Posted by: seanmalstrom | October 24, 2010

The Problem With Starcraft 2′s Story

Now that time has passed from the release of SC2 and any hype has melted away (as hype always does with time), we can get a more accurate picture of SC 2.

I have replayed the single player SC 2 campaign several times. I have replayed the campaign, on Brutal, several times. I greatly enjoy the structure of the single player. The missions are consistently fun. However, the ‘play multiple times’ doesn’t work. Once you quickly figure out what are the best items to research, what is the more optimum order to go through the missions, even Brutal is a cakewalk. And the choices are not compelling. Why would I possibly want to get the Predator over the Hercules, for example?

I think any comparison of SC 2 with Wing Commander is laughable. In Wing Commander, you could fail missions and the story would still continue. SC 2 doesn’t allow anything like that. SC 2 doesn’t allow any characters to be killed.

But let us talk about the problem with the story. The story in SC 2 doesn’t work and falls flat.

Why?

The reason why SC 1, as a smorgasbord of different elements worked while SC 2 hollywood-esque doesn’t work, is the absence of myth. The reason why young people love video game stories, as bad as they are in traditional forms of stories, is because they are vehicles of myth. Vehicles of myth, which made up the Golden Age of Hollywood, which makes up most forms of what we refer to today as literature, is hungered for in young people. For example, the old Greek myths never get old. Each generation, they are renewed. Each generation excitedly gets to explore the stories of Icarus, Hercules, and the warring of the gods.

The big, big difference between Starcraft 1 and 2 is that the story in 1 had one purpose: to carve out the Starcraft universe (since there was no universe at this point). In order to do this, the game drew you into the universe by the characters talking to you as if you were a commander. There was an actual narrator who would talk about events going on. And there was no character development so much as universe development. Massive events occurred.

There is no narrator in Starcraft 2. The characters just blather to one another. But what makes Starcraft 2′s story so… ‘bad’, so ‘hammy’, is what referred to as ‘money shots’.

As an example, take a look at this cutscene from SC 2:

The dialogue is very Hollywood-esque. It is ‘witty’, ‘funny’, but ultimately bad just as everything coming out of Hollywood today is bad (which is why we play video games and not watch movies).

The ‘money shot’ would be Raynor saluting and a wave of banshees appear in the sky in the background. The problem with Hollywood is that they turn every scene into a ‘money shot’. Every line must be ‘witty’. Every scene must be a ‘money shot’. “Stop lying around on the job, General.” Witty. Cute. But horrible line and feels out of place. “I hate to interrupt, but the natives are getting restless.” How many times have we heard that line?

Starcraft 2 doesn’t have a story but a chain of ‘money shots’. The worst line would have to be the one about a can of peanut butter and being naked with a pair of socks. This is horrendous dialogue that could only come from Hollywood. In Hollywood, writers are geared more to doing clever lines and money shots which better fits stage shows. But it is bad, bad, bad.

Despite their focus on ‘character’, there seems to be a huge absence of character. People are horrified about what Blizzard is doing to the Zerg. The reason being is that by turning the Overmind into a character who made no choices (which would include the cerebrates), of Kerrigan being a character who made no choices, they have turned the Zerg into a plot device. The Zerg just become an object that other characters use against one another.

The plot holes are glaring. At Blizzcon 2010, the Q/A panel was asked a question as to how Mengsk release Tycus on his mission even though the Zerg threat had not begun? Metzen was paralyzed by the question and admitted this was a giant plot hole. But yet, this was the very first scene and the second scene of the game. This wasn’t something buried deep within the story. It was the main plot the SP campaign revolved around. This is sloppy, sloppy work. It seems as if the SP campaign was designed more around production values than around the actual content, the actual substance.

As you can see with SC 1, there was a narrator and the dialogue served to talk about events unfolding in the universe. No one asked Zeratul how he was feeling or if he was having a good day.

Before SC 2 came out, I said how worried I was that Blizzard would do something stupid like say how Raynor and Kerrigan were lovers (which we didn’t know about) and had a ‘bond’. And sure enough, Blizzard has done exactly that. Hollywood trash.

So here is what will happen with Heart of the Swarm. The entire storyline will be Kerrigan exploring herself. That’s right. You heard me. Just as the Wings of Liberty campaign focused on depressed Raynor wanting Kerrigan back and focusing on choices of do nothing, of getting her, or going after Mengsk, the Heart of the Swarm will focus on this theme:

Kerrigan’s past was that she was always the manipulated instrument and now, in Heart of the Swarm, will be the first ‘choices’ she will make in her life. Much of the story will focus on this past of everyone manipulating her (Confederacy, Dominion, Mengsk, Zerg). Kerrigan gets to choose her ‘new person’ which has to be noble if she is to save the universe.

This is going to be greatly disappointing for the fact that a trait of every RTS game, including every Blizzard RTS game, was the opportunity to play the evil side. One question at Blizzcon was someone asking if the Zerg will be turned into the Orcs where the Orcs were made ‘noble’ and were just ‘corrupted’ in old Warcraft. When the guy got done asking this question, before Metzen and the other guy could respond, people applauded. They cheered that very question. I think that is exactly where Metzen was headed but audience reaction is so negative that now… suddenly… Blizzard doesn’t know how SC 2 ends.

This is ridiculous. Of course Blizzard knows how it ends. But they don’t want to say, “The audience hates where we were going, so we are tweaking it…” I have such abject contempt at those who pen stories for ‘video games’… even those that work at Blizzard. They are always incompetnent, always stupid, always cliché. And they always slouch to mediocrity in the SAME direction: towards Hollywood. I have NEVER seen a video game story lean a DIFFERENT direction. It is ALWAYS Hollywood.

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