Category Archives: Gaming

Is the Virtual World Really An Escape from Reality? (Part 2)

On September 17th, Blizzard announced that they would be removing the auction houses in Diablo 3. For gamers, this may seem like a very strange move. It is very rare that a company will remove a significant feature of a game, especially when there is no stated replacement plan.

Real World Finances

But from a sociological perspective, this is a very interesting move that signifies a reaction to the merging of the virtual and real worlds. It seems like the warnings from Jesse Schell in 2010 are manifesting. Last year, Diablo 3 launched with two widespread auction houses, allowing players to trade their virtual items. The gold auction house used in-game currency, while the real money auction house used… real money. Real US dollars. And other worldwide currencies.

The Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House. The $250 max buyout is the limit.
The Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House. The $250 max buyout is the limit.

As I said in part 1, the virtual world, used to be an escape from reality:

One of the strongest effects of these games was to cause players to disregard socioeconomic stratification that existed in the real world. In the virtual worlds of RPG’s, everyone starts equal and has the same opportunities.

From an extensive CNN report on gaming:

A professor: “…people do not feel they have the freedom and kind of  their own power to change their own social roles and their own identities. But in cyberspace, people do not remember… your wealth.”

However, Facebook (among others, though Facebook arguably had the largest effect) changed this with microtransactions that allowed players with more wealth in real life, or more willingness to use the wealth, to translate it to in-game wealth. Schell’s talk has a lot more on how Facebook changed gaming.

But despite the influence of Facebook, many gamers stayed on non-FB games. It took Diablo 3 to have a large enough impact on affecting socioeconomics within a game. To some degree, those who were wealthier in real life were wealthier in the game. And to some degree, it was impossible to progress forward unless one was already wealthy.

In one sense, Blizzard’s removal of the auction houses signifies a break from the trend of the ever increasingly tangled web of real and imaginary.

An Efficiency Problem

Of course, we cannot discount Blizzard’s stated reasons for removing the auction houses:

When we initially designed and implemented the auction houses, the driving goal was to provide a convenient and secure system for trades. But as we’ve mentioned on different occasions, it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the AH system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot.

Indeed, the problem was that there was too much trading and the system became too efficient. I actually wrote a lengthy post about this on the Diablo 3 forums last year, called “Why the Auction House is the Main Problem,” which was also mathematically oriented. This article was highly rated and was spread around the interwebs.

Basically, the problem was that the increased market efficiency from the auction houses allowed the average player to obtain much better items than they otherwise would, thereby short-circuiting the actual game.

Although it seems fairly obvious now as to what happened, the sentiment at the time was that the real money auction house was causing the main problems, but that the gold auction house was fine. Before my thread, I don’t recall anyone making a coherent argument against the efficiency of the gold auction house.

The Future of Gaming

Thus it is not all that surprising that Blizzard is removing both auction houses. And even considering Blizzard’s official reason, it is interesting that the economic system in the game has so many analogs in real life.

A vision of the future virtual world, from part 1:

It will not be a place where we can set aside our real world and escape our problems for a few hours. It will not be a place where we have fun or meet people we would never see otherwise and talk about the little things in life without worrying about our financial position.

Instead, it will be an extension of the real world and everything in it. Those who are wealthier in the real world will have more options in the virtual world, and those who are poorer will remain poor. Ultimately, if virtual reality does not return to its roots as an escape from reality, people will end up escaping the virtual world as well.

So given the recent news, perhaps we are not quite as firmly on that road as we were last year—a wrench has been thrown in the works. But in the end, the real and virtual worlds are still on a collision course. We should definitely be prepared.

The Popularity of Starcraft in Korea (and Elsewhere)

Today’s topic as originally chosen by William G (at UT Dallas) was the “Popularity of K-Pop“; however, given that I know almost nothing about K-Pop, and that it would be ironic if I had to do a lot of research to write about the popularity of something, I decided to jump topics slightly. Just slightly. The new topic is also popular in Korea. It is a sport that has filled stadiums and put speed, strategies, and reflexes to the ultimate test. It is the phenomenon known as Starcraft.

A video demonstrating the point:

This one is a full (but very short) game, with Korean commentary. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to actually understand Korean to see how fanatic they are:

This one is of the announcement of Starcraft II, back in May 2007 at Seoul, Korea. You should pay attention not to Blizzard’s actual trailer, but to the audience’s response, which occurs during the last 20 seconds or so:

Got it? Cool, you now understand all you really need to know about why Starcraft is so popular.

Just one final thing: Starcraft can get popular outside of Korea too. It just needs the right beat:

This has 4 million views so far—not bad for a video less than a month old and related to gaming.

*

Anyways, this is a very early post (it’s 12:25 am right now) because I will be leaving Ithaca very shortly to catch a 1 am bus to NYC. I’ll be spending a lot of time in the JFK airport; I have an idea for a really fun blog post, and I’ll see what I can do with it. See ya next time in Austin!

The End of an Experiment

I played World of Warcraft for 20 days.

WoW Screenshot

During this time, I spent logged into the game a total of 6 days and 9 hours (plus 1 minute and 7 seconds, if you look closely at the yellow text on the screenshot), which averages to 7.65 hours per day. This is 27.5% higher than my estimate of 6 hours per day that I made on the previous post! Percentage-wise, I spent 31.9% of my real time logged into WoW. In other words, I spent significantly more time on WoW than on sleep.

