The Secret Formula

By Shamus Posted Friday May 2, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 64 comments

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 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.

Starcraft Wraith
Starcraft was not viewed as revolutionary when it arrived. It was popular, but (as someone pointed out the other day) it didn’t get perfect scores. The story was fine, but not remarkable, and didn’t seem to be related to the popularity of the title. It looked nice, but the graphics weren’t revolutionary. The AI was good, but games have come along since then with better AI, and Starcraft was still here after they’d gone. The production values were good, but the same can be said of a lot of other games that came and went.

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?


From The Archives:

64 thoughts on “Starcraft:
The Secret Formula

  1. Aaron says:

    For me it was more the learning curve than anything else. I had played Warcraft before this, and Starcraft was just a much better put together game. It was edgy and fun with Suicide Marines and big tanks to blow crap up with. But the learning curve is what sold it for me. There were very few missions that were a serious jump in the curve. By the time I had finished the last mission in the expansion I was totally comfortable using every unit and knew how to build multi unit squads to the best effect.

    I think one of my fav missions in the original game was the 30 minute defense mission. I’d just line the walls with Marines and use Vultures and Bunkers to defend the 2 openings. Zerg come, Zerg die.

    ETA: Wraiths: No armor, crappy weaponry, all they can really do is stealth … whooooo hoooo! (*sarcasm off*). As soon as I had the option I went for Battlecruizers and totally ignored wraiths.

  2. Jeremiah says:

    I’m probably one of the few people that never really got into Starcraft. I enjoyed the game okay, and I played through the entire single-player campaign; that was about it.

    I’m guessing it didn’t really catch on with me, though, because I don’t particularly enjoy multiplayer games, and that’s where it seems most of the appeal is.

  3. Part of it I think is the myriad examples of “scissors paper stone” style strategies in the game. One unit is good for taking out another kind of unit, but is vulnerable to attack by a third kind of unit. The entire game is replete with these strategies. A few minutes to learn, a lifetime to master.

    Another part, I think, is the incredible extensibility of the game. For its time, it had one of the most flexible custom scripting systems out there. Even now you still see people adapting it into all sorts of different custom games. Look at the Custom Map game list on BattleNet sometime, and what do you see? Pokemon, Diplomacy, who knows what-all.

    And perhaps part of it is how the game unabashedly rips off so many icons of pop culture. Armored marines from Starship Troopers, spaceships with godcannons from Robotech (even to the point of making the starship captain strongly resemble and sound like Robotech’s Captain Gloval!), Gigeristic biomechanical creatures from Alien, space Egyptians from Stargate, the list goes on and on. The Goliath pilot voice sounds like Trek TNG’s Worf, the Science Vessel captain sounds like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons…

  4. LintMan says:

    Starcraft was a great game, but I was always more a fan of Total Annihilation, which I think came out around the same time. (This is somewhat ironic for me, because I’m usually all about “story” and campaigns and TA’s campagin/story isn’t even in the same league as Starcraft’s.)

    But one of the things you praise is actually a HUGE gripe point for me… The slow introduction of one new unit at a time through the campaign. For me, the campaign *is* the game, not a training ground. When the campaign ends, the game is generally over for me.

    This total cliche that every RTS uses that gives you one new unit at a time (and saving the uber ones for the final level) means that for 90+% of my time spent in any almost RTS, I don’t have access to all the units. And then I only get to use the coolest, most powerful ones on the final level. Gah.

  5. Vegedus says:

    I think number 2 is definitely one of the main reasons. As far as I can recall, there simply was no other game that so unique races. It was almost a revolution in itself. That they were also perfectly balanced pawed the road for the game to become a serious sport.

  6. Lukasa says:

    I have to say that, on the subject of ‘unit character’, the Dawn of War series has done exceptionally well. Excluding the most recent iteration (Soulstorm is average, not amazing), Dawn of War has done an excellent job both of making races feel different and making them characterful. Of course, it helps that the source universe was already incredibly well developed, but the voice acting has become stellar, and I was quite prepared to go through the effort required to appropriate the Guard voice files from the game code in order to here the Kasrkin Sergeant say “Long have I wanted to serve under you sir” on command.

  7. MintSkittle says:

    I’d say the modding community probably played a big role in Starcraft’s continued reign of awesome.

