Starcraft II Editor — Second Look

Random fact: On the day of my last post, which was about a short story considered a brilliant piece of American literature, my blog received its lowest daily view count in more than three months (130 views). I guess the Internet is just that antagonistic towards American literature.

Today’s topic is much different: the StarCraft II map editor. Four months ago, during the beta, I was able to play around with the editor very basically, and wrote up a post comparing the SC2 editor to the SC1 and WC3 editors.

Recently I was able to mess around with the editor again, this time trying to create the basic gameplay for an AoS-type map. After all, I had plenty of experience with the WC3 editor, and the SC2 editor, as I mentioned in the linked post, is very similar.

That turns out less true than I thought. The truth is, the SC2 editor is not only far more powerful, as I had mentioned, but also far, far more complicated. Of course, diving into any new thing takes a while of getting used to, but on the SC2 editor, I spent eight hours just trying to make a hero system and setting up the map and triggers for an AoS, and didn’t even succeed in creating items or an inventory. To change even a single stat on a weapon took me a couple minutes of messing around the first time.

My new argument: While the WC3 editor and the SC2 editor look very much alike, the WC3 editor is in fact more like the SC1 editor than the SC2 editor. Actually, there is an important caveat here: I’m talking only about the Object/Data editor. For Terrain and Triggers, it still stands that WC3 and SC2 are closer.

The object editor in WC3 is essentially the unit editor of SC1 with significantly more fields, and also more tabs (not only units, but also abilities, items, doodads, destructibles, buffs). Suppose I wanted to change the damage of a Marine/Footman. In SC1 I would go to the Marine unit, and change the damage field from 6 to whatever I wanted it to be. For the WC3 Footman, the process is exactly the same.

SC2, on the other hand, is modular. So, to change the damage of the Marine, you can’t just go to the Marine unit. From the Marine, you have to find the link to the weapon, which in turn has a link to the damage. Once you’re at the damage, you can modify it.

Alright, it takes two more steps—so what? Well, this makes multi-object things WAY more complicated. Letsay I wanted to create an item that adds an aura in WC3. I would need an Item, Ability, and Buff. The Ability must known which Buff the aura uses, and the Item must know what Ability it is supposed to carry. Nice and simple. In SC2… let’s just say I haven’t figured it out yet.

Even supposing I could create an item, I would also need the inventory, which is incredibly difficult to make, at least without a very careful and detailed tutorial. Even looking at the source of another map (which was an excellent way to learn the WC3 editor) seemed to not help, because there were several inter-object links that I did not know how to make.

Anyway, I’m not saying the SC2 editor sucks or anything—I’m just saying it’s far, far more complicated than what I’m used to, and it will most likely have a long adaptation time. Even figuring out the basics is a challenging task. Right now, the editor just seems far more complex than it needs to be, but we’ll see.

The StarCraft II Map Editor, in Context

It’s basically the WarCraft III editor. Plus a lot more.

The point of this post is a comparison between the WarCraft III (WC3) and StarCraft II (SC2) editors. Of course, because SC2 is in beta right now, along with its editor, many things may change. The general idea, however, should stay about the same, and moreover, it is the overall resemblance between the two editors that prompted this post.

I speak from several years of experience with the WC3 editor, and with two very extensive and elaborate maps under my ownership (one self-owned, one co-authored).

StarCraft

My map making started with SC1, and I must say that the WC3 editor is vastly superior to that of SC1. To put the WC3/SC2 editor comparison into context, I shall first go over the basics of the SC1 editor.

Original StarCraft Editor
StarCraft 1 Editor—Terrain (Click Image to Enlarge)

SC1’s editor was far more powerful than others in the time period in which it was released—StarCraft debuted in 1998. The editor’s main strength was the Trigger Editor, which allowed the creator to script the action of a map according to events that happen in the game. The events, however, were not called events—they were called conditions, and this made sense for SC1. Hence, the SC1 Trigger Editor relied on a condition-action schema.

SC Editor Triggers
StarCraft 1 Editor—Triggers (Click Image to Enlarge)

Also powerful was the Unit Editor, with which a user could modify the basic stats of a unit or building:

StarCraft 1 Editor Unit
StarCraft 1 Editor—Unit (Click Image to Enlarge)

Note, however, that this only allows very basic modification. If I wanted to change the attack speed, attack range, attack animation, movement speed, collision size, building options, etc. of a unit, I would be at a total loss with the StarCraft 1 editor.

WarCraft III

Within just four years, in 2002, Blizzard released WarCraft III, which came with a much, much more capable editor.

WC3 Editor Terrain
WC3 Editor—Terrain (Click Image to Enlarge)

Note carefully the icons in the terrain palette in the screenshot above, particularly the ones for “Apply Height.”

