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Entry updated 21 October 2016. Tagged: Game.

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Videogame (1998). Blizzard Entertainment (BE). Designed by James Phinney, Chris Metzen. Platforms: Win (1998); Mac (1999); vt Starcraft 64, N64 (2000).

Starcraft is a Real Time Strategy game, played in a two-dimensional overhead view. Its setting owes much to the films Aliens (1986) and Predator (1987). The storyline follows a war between three factions in a Space Opera future, the Terran Confederacy (analogous to Aliens' Marines), the arthropodal Hive-Mind Zerg (which share something with H R Giger's Aliens) and the Psionic Protoss, whose adherence to a strict code of honour is reminiscent of Predator's eponymous hunters. While the narrative is strictly linear (see Interactive Narrative), it is unusual in the way it positions the player as a member of all three races in turn, immersing them in every side of the conflict over the course of three separate campaigns which make up a single story. The game begins with the player, in the role of a magistrate for the Confederacy, arriving on a colony world where they must confront an invasion by the Zerg. During the course of the campaign, the player character is unjustly condemned by his superiors and defects to a rebel organization, the Sons of Korhal. By its end, the Sons have taken power but the player has lost faith in their motives and again become a rebel. In the second campaign the player is a newly formed Zerg, initially entrusted with defence against the Protoss, who have followed the Zerg into Terran space in order to exterminate them. Finally, the player becomes a Protoss commander, responsible for protecting their homeworld against a Zerg counter attack. The game ends with the Terran rebels allying with the Protoss to destroy the Zerg's central brain, or "Overmind".

The gameplay is a refined version of that seen in earlier RTSs such as Blizzard's own fantasy game Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (1995 BE, DOS; 1996 Mac, rev vt Warcraft II: The Dark Saga, 1997, PS1, Saturn). Players adopt the roles of tactical commanders, controlling large numbers of units specialized for combat, repair and gathering gas and mineral resources. Games are focused on mining resources (with which new units can be built), constructing various types of buildings (which enable more powerful units to be created), and tactical combat. As in many RTSs, this combination is highly unrealistic when considered as a simulation of actual warfare, but very playable as a game. The three races are asymmetrically balanced (see Worlds in Balance), with different strengths and weaknesses. Campaigns are played through as a series of individual missions; their objectives include such tasks as scouting out hostile positions, infiltration and destruction of the enemy. Starcraft is a highly popular game, both as a single-player experience with well crafted gameplay which depends on a constantly evolving balance of micro- and macroscopic priorities, and as a player versus player game in temporary Online Worlds. The popularity of the online option is enhanced by the inclusion of an editor which allows players to create and distribute their own mission designs. In South Korea, competitive Starcraft play has become a professional sport, with matches broadcast on television.

Starcraft: Brood War (1998 BE, Win; 1999 Mac) is an expansion pack which adds new units and continues the original game's plot. The story concentrates on Sarah Kerrigan, the "Queen of Blades", a Psionic woman who was betrayed by the Terrans and assimilated by the Zerg in the first game. Following the death of the Overmind, she has become the new controller of the Zerg, and is planning an all encompassing war to avenge herself on her former commanders. Meanwhile, a force arrives from Earth to reestablish control over this disputed volume of space. As in the original game, the player serves all three sides in the ensuing conflict, watching as strongly (if crudely) portrayed characters rise and fall through the fortunes of war. In the end, the charismatic villain Sarah Kerrigan is victorious, though her more honourable enemies are allowed to survive.

The next work in the sequence is Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (2010 BE, Mac, Win) designed by Dustin Browder, Chris Metzen, another Real Time Strategy game. This is very much a sequel which builds on the original; it is at once an improved version of what was already an impressive game, and an extension of a cheerfully Clichéd Space Opera narrative with strong overtones of both Military SF and the Wild West. The gameplay is broadly similar to that of its predecessor, though some new units have been added and it is now possible to make permanent improvements to their abilities by researching new technologies between missions (as in the X-Com series). Missions are varied and entertaining; in one the player must retrieve a heavily defended McGuffin from a world whose star is going nova, creating a wall of fire which moves inexorably across the planet's surface. Considered as a narrative, however, Wings of Liberty is incomplete; only the first part of the story, that played from the Terran perspective, is present, with Protoss and Zerg sections expected to arrive as expansions. The player adopts the role of Jim Raynor, a former Confederacy Marine turned outlaw turned frontier marshal turned rebel who was an ally of the player's character in the first part of the original game. A broadly linear Interactive Narrative, with some multilinear elements, follows Raynor's attempts to foment a rebellion against the Terran Dominion, a repressive dictatorship ruled by one Arcturus Mengsk, former leader of the Sons of Korhal. Raynor funds his activities by recovering pieces of an ancient Forerunner artefact (created by a vanished species responsible for Uplifting both the Protoss and the Zerg), and selling them to a secretive Foundation. Soon, the Zerg, the Protoss and the humans become involved in a many-sided war, and Raynor allies himself with the Foundation (which turns out to be a front for a faction within the Dominion) in an attempt to use the now reconstructed artefact to restore the humanity of the Queen of Blades (who Raynor loved, when she was a woman). Ultimately, however, the point of Wings of Liberty is not its story, but its strikingly well crafted gameplay; it is eminently suitable for competitive play online.

