Games worth playing: Starcraft

Note: I plan on writing a series of posts about Starcraft over the days and weeks. I started replaying the game recently and fell in love with it again. The posts will cover aspects of the game, the lore, and how amazeballs it is.

God, what can I say about this game other than just gushing about how awesome it is? In 1998, Blizzard Entertainment didn't just strike gold when they released this RTS (real-time strategy game), nor did they hit the mother-lode. They struck something better. I have no idea if it has retained its popularity since the release of Starcraft II, but I do know that this came transcended almost every other game in terms of popularity and longevity. A game so popular that in South Korea, competitive play was akin to a national sport. You know how people in the U.S. will watch football every Sunday during the season, or how soccer fans are glued to the World Cup? It was like that in South Korea with this computer game. Pro-gamers - and I swear, I am not making this up - would play against each other in stadiums. Thousands, even tens of thousands of people would go to those stadiums and watch two people play a computer game against each other. Units from the game graced the fronts of bags of chips and cans of soda. Hell, the South Korean Air Force even formed and sponsored a team of Starcraft players who were serving out their compulsory military service.

Okay, I think I've established that South Korea is a bit...odd. But it was a global thing with this game being not just hugely popular, but professionally played globally. I think almost every country had at least one pro.

Now that I'm done gushing about the game's popularity, let's move on to what I really wanted to post about. One of the things I love about Starcraft is how revolutionary it was. You see, RTSes of the time had no unit diversity. What I mean is that every race/faction in a game had the exact same units in form and/or function. In the Age of Empires series, which was hugely popular, every faction had bowmen, and cavalry, and chariots, etc, etc, etc. Starcraft, on the other hand, ditched that and gave each faction their own unique units.


Before I go on, I should probably give a brief primer on the game. Starcraft is a scifi real-time strategy game set several hundred years into the future. The game followers a war between the Terrans, Protoss, and Zerg.

The Terrans are descendents of criminals, political dissidents, rebels, and other "undesirables" exiled from Earth by a tyrannical government. The sleeper ships carrying them suffered a malfunction and deposited them in a sector of the galaxy called the Korpulu Sector, where they establish themselves and over the centuries spread out into space. In the background "fluff", they're ruled by the Confederacy of Man.

The Protoss are a highly advanced alien race who are psionic, have no mouths, but can talk. The best way that I can describe them is that they're sort of a mix of the Tau and the Eldar from Warhammer 40k.

The Zerg are the standard "bug" race. Hiveminded and highly numeric in superiority. If you were Juan Rico, you would be crapping your pants.

So, now that that's out of the way, on to how each race's units are unique. The best place to start is by looking at their first available combat units - the Terran marine, the Protoss zealot, and the Zerg zergling. Right off the bat, you have a difference in the combat styles: of the three, the marine is the only one with a ranged attack; both the zealot and the zergling are melee. But, while they're both melee, they are different from each other. The zealot is better protected, thanks to the fact that it comes equipped with energy shields automatically. In fact, all Protoss units and their buildings are equipped with shields by default. Yowza. The zealot also does more damage and thanks to its shields, can last longer than the other two. On the Zerg side of things, the zergling has its own advantage - namely it comes in pairs. You see, all Zerg units are created from Zerg larvae that are created by the central Zerg building. The larvae processes the genetic blueprint of every Zerg unit and as it is explained in the fluff, the zergling has very simple genetics, so as the a result, one larva can create two zerglings.

The marine, meanwhile, has a researchable ability that really gives it a big boost - the stimpack. It's essentially a drug that makes your marines move like fan girls at a David Tennant autograph signing and shooter faster. The effect only lasts for a few seconds and each marine loses ten hit points per use and they can't use it if they only have ten HP left.

Each of these units have disadvantages as well. The marine isn't terribly fast (indeed, I think it might be the slowest of the three) or powerful. It's a middle of the road unit. The zergling is the weakest of the three and can be killed ridiculously easily. However, it makes up for that by being cheap enough to build in large numbers, thanks to its 2 for the price of 1 bargain. The zealot, even though it is undeniably the most powerful of the three, is also hideously expensive. It costs something like 200 minerals each (one of two resources you have to gather in the game in order to build stuff), whereas a marine cost fifty and zergling only cost about twenty-five each. Four marines and, unless my math is really bad, eight zerglings for the price of one zealot. Damn.