In these 20 days I leveled from 1 to 70, for an average of 3.5 levels per day. I was a human mage, for those of you interested.

I completed 538 quests, earned 3097 gold (plus 17 silver and 9 copper), landed 17,352 kills, and dealt 30,163,105 damage.

Wow Time Graph Revised

In this time I averaged approximately 5 hours of sleep a night (estimated), pulled two all-nighters (I had never done even one all-nighter before), and took way more naps than I normally do. While I didn’t miss any classes or homework, I did wake up past noon twice (on weekends). But let me emphasize this point: I kept up with school.

Not only was my sleeping schedule messed up, but so was my dining schedule. In these 20 days, I changed from a person who eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner quite regularly to someone who eats almost randomly one to three times a day, and not at set times. For example, as I mentioned last post, I ate only two meals total in three consecutive days. (While last post I considered this to be an experiment on its own, I now consider it a result of the WoW experiment.)

Being in a somewhat scientific mood, I asked myself the following question and came up with four answers:

So Why is WoW So Addicting?

  • Customization
  • Progress
  • Optimization
  • Nature

Customization

Customization is pretty self-explanatory—you have so many options, not just in the beginning, but at any point of the game. Even before you start, you have the objective of selecting two important features of your character: race and class. At the moment there are 10 races, with five on the Alliance (Humans, Dwarfs, Gnomes, Night Elves, Draenei) and five on the Horde (Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, Undead, Blood Elves). There are also 10 classes, and this choice will have a huge impact on your gameplay. Now, not each race and class combination is available, but there are still a great number of options available even before you start the game. Oh, and within each race, you can customize your appearance.

Once you’re in the game, you can basically choose whatever you want to do. You can complete quests (they’re entirely optional), kill monsters, train professions, explore, or just chat. World of Warcraft is the start of super-interactive virtual reality.

As you gain levels, you choose different items to use. You’ll decide what stat to focus on. At level 10 you specialize into one of three talent trees (there are three unique trees for each class), giving you even more flexibility. Within each talent tree, you’ll make decisions on which talents to learn. And later on, you’ll be able to switch between two different talent trees.

You can choose two primary professions out of a total of 11. They range from Mining to Enchanting, Jewelcrafting to Tailoring, and more.

As you discover the world, you decide which quests you do, which monsters to kill, which areas to explore. You decide what you set as your home. You can visit different capital cities. You can choose to clear dungeons, or fight other players in battlegrounds.

You can trade items, put items up at the Auction House and bid on items there, and how much gold you want from (or for) them.

You start out walking and running, but at higher levels, you can ride a mount, which makes your travels much shorter. In some places, given the right requirements, you can explore the world from the air and travel even more rapidly with a flying mount.

You can fight solo or with a party. Within a fight, you have a wide selection of abilities and spells to choose from. You can play offensively or defensively, or choose not to directly fight at all.

All these customization options give you a vast amount of things to choose from. Because of this, the game really never becomes boring. There is so much content that to explore every secret of the world, every combination of races, classes, and professions, and every style of play, would require infinite time.

Progress

When you play this game, almost no matter what you do, you feel as if you are advancing in something. The basic form of progress is leveling, in which you become stronger by having your stats increased, and by which you unlock different gameplay mechanics. In the beginning, your options are relatively limited (though still huge). As you level, you gain new skills, spells, gold, and other abilities. Your ability to kill monsters, complete quests, and even travel around the world increases.

Exploring the world really feels like progress. At first, the map is mostly blank, giving you only an outline of the world. As you travel around, landmarks and regions start appearing on your map.

WoW Screenshot 4

Completing quests for different factions increases your Reputation with that faction. As your reputation increases, you gain ranks and receive bonuses when dealing with that faction.

At certain levels there are new things you can do. You can unlock the talent panel, the dungeon finder, mounts, as well as the continents of Outland and Northrend.

And then there are Achievements. Doing certain things will earn you Achievements, which increase the number of Achievement points you own. This is addicting as it gives you an incentive to do something that would have otherwise no gameplay value. You are doing it just for the achievement.

Optimization

When you hit the max level, or are in any fixed situation, you will still want to improve. You do this by optimizing everything. If there’s an item you have that adds 50 armor, and there’s another that is otherwise identical but with 55 armor, you will feel very strongly compelled to obtain the more powerful one. You’ll hunger for the sword that gives 200 damage over the one you have that gives 185.

Within a battle you’ll want to optimize the amount of damage you are doing, to try to finish the battle as quickly as possible. You’ll figure out the optimal order in which you use your abilities, the optimal equipment for doing so, the optimal setup, the optimal environment, etc. You’ll want to be the most efficient.

Even in travel, you’ll want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. You’ll find the optimal route, and you’ll use the fastest mount you can. If you have 5 quests to complete in 5 different locations, you’ll figure out the optimal order in which to complete them as to minimize the traveling time.

You can never be the best. You can always be better.

Nature

Of the four reasons I list, this one is the most separate. Largely, WoW is a move away from modernity and towards the old, if not ancient, past. Besides the Dwarf and Gnome engineering projects, which are more funny than representative of technology, the game is almost completely at peace with nature. The Night Elves especially represent a love towards nature, and they guard it with utmost respect.

