one of those things will be good. Artists do mock-ups and animations, the level designers say it’s not balanced, and a good amount of ideas are filtered out: “We're looking for this type of unit which attacks ground."

The first few slides outline Blizzard art basics:

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The various art passes are shown again:

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Samwise jokes that he will add one more wing for every complaint he hears on the forums about the Zergling with wings:

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The StarCraft II 3d engine is astounding. These next two slides show stills from a video of a Marine undergoing various “stress-tests”, if you will, to his armor. The Marine was nuked, shot, cut in half, crushed etc. The video was mainly created for fun, but also to show off some of the things we will be able to make in StarCraft II's editor. The Marine shown is a high-poly model that will come with the editor. Basically, we can expect some amazing movie maps in StarCraft II. Unfortunately, no copies of this video are available on the internet at the time of writing.

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The StarCraft II art team has done multiple passes to the environment as well:

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The effects in StarCraft II are kept fast & tight in order to not intrude on gameplay:

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Final Art Impressions

Similar to the fly-by videos shown at the art panel, during StarCraft II gameplay sessions it was possible to experience a “cinematic” animation effect by moving the camera all the way down, ordering a unit to a location and holding the mouse over the portrait. This would allow you to see a unit crossing the battlefield as your camera followed it and you were afforded with a beautiful viewing angle of the environment. It was there that you could truly see all the work that has gone into the art since the original StarCraft II announcement. The grass is darker, the units are more bold and the game definitely has its own style - StarCraft II is now a far cry from the awkward, cartoony version originally revealed.

There is much more art that needs to be integrated; the BlizzCon build itself is 3 weeks old. Combined with more touch-up passes to the textures, the game should look phenomenal at release time – after all, “the art isn’t finished till the game ships.”

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Thanks to our friends at StarCraft.org for the pictures.
This is a StarCraft: Legacy (http://sclegacy.com/) BlizzCon 2008 feature article.

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