In StarCraft, you could play multiplayer games with your friends on local area network connections. In StarCraft II, you can't. It's online or bust.
This is a decision that has driven some fans crazy, and over the past couple of years, developer Blizzard has received no shortage of flack from infuriated gamers. Sometimes they don't have reliable Internet connections. Sometimes they want to get together and compete without having to worry about someone crapping out. Sometimes they just don't feel like being on Battle.net, Blizzard's ubiquitous online platform.
So when I spoke to StarCraft II designer Dustin Browder last week in a phone interview, I had to ask: Why is LAN still not an option?
"We got to a point in development where we were trying to deal with creating an online, connected experience for our fans," he said. "We really wanted everyone to always be hooked up to their buddies all the time. We felt like that would be a way better user experience than just having everybody sort of separated out all the time, hiding out in offline mode."
Browder says it was a "difficult decision" that they talked about for quite a few years. "We made the decision that since everybody's connected these days anyway, that it wouldnt really be too much of an issue."
This was a mistake. Just a few months ago, the Internet dropped during a major eSports match—the Global StarCraft II League finals in Las Vegas, Nevada. Chaos ensued, as did chants of "We want LAN! We want LAN!" Although it was a local network disconnect, so LAN wouldn't have helped either way, Blizzard wanted to find a way to avoid situations like that in the future.
"We have seen in a couple of places, we've had some venues who are doing eSport play unable to maintain their Internet connection," Browder said. "Which was a bit of a surprise for us, but again, it's not that unreasonable. We're like, 'Really you can't— okay.'"
So they're implementing a new feature called "restart from replay." Basically, if you're in the middle of a game and something happens to interrupt the action—like, say, your Internet connection suddenly dies—you'll be able to load up the game file and start from where you left off.
"So if their network gets down... if there's a brown-out, if somebody's mouse explodes," you'll soon have a way to jump right back in and keep playing, Browder says. It's a solution that will presumably fix some of the issues people have with Blizzard's lack of LAN support, although if you have a slow or unreliable Internet connection, you're still out of luck.
This new feature will be released sometime close to the launch of StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Blizzard's first expansion (which Browder says is 99% complete). However, you won't need Heart of the Swarm to get it: Browder says resumable replays, along with many other new features, will be made available in a free patch for all StarCraft II users.