You say polish, I say rehash

The Blizzard model has generally been to take a successful product, apply a Games Workshop IP to it, and release basically the same game with a new coat of paint and a high level of polish, one that will run on anything including your household toaster (although in fairness to toasters, the newer models are beastly machines). It worked for the Warcraft RTS series (Warhammer Fantasy Battle + Dune), worked for StarCraft (Warhammer 40k + C&C), and it works for WoW (Mr. T + My Little $25 Pony Online).

But what happens when you apply the Blizzard business model to a Blizzard game and play it really, really safe? You get StarCraft 2, a highly polished port of SC1 that leaves you feeling bored and burned out halfway through your first game. When you can build a base and pull off a rush with your eyes closed using the same strategy and hotkeys you used in 1998, you’re game just MIGHT be a little too similar to its predecessor. Which is not to say that SC2 is a bad game on its own, its not, and if you never played SC1 you will have a blast here. But there is a wide gap between advancing a product slowly (WC1 to WC2 or WC3 for instance) and simply straight rehashing it, and SC2 is very much a rehash.

Perhaps most jarring is the fact that even with new units and new tweaks to the maps, it all still plays out exactly the same. Not just high level “pump out workers, build a base/units, zerg to win” stuff that can be said about most RTS games, but also right down to how to configure your base, what units to mix, and when to upgrade to what. It’s all the same, and as you follow the same pattern you literally get the same results with basically zero variation. Nothing feels new here, nothing jumps out and screams “game-changer”. There are no flying/navy units like in WC2, or hero units like in WC3, or the advantages of destructible terrain and advanced line-of-sight like in Company of Heroes. It’s just 1998 all over again, only with better (but nothing special) graphics.

And the disappointment with SC2 leaves me a little worried for Diablo 3, because even in the preview videos we have seen it truly does look like D2 with again slightly better graphics. Now what could save D3 is that ‘more of the same’ often works in a single-player game. Right now on the Wii I’m playing Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, which might as well be a collection of missing levels from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn on the GameCube, but it’s still very enjoyable because when FE:RD ended, I was still looking for more. No matter how much you liked D2, the content was limited and eventually you reached the end and the game was over. You could play it again, but not in the same way you could play another match of SC, and this alone might be the saving difference for D3 compared to SC2.

This also makes you wonder about the next Blizzard MMO. Rumor has it it’s going to be a new (GamesWorkshop) IP, but will it follow SC2 and (presumably) D3 in terms of gameplay rehashing? Let’s hope not, otherwise that’s a lot of wasted polish.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Combat Systems, Console Gaming, Diablo 3, MMO design, Random, Rant, Uncategorized, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to You say polish, I say rehash

  1. Wilhelm2451 says:

    The things is, one of the most annoying aspects of SC in 2010, for me at least, is that it plays at 640×480. Something that has at least heard of the possibility of 1600×1200 monitors would make me happy. Maybe not so happy I’d spend $70, but close.

    As for D3, I’d have happily taken a polished rehash of D2 that, again, supported higher resolutions and directly supported mods or user-build campaigns.

    But I’m old and interested in reliving the past at this point. Maybe I should get out Total Annihilation again. There were some wicked, nuke you in 12 minute AIs that were fun to play against.

  2. sid67 says:

    I wouldn’t mind a rehash of D3 with one exception — the ability to rotate my camera from the top-down 3D isometric to a FPS view and back.

    Because sometimes I just want to see what’s in the distance…

    As for SC.. What do you expect in terms of evolution in an RTS game? I agree with you that I’d like to see some new units (maybe some Heroes) and a slightly different building/tree path but at the end of the day — it’s going to be an RTS.

    So I guess I agree with TAGN. I see an SC2 update as more similar to the latest Madden. Improved, but basically the same.

    I think the bigger question is why such a thing takes so fucking long to develop.

    • SynCaine says:

      There is a lot you can do to make an RTS game play differently. Look at Company of Heroes. Would ANYONE confuse that game with C&C? Or like I said in the post, look at the difference between WC1, WC2, and WC3. There are notable steps in each game, and each game does play very differently.

      The post would have been way too long, but there is a mile-long list of things in SC2 that are just too similar to SC1, and when combined, they just don’t give off that ‘new game’ feel that gets you excited to play (or pay).

      Edit: But yea, SC2 is basically like Madden. Problem is, Madden comes out each year and the main draw is based on RL (updated rosters/stats), not things SC2 has going for it. And at a likely price of $180+ to get the ‘full’ game, that’s a tough sell for me.