It happens to match the environmentalist movement happening right now. There are quest lines aimed at stopping a deforestation (of Ashenvale Forest). In The Burning Crusade, the Fel Reaver is a colossal enemy war machine portrayed as highly destructive. In general, many enemies are associated with trying to destroy the environment, and this is an idea that definitely rings in our current society.

World of Warcraft’s scenery in some zones can be very beautiful, and they show a pristine nature that we cannot easily visit in our own world. Therefore, playing WoW is like visiting with nature. Just google wow screenshots and look at the ones that are outside. Some of those areas make you feel that the game world is so close to nature that it is more real than our own. Hence we don’t want to leave it.

Just as WoW is a throwback to nature, it is also a throwback to mythology and the belief in magic. Azeroth is a world of imagination that can seem more convincing than our Earth, and far more mystical.

WoW Screenshot 2

If what we are looking at is a representation of a more primitive way of life, it is no wonder than World of Warcraft is so successful. Even the interface looks ancient: for reading, it is often scrolls and parchment. Even the professions, such as fishing, cooking, and herb gathering, are a nostalgia for an earlier time.

Conclusions

  1. World of Warcraft is a great and successful game, but it is also terribly addicting. It will drain hours per day and affect schedules.
  2. It is addicting because it allows us to not only play a game, but also to experience and live in a new world. This world allows us to connect with nature, or at least, what we perceive to be nature.
  3. In the future, what will dominate virtual reality might not be a virtual reality of the real world, but instead, a virtual representation of an older, more forgotten world, with ties to our ancient past, its history and its traditions.

I thought it was a fun 20 days, but I must tell myself to stop the experiment now, while I still can.

Finally, for a parting to WoW, I created this Halloween screenshot. Enjoy!

WoW Screenshot 3

This experiment, needless to say, has had some major effects on me. I will be trying to get back to normal schedule the next few days. So while I am not going to conduct another experiment like this for some time, I am opening this up to the public as to what my next experiment should be. I’d rather it not be playing another video game. Also, I will not consider anything with drugs or alcohol, etc. If the idea is feasible, and has some worth to it, I’ll consider it.

Starcraft II Editor — Second Look

Random fact: On the day of my last post, which was about a short story considered a brilliant piece of American literature, my blog received its lowest daily view count in more than three months (130 views). I guess the Internet is just that antagonistic towards American literature.

Today’s topic is much different: the StarCraft II map editor. Four months ago, during the beta, I was able to play around with the editor very basically, and wrote up a post comparing the SC2 editor to the SC1 and WC3 editors.

Recently I was able to mess around with the editor again, this time trying to create the basic gameplay for an AoS-type map. After all, I had plenty of experience with the WC3 editor, and the SC2 editor, as I mentioned in the linked post, is very similar.

That turns out less true than I thought. The truth is, the SC2 editor is not only far more powerful, as I had mentioned, but also far, far more complicated. Of course, diving into any new thing takes a while of getting used to, but on the SC2 editor, I spent eight hours just trying to make a hero system and setting up the map and triggers for an AoS, and didn’t even succeed in creating items or an inventory. To change even a single stat on a weapon took me a couple minutes of messing around the first time.

My new argument: While the WC3 editor and the SC2 editor look very much alike, the WC3 editor is in fact more like the SC1 editor than the SC2 editor. Actually, there is an important caveat here: I’m talking only about the Object/Data editor. For Terrain and Triggers, it still stands that WC3 and SC2 are closer.

The object editor in WC3 is essentially the unit editor of SC1 with significantly more fields, and also more tabs (not only units, but also abilities, items, doodads, destructibles, buffs). Suppose I wanted to change the damage of a Marine/Footman. In SC1 I would go to the Marine unit, and change the damage field from 6 to whatever I wanted it to be. For the WC3 Footman, the process is exactly the same.

SC2, on the other hand, is modular. So, to change the damage of the Marine, you can’t just go to the Marine unit. From the Marine, you have to find the link to the weapon, which in turn has a link to the damage. Once you’re at the damage, you can modify it.

Alright, it takes two more steps—so what? Well, this makes multi-object things WAY more complicated. Letsay I wanted to create an item that adds an aura in WC3. I would need an Item, Ability, and Buff. The Ability must known which Buff the aura uses, and the Item must know what Ability it is supposed to carry. Nice and simple. In SC2… let’s just say I haven’t figured it out yet.

Even supposing I could create an item, I would also need the inventory, which is incredibly difficult to make, at least without a very careful and detailed tutorial. Even looking at the source of another map (which was an excellent way to learn the WC3 editor) seemed to not help, because there were several inter-object links that I did not know how to make.

Anyway, I’m not saying the SC2 editor sucks or anything—I’m just saying it’s far, far more complicated than what I’m used to, and it will most likely have a long adaptation time. Even figuring out the basics is a challenging task. Right now, the editor just seems far more complex than it needs to be, but we’ll see.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

StarCraft II

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a real-time strategy game and yet another impressive gem from Blizzard.

Overview

This post is a review in all but the usual sense. I’m not here to assign the game a number from 1 to 10 (though if I were, it would be very high); instead, I am going for a “review” in a more academic sense—a study of the game.

Which means I’m not trying to praise or condemn the game, but rather, to gain an almost artistic appreciation for it, like I would of a film or book.

