Starcraft, and why I’m dreading Starcraft 2

Well, maybe dreading is too strong a word, but it’s true that I’m not really looking forward to the release of the sequel to one of the greatest PC games of all time.

I haven’t always been a fan of starcraft. In fact, it’s only in the last few months that I’ve been playing it fairly frequently (albeit against the computer). Growing up, the only RTS games I played would’ve been Age of Empires 1 and 2, and the underrated spin-off Age of Mythology. However, I’d never play these games multiplayer. I figured they were just competitions on who could click the fastest, and there was no real strategy. It’s only when I saw this video a year ago that made me realise just how competitive these games were:

At the time, I was just amazed and awed by the South Korean culture, and the way they embraced video games in general. At around the same time I found this excellent article that explained the phenomenon in detail: http://rossignol.cream.org/?p=284.

About a few months ago I discovered my friend was playing starcraft regularly over battle.net, and regularly losing. I told him it was probably because he was playing against South Koreans, and I showed him the above video to demonstrate. He then informed me that the video was an old one, and then proceeded to send me videos of his favourite player Jaedong with English commentary, including this one:

The intensity and passion of the commentators and their knowledge of the game overwhelmed me. My friend told me that he’d been following the proleague for years now, and I soon discovered teamliquid.net and sc2gg.com. The more I read, and the more I watched, the more I realised just how deep the game was. There was so much to learn, so many things to practise, so many elements that decide victory or defeat. Yes, clicking fast, or APM (Actions Per Minute), does make a difference, but it’s just one of many factors. Strengths and weakness of build orders are discussed, just like chess openings. I found there was much more to this game than I originally thought.

So I decided to try the game out for myself. I played through the single player missions, but I eventually grew tired of that, wanting to get straight to the multiplayer. Since then I’ve been trying to adapt to the system, learning the interface and the best way to use it. I don’t think I’m quite ready to face an opponent on iccup yet, but I’m learning :).

It’s arguable that Starcraft is the best RTS game of all time, but it’s definitely the most popular. There are a lot of RTS games out there, but it’s the three different races that makes Starcraft stand out. Blizzard have worked hard to keep the races balanced by releasing regular patches over the 12 or so years since its release. Despite being played by millions of people for so long, no-one has found a strategy that can’t be countered. The fact that the game still remains competitive after so many players have played it for so many years shows just how amazing the game is.

So why am I dreading the release of starcraft 2? I’m not really sure. There are a few good reasons why starcraft 2 will be a good thing:

1. Better graphics. The original starcraft had a very low resolution and 2-dimensional sprite graphics. Needless to say, they’re a bit dated by today’s standards.

2. Better interface. In the first game, only 12 units could be selected at a time, only 1 building at a time, and SCVs needed to be directed to mineral patches manually when they were created. All these things, and of course a few more, will be improved in the new game. Obviously the resolution will be higher, so you’ll be able to see more units onscreen.

3. More single player campaign. This isn’t something I’d personally play, but obviously a lot of people will be looking forward to this.

4. Better multiplayer features. This would include better replays, spots for observers, rankings, ladders etc.

5. New units. Arguably, since Blizzard are creating this game with the intent of making it multiplayer and esport friendly, by picking appropriate units from the beginning, it’ll be a better game overall. The first starcraft wasn’t originally to be as great as it is now. It only got to be so balanced by patching  it over time.

6. The potential to bring the world of esports to a wider audience. For me, this would probably be the best thing about starcraft 2.

These are all great things to be sure. So I ask again, why do I feel worried about the release of starcraft 2?

I think one of the reasons is that Starcraft represents the triumph of simplicity and pure gameplay over graphics when it comes to games. I may go into this further in another post, but since Starcraft is played at such a competitive level, graphics no longer matter so much. All that matters really are the interface and the mechanics. And since graphics aren’t important, the game can be played on just about any computer today. There is no need to have to purchase a computer worth a certain amount to play the game. Something about its accessibility really appeals to me. Although the game is still being sold in stores, it’s quite easy to obtain. In fact, iccup (a “battlenet” alternative that provides rankings and is frequented by serious starcraft players) actually offers a link to a free download of starcraft on their website, albeit with single player missions removed (http://www.iccup.com/starcraft/sc_start.html). I think I just like the idea of being able to have an engrossing, mentally stimulating, challenging experience with something so simple, basic and cheap. Or maybe I just don’t like spending money. After all, the game probably won’t be able to run on my current computer, and the game will be released in three full-size instalments, so including the cost of a capable computer means that I’m going to have to spend a lot of money for something that, arguably, isn’t going to be a whole lot better in terms of gameplay.

Also, Blizzard have announced that there will be no LAN functionality in Starcraft 2, probably to reduce piracy, since programs such as Tunngle allow you to play a game over a virtual LAN, thus not requiring a unique cd key to play online. This compromises the game’s accessibility, since now you can’t play with your friends unless you both have an internet connection. And you both must have a legal copy of the game as well. It seems as though Blizzard are trying to milk as much cash from their fans as they can.

It’s fantastic that Starcraft has only become more and more popular over the years, despite being over a decade old. The competitive game is constantly changing, as players create more strategies and counters. I feel like there is more to be ‘discovered’, and it would be a shame if Starcraft 2 took its place. It’s as if players have to start all over again, learning a whole new game.

I think I also like the idea of standards. Although it wasn’t necessarily the best RTS out there, if you want to play an RTS game at a competitive level, starcraft is the best one to play, since there are more people playing it than any other RTS. Now, even if there are still people playing the first starcraft once its sequel is released, the community will be smaller. The more people playing the game, the more it can develop, and the more competitive the scene becomes.

What else…I read somewhere that each new release of the 3 starcraft 2 games will include new units. If this is true, then I don’t think that’s very good for the game, since they essentially have to spend more time and effort maintaining the delicate balance between the races, which was so difficult to do with the first game. It’s almost as though they’re reinventing the wheel each time.

Another interesting point is how 3d polygon graphics aren’t as effective or clear as 2d sprites. Again, this is arguable. Sebastian Sjoberg at the polygon revue makes a good point of this in his article: http://polygonrevue.com/2009/06/clarity-and-graphics-why-less-is-more-when-things-get-hardcore/.

So I guess there are a whole bunch of reasons why I’m not looking forward to the next starcraft. My dream scenario would be that the original starcraft is considered the better game. Sort of like how Counterstrike 1.6 is considered to be better than Source. In fact, the release of CS:S annoyed me in the same way. In any case, they’re putting in a lot of work and playtesting to make starcraft 2 a really good game. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. I probably won’t buy it though.

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29 Responses to “Starcraft, and why I’m dreading Starcraft 2”

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