The Game that Somehow Kept Resurfacing
StarCraft 1 is one of my favorite games of all time, and also my first introduction to Blizzard. I remember playing it over a modem direct connection, at lan parties, and over the internet on AOL dial-up. What gamers from my generation, the one which grew up along side the rise of the internet, can forget telling your family not to pick up the phone for a modem direct connect game (which would inevitably fail), and your dial up ISP kicking you off for inactivity mid game (those of us blessed with AOL certainly remember it more).
From middle school to college, I found myself sporadically playing StarCraft. This was aided by the fact that I would randomly keep running in to people who enjoyed playing it just as much as I did. From my fairly nerdy friends in Middle School, to a Korean boy wonder in High School (go figure he was Korean), and a motley crew of boys who all found themselves on the same dorm floor in college, I have run in to a diverse group of people who all greatly enjoyed StarCraft, from life of the party tough guys to reclusive nerds. Granted, I am sure I have met a lot more people who have no clue what it even is.
I remember when I first saw StarCraft at my friend’s house back in Middle School pretty clearly. I would like to think that is because I tend to have a very good memory, and not because me discovering a new video game was one of the defining moments in my life (just to be clear, it wasn’t!). A friend of mine had purchased it after reading several rave reviews about it (probably reviews from an actual print video game magazine, imagine that). I had played Command and Conquer before, but there was something intriguing about three unique races, instead of two sort of different factions, and the futuristic space setting. After seeing the game in action at his house, I had my father drive me to the store to pick it up. I could make a nostalgic joke about how I went to a place called a ‘game store’ to buy it, but actually we still have those. I believe I was especially excited because my family had just gotten a new computer (200 megahertz Pentium 2 Compaq Presario!), which could actually run modern games, unlike the old 386 machine we had before.
I remember running through the single player campaign multiple times and booting up the game after school to play a game against the AI. I became an adoring fan of the universe they had created. Only a company like Blizzard would include a manual filled with back story on each of these races with the game, and make it interesting enough for me to want to read through it. Of course, this was before I discovered the main event: playing against actual people over the internet. I vaguely remember playing a handful of matches against people in Command and Conquer: Red Alert, but overall, I was pretty new to the whole experience. This seems fairly quaint now I am sure, especially since almost all games seem to have a multiplayer component in them these days (some obviously much more forced than others). This inevitably lead to far too many hours lost to StarCraft. I distinctly remember friends having to quickly log off during one of our late night sessions because they could hear their parents starting to wake up. The sun starting to rise was also probably a good hint that we should stop. In all fairness though, I do not think I was ever very good at Starcraft 1, even after playing a lot of it.
I continued playing StarCraft through the release of the Brood Wars expansion pack, which somehow made a great game even better, and in to the days of Big Game Hunters (3v3 BGH!!!!! Join Quick!!!), which eventually became the only map anyone played on. Luckily I avoided that whole zero clutter fiasco (I know some people remember that map fondly for some reason). Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, and Total Annihilation all tried to usurp StarCraft, but I just did not have the same kind of magic. By the end of college I did finally stop playing Starcraft 1. The one negative comment I had about StarCraft though, is that by the time I was in college StarCraft did look incredibly outdated. I think if Blizzard had just re-released StarCraft 1 with better graphics it would have been a hit. For better or for worse, that was not the case though.
A Sequel to StarCraft? That’s a Rumor! It Will Never Happen!
Next you are going to tell me that they are making a Team Fortress 2! StarCraft 2 seemed like one of those games that would inevitably happen, but a little voice in the back of your head told you that it was never actually going to. After World of Warcraft (WoW) came out, there was the possibility that Blizzard would just ride that cash cow as long as possible and ignore all their other franchises. They told consumers that only one division of Blizzard worked on WoW content, but for a while Blizzard seemed to only care about WoW. When StarCraft 2 was finally announced, I remember some friends of mine still joking that it was probably a hoax of some sort. I remember constantly checking the official Blizzard home page to get a glimpse of each new unit as it was revealed after the official announcement. This probably seems a bit silly, but Blizzard is also known for having extraordinarily long development times on games (we’ll just say it’s for the best). A new StarCraft was exciting just for the prospect of having a sequel to an amazing game, but also for the possibility it presented to get back together with some of my old StarCraft 1 buddies. An updated matchmaking system in a StarCraft game was one of the most exciting prospects for me. I would not miss the old method of having to search for individual games in a drop down list, which often would already be full.
After playing the beta, and even to this day, I could not tell you if I think StarCraft 2 is better than StarCraft 1. In a lot of ways, it is just a different game, inspired by StarCraft 1. StarCraft 2 is certainly, in my opinion, an easier game to play because of its upgraded hotkey system, larger group selection, and more streamlined mechanics in general. I feel that many of the changes allow the StarCraft core to remain intact, while adding new interesting mechanics that open up now strategies and tactics (protoss unit warp ins, zerg creep giving vision and unit speed buffs, terran drop ships being healers as well as transporters). I believe that one of the largest boons to StarCraft 2 is the matchmaking system, which makes finding an opponent usually fast and simple. I certainly have things I dislike about the ladder/ranking system, but I do appreciate the sense of accomplishment that it can bring. Regardless, I could never go back to StarCraft 1 at this point.