The story continues in the expansion Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm (2013 BE, Mac, Win). Kerrigan, transformed back into a human at the end of Wings of Liberty, decides to return to her role as leader of the Zerg after Raynor is apparently killed, and goes on to exact a bloody revenge on Arcturus Mengsk; the tortured romance between rebel leader and hive mistress features prominently. An upcoming final expansion, Legacy of the Void, is expected to conclude the ongoing plot with the return of the mysterious Forerunners.

Related works: Starcraft: Insurrection (1998 Aztech New Media, Win) is an expansion pack including new multiplayer maps and a story which occurs simultaneously with the first campaign of the original game. Starcraft: Retribution (1998 Stardock, Win) is another expansion, including a short storyline and a large number of multiplayer maps. Starcraft Adventures (2000 Wizards of the Coast) designed by Bill Slavicsek, David Eckelberry, Shawn Carnes is a Role Playing Game which uses the mechanics of Alternity (1988). Starcraft: The Board Game (2007 Fantasy Flight Games [FFG]) designed by Corey Konieczka, Christian Petersen is a Wargame which attempts to translate the gameplay of an RTS to a system based around cards, miniature models, and a modular board. Starcraft: The Board Game – Brood War (2008 FFG) designed by Corey Konieczka, Daniel Clark, Robert Kouba is a supplement based on the eponymous Videogame expansion.

Various novels have been written that tie in to the games' storyline. Starcraft: Uprising (2000 ebook) by Micky Neilson is a prequel which deals with the early life of Sarah Kerrigan, while Starcraft: Liberty's Crusade (2001), by Jeff Grubb, is a novelization of the eponymous game's Terran campaign. Similarly, Starcraft: Shadow of the Xel'Naga (2001), by Gabriel Mesta (see Kevin J Anderson), is a prequel to Brood War, while Starcraft: Speed of Darkness (2002) by Tracy Hickman follows some soldiers of the Confederacy during the first Starcraft campaign. These four works are collected in The Starcraft Archive: An Anthology (omni 2007). The series was continued in Starcraft: Queen of Blades (2006) by Aaron Rosenberg, a novelization of the Zerg campaign in Starcraft, and Starcraft: I, Mengsk (2008) by Graham McNeill, which could be described as a Mengsk family saga.

Starcraft Ghost: Nova (2006) and its sequel Starcraft Ghost: Spectres (2010), by Keith R A DeCandido and Nate Kenyon respectively, are spinoffs from the cancelled First Person Shooter Starcraft: Ghost, which would have featured Psi-Powered Terran infiltration experts known as "Ghosts". Starcraft: The Dark Templar Saga #1: Firstborn (2007), Starcraft: The Dark Templar Saga #2: Shadow Hunters (2007) and Starcraft: The Dark Templar Saga #3: Twilight (2009), all by Christie Golden, concentrate on the Protoss, and serve as prequels to Wings of Liberty. Starcraft: Heaven's Devils (2010), by William C Dietz, deals with the early life of Jim Raynor; Starcraft: Devils' Due (2011), by Christie Golden, is a sequel. Starcraft II: Flashpoint (2012), also by Golden, is a prequel to Heart of the Swarm. Finally, Starcraft: Frontline (2008-2009) is a series of Anthologies in Graphic Novel form, while Starcraft: Ghost Academy (2009-2011) is another sequence of Graphic Novels which focuses on a team of Ghosts, written by David Gerrold and Keith R A DeCandido, and Starcraft (2009-2010) is a Comics series which acts as a prequel to Wings of Liberty. [NT]

see also: Triple A.


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