The Part-Time CommanderPrevious Post
Ten years. Ten years of re-installing this game, getting burned out on it, doing something else, and then coming back again. Ten years of “construct additional pylons” and “spawn more overlords”. Ten years of Battle.net rankings and LAN games. Ten years of custom scenarios and official patches. Not to mention that in that time the game has become a genuine professional sport in Korea.
I don’t think the Starcraft brand is the secret. The series has a few central characters, but Jim Raynor isn’t nearly as iconic as Link, or Master Chief. The attempted spinoff title Starcraft Ghost died in development, a sure sign that the people backing it don’t think the word “Starcraft” can guarantee a certain return on investment.
So what is it about this amusing game of resource gathering and unit management that has turned it into such a juggernaut? Why this game? Why not Warcraft II? Or Age of Empires? Or Command & Conquer?
I know I’m not the first person to ask, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plausible explanation. Having played it myself for ten years, I still can’t tell you why I keep coming back to it. It just… feels right.
A few notable things that I think Starcraft has going for it:
The pace of combat: Other games feel ponderous, making units trade blows for a long time before one of them drops. The pace of a battle in Starcraft is brisk. It’s slow enough that you can react if you don’t like how things are going, but swift enough that you aren’t drumming your fingers waiting for a foregone conclusion to play itself out.
Three wildly divergent races: The three sides in Starcraft are very different. Not just in what units they have but how they build, how they expand, and how their defenses work. By the time you’re tired of one you’re probably in the mood to play one of the other two. So many strategies are available, yet even in the depths of all of the thousands of possible interactions there aren’t any game-breaking imbalances.
Units with personality: Starcraft units are memorable. Each one can be thought of as a character. Putting aside their various uses and abilities, each has a unique voice, appearance, and attitude. This makes learning the game easier up front (because the units are easier to remember) and gives the game far more personality than you usually find in an RTS. Most games reduce units to a static portrait and a few simple acknowledgment phrases, and all of the units end up feeling flat and generic.
Gentle learning curve: The single player campaign was brilliant in the way that it told a story while teaching you to play. Units and strategies were introduced one at a time, making sure you knew how to use one before giving you another. This made the game far more accessible than any other RTS I’ve ever played.
I don’t pretend my list of attributes is complete, accurate, or definitive. I’d like to hear what other people think the magic ingredients are. What’s the secret to Starcraft? What makes this game so great for so many people? What alchemy is at work here that has made the game last so long?
Also: Why do Wraiths suck so much?
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