[16 September 2010]
I played hours and hours and even more hours of the original Starcraft multi-player before I played a minute of the single-player campaign. I’d just moved out to San Jose, California to start Cryptic Studios, and I was living in my friend Mike’s apartment. He and his co-workers had a regular, after work Starcraft session at least once a week, and Mike was kind enough to let me tag along. This was in 2000, and while online play might have existed, we were all about the LAN party. Their company had plenty of high-end computers and a very robust network, more than enough to handle the eight to 12 people who gathered to play those evenings.
This was a friendly, not particularly cutthroat environment. Sometimes we’d play in teams against one another, while other times we’d do huge co-operative matches against the AI. For versus matches we’d split up into different rooms within the office, so we’d be free to strategize with and cajole one another while we played. That camaraderie was vital to what made Starcraft night so much fun, shouting in alarm to one another when the Zerg rush came, dictating which direction the Protoss cannon creep should go, desperately flying our Terran buildings to a teammate’s mineral patch when things went really bad.
There was one player, Philip, who ruled the roost. His screen name was always, for some reason, Mickey Mouse, and he played Starcraft the way way real competitors do, with hot keys and perfect build orders and incredible aggressiveness. In the days before YouTube videos, I’d annoyingly stand behind him and watch over his shoulder as he executed nausea-inducing hotkey switches, the screen blinking from base to base and unit to unit so fast I’m surprised I didn’t have an epileptic fit. I remember the one time I beat him in a match. Well, when I say I beat him, it was me and two other guys versus him, but it was a hard one victory and we were all cheering in excitement. Philip took the defeat with a good-natured laugh. He knew the truth.
With Starcraft 2, I’ve played through the single-player campaign without even trying an online match. The competitive world of Starcraft daunts me, and I just don’t think I’m good enough to give it a go and have fun. But then a funny thing happened. My friend Mike, who first interested me in the game, joined me here in Berlin for the last two weeks. While his girlfriend and her friend went shopping one day, we played a helluva lot of Starcraft 2 multi-player. And it was awesome. We sat here side by side, testing our skills and strategies against a wide variety of AI opponents. It was all the thrills and mutual elation and despair of those decade-old Starcraft nights, distilled into one intense, Club Mate Cola and Fassbender & Rauch Chocolate-infused Saturday.
Now I remember why I loved this game so much, why I looked forward to Starcraft night with ever-increasing excitement each week. This game is great. The story may underwhelm, but the gameplay is undeniable. I’m more excited about it now than I have been since I started the single-player game. For me, at this point, as good as the single-player campaign missions are, I’ve come down in the camp that multi-player is the only real reason to buy Starcraft 2. Everything else is just bonus material for me. Now Mike’s back in LA and I’m here in Berlin, but that’s the big difference between Starcraft night ten years ago and today. Today playing online is just as easy as it was to set up that LAN. I wonder if Mickey Mouse is still around and is up for a re-match.