25 Years of Blizzard

Growing up, there was always a lot of gaming going on. Day to day, it could’ve been a table top classic like Monopoly or Dungeons & Dragons, or one of the many games we had on consoles. Those naturally would be more varied, but in the mid 90’s my family brought home a PC game that hooked my Dad, brother and I. That game was Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. And it ended up starting a life-long love affair I didn’t even realize I had with a development house with one of the best records in gaming: Blizzard Entertainment.

Original known as Silicon & Synapse, by 1995, Blizzard hadn’t had a big hit yet and had done some smaller projects for both Computer gaming and consoles like the Super Nintendo. While the original Warcraft garnered critics praise, it had not become a big hit. That is not until the sequel popularized online Real-Time Strategy gaming. And that is what managed to hook my family into it, that after the story, and the baked-in scenarios, there was still more to offer that could be different every time.

But, it was more then just online gameplay. That was a bonus. The game itself was relatively easy to understand, even for a kid who was in first grade. The game also had personality in spades. Through the house while playing Warcraft II, the sounds of many a loyal peasant and footman could be heard. “Yesh m’lord,” “For the Alliance,” and even special phrases like “Don’t you have a kingdom to run”?  The fact that the people under your command had such a personality made it fun and not quite as serious as other games in the genre were. But Warcraft was blown out of the water with a release in 1998 by the name of Starcraft.

Where Warcraft II was about Orcs vs. Humans, Starcraft had a more complex plot line involving three races, the Terrans, Protoss, and the Zerg. These three races become locked in a struggle to control the galaxy that sees members of government trying to stop the heroes at every turn, or rising up against their superiors. But even despite the serious plot, it still retained it’s charm by giving distinct personalities to primary characters and the races overall. But looking at Starcraft itself, it’s apparent now to say that Starcraft laid the groundwork for eSports. Starcraft ended up becoming a huge online behemoth that was in constant play at homes and in tournaments worldwide until about 2010. And that is perhaps it’s greatest legacy. My family never participated in any of these tournaments, but we did have LAN matches between ourselves that ended in one of two ways. Either my brother would launch what’s known as a Zerg rush, crippling his opponents early, or Dad would be methodical in his approach and have me fail an attack only for him to retaliate before I could recover. It was good times that seem far away now. We enjoyed it so much, we even eventually picked up the Nintendo 64 port. Wasn’t a bad way to experience the game but it was… harder without a mouse.

A few years after the release of Starcraft came, my Dad picked up a sequel to one of Blizzard’s games that I hadn’t been allowed to play, but had watched some of: Diablo. Diablo II was a game that I didn’t connect with as well, and I imagine that’s because it was such a different game. In the Diablo series, it’s up to you to lead a charge against the demons and lords of Hell itself. And along the way you get a lot of loot. I didn’t understand the mechanics well enough to really grasp the game or get far into it, but it would influence me enough later in life to get excited for Diablo III and to pick it up.

The games of Blizzard continued to be influential as I continued to grow up, as I played the games I already loved over and over again, but the only game that released before I graduated High School after Diablo II was Warcraft III in 2002. Warcraft III brought the series and Blizzard into the 3D realm, and they added two more races, the Undead and the Night Elves. It made for a much more layered and challenging experience, one that I would love to get back to now that I may have a better grasp of the mechanics.

After High School, I ended up getting a job with Wal-Mart’s electronics department in 2007, and ended up working with a couple of guys that were big into another game that changed my perception of what a game could be: World of Warcraft. I wasn’t into it near as much s they were, but it was so crazy to me to have this entire other world to explore and actually see other people roaming the land of Azeroth and be able to interact with them. It was especially mind-altering for me as before I had played online games where you might meet someone for a game and then never hear from them again. But World of Warcraft actively encouraged you to meet with people, and not only get to know them but trust in their abilities. It’s a feeling that has carried over to the newest games I’ve played from Blizzard, like Diablo III and Overwatch.

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While Diablo III was more of the same, but prettier for the series, it had an ease of use about that made it so anyone could play it, and the barrier I experiences all those years ago with it’s predecessor was gone. The console release made it even better by having multiplayer on the same couch. But I haven’t felt as connected to a game as I have lately with Overwatch.

On paper, Overwatch feels like another shooter. But like with so many of Blizzard’s games, the characters make the biggest difference. In it, you have men and woman of different backgrounds and ethnicities, robots, and even a gorilla to choose from. and each of these characters has it’s own abilities and weapons. The maps you play in also look lived in, with visual clues sprinkled throughout that hint towards events in the game’s lore. But it also exemplifies that teamwork aspect I first felt in the raids of World of Warcraft. You aren’t the lone soldier able to do everything on your own, but someone that must rely on the abilities of your team to achieve a common goal.
Since 1991, Blizzard has crafted wonderful games that emphasize characters and gameplay before anything else. The games have shaped what I expect out of games, and have given me a plethora of memories related to playing them. It didn’t occur to me that Blizzard had been such a big part of my gaming life until this weekend when Blizzcon (they’re own convention) showed a retrospective video that you can see here. (Opens a new window/tab to YouTube).

