Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2016 - 02:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: blizzard, google, ai, deep learning, Starcraft II
Blizzard and DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014 and is now a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., have just announced opening up StarCraft II for AI research. DeepMind was the company that made AlphaGo, which beat Lee Sedol, a grandmaster of Go, in a best-of-five showmatch with a score of four to one. They hinted at possibly having a BlizzCon champion, some year, do a showmatch as well, which would be entertaining.
StarCraft II is different from Go in three important ways. First, any given player knows what they scout, which they apparently will constrain these AI to honor. Second, there are three possible match-ups for any choice of race, except random, which has nine. Third, it's real-time, which can be good for AI, because they're not constrained by human input limitations, but also difficult from a performance standpoint.
From Blizzard's perspective, better AI can be useful, because humans need to be challenged to learn. Novices won't be embarrassed to lose to a computer over and over, so they can have a human-like opponent to experiment with. Likewise, grandmasters will want to have someone better than them to keep advancing, especially if it allows them to keep new strategies hidden. From DeepMind's perspective, this is another step in AI research, which could be applied to science, medicine, and so forth in the coming years and decades.
Unfortunately, this is an early announcement. We don't know any more details, although they will have a Blizzcon panel on Saturday at 1pm EDT (10am PDT).
Subject: General Tech | March 20, 2016 - 12:53 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: blizzard, starcraft, Starcraft II
Blizzard is adding three new mini-campaigns to StarCraft II, with three missions each, to give more content for fans of single-player. The first one, StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops, puts players in the shoes of Nova, who was created as the main character of the canceled third-person shooter, StarCraft: Ghost. Blizzard announced that this three-mission pack would be available on or before June 19th.
Before I end, I should probably mention the price. If you pre-purchase, the three packs (nine missions total) bundled together will cost $14.99 USD; that price will raise to $22.47 USD after launch. This is about $5 per DLC, which is reasonable. On the other hand, three-mission story arcs can be... light... for strategy titles. I'm not really the type to value art based on the time it takes up of my life. There is intrinsic value other than how big of a tiny fraction between birth and death this content fills, but that is a legitimate concern for some of our readers. It's likely a fine price, but it feels weird in the context of the free co-op maps, free Whispers of Oblivion, and relatively cheap expansion launch prices.
Whether you take it from the standpoint of cost-value or intrinsic art, though, it all depends on the missions. Three levels isn't a lot of time for an engaging story arc, and Whispers of Oblivion and Into the Void weren't exactly must-have life experiences. That said, I'm not going to underestimate what Blizzard can pull off. We'll see, and we'll see soon.
Unfortunately, you'll only find out after the 33%-off promotion.
Subject: General Tech | October 6, 2015 - 08:20 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Starcraft II, starcraft, blizzard, pc gaming, legacy of the void
And oh boy is it a big one. Turning on the Battle.net launcher automatically downloads about 14GB worth of StarCraft II code and content. The patch includes the new user interface that we reported on earlier, but it also opens the Whispers of Oblivion prequel campaign for Legacy of the Void to the masses, changes the file format of game content to CASC, which might explain the huge download, and gives the option of a 64-bit game executable, and more.
About the CASC format, it was introduced in Heroes of the Storm and Warlords of Draenor as a method of storing content. It should be faster, more error resistant, easier to patch, and easier to extend the functionality of. I'm not sure how this will affect modders, authorized or otherwise, but I'm guessing that Blizzard is happy to deprecate a 20 year-old format. I'm not sure if they're migrating the content from MPQ to CASC on the client machine, or just re-downloading the content in the new format, but a 14GB patch is doing something. Lastly, this new format and the 64-bit launcher might even allow for bigger games and mods. If anyone has any experience with modding Blizzard games, be sure to leave a note in the comments, even anonymously.
Legacy of the Void will arrive on November 10th.
Subject: General Tech | October 3, 2015 - 11:04 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Starcraft II, legacy of the void, blizzard
Third time's the charm, unless they plan another release at some point.