      • Mordiceius says:

        “And at a likely price of $180+ to get the ‘full’ game, that’s a tough sell for me.”

        Except that you are getting three times the content of a normal full game.

        The original game had 10 missions for each of the 3 factions meaning 30 missions total. It is not like they are just doing ten missions for each faction again and then splitting them up into three games. This time they are actually doing about 30 mission for each faction. *shrug* I think it is worth the price.

  3. bludd says:

    i think they have contracted the evil corporate empire syndrome.

  4. Ben says:

    single player campaigns should make it worthwhile provided it is something like 30 per faction. Blizzard also purposefully designs with an eye towards the RTS community in mind; I guarantee that in a year the most popular SC2 mode won’t be what ships with the game. Give Blizz credit or blame for that as you will.

  5. coppertopper says:

    The single player is nothing like multiplayer. You should withhold judgement until you’ve read a few reviews of the single player experience. Right now it’s like judging WoW based on only being able to play in the arena.

  6. silvertemplar says:

    Aaah welcome to the world of Activision, where taking “fun” out of gaming is the goal . Copy and Paste and Sell a million copies…sue and fire your developers without paying them , rinse and repeat.

  7. Stabs says:

    I felt exactly the same way when I played Starcraft 2 in the Beta. Same units, same commands, looks the same.

    Honestly if they messed their patches up and we downloaded and played Starcraft 1 we’d barely notice.

    The stand out different features are that it’s much easier to get straight into multiplayer games and there’s some rather pretty new units.

    The main thing that interests me is the single player campaigns and since it will be one of the last releases where you can do this I’ll take advantage of the second hand market and buy the game cheap second hand a year after it releases. Hooray for non-digital download games!

  8. Nees says:

    There’s a complete new generation of gamers who never played SC1 or D2, who are going to love SC2 and D3 the way we loved SC1 and D2.
    You’re just one of those old and grumpy gamers who are way too demanding ;)
    I don’t care if it’s the same tbh, I’m buying D3 and I’ll probably be pulling allnighters with it from day one.

  9. Sean says:

    Your characterization of SCII as a soulless rehash does a great disservice to the game and the many people who have slaved over its development for years. It’s frankly an insult to the developers to paint their work as “simply straight rehashing [Starcraft].” There is nothing simple about game development even if one is building off the legacy of a prior title, borrowing many of the mechanics and ideas that worked and implementing them in a new context.

    SCII deserves to be recognized as a new context, a new game with a familiar but arguably improved player experience. That you did not enjoy, or found stale, what read like a cursory experience with a beta multiplayer match reflects both your personal preferences and a very small subset of a much larger title.

    It also reflects a very casual approach and appreciation of Starcraft. Even without considering the many new species mechanics, units, buildings, and abilities that you decline to point to, the subtle changes to returning units and mechanics have profound effects on the balance of resulting game. Starcraft was and still is one of the most balanced, competitive RTSs ever made. Iterating on that finely honed balance and improving it takes thousands of man hours of preproduction and playtesting, something that “rehash” doesn’t properly convey.

    I hope in the future you don’t so cavalierly denigrate the work of developers based on so little exposure, particularly given your own personal vendetta against a reviewer accused of doing much the same thing.

    • Wilhelm2451 says:

      Unfortunately, a chunk of your argument is somewhat specious there Sean. That many people have worked hard on something does not mean it has any value at all, regardless of what Marx and Engles might claim.

      Oddly enough, you’re using one of Syn’s favorite arguments when some new MMORPG compares less than favorably to WoW, that one must view things in a different context. Which is to say, usually, that he wishes we’d all shut up about WoW and polish and say nice things about the game he is going on about of late, whatever it might be.

      So if this “lack of new context” annoys you, you had better brace yourself for the future. SCII will be compared, straight out of the box, in every review you will likely ever see, with the original game. There will be point by point charts detailing feature comparisons. Build orders will be compared. Artwork. Units. Sound. Graphics. Everything will be put side-by-side and evaluated. The context will be, “StarCraft Revisited.” And there is a distinct possibility that the result will be something along the lines of, “We waited how long for this?!?”

      Anyway, I doubt your final wish will be grated. Syn will continue to denigrate the work of developers in a cavalier fashion because… well… we all have to go with our strengths.

