Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 14, 2012

Where Starcraft 2 went wrong

Cool box.

I don’t care what anyone says, I’m excited for HOTS. I really enjoyed the single player campaign from Wings of Liberty. However, the story I did not. The campaign gameplay was the best I’ve seen out of any RTS game ever made. I know this because I’ve played every RTS. RTS is my favorite genre.

I’ve been thinking about why people email me certain things. I remember way back when expressing discontent with Starcraft 2 and its multiplayer laddering. I said things like how this stress just isn’t fun and is not how Starcraft 1 or other RTS games behaved. The competitive laddering is a good thing to have, but it should not be the centerpiece of the multiplayer experience. Someone remembered me saying that and then, years later, emailed me again to talk about it since now everyone in Starcraft 2 is saying today what I said a long time ago. I’m not sure if I gave a good answer to the guy or not.

The way how to do it is with Starcraft 1 (or Age of Empires, Dark Reign, or other RTS games). That is how you do it.

Starcraft 2 has failed in four areas.

1) Story

The story failed because it was cinematic (along with stupid retcons like Overlord being a good guy). The reason why we play video games is because we don’t want to watch movies. So why is Blizzard trying to make a cinematic story when that is not why we purchased a video game to begin with? The problems with the story are well documented to not be mentioned here.

2) Lack of Perspectives

The true power behind fictional universes is perspectives. This is a foundation that professional (i.e. best selling) fiction writers know. Think of Dune. What is Dune? It has several factions battling over Dune each with their own perspective, with their own morality. What made games like Warcraft 2 and Command and Conquer have such fun universes is that the factions had different perspectives. The Humans and Orcs had very different ways at looking at the world (I prefer the Orcs’ barbarian carnage viewpoint myself). The GDI and the Nod had radically different viewpoints. In Red Alert, you have the Alliance and the Soviet Union. It was GREAT FUN to play both sides of the war. In Dark Reign, you can choose each mission from the perspective of the Freedom Guard or the Imperium. Of course, Age of Empires has different ‘civilizations’.

One of Alpha Centauri’s greatest strengths was incorporating perspectives among the different factions. It was not blue versus red. It was ideologies versus ideologies, science versus faith, economics versus environmentalism, peace versus war.

The two ‘factions’ and their perspectives is also a big reason why early World of Warcraft was ‘magical’. However, both Alliance and Horde have the same perspective on everything since the company is too cheap and makes only one perspective raids.

Starcraft 1 and Brood War had three perspectives. The story was told throughout. The game was fun because of these perspectives. Some gamers would ally themselves with the faction they thought ‘fit their perspective the best’. I thought the Zerg’s view of the universe was most awesome. It was so cool to play the Zerg campaign and be the bad guys! That is what perspective is about! It is about being able to be the bad guys! And the proof that current Blizzard writing is subpar is that the bad guys recognize they are the bad guys. No, no, no. Bad guys never see bad guys in the mirror. Bad guys think of themselves as the hero. The reason why Khan was so well acted in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was because the actor intentionally played him as the hero!!! The actor who played Gul Dukat in Deep Space Nine recognized this and acted his character not as a ‘bad guy’ but as the hero which made him such a convincing villain. The Zerg were terrific villains not because they were evil but because they thought they were good. To the Overmind, it is moral that the Zerg consume everything.

In Starcraft 1’s campaign, we experienced all three different perspectives which was the true source of the fleshing out of the universe. In comparison, Starcraft 2’s universe feels so small because there are no perspectives. Much of this is due to being unable to play multiple races in the single player campaign. I think the problem is bigger. I think Blizzard didn’t understand the power of perspectives and replaced it with characterization. Who the frack cares what Jim Raynor thinks? Or that he is a drunk? Or that he is love sick? No one cares! What people do care about is the perspectives of the factions and how they conflict. That is the magic of the game. The story of RTS has to be about the perspectives of factions, not about the perspectives of characters because you don’t play characters in RTS games. You play factions.

3) Ladder play is nearly the only way to play Starcraft 2’s multiplayer.

I have nothing against ladder play. Every RTS game prior to Starcraft 2 had ladder play. Most of it was done unofficially such as through Cases’ Ladder.

Ladder play should not be the centerpiece of multiplayer. It should be an option. The centerpiece of the multiplayer should be focused on players interacting with each as was done with the original Starcraft. It was not stressful. People want to use the word casual, but I’ll just say non-stressful. Not everyone wants to play ladder. Most people buy multiplayer games to play with friends.

If I had to isolate it down to one thing it would be the massive error in locking down one name per player and being unable to change it. The people who do not enjoy ladder play are almost always at the bottom of the ladder. Do they suck? Does someone who can only play randomly because they have a tough job or have a family to support suck? Of course not. This is just a video game we play for fun. So why are we penalized for playing the game for fun? Why doesn’t Blizzard allow us to play the game in the way we want?

Allow players to delete their ladder account (or create a new one). This would solve a ton, A TON, of issues such as ladder anxiety. Starcraft 1 allowed this. Warcraft 3 allowed this. Why not Starcraft 2? Why is there a permanent record of your game playing in a video game? Games are not serious business. People would rather not play online multiplayer at all because of this nonsense. I am one of them. I’d rather do something fun instead of this forced participation in Blizzard’s ‘be better than the Jones’ behavior in the games.

From those I’ve talked to in Blizzard, they believe this will cause not so good players to want to play more and be better. Not true. The mistake is that they think all players want to be good and to improve. Not all players are the same just like not all people are the same. Most people just want to play with their friends. They have no interest in ‘getting better’ because it is just a video game. They play for social reasons. And that has as much value than playing the game competitively.

Most people played Starcraft 1 in 4v4s on BGH. With Starcraft 2’s current set-up, it is impossible to play games that way. I’ve noticed on every RTS game with a map editor that people like high resource maps in huge team games. Is it competitive? No. Is it fun? To them, it is. Starcraft 2 doesn’t allow this possibility except in custom games which no one plays because there is no way to get the stupid little portraits from custom games. They have to be ladder games.

Create new types of ladders around such high resource maps and allow the portraits to be won from them. I guarantee you that a TON of new people would be playing if that occurred. Every RTS game with a map editor always had a high resource map that dominated the multiplayer games. In Red Alert, it was hjk (which I helped test out the guy who made it [dr.frank]). Starcraft 1 was Big Game Hunters or BGH. Why aren’t these maps more available for multiplayer in Starcraft 2? It is because this ladder centric crap has removed the fun from the game.

4) The map editor is not accessible.

It might be more ‘powerful’ but none of that matters if no one uses it. In prior RTS games like Starcraft 1, the map editor was only an introduction and other programs or programming was done outside of the editor if you really wanted to get into depth. In Warcraft 3, the ‘in depth’ stuff was JASS programming.

The lockdown with the maps is also another big problem as it makes it very hard for people to learn how to do things without seeing examples. Warcraft 3 managed to lock down their maps by making the map editor crash if you inserted certain lines of code. With Starcraft 2 being online only, it should be very easy to enforce intellectual property of maps.


Those four things are what is ruining Starcraft 2. Will the expansion fix them? We’ll find out.



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