South Korea has three national sports, Tae-Kwon Do, Football, and _StarCraft_. Over the past thirteen years _StarCraft_ has come to dominate in Korea and they still can’t get enough of it. Televised professional matches with players sponsored by massive electronics companies like Samsung have been going on for years. After stumbling on to one of these videos on YouTube I become addicted, sometimes with fear and sometimes awe. Imagine: thousands of screaming fans, teenagers, adults, men and women all crying for the two men in booths (both of whom are disturbingly expressionless) to annihilate each other. So, I decided over Christmas to resurrect the beast and pick up StarCraft again for the first time in years.
My housemates and I dug out a copy I bought when I was thirteen, which amazingly still works on Windows 7. The result? Three of us now play obsessively. Myself (Terran), Michael (Zerg) and Matthew (Protoss) have a few matches a week and every single time one of us will have something new up our sleeve. The tension is immense, it’s fast and it’s brutal.
Now, I’m back in love with an old classic. It’s valid of course to ask why Korea (and now my house) are so impressed with a game that was released thirteen years ago. Surely, these days you can get more powerful programs for your wristwatch? Answered simply, StarCraft may look like your grandmother but it feels silky smooth and as young as ever. Blizzard tapped into something extraordinary with _StarCraft_ and its _Brood War_ expansion pack; it plays like no other RTS ever made. It’s vivid, visceral and has long term playability by the buckload. There is still a fiercely loyal online community of _SC_ purists who would argue it is the most well-balanced game dynamic you will ever experience.
So what makes the dynamic of Starcraft so special? Essentially, it comes down to having three separate races, each with a fundamentally different dynamic, but still perfectly equal. These factions can be reduced to three categories which describe their unit and building process: cheap and multitudinous (Zerg), moderate and adaptable (Terran), and expensive yet powerful (Protoss). Like most RTS games it runs on the principle of rock, paper, scissors. For instance, the Protoss and Terran have cloaking abilities while the Zerg can burrow to hide their forces. However every race has detector units they can use to see them. Terran medics may use the Optical Flare ability to blind these dectors. Unfortunately, medics are easily creamed by Zerglings, and both of these units are screwed if faced with a Protoss reaver that deals colossal splash damage. In _StarCraft_ this dynamic is exploited to its limit. Whole skirmishes can change dramatically when one new unit enters the fray. Whether the player decides to rush with dozens of Zerglings (my personal favourite) or play more conservatively with advanced Protoss units, there is a beautiful equilibrium that can be felt flowing through any match. In no other RTS has the balancing of such distinct factions been achieved with the same level of flair.
_StarCraft_ is distinct. RTS giants of the last decade promise the ability to command an army of immense proportions with tech trees so large you could climb them to the gates of heaven. Luscious environments are rendered in all their splendour as your armies let loose their weapons in a flurry of light. However the RTS experience can get itself stuck in a rut when monotonous factions look different but play identically. Boredom is the only possible result. _StarCraft_, however, is a different animal.
Its races scream ‘Who are you?!’ and not because they all look distinctive, but because playing each race actually feels different. Are you a military psychopath who enjoys rushing the enemy in the first two minutes? Do you wait back and bide your time like an evil genius? Are you a chameleon commander, able to work around every sticky situation? The way each race operates not only encourages certain modes of play, but reveals new and creative exploitations of that race’s strengths. Time and time again I discover new ways to work the Terrans and I’ve been playing on and off for almost thirteen years.
People too often assess their gaming experience on aesthetic captivation. Companies
will prostitute themselves with adverts that promise to pump up the volume of your experience with MORE UNITS, BIGGER MAPS, BADASS GUNS. I’m here to tell you, categorically, that this is a waste of your time. If the game dynamic hasn’t had blood, sweat, tears and freakin’ fairy dust poured into it then they, and you, may as well not bother. ‘Impressive’ never stands the test of time, especially in the fast paced games industry. To survive you must be interesting. Hence Blizzard’s success; where other games are a cheap one night stand, _StarCraft_ is a long term love affair that keeps on giving.