In my review of Get Lamp, the documentary about text adventures, I mentioned that the original Infocom employees believed the market for these games could exist for hundreds of years. After all, the novel is still around today and, despite stiff competition from movies and video games, writing fiction is still a profitable endeavor. Why not interactive fiction?
The reality, however, is that since the demise of Infocom in 1989, many people have tried to make interactive fiction into a commercial endeavor. None have been able to figure out how to make the financial side work—until recently. Everything changed with the rise of smartphones and tablets.
I had a lot of fun interviewing people like Michael Berlyn for this article, and I think it came out really well. Now I kind of want to write my own text adventure... hmm...
This discussion comes up all the time on forums, between fans of the original Starcraft and fans of Starcraft II, in particular, the professional scenes that evolved around those games.
I watched a ton of both, so I figure I have some idea about which game was "better".
But the answer, like many things in life, is much more complicated than just "this game is better than that game."
Pro Starcraft Brood War at its height, from 2006-2008, was a very unique thing, unlikely to ever be repeated. The scene essentially was 100% Korean, and 100% KeSPA. There were foreigner tournaments, but the level of play was ridiculously low. The players were essentially amateurs. Day was a high school kid and Artosis would quit his job every year a few months before WCG regionals to practice. These were the top-level non-Korean players at the time. Whenever they played Koreans, (which was only once a year) they would get utterly and completely destroyed, like playing against the computer on "Easy" level destroyed.
Meanwhile, in Korea, KeSPA ruled with an iron fist. To stay on a team you HAD to practice well, like 10 hours a day MINIMUM, and you had to work with the coach and do whatever he said and take no breaks ever and you had no negotiating power for your salary AT ALL, and if you didn’t like it? Too bad, there are 50 Koreans begging to replace you. Deal with it.
This pressure cooker environment weeded out the weak and left only the super-strong. Players like Flash and Jaedong would practice until their eyes bled (in Jaedong’s case, this was literally true). The level of competition was so close at the top that any player could take down any player, so everyone had to be on top of their game. This made for exciting matches, with daring cheese and "economic" cheese plays thrown in with series where the multitasking and macro levels went through the roof. It was exciting.
With Starcraft II, everything changed. KeSPA players weren’t playing originally, so the Korean scene was made up of B-teamers, formerly retired players, and a smattering of foreigners, a few of whom managed to do quite well and even won tournaments. The Koreans were overall better, but it wasn’t a complete roflstomp like it was in the Brood War days. This was exciting, but for a different reason. The games weren’t as high-level. They just weren’t. But the situation was different. It wasn’t just KeSPA. There was a thriving international scene. Players could win tournaments without being slaves working in the salt mines 12 hours a day. They could actually compete for teams to get the best salary possible (this was never possible in KeSPA-- the "free agency" they offered was in fact the exact opposite)
The game itself also had some problems. One of the biggest was Broodlord-Infestor. This was actually something that happened almost every game in PvZ, and Protoss had only the "casual fun unit" of the Mothership to try and get a lucky Vortex, and if it missed, or the Zerg split the Brood Lords, or Neural Parasited the Mothership, too bad, it was over. This wasn’t so much fun to watch.
Now, with Heart of the Swarm released and the KeSPA players switching over, things are different yet again. HoTS fixed a lot of problems with the original Starcraft II. Protoss got a counter to Brood Lords (the Tempest) so PvZ wasn’t quite as dumb as it used to be. Terrans got Widow Mines which made things more random and yet skilled players could also bait the shots out with single units. Zerg got Swarm Hosts, which aren’t as good as Lurkers but at least they made for some different strategies and let them "siege up" and do different things, and Vipers allow high-APM players to do amazing abducts. Even Oracles reward the super-skilled, high-multitasking player. It’s better than Wings of Liberty. MUCH better.
Is it as good as Brood War? That really depends on how you look at it. The KeSPA players are certainly taking it to the next level-- look at recent GSLs or Proleague-- these guys are just hammering through different ideas and builds and they are starting to dominate again. But KeSPA doesn’t allow them to travel to international events (with the one exception of MLG) and so they are still isolated from the international scene in some ways.
But is the GAME ITSELF as good as Brood War? That’s really hard to say. I think a lot of what made Brood War great was the players. They suffered for our entertainment, but they raised the game to an art form doing so.
There was something that happened at the end of Brood War when players had to do a "hybrid Proleague", where they alternated Brood War and Starcraft II (at the time, Wings of Liberty). I don’t know if you watched any of the games, but I did. They were terrible. The KeSPA players didn’t care about the game any more because they were all practicing Starcraft II. So when they played Brood War, they just did whatever, and hoped their mechanics would save them. It worked, but dear God the games were boring. THEY WERE BORING.
I thought about this, and I figured that a lot of what made Brood War special, the amazing "metagame", wasn’t so much a factor of the game itself, but it was something the players brought to the game.
The other thing is that back in the day, the KeSPA players were it. There were only so many teams, and each team had only so many players on their playing roster. Sometimes a B-teamer would make it up to the big leagues, and sometimes players retired, but at any given time you had maybe 10 teams and maybe 8 players on the bench. 80 players. There are easily three to four times the number of pro players in Starcraft II.