    Seriously, I’ve played these guy’s custom campaigns many times more than the official campaign. I’ll occasionally reinstall Starcraft just for one more run through of “Visions of the Future.”

  8. Carra says:

    The largest part to me are the three factions. They not only are completey different but they also *feel* different.

    I wouldn’t say the story is average. It has one of the biggest plot twists (Kerrigan) I’ve ever seen. It’s a very fun campaign.

  9. Noah Gibbs says:

    I think a lot of it is the tremendous game balance, not just in paper-scissors-rock but in “zealots do about as well for the resources as marines”, “no overwhelming spoiler strategies”, etc. The only other game I can think of that managed such excellent balance with such diverse strategies was Street Fighter 2, and you’ll notice that it *also* became a classic for many years.

    It helped as well that Starcraft had, which seems to have done wonders for the longevity of a lot of games (obviously in differently-branded flavors for different companies). And it was one of the first games to have such a thing, so it was an advantage that other games of its era couldn’t match. Starcraft 2 won’t get nearly as much of a boost from it because it’s a pretty common thing now.

  10. Dev Null says:

    Three wildly divergent races:

    That was always a big part of it for me. Almost every other RTS I’ve ever played has consisted of two carbon-copy armies with exact equivalent troops on both sides. Some go to more effort than others to paint the uniforms different colours, but thats about it. The thing I love about Starcraft is that they are quite genuinely different, and yet seem to be reasonably balanced.

    Plus, at least for my group of friends, it got _bonus_ points for being old. For a handful of spare cash we collected crappy old 486’s from everyone’s garages and workplaces and set them up at a friends house as a permanent LAN. Most of those machines wouldn’t have managed to play anything newer…

  11. Nicholas says:

    Um, good learning curve? Perhaps, but I flat out could not complete Starcraft.

    I sucked. I got blown away by the AI. Every time. The last mission of the zerg campaign, and about halfway through the protoss one was where I just could not make progress.

    Which is odd, because I can complete the other blizzard games without problems.

    So, I think you can add to the staying power for serious gamers – it’s genuinely difficult

  12. Nilus says:

    Like Lukasa said, I think Dawn of War is very much the spirtual successor to Starcraft(Which is kinda funny seeing that Starcraft would not exist without Warcraft which probably would never have existed without Warhammer). They both feature a variety of races with very different play styles.

    I am actually looking forward to both Starcraft II and to Dawn of War II. Although I wonder if Starcraft will still be popular at LAN parties. At the end of the day we all know that game and love it. And we know that everyones PC can run it just fine. I think Starcraft might still float around as a party game for another 10 years honestly.

  13. Kameron says:

    @Robotech_Master: The Yamato gun on the Battlecruisers is pulled straight from Star Blazers, and the flying Space Battleship Yamato’s “wave motion gun”. Good stuff.

    I’m playing Starcraft for the first time (just picked up Battlechest from eBay). I like the learning curve and the storyline is decent. I’m kinda disappointed that you don’t have the ability to retire units or demolish buildings. Didn’t Warcraft II allow for that? I agree, the Wraiths are frustratingly fragile.

  14. Downtym says:

    How to use Wraiths effectively:

    1. Build 12 of them.
    2. Put them all in a control group.
    3. Keep them hovering somewhere in a tight group with a HOLD order so they don’t go running off like idiots.
    4. When you see enemy flying unit(s), grab your wraith group. Tell them to cloak and attack *1* target.
    5. When that target is dead, run the hell away.
    6. If you have less than 12 Wraiths now, go to 1. Otherwise, go to 3. Repeat.


    1. Do not ever use Wraiths to fight anything on the ground unless you’re sure the enemy has no sight available. It’s pretty much a waste of time.

    2. If you see a templar within 20 city blocks of your Wraiths, fly them the hell away.

    3. Learn to fly wraiths such that they stack completely on top of each other and fire in unison.

    4. If a Wraith decloaks, it is dead. Accept this and move on.

    The good thing about Wraiths:

    1. They’re cheap.
    2. They’re fast.
    3. They can cloak.
    4. They mangle air units.
    5. They make great air assassins. Single target is your friend.
    6. They make a great distraction if you need to get a shuttle from point A to point B.
    7. They make really great scouts and bait.

