"After Dark" is our new, experimental podcast series. By "experimental," we mean "shorter than the normal podcast." In the premiere, you'll hear Tim and Richard talk about StarCraft II, a clever little indie game from the makers of "Blackthorne." Parents beware: One of these men is shirtless.
[Sultry horn Music]
Tim Spaeth: Welcome to GameCritics After Dark, an experiment in mini-podcasting. These are going to be intimate conversations with our critics about the games they've been playing and reviewing. My guest this week is Richard Naik, author of our recently posted StarCraft II review. Welcome, Richard.
Richard Naik: Hey, Tim. I got to say: Your title sounds like we're recording a softcore porn.
Tim Spaeth: Well, I did say it was going to be an intimate conversation.
Richard Naik: I know, and...yeah. [Nervous chuckle]
Tim Spaeth: Are you ready to get intimate?
Richard Naik: I'm as ready as you are, buddy.
Tim Spaeth: So StarCraft II: fairly big game. Arguably the most anticipated game of all time. Is it daunting writing a review for such an important game?
Richard Naik: Actually, it kind of was. I think this is probably the longest review that I've ever written. I think it clocked in somewhere around 1400 words. But, yeah. Because the original StarCraft had such a big cultural impact on the culture of gaming in general, trying to write a review of its successor and trying to put it into the proper context was a challenge.
Tim Spaeth: I don't know how you approach the review-writing process: if you sit down in front of your computer and just start typing out notes. About how long did you stare at a blank sheet of paper before you actually dove into the writing?
Richard Naik: Actually staring at a blank sheet of paper, probably not long at all. I started writing the review when I was about half to maybe two-thirds done with the campaign, and then after I had played my first two placement matches. I started writing it then. I was writing notes and stuff, obviously, as I was playing. But it's not really that difficult for me to actually start writing, once I get a good feel for it.
Tim Spaeth: Mmm. In terms of the campaign, are you a huge fan of the StarCraft lore? Are you a mythology guy when it comes to StarCraft?
Richard Naik: I am, but I've never actually read any of the books or the extra stuff that's not in the game. But I do really enjoy the StarCraft universe as it was presented in the original game and in Brood War. So, I guess that's accurate.
Tim Spaeth: I kind of look at StarCraft lore the way I look at Halo lore. I get that people are obsessed with it and really into it and write the fanfiction for it. I don't personally get it, but I respect people's rights to get into it.
Richard Naik: I'd call the StarCraft lore a lot better than the Halo lore, but, yeah. I see what you're saying.
Tim Spaeth: Now, in your StarCraft II review, which as I mentioned, is posted on the site and I hope people have checked it out or will at the conclusion of this little conversation, you said the story is something of a failure? Something of a disappointment? Is that accurate?
Richard Naik: Yeah, I was, and I don't really want to spoil anything for anyone. The thing that I was most disappointed with out of the entire story—and really, the entire game—is at the very, very, very end. So I won't mention any specifics. However, I will say that the story is pretty unfocused. I don't think that having 22 or 23 Terran missions and then there's those five Protoss missions that are in there, but most of the time you're playing as the Terrans. As a result, the story feels very unfocused. I don't think 20 plus missions is really necessary to tell the story of the Terrans and of Jim Raynor.
Tim Spaeth: You were very vocal before the game came out about the lack of the Zerg and the Protoss campaign.
Richard Naik: I think that it would have been better served by the way that they did it in the first game. There were ten missions dedicated to each race, so you basically saw the same story from three different perspectives: first from the Terrans, then from the Zerg and then from the Protoss. In StarCraft II, or at least in Wings of Liberty, the story meanders around a lot of different subplots, and some of them aren't really all that interesting. It serves to take away from the focus of the story which was present in the first game. So, yeah, I was fairly disappointed with it.
Tim Spaeth: I'm only about halfway through. In fact, I just finished the last Protoss mission. I think the biggest failing of the story are the characters and, specifically, the dialogue.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: There's no texture to the dialogue; there's no depth. The characters are talking solely about the plot: "This is the mission we were just on; this is the mission we're about to go on." It's like: "Hey, Jimmy! The Zerg were tough on that last mission!" and "Hey! There's a blue artefact on a Protoss colony. We got to go there." That's the dialogue.
People have drawn comparisons to Wing Commander in this game, because between missions you're in the cantina and you're on the bridge and you're talking to characters. But in Wing Commander—and you can hear Brad trembling in anger right now—the pilots talked about their families. They talked about their lovers; they talked about their life before the war and what they were hoping to do when the war was over. They were characters with motivations, and in StarCraft it seems like Raynor and his buddy and the captain, they're just there to talk about what you've already experienced in the missions. It was really disappointing.
Richard Naik: You just need to work on your Tychus impression, Timmeh.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter]
Richard Naik: Yeah, I totally agree with you about that. And that's like I was saying before, where there are so many different little subplots [that] they don't really have time to focus on a lot of people that actually could be interesting. For example, I really did not like Ariel Hanson. She was really a distraction from the main storyline. Everything you do regarding her has nothing to do with the artefact. It has nothing to do with stopping the Zerg. It just has everything to do with saving these colonists that really don't have anything to do with the main storyline at all. So, yeah. I agree with you there.