Gameplay Background

The real-time strategy genre is a type of chess where you can move all your pieces at once and you don’t take turns. What the original Starcraft (1998) did was create totally different factions. Instead of each side’s army consisting of a king, a queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and eight pawns, one side could have four pieces that moved like knights and pawns, another two like rooks with limited range, two more like bishops that could jump over pieces, and a piece that could teleport to another unoccupied square within two rows, but only once every three turns.

Call the standard 16-piece setup A, and this new 9-piece setup B. Each piece in B might be more powerful than in A, but B has less pieces. In Starcraft, if the Terran (humans) are A, then the Protoss (an alien race) would be B, for they use smaller numbers of stronger and costlier units.

The Zerg (the other aliens) are the opposite of the Protoss. Perhaps their chess setup would have 16 pawns, four pieces that moved like kings (but don’t obey the rules of check), four knights, and a queen. This is a total of 25 pieces.  This allows swarming with larger numbers of weaker and cheaper units.

Of course this is a drastic oversimplification of the game style (I’ve left out important things as resource collecting, production buildings, scouting, etc.), but that covers it essentially. Starcraft II continues the same gameplay, just with different units.

Plot Background

In Starcraft II’s single-player campaign, you follow the actions of Jim Raynor, a rebel leader against the Terran Dominion and its evil leader Arcturus Mengsk. You learn that Raynor is a friend of many Protoss factions, and that he is especially on good terms with the dark templar Zeratul. And the Zerg are led by Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades.

This alignment did not occur from accident.

Starcraft: The Terran Confederacy in the Koprulu sector in the Milky Way suddenly encounter technologically advanced Protoss warships that incinerate some Terran fringe colonies. They find that the Protoss have done so to prevent the spread of a parasitic race called the Zerg.

At this point, Jim Raynor is a Marshall on the planet Mar Sara, which is attacked by the Zerg. The Confederacy is slow to help, so Raynor puts himself in charge of saving as many colonists as he can. When he destroys a structure that has been infested by the Zerg, the Confederacy arrests him, and to evade arrest, Raynor has no choice but to join the Sons of Korhal, a terrorist group led by Arcturus Mengsk.

To overthrow the Confederate capital world of Tarsonis, Mengsk sends his second-in-command, psionic agent Sarah Kerrigan to place a psi-emitter on the planet. This device lures the Zerg, who will overrun the human population on Tarsonis. When the Protoss under Tassadar come to destroy the Zerg, Mengsk orders Kerrigan to stop the Protoss, but when she does so, Mengsk abandons her on the planet to the Zerg. Raynor, disgusted by the betrayal of Kerrigan, defects from Mengsk, and in the fall of Tarsonis and the Confederacy, Mengsk creates the Dominion and crowns himself Emperor.

The Overmind, ruler of the Zerg, had actually decided not to kill Kerrigan. She was instead infested to be an agent of the Zerg Swarm. The Protoss dark templar Zeratul assassinates the Zerg Cerebrate Zasz, but this act reveals to the Overmind the location of Aiur, the Protoss homeworld. The Overmind quickly mounts a direct assault, and embeds itself into the planet.

Even as the Zerg take over Aiur, the Protoss Conclave insists on conventional, honorable fighting against the Zerg, even though the Protoss are hopelessly outnumbered. The Conclave also seeks to arrest the high templar Tassadar, who has tried to free Zeratul—only dark templar energy could defeat the Overmind. After a brief Protoss civil war, the combined forces of the Protoss under Tassadar and Zeratul, and Raynor’s rebel group, defeat the Zerg, and Tassadar sacrifices himself to slay the Overmind.

Brood War: Not terribly important to the storyline of Starcraft II, except that Kerrigan becomes the sole leader of the Zerg.

Story and Storytelling: The Single-Player Campaign

Blizzard has come a long way in storytelling. In Starcraft, the plot unfolds in-game as well as in mission briefings. Key cinematics also illustrate critical points. The plot was linear, meaning one mission directly followed another.

The campaign of Starcraft II is, by contrast, nonlinear. You often have different missions to select from (though you end up playing through most or all of them anyways), and have choices to make in upgrades and research. Three times in the campaign, you will have to make a binary choice that either affects the plot or what you’ll face the next mission. These choice selections were very interesting, and lead to interesting replay options.

In one choice, you must decide whether to help Tosh break out a group of Specters or help Nova stop the Specter operation. If you help Tosh, you’ll have the ability to create Specters in later missions, whereas if you help Nova, you’ll have the ability to create Ghost. The two missions where you either help Tosh or Nova are my favorite in the campaign.

Besides the nonlinear story, the story itself was greatly enhanced by the various methods of storytelling. Besides mission briefings, in-game actions, and cinematics, the story takes place interactively on the Hyperion, Raynor’s ship. The most amusing method was the television broadcasts, which show Donny Vermillion and/or Kate Lockwell. Donny often cuts off Kate’s report of the real news, reporting his own biased information.

As always, the story is full of surprises and plot twists. The most shocking part of the story was Zeratul’s appearance on the Hyperion, and his visions that Raynor later viewed. It turns out the Overmind in Starcraft was more than it had seemed.

