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The Chrysalis: How Warhammer 40k Inspired Starcraft

By AgmLauncher - 22nd June 2007 - 07:44 AM

[h1]The Inspirational Forces that Propelled Blizzard to the Top of the Game Industry[/h1]
By Conrad Sly - 22 June, 2007

Almost ten long years ago in 1998, the game industry trembled in anticipation as Blizzard released word that they were working on yet another new game franchise. As a rising company already acclaimed for their RTS franchise known as Warcraft: Orcs and Humans (1994) and its successor Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness (1996), not to mention the RPG hack’n’slash defining - Diablo (1996), they had established a refined standard in the RTS genre that many developers were inspired by for years. Warcraft however, was not the first of its kind. Two years before Warcraft hit the shelves, Dune 2 (1992) took the world by storm as the world’s first true RTS game – while it wasn’t the first game to coin the term RTS, it was the first RTS game to make use of a computer’s mouse, and implemented the genre defining gameplay mechanics of harvesting resources and fog of war, giving players a level of interaction that the world had never seen before. Deeply intrigued by this new form of gameplay, Blizzard began their ascension to the top of the game industry.

Warcraft is believed by most RTS gamers to be a refined version of Dune 2’s pioneering gameplay mechanics, which is definitely true to Blizzard’s nature as game developers. It is arguable, as it is a matter of preference really, but it’s generally agreed that Blizzard’s augmentation of Dune 2 took the shape of a more simplified and accessible RTS, which allowed players to have even more control and interaction. In addition, Blizzard succeeded where Dune 2 had failed, in creating their own story arc, giving them the freedom they needed to make a good sequel which they could take in any direction. It was here that Blizzard’s history of using outside inspirations to design their games around began, taking a significant amount of inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy. It can be said that little fantasy after Tolkein didn’t take something from his masterpiece however. Blizzard’s heavily story driven Warcraft franchise hit a soft spot with the gamers everywhere, and laid the foundations for Blizzard’s now billion dollar franchise.

In 1998, Blizzard took the next smartest step towards establishing their genre controlling model amongst a larger demographic of gamers by striking the realm of science fiction with their new franchise, Starcraft (1998). Taking many aspects of their previous RTS games into consideration, in an industry where “innovation” was beginning to be the selling phrase for game developers, Blizzard sought to refine their model further opting to add even more polish to their already well oiled RTS systems. Starcraft was a smash hit for many reasons, including the fact that it was Blizzard’s first RTS game to feature Battle.net, an in-game multiplayer client that Blizzard created initially for Diablo. The results were a game unlike any other, where three opposing factions, the human galactic conglomerate known as Terran, the bug-like swarm ruled by a greater mind known as the Zerg, and the ancient and mysterious Protoss, clashed in a heavily story driven galactic struggle, filled with all sorts of interesting characters, plot twists, and detailed cinematic videos. Not everyone was overjoyed by this new sci-fi rendition of Warcraft however, as there was a myriad of questionable resemblances between much of the Starcraft universe and other sci-fi universes such as Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers novel (1959) along with Paul Verhoeven’s movie adaptation (1997), Ridley Scott’s Alien movie series (1979 – present), and Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 table top game (1987 - present). I will attempt to compare each of these franchises to Starcraft in order to understand just how inspired Starcraft really is. There are other sci-fi works you could compare Starcraft to, however I consider these to be the most influential, so for the sake of keeping this article at a reasonable length, I will only examine them.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is heralded as one of the key novels that helped, at the time, define a new genre of literature known as military science fiction, which is construed as an interstellar war conflict between military factions and/or aliens. As a basic summary of the novel, it is a first person narrative about a young soldier named Juan Rico, who ventures into a military organization called, “the Mobile Infantry,” which is made up of a futuristic unit of people in powered-armour known as the “Terran Federation,” who are fighting in an interstellar war against an alien threat to humanity known as the, "Arachnids," referred to often as “The Bugs.” Sound familiar? If you’ve played Starcraft, or simply looked at a screenshot, it certainly should. Well to be fair, due to the fact that the novel was written fifty or so years ago, you could say that Starcraft is merely paying homage to Heinlein’s works, much the same as many other authors and film makers have done before Starcraft.