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starcraft retcon

Editor's Note: See SC:L's Retcons Archive for a complete listing of retcons.

With the development of a new game in the StarCraft franchise as well as the introduction of the new stories and characters that comes with it, balancing the existing lore and the new stories that Blizzard wants to tell becomes harder. For this reason, Blizzard has introduced several retcons, or amendments to previous works or how those works are interpreted. Retcons introduce inconsistencies into a franchise’s universe, and thereby weaken it. They should be avoided and only used to improve the lore and fix previous errors or inconsistencies. With single-player being one of the pillars of StarCraft, and a major selling point for StarCraft II, lore consistency should be a priority. Anybody who has immersed themselves into a story wants to believe that that story could be real. It is difficult to enjoy a universe that is inconsistent. Lord addicts are not the only people bothered by these inconsistencies; anybody who is playing through the game or even wants to order a book is thinking about the lore, so it is of value to pay attention to retcons.

If the current story cannot be told without contradicting previous works in the same universe, then the story being told should be reevaluated. Blizzard understands this to some degree. They have done a good job lately with lore consistency; however, it's unfortunately mostly due to the fact that the latest stories have all been self-contained and leave no room for contradiction. The story "Twilight Archon," from volume three of the Frontline series, was not one of these, as it dealt with the invasion of Aiur. In the story, the length of time between the beginning of the Zerg invasion and the call to evacuate Aiur was relegated to a mere hour by one of the character’s dialog. This is essentially an entire episode from the game of StarCraft which is tossed aside, and it becomes harder to take this universe seriously.

The last book that novelized a part of the original StarCraft, Queen of Blades, was replete with errors. Yet, Chris Metzen, Vice President of Creative Development at Blizzard, said this about the novel:

These books specifically are kind of the definitive take in my mind, which means we got a chance in Queen of Blades to show you a lot of scenes we could not show in the game. When does Raynor actually meet these guys? When does Tassadar and Zeratul actually hook up and meet? That's a huge part of the game that we never show. How does Tassadar, this Executor of the Protoss, this really talented, driven guy, get jumped into this whacked cult that his bosses hate and by the end of it become this Twilight Messiah and take down the monster alien of the galaxy. How did that all happen? We never actually touch any of it in the game. I don't even know if it occurred to me that we didn't when we published it... talk about a galaxy-sized hole..

For a novel written in 2006, and also bearing Metzen's seal of approval, the lack of attention to detail is unacceptable. So should Blizzard stick to only self-contained stories? No. There is light at the end of the tunnel. First, the onus should be placed on authors to research their setting more. Graham McNeill and Christie Golden have done great jobs with this. Second, Blizzard should focus on coming up with creative solutions to problems instead of retconning them away. In this article, we will aim to put forth creative alternatives to existing problems and retcons.

Looking Ahead: Wings of Liberty and Beyond

Wings of Liberty contained nearly twice the amount of dialog of StarCraft and its expansion combined, so managing it all likely posed quite a challenge. We will refer to retcons in this article using the word’s broadest sense - in that retcons include not only direct contradictions but changes in how previous facts were interpreted by fans. To Blizzard’s credit, the number of strict retcons in Wings of Liberty were only a few. See our retcons listing for a complete archive. In this section, we will highlight some of the discrepancies from the game as well as other concerns that we have.

Protoss

According to the Dark Templar saga, the most finely trained human telepath is supposed to be pitiful compared to the average run-of-the-mill Protoss, and Protoss can also stun humans simply by raising their mental voice. However, Colin Phash, a Terran with a PI of 7.5 can explode Zerg heads (something that regular Protoss don’t seem able to do in battle), and another PI 7 Protoss/Terran hybrid known as Gestalt-Zero single-handedly killed and captured more than several run-of-the-mill Protoss. Protoss are supposed to be the elder race; psionics is part of who they are, so discrepancies such as these should not exist. We suggest that units be outfitted with psionic protection as an explanation for why Protoss don’t simply crush minds in the middle of battle; for example, Terran units could all be outfitted with cheap psi-screens like Esmeralda Ndoci’s Annhilators division, while Zerg units could be protected by the hive-mind link itself, or at least while they are in proximity to it.