To soften the overall serious tones of alien invasion and saving the universe, Blizzard added plenty of references and humorous dialog. My favorite is the part when Tychus jokes to Raynor that using the Xel’Naga artifact could destroy the space-time continuum, to which Raynor responds, “This isn’t science fiction!”

Favorite Mission: “Ghost of a Chance”

This one is intense on micromanagement. You control no base, only Nova and a few reinforcements. The positioning of units and usage of abilities is key. The mission is like an epic version of “The Dylarian Shipyards” from Brood War.

Next Favorite Mission: “Breakout”

Essentially an Aeon of Strife game, like DotA. You control only one unit, Tosh, and try to control the tide of a battle. As in “Ghost of a Chance,” the key is positioning and using abilities. It is similar to the mission “The Search for Illidan” in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. Also, the parts where Raynor constructs bases in areas you capture is the opposite of “Twilight of the Gods” in Warcraft III, where the enemy Archimonde constructs bases in areas that he conquers.

Battle.net and Multi-Player

Also a great improvement. Battle.net is a state-of-the-art online system, and the lack of LAN is not a big issue. This is because the new Battle.net has very little lag, and whatever use for LAN can be done on Battle.net.

Besides that, the gameplay is excellent and well polished. The only qualm I have is that the Terran and Protoss seem more fun to play than the Zerg. Note that I’m not saying they’re imbalanced or easier to play; they just seem to have so many more options. Protoss with their Warp Gates are extremely fun.

Favorite Protoss Unit: Stalker

An very flexible unit that can hit air and ground. It is extremely mobile with its blink ability, and the option to use Warp Gates to warp in many of them at once is amazing. Massed stalkers with upgrades seem to be very effective.

Terran Favorite Unit: Viking

It has a very long-range air-to-air attack that is perfect against capital ships or Overlord hunting, and it can transform to ground mode, making it a viable ground-to-ground mech fighter. The ship upgrades work for both modes.

Zerg Favorite Unit: Baneling

There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your opponent’s army decimated by a massive blob of rolling green spheres.

Balance

As an amateur player I cannot speak much about this, but Starcraft II seems very well balanced. Each race has a distinct feel, but together they are matched up quite well. The game has come a long way from the early days of the beta (in which I did play), when several cheap strategies could win consistently. Even now, the Void Ray rush is super effective, at least at lower levels.

Achievements

How do you enhance the replay value of any game? Add achievements. I’m not sure whether this is new for the real-time strategy genre, but Blizzard certainly has success with the achievement system in its World of Warcraft. I’ve read an article somewhere about how achievements scientifically make a game addicting. But Starcraft 2 doesn’t even need the psychological effect.

For example, in the campaign missions, there are two bonus achievements, and it can sometimes be difficult if not nearly impossible to grab both awards in one play of the mission. One achievement might be to kill every last structure on the map, while the other might be to finish the mission in under 20 minutes. You’d have to play the mission at least twice, once to get the first achievement, another to get the second. Plus, there are de facto achievements such as finding research points on the field that can be used for valuable upgrades for later use in the campaign.

This system is very addicting for perfectionists like myself. Even without achievements, I would search every corner of a map for hidden stuff (e.g., in Warcraft III, especially the expansion, there were secret items and tomes everywhere if you looked for them). The achievement system makes you want to do this even more.

Graphics

While I don’t consider graphics to be the most important part of a game, I am fairly impressed by the graphics of Starcraft II, mostly the ability to generate in-game cutscenes and rendered movies in the campaign. Also, the real movies are in much higher resolution and detail than those in previous Blizzard titles such as Warcraft III.

Map Making

Blizzard’s map editors have been incredible, and during the beta I have already discussed the basics of the Starcraft II map editor. I haven’t found time to really experiment with it yet, but when I do, I’ll keep you updated.

The Fun Factor

To be honest, Starcraft II is one of the funnest games I have ever played, if not the most. It is because they made it much more than a game—they made it an environment, and a very immersive one at that. My only real concern here is that it might be too immersive, and be another World of Warcraft, a very addictive game due to its fun factor. World of Warcraft is what happens when you make a game too good.

Then again, there is no monthly subscription fee for Starcraft II, so Blizzard needs not make it as addicting. But once you get the game, it will be very hard to put down, at least for a while.

Concluding Remarks

Starcraft II is incredibly polished and incredibly fun, and it proves that the real-time strategy genre is not dead—it just needed another kick. And Blizzard gave it this kick.

Plot Similarities in Blizzard Games

Blizzard Entertainment

With StarCraft II just released, and from recently the playing of the original StarCraft and WarCraft III campaigns, I’ve noticed that, between the plots, there are quite a few similarities. Blizzard’s creative department is very good at this. The list of Blizzard games [abbreviations] I’ll be using in this post:

  • StarCraft [SC1]
  • StarCraft: Brood War [SCBW] (expansion)
  • WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos [WC3]
  • WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne [WC3: TFT] (expansion)
  • StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty [SC2]

Well, I don’t own WOW, and I don’t know the plots of the first two WarCraft games. Therefore my comparisons will mostly run between StarCraft and WarCraft III, including expansions.

SPOILER ALERT

The Hero Becomes the Villain

Diablo (!):

  • At the very end, the hero defeats Diablo but tries to contain Diablo’s soul within himself. This fails, because Diablo takes control of the hero’s body. In Diablo II, the Diablo you face is the hero of the first game.

