When Blizzard Entertainment released Starcraft in 1998, fans of the fledgling real-time strategy genre were wary. Blizzard had some big shoes to fill in following Warcraft II. Many players worried about Starcraft's lack of water units, which provided extra depth to Blizzard's previous RTS game. Others bemoaned the game's 2D graphics, which were restricted to a low 640x480 resolution. Even at the time, Starcraft's visuals were looking long in the tooth compared with those of other RTS games of the era like Age of Empires and Total Annihilation, which boasted more scalable graphics engines. Despite those shortcomings, Starcraft blew away all its competitors, selling a million copies in three months and more than 6 million copies worldwide since its release just over five years ago.
There are a number of explanations for Starcraft's incredible popularity. One reason is the game's well-designed single-player campaign, which featured a compelling plot and memorable characters like Raynor, Kerrigan, and the noble Tassadar. Even the regular units had tons of personality and Blizzard's signature wit. Starcraft's characters were so identifiable to fans that Kerrigan's likeness ended up being on the cover of the Brood War expansion set, which continued the plotline of the original game.
Another factor in Starcraft's popularity was the game's three unique and almost perfectly balanced factions. Not a single unit was shared between the Terran, Zerg, and Protoss, yet no one could definitively say that one faction had a real advantage over the other. There were even subtle but strategically significant differences in the way the three sides built their structures. Even more remarkable is that the game's early combat units, like the lowly zerglings and marines, maintained their usefulness all the way to the end of the longest matches. Units higher up on the technology tree did not make earlier units obsolete--they only added to the array of strategic options available to the player. Impressively, the Brood War expansion pack threw even more units into the mix without breaking the game's delicate balance.
Blizzard's free, worldwide, online matchmaking and ranking service, Battle.net, fueled Starcraft's longevity, as it gave players a simple way to get online and find opponents. Though the service was introduced earlier with the action RPG Diablo, the competitive nature of Starcraft made it a more natural fit. The worldwide ranking system helped spawn a number of Starcraft tournaments with impressive cash prizes, as well as professional leagues where a handful of elite players actually made a living playing the game. Even today, five years after the game's first release, thousands of games of Starcraft and Brood War are played on Battle.net in an average day.
With its excellent campaign, elegantly designed factions, and simple to learn but deep, strategic gameplay, Starcraft is the defining game of its genre. It is the standard by which all real-time strategy games are judged.
|I have Starcraft to thank for getting me into the games industry as a writer, but also to blame for my decision to drop out of college. During the beta test, and the early months of retail release, I spent probably six or more hours a day playing Starcraft. I was a junior at UC Berkeley at the time, so my rabid playing resulted in some shockingly poor grades. Fortunately for me, I got noticed by a Web site that specialized in online strategy guides, and I helped them co-author a Starcraft strategy book. From there, I dropped out of school to work full time, and my career took a long, convoluted path until I finally ended up at GameSpot. I did eventually go back to school to finish my degree--after I finally quit playing Starcraft.|
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