    The bad thing about Wraiths:

    1. They’re useless in “fleet actions”. Don’t group your wraiths with your shuttles and battleships. Useless.

    2. They are basically useless against ground units unless you use >12 of them on a single target.

    3. They’re fiddly bastards. Make sure you cloak and decloak them *as a group*.

    4. They’re made of tin foil and hope. Any AOE in the game turns them into chunky salsa.

    5. Every other offensive air unit in the game is better. Yes, even Mutalisks.

    6. Against Terrans you have to make sure to pull them out quickly or that Sensor Scan is going to get them all murdered. Against Zerg you have to make sure to keep them away from Overlords (Or kill the Overlords first). Against Protoss you have to scan and find those probes before you send your wraiths in (Learn to see the “Predator Effect” of cloaked units).

    The Wraith fits a valuable, but hard to use niche’ in Starcraft because they require attention. I use them primarily as a first strike option against enemy air units: Take out the most valuable air target(s) and work your way down. To be effective, you have to remember the Terran Mantra which is, “You’re all expendable.”

  15. Inane Fedaykin says:

    If wraiths are doing anything but blowing the tar out of capital ships, overlords or workers you’re probably doing it wrong. Wraiths don’t do the whole “fight the enemy fairly” thing, you hit their air units with the high damage missles and bugger off before you lose more then a unit or two.

  16. DGM says:

    Typo. Where you say: “So many strategies are available, yet even in the depths of all of the thousands of possible interactions there aren't and game-breaking imbalances,” it should say “any” instead of “and.”

  17. Spammy V says:

    Starcraft gets a large “meh” from me. I came into it with little anticipation and little foreknowlege. So, I started playing. The units were diverse, the gameplay solid, all this great stuff that everyone keeps heaping praise on Starcraft for, except…

    I’d played Age of Mythology first. And Age of Mythology had three distinct ethnicities with their distinct units and rock-paper-scissors gameplay and giant monsters and God Powers. Starcraft just felt like playing the prototype, beta version. So, no, I’ve never gotten into Starcraft.

  18. tom says:

    @ nicholas, use a zergling rush on the temple in the last zerg mission, this works, really.

    I really sucked at this game, its only recently that ive actually beaten the zerg campaign without cheats. I still get stuck on mission 7 of the protoss though.

  19. JFargo says:

    Strangely enough, Jeremiah, we share a name and feelings for Starcraft. Never really got into, and for the same exact reasons.

  20. guy says:

    i hated age of mythology, partly because it’s story was stupid and partly because single-use god powers and excessive bonuses against certain types of units are no fun. starcraft’s rock-paper-scissors gameplay does not arise out of the fact that hydras deal extra damage against air units, but out of the hit points, cost, damage, and fire rates of air units vs. hydras. the thing is, the hydra is less effective against massed marines because the balance of those factors is diffrent, not because any numbers on the hydra have been changed. because that is just stupid and arbitary.

  21. Freykin says:

    My favorite part of it was playing as the Terrans in a Starship Troopers playstyle. I’d churn out TONS of marines, firebats, and medics, load them up into dropships, and just spam them everywhere. It wasn’t very effective, but god was it fun.

  22. Cadrys says:

    I found wraiths to be adequate at removing dug-in siege tanks without exposing my own to bombardment getting into range. (The ‘stack of 12’ rule still applies, though. My ‘final assault’ wave against the pc usually had 2 workers in the back to fix the wraiths while my siege tanks actually removed enemy bases)

  23. Blackbird71 says:

    Starcraft had a lot going for it, but I think one factor to its early popularity that seldom gets mentioned is accessibility. I played Starcraft at LAN parties and such for quite some time before I ever owned a copy, thanks to the wonderful little “spawn” option. This feature built into the game allowed it to be shared with friends, making it perfect for group gaming, as you could run a whole match from one actual disc.

    Making it readily available and usable in such situations rather than requiring each player to buy their own copy made it easy to spread. As more people experienced the multiplayer game, more would go out and buy a copy to play on their own, either to experience the single player game, practice for the next LAN match, or to host their own multiplayer fun. As has been pointed out on this site in other discussions about DRM and demos, this is a model rarely followed anymore. It’s a shame really, or there could have been a few other “Starcrafts” out there.

