With Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Blizzard Entertainment established itself as a heavy-hitter in the field of real-time strategy games. A noticeable improvement on its predecessor, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, Warcraft II added new levels of complexity to the genre. Now the folks at Blizzard are set to prove they're not just a bunch of one-orc wonders. Starcraft, their newest real-time war game, promises to hold as many surprises and innovations as Warcraft II.
Not that these innovations will be obvious at first glance. Starcraft will follow the Warcraft structure closely: players must gather resources and allocate them to building units and structures. But, despite surface similarities and the somewhat deceiving title, Starcraft is not just "Warcraft in Space." Its most notable new feature will be its emphasis on distinctions between the species. Bill Roper, Blizzard's Director of Third Party Development, explained: "I tend to think of Warcraft as being kind of like chess. You have similar pieces, and the strategy involves the different ways you use those pieces against the other player. Because of the differences between the species, Starcraft will allow you to develop very unique strategies based on which species you are playing, and will require you to think of different strategies to combat the other two species."
What distinguishes each of the three species goes beyond mere unit types and attributes; the underlying technology used to build the units and structures will be completely unique from species to species. The Terrans, a humanoid race that will be the most familiar to Warcraft players, utilize traditional technologies and methods, with designated workers who construct structures in which units are created. The second species available to the player, the Protos, will utilize a more mechanistic technology. For instance, one of the units available to the Protos is a carrier, which automatically builds a defensive fleet of fighters. As the player allocates more resources to the carrier, more fighters are created. These autonomous fighters will defend the carrier and any area in which it is stationed. The final species is the Zerg, whose technology is entirely biological in nature. As the Zerg, the player will constantly be creating pupae, which can be instantaneously morphed into any combat unit or structure.
Balancing these three diverse species will not be easy. Roper described Blizzard's unusual plan for leveling the playing field: "Some species will definitely have advantages over others. What we may do is take a 'rock-paper-scissors' approach, though not so drastic. Rock won't always beat scissors, but rock will have a definite advantage over scissors. But there's always paper to balance things out."
Of course, Starcraft will feature all the options that made Warcraft a huge success, and then some. While the incredibly simplistic, mouse-driven interface will still be utilized, it will be slightly altered so players can get more information while numerous units are selected. The graphic engine will be improved, and will offer a more rendered, hi-tech feel. And the multi-player options will be another strong feature, permitting head-to-head play over modem and direct link, and up to eight players over a local area network. Starcraft will also utilize Blizzard's battle.net server, which lets anyone with an Internet connection play network games with players all over the world, for free.