The StarCraft II interface isn't perfect. Even though it is interesting and visually appealing, some tasks are unnecessarily difficult and space is not used in the most efficient way. To see what I mean, try to revert the multiplayer mode to Wings of Liberty, or, worse, find your Character Code. Blizzard released a new UI with Heart of the Swarm back in 2013, and they're doing a new one for the release of Legacy of the Void on November 10th. Note that my two examples probably won't be fixed in this update, they are just examples of UX issues.
While the update aligns with the new expansion, Blizzard will patch the UI for all content levels, including the free Starter Edition. This honestly makes sense, because it's easier to patch a title when all variations share a common core. Then again, not every company patches five-year-old titles like Blizzard does, so the back-catalog support is appreciated.
The most heartwarming change for fans, if pointless otherwise, is in the campaign selection screen. As the StarCraft II trilogy will be completed with Legacy of the Void, the interface aligns them as three episodes in the same style as the original StarCraft did.
On the functional side, the interface has been made more compact (which I alluded to earlier). This was caused by the new chat design, which is bigger yet less disruptive than it was in Heart of the Swarm. The column of buttons on the side are now a top bar, which expands down for sub-menu items.
While there are several things that I don't mention, a final note for this post is that Arcade will now focus on open lobbies. Players can look for the specific game they want, but the initial screen will show lobbies that are waiting to fill. The hope seems to be that players waiting for a game will spend less time. This raises two questions. First, Arcade games tend to have a steep learning curve, so I wonder if this feature will slump off after people try a few rounds before realizing that they should stick with a handful of games. Second, I wonder what this means for player numbers in general -- this sounds like a feature that is added during player declines, which Blizzard seems to hint is not occuring.
I'm not sure when the update will land, but it will probably be around the launch of Legacy of the Void on November 10th.
Subject: Shows and Expos | June 18, 2015 - 05:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: E3, E3 15, E3 2015, blizzard, Starcraft II, legacy of the void, whispers of oblivion
While StarCraft II is known for its multiplayer component, some of us are mostly interested in the campaign... and Arcade mods, but there's no news on that front. Legacy of the Void is the end of the StarCraft II trilogy, which is said to finally deal with the hybrids that were introduced in the secret missions of Brood War and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. They played a larger role in Heart of the Swarm's campaign although that did not even have unlockable missions, so they wouldn't exist otherwise.
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void does not yet have a release date, but there will be a mini-campaign released for free before it launches. StarCraft II: Whispers of Oblivion (or is that StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void: Whispers of Oblivion?) are three single-player missions that will be released in July. Those who pre-purchase Legacy of the Void will get the missions first, which might mean that everyone else needs to wait until after July to play them... or not. That said, if you are patient, you do not even need to own StarCraft II at all. Free to all, but timed-exclusive for those who pre-order.
Subject: General Tech | March 18, 2015 - 05:32 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: gaming, blizzard, Starcraft II
Get your twitch reflexes back to their peak over the next few weeks as the multiplayer beta for the third instalment of StarCraft 2 kicks off on the 31st. On that date you will find out if you are invited to participate in the test and get to see the new units as well as the tweaks that have been applied to existing units. The main page suggests that this episode will focus more on online multiplayer harassment tactics than all out assaults and so units have been altered to reflect that focus. Blizzard also suggests this beta will go for longer than previous ones have so it will still be a while before we see the next chapter in the single player story. You can catch the preview movie at Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN.
