Three New Visual Effects In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Gaming News

October 22, 2011
By James Wang

At BlizzCon 2011 we were given a rare glimpse at the inner workings of the StarCraft II engine, and three new effects that will be introduced with the Heart of the Swarm expansion pack.

Improved Terrain Rendering

One of the main improvements isn’t targeted at the high end, but rather the low end. StarCraft II is one of the most competitive e-Sports games in the world. As such, many players turn down graphics settings to brighten up the game and make it easier to spot enemies. While this may be good for competitive play, it compromises the creative vision of the game and introduces imbalance between different quality levels in the game. With Heart of the Swarm, the low quality setting will be improved to look closer to the higher quality settings. Blizzard said these improvements are done without consuming extra performance.

Improved Terrain Rendering

Heart of the Swarm is an expansion focused on the Zerg so it would be natural that Creep gets some additional visual oomph. A new effect being introduced in Heart of the Swarm is that creep will no longer invade just terrain; it will grow on enemy buildings.

Improved Terrain Rendering

While building health is not compromised as a result of creep, the psychological impact is pretty acute. The Photon Cannon looks barely functional in its creep infested state.

Snaky Animation

StarCraft II’s unit animations can be pretty amusing, especially in heavily stacked groups. With Heart of the Swarm, a new animation style is being introduced, called The Snake Movement. It will make its debut with the new flying Zerg unit, Viper as seen above. The look is exactly as the name suggests, supple and snaky. Twenty of these guys being controlled by a master like NesTea would be a pretty awesome visual spectacle.

New Physics Engine

According to Dominic Filion, the Lead Graphics Designer for StarCraft II, Heart of the Swarm will use a brand new physics engine. Marines will no longer be merely mowed down by Ultralisks, they will be sent flying.

New Physics Engine

After the standard back and forth between Kaiser Blade and Gauss Rifle, the Ultralisk performs a giant sweeping motion that sends a whole squad of machines flying, together with blood, guts, and screams. Zerg players are going to love this.

At the end of the presentation, I asked Dominic if Heart of the Swarm would introduce any new graphics features for those who owned high-end graphics cards. He said that Blizzard was always looking to improve the visuals for every quality level in the game. Currently, StarCraft II uses more advanced effects for its in-game cinematics. The team is currently looking into bringing those features into the “Ultra” quality setting of the game. That ought to give those who own a GeForce GTX graphics card a chance to stretch their legs.