So far, this blog has been significantly lacking in strategy game posts. Whilst I’d list it as my second favourite genre overall, in general the time investment is prohibitive for me; so I am usually only interested in playing the very very best on offer. And naturally, for real-time strategy (RTS), that means Starcraft – nothing else even comes close to it. I’ve tried all sorts of other RTS games, but none of them have ever adequately answered the question “In what way is this any improvement over Starcraft?”. Even the company that made it, Blozzard, have been unable to equal their own achievement – notably flopping completely in my eyes with Warcraft 3, a decent game, but like so many RTS’s before and after it, one which is burnt to a cinder when focused through the withering lens of a comparison against Starcraft. Only the best passes the Captain ZergsEye!
Worse still, Blozzard are also now seeing fit to squander most of their resources on the ridiculously tedious World of Warcrap. This sorry state of affairs makes me almost of a mind to disown my own Uncle (who, as many know, works for Blozzard).
Luckily for any agoners out there, sometimes hope is all we have:
Whilst Blozzard could mess this up, like Warcraft 3, I actually believe they won’t.
And my confidence is entirely thanks to South Korea! Starcraft 1 still has such a huge influence, with immense pro-gaming and e-sport following that Blozzard must use SC2 to build on this even further if it is to be seen as a success. In case you don’t realise it, Starcraft still has two television channels dedicated to progaming matches in S.Korea. Blozzard also seem to have been saying all the right things during the development of the game, with such idiotic ideas as the Mothergoose being a ‘Highlander’ unit hopefully falling by the wayside. They even posted a fascinating battle report recently, which I was really impressed with.
Now my internal hypeometer for this game would be off the charts already, but I’m surpressing it because I don’t really expect to see anything more than perhaps a beta test in 2009 and that’s only if we’re lucky. As many know, Blozzard are happy to delay the release for as long as they feel is necessary. And since Starcraft 2 has the potential to have the kind impact on competitive agoner style gaming that Warcrap has had on carebear chatroom-jockey gaming, they will do well to take their time to get it right.
In the meantime Starcraft 1 still goes on strong. For example this University course has even started over in the States:
Games design luminary David Sirlin is actually attending the course and has been writing up some really interesting commentary over at his own site sirlin.net.
Oddly my own interest in Starcraft is actually, if not unique, certainly a niche interest. Whilst all of the serious play on Starcraft is in competitions of 1 vs 1 or team vs team games, I generally find I prefer other games for that kind of battle – ie: Vs Fighting games. But Starcraft (and hopefully Starcraft 2) really excelled for me for large multi-player ‘free for all’ games of at least 4 players – and the more the better. That’s how I played 99% of my games of Starcraft. However there are a few inherent problems with this – and these are the reasons you’ll never get this kind of game played with ‘pick up groups’ online. To make it fun, fair and competitive it requires all the players to agree to some of ‘house rules’ that the game interface simply had no way of offering.
1. No alliances allowed, ever.
2. No private messaging.
Basically, the problem with Starcraft is that there was no way to stop collusive teamwork in a large free for all game, but this was our best attempt at it. I doubt there will ever be any way to effectively do this online but it would be nice from my point of view if they would at least try. But I suspect it will always be limited to doing this with friends who want this style of game and don’t even want to try to cheat.
What makes this style of Starcraft play amazingly fascinating for me is that it changes the value on almost all aspects of units and strategies in Starcraft. For example; slow but effective wars of attrition often become as important as ‘rush tactics’. Many of the units that are generally derided for 1v1 play, we have found were even used en-masse by players in this style of game. Not a single strategy I’ve ever read online has ever been 100% applicable to a big multiplayer free for all, so it meant that all players would always have to apply things in their own way and come up with new ideas. Psychological tactics, instinctual timing of attacks, ‘mix ups’ and yomi are all vastly heightened over normal Starcraft play – especially since we played as an ongoing series of games with mostly the same players each time. Interestingly this style of play even offers much more of a place for a weaker, slower, non-competitive, or simply new player to partake. Even though they may be very unlikely to win the game overall, everyone would have much more of an opportunity to learn the units and attempt to survive for as long as possible than in a 1v1 game. Even a hopelessly weaker opponent would generally cost a relatively stronger player at least a measure of resources to overcome – so it even became a strategic matter for stronger players in the game. Did they try and overwhelm a weaker opponent at a low relative cost – and deciding when was the best time to do that – or, did they, knowing that player was unlikely to be a threat in the long run, focus their attention on the other ‘big guns’. The other huge reason to play this kind of game is that all the units became viable in almost all games, and it was not at all rare for us to see 200 unit limits reached (and even surpassed by those tricksy cheating Protoss), and utterly immense bloodbath battles taking place – the likes of which even god has never seen… but we did, frequently 😉
So anyway, here’s hoping to a revival of all of that one day, Starcraft 1 or 2… For truth, justice, and the Korean way!