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Liveblogging StarCraft II Spoiler-Free

[7:33 PM CST] Three hours of cursing later, I'm posting this from my wife's laptop because both my graphics card and my work laptop appear to be fried. Thanks for reading, everyone, and I hope to be back tomorrow with a functional StarCraft II machine. Just right this very second, I'm going to try and lower my blood pressure with a little comfort food: Symphony of the Night.

[4:45 PM CST] Commenter aldowyn asked about how mission choice works, and that's a great question. Here's the deal, at least so far in the campaign:

Most of the time, you have two or three missions to choose from. At the mission select screen, you can see what the reward in credits will be, what unit unlock you'll get, and what type if any research opportunities exist. This isn't a grand branching campaign, though -- think of them as levels that you can tackle in whichever order you choose.

At a certain point, a secondary type of mission opens up. These are parallel to the ongoing campaign, and don't seem to be required (yet) to advance. If the same structure continues toward the end of the campaign, I imagine that you'll have to beat all of these secondary missions before entering the final story arc.

In related news, I'm hopeful that reseating my heatsink with new thermal paste and running my PC with the case door off is going to deal with my overheating issues. The thermometer says it's 91 degrees in my house at the moment. I think even playing StarCraft is a workout in these conditions.

[3:41 PM CST] It's getting increasingly difficult to talk about what's going on in the campaign without veering into spoiler territory. It's safe to say that every mission has been unique and entertaining, and I just got to a part that is going to make StarCraft fans very, very happy. Even if I don't love the quasi-dungeon crawl design of this particular level. Also, siege tanks are awesome and so are giant effing lasers. You'll understand.

More updates later, after I buy and install a new heatsink/fan unit on my CPU because I'm pretty sure that's what's causing my crashing problems. Getting up over 70C isn't the best thing in the world for a Q6600, or so I hear.

[11:32 AM CST] Tower defense! I loaded up a custom tower defense map to see how that scene is looking on launch day. The answer is “very vanilla." The one that I found, Red Circle TD, is a perfectly fine four-player TD map, but nothing that we haven’t seen before in other ‘Craft games and, more recently, Flash adaptations of the genre. I did like the customization elements, where you can choose difficulty and whether or not to share income via menus at the beginning of the match.

[10:04 AM CST] Rocked some more missions. Each one has had an unusual setup (or gimmick, if you’re not feeling charitable). I’ve enjoyed them all so far; none have frustrated due to AI or scripting issues like setpiece RTS tends to do. Even so, I wouldn’t say no to a straight-up fight sooner or later.

Research is awesome and absolutely worth pursuing in missions. I’ve got the first two Zerg-track upgrades now: +150 HP to my bunkers and the planetary fortress upgrade for command centers. Both are pretty powerful defense-focused bonuses -- the Protoss track has most of the offensive stuff. I’m not a huge fan of the turtling playstyle they support, but even for an offensively minded player like myself they’ve got their uses. I’m sure that harder difficulties will make me appreciate toughening up my defenses more.

I’m holding off on buying more upgrades after maxing out my marines and marauders. The marine boosts are obvious choices, as they’re the backbone of just about any Terran force composition. Marauders are the yin to marines’ yang in StarCraft II. They can only attack ground targets, but their grenades quickly demolish most vehicles and buildings. As that covers the biggest hole in marines’ game, combining the two with medics for healing support (the MMM ball you may have heard beta players talking about, though in multiplayer medivac dropships replace medics) is a very strong army. The campaign upgrades to marauders -- +25 HP and an area-effect slow effect for their grenades -- make them even better.

It took some digging, but I finally found the custom map browser. You have to click the easily overlooked “author” dropdown within the multiplayer lobby to access them. There’s already a tower defense waiting for me, so we’ll see how that goes. I do love the fact that you can click on a button within that same lobby to download a map. Finding someone willing to let you leech in the old Battle.net interface could be problematic at times, and that seems to be a thing of the past.

In case you're wondering what's up with this goofy arcade game, check it out:



More updates on tower defense and more of the campaign to come! Look for a spoiler discussion later on as well.

[7:40 AM CST] A combination of cats, StarCraft on the brain, and this crazy heat woke me up at 5:30 AM. Hooray! At least I’ve got StarCraft II to keep me company.

Got through another mission. The new unit: Firebats! Love it. They feel pretty useful, but my gigantic bio ball (that’s a big nasty group of mixed Terran infantry, if you’re not up on your SC2 parlance) wrecked everything handily and would have with or without the firebats. Still, they immolate their enemies and that alternate death animation gets me every time. So pretty.

As my armies get bigger, I’m coming to the sad realization that I’m going to have to turn the video settings down off of ultra in order to get an acceptable framerate. Still, the game looks amazing. For reference, I’m running on Windows 7 32-bit with a Q6600, 3GB of RAM ,and a Radeon 4850 all at stock clocks.

The best part, though, is that two new things opened up. The first is the research upgrades. These let you choose an awesome bonus for every five Protoss and Zerg research items you collect during missions. I don’t have enough yet -- there seem to be only three per mission, and I’ve only done the one with available research so far -- but it’s going to be sweet when I do.

The second thing is the Lost Viking arcade machine. Blizzard tells me that the entire game was made in the StarCraft II map editor, which is darn impressive. It’s a clunky-controlling Gradius-style shooter, but it looks awful pretty. It's possible that there may or may not be a video of my mad 2D shooter skills that could conceivably be posted here shortly.

