moby-dick-(or-the-whale)-73
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A STARCRAFTY STORY

09 June 2007

Adjutant online. Greetings Magistrate.

There's something that Starcraft did in approaching you, the player, that worked very well in pulling you into the world, and into the story. You were part of it. And not in the disinterested, faceless, Hand-of-God way of Warcraft III, where your presence went unnoticed and your merits unapplauded, but in a very direct, real way. Be it as Magistrate, Cerebrate or Executor; you were a commander answering to the generals of respectively the Terrans, Zerg and Protoss.

And you were addressed in return. The characters of the story took notice of you, befriended you, urged you to take a stand and celebrated your victories. When Jim Raynor discovered the draconian true nature of rebel leader Arcturus Mengsk, he and you decided simultaneously to leave and go renegade. As one of the pompous Zerg Cerebrates, Kerrigan's scathing remarks and continuous refusal to accept you truly as her overseer made you feel uncomfortable and a helpless cog in the machine, watching as events unfolded through your own actions.

It isn't particularly special that Starcraft incorporated the player into the story through these means. Westwood's Command & Conquer and Red Alert series had done this as well. But what is surprising is how well Blizzard managed to do this while still keeping the characters highly dynamic and the story full of twists and turns. This is a feat easily unnoticed, but when you look at it closely you start to appreciate just how careful everything was planned. For every sudden change in the storyline, every dramatic reversal of fortunes or betrayal between characters, it was vital that the player should feel the same way; or he'd be reluctant to follow, for instance, Jimmy Raynor as he left the Sons of Korhal in lieu of staying with Mengsk to guide the latter's way to emperorhood.

I don't think this way of doing things gives the game any benefit other than a keener involvement of the player (which is in itself of course an admirable thing). Warcraft III, as said before, didn't have this, but certainly didn't feel shallower or less intricate than Starcraft, storywise. What is apparent, however, is that a far greater level of sophistication is required to pull it off. The gameplay must be perfectly aligned to the story in order that the player is prepared to go exactly where the storyteller wants him to go. It speaks of greater skill in spinning your yarn.

Starcraft wasn't a happy accident in this either. Diablo II's exquisite narrative combined two overlapping storylines (that of the player and of Marius) told at the same time but each set in a different timeframe, one of them even a flashback in itself no less: a remarkably engineered piece of design. All this is saying that Blizzard certainly knows how to pull off a good story in interactive entertainment. Whether or not Starcraft II will employ the same techniques as its predecessor is as of yet unknown (though the gameplay footage suggests direct interaction again), but you can lay to it that there will be interesting things brought to your screen!

Roderick.