Having fewer players makes it easier to build storylines, to build rivalries, and to build hype. There were also fewer tournaments, so each one was more special. In Starcraft II, there is a tournament every week and every weekend, and sometimes two at a time.
So, a lot of it is nostalgia, but justified nostalgia in some ways.
A tiny amount of it might be the game itself. It might be. I’m not willing to rule that out.
But things change. Sometimes you fall in love with a game and sometimes you fall out of love with it.
There are pro Brood War tournaments starting to happen in Korea these days. People love the game that much that they will play it even without KeSPA support and salaries. I’ve watched a few of these games. They’re pretty terrible. These are former pros, but they aren’t doing the amazing things that I remember from Brood War. They’re doing dumb things and winning for dumb reasons. I can’t watch them, even though they are playing the ostensibly "better" game. Not even for the nostalgia value. I tried. The excitement just isn’t there.
And it is there for Starcraft II. So I’ll continue to watch.
This was a photoshop I made after an Inside the Game episode when djWHEAT joked that if Starcraft II added a fourth race it should be the Cat race. I took some of the most famous Internet cats and combined them into a devastating new race!
Watch out for the Longcat Nydus drop!
We’re back with another podcast, this time from Terry’s idyllic suburban home. In this episode we look at some of our favorite video game genres (Real Time Strategy and Massively Multiplayer Online) and speculate on what they might morph into in the future.
I think this podcast is one of the best we’ve done so far, but we didn’t have time to really get as deep into the subject as I would have liked, so we might do a followup.
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Links from the show:
Sins of a Solar Empire: http://www.sinsofasolarempire.com/
Is RTS a dying genre? http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-02-01-ironclad-games-rts-is-a-dying-market
Titan restarted: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/05/report-blizzard-to-overhaul-project-titan-launch-it-in-2016-at-the-earliest/
Star Citizen: http://robertsspaceindustries.com/star-citizen/
Gabe Newell interview on the future of games: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8QEOBgLBQU
Portal alternate reality game: http://half-life.wikia.com/wiki/Portal_ARG
There’s an interesting clash of cultures going on this weekend. Blizzard has contracted out the production of their first season’s final Starcraft tournament to OGN.
OGN is a Korean television network that has been broadcasting Starcraft matches since forever. Unlike GOMTV, they don’t have much experience with broadcasting to a western market. So you get these interesting fashion and furniture choices that look like they came out of Austin Powers, or at the very least a PSY video.
It’s all in good fun. 13 out of the 16 finalists in the tournament were Korean, and the three non-Koreans all got knocked out in the first few hours, so I guess you win this one, Korea. You win everything. Keep on winning on.
Those of you who know me know that I’m a huge fan of Wing Commander. The game had a profound influence on my life and on my writing.
My latest project is taking some of the 3D models that I built for the cover of my science fiction novels (in this case, the Pegasus, the main setting for the trilogy) and converting them into formats that can be imported into the open-sourced Freespace 2 game engine. Freespace 2 was a spiritual successor to Wing Commander and the game engine has been updated with modern graphics features over the years by an amazing modding community.
The model needs work, certainly (at this size, one needs more details and more polygons, and the texture is just a placeholder) but, still... I actually am flying around the Pegasus for the first time. It’s pretty cool.
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In this episode I go over the European World Championship Series finals between Stephano and MVP, and we examine how widow mines are a great unit... for Stephano. It’s worth crushing your head (or the letter S) just to see!
Links from the show:
WCS EU Finals Stephano vs MVP full series
Super friendly widow mine hits
In this episode of Knotty Geeks, we stick to one topic--kind of. It’s all about the future of science fiction: novels, tv shows, movies, and video games. Is there a future for the written word? Are video games stealing all the young potential sci-fi authors? Will Terry and Jeremy end up in a fistfight at the end when Terry starts slagging Jeremy’s sci-fi novels? TUNE IN TO FIND OUT!
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Links from the show:
Publisher’s Weekly stats for books sold in 2012
Is science fiction becoming too dystopic?
Buy Jeremy’s novel just to spite Terry!
In this episode of Knotty Geeks, we are on the rooftop at Oakridge Mall, in full view of a beautiful parking lot. We go over the poll results from the last episode, and then utterly, completely, and totally fail to achieve the results of that poll. I try and fail to remember the name of the physicist I’d seen a couple of weeks ago (it’s in the show notes) and then I try and fail to explain his theories on Physics and then I try and fail to steer the conversation to a specific topic.
This episode also features special guest Brian Palfrey, who has certain views about 3D in movies.
Links from the show:
Lee Smolin, physicist, author of Time Reborn
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I’ve always wanted to combine my passions for writing and watching professional Starcraft, and now I’ve finally done it.
The Stalker is a short science fiction story that centers around John "Heart" Wolanski, a professional Starcraft player living abroad in South Korea. John encounters a strange glitch in the game that comes at the worst possible time in his professional gaming career. He must struggle against the glitch and his own personal demons, which are threatening to destroy him.
It’s absolutely free, but if you have a Kindle and want to support my work, you can purchase a copy at Amazon for 99 cents here:
I'm a writer and occasional programmer. I write science fiction stories and novels.
I also write technology articles for Ars Technica.
I'm the creator of newLISP on Rockets, a web development framework and blog application.