SC1:

  • In the first campaign (Terran), mission 9: “New Gettysburg,” Arcturus Mengsk abandons ghost agent Sarah Kerrigan to the Zerg. She is infested. In the next campaign you can use Infested Kerrigan, a Zerg unit. By the end of SCBW, she has become the “Queen of Blades,” the ruler of the sector, and the primary antagonist.
    • BUT, in SC2 we learn that she is the prophecized savior of the universe, and she is de-infested at the end.
  • Also in the first campaign, Arcturus Mengsk himself is initially a hero, trying to overthrow the evil Terran Confederacy. When he takes power, he crowns himself Emperor of the new Terran Dominion, but his government ends up being just as oppressive as the Confederacy that he overthrew.

WC3:

  • In the first campaign (Human), mission 9: “Frostmourne,” Arthas Menethil, a human paladin, is so blinded by vengeance that he would kill the dreadlord Mal’Ganis at any cost. Unfortunately this cost is the taking of the cursed blade Frostmourne, which essentially binds the wielder to the Lich King. By the next campaign you can use Arthas, an Undead Death Knight. He becomes the primary antagonist.
  • In the second campaign (Undead), mission 5: “The Fall of Silvermoon,” Arthas (now undead) defeats the high elf Sylvanas Windrunner and turns her into an undead banshee. She later becomes the Queen of the Forsaken.
  • In the third campaign (Orc), mission 5: “The Hunter of Shadows,” Grom Hellscream, in order to defeat the Night Elves, drinks from an enchanted well; however, this enchantment is from the blood of Mannoroth, a pit lord. Hellscream subsequently falls under demonic possession.
    • BUT, in mission 8: “By Demons Be Driven,” Thrall rescues Hellscream’s soul, and Hellscream redeems himself by slaying Mannoroth before dying.

WC3: TFT:

  • Throughout the first campaign (Sentinel), Maiev is trying to hunt down Illidan. By the end, Malfurion remarks that “[Maiev] has become vengeance itself.” Given Illidan’s intentions, however, it is arguable whether Maiev is a protagonist or antagonist.

The Villain Was Serving a Greater Power

SCBW:

  • In the secret mission “Dark Origins,” when Zeratul discovers Samir Duran‘s experimentation on Protoss/Zerg hybrids, Duran explains: “I am a servant of a far greater power.” Could he be referring to the Xel’Naga?

SC2:

  • Tassadar reveals that the Overmind from the first game was actually controlling the Zerg against its will (it was itself controlled by a more powerful force), and that it sought to infest Kerrigan so that someone else could control the Zerg.

WC3:

  • In the second campaign (Undead), Kel’Thuzad summons the demon Archimonde into the world. Archimonde, however, has no need for Arthas or Kel’Thuzad. Arthas becomes appalled, and Kel’Thuzad informs him that the Lich King has already foreseen this, and that he has plans for Arthas.

WC3: TFT:

  • In the first campaign (Sentinel), Illidan Stormrage appears to be using the Eye of Sargeras for himself. Later, at the end of the second campaign (Blood Elf/Human), we learn that Illidan was serving the demon Kil’Jaeden, who gave Illidan the task of destroying the Frozen Throne and subsequently the Lich King.

The Apparent Ally Is Actually an Enemy

SCBW:

  • In the first campaign (Protoss), Aldaris is initially reluctant but accepting of the need to go to Shakuras. He then incites a rebellion, and the player must defeat him in mission 7: “The Insurgent.”
    • BUT, later we learn that he was the good guy all along—see the next entry.
  • The dark templar matriarch Raszagal is a seeming ally of Zeratul throughout the entire game. But we learn in the third campaign, mission 9: “The Reckoning,” that Raszagal was a puppet of Kerrigan. Thus, Aldaris’s rebellion against Raszagal was justified.
  • In the second campaign (Terran), Samir Duran is a seeming ally, but during mission 7: “Patriot’s Blood,” we learn that he is actually working for Kerrigan and the Zerg.
    • Actually, in the secret mission “Dark Origins,” we learn that he is serving not Kerrigan, but an even greater power.
  • Also in the second campaign (Terran), Alexei Stukov is the vice-admiral of the United Earth Directorate, but after some suspicious activity, the player is sent on a mission to kill him in mission 7: “Patriot’s Blood.”
    • BUT, it turns out he was the good guy, and Duran was the bad guy. (See above.)

SC2:

  • Tychus Findlay is Raynor’s buddy for the entire game. But at the end, he reveals that he “made a deal with the devil,” Arcturus Mengsk. He would have to kill Kerrigan. But Raynor kills him first.

WC3:

  • In the fourth campaign (Night Elf), Tyrande Whisperwind frees Illidan Stormrage in order to help fight against the demonic invasion. Illidan later serves a demon, and is the first antagonist to appear in the expansion.

The Apparent Enemy Is Actually an Ally

SC1:

  • In the beginning of the third campaign (Protoss), both Tassadar and Zeratul are considered enemies, the first a traitor, the second a dangerous outcast. They eventually defeat the Zerg Overmind.

SCBW:

  • Kerrigan goes both ways. She is an enemy from the first game, but in the first campaign she helps the protoss Zeratul and Artanis recover the Uraj and Khalis crystals. In the third campaign she also helps Mengsk recover his Dominion capital of Korhal from the United Earth Directorate.
    • But, she turns on her allies, killing Duke and Fenix, revealing that she had used everyone as a part of her own plan to rule the sector alone.
      • BUT, at the end of SC2 she becomes uninfested, and it is hinted that she will be the hero again.