Tim Spaeth: I was going to say: When you said "Ariel Hanson," I had no idea who you were talking about. But she's the lady who's in the lab?
Richard Naik: Yeah. She's the scientist.
Tim Spaeth: That's right. Gotcha. That's how memorable she is.
Richard Naik: She's the vapid love interest, basically.
Tim Spaeth: She's the girl on the ship.
Richard Naik: Yeah, well, she's one of the girls on the ship.
Tim Spaeth: Maybe I haven't met any others, but so far, I've just met her.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: I want to talk about the missions for a second. My perception of the gameplay is that it's not really an RTS. It's not really a real-time strategy game in the single-player campaign. Again, I'm only halfway through, but I feel like Blizzard has introduced a lot of World of Warcraftian elements into the single-player, in that if you just follow the directions, if you listen to what the computer is telling you to do, you can pretty much pass every mission and get the completion achievement for it.
If it tells you to build siege tanks, build some siege tanks. If it tells you to put them in Siege Mode on top of the cliff and you do that, you're pretty much fine. I don't think you need to be that fast on your feet. I don't think you really need to employ much strategy. It's kind of a dumbed-down approach, but as a guy who doesn't really care for RTS, I found it very accessible. I found it very fun, actually playing the missions. Would you say that that's true, and would you agree with that? Does that hold true for the second half of the game?
Richard Naik: I agree on the accessibility part, because I think that the single-player actually does do a pretty good job of telling you the basics of how everything works, and—and least in the later missions—preparing you for the multiplayer.
It makes you think so fast. But as far as there being no strategy at all, for some of the missions, I would agree with that because a lot of them were pretty easy. But there were a few where I actually had to try it multiple times before I finished it, and I had to alter my plans for each time. I think the final mission I had to do three times before I actually got it, and then the final Protoss mission is something where I actually had to plan something out. It's that thing where you have to kill 1500 of them within a certain amount of time. My first two tries, I was getting to 1400 and just getting overwhelmed. But it's like: "Okay, how do I cause as many deaths as possible in an extremely short amount of time?" So, yeah. There was some strategy there.
Tim Spaeth: Quick story about that mission: I literally finished that mission about ten minutes before we started recording tonight, that one where you had to kill the 1500 Zerg. My laptop battery died at 1486.
Richard Naik: Oh. [chuckles in sympathy]
Tim Spaeth: I didn't realize I had disconnected from the wall, and so my laptop went into suspend mode. I had to re-plug it back in. But when you plug back in, you are disconnected from battle.net, and I wouldn't have gotten the achievement. So I had to reload a save and redo the mission, essentially. It was very embarrassing and infuriating.
Richard Naik: That sucks.
Tim Spaeth: But that's life on battle.net, and life connected to the Internet at all times.
Richard Naik: Yeah; yeah. The Internet is the home of the Rage Quit.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] So I'm going to make a controversial statement. I'd like you to comment on it, and this will serve as our transition into the multiplayer discussion. I believe that the single-player was made for Blizzard fans, and that the multiplayer was made for StarCraft fans. Would you agree with that, or do I need to explain it further?
Richard Naik: I think you need to explain it further.
Tim Spaeth: Since 1997, 1998, whenever StarCraft 1 came out, lots more people playing computer games in general. Many, many millions of people playing World of Warcraft. And any time you launch World of Warcraft, for the last two years, there's a launcher and you get an ad for StarCraft. So there's people playing WoW who've never head of StarCraft, but they see this ad and they think: "Oh! Warcraft? StarCraft! I'll try it out!"
So as we said, Blizzard makes it very, very accessible. But I would guess that if those, let's say, 500,000 people who are just sampling StarCraft because they were WoW fans go into multiplayer, they are going to get annihilated—completely destroyed, wiped off the face of the earth, discouraged and unable to play ever again because they will just be so depressed about it. That happened to me. When I played my placement matches, I lost all five of them in a row, probably within six minutes per each match. [Chuuckles] It was devastating.
Richard Naik: Can I ask what type of game you were playing? Was it just one on one?
Tim Spaeth: It was 1 v. 1. I was playing Terran each time, because that was the only group I knew from the single-player. And there I was, building up my forces, building my barracks and getting my workers out and so forth.
Richard Naik: Preparing your flagship, the Tomarkin?
Tim Spaeth: Exactly. So I'd be building up my forces, and then all of the sudden, six Zergling would come in—six little, tiny Zergling, and they would completely wipe me out because I had built one Marine at that point. There's very little in the single-player to prepare you for the speed at which you must play the multiplayer. When you dove into multiplayer, were you as overwhelmed as I was? Did you have much success?
