Blizzard has released a powerful new suite of tools for Starcraft 2 modders and developers that fundamentally change the nature of what's possible in the popular RTS game. Now, players can use the same architectural and graphics design toolsets that Blizzard has used internally to build new units, tilesets, and models. Furthermore, these tools are now available even with the Starcraft 2: Starter Edition kit. Players can grab them here. Critically, artists will now be able to incorporate images and effects designed in programs like 3ds Max, Photoshop, or other high-end particle systems.
“These tools are going to be a big upgrade for people,” Womack said in a video update. “This is the solution we use internally on the StarCraft team to get our art from source images into the game. And now it’s available to content creators.”
The exciting thing about these releases is that Starcraft 2's modding list is as interesting as the primary game, if not moreso. Fans have faithfully created adaptations of famous Starcraft maps, implemented entirely new rulesets that blend the old, micro-friendly playstyle of Starcraft with the modern engine, and even gone total conversion with Warcraft ported over into the SC2 game. There's a side-scrolling platformer, horror-adventure mods, and a universe of other possibilities for the enterprising player who isn't afraid to explore the options. One group of players is working on creating a sequel to Brood Wars 2 (dubbed Starbow) within the SC2 universe.
Even better, Blizzard is introducing a new category of "extension mods." Think of these as a custom set of rules that can be applied to any multiplayer map, rather than requiring a new map be created from scratch. So if you want to create a set of rules that favor fast play, low unit HP, and quick army spawn times, you can do that -- then apply it to any map you like for quick balance testing or tweaking. This should also make it easier to incorporate tweaked maps for Tournament Play -- rules can be hashed out and then universally applied quickly.
Blizzard has released a trailer for the new mod tools and tool chains, as shown above. Hopefully these new releases will spur modders to create even better maps and campaigns -- we've had a lot of fun with the games already available. But as a one-time Diablo 2 modder (and Diablo 3 coinsurer) who struggled to find new and inventive ways to use art assets from that game (and plumbed every file for hidden assets that weren't actually in-use at the time), being able to incorporate your own effects and models will have a huge impact on the scene.