      • Sean says:

        It was not my argument to say that the worth of a product is a function of the effort put into it, as opposed to its quality. A lot of people in the games industry work hard to produce bad games, and their often futile effort to do the best with poor ideas and in mismanaged teams goes unrecognized. A consumer, and much less anyone who styles themselves a critic, needn’t concern themselves with that effort. They should, however, use caution when they’re tempted to allow their critique of the game to inform assumptions about the intentions or practices of the developers. Contending that a game is a blatant rehash, that you could feed in the same input string from its predecessor and see exactly the same output, is often country cousin to charges of “lazy” and “greedy” developers. It is the “lazy” charge that irks me to no end and my comment was partly an expression of that.

        My use of a new context was an objective claim about what the game is: familiar and novel mechanics repurposed and reimagined with the hindsight of twelve years of experience. I’m sure, as you point out, that nearly every reviewer and most every fan will approach this game from a perspective grounded in their experience with the original. My quarrel wasn’t with that perspective but the conclusions Syncaine reached from it, conclusions that couldn’t be justified from the limited scope of the beta. What Syncaine wrote here will be some reviewers gut reaction upon playing their first multiplayer match. Then they’ll play another 30 hours and discover that even when directly compared to Starcraft, and notwithstanding the extensive single player experience, Starcraft II brings significant advances over the orginal’s multiplyaer experience. Well, at least the good reviewers will put in that time but we don’t speak of the bad ones here, do we Syncaine?

        • Adam says:

          too much words… did not read.

        • Dee Man says:

          Using Big words and grammar check doesn’t make your argument any less specious there Sean.

          Also have you ever working with lazy developers that make bad games? I have, and the ones I have worked with…well…They don’t give a shit about the game, they are about their deadlines set by their producers (who is usually a ego maniac who thinks he knows everything, typically leading to the shitty game in the first place)

    • gh says:

      So what if people worked hard on it? That doesn’t mean it’s free from criticism. What a ridiculous position to take.

      Who the hell cares if calling it a rehash does a “great disservice” to anybody? It’s still a rehash.

  10. song7 says:

    If it’s popular and people enjoy playing it Syn will tear it down. This is what we all come here for.

  11. Sintei says:

    I think this Judgement here is not just.
    I personally played StarcraftI and prayed for a second game wich would be “like the first” and no different. And like me millions did and again Blizzard is giving its costomers what they want and i do not see what is wrong with this.
    We want a game wich plays like the first, wich feels like the first, wich is like the first, only shiny.
    Why do we want that? Because there were few to none flaws in Starcraft I wich was completely genius and reigned supreme as the most competitive RTS till today and now it can only be surpassed by… Starcraft II.

    To this day i never played a RTS wich wich is better than Starcraft I till i got the Betakey for Starcraft II…. wich isnt better, it is the same… IN SHINY! Hoooraayy…

    How would we all have cried if Blizzard tried to reinvent RTS genre here and fucked up??? They did just the right thing with perfect execution.

  12. Reaper says:

    I really wonder how many of the people complaining about lack of innovation in SC2 actually played SC1 at a competitive level.
    If you were expecting heros, naval combat or rpg elements it should have been obvious from the start that you would be disappointed.
    SC2 has to follow what was possibly the most balanced RTS ever created, that was its major selling point and that is what gamers expected from the sequel.
    If anything, SC2 is proof that Activision has not had as much of a negative impact on Blizzard as some might have suspected.
    Blizzard stuck to what made SC1 a great game and spent an ungodly amount of time on further refining and polishing those points, even if that meant that the casual gaming crowd might not get what all the fuss was about.
    They added a slew of new units, enabling new strategies and removing many of the old ones, the UI was made more efficient, adding new comfort features and in general making all three races almost equal in terms of micro management required.
    SC2 is basically an upgraded version of SC1, aimed at competitive players and delivers the best “hardcore” RTS experience to date.
    Personally, I’m totally fine with that.

  13. KaKTy3 says:

    Without critting you with a wall of text ulti, I can assure you that polish and so-called ‘rehashing’ is what separates men from boys in the gamedev world, and Blizzard is second to none in that.

    I have a tendency of buying ‘hot’ titles a year or so post release (mainly because I am one game at a time guy), and it’s still deeply annoys me that even past Platinum Game of the Year Epic Collector’s edition, most of these titles that sold millions are still riddled with bugs (recent examples: King’s Bounty, The Witcher, Mass Effect). Do not underestimate the polish, I say!

    PS: Pre-ordered and eagerly anticipating both SCII and D3.
    PPS: I own ATVI stock.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I have an idea.

    Let’s remake Basketball. Or Baseball?

    You can’t change a national sport.

  15. Ragnarok says:

    I have to disagree here as well. How many other companies have created a game that not only set an industry standard, but also dominated that genre for ten years.