Basically, the WC3 editor can produce beautiful terrain. But that’s not the point. Its Trigger Editor is incredibly more complex than that of SC1, and this is where the  superiority shows. Here is a screenshot of the WC3 Trigger Editor:

WC3 Editor Triggers
WC3 Editor—Triggers (Click Image to Enlarge)

Okay, the screenshot is not that impressive, but keep it in mind when we compare it later to SC2’s editor. Do note the Event-Condition-Action schema. Finally, here’s the WC3 Object Editor:

WC3 Editor Objects
WC3 Editor—Objects (Click Image to Enlarge)

This is much more impressive than SC1’s editor, which only lets me change ten integers and a name at max. Note that the screenshot by no means captures the whole list of customizable attributes: look at that scroll bar! Surprisingly, most StarCraft 1 players seem to not know about this power—most of them have no idea how powerful the WC3 editor is.

After all, one of the few World Cyber Games (WCG) game is Defense of the Ancients, more commonly known as DotA. And yep, it was created by the WC3 editor. It appears in fact on Battle.net that more WC3 players play DotA than the actual WC3 ladder.

To further reiterate the power of the WC3 editor, I present to you a demonstration of custom spells I made a long time ago in WC3.

This is far beyond the dreams of a StarCraft 1 map maker. Now, as I mentioned in an earlier post,

. . . I was appalled when SC players and map makers posted numerous questions [on the Blizzard forums] asking whether the SC2 editor will have certain features; Blizzard just said yes, yes, yes. In one of their FAQs, they had the question along the lines of, “Will the editor be able to—,” with the answer, “Yes.” The reason the questions were appalling was because nearly every single feature requested was already in the WC3 map editor, released five years prior to the announcement of SC2.

And if SC2 is released later this year, in 2010, it will have been eight years since the release of WC3. That’s double the time between SC1 and WC3. This means the jump in editor capability from WC3 from SC2 should be twice as high as that between SC1 and WC3, right? Well, it was certainly an improvement, but not a shattering one.

StarCraft II

I opened up the SC2 editor for the first time today. My first thought was, Wow, this looks like WC3. In contrast, I was not suddenly reminded of SC1 when I first opened the WC3 editor. Here’s a screenshot of the SC2 editor: (I recently got a new laptop, and hence the Windows 7 theme in the following pictures will look different from the Windows XP theme you saw in the preceding ones, as I have SC1 and WC3 on my old laptop, and SC2 on the new.)

SC2 Editor Terrain
SC2 Editor—Terrain (Click Image to Enlarge)

Remember those “Apply Height” icons I told you to remember a few screenshots back? Well, here they are again. It turns out the SC2 terrain editor is very similar to that of WC3. After all, WC3 already allowed beautiful 3D maps, and there wasn’t an incredible amount of room to improve upon.

Okay, now I never really cared too much about terrain in the first place. So naturally, my first instinct was to go to the Trigger Editor. You can imagine the surprise I felt when I saw this:

SC2 Editor Triggers
SC2 Editor—Triggers (Click Image to Enlarge)

Not only are the icons and interface the same, but so is the Event-Condition-Action schema! You’ll notice the “Local Variables” as well, but I assure you, from WC3 editing experience, that it is nothing new: Blizzard just made local variables a little more friendly to use. Now, this resemblance really says one thing: not that SC2’s editor isn’t powerful, but that WC3’s editor was so powerful that they had little to improve upon.

I don’t have this in the screenshots, but once you go to add events, conditions, or actions, the interface does change a little. Overall it is very easy to adapt to, from a WC3 perspective. I think it’s actually a little more user friendly: in WC3 you often had multiply nested fields in a trigger, and to modify a single one would require peeling away the layers, which would require several clicks; in SC2 this requires just one click no matter how many layers of nesting occur, because all the fields are written out. Of course, to more advanced WC3 mapmakers this is not a problem because of JASS scripting, but it is an improvement nonetheless.

What about the SC2 Object Editor? Here’s a screenshot:

SC2 Editor Data
SC2 Editor—Data (Click Image to Enlarge)

It’s actually called the Data editor in SC2. For consistency, I have screenshot the place where you change a unit’s hitpoints for each of the three editors, and you see quite a change on each one. Unlike the very familiar trigger editor, the Data editor does take a while to get used to. Its basics are, however, the same. The right-hand-side panel looks very similar between the WC3 and SC2 data editors (for now I’ll refer to both of them as data editors), and even the left-hand-side is not totally different. If anything, the WC3 data editor is more organized, by both type of data (unit, item, doodad, destructible, ability, upgrade) and within each type (units categorized by race and role); in SC2 all the data is there in one big list.

Alright, that’s my first look at the SC2 editor. I’m not incredibly impressed so far, but I do think it has great potential. After all, SC2 is still in beta, and there are two more expansions coming out. And from the experience of StarCraft: Brood War and WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne, expansions tend to make editors way better.

I’ll probably be messing around with the editor a bit in the upcoming days or weeks, if AP/IB tests allow. I’ll let you know if there’s anything bizarre.