[12:35 CST, July 27] Well, the first bracket of missions is down. Those were all extended tutorials, though there's a defend-style mission in there that I had some fun with. If you're relatively competent at cranking out marines and medics nonstop, you can go on the offensive when you're not really supposed to. Good times.

The progression elements have finally opened up. Time to spend some credits on upgrading my dudes. I've got my choice of improved bunkers (gimp! Who uses bunkers?), combat shields (+10 marine HP), stim packs (oh yeah), and being able to build medics without tech labs. Stim packs are probably the best choice, because madre de dios do stimmed marines wreck shop, but I'm lazy about micro from time to time and so combat shield it is. Taking my cannon fodder from 40 to 50 HP is a big deal, and I'm glad of the upgrade.

The subtext on news broadcasts between missions is amusing. The anchor is obviously trying to slant the stories to paint Raynor as the bad guy, while the reporter (and the facts) say the opposite. Clever writing in the dialogue between the two has gotten some laughs.

Not a spoiler (there'll be a spoiler post tomorrow for people who developed spontaneous flu-like symptoms overnight), but between missions, pay attention to Tychus' animations in the background. There's one particularly amusing one that I'd hate for people to miss.

And with that, I'm off to bed. Lucky for me, I'm going to wake up and do this whole thing all over again all day tomorrow. On the down side, I don't have any air conditioning at home and Minneapolis is slated for a scorching 95 degree day tomorrow. On a positive note, I didn't have to lie to my boss to spend all day with StarCraft II -- Reiner basically told me to chain myself to my PC for the next several days. Life is rough all over.

[11:40 CST] Oh, rage. Lost a big pile of notes from a crash. Guess I'll be using something that autosaves from now on. Anyway, from memory:

Tychus Findlay (the "Hell, it's about time" guy from the announcement teaser) is a total badass. I've got my subwoofer on minimum volume, and my room still shook when he made his grand entrance. Then again, my speakers are pretty awesome. In marginally related news, StarCraft II: Heaven's Devils is a perfectly passable piece of adventure-y genre fiction, and gives some great background on Tychus and Raynor.

The voiceovers (though annoying when repeated for hours on end) are top notch, particularly in the cutscenes. I dearly love the texture that Raynor's voice actor -- the same fellow who did Raynor in the original -- gives him.

The campaign so far feels very Warcraft III. I think it's the non-combat people spouting out backstory and lore as I run by them. Not that this is a bad thing; I've beaten Warcraft III enough times to be kind of embarrassed about it.

Four difficulties: awesome. I'm a big fan of being able to switch difficulties mid-campaign as well, though I'm not sure yet if there are any restrictions on that.

There are a bunch of nice touches in the point-and-click hubs between missions. The TV screens that give news updates go to static once they don't have any new vignettes to play, and little interactive pieces like photos pinned to a corkboard are tagged to make them more noticeable until you check them out the first time.

[11:12 CST] Tutorial mission: owned! Well, sort of. I didn't get the achievement to kill 5 enemies with Raynor, since I had no idea that it was a goal. There's no interface within the game to see the available achievements while you're playing a mission that I can see. Weird. A couple notes:

  • Tip: Play in "windowed-fullscreen" mode. Makes alt-tabbing instantaneous, which is really handy if you're for instance liveblogging your game.
  • Thank you thank you thank you, Blizzard, for letting me hit ESC to skip any cutscene, whether pre-rendered or in-mission. Huge pet peeve averted!
  • Raynor's not the only marine with crap drawn on his helmet's visor.
  • The handful of voiced order acknowledgments for each unit are no less annoying than they have been in most RTSes to date.
  • There's a side objective to blow up hologram projectors in this first mission. They play a speech when you approach, and it's a nice touch that the speech cuts out when you blow 'em up.

[10:57 CST] Okay, it looks like you can log in as a "guest", which is an offline profile that each local machine has three of. This lets you play versus AI and the campaign. No achievements, though, and obviously no Battle.net features.

[10:47 CST] Blizzard lies! I'm in! More to come. I am confused that I apparently need to log into Battle.net to get into the game at all. Wonder how you play offline?

[10:35 CST] You have no idea how straight-up nasty I'm unpacking these tomes and getting ready for some StarCraft II. Blizzard tells me that Battle.net won't let me play until midnight Eastern time, but at least I'm not getting the "Hell, it's not time yet!" message any more.

Digging the soundtrack already, no surprise there. Pumping me up with epic music has never been something Blizzard does poorly, that's for sure. I like the narrated exposition as well, even if it's done by the creepy biomechanical Adjutant. Hopefully we'll get a chance to pay Kerrigan and Mengsk back a little of what they deserve.

Day zero patch isn't too big, hooray! I will confess to some amusement at the installer yelling at me to update my Radeon drivers. Yeah, I should probably do that.

Check back for updates, screens, and video of my progress through StarCraft II over the next few days. I'm thinking I'll be starting off with the campaign, so that's first up. Let's see how much of an all-nighter I can still pull in my decrepit old age.

If you've got any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments and I'll try to answer them. We're going to keep this relatively spoiler-free, though, so please refrain from posting anything spoilery down there as well.

Strap yourselves in, boys and girls.

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