  24. ShadowDragon8685 says:

    I, for one… Despise Starcraft. I loathe it. Don’t ask me to explain why; I find the story-mode entertaining, if way too hard (primarily because they didn’t update story mode to keep pace with bnet balance changes, thus resulting in ridiculously difficult campaign maps) and ultimately it tends to lose my interest.

    I guess my problem is that I hate HATE HATE play. Custom maps can be okay, but tend to suck more often than not, and Warcraft III is much better for that sort of thing anyway.

    Mainly I hate the micro requirements. I agree with most of Shamus’ sentiments: I find battle to be a tedius chore instead of the meat of the game. It takes my attention away from the construction of my war-industrial *cities*, which annoys the hell out of me. I loathe micromanagement in all of it’s forms (which is the reason I find War3 to be more accessable; by and large you don’t HAVE to micro. It helps, and is a requisite against players, but is not nessessary against computer.) I just want to sit in, turtle down, build up a mammoth fleet of battlecruisers or carriers (guess which race I DON’T like) and float lazily over the enemy’s bases, laying waste to all and sundry. I prefer long build-ups behind nigh-impenetrable defenses which require only a minor investment in time to upkeep and man, then sallying forth from behind the castle walls with a virtually indestructable army of flying gods of war.

    Which, needless to say, fails utterly against human players who will quite happily roll a team of 12 siege tanks up outside my defensive perimeter, beyond my LoS, scan me and deploy his siege tanks. Of course, that’s presuming I survive the first rushes, which I frequently don’t.

    Even so, I STILL have the damn thing installed. I don’t know why, but it’s like crack cocaine, I guess. Not that I’ve ever tried crack cocaine, but Starcraft is the most addictive thing I’ve ever tried. I’ll put it down for months and even years, then come back and fiend out on it for a month or two, to the point I’m quoting the Vulture and Siege Tank verbatim in normal conversation, much to the befuddlement of my family.

  25. Cineris says:

    @guy, re: “starcraft's rock-paper-scissors gameplay does not arise out of the fact that hydras deal extra damage against air units, but out of the hit points, cost, damage, and fire rates of air units vs. hydras”

    Actually, plenty of Starcraft’s balancing arises out of damagetype vs. armortype bonuses or penalties. One of the reasons why Hydralisks are better against light fliers than Marines is because Hydralisks deal reduced damage to the Marine (IIRC).

  26. Aelyn says:

    I think Blizzard games as a whole have two things going for them: design and development/testing time. Blizzard by and large rarely does anything revolutionary. Blizzard *always* does things well. From Starcraft to Diablo II to World of Warcraft, you can buy a Blizzard game and know that it’s going to be stable and balanced. The races have been balanced, the units have been balanced, and they were from the beginning meant to be so.

    World of Warcraft launched with very little in the way of hiccups. Heck, their beta had very few hiccups. Find me another MMO that can lay claim to that… I had gotten used to an entire day of server down messages on patch day in EQ.

    Blizzard is not full of visionaries, but they have figured out that doing things right leads to greater profitability than throwing out a piece of junk.

  27. Josh says:

    Don’t forget the awesome interface. This is one area where most games truly suck. Most game companies would make an unmanageable mess of the interface in a game as complex as Starcraft. (Not that it’s particularly complex… it’s just across the threshold at which interfaces seem to become monstrosities.)

    Not only is it well-organized, it’s attractive and free from visual glitches and stuttering. It’s been ten years and we still see interfaces where menus flicker and your mouse freezes occasionally. It’s one of the reasons I can’t play Age of Empires III (other than it being a generally bad game).

  28. Lanthanide says:

    @ tom (#18) – Yes, I’ve finished that map 4 or 5 times, and that is how I’ve done it each time. You can try and be cleverer about it, but it’s not anywhere near as effective as a zergling rush.

    Turtle the whole game, getting all of the upgrades for the zerglings, as well as hydras (you probably want 2 evolution chambers), then build 6-8 control groups of zerglings, 12-24 hydras, and 12 ultralisks or 12 mutalisks (optional, the zerglings and hydras are enough).

    Then select your zerglings and attack-move them to different areas in the enemies base, and they’ll overrun and ravage everything. You could probably mix in 2 ultralisks into each group rather than having the ultralisks as a compact unit to help keep the lings alive, but the ultralisks can get in the way and clog up the movement of the lings sometimes. In the mean time, use your hydras and/or mutalisks as a strike team taking out any threatening air (there’s quite a few scouts, not so many carriers).

