Notes on “Starcraft II” and the Blizzard Paradigm

Yo, guys. Starcraft.

I bought it. Blizzard, creators of such minor blips as “World of Warcraft” and “Diablo II,” are juggernaut enough to have basically made their game releases a reflexive purchase for those of us keyed into this particular niche of pop culture. For me, and I suspect many others, the process was no more complicated than, “Hey, the new Starcraft came out a couple of days ago. My paycheck just came in. I can buy this online and have it directly download to my computer. I will do that.” Kotaku, Gawker Media’s gaming blog and the most significant practitioner of legitimate video game journalism on the web, just reported that Starcraft II sold over a million and a half copies in its first two days, which is an awful lot, especially considering it costs $60. Blizzard’s most recent core release in the same genre of game, “Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos,” took a month to achieve these same sales figures.

To give you a broader idea of why Blizzard is kind of a big fucking deal, the first Starcraft game (which came out over a decade ago) has sold over 11 million units worldwide. The gigantic “World of Warcraft” had over 11 million subscribers at the end of 2008; these subscribers pay a monthly fee of $14.99 (stateside; Europeans fork over €12.99, or about $17) for the privilege of playing the game. Though Blizzard releases these games slowly – excruciatingly so for some – each one enjoys a practically slavish following. Some still champion the simplicity of “Warcraft II,” over its sequel, for instance. It came out in 1995 for MS-DOS.

So, basically, this explains why I bought “Starcraft II,” because I sure don’t spend much time gaming anymore. Which raises a couple of questions, actually!

The days – and nights – of my pudgy adolescence are long behind me. No more Entenmann’s donuts washed down with Full Throttle, one of those battery acid-colored energy drinks. No more 12-hour streaks spent on “Final Fantasy VII.” I work full time as a reporter now (meaning… weird hours) or have packed semesters at NYU. I have a lovely girlfriend who could not be less interested in games outside of Galaga, and I have a fairly active social life. Plus, comic books. There is very little time in my life for video games. Frankly, there isn’t a ton of interest either.

I’m definitely not at a place where I have a strong drive to invest hundreds of hours in a virtual world. I keep track of games peripherally, generally through Kotaku and the absolutely wonderful, intelligent reviews on Action Button, but actual playtime is pretty minimal. The recent “Batman: Arkham Asylum” ultimately took me about six months to complete, and some complained that it was too short. And certainly, if I was someone whose primary interest is video games, Arkham’s dozen-or-so hours worth of story would probably seem a little sparse, yes.

But I’m not that someone. That’s probably why I think “Canabalt,” a flash game that’s also available for the iPod Touch and iPhone, numbers high among some hypothetical bull shit list of the 21st century’s greatest achievements in gaming. It is simple, artistically sound, fun and fast. Maybe I don’t need my games to be artistically sound, all things considered, but I sure as hell need them to fulfill those other criteria. That’s probably why “Final Fantasy XIII” was an almost unthinkable challenge for me. Universally criticized for taking 20-30 hours to become Something That Is Fun™, FFXIII represents all that I no longer have time for. When it game out, I wanted to say, “hurgh, Final Fantasy twelve was so amazing and now they shovel us this garbage,” but frankly, there is no way I would play through FFXII now, either. In a sense, it’s kind of too bad, as I’ve long been a spirited fan of the series. I sold some old titles to get FFXIII when it came out with kind of a half-mast excitement and got so bogged down in the early stuff that I fled back to my 360 mainstays Street Fighter II HD Remix and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 — fighting games that can be picked up for a few minutes at a time. (To think I’ve played through Final Fantasy Tactics five times!)

This would all seem like some bittersweet epitaph for my youth if I wasn’t a happy, functional person now that believes games can be awesome without requiring literal days of your life. I suppose this viewpoint makes me a “casual gamer,” if that, in the eyes of the globules posting on, like, Smash Boards and IGN. Generally, casual gamers are disdained, because they drive sales up for Wii Sports Resort, which certain people creatures blame for the failure of whatever number-crunch starring a little boy with tits Atlus is publishing this year.

And that, really, is a bunch of garbage, because I still want a deep and crunchy experience with my games, I just don’t want to spend a zillion hours of my life on getting the game to become fun. I want a bloody fucking filet mignon, not some eight course slog that culminates in pheasant gizzard on greens or whatever. Christ.

I think this is what Tim Rogers wants, too, and he plays games better than you do, and is, like, a luminary or something, and more of us should value his opinion, because I probably would never have written all of this without devouring his work. (Blowjobs cease here.)

So, here’s the point. I bought “Starcraft II” because I think, based on my experience with Blizzard, which has made a few of these games that everyone buys, it can deliver a very fulfilling experience that will keep it relevant for the next 12 years. I will play it a total of two times this week, after work and when I am not with my girlfriend or at a bar, and then, maybe, a lot between August 10th and the 24th when I am visiting my family in Chicago with very little to do, provided the internet and my Grant Morrison library do not prove more interesting.

If Blizzard cannot deliver fun with these constraints, it is their fault, not mine. I guess I’ve lost $60 either way, though!


6 Responses to “Notes on “Starcraft II” and the Blizzard Paradigm”

  1. Binijuktya Says:

    Why you gotta hate on Atlas like that?

  2. Binijuktya Says:

    *Atlus, god I’m retarded.

    • I love a lot of what Atlus publishes (so much time spent on Disgaea, Phantom Brave, Persona, et al.) but you gotta admit, their flavor of RPG kind of epitomizes the idea that a “pour 800 hours into this to make your characters’ stats marginally increase” model of gameplay is supposed to be fun in and of itself.

      I don’t know, I guess a lot of what I’m saying is that there needs to be some sort of visceral return from the games I play. In one way of thinking, Canabalt and Diablo II are exactly the same game because you are essentially just pushing one button over and over again. But Canabalt is thrilling 100% of the time. With Diablo II… there is much time spent getting lost, porting back to town, sorting your backpack…

      Which… isn’t to say I don’t like Diablo II, either, because it’s a game that makes switching equipment and leveling up spells very satisfying, in a snappy sort of way. THINGS JUST NEED TO BE BALANCED, I GUESS. (And FFXIII, to go back to what I was discussing in my post, is not balanced in this way; it is boring and it takes forever for the battle system to pay off and the story is awful AND AND AND.)

      … Did any of that make sense?

      • Also, just to clarify, I don’t need my games to all be like fighting games. I love, love, love Arkham Asylum, because the story mode just chugs along and you’re Batman and exploring is fun and the COMBAT and then there are these CHALLENGES which are just instantly gratifying. Such balance. Such flavor.

  3. Chuckles Says:

    18 year old Damon would slap you. 18 year old Chuckles would just eat Entanmann’s.

  4. Chuckles Says:

    Also, if you search “Damon Beres Blowjobs”, there are 5 hits leading to you. Splendid.

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