View From the Road

View From the Road
A View From The Road: The StarCraft Dilemma

John Funk | 22 Feb 2010 17:00
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About a year and a half ago, when I got a chance to play StarCraft II at PAX '08, I posed a question: How do you follow up StarCraft?

To answer that question, you have to consider what makes a good sequel in any case. Gamers want their sequel to be bigger and better than the original - everything that was awesome in the first game will now just be "eh, good enough." This is compounded by a game's success; if a huge amount of people loved the first game, then there are that many more expectations to fulfill. This is true of StarCraft more than any other game in recent memory.

The past half-year or so has been filled to the brim with big-budget sequels to popular games. Just off the top of my head, in late 2009 and early 2010 we saw Uncharted 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Assassin's Creed II, the behemoth Modern Warfare 2, Mass Effect 2, and now BioShock 2 - all of which were highly-anticipated, AAA sequels. And yet, as beloved as all of those original games were, none of them spawned the e-sport, and none of them thoroughly defined a genre for years to come. In short, none of them were StarCraft.

The expectations riding on StarCraft II are absolutely astronomical, because the original 1998 RTS was a landmark title on a scale only a few games have ever truly achieved. When faced with a bar this high, it's no wonder that Blizzard has taken twelve years to make the second game in the series. Hell, there are already people taking the game to task for being too similar to the first StarCraft (which, to be fair, it is). Where's the innovation, they ask: After all of the RTS titles like Company of Heroes and Homeworld that have been released in the twelve years between the first and second StarCraft titles, what makes Blizzard think it can get away with making what is effectively StarCraft HD? Why shouldn't the developers make something different?

But is "different" really what people want in SC2? Is "different" really what people want in any sequel? Is innovation for innovation's sake more important than having an excellent game?

Don't get me wrong: Innovation is certainly a good thing, and games that try something new should be applauded for it. But not every game needs to try something new. Often, what's new doesn't always work as well as what's tried and true - and those problems are what hopefully get fixed in the sequels. Look at 2008's Mirror's Edge. It was a game that was unique and innovative, but also certainly flawed - should a Mirror's Edge 2 tack in an entirely new direction and reinvent the game entirely, or should it take the core ideas and refine and polish them in order to correct what was wrong?

Let the games with new IPs be innovative. I want my sequels to take what works and run with it. I don't want to reinvent the wheel, let alone a wheel as good as StarCraft.

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