I will forever associate StarCraft with the office. My career in Silicon Valley, at a variety of companies, has been marked by a lot of after hours game play at the office. Bolo, Marathon, Age of Empires, Delta Force, and Total Annihilation all saw a lot of action at work over the years. Before we had TeamSpeak and Ventrilo, we had phones in our cubes (and sometimes even headsets) to allow communication around the building.
More recently the increased workload at my company, the rather restrictive policy regarding what we are allowed to install on office machine has pretty much killed off the after hours game time, the games that our office machines actually support, and the general aging of the people with whom I work (we’re not a bunch of unmarried guys with excess free time any more!) has pretty much killed off the after hours tournaments.
But there was a time when we would be on the network and engaged in combat with each other several nights a week.
The release of StarCraft coincided with my starting a new job. At the new company there was a group of Age of Empires players, but this fresh new game distracted everybody’s attention for a while. And it deserved to do so. While I was a bit skeptical at first, not being a fan of Blizzard’s WarCraft (I and II and, eventually, III), I bit when we were at Fry’s and other people were picking up copies.
While not my favorite RTS of all time (that is a toss up between Age of Empires II: Age of Kings and Total Annihilation) it is undeniably a great game. Three races, well balanced, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, made for very intense game play. No other RTS I have played has had such diversity between factions. Most of them are similar enough that learning to play one faction means gaining knowledge that will apply to any faction. In StarCraft, learning to play one faction did not give you much insight into the other two.
The distinct factions, of course, meant that we specialized. People picked a race that suited their play style and generally concentrated on that race to the exclusion of the others.
We had some very aggressive Zerg players who would swamp you if you stumbled at all in the first few minutes of the game. We all developed an opening build order to defeat the zergling rush and counter strokes to punish any player who tried that rush and failed.
We had a couple of very good Protoss players. You had to starve them early and keep them from getting to late technology. If they managed it, your superior numbers might end up turning to dust in the face of well handled Protoss units.
And then there were those of us who went the Terran route. It is hard to argue with a mass of marines with good air support. I played enough games as a Terran with speakers on that to this day my wife will use the phrase “Jacked up and good to go?” to ask if I am playing a game.
A lot of battles were fought, many of them short and sharp, a few were long and drawn out, but all were fun. The game is light, well balanced, and, in the Bilzzard tradidtion, easy to learn, difficulty to master. If it wasn’t locked into a 640×480 resolution I would probably have it still installed. On a 1600×1200 monitor though, it looks like Sega Gensis quality graphics.
But now StarCraft II has been announced.
I am sure that I am not alone in being somewhat skeptical about any game replacing StarCraft. How do you strike a balance between providing a new and different experience while at the same time staying true to the finely balanced instrument that StarCraft has become? I mean, this is a game with a professional league in Korea that gets TV coverage on par with any professional sports here in the US. You have to tread carefully.
Of course, one can look at Blizzard and say, “There is a company that knows how to do sequels.”
But have they ever faced a challenge like this?
Their other sequels have kept to the spirit of the past games, but have tended to change the dynamics quite a bit. Warcraft III felt quite different than Warcraft II. Diablo II was certainly the successor to Diablo, but in a bigger, faster, grander sort of way. Once you played Diablo II, Diablo was probably out of the picture for you. But neither predecessor had the fanatical following of StarCraft.
Blizzard will keep us guessing for a long time to come. They are so good at being teases.
Until then, the best insight I have read into the potential of StarCraft II and what the reality is likely to be is over at Firing Squad.