Thursday, June 13, 2013

Nitpickery Extreme -- Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty

Hey y'all.





Don't mind me.  I'm just completely disgusted right now.  I just got done watching a let's play of Heart of the Swarm, the expansion to Starcraft: Wings of Liberty, and quite frankly it sucked.  I can't comment on the game mechanics, but the story was the worst thing ever.  Seriously, the writer should be fired.  Granted, games are all about gameplay, and plot is generally the least important aspect of any game.  However, when it comes to Starcraft, it's just not that simple.  The campaign is hugely important to many people, including myself.

You see, I'm a huge fan of the Starcraft games.  Not really for the gameplay, but for the plot.  I simply loved all of the characters and what happened to them (except for Aldaris' death....waaaah), and everything about the plot just drew me into the world in a way that made me absolutely obsess over the Starcraft 2.  I even attempted to write a version of my own (which ran into a brick wall, plotwise), and was involved in a Starcraft mod (which ended up getting messed up by the actual release of Starcraft 2).

I remember the first time I heard about Starcraft 2 coming out.  I was working at Boston Market, and a guy with a Blizzard T-shirt had a friend in the company, and he said that SC2 was in development.  My first impulse was excitement, and then disappointment.  I was disappointed because I knew for a fact that SC2 could never be as awesome as I imagined.  There's just no way it could have lived up to my expectations, and quite frankly, I'd probably have been happy to anticipate SC2 forever.

On the other hand, certainly Blizzard could have interesting surprises in store for those of us who loved the older games.  Only trouble was, it's been so long since the originals came out, that clearly the development team has suffered from turnover.  It's not like the same guys who worked on the original Starcraft were all going to be around 13 years later.  At least some of them would have moved on and retired.  Thus, the plot of Starcraft apparently fell into the hands of those who didn't care about the plot as much.

But I can't just go right into Heart of the Swarm.  What about Wings of Liberty?  It got things off on the wrong foot.  Now that I've seen HotS, Wings of Liberty doesn't seem so bad.  Will that stop me from nitpicking it?  Of course not.

Before I go on ranting and raving, I would like to say that I understand the predicament that Blizzard was in. After all, where do you go from the ending of Brood War?  Literally the game ends right during the "second act", where the climax is obviously right around the corner.  Maybe they should have just made a second expansion pack, and created Starcraft 2 as the next generation of the Koprullu Sector, once the events of this war have taken place.

As it stood at the end of Brood War, Kerrigan had taken over the universe, the Protoss were beaten back and struggling to recover, Mengsk and Raynor had sworn revenge, Zeratul and Raynor had disappeared, Duran was engineering a super powerful race, Earth's only source of information into the K-Sector was destroyed, and only Kerrigan's emotional turmoil keeps her from just obliterating everyone left.  This is not the ideal place to pick up the plot.  I totally understand everything Blizzard struggled with in making the plot post BW.

Their biggest problem was the Protoss/Zerg hybrid situation.  What do these guys look like?  What do they want?  Are they the pinnacle of Xel'Nagan creation, or simply the result of a madman who took advantage of the Xel'Naga?  If the Xel'Naga wanted to make the hybrids, how does the fact that the Zerg destroyed most of them affect their will in continuing the experiment?  Surely some of them would have reconsidered.  Is Duran Xel'Naga?  How will the creatures treat Duran?  Most importantly of all, how do the hybrids affect the game?  They're clearly supposed to be super powerful, but if they're too strong, the game will be too difficult.  If they're too weak, no one will be interested in their plot.

My whole deal with the hybrids has always been that they are about more than simply killing everybody and taking over the universe.  That's typical, boring, and way overdone.  If these hybrids were envisioned by ancient beings, then sure the beings would have had some sort of goal in mind.  I always imagined that they weren't there to kill everyone, but simply make all the races live in harmony and peace -- all under the iron fist of hybrid authority, of course, and thus drawing allusions to Mengsk and the Conclave, being thematically correct.  In the end, though, I'd be fine with many kinds of motives for the hybrids, so long as they weren't simple killers.  These baddies are simply too delicious to waste.

Note that nitpickery always involves spoilers.

