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BlizzCon overflows with excitement after attendees play StarCraft II and Diablo III

August 24, 2009 |  2:33 pm
Diablo-2-test

Hundreds of fans play an early version of Diablo III while many more fans wait in line. Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times

When Activision Blizzard announced it was pushing back the release of its hugely-anticipated computer game StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty to 2010 from this year, fans began to worry that maybe the game's development wasn't as far along as they had expected.

Blizzard Entertainment, the game's Irvine-based developer, put those concerns to rest with a fully playable multiplayer version of the game that was presented to media and fans at its annual BlizzCon event at the Anaheim Convention Center.

The initial buzz among the conference's 26,000 attendees revolved around World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, the expansion to the massively multiplayer online PC game. But once gamers got their hands on the sequel to the most popular real-time strategy game for the PC, BlizzCon shifted its focus to StarCraft II.

The game feels complete. We didn't run into any bugs or oddities during several game sessions. Each faction appeared delicately balanced with teams able to achieve victories using a wide variety of tactics and mercenaries. The first batch of feedback from fans was overwhelmingly positive, developers at the show said.

In reality, the sequel isn't all that different from the original StarCraft, which first stormed store shelves in 1998. That's kind of the point, Blizzard Chief Operating Officer Paul Sams said. "The original formula is important," he said Saturday in Anaheim. "StarCraft is all about speed. It's all about big armies and the competition."

The competitive aspect is a big reason for the delay. Blizzard is prepping a new version of its online gaming platform ...

... called Battle.net. The network is expected to launch alongside StarCraft II next year. "Battle.net is going to be absolutely sick," Sams said.

Players are required to connect to Battle.net in order to play the game, including for single-player mode, Sams said. It will be the first time Blizzard will have instituted such a stipulation -- not including the World of Warcraft franchise, which doesn't have a separate single-player mode. The reason: Piracy.

Blizzcon-anaheim

Sams said the company was waiting for adequate Internet penetration worldwide in order to take such a bold step against piracy. "We feel that the vast majority of our players have access to the Internet," he said. "If they can get to a store to buy the game, they're probably in an environment that also has Internet."

"We're going to provide experiences both in multiplayer and single-player that are going to be enhanced dramatically by having connectivity to Battle.net," said Sams, who called features such as downloadable add-ons, achievements and communication tools "all interesting ideas."

Aside from needing an Internet connection to play, StarCraft II will be free for players to compete online. The company hasn't said whether role-playing game Diablo III, the other attention-grabbing software at the convention, will have an additional cost to play online.

Diablo III, though scheduled to release after StarCraft II, also felt fairly mature in our tests. But being so largely customizable and story-driven means Blizzard will continue to add tons of new weapons, characters and levels over the next year or so of development.

Starting today, Blizzard engineers will start their full-on assault. "We get so much more productivity and so much more enthusiasm out of our team after BlizzCon," Sams said. "They come back so charged up."

-- Mark Milian

Follow my commentary on technology and social media on Twitter @markmilian.

Photo right: Fans gather outside the Anaheim Convention Center for BlizzCon 2009. Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times

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