    At the end of it you’ll probably end up with 3-4 lots of zerglings mostly alive, as well as your hydras/mutalisks.

    It’s actually really fun, and very Starship Troopers-ish.

    @ guy (#20) – Yes, this was my complaint about age of mythology as well. As someone else has pointed out here, Starcraft does have the same mechanic – explosive, normal and concussive damage does differents amounts of damage to large, medium and small units. But the amounts are much smaller (50/75/100) compared to Age of Mythology IIRC where it was more like 50% or 200% damage. Also the units in age of mythology had very definite and distinct niches, whereas the units in Starcraft are much more varied in their rolls.

  29. guy says:

    but most units actually deal normal damage, IIRC. hydras, marines, and zealots included. the seige units of the terrans oand protoss, as well as dragoons and goliaths, deal explosive. most anti-air weaponry does. the firebat and vulture deal concussive damage, though i’m probably forgetting somthing. also, that effect was based on unit size. normal deals 100%. explosive deals 100% to capital ships, and 75% to fighters and heavier ground troops, and 50% to mairines and other infantry. concussive is inverted, which is why firebats kill zerglings so fast. ground attack lasers mostly deal normal damage, with the possible exception of the guardian.

  30. Rollie says:

    Wraiths are great for picking off high value targets and getting the hell out of dodge before the enemy can scramble to take them out.

    When dealing with larger groups, you can use Medics to flare any enemy units that can see through cloaks and the Wraiths are essentially invincible. Your opponent can try to keep up their attack, but the Wraiths damage adds up quickly, if they turn tail to their base, just back off (a much riskier strategy in Terran mirror matches, a sensor scan will ruin your Wraiths day fast).

    So, in summary: Flares Wraiths = pretty much the best harassment in the game, if you can pull it off.

  31. guy says:

    if you’re playing against the protoss, that’s an excellent way to find out he has observers you missed. also, a terran player can just use restoration.

  32. Greg says:

    Something I’m suprised nobody has mentioned is the accessibility of the map editor in starcraft. It allowed anyone to not only make the maps they wanted but to make the scenarios they wanted. If you and a friend liked the “hold for 20 minutes against the zerg” level it was only a couple of hours work to knock together a cooperative version of the same thing. Even if you didn’t want to invest the time into creating that, because it was so quick and easy the chances are that someone else had and you just needed to do a quick search to find it.

  33. tussock says:

    Starcraft, IMO, is so good thanks to taking the problem of grunt rushing in Warcraft II and making it a feature.

    Every race has a quick method of producing troops capable of killing any emerging enemy spawn, and they’re good enough at doing it on their own that you can ignore them and get on with expansion. They each also have a means of defending against that. You’re right into the fight on anything but the super-large maps, to your advantage no matter what. It’s brilliant.

    Learning to hide my first bunker between the barracks, the farm, and the town centre as a resource saver; that was teh awesome. Learning to have the peons run to it and repair each other when the zerglings skirted it, ditto.

    Some of the late units are a pain to use, but they only mildly supplement the basic mass rush with group targeting that makes the battles really work.
    The basic interface with it’s limited group sizes and order set was genius. Everything you need, nothing that makes it awkward.

  34. Civilis says:

    I’ve been playing RTS games for a long time, and I never could get into any of the ‘Craft games. I played Starcraft because everyone else did, but I was always a handicap to our side, as someone always had to be prepared to stop whatever rush went my direction. I never could master the specific build sequence necessary to avoid getting wiped out early on.

    I agree with Shamus that the sides are unique yet balanced and have personality, something no game has been able to even approach until Dawn of War. I always found the learning curve to be steep and the combat to require too much stupid micromanagement (yet not the the horrid level found in Warcraft 3).

    Partly, it’s that I hate internet multiplayer against people I don’t know, because they tend to be idiots or bullies or both. I want to play with a friend, someone I know, and against computer players, so I can enjoy the game. And the Starcraft AI is utterly inhuman in its ability to micromanage the earl production to cranking out troops, which is what I can’t deal with. It’s frustrating to have produced 10 troops only to find that your opponent has produced 20 and gotten them to your base in the same time frame.