-  It was far too comical.  Now, comic relief is fine, but often it was just so goofy that it betrayed the generally hard tone of the original games.  Specifically, it was those news reports with the two reporters.  Their interaction was just so ditzy, simplistic, and comic that I often cringed when they spoke.  I did like the one bit where the girl reporter was interviewing Valerian Mengsk, though.  Overall the comedy wasn't too bad, only at times it felt inappropriate, such as when Tosh is about to die and his voodoo doll only works on Tychus.  That was way too goofy, especially when someone is about to die.

-  The whole internet connection thing is really insane.  You have to log in every 30 days online?  I realize that most people have their internet going on all day, but I find this unnecessary and annoying.  I don't like being hooked up to the internet all the time, as it potentially distracts me from writing -- such as me writing this blog instead of something I can publish.  While granted that Starcraft is a distraction as well, I don't want playing it to hinge on an internet connection.  I want to play it whenever.

I know that Blizz is trying to make sure their games aren't pirated, but it's getting penny wise, pound foolish.  After all, didn't Starcraft and Brood War sell a lot of copies without being hooked up?  And you know what, if I somehow lose my current game disks, I'll buy another copy of Starcraft.   However, these online shenanigans have ensured that I will never buy the Starcraft 2 games.  Well, that and the plot.  Surely I'm not the only one who feels this way.  Hence, Blizzard is losing money by hanging onto their games too tightly.

- No LAN?  I've never participated in LAN parties, but lots of people like them.  Why in the world wouldn't that be allowed?

- Mengsk.  My beloved Mengsk.  He actually made it onto my top ten characters list, because he is so darn interesting.  Or he was.  Instead I have to put up with some crap about "his story has already been told" and forced to watch the shenanigans of his son Valerian.  While I don't mind the concept of Mengsk having a son (I hate Valerian's hair, though), it seems cheap that the gamemakers would try to get rid of him.

Is it because Mengsk is old?  Old characters can be really awesome.  For example, the Bill character in Kill Bill had a lot of depth, and all of this was enhanced by him being an older man going grey.  Mengsk could be the same way, as his years have gained him experience in how to be a tyrant.  Besides, Kerrigan spared him so that he could watch her take over the universe.  Why is he going to be abandoned now?

I've always seen Mengsk as someone who is very good at looking good.  He stinks at practical things, like actual work and tactics, but he knows how to make himself look like a brave leader even when he's not.  The things that they had Mengsk say in Wings of Liberty were so atrociously blatant that anyone older than five could see through them.  Did it ever occur to the writers that perhaps Raynor's evidence against Mengsk would have been more emotionally potent if Mengsk was doing a good job with propaganda?  Instead, it just looks like just another slip-up on Mengsk's part, because apparently Mengsk is too old and stupid to be an interesting madman anymore.  Booooooo.

Look, if Mengsk is going to be a good tyrant, occasionally he has to do good by some people (particularly important or strong people) to get them to do what he wants.  He can't kill or oppress people such as the game portrayed, because that makes him look stupid, especially when he apparently has no hold on the Dominion media.

So let me just finish this up with a few questions: if Mengsk was so pissed off at Kerrigan at the end of BW, wouldn't he prepare to fight her instead of going after Raynor?  Why does he give a crap about Raynor at all?  He can't think well of Jimmy, but at the same time, Raynor's been through about the same things as Mengsk.  They should have established some sort of understanding, right?  At worst Mengsk would simply try to force Raynor to help him against Kerrigan, and he might not even bother to do that.  Possibly one would try to attack Kerri, and then the other join in because of the opportunity.  Like, "I won't watch you fail, Jimmy..." or "You'd think I'd miss this chance, Arcturus?"

-  Also if Mengsk spent tons of money trying to find Raynor, then why was Jim hanging out on Mar Sara, a place Mengsk would know that Raynor has been before and could possibly go again?

- An adjutant with boobs?  That's just plain stupid.  She's a robot, perverts!