To be fair, though, that one zealot would make your victory Pyrrhic as all hell before falling to either of those other two.

Looking at the second available combat units, Blizzard cleverly reversed things. Here, the Terrans have a melee unit called a firebat, while the Protoss and Zerg have ranged units - the dragoon and hydralisk, respectively. As you can guess by its name, the firebat plays with fire. It's actually a crazy unit: basically a dude in a suit of powered armor with plasma flamethrowers attached to the gauntlets. It also has access to the aforementioned stimpacks.

The dragoon is a mechanical unit (many of the Protoss's units are) that, according to the fluff, contains the body of a Protoss warrior who, while still having the will to fight, can't because their body is just wrecked to hell. So, when this happens, the Protoss take that warrior and RoboCop his ass. The dragoon is a four legged, anti-matter shooting mofo that will just ruin your day.

There's not much to say about the hydralisk, really. It's a big snake looking thing with two sickle-like arms (that it never uses for melee, oddly) that attacks by firing spikes  from its freaky ass mouth. Given that this thing can attack air units and even destroy Terran battlecruisers and Protoss carriers in the game (because f*ck logic), those spikes are nothing to fool with.

After them, came the Terran vulture, the Protoss observer, and I'm not at all sure what the Zerg had, if any. The former was a hover motorcycle that fired grenades and could plant up to three robotic landmines. The observer was a small flying robot that was permanently cloaked and was used for scouting. The vulture could do the same, just not as well. The closest thing the Zerg had was the overlord, which looked like a cross between a testicle and a jelly fish. Interestingly, the overlord also acted as the Zerg's supply unit. Each of the three factions could only build units if they had enough supplies, which they received by building either depots of pylons. Overlords were also the Zerg's transport unit, being able to carry a number of units. How's that for being different!

The heavies are almost as different. The Protoss reaver looks like a metal slug or snail that bores little bots called scarabs. The downside is that the scarabs have to be constructed by the reaver and they can only hold ten, once their capacity is upgraded. The scarabs only cost 15 minerals each, but you have to replace each one as they're used.

The Terrans get the siege tank, which is dually a tank and an artillery cannon. Like a Transformer, it's more than meets the eye. In tank mode, its armed with two cannons, but is fairly 'meh'. Generally, this mode is only used to get the tank into position to do some shelling. In artillery mode, the tank's turrent transforms into a large cannon and the vehicle becomes immobilized. Honestly, the range of the gun sucks, but it's good for pounding the enemy like a sailor on a twenty-four hour leave in a whore house.

The Zerg have several units. In Starcraft, there's the ultralisk and guardian. In Brood War, the game's expansion pack, they gain an additional unit, the lurker. The ultralisk is big ole four legged sucker with a par of gigantic blades, which for some reason, are called "kaiser blades". Damn German engineering! The guardian is an air unit, but can only attack ground targets with acid loogies of death. The lurker is the real bastard of the bunch. All Zerg ground units, with the exception of the ultralisk and larvae, have the ability to burrow. What that means is that with the click of a button, they will drop into the ground and effectively become invisible, unless the other guys employ a unit with the ability to detect hidden units. The lurker goes a step further by making the burrowing ability part of its attack. When burrowed, it attacks buildings and units rippling its "spines" out. They're both mobile defense and heavy attacks. They're also bastardly bastards.

Another difference between the three was how they went about constructing their bases. Starcraft, like other RTSes, required the construction of buildings in order to train units and research abilities. Each faction had their own way of doing it. The Terrans, for example, were the only ones who actually built buildings. The Protoss would teleport theirs in from their home planet of Auir (seriously) and the Zerg would grow theirs. Pretty cool, actually. A drone, the worker unit of the Zerg would morph itself into a pulsating sac and slowly grow into whatever building you wanted. Yeah, all Zerg buildings were alive. If they were damaged bad enough, they would spurt what I can only guess is the Zerg equivalent of blood.

That should do it for now, but tune in next time - same bat-time, same bat-channel.

Picture via Giant Bomb.

Comments

  1. Being strictly a miniature gamer I've never played this myself however I spent many hours watching my son play it! I've long wanted to convert this to the games table...)

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    1. Exactly! I've had the same thought for a while now, but it slipped my mind when I was writing this post. It and Warcraft would make excellent wargame. I might have to make that post now, after all. :)

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    2. so many projects so little time...)

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