SC2:

  • Kerrigan. See above.
  • The Overmind from the first game. Tassadar says the Overmind had “courage.” See “The Villain Was Serving a Greater Power.”
  • Valerian Mengsk, the heir apparent to Arcturus Mengsk, seems at first to be another loyal Dominion agent. But it is revealed that he is the owner of the Moebius Foundation, that he can help Raynor rescue Kerrigan, and that he is against his father.

WC3:

  • In the third campaign (Orc), Grom Hellscream’s Orcs slay Cenarius, who was actually trying to prevent them from unleashing demonic powers from the Chaos Well. Hellscream drinks from the well and becomes corrupted.

WC3: TFT:

  • Actually uncertain for Illidan. He is at first the foe who brought into power the Naga, but he was actually trying to destroy the Lich King, though he was doing so albeit under Kil’Jaeden’s command. Then again, he does help Malfurion rescue Tyrande. At the final fight, it is Illidan versus Arthas, and neither can be said to be good.
  • Lady Vashj is apparently an enemy, but she and her Naga assist the player in the Alliance campaign.

The Grand Alliance

SC1:

  • In the final mission (Protoss mission 10) “Eye of the Storm,” the Protoss under Tassadar and Zeratul and the Terran under Raynor join together and defeat the Zerg Overmind.

SCBW:

  • The final mission (Zerg mission 10) “Omega” essentially inverts “Eye of the Storm.” Kerrigan‘s Zerg defeat the combined forces of Mengsk‘s Terran Dominion, DuGaulle‘s United Earth Directorate, and Artanis‘s Protoss fleet.

WC3:

  • In the final mission (Night Elf mission 7) “Twilight of the Gods,” the Night Elves under Malfurion Stormrage and Tyrande Whisperwind, the Humans under Jaina Proudmoore, and the Orcs under Thrall hold off a demonic invasion led by Archimonde against Mount Hyjal, the World Tree.
    • Well, eventually the invasion succeeds, but Archimonde falls into Malfurion’s trap upon reaching Mount Hyjal.

The Prophecy

WC3:

  • Medivh is THE Prophet. He foretells the invasion of the Burning Legion (making him a doomsday prophet), and ends up uniting the Humans, Orcs, and Night Elves to defeat Archimonde’s invasion.

SC2:

  • Zeratul becomes the prophetic character, telling Raynor that Kerrigan is the key. To some degree, Kerrigan is also prophetic. In SCBW, Duran could be considered prophetic.

The Guy that Nobody Believes (At First)

SC1:

  • None of the Protoss believe Tassadar at first when he says they must trust the Dark Templar, and they believe he has defected to the dark side. The Dark Templar end up being invaluable to the fight against the Zerg, and Tassadar ends up being the ultimate hero of the game.

WC3:

  • The humans initially laugh at Medivh‘s doomsday prophecies, but he ends up indirectly saving Azeroth.

One of the primary reasons there are so many twists, like the good guys becoming the bad guys or vice versa, is how the campaigns are structured. Each game involves a thread of campaigns that use different races. So when you’ve fought against a certain foe for an entire campaign, and then get to command them in the next, you immediately begin to ask moral questions, like whether what you did in the previous campaign was the right thing.

That’s really the genius of these games, that characters don’t have fixed allegiances. And with certain characters, specifically Kerrigan and Illidan, you really don’t know whether they’re ultimately good or evil until you know it for sure.

The StarCraft II Map Editor, in Context

It’s basically the WarCraft III editor. Plus a lot more.

The point of this post is a comparison between the WarCraft III (WC3) and StarCraft II (SC2) editors. Of course, because SC2 is in beta right now, along with its editor, many things may change. The general idea, however, should stay about the same, and moreover, it is the overall resemblance between the two editors that prompted this post.

I speak from several years of experience with the WC3 editor, and with two very extensive and elaborate maps under my ownership (one self-owned, one co-authored).

StarCraft

My map making started with SC1, and I must say that the WC3 editor is vastly superior to that of SC1. To put the WC3/SC2 editor comparison into context, I shall first go over the basics of the SC1 editor.

Original StarCraft Editor
StarCraft 1 Editor—Terrain (Click Image to Enlarge)

SC1’s editor was far more powerful than others in the time period in which it was released—StarCraft debuted in 1998. The editor’s main strength was the Trigger Editor, which allowed the creator to script the action of a map according to events that happen in the game. The events, however, were not called events—they were called conditions, and this made sense for SC1. Hence, the SC1 Trigger Editor relied on a condition-action schema.

SC Editor Triggers
StarCraft 1 Editor—Triggers (Click Image to Enlarge)

Also powerful was the Unit Editor, with which a user could modify the basic stats of a unit or building:

StarCraft 1 Editor Unit
StarCraft 1 Editor—Unit (Click Image to Enlarge)

Note, however, that this only allows very basic modification. If I wanted to change the attack speed, attack range, attack animation, movement speed, collision size, building options, etc. of a unit, I would be at a total loss with the StarCraft 1 editor.