- Raynor's motivations were all out of joint.  Surely he misses the real Kerrigan, but why would he be out on such a rampage against Mengsk?  Granted, he'll never love the guy, but unless Mengsk does something really stupid, Raynor doesn't really have a reason to start a rebellion, not with the Zerg going active again.  Raynor isn't a visionary, and has no replacement for Mengsk in mind.  If the Mengsk in this game weren't a complete moron, Raynor would just mind his own sneaky business, and Mengsk would let him live in the hope that Jim would help him get revenge.  Heck, if Jim played his cards right, he could control Mengsk with the emperor's own history.

After all, Jim is the guy who swore he would kill Kerrigan someday.  Surely his vengeful efforts would be directed toward Kerrigan, not Mengsk.  And since Raynor can't battle a huge swarm of Zerg, he really has no other option but to sink into a depression and/or find something else to do with himself.  At the end of Brood War, he disappeared.  So the question then becomes, where did Raynor disappear to, and why?  Again, I sympathize with Blizzard's conundrum, but they could have tried harder.  What possibly could happen with Raynor is that he could find Zeratul, and the two could start making plans to deal with the hybrids.  It's not the best option, but it's a direction.

Actually, possibly a better option would be for Raynor and his Raiders to just run around known space doing odd jobs and trying to help outlying planets survive since Korhal gets most of Mengsk's attention when it comes to rebuilding after the Brood Wars.  Raynor could be making life better for them, and then Mengsk increases taxes or something equally stupid, putting these planets in a bind.  Raynor then attempts to confront Mengsk, but their conflict is cut short by the actions of Kerrigan.  Both of them immediately cease their fighting, as they both would rather see Kerrigan die than bother about their own conflict.  Mengsk then makes propaganda to the effect that he has neutralized the Raynor threat by making him an ally, effectively making himself look smarter in the eyes of those who don't know any better.

Ooh, I like it!

-  Another problem with Raynor's motivation is his fighting against the Taldarim.  Granted, the Tal are nuts.  However, an explanation for their actions doesn't come until Heart of the Swarm, and thus our only explanation for them not being like other Protoss comes from Tychus, a character that nobody fully trusts, including the player.  It's not like Tychus understands what's really going on anyway.  Besides, by treating the Taldarim like a set of cliches created by atheists, this makes the characters shallow, and no character, not even baddies, should be shallow.  Every character is motivated by something, and these guys should clearly have some sort of mysterious motivation for whining like little girls about the Xel'Nagan artifacts.  Even if that motivation is revealed later, the player has to understand why they're doing something.  The trouble is, there's no reason.

Raynor doesn't know the Taldarim are a nutjob cult bent on resurrecting a dead evil.  Neither do the players, because that's not revealed until Heart of the Swarm.  For all we know, these are just some Protoss getting treated like crap just because they have things that Raynor wants.  Jim respects Protoss, and he knows next to nothing about the Taldarim, so he has no motivation to attack them and steal their relics.  He's not the kind of guy that will kill people for money.  It would take any sensible person two seconds to realize that the Mobius Foundation just wants hired guns to rob the Protoss of their stuff.  Raynor doesn't play that game, especially since he's been manipulated by both Mengsk and Kerrigan before.  He's not going to follow some shadowy organization, especially when it means murdering people who have done nothing to him.

-  And if Raynor plans to go after the Zerg, why the crap does he spend so much time against Mengsk and digging up the artifacts?  Frig.  His first thought should be to go after Kerrigan, and her presence in one of the early missions would inspire him to go directly after her instead of aiming for the artifact like the mission intends.

-  Kerrigan's inactivity is unexplained.  Okay, so at the end of Brood War, she decides to give everyone a break, right?  Possibly this is because she figures it's more entertaining to be the Queen of Blades with someone other than mindless monsters under her, and likely the slight remaining humanity in her just honestly doesn't want to kill everyone.  So what's the deal, exactly?  What's she doing?  Again, something Blizzard has to plan out.  If Kerrigan has been content to be peaceful for four years, what suddenly makes her act up again?

The game is never clear about this.  It goes on and on about some sort of prophecy.  Possibly this prophecy is what incited Kerrigan to act, but in front of Zeratul she acts as though she expects the universe is going to end, and there's nothing really she can do about it.  Thus, no particular reason for Kerrigan to get antsy and start attacking human colonies, if she has no real plan against the hybrids.  The game never explains her attachment to the Xel'Naga artifacts, or how she learned of their existence.  This can't be her motivation for attacking humans, as the artifacts were kept by the Taldarim and not a human faction.

