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Three Moves Ahead Episode 77: Starcraft 2 with Chris Remo

August 10th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 13 Comments · Blizzard, Design, Podcast, RTS, Three Moves Ahead


Troy – suffering from a splitting headache – is joined by Rob Zacny, Tom Chick (hooray) and Idle Thumbs/Gamasutra star Chris Remo before he heads off to join Irrational Games. The topic: Starcraft 2. Why does such a competitive, sports structured game like SC2 have such wide appeal? Is the single player campaign really that different from other campaigns? And how about that writing? What are the great joys and great disappointments? Finally, what does Starcraft 2 mean for the future of the PC RTS?

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Troy’s Starcraft 2 review
Tom’s Starcraft 2 review
Rob’s thoughts
Idle Thumbs podcast

FoS/TMA Meetup details


13 Comments so far ↓

  • steve

    One thing none of you covered about StarCraft II’s success, and the why, is that we’re part of a blockbuster culture. That is, some people are playing it because they were fans of the previous game or because they dig the competition, but others are playing it because everyone is playing it and they want to be part of that.

    It’s why people not interested in a movie like Avatar will see Avatar. With so much media coverage, with so much money being spent on marketing, you can’t not see Avatar or play StarCraft II.

  • Jon Shafer

    I hope that Tom is correct in that even if Starcraft 2 doesn’t lead to a general renaissance of RTSes, it will still convince some publishers to dip their toes back in the water. I’d kill for a Company of Heroes 2, really…


  • terpiscorei

    I agree that Starcraft 2 will probably cause a resurgence of developer interest in RTS, but I’m not positive that’s an entirely positive thing. Despite all the innovation and evolution in the genre, no RTS has met with as much commercial success as Starcraft. As Tom points out in his Gameshark review, Starcraft 2 has essentially ignored almost all of the changes in the genre, even changes Blizzard itself introduced. I suspect that the lesson devs take away is not that there is a big RTS market, but that there is a big Starcraft clone market. Could Starcraft 2 set back RTS development in general?

    I’d argue that this is what happened in the MMO world, where Blizzard entered the market with a highly polished, entirely derivative game that met with unprecedented commercial success. Consequently, the MMO market is flooded with games that are essentially Everquest clones in an attempt to gain some of the marketshare of WoW, which is itself an Everquest clone at its core.

  • Jon Shafer

    I think an important difference between WoW and Starcraft II is the expectations surrounding each game prior to its release. Starcraft II selling well isn’t a surprise to anyone. On the other hand, WoW COULD have been a big and expensive flop. Instead it become one of the most successful entertainment products in human history. I think that kind of success completely distorts people’s rational thought process. I just can’t see Starcraft 2 having that same intoxicating effect.


  • Paul Montesanti

    Great episode.

    For a little bit of added content: I agree with Chick that Warcraft III was actually quite innovative. It doesn’t get the attention for that that it deserves.

  • Mark Stewart

    I, too, hope SC2’s success will lead to renewed interest in RTS games. I just don’t want those other publishers to draw the wrong conclusions–to think that they have to be just like StarCraft to be successful. There’ll be *at least* two more SC titles. Plenty of old school game play for those that want it. I, for one, do not want.

  • tboon

    Even if the (hypothetical) renewed interest in RTS games results in a huge batch of SC clones, I would expect there to be some good games, if only due to random chance. Make enough games and some are bound to be decent, even if by accident.

  • Rythe

    Knowing me and what I’ve said, it’s gonna be no surprise that I’m gonna have to disagree with a lot of Troy’s and Tom’s sentiments. But at the very least, I’ve had time to refine my thoughts a bit.

    Why does a game have to innovate to be good? It didn’t seem like any of you could say the gameplay was inherently flawed, and freely admit that the online, competitive play has you hooked. So as a game system, it seems incredibly well refined, balanced, and dynamic enough to be compelling. It’s just not the things it wasn’t trying to be. Like, say, Chess isn’t trying to be Risk. I’ve heard a podcast where your group praised a board game for cutting back the clutter and refining a system to a more simplistic core that did what it needed to do and did it well. Is this not the same sort of thing? As a game system, could you really point to any flaw in SC2 beyond being demanding of the player and not being an entirely different, newer game system?

    The campaign story isn’t terrible. It’s a simple story told well enough to have depth if you cared to look. If you didn’t care about the setting or characters, then yeah, there wasn’t really a whole lot to hold you and the not so rare cheesy lines could annoy. And I won’t deny that the whole thing can come off as schizophrenic if you mixed up the different story lines in certain ways. Nor while I say that Raynor wasn’t just kinda average as characters go. Not to mention that the few mission choices you’re given are played in a way to make either option seem like a decent one (at the very least) once the outcome rolls around.

    But! Tychus was done brilliantly in so many ways, Dr. Hanson did her job and provided a lot of insight if you knew enough to keep her around that long, and I had a great deal of fun with Tosh. Really, every character was well defined. As to that depth, you could look at the colony mission line motif as ‘Hope for a better future’. Or the covert missions as a story about Trust. Then the rebellion missions touched on making a better future for others. The Prophecy Missions are a battle between two stances on Fate. Here’s a specific example I’m fond of – In a news cast, Prince Valerian says he’s studying statesmanship and military strategy, and when he’s asked about a significant other, says he’s had his eyes on the reporter. First of all, the latter bit is genius in that it turns all the attention to said reporter instead of him. Second of all, it made me pause and wonder if he was trying to be better than his father, which was a thought that became justified later on in the story, and made me curious about his past and future stories. Add on to that a better emotive engine than any other game I’ve seen (if a few scenes came off stiff or felt a little flat), great voice acting and score, and a highly defined universe and setting, and you get something that is a far cry from the stuff that terrible game stories are made of. You might not like some or all of it, but it’s definitely not terrible.