"Good news if you’ve been waiting to see how Big Stubbly Man and Chitin Stilettos Woman managed to defeat timeless evil once and for all until the next sequel: the third and final chunk of StarCraft II is very much on its way. In fact, beta invites for the Protoss-focused Legacy of the Void are due to go out before the end of the month. “Much has changed” since the last time Blizzard let us have a peek at their void."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Rezzed: Indie gaming shows off its finest @ The Register
- Stalled: Project CARS’ Latest Delay @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Industrial Era: Civ III Switches To Steam From GameSpy @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Steam cyberpunk sale @ Gaben's Wallet
- Wot I Think: Sid Meier’s Starships @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Job Seeking: An Elite Dangerous Career Guide @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Space Hulk Devs Full Control Stopping Making Games @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Warcraft III In Starcraft II Because Why Not? @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2014 - 09:22 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Starcraft II, starcraft, lotv, legacy of the void, blizzcon 2014, blizzcon, blizzard
Blizzard has been reconsidering what constitutes "a game sale" with StarCraft for quite some time now. They have been slowly carving out its mod platform, StarCraft Arcade, into a standalone, free product. They allow playing multiplayer with limitations, such as forcing free players to choose Terran (except for certain promotions). A few years in to StarCraft II's release, they even added "Spawning" to allow Starter and Wings of Liberty users to play locked content as long as a party member has purchased it, although Starter users are still locked to Terran.
Today's announcement is a little more conventional -- Legacy of the Void will be a standalone expansion. You can purchase it without owning any earlier content. If you do own Wings of Liberty and/or Heart of the Swarm, then it will behave like an expansion, however.
The game itself will change significantly, too. At the competitive level, you often have a bit of a boring early game, unless one player decides to be a bit cheesy with their tactics. A lot of this is due to how long it takes to get from your initial six workers to being supply blocked. In Legacy of the Void, you start with 12 workers, twice as many as before. Also, each mineral patch has 33% less minerals, requiring bases to be taken more frequently and discouraging a maxed-out army from sitting on a handful of expansions to build a bank.
Many units were added and changed as well. Terran and Protoss are being pushed toward dropping units. The Warp Prism has its pickup range increased, to allow it to grab and reposition units from anywhere within a relatively large army ball, without needing to put the transport unit in danger. On the other hand, Terrans are able to pick up Seige Tanks while they are in Siege Mode. This allows a Terran player, who is paying close attention, to drop a tank for a quick, high-damage, and splashing shot, and then pick it up before it can be attacked. Siege Tanks have large range, slow rate of fire, and a relatively low health. If they are never shot at, though, while they're reloading their main cannon, then that nullifies their weakness, as long as you can keep the Medivac alive, too.
One thing that Blizzard disliked, however, seems to be Swarm Hosts. In Heart of the Swarm, competitions went on for hours, literally hours, as one component turtled in a corner of the map (or surrounded an opponent into a corner of the map) with free units. This was particularly problematic for Protoss, that has a highly efficient, ball-based army, and Zerg, which could counter with their own Swarm Hosts. Battles was commonly wave-after-wave of free units doing zero (or minimal) damage, ad-infinitum.
In Legacy of the Void, they do not spawn Locusts (free units) fast enough to pin someone down, or keep someone out, and these Locusts need to be spawned manually. Instead, they are intended as more of a sieging unit, capable of dropping free units into a base and walking away. They also do not burrow, unless that upgrade is acquired, which will make them easier to attack. On the other hand, the Locusts can fly to their target, where they must land to attack, as normal. The Swarm Hosts do not need to be in a dangerous location, just a potentially dangerous range. Whether Swarm Hosts, if they are upgraded with Burrow, can release Locusts while hidden is unclear. It is not something that I have seen yet. That said, the borrowed, space-control unit is now the Lurker, a Brood War alumnus.
Many other changes have been announced, but it always comes down to user testing.
As usual for a Blizzard title, no official release date has been given. A private beta will be "coming soon" to selected participants. It was also available to play at Blizzcon.
Subject: General Tech | September 12, 2014 - 02:39 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Starcraft II, WCS, blizzard, blizzcon, esports
The StarCraft II World Championship Series is Blizzard's official method of conglomerating numerous tournaments, including their own, into a canonized ranking system. Players get points for winning various Intel Extreme Masters, Red Bull Battle Grounds, DreamHack events, GSL seasons, and so forth. Beyond the prize money of each event, points are awarded to sort a global standings list. These points, beyond bragging rights, lead to an invitation to the year's final tournament at BlizzCon.