It would have been simple enough to say that Kerrigan, in her wanderings, found this prophecy and discovered that it meant the hybrids were coming.  Thus, it could inspire her to attack humans to build up her strength by taking their planets, because of course Kerrigan isn't going to let "her" sector fall prey to anyone but herself.  Thus her motivation would be set up correctly.  After all, she wasn't with Zeratul in the secret mission of BW, so she doesn't know about the hybrids, and has to learn about them somehow.  Maybe this is implied in the game, but since the "prophecy" is scattered about and hasn't been put together or interpreted when Kerrigan talks to Zeratul about it, then nothing makes any sense.  Has she seen it already?  Does she get it already?  If so, why does she bother attacking Zer and his crew?

-  Also, the conversation between Zer and Kerrigan is stupid, and informs the player of nothing.  But the graphics are "cool" so I guess people don't care.

-  What's the deal with the prophecy?  I mean, prophecy is defined as being communications between God or gods or something spiritual and something human (or Toss, I suppose).  Where the heck did it come from?  Who wrote it?  How old is it?  You see, this is the sort of thing that reminds me of the "prophecy" in the Star Wars prequels to where Anakin Skywalker was supposed to bring balance to the force.  Reminding anyone of the Star Wars prequels is always bad.  That, and using a random "prophecy" that came from nowhere and can mean anything is really cheap and stupid as a literary device.

Simply put, erase the whole prophecy thing.  Make it so that these are carvings from a Xel'Naga temple that was destroyed by natural causes, and was never found by anyone, Toss or human.  Kerrigan, through natural expansion, found these remains, or else found Zeratul examining them.  Thus, she could have a flip out moment when she realizes her control isn't as secure as she thinks it is.  Zeratul, still bitter and desperate, would not stop her from learning the truth, as he figures maybe she'll do something about it and perhaps not attack Protoss for a while.  This could possibly set up a conflict between Kerri and Zer later, because he knows about Duran and never told her about him.

- Zeratul acts like a friggin' weirdo.  Actually, he looks like a weirdo.  He's got several different forms in Brood War -- there's his unit portrait, his form in the Protoss cinematic, and the illustration at the beginning of the secret mission.  Seems about right they'd come to make a more stable image.  Seems about wrong they'd design one so ugly.  Ew.....and I don't see the point of that cloth hanging from his face either.

As far as the plot goes, ungh.  Zeratul acts like a herp derp.  He's all surprised to see the hybrid, as though he hadn't seen it before.  He keeps making obvious statements to the player about what to do next, and he's just so melodramatic and sad that it gets annoying just to hear him talk.  In Brood War, Zeratul was full of contemptful, interesting statements.  He went through a lot of crap, but he never lost his resolve and clear thinking.  Well, apparently he lost it between games.

What I hate most is his conversation with Raynor.  He hasn't seen the guy in four years, and the first thing he says is "I bring tidings of doom"?  I literally laughed out loud when I heard that line.  He then goes on with some awkward goofiness before disappearing.

Look, do whatever you want with Zeratul, Blizzard, just keep his personality intact, okay?  Zeratul should simply warn Raynor what Kerrigan is doing, and why, then disappear to talk to the Protoss and investigate the hybrid possibility further, then show up again in later games.  Maybe swing by to see Raynor again, and possibly warn him that the Taldarim are Protoss dissidents who are involved in shady dealings with those who want to create hybrids.  This should serve as a hint towards Duran and his work, and give Raynor an actual reason to attack the Taldarim.  And will make sure Zeratul doesn't bear a striking character resemblance to Derpy Hooves.

-  The origin of the hybrids gets iffy.  Okay, so we know from a downloadable mission produced between Brood War and SC2 that the Confederacy was involved in doing experiments on both Zerg and Protoss.  Given that Duran, the propagator of the hybrids, is a former Confederate, it makes sense that Duran was using the Confederacy for his own ends, and was possibly genuinely pissed off that Mengsk took them down.  Duran eventually decided that Kerrigan was most useful to him, and used her until she no longer suited him.

