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Memory Leaks: Starcraft

 🚀 Waiting in the sky, he'd like to come to meet us...

Starcraft wasn't the first real-time strategy game, but it was the one that blew up the genre. Released in 1998 after three years of development, Blizzard gave us a story-driven, highly-asymmetrical, and thoroughly world-built game about the struggle between displaced, fractious Terrans, the rampaging insect-like Zerg, and the advanced psychic Protoss. This game was also a popular vehicle for esports, especially in South Korea, which dominated and in many ways pioneered the activity in the late 90s.

How I Remember It...

This was the game that everybody played in my house in college. I resisted it at first because I had gotten into the Command & Conquer series in high school and the two had just-different-enough control schemes that it was difficult to switch back and forth. But I was eventually won over. We played a lot more multiplayer death-match than any of the actual campaign--although I did try my hand at those. I never got more than about halfway through, though. The difficulty curves on games were a lot higher back then.

Of course the difficulty curve for multiplayer could be equally daunting. I lived with a couple of South Koreans, and the joke at the time was that Starcraft was the national sport there. And it's not far wrong. They played it the way the British play football (read: "soccer"). I'd be in my base, feeling like I'd gotten my production up and running pretty decently, getting ready to start building an assault force, and then a wave of Protoss carriers would come over the side and wipe me out. They were scary good.

If you're not familiar with an RTS, the basic idea is that you have a base of operations and a small set of resources and some limited means to collect more resources. Your ultimate goal is to wipe out the other base. But in order to do that, you need to build troops and assault vehicles. And in order to do that you need to build the various machine shops and training centers. And you'll want a variety, because different types of troops are better at different things. Some are more offensive, some are more defensive. Some are light and fast, some are slow and heavy. Some are better against ground units, some against air. Oh, and you'll need to upgrade their armor and weapons. And you'll need some defenses in your base, just in case you get attacked. And you'll want to explore the map so you can find your opponent, and maybe some additional resources where you can set up a secondary base (and you'll need to defend that too). It's a lot of depth of strategy about balancing your infrastructure against your fighting forces.

And the three different races all play very differently, which is a big part of the appeal. The Terrans are well-rounded, good utility armies. The Protoss were powerful but their units were expensive and playing them well required a lot of micromanagement. My favorite were the Zerg, who tried to overwhelm their enemies with huge hoards of cheap, weak units. The "zergling rush" is my favorite approach to basically any game. Get in there early and gut your opponent's infrastructure and then you have some time to put together a bigger assault while they play catch-up. It's a risky strategy, since you're effectively eschewing any defense early on, so it can backfire badly if it doesn't work. Either way, it keeps the games short.

While I never got all the way through it, I always appreciated the work that went into the single-player campaign. They could easily have made it a series of tutorials, but there's a variety of mission types and the story that plays out is fairly complex and engaging--with monsters and politics and betrayal... It's like just the fun and gory parts of Game of Thrones.

I believe you can play the original Starcraft and its expansion Brood War for free through Blizzard's distribution platform for both Windows and Mac. They put out a remaster a few years ago as well. A spinoff FPS called Starcraft Ghost was planned and never materialized (ahem), but a sequel trilogy was released starting in 2010 and it's... fine... But I still prefer the classic original.

In MEMORY LEAKS, Kurt is going through his favorite video games. See more posts.


Kathy Schrenk said…
I want to play StarCraft...