Dark Voice vs. Voice in the Darkness


The main villain in the StarCraft II trilogy appears to be an entity known as the Dark Voice, as he is named in a battle.net portrait. It appears that this character is basically the same character from StarCraft: Frontline known as the Voice in the Darkness. There are many similarities such as the name, the fact that both creatures have possessed Dark Templar, and the fact that they both appear to be void entities, so many people have actually assumed they were the same exact entity. However, there are just as many differences as there are similarities. Blizzard recognized this in a recent interview, so they definitely deserve credit for staying on top of this.

Concepts from Books

Blizzard often incorporates concepts from books, but doesn’t use them accurately, especially from the Dark Templar Saga. For example:

Preservers: According to the Dark Templar Saga, Preservers are Protoss who hold the memories of all Khalai Protoss. They are supposed to be so rare, that Artanis himself could not for the life of him find any. Zamara claimed that she was the last preserver, and we have to assume she is accurate, since she has the knowledge of every Khalai who ever died. Zeratul appeared in the last book of the Dark Templar saga, about a year before the events of StarCraft II, and did not appear to know about any additional preservers. But suddenly, in Wings of Liberty, he knows where to find a planet that contains three preservers. This in itself is not a travesty, but the problem is that nothing in the mission depended on the Protoss being called “preservers”. They could have just as well been called “scholars” or “mystics”.

Characters: Two characters from the Dark Templar Saga that were used in Wings of Liberty were Urun and Mohandar. Though not much of Urun’s personality was revealed, he did seem to be very tame in Wings of Liberty, as opposed to his description in the book, where he was highly boisterous and wished to take the fight to the Zerg on Aiur as soon as possible. Mohandar, the tribal leader of the Nerazim tribe, was supposed to be so old that you could see it in every wrinkle of his body. His portrait in StarCraft II was a smooth-faced Void Ray, that neither looked old nor sounded old. This character has been completely miscategorized, but again, he was not required to appear. Any other Protoss could have taken his place, especially considering that the entire mission is simply a vision of an alternate apocalyptic future. We have the same thing with a fan favorite: Tassadar. The portrait is a palette swap of an archon, which doesn’t look much like either the classic Tassadar or the Tassadar from Blizzard’s new artwork. Tassadar’s voice acting and voice editing is highly generic and sounds nothing like the original. For the voice, you can imagine the sound department saying “ok, we need someone to do Tassadar,” and picking whoever was on hand, when Michael Gough, Tassadar’s original voice actor, is likely in the same studio doing voicework for Deckard Cain for Diablo III. The only thing this version of "Tassadar" has that's similar to the old one is the name.

Playing this game gives longtime fans the simple impression that the Blizzard sound and writing departments picked any random person that was on hand to voice minor characters, and that they neither read the books nor played the original game from which these characters have been taken. The only time Blizzard creates consistent universes is when they are making a new one with nothing to build off of, so our suggestion to Blizzard is that next time they wish to take characters from novels, please consider creating new characters instead. This would make the StarCraft universe not seem so small.

Tal’Darim: Tal’Darim was never some sort of blanket term for Protoss fanatics. It was the name given to the Protoss that Ulrezaj specifically manipulated on Aiur with a topical drug called sundrop. The name means, “the forged,” and it was created in opposition to the other Protoss on Aiur, the Shel'na Kryhas, or “those who endure”. While it is possible that enough Tal’Darim could be enslaved with sundrop in many other places, there is no justification in calling them Tal’Darim. This also this brings up another problem with the Tal’Darim faction: sundrop removes a Protoss’s connection to the Khala, so the Tal’Darim tech tree is not supposed to include any Khalai units such as High Templar, Zealots, or Immortals.