  35. Zanfib says:

    I’d love Starcraft if it let you control more then a dozen units at a time. Most forces need three times that, so it almost triples your micromanagement.

  36. Yahzi says:

    Balance. The winning strategy in any particular game was set by your opponent’s actions more than the game’s mechanics.

  37. Jay Kint says:

    Starcraft: Ghost wasn’t killed due to the lack of anticipation. It was killed because the studio developing it (Nihilistic at first, then Swinging Ape) couldn’t get it right. Blizzard also internally sunk millions into an adventure game and then canned it because they couldn’t find the “fun factor.”

    Blizzard is notoriously picky about the games that come out of their studio, and Ghost just never lived up to their expectations.

  38. Cineris says:


    I can’t believe someone is actually quoting the limited selection sizes as a good thing, particularly given that the Zerg are significantly more affected by that limitation than any other race. That’s probably the one thing that other RTS games have over Blizzard RTS games. I wouldn’t even particularly care if I could “only” select one type of unit in a large group, as long as I could select my 60 zerglings simultaneously and move them together instead of in 5 different control groups.

    For me, the best thing about Blizzard games is when you select a unit, you know it’s selected. Given that RTS games are all about selecting units and quickly giving them orders, it’s hugely important. Something about C&C and other games is just lacking in the “feel” department there that makes them inferior games to me.

  39. Bowmore says:

    It was the period after BLAM. in the comic that made me laugh.

  40. JoHizzle says:

    @6 Lukasa, I also found Dawn of War to be an amazing game in terms of strategic depth, seeing as how each faction doesn’t have the standard “good against A, bad against B” units reskinned for each side.

    I also liked the original Battle for Middle Earth– number 2 made every unit contain the same number of units, and had a definite a>b>c>a theme. The expansion tried to remedy this, but still failed.

  41. MaxEd says:

    I was never a big fan of RTSes (and stopped playing them completely after “Earth 2150”), but I never understood what people like so much about StarCraft… Personally, I prefer WarCraft II – it has nicer, cartoonish look that I like.

  42. tussock says:


    Yes, Zerg run short of groups a bit if they use more than a couple dozen Zerglings. Use more ‘lisks.

    I’ve found the small group limit strongly encourages interesting play styles. You naturally group units by type, so when a few siege tanks turn up you grab some zerglings to rush them through the inevitably tight gaps, or pull out ground units and leave it to air, keeping anti-air nearby. I’m almost never set up like that in other games, it’s just easier to flood the enemy base.

    Seeing as how major assaults need given attack orders repeatedly, and group selection twice centers on the group anyway, it’s just as quick and easy to set up complex multi-front attacks as it is to spam. Set up a few distractions and air drop in to kill the peasants.

    A great many other RTS games, IME, break down to that spamming of one or two late-game unit types into huge groups and sending them strait at the enemy’s center. In theory there’s better tactics, but in practice the winner is the guy who spams best.

  43. Lanthanide says:

    For the record, Starcraft: Ghost was not cancelled, but was put on indefinite hold.

    This was re-iterated by a Blizzard executive recently after the Activision-Vivendi merger, with emphasis on the fact that Activision has a lot of experience designing console games.

    I suspect Ghost will yet see the light of day, thanks to the merger.

  44. Cineris says:


    I kind of agree with you there. I do think that having some sort of unit selection limitations does encourage tactics on some level. I certainly agree that games that turn into who can spam the most units are pretty boring. I do think a middleground can be found, though.

    For example, the main limitation on control group size is the number of icons shown in the menu below, and with Warcraft 3 they made the icons smaller, but also basically made them as small as realistically feasible for easy selection. However, that’s assuming we only lay the unit icons out side-by-side. It’d definitely be possible to make unit icons “stack” like cards, with a designator like “x24” to indicate exactly how many are there. The only downside to this would be that, if you’ve got a healing ability, it’d be tough to rapidly select your unit from the menu there. But, stacked the right way so the health bars peek out from under each other, you COULD do it. So, you might be looking at say 3-4 stacks of 8-12 units instead of about 12 — I’d take that. That imposes a little bit of a limitation in that you want each stack to be one type of unit, so it’d force compositions like Zergling x 24, Hydralisk x 8 on you, but that’s fine.

