Behind the Scenes of StarCraft: Remastered

2017/05/05 | Blizzard Entertainment

The StarCraft: Remastered team is small, nimble, and intensely passionate about their source material. Over the past eighteen months, they’ve been hard at work modernizing StarCraft without altering its classic gameplay and “Wild West” atmosphere. Meet the team and peek into the development process through the behind-the-scenes interviews below! 


Brian Sousa Senior 3D Artist

You worked on the original game back in 1997. What’s been the coolest thing for you to revisit as a leading artist on StarCraft: Remastered?

Brian: There were some things that really made me geek out. The new Goliath the team came up with—it’s so awesome, it makes me feel bad, because I made the original one. I was like, “Oh my God, did you see how much detail they put into this thing?”

How did you balance updating the unit models with staying true to the original ones?

Brian: We kept the same silhouettes because we wanted you to immediately recognize them. It’s a double-edged sword; when we were first showing the game to people, if they started by looking at it in HD, they weren’t impressed. It’s StarCraft. In their mind, that’s what StarCraft had always looked like. We had to say, “No no no, we went back to the original units, look: it was only 32 pixels.” Now you can see it in 4K and totally see the difference. The fact that people couldn’t tell the difference shows me that we did our job right—we stayed so true to the original that it mirrors players’ memories.

What drove your decision to keep the original silhouettes?

Brian: In Korea, StarCraft is like chess. It’s timeless. We’re not going to rewrite the rules of chess—we’re not going to change how the pieces move—we’re just going to make it look better.

What about redoing the visual effects?

Brian: The effects in StarCraft: Remastered are being created with the best effects programs we have. The fire looks like fire, the explosions are awesome. The new nuclear explosion is amazing, it looks really good.

Originally, our focus was: “Let’s do the effects 100% true to the original.” But then we started realizing . . . these original effects don’t actually look very good by today’s standards. They’re nice, but, you know, they’re just four colors! We’re not going to make a four-color explosion now, we’re going to use all the colors we can!

What if people prefer the old effects?

Brian: With most of the visual effects in StarCraft: Remastered, you can just turn them off and go back to the originals. We’re trying our best to make everything feel comfortable. And if players don’t turn on the options right away, they might eventually. We showed some pros the game, and they started off playing 4:3. And we were like hey, you can also play 16:9! When they tried it they were like, “No, we can’t do this.” So they switched it back. But by the end of the play session, everybody was playing 16:9.


Brissia Jimenez Associate Producer

 

How did you wind up at Blizzard?

Brissia: Before I got in, I applied to Blizzard every year for twelve years. Every year I got a no. I had started working in the video game industry three years before I started applying to Blizzard. The one year that I was finally like, “Okay, that’s it, I give up”—that was the year a recruiter finally reached out to me. I was like, “Are you freaking kidding me?”

What was the first thing you worked on when you joined the StarCraft: Remastered team?

Brissia: Tilesets. I went through thousands of tiles and made sure that they fit. It was like a jigsaw puzzle. There were all sorts of problems. The desert map had an issue where it was so orange that if your team color happened to be between the reds and oranges, your little dudes would just get lost.

How much of the project was wrestling with the old code?

Brissia: Well, for example, the Infested Terran is called “Bug Guy” in the code. Internally, that’s his name. “Bug Guy.” The portrait? “Bug Guy Portrait.” So there were a lot of things that had internal names that left us thinking, “Why would they do this?”

Who’s the best StarCraft player on the team?

Brissia: I’d have to say Mike Dinger, he’s one of our QA fellas. The QA team plays the hell out of the game. 

Sounds like they have the most fun.

Brissia: We do have a couple of QA folks who will just burst out into song. They get a quartet going. It’s super funny. They’ll sing Johnny Cash . . . and they love singing the Taco Song from South Park. That’s their most-requested one, I think.

So they’re essentially a jukebox.

Brissia: Yeah. It’s awesome.


Mike Dinger Test Analyst

 

Brissia told me you’re the best StarCraft player on the team.

Mike: (Laughs) She did? I wouldn't say that I'm the best, or even average! But I could get you into contact with someone else who’s really good, if you like.

Who’s that?

Mike: The best player we have—who almost always wins in our Friday play-the-game sessions—is Yi Deng.


Yi Deng Associate Software Engineer

 

I’ve heard you’re the best player on the StarCraft: Remastered team. How did you get so good?

Yi: People must have exaggerated a bit! I think it’s just normal play, creating units, and pushing.

Have you been playing StarCraft: Brood War for a long time?

Yi: Very long ago—like, fifteen years?—I played seriously for a while. But I love playing real-time-strategy games. I like to play Warcraft III and StarCraft II too.

15 years ago, would you ever have expected to wind up at Blizzard like this?

Yi: Nope. But sometimes I dreamed about it.


Rob Bridenbecker VP, Technology & Strategy

Pete Stilwell Senior Producer

 

What’s the most memorable part of this experience for you?

Pete: There are two types of personalities on the team. You’ve got folks who were involved in the original creation, and then those of us who grew up playing these games and were like, “this makes me want to work at Blizzard.” That’s the camp I’m in. I watched my buddy play Warcraft [Orcs & Humans], and he would not let me touch it, so I sat behind him for hours and hours.

I started mowing neighbors’ yards with a push mower, and eventually made enough money to buy a computer, and that was when StarCraft came out.

What was the single greatest challenge along the way?