So why the heck was all this retconned in favor of Mengsk (or possibly Valerian) lab-creating hybrids?  That's stupid.  For one, how much of that stuff survived the Confederacy?  And if the space pirates who discovered this information in the downloadable mission (which was said to be canon) were quickly destroyed, then obviously whoever controls this information wants to keep it private.  Secondly, it's way more dramatic for a schemer and mysterious Duran to control hybrids for his own purposes.  Third, how the crap would Mengsk be able to manipulate DNA in a way that not even the Zerg can?  Fourth, I just hate the idea of Mengsk being able to use hybrids.  It's just so stupid that at some point it would cross Mengsk's mind to go "hey, crossing the genetics of the two races that are humanity's biggest enemies?  Sounds like a genius idea to me!"

Fifth, a retcon is a retcon, and is always cheap.

More than that, I just don't want hybrids to be really boring monsters.  In other words, I hate their portrayal.  So yawn.

- THE OVERMIND ISN'T A BAD GUY??!!!  This is the single stupidest idea in all of Wings of Liberty.  He tried to destroy Aiur, he's a big eyeball who thinks he's the bee knees, he forced Kerrigan into being his slave, Tassadar sacrificed himself to kill the guy, and it's the freaking control brain of the most vicious species in the dang K Sector.  Trying to retcon him into something good is dumb, and invalidates the entire past two games.

Possibly other people have reached this conclusion before me, but one of the biggest reasons sequels of all types fail is that they destroy what people loved about the originals.  For example, the Matrix set up that Neo is the one, Morpheus is a cool hero, machines have overtaken the earth, and the Oracle is a rebel against the machines.  The later sequels ruin everything.  Neo is instead a tool of the machines, Morpheus is a deluded old man, Agent Smith is a greater threat than the other machines, and the oracle is a computer program herself.  Likewise, Star Fox Adventures turns an exciting rail shooter into a third person platformer with cheap puzzles, boring/annoying allies, and tedious enemies.

Destroying what we love with a game or movie is always stupid, and is shocks me every time that someone would be so dumb as to do the very thing that makes their franchise less respectable.  Granted, Wings of Liberty isn't entirely guilty of this, but we'll get to Heart of the Swarm later.  Oh, yes we will.

- Tychus Findlay dies?  Because of Raynor's obsession with Kerri, no less?  Look, Blizz, Raynor swore revenge on her.  It's pretty cheap that he'd kill his BFF from back in the day for the sake of a murderess.  Granted, Tychus deserved it for backstabbing Jim, but I'd like to think that Tychus is more redeemable than Kerri, given that he didn't really want to manipulate Jim and isn't infected with Zerg genetics.

On a literary level, Tychus is an important character.  He's the single biggest tie to the past series, what with his heavy redneck accent and coarse attitude.  Simple put, he's interesting!  In fact, he's one of the more interesting characters in the whole sequel, and second only to Robert Clotworthy (Raynor) in voice acting talent, and some could argue he's better.  Thus, you can't really get rid of this guy without hurting the audience's interest some, not unless you replace him with another character likewise interesting.

Of course, I bring up Tychus because he's interesting on a literary level.  As a nitpick to the game as a whole, it's really quite minor, aside from the fact no one's personality stands out quite like Tychus', and I'm not sure Blizz has the whole characterization thing down, so they really should avoid getting rid of a strength when they have it.

That's all for now.  Could I nitpick this game some more?  More'n likely, but I'm going to leave it be for now.  It's time to prepare for my Heart of the Swarm rant, which shall produce far more bile and ire.  Before we go, though, a few good things about WoL.

- Robert Clotworthy wasn't canned!  Yay!  I thought for a while they were going to get rid of him.  Glad to see they came to their senses.
- Graphics are decent.
- The decision system proved intriguing.
- Lots of stuff to do and people to talk to between missions.
- Upgrade system looks fun.
- The whole Zeratul side plot could have been a good idea.  It wasn't, but that was only because the plot behind it stank.  Having these memory missions was a good idea in and of itself.

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