Snow Day

Snow Day
Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard

Russ Pitts | 6 Jun 2006 08:00
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Still, the game was among the first of its kind, and as such is fondly remembered and universally considered the grandfather of the RTS genre. The criticism of its universe did not prevent Westwood from controlling RTS production for almost a decade, but combined with the soon-to-be glaring lack of multiplayer capability, did leave a hole large enough for rival Blizzard to drive an entire franchise through.

How the West Was Won
Officially founded in 1991 as Silicon & Synapse, Blizzard Entertainment had been making their bones producing console titles and second-rate DOS games like Battle Chess II (1990) and The Death and Return of Superman (1994). As with any business, their goal in the first few years was to simply survive. Condor Software co-founder Dave Brevik explains early corporate life by saying "console games were paying the bills."

He would know - Condor was doing the same. Founded by Brevik in 1993 with Max and Erich Schaefer, Condor had been making ends meet by developing low-budget console titles. Then, they got a call from publisher Sunsoft to develop a comic book franchise title for the Sega Genesis.

Dave Brevik tells the story: "We were developing a fighting game (like Street Fighter) using [DC's] Justice League characters ... [Part-way] through development, we got approval to show the game off at CES. This was before E3 existed."

What the designers at Condor didn't know, however, was that another company, over 300 miles away, was developing the exact same game for a competing console. The two development teams met for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show.

"Much to our surprise," says Brevik, "[Blizzard] was making the same game for the Super Nintendo system. We had never talked or shared any assets or ideas, and it was supposed to be the same game! Anyhow this leads me to talking to Allen Adham, who was their President."

It would be a fateful chance encounter for both men and their studios. In addition to the SNES version of Justice League, Blizzard's Adham was working on the first installment of what would soon become one of the best-selling videogame franchises of all time. Adham showed his new game to Brevik behind closed doors. That game was Warcraft: Orcs and Humans.

"I loved it," said Brevik, "and thought it was a great idea. A few months later, I called Allen and asked if they needed any beta testers."

Warcraft, like Dune II, was a RTS game, in which the player mined resources in order to build an army. The difference, however, was in the details. Warcraft was set in the fictional world of Azeroth, a land which borrowed heavily from the fantasy universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien. In Warcraft, a horde of orcs have invaded the world of humans and must be pushed back (by the player) to the world from whence they've come. Or, alternately, the player must guide the invading orcs onward to victory against the hapless, medieval humans.

Naturally, the story was very familiar to an audience of young, computer- literate gamers. The same could be said of practically every other fantasy tale created since Mr. Tolkien's epic trilogy was written, but the premise was simple enough for someone unfamiliar with the Tolkien books to appreciate. It didn't hurt that Warcraft, in addition to a more compellingly familiar story, offered a handful of other gameplay improvements over Dune II, as well. The resulting product was a game that was at once familiar, accessible and addictive - in other words, a breakout hit.

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