If you're reading this column, you probably don't need me to tell you that (1) "Starcraft 2" came out this week, and (2) it's probably the biggest PC. gaming story of the decade. Gamers have been
anticipating the latest installment of the franchise for 12 years; while they waited; they've been playing its predecessor incessantly.
But despite its absolutely glowing reviews,
"Starcraft 2" isn't the game it could've been. For the last 12 years, Blizzards' developers have been toiling away on a product that they knew they couldn't fundamentally change - they're prisoners of
their own success. The vast majority of "Starcraft" fans love the game so much that any significant deviation from the formula, aside from a graphic update, would've elicited shrieks of outrage.
This is a common phenomenon in the gaming space when it comes to cult hits or mega-blockbusters. "Fallout 3," which was released back in 2008, had a core of embittered haters who
despised developer Bethesda for its decision to bring out the game with a first-person perspective, among other things. Another game currently in development, "X-Com: UFO Defense," is getting a
similar update, and fans of the cult classic are totally writing off the possibility that the new game could be any good at all.
Blizzard has been clear that it's not interested in
improving or innovating on the "Starcraft" formula -- only on bringing it up to a 2010 polish. Lead developer Dustin Browder told Gamasutra that the team wasn't really trying to change anything about
the 1998 classic. "We're not trying to be innovative," he said. "We're not trying to change for change's sake. We're just trying to make quality, and we definitely felt there were some things in the
previous game that were high quality, that we weren't super confident we could do much better."
It's a unique feature of gaming that a creative product that's admittedly not innovative
can still be wildly successful -- both critically and commercially. Imagine going to a movie or reading a book where the creator openly admitted that there wasn't anything especially new. The reason
that sequels can be non-innovative but still successful is simple: The best games leave players craving more of the same, and it's relatively easy just to give it to them.
I hold out
hope, though, that it won't always be this way -- more of the same isn't a great way to move the medium forward. With its enormous budget and huge development timeline, "Starcraft" devs had a chance
to do something really new -- but it was much safer to give the fans what they wanted. Did they make the right call? What do you think?