If you haven’t played one of the games in the Blizzard library, do yourself a favor and fix that now. Below I have links to where you can download a variety of the games mentioned here as well as some of the other popular games available. I hope you enjoy
them as much as I have. Happy gaming to all! And to Blizzard: thank you for all of the memories past, present, and still to come.

Starcraft – (PC Only) $15 with expansion

Diablo II – (PC/Mac) $10 + a $10 expansion

Warcraft III – (PC/Mac) $10 + a $10 expansion

Heroes of the Storm – (PC/Mac) Free

Heathstone – PC, Mac, iOS, and Android Free

Starcraft II: Complete Trilogy (PC/Mac) $60

Diablo III Battle Chest (PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3) – $30 [Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will not receive new content!]

Overwatch: Origins Edition (PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4) $60, includes bonus goodies for most of the newer games on this list!

World of Warcraft (PC/Mac) $20 to start, free to try

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Star Trek at 50 – The Human Adventure Continues

Pop culture anniversaries seem to be a dime a dozen lately, but there’s not very many that can claim to still be making new fans 50 years after it’s initial creation. Star Trek has done exactly that. For the uninitiated, Star Trek was a TV Series that aired on NBC between 1966 and 1969. During that time, it aired for three seasons and 79 episodes. However, the show didn’t garner much in ratings at the time and was canceled. But, throughout the 70’s, the show became a hit in syndication, and Paramount attempted to create a second series, known as Phase II. However, after much behind-the-scenes drama (seriously, lots of drama) and the successful releases of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, the initial pilot was rewritten into 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Since then, Star Trek has cultivated 12 (with one more on the way) films, over 700 episodes of television through 5 different series, and has gone on to influence more than a few scientific inventions and discoveries. And that’s all fine and dandy if you like behind the scenes info, but what about what is truly at the center of every Star Trek adventure?

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Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) defending Lt. Commander Data’s (Brent Spiner) ability to be his own person and not property in “Measure Of A Man”.

The characters and moral dilemmas take center stage in any truly great sci-fi story, and the best of what Star Trek has to offer exemplifies this. Take an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s second season, The Measure Of A Man. In it, Lt. Commander Data (played by Brent Spiner) is taken to trial and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) defends him. And what is he on trial for? Whether or not Data, who is an android, is the property of the Federation or a sentient being. It calls into question what exactly makes up a true being, and when we build robots, are we not creating a race of beings? It further questions how far would you go to fulfill your own duties, even if you don’t agree with them? Such questions, plots, and strong character-driven moments are at the heart of what makes Star Trek a success.

At the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Enterprise goes to warp and viewers are presented with a single sentence: “The human adventure is just beginning.” That has been the cornerstone of each series so far. The Next Generation sees Picard and crew go on trial for the crimes of humanity against itself as Q, a god-like entity, challenges the crew of the Enterprise-D to show him that humanity has evolved beyond it’s troubled past. Deep Space Nine was a show tackling a lot of different issues, chief among them, religion and rebellion during times of war. Voyager hearkens back to The Original Series by throwing Captain Kathryn Janeway and crew to the other side of the galaxy where they meet new races and worlds on their way home. But Enterprise was the most unique show of the bunch. Enterprise chose to turn back the clock and has us see the Federation being formed when humanity first starts to truly explore the stars.

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Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) discuss giving Nero (Eric Bana) leniency as he looks on from the view screen.

In each of these series, there is a deliberate choice to create very unique characters that tackle subjects the majority of television doesn’t dare explore. Things like the aforementioned qualifications of sentience, sexuality, and of how often what is right or wrong can fall into a gray area. But to me, Star Trek has shown me that when you have a disagreement with someone, there is always a solution that is better than the initial idea.

The Federation, more often then not, seeks to find peace in the galaxy. That desire is reflected in each captain’s actions. Even in the 2009 film, Captain Kirk asks if Nero wants assistance while his ship begins to be ripped apart by the black hole. Nero adamantly refuses by saying he would rather witness the death of his homeworld a thousand times over. Yikes. Point is, diplomacy is at the forefront of what the Federation hopes to achieve. Is it perfect? No, just look at Star Trek Insurrection. The Federation is capable of heinous acts, but for the most part Star Trek has shown me that humanity can overcome it’s greatest obstacles and push ever farther into space and other frontiers.

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San Francisco as depicted in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

And that’s what I see and get out of Star Trek. It creates a future for Earth and for humans that is nothing short of wondrous. Where we as a species have shed our prejudices, and collectively strive to make humanity the best that it can be. And an ideology where peace and negotiations take precedence over waving the biggest stick. It gives me hope that the squabbling I see in our current world will eventually give way to something prosperous.