Last week’s Starcraft 2 patch 1.2.0 added a bunch of features, including, at last, chat channels. Not including those from the start was one of the SC2 team’s most fan-unfriendly choices (right up there with no LAN support), but thanks to public outcry, the team pledged to add them in a patch, and now, just 7 months after the game’s release, they have arrived. There are nine channels to choose from:

    • Looking For Team
    • Looking For Custom Game
    • Terran Strategy
    • Zerg Strategy
    • Protoss Strategy
    • Single Player Discussion
    • Achievements
    • eSports
    • General Chat

    This is a big advance for player interactivity, and it’s nice that Blizzard was willing to abandon their inexplicable, “no one needs to chat since our matchmaking system is roxor” strategy, but the SC2 channel implementation (so far) is only half-baked. It’s possible to make custom channels, but not private ones, since they have no password protection and no mod controls. Thus players can set up guild channels (necessary since SC2 does not offer robust clan support), but anyone who knows the name of a channel can join it, and there there’s no way to kick or mute griefers or spammers. Those features will be added; they’ve been essential for online chat since about 1996, but they’re not there yet.

    So how do these SC2 channels preview what we’ll see in Diablo 3’s chat? There will be D3 chat channels, Bashiok assured us of that last year after the outraged outcry over their absence from SC2, but we don’t have any other details. Hopefully they’ll be feature-rich and robust upon launch, unlike these SC2 channels that are just getting started a full half-year after the game’s launch.

    What features do you guys want to see in your D3 chat? We all want the ability to create private channels with password controls and admin powers, but that almost goes without saying. What else? A larger screen for chat display? Integration into B.net friends lists? Integration into Facebook or IM programs? Easy messaging into and out of games? Chat options to friends playing SC2 or WoW or War3 over B.net? Or do you not care about chat at all and most desire a permanent auto-squelch option to keep people from bothering you?

    Click through for more details about the SC2 chat channels, and a retrospective gallery of how the chat has looked in every online Blizzard game.

    B.net chat channels by game, chronologically.

    Diablo I’s chat was the first one offered on Battle.net, and I still have fond memories of the countless hours I wasted in the Rogue’s Gallery. The interface remains pleasing; the huge icons and lots of open space are odd by modern standards, but there weren’t that many features in the old days, so we didn’t need that many buttons. Plus the screen was just 800×600, in those small monitor days. The biggest drawback was the fairly small area for text, since these channels were very busy with actual conversation in those early days, and a lack of private channel admin controls.

    Starcraft I was the next game with live chat, and by implementing smaller button icons it allowed for a larger text window. The overall design still looks quite simple, compared to modern design standards.

    Diablo II came next, and it had pros and cons. The chat gem was genius and always worked even better than expected, and the character animations at the bottom were awesome, but in a busy channel it was way too hard to scroll through to find any particular person. The control buttons were useful, but very plain/ugly in design. And while the chat display window was tiny, the whole right side of the screen was wasted space, used only when you were viewing the join/create game options or character ranking ladders.

    Warcraft III’s chat channels were the best yet, in terms of actual communication. A much larger space for text, minimal interface buttons, nice tabbed navigation for friends/chat/clan, and a good color scheme. The only real downside was that you had to play Warcraft III to use it.

    World of Warcraft has no IRC style B.net chat channels, but there is some chat in game, such as the infamous Barrens chat. The quality of discourse is legendary, as this chart depicts.

    The Starcraft II chat interface can be seen here. I’ve not used it, but just from this screenshot I’m unenthusiastic. It’s over-busy, with way too many buttons spread all over the place, there are at least two too many large CGI faces staring at me, the chat text box is tiny, and the dark blue text on black background is hard on the eyes. That said, it looks like there are minimize/maximize buttons on the windows, and if things are configurable then we’

    What do you guys think? Which chat interface works best for you? Which do you hope D3 takes after?

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