With Battle.net, Diablo and WOW behind them, it's probably fair to suggest that PC gamers have spent more millions of hours on Blizzard's games than any other company's. Which is mental. With that in mind, we recently spent an hour chatting to three team leads on the original, now all working inside Blizzard on StarCraft II.
They are Frank Pearce, the executive vice-president in charge of product development (he oversees all the new games); Bob Fitch, the lead software engineer (he makes the engines and decides on game features); and Sam Didier, senior art director (he makes the world look o-so-pretty, and recently spoke to EG MMO about WOW). In line with their history of fantasy roleplay, if anyone fancies LARPing this, Frank Pearce's voice suggests a paternally-growling Tauren, Bob Fitch is an tinkering Gnome alchemist, and Sam Didier is some sort of excitable Goblin with ten tonnes of hi-ex strapped to his endlessly-whirring noggin.
Eurogamer: Let me take you back to the original product, back to your childhood. It's 1998, Warcraft and Warcraft II have been successes, there's a lot riding on StarCraft and there's problems in development. People are calling it Warcraft in Space, it had a slightly negative aspect at preview, and it took a lot longer than you thought it would do; how does it feel to look back on the pain you went through to birth this amazing product?
Sam Didier: [Sam immediately starts corpsing in the background, presumably at the image of himself giving birth.]
Frank Pearce: Back when the impression was orcs in space, it was mainly the visuals that saved it, so Sam should handle this.
Sam Didier: [Stifling giggles] When we first worked on SC, when we first showed it at CES, we didn't have the look set.
Bob Fitch: And we were also trying to use the first engine for it.
Sam Didier: And we basically took how some of the old Warcraft stuff and, okay this is how the backgrounds were made, let's draw over them and give them a space feel. We did that and it was very rushed and obviously not the coolest thing in the world.
So we went back and redid it, and that was the first game that we used 3D Studio in. For Warcraft II, we made some 3D models and drew over them. This was the first time we actually made them in 3D and went with that. We didn't do a whole lot of touch-up in the art. We took all the basic ideas we wanted to do and started implementing them in 3D and that's what gave SC its look. The earlier one was rushed just so we could have something to show at CES.
Bob Fitch: We were also using the Warcraft II engine at CES, which made it look like just Warcraft II and a half. After we got back, we rewrote the entire engine.
Frank Pearce: When the game came out, a lot of the fans lamented the fact that it was not true 3D because at the time, y'know, 3D games were starting out. Ten years later, it's nice to know that our philosophy of focusing on gameplay was validated. No-one cares that it's not 3D any more; all everyone says is that it's a really fun game.
Eurogamer: A lot of the most beautiful games of history are 2D, like Planescape Torment; is it always a necessity for 3D in the modern day?
Frank Pearce: I would say it depends on the game. There's lots of really compelling experiences that are just small web applications. It's about the experience and the quality of the game.
Eurogamer: The original design of StarCraft was, you've admitted, a bodge-job. Yet when you redesigned you came up with three impressive new races. Where did the inspirations come from? Did you just pull them out of a hat, did you pull them out of (ahem) somewhere else?
Frank Pearce: In Warcraft we took the classic mythological races and we put our own spin to it. We did the same with StarCraft. The Protoss are just a Blizzard spin on your typical grey alien. Super-intelligent, robots, lots of technology, big giant ships. We put our spin on it and turned them from little skinny grey guys into big, imposing grey guys. The basic units of these guys is the Zealot, he's a powerful fighter, great a combat, but they also have the intelligent, spiritual vibe to them where they harken back to the old typical SF alien.
The Terrans are your classic marine guys but with our vibe on them. They were all convicts, hillbillies and biker types, not galactic noble warriors. Their armour is dirty and worn down, they have tattoos, smoke cigars and drink.
And the Zerg stemmed off the all-devouring alien menace and we put our spin on them too. Each of them has their classic SF mythology and with a dose of your Blizzard spin.