    This isn’t a world of slowly changing markets. This is the video game industry. How many games even stay popular for more than a year?

    StarCraft has remained unchallenged in the competitive RTS world for a decade, and Blizzard would have to be a gaggle of fools to radically change up the formula for the sequel. If they did that, what would they do with the millions of people who still play SC competitively? Make them keep playing the original?

    Come on.

    • SynCaine says:

      I agree that a major factor was likely Korea in keeping SC2 basically SC1 with newish graphics, but that’s kinda making my point; it’s a polished rehash rather than a step forward like most sequels. No doubt the pros will be happy about that, but I’m not, especially not when the single player is going to cost $180 rather than $50. That plus 1998 multiplayer (regardless of how balanced it is, its still an old and tired formula) sours me on SC2.

      • Sean says:

        You, and you’re not alone in this, have repeatedly claimed:

        “I’m not, especially not when the single player is going to cost $180 rather than $50”

        First of all, the initial release will cost $60 – welcome to inflation finally catching up with PC game prices that have fallen against inflation for a decade. Secondly, Blizzard has most often, and again in recent interviews, characterized the release of SCII as an initial product followed by two expansions. Sort of like Starcraft, Diablo II and Warcraft III except with another planned expansion in the case of Starcraft II (or to be more accurate another announced, planned expansion). Cost of expansions != cost of a full release, and Blizzard has never bucked that trend nor have they indicated they plan to do so for Starcraft II.

        But hey, they’re owned by Activision now and we all know Activision strangles the golden goose. Back in the good old days when Blizzard was ind… oh yeah, they’ve never been independent and were formerly owned by Vivendi…

        Five bucks says final cost to own SCII and its two expansions at release is less than $160. Any takers?

        • SynCaine says:

          Yea I’ll take you up on that >$160 claim. Easy money if I including buying the CE of each release, but lets not. Bonus points if you can guess how much the various ‘micro’ transactions will cost through

        • gh says:

          Sean has to defend Blizzard at all costs or the WORLD WILL END!

  16. Ob says:

    C’mon everyone, Blizzard am BAD!!!!

  17. Hudson says:

    blah blah blah blah

    Give me Diablo 3. Could care less about SC2. Sadly Diablo 3 will have better content than most MMO’s today.

    Now if you really want to bitch about something how about ripping on that soon to come Warhammer 40k MMO that we will see from THQ.

    Talk about a disaster waiting to happen

    Otherwise meh who cares. Koreans will buy SC2 out the arse

  18. valkrysa says:

    Made an RTS, made it perfect.
    Fans want another game, how can we stand up to the king of all RTS?
    Make the same RTS, give it better graphics, improve the UI, add more variety to the units while still keeping the philosophy, give 3x the story content.
    Now our game will be able to succeed.

  19. Wyrm says:

    Korea sales only can pay for the game a turn a profit by itself. They even have a Starcaft cable channel, fercrissakes not to mention the tournaments.

    Of course it would be little more than a graphic revamp.

  20. Ponder says:

    HCC, you are spot on.

    It is well known that the purpose of a corporate entity is to replicate the work of talented people, using only robotic staff.

    When Blizzard was merged into one of the 5/6 giant media multinational corporations, its innovativeness was expected to decline rapidly.

  21. Pingback: This is why we’re not excited by Starcraft 2.

  22. Sausage says:

    SC2 is the same exact game that came out in 98 except with newer gfx which are still poor compared to the standard. This game was made for the hardcore SC players no one else, really if a new player who never played SC1 played SC2 it would just be an average game. I still think Blizz is an excellent dev; after all they created SC however I dont think their talents are present in SC2; come on they spent 100 million and 10 years to just balance and tweak the same game from 98 while most companies create whole new games with a fraction of the cost and time. Some of these game set new innovations to the standard such as Company of Heroes, which I personally think has made as much innovation in the genre as SC.

  23. Sausage says:

    Also as to SC popularity in Korea while other RTS games dont make it there.

    Its the same behaviour here; imagine if your whole family and friends love football (aka USA) and you tried cricket for the first time and liked it. Im pretty sure it would be hard for you to convince everyone you know to start playing cricket; even if cricket is a gg they still wouldnt like it. SC was the first rts game koreans played, it came out when the country’s online network was setup; of course they would be committed to it; even if a new better rts games came out that was far more balanced rts came out; they wouldn’t give it the time of day. So just because’s its a nation’s national sport that doesn’t mean squat to me.

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