    And, as I already suggested, arbitrary number of selections of one single unit type — When I select ALL my Zerglings and put them in control group 1 and send them to attack the enemy base, I’m not planning on micromanaging them. I just want them to all go at the enemy base at the same time, instead of going one by one like a group of guys attacking a hero in an action movie — Together they could easily swamp any defenses, but one-by-one they aren’t challenging enough to even break a sweat. This puts another group composition restriction on you, in that you could only select one type — But that’s fairly straightforward one, and at least it means you can group all of your unit types into easily selectable groups so you can utilize their special powers quickly if need be.

  45. RE Or Age of Empires? — it was actually very successful, shorted out by the fact that Age of Kings and then Age of Mythology were released.

    I’ve still got some scenarios up on-line:

    Sequels will kill off a successful game.

  46. Thomas says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but the control groups seem to restrict how much I can use units that need micromanagement (siege tanks/reavers/various mages) because I have to also spend attention on controling groups 2-3-4-5 of marines/zerglings/hydras/zealots independently.

  47. Squash says:

    As most people have said, the key to Starcraft’s popularity is variety and balance.

    Its success is basically a combination of fluke and historical opportunity. Every RTS before and since has aimed to have perfect balance between the sides. Starcraft is the ONE RTS that everyone claims is perfectly balanced. No one else has been able to do it. Even Starcraft 2 will not be able to live up to the original.

    And of course, now that Starcraft is so well established as the RTS of choice (by historical opportunity) it is hard for anything else to knock it off its perch.

  48. Lanthanide says:

    I wouldn’t count SC2 out so quickly. Blizzard knows that SC is going to be a very hard act to follow. They also have the resources to make sure it is a resounding success. If that means they have to keep the game in closed beta for 6 months and open beta for 9 months before release, then that’s what they’ll do.

  49. Nick says:

    I never understood why people liked Starcraft, Total Annihilation was the far superior game IMO. One of the best features in TA that no other game has tried (to my knowledge) is battlefield wreckage, this brings another aspect of warfare into play, you can’t keep rushing if your units get slowed down in wreckage and massacred en masse.

  50. Nathanael says:

    I´m with Spammy V on this one. I had played through the whole Age of Empires franchise since the first one plus Warcraft 3, so Starcraft didn´t offer me much. Except it was… IN SPACE.

    I played the campaign and felt the gameplay was very nice and all, but it looked old. I guess I should have played it at the time it launched to really get into it, like I got into Warcraft 3’s campaign.

    But that’s just my experience. I can really understand why people find it so entertaining.

    And yeah, Age of Mythology is tons of fun. I still play it from time to time.

  51. AlphabetFish says:

    I don’t know what exactly they do… but it’s Blizzard. I never played Starcraft or Warcraft (it’s the genre–I stress out when I have to control troops and inevitably panic when they get into combat), but Diablo II and World of Warcraft keep pulling me back, no matter how many years go by.

    I just bought myself a Wii (and I’m a Nintendo fan). I should be playing it, enjoying it, reveling in this new gaming experience! Instead, I’m fighting with my boyfriend over who gets to play his brother’s WoW account, and I just completed Diablo II for the fourth time a few months ago. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I move on?

    Blizzard doesn’t make the first games in the genres, or the most innovative. They don’t have the best graphics or AI, or the most original worlds or storylines. But, dammit, Blizzard knows how to make a game fun!

  52. Deoxy says:

    Sadly, no time to read all the comments today (was out sick late last week at work, so I have a lot of catching up to do), but I noticed a few things I want to comment on:

    1) I was more of a TA kind of guy, too – the control scheme was noticeably better. Also, the story lines on the two games was a bit backwards for the game mechanics (in TA, the universe is running down from the long war, even though both sides can literally make all they need from solar energy – in Starcraft, the war seems to drag on without difficulty, even though you are literally mining out the battlefields as you go), which I found humorous.

    2. Dawn of War (as someone else pointed out) seems to do the first three of those well, and the 4th one is basically standard across most RTSes.

    3. Um, crap, don’t remember now…

  53. Demexii says:

    The reason it is such a great game and still played today is If you look at it just as a single player game it is actually pretty lack luster. Graphics only decent. The story is just okay. The gameplay is pretty easy. And that is why many reviewers didn’t rate it as high. At the time online play was still very new (still is pretty new now) and I don’t think they expected it to be so popular online.