    On the other hand, SupCom 2 had a lot of things that terrible stories are made of. They basically took the high school theme of cool kid, popular kid, and female interest love triangle, threw it into sci-fidom, and proceeded to copy and paste moves from better stories while leaving out anything that might have been interesting. And seriously. What’s so great about this game? It was basically C&C clone #10235 with Age of Empires’ research system and a few other minor, good ideas. Most (but not all) of the experimentals were nothing more than a flashy, economic ‘I win’ button you tried to hit faster than the other guy because less than half actually did something a standard army couldn’t. Add on a generic campaign that pulled some BS stunts and yeah, I just can’t see it as anything special.

    Same with Dawn of War 2’s campaign. Admittedly, I never played true skirmish because the campaign turned me off the whole thing, and that may have redeemed it somewhat. But Anyways. One of you claimed that SC2’s campaign basically just handed you the answers to the all the strategy puzzles (which was definitely not true of many hard modes, Prophecy missions, and Final Missions. Try using the Reaper in Outbreak as one small example). DoW2’s campaign, on the other hand, didn’t have any strategy puzzles. Okay, it had one. Pull enemy from cover to your killzone. That’s it. Mission after mission. Then the bosses, who more often than not just blew away all your cover and made me wish I had a real healer unit. One of these bosses just infuriated me because my melee hero couldn’t hold him down without using two level’s worth of health items, so I had to kite the guy around while dodging his Area of Effect attacks with my various groups who often didn’t want to get out of the way as much as I trying to tell them to, and then retreat to safety and let the game rez and heal my repeatedly mangled team and wait a second… Am I playing a RTS or Raiding in World of Warcraft? It’s starting to sound much more like that latter than the former. The cherry on top of me despising DoW2 as a strategy game was the scout/sniper squad. I wanted so dearly to lay ambushes and be evil with them, but it took at least twice as long to set up an area with the sniper squad than it did to just mow through with heavy infantry. The problem comes when a part of your mission grade comes from mission time and a good grade provides a huge boon to your campaign advancement. So I ditched the snipers for another group, and I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is a huge and obvious flaw in DoW2’s campaign.

  • Noterist

    I just want to chime in on the campaign discussion. It really sounds like Troy and Tom weren’t playing on an appropriate difficulty level. If you ask me, Blizzard should have ironed out the you-need-better-macro difficulty spikes in hard mode and promoted it as the go to difficulty level for RTS fans.

    On my first play through I was strategically taxed when I set the goals of exploring for research points, attempting secondary objectives and playing aggressively enough to try for the achievements. For me, the best stories came from my failure to complete all of the above in one sitting and the spectacular plan B recoveries that allowed me to continue along the campaign.

    I have since started a speed play through on normal and seen a number of changes that “dumb down” the experience. Advanced units/counters that make you carefully consider your army composition aren’t available to the enemy until the later missions. Quite often you will have an extra gas vein removing the need to spend that resource wisely. Also, there is significant decrease in the need to split my forces or protect my key assets. It’s not simply a case of “the enemy has more units”.

    In closing, there are definitely rewarding strategic puzzles in the campaign, they just aren’t found along the “default route” that Blizzard set out. Maybe if the game directed capable players and gave better incentives for playing the game as I have, more people would’ve found the campaign to be quite exhilarating/gratifying.

    In another example of setting difficulty levels to enhance a game’s strengths I’m currently playing Just Cause 2 on the difficulty below easy, because it’s awesome like that. Just pointing out that I’m not some zealous/masochistic hardcore difficulty nerd :)

  • Troy


    When I am playing a game for review, I rarely play on hard since that is not the level most people will be playing it at, especially since I should get as far along in the campaign as I can so I can evaluate it as a unit.

    On hard it is sort of a different game, but also punishing in many respects. The missions don’t get any better or more interesting, just annoying.

    And the campaign story is the same on hard. Which was my big problem.

  • Jorune

    I think SC 2 does lead ‘veteran’ RTS players to the Hard level. When you click on New Campaign, it states Normal is if you have some experience with RTS games, while Hard is considered for Starcraft Veterans (odd there is no in-between).

    @Troy- I used to play RTS games at normal difficulty and would grow bored. Than I found out that in most rts’, at Normal difficulty, the AI was gimped (usually resource collection, it seems in SC2 campaign they are gimped out of certain counter units). Hard difficulty meant the AI was on even footing. So when I started playing the same RTS game on Hard Difficulty (I think this was Dawn of War), it was a whole new game. The Sherman’s March tactic I had always employed no longer worked, I had to really choose which units to build, micro them well enough and generally employ better tactics/strategy. It really felt like a whole new game.

    FYI: I’m not suggesting you need to do that in order to review a game, I just notice a harder difficulty doesn’t make a game feel ‘tedious’ to me, it actually makes me play better and get more involved.


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