The system has drawn some criticism, however. One specific complaint is that players are allowed to partake in any region of their choosing. This seems to lead to tactical placement of players relative to other ones, rather than actual geography. Moreover, this allows players to join in servers that they are not anywhere near to, introducing lag in the online components. If I remember correctly, the rules stated that, unless both players chose to play on a server that was outside the region (ex: a South Korean server for two competitors in WCS America), the server would default to the region (America in the previous example). For 2015, Blizzard is requiring that all players must be legal residents of the region they choose to play in. The reasons for this decision do not seem to be publicly explained, but it should discourage the shuffling of players for logistical advantages.
The other, major change is that all participants of WCS 2015 need to qualify. Previously, if I (again) remember correctly, while points were reset, some placements in leagues carried over. This time, if a player is in any given league, they fought to get there from the very bottom. If anything, I expect this became necessary when the decision was made to change residency requirements.
WCS 2014 isn't over yet, though. It will close with BlizzCon on November 8th.
Subject: General Tech | February 7, 2014 - 03:22 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Starcraft II, esports
Movie studios are beginning to take video game tournaments seriously. MLG secured an ad deal with Relativity to promote their movies across its channels. Lionsgate, a more scrappy company known mostly for Michael Moore films until they took a risk on The Hunger Games, decided to one-up them and sponsor a whole tournament.
Actually, about three tournaments.
The first tournament will be run by Twitch and commentated by Nathanias and by NASL's RotterdaM and MrBitter (NASL is the company responsible for broadcasting WCS America since Season 2, 2013). It will have a $7,000 prize pool to be split among its 16 competitors. The tournament will be called, "Twitch Ender's Game on Blu-ray Tournament". Catchy.
Just a couple of days later, MLG will host the aptly titled, "MLG GameOn Ender's Game on Blu-ray Tournament". Its casters will be Team ROOT's Destiny and Catz, which is quite odd because both are competitors in the first tournament run by Twitch. Its prize pool is not yet announced. Other notable players include Scarlett, MajOr, MaSa, and Hitman.
The third "tournament" is actually a showmatch between the winners of each previous tournament. The two contestants will play a series against one another for a 70/30 split of $10,000 dollars.
It makes sense. The cost of running a StarCraft II tournament, including the prize pool, is probably significantly lower than most other ad campaigns. It just takes a company to think outside the box enough to actually do it. Lionsgate, of all the major film studios, is essentially the underdog as we alluded to earlier. Let's see how effective it is.
The Twitch tournament is currently on now and will run until February 9th. The MLG half will begin on the 11th. The Championship showmatch will be streamed by Twitch on February 22nd.
Subject: General Tech | December 21, 2013 - 12:43 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Starcraft II, esports, bitcoin
Update: The main series prize pool was increased to 14 BTC in addition to 1 BTC for the intro match.
So Bitcoins are becoming popular and a legitimate currency. TotalBiscuit decided to create a StarCraft 2 tournament where they are the prize. At the time of the announcement, the 12 Bitcoin prize was valued at about $10,000. Currently, after a little issue in China, it is worth about $7000 to $8000 USD. The English casters are TotalBiscuit and IdrA with several other languages provided including Portuguese and Vietnamese.
The headlining act is Scarlett versus NaNiwa in a best of 7 matchup. Also, they just announced an opening act for a single Bitcoin prize: iNcontroL versus Destiny in a best of 3. The latter pairing are two very comedic personalities. iNcontroL was a prominent player in the Starcraft: Brood War era while Destiny got popular in the StarCraft 2 Beta through Wings of Liberty.
Still no MULEs to mine Bitcoins though.
The stream is running now at TotalBiscuit's Twitch account.
Read on after the teaser break for spoilers as we update throughout the event. Update: The match is now over. The full article contains summaries of each game.