Richard Naik: Oh, absolutely. I was completely overwhelmed. I was getting destroyed. I was playing 2 v. 2 and 3 v. 3, the placement matches, and I lost my first four. My first couple, I was getting destroyed. But on the third one, I was actually starting to pick up on the speed of things. In the multiplayer, you have to focus on doing one thing. You have to focus on getting 12 Stalkers out as fast as possible, or you have to focus on getting your air power set up as fast as possible.
You can't really do what you do in the single-player and just have fun building stuff up. It is fun building stuff up, but you have to have an order of stuff to do in your head. I finally won a placement match, 3 v. 3. I was quite proud of myself, because I actually did something useful in that game. That had never, ever happened before. And then I promptly was crushed again in the last match. So I went one for five on my placements.
The game is hard. The multiplayer is hard; there is no real getting around that. But the reward of watching a very well-built machine beat your opponent is pretty gratifying. So yeah, it's tough, but no risk, no reward, so to speak.
Tim Spaeth: Um-hm. I get the impression that there is research and study and charts that you have to make in order to be successful. I am incredibly impressed at the matchmaking: they place you with people of a comparable skill level. But I think that there is a baseline skill level that you need for that to take. I find myself below that skill level, so that I am at the bottom of my ladder. I am as far to the bottom as I can be. The problem with me is, my brain is just not wired for real-time strategy. I am a turn-based guy; I need time to think. I don't like being out of control. That's the kind of gamer I am, so I think Civ V is going to be more my speed. Richard, do you think you're going to put in the time? Do you see yourself climbing the ladder in StarCraft II?
Richard Naik: No, I don't see myself climbing a ladder. However, I do see myself getting on and having fun in the Unranked matches. I played the placement matches just to see how I measured up, but I really have no intention of giving up my social life or giving up everything else that I enjoy in life to try to become good at StarCraft. I enjoy playing it from time to time; I'll play a quick match now and then, but I'm not obsessed with it. So, no, I'm not going to be climbing the ladder.
The practice matches aren't particularly easy, either, unless you're willing to...Once you know the build order and you have a beginning gameplan, then you should be able to do okay, and at least be somewhat useful. Even, again, I really don't like playing the 1 v. 1 matches. I always do 2 on 2 or 3 on 3, just because there are more targets than me.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] Less pressure, yeah.
Richard Naik: Yeah. It gives me more time to do cool stuff.
Tim Spaeth: Like I said, I'm phenomenally impressed—phenomenally impressed with the multiplayer infrastructure, but all I could think about as I explored it was Diablo III.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Put the placement matches, the ladder system, the challenges, the friend system, the matchmaking—Blizzard is going to put all of that and stuff we haven't even thought of into Diablo III, and that just makes me giddy.
Richard Naik: Yeah. The first time I tried the multiplayer matches and I looked at the chatting system, and you compare that to what was in Diablo II? I...man! My expectations for Diablo III just went up. Like, way up.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. It's going to be great when it comes out in 2019.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: As we approach the end of our time together, before this becomes an actual podcast, as opposed to a mini-podcast, a couple closing thoughts from me on StarCraft, and then, Richard, I'll give you the final word. Like I said, I'm not an RTS guy. I know myself all too well. I bought this game more as a curiosity—as a Blizzard fan, but more as a curiosity. I wanted to know what a game would look like that was made with an unlimited budget, unlimited time, unlimited people.
And sure enough, it's hard to look at StarCraft and not see one of the most polished, content-packed, quality games really ever made. But it's really just not a game for me. It's kind of like, I can recognize Beethoven as being a genius even if I never listen to Beethoven and really don't particularly care for his music. I can recognize that he's a genius, and I think it's the same thing here with StarCraft. It's not a game for me, but I recognize its brilliance.
Richard Naik: I think that's a really good way to put it. I have not played an RTS myself in several years. The last one I put any significant time into was Warcraft III. I have enjoyed RTSs in the past, but I really haven't been playing them too much in the past five years or so. So I wouldn't really consider myself a hardcore RTS fan, but I do enjoy them from time to time.
Tim Spaeth: Well, Richard, I want to thank you for joining me on the first GameCritics After Dark.
Richard Naik: Welcome. It was very intimate.
Tim Spaeth: It really was. Is your shirt off?
Richard Naik: My shirt actually is off.
Tim Spaeth: Is it, really? [Laughter]
Richard Naik: Yeah. I got a sunburn today on my back and it hurts, so I'm not wearing a shirt.
Tim Spaeth: You know what's funny? My laptop, my gaming laptop, I was playing StarCraft, actually burnt my legs.
Richard Naik: Uh-huh.
Tim Spaeth: So I'm also burnt, but I am wearing a shirt. I was just joking about that, and I'm a little creeped out. Regardless—
Richard Naik: Okay. You don't have to put that in there.
Tim Spaeth: No; it's going in. It's going in, because I want people to...It's all about the visual, the picture we're painting in people's minds. GameCritics After Dark, for those who are listening, you can read Richard's entire review and find out what score he gave to StarCraft II by visiting GameCritics.com. Leave your feedback as well. Tell us what you think of this little After Dark experiment. Richard, thanks again. And from all of us at GameCritics, I'm Tim Spaeth. Good night and bonne chance.