WarCraft III

Within just four years, in 2002, Blizzard released WarCraft III, which came with a much, much more capable editor.

WC3 Editor Terrain
WC3 Editor—Terrain (Click Image to Enlarge)

Note carefully the icons in the terrain palette in the screenshot above, particularly the ones for “Apply Height.”

Basically, the WC3 editor can produce beautiful terrain. But that’s not the point. Its Trigger Editor is incredibly more complex than that of SC1, and this is where the  superiority shows. Here is a screenshot of the WC3 Trigger Editor:

WC3 Editor Triggers
WC3 Editor—Triggers (Click Image to Enlarge)

Okay, the screenshot is not that impressive, but keep it in mind when we compare it later to SC2’s editor. Do note the Event-Condition-Action schema. Finally, here’s the WC3 Object Editor:

WC3 Editor Objects
WC3 Editor—Objects (Click Image to Enlarge)

This is much more impressive than SC1’s editor, which only lets me change ten integers and a name at max. Note that the screenshot by no means captures the whole list of customizable attributes: look at that scroll bar! Surprisingly, most StarCraft 1 players seem to not know about this power—most of them have no idea how powerful the WC3 editor is.

After all, one of the few World Cyber Games (WCG) game is Defense of the Ancients, more commonly known as DotA. And yep, it was created by the WC3 editor. It appears in fact on Battle.net that more WC3 players play DotA than the actual WC3 ladder.

To further reiterate the power of the WC3 editor, I present to you a demonstration of custom spells I made a long time ago in WC3.

This is far beyond the dreams of a StarCraft 1 map maker. Now, as I mentioned in an earlier post,

. . . I was appalled when SC players and map makers posted numerous questions [on the Blizzard forums] asking whether the SC2 editor will have certain features; Blizzard just said yes, yes, yes. In one of their FAQs, they had the question along the lines of, “Will the editor be able to—,” with the answer, “Yes.” The reason the questions were appalling was because nearly every single feature requested was already in the WC3 map editor, released five years prior to the announcement of SC2.

And if SC2 is released later this year, in 2010, it will have been eight years since the release of WC3. That’s double the time between SC1 and WC3. This means the jump in editor capability from WC3 from SC2 should be twice as high as that between SC1 and WC3, right? Well, it was certainly an improvement, but not a shattering one.

StarCraft II

I opened up the SC2 editor for the first time today. My first thought was, Wow, this looks like WC3. In contrast, I was not suddenly reminded of SC1 when I first opened the WC3 editor. Here’s a screenshot of the SC2 editor: (I recently got a new laptop, and hence the Windows 7 theme in the following pictures will look different from the Windows XP theme you saw in the preceding ones, as I have SC1 and WC3 on my old laptop, and SC2 on the new.)

SC2 Editor Terrain
SC2 Editor—Terrain (Click Image to Enlarge)

Remember those “Apply Height” icons I told you to remember a few screenshots back? Well, here they are again. It turns out the SC2 terrain editor is very similar to that of WC3. After all, WC3 already allowed beautiful 3D maps, and there wasn’t an incredible amount of room to improve upon.

Okay, now I never really cared too much about terrain in the first place. So naturally, my first instinct was to go to the Trigger Editor. You can imagine the surprise I felt when I saw this:

SC2 Editor Triggers
SC2 Editor—Triggers (Click Image to Enlarge)

Not only are the icons and interface the same, but so is the Event-Condition-Action schema! You’ll notice the “Local Variables” as well, but I assure you, from WC3 editing experience, that it is nothing new: Blizzard just made local variables a little more friendly to use. Now, this resemblance really says one thing: not that SC2’s editor isn’t powerful, but that WC3’s editor was so powerful that they had little to improve upon.

I don’t have this in the screenshots, but once you go to add events, conditions, or actions, the interface does change a little. Overall it is very easy to adapt to, from a WC3 perspective. I think it’s actually a little more user friendly: in WC3 you often had multiply nested fields in a trigger, and to modify a single one would require peeling away the layers, which would require several clicks; in SC2 this requires just one click no matter how many layers of nesting occur, because all the fields are written out. Of course, to more advanced WC3 mapmakers this is not a problem because of JASS scripting, but it is an improvement nonetheless.

What about the SC2 Object Editor? Here’s a screenshot:

SC2 Editor Data
SC2 Editor—Data (Click Image to Enlarge)

It’s actually called the Data editor in SC2. For consistency, I have screenshot the place where you change a unit’s hitpoints for each of the three editors, and you see quite a change on each one. Unlike the very familiar trigger editor, the Data editor does take a while to get used to. Its basics are, however, the same. The right-hand-side panel looks very similar between the WC3 and SC2 data editors (for now I’ll refer to both of them as data editors), and even the left-hand-side is not totally different. If anything, the WC3 data editor is more organized, by both type of data (unit, item, doodad, destructible, ability, upgrade) and within each type (units categorized by race and role); in SC2 all the data is there in one big list.

Alright, that’s my first look at the SC2 editor. I’m not incredibly impressed so far, but I do think it has great potential. After all, SC2 is still in beta, and there are two more expansions coming out. And from the experience of StarCraft: Brood War and WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne, expansions tend to make editors way better.

I’ll probably be messing around with the editor a bit in the upcoming days or weeks, if AP/IB tests allow. I’ll let you know if there’s anything bizarre.