Rob: Early on, I think we underestimated just how #&@!ing difficult it was going to be to find the original game.

Pete: (Rueful laugh)

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To find the game?

Rob: Oh, yeah. No joke. To start with, we had to rip out all the sprites from the final, shipped version of the game. It’s not like we had this great awesome system on the backend where all our assets were saved . . . no no, we basically had to reverse-engineer our own game, to suck out the sprites and build the tooling around it, just so we could then go and find artists who could re-envision, reimagine, and put all the detail to the original structures and units. We had to rebuild all the models—to everything!

Pete: That was our “Stetson and whip” period. (Laughs) We’d talk to some guy in another office, who maybe had some of those original build tools . . . “Ah, crap, I looked through the CDs I had stored in my garage, and I couldn’t find them.” Crazy, crazy attempts to find these things.

And while this was all happening, we were traveling to all these different StarCraft hubs around the world, talking to players and pros, reconnecting with the community. That was hands-down the most important part of the process—and probably the most fun, too.

What did you wrestle with when it came to deciding whether certain new features should be added to StarCraft: Remastered?

Pete: There are a lot of factors there. We want to listen to the voice of the community because they’ve been here, they love the game, and they’re so plugged in that they don’t want to move off onto something else. So we should trust that, right? Run with that. But the community is multifaceted, so when you provide something—like keybinds—you have some people saying, “I don’t want it,” and then when you take it away, you get an even louder voice saying, “Give it back.”

What’s most important is making sure that StarCraft still plays and feels the way it always has. If you look at the pro scene, the metagame is still evolving, it’s still healthy. We don’t want to come in there and mess that up.

Who knows if key bindings will do that one way or another. We’re looking at methods to safeguard against that while still offering keybinds. It’s a good feature, it allows new people to come in, it allows people who love StarCraft II to come over without having to retrain their muscle memory. You’re at your best when you’re in the flow of the game and things are just happening because your hands know where to go, right? You don’t have to stop and go—wait, was it P? Oh, damn, it’s way across the keyboard. Those are things that gate a new generation from coming in to learn what it’s all about.

Rob: But then your pro players are going to look at it and go, “Hey, man, that travel time, moving your hand from here to here—that’s part of the game.”

Pete: Yup. “That extra millisecond is what makes it balanced.”

Rob: So you ask the question, “what are you struggling with,” it’s like, well, where do you draw the line? We want to reach new players. The game’s been loved and enjoyed for the past twenty years, and we want it to be loved and enjoyed for the next twenty, if not longer. And the littlest of changes are things that we wrestle with, because it’s equally important to respect the foundation that the current community expects.

What inspires you to pay such close attention to mechanics that some might call subtle or relatively unimportant?

Rob: Well, we’ve said for a long time, we’re working with a classic painting here. And we’re not looking at the painting, starting a brand new sketch, and trying to copy it—we’re actually messing with the original. So every little detail matters. If a color is even slightly wrong, we’re going to stop and talk about it. “Okay, do we need to add some more yellow, some more green?”

How’s the community response felt?

Pete: It’s great. We came into this wanting to hear as many voices from the community as we can, understanding how passionate they are. Yeah, there are days when you’re getting hit with a sledgehammer in the face, and you’re like, please stop. (Laughs) But that’s also what makes it worthwhile.

Rob: We want to be responsible citizens with respect to the game, because at the end of the day, it’s really the community that owns this game, and gives it life. This is something where we’re coming in, and every little tweak has the potential to overturn the apple cart.

Do you get the feeling that fans are excited for the release?

Pete: Mh hmm! And those are the things that drive us. It was . . . pure elation when we put the PTR up.

Rob: Oh, yeah.

Pete: Or the moments when we put it in front of the pros for the first time and they didn’t immediately freak out and start throwing chairs or something.

Rob: I think that was one of the few times I’ve actually been sort of nervous—when we were like, “God, what are they going to think, what are they going to think, please don’t let them be disappointed—” And their reaction was . . . unexpected. I mean it was expected, but also a huge joy—and a huge relief—coming from a position where we’d always kind of expected the worst.

Pete: Or at the announcement—we have that announcement video, it’s in Korean, we’ve seen it eight hundred times, so we know exactly what each of the little beats are. . . .

I’ve played sports, I’ve been in crowds. There is a visceral roar you get when a crowd is really behind something, that’s different from “Eh, we scored a goal, it’s early in the game, it doesn’t matter.” This was a winning-the-Stanley-Cup-in-overtime kind of sound, that the crowd made.

Rob: And it was funny, because on the live stream—

Pete: (Horrified) Oh God, yeah.

Rob: They were sitting in the office—the crew that wasn’t in Korea—and the stream was totally silent. And they were texting us going, “Do they hate it? What’s going on?” Because they cut away to the actual pre-roll of the trailer—meanwhile in Korea, we’re sitting there, I’m tearing up, thinking “OH MY GOD, I’M SO #!&@ING EXCITED, the crowd loves it!”

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When did you realize what this game really meant to people?

Pete: When we heard about chat channels, and the friendships people had. We went to Korea and met a guy sitting in a gaming café who’s our age, in his 30s or 40s, still goes there for an hour a day to chat to some guy down in Busan, when he’s in Seoul—you know, he’s never met the guy in person, but they’re amazing friends through this game, through that connection, and they still play together—that’s unbelievable.

You want to know why we’re so passionate? It’s people like him. That’s why we can’t #&!@ it up.

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