    It is more than just the balance of the races that make it great. It is how the game plays pretty much on any computer and can run smoothly even over dialup which means anyone can play. Add in the custom maps and you have a game people will come back to time and time again. No game has been able to reproduce the online experience of Everything just fits for StarCraft. And even 10 years later it is still going strong.

  54. Brian says:

    “Wraith awaiting launch orders”? Aww, that kills the feel I had of them; I always assumed he was saying “Read the winning launch orders”, like he was excited and lucky that he got called into duty, and all the other pilots had to sit in the cafeteria, alone and friendless.

    Well, certainly friendless after the guy who got the winning launch orders was blown to hell by a Devourer.

  55. Siosilvar says:

    I always heard it as “rate the winning launch orders,” for some reason, as if he would only launch for priority 7 orders or something.

    Blizzard games just have something about them… I’ve recently reinstalled Starcraft and Diablo II and started playing Warcraft III again.

    Blizzard also makes sure that their games have good customizability (Diablo not so much, but it’s an action game). That’s something I really like. You’re not doing the same thing over and over (you can, but…), you can have something new every time.

  56. TheDeepDark says:

    So I know nobody else is looking by now, but I want to add that what you say about StarCraft I largely agree with (I’m actually working on getting it again now after a few years haitus).

    But it’s not amazingly beyond “Dune II” running off of DOS, IMO. I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with it, but I’m still impressed how good it is. Especially for it’s age. And if someone knows where I can get a hold of it to run on a more up-to-date system, I will praise you forever.

  57. Dannerman says:

    I’m not sure how useful this is to the debate – but a friend of mine once claimed that Starcraft was so much fun because every unit EXPLODES on death.

    Marines, Zerglings and Zealots dont just fall over, they fly apart, burst or become expanding plasma vapour (or whatever) this is AWESOME to the destructive 13-year old that lurks in the heart of all of us gamers.

    I actually feel like he was on to something. I really love playing games where things die in fun ways. (Storm Atronachs in ‘Oblivion’, Mind Worm boils in ‘Alpha Centauri’, any and all Tau units in DoW: Dark Crusade and Soulstorm make me very happy when they die… but er, that’s probably not for any graphical reason…)

  58. Kizer says:

    Considering I started playing this game when I was 13, the destructive gamer wasn’t just lurking in my heart . . . plus, the game had an awesome story compared to the games I had been playing before then (I hadn’t discovered RPGs yet so I was mostly playing fighting games like MK). Though it doesn’t stand up to well against anything I play now, the story made me keep coming back for more, even when the missions got to be too difficult for my impatient, easily distracted brain. Power Overwhelming ftw!

  59. Ted says:

    Am I the only person who has trouble beating a CPU player? Even though I never beat campaign, it still rocks more than any RTS.

  60. Blake says:

    What got me into loving starcraft was the first time I got to use siege tanks in the demo.

    What keeps me loving it to the point that I was playing it with my mates over a LAN less than 2 weeks ago?
    Variety. The way the game allows you build any kind of unit and have them be useful against the other players.

    Either that or it was the people whose souls they sacrificed whilst making the game. Can’t be too sure either way.

  61. Siosilvar says:

    Am I the only person who has trouble beating a CPU player? Even though I never beat campaign, it still rocks more than any RTS.

    I believe that at one point Blizzard outright stated that the computer cheats, and it’s fairly obvious if you expand too late and too slow (‘toss vs. zerg cpu).

  62. Klay F. says:

    Its not really that hard to beat the Starcraft CPU if you know how the computer acts. Once you figure out the patterns that the CPU operates in, its actually pretty easy to take advantage of it. And once you disrupt those patterns, you’ve effectively won the match because of the CPU’s complete inability to improvise.

    Indeed, I’d say the AI is one of Starcraft biggest weaknesses for me. Its way to predictable. I know back in 1998, the AI was considered pretty good, but now, its laughably inferior. Even if the CPU cheats, those patterns are still there begging to be taken advantage of.

  63. Supah_Ewok says:

    Er, Shamus? Don’t mean to bug you but I’m pretty sure this particular page is wonky.

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