Zeratul is surprised to learn things he already knows/suspects:

In addition to muttering basic combat instructions to himself throughout the mini-campaign, Zeratul appears to question things he’s already learned from previous media. Whether this is just a case of poor word choice remains to be seen. When Zeratul runs into the Hybrid Maar he says “A... protoss and zerg hybrid... Gods, an abomination! Who created this atrocity?” Zeratul already knows Duran is creating hybrids from the Dark Origins missions in Brood War.

In Dark Templar Saga: Twilight, Zeratul suspects that Tassadar, like Adun, ascended to a higher plane of existence, and never really died. But when Zeratul meets Tassadar in Wings of Liberty he is surprised that Tassadar is alive: “Tassadar! But... you died... slaying this cursed Overmind!” It is also likely these lines were chosen to introduce these two beings to newer players, though the lines certainly could have had more creativity.


Overmind

In Wings of Liberty, Tassadar reveals that the Overmind was manipulated during his creation to obsessively seek to destroy the Protoss. This retcon makes the Overmind seem like simply somebody’s slave instead of a galactic space monster. It also downplays him as being the good guy the entire time, especially because of the respect Tassadar shows him. But Blizzard claimed in an interview with BlizzPlanet that this isn’t actually a retcon because we never learned the Overmind’s true nature in the original game. This isn’t true for two reasons:

1) Zeratul touched minds with the Overmind and revealed what he saw:


When I slew the Cerebrate on Char, I touched briefly with the essence of the Overmind. In that instant, my mind was filled with its thoughts, and I tell you now our worst fears have come true.

The Zerg were indeed created by the ancient Xel'Naga, the same beings that empowered us in our infancy. But the Overmind grew beyond their constraints, and has at last come to finish the experiments they began so long ago.

Strangely enough, this sounds very similar to what Tassadar claims, but as we can see in Wings of Liberty, Zeratul knows nothing about the Overmind’s imprisonment despite reading its mind. This raises the question of how Tassadar was able to get this information himself.

2) The StarCraft manual describes how the Overmind learned about the Protoss, and it wasn’t because he was enslaved:

Through dissecting the memories of the Xel’Naga, the Overmind was made aware of the myriad races that had at one time or another been influenced by the ancient race. The Xel’Naga had kept a detailed genetic history of each race, giving the Overmind a clear understanding of their respective strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, the Overmind learned of an exceedingly powerful race that lived near the galaxy’s fringe known only as the Protoss. The Overmind knew then that the Protoss and the Zerg would eventually be caught in an inevitable, apocalyptic conflict.

The manual also describes why the Overmind sought to assimilate the Terrans, and again, it wasn’t because he was looking for a way out of obeying its directive:


Although a short-lived and seemingly frail species, the Overmind knew that Humanity would be the final determinant in its victory over the Protoss. If it could assimilate the psionic potential of Humanity, the Overmind would have the ability to combat the Protoss on its own terms.

But was the retcon itself worth it? On one hand it appears instrumental for setting the stage for the greater StarCraft II story, and people already assumed that the Overmind was a sort of slave to its instincts. On the other hand, in an attempt to make StarCraft II look more important than the original game, it relegates one of the great villains of StarCraft to a slave who secretly did not want to kill anybody all along. The Overmind stated repeatedly that it wanted to destroy the Protoss. Claiming that a character’s motivations were not real reeks of bad writing. However, with only one of the three StarCraft II games in our hands, we still don’t have the full picture, and it’s important to keep in mind that this retcon could have a far more useful purpose than is apparent now.

Individual Retcon Analysis

There are several types of retcons. Good retcons fix previous problems or serve to improve the quality of the mythos. But bad retcons are not only useless, but they also reduce the quality of the mythos. So with the retcons that Blizzard did make, how did they fare? Were the retcons used to improve lore or fix problems, or were they largely due to negligence? Read on to find out.

Retcon #1:

Most of the player-characters in StarCraft didn't exist. The Mar Sara magistrate existed but had almost no interaction with James Raynor. The Zerg Cerebrate existed but didn't go to Aiur and instead was killed by Tassadar on Char. Artanis took the place of the StarCraft executor.

The reason given for this retcon was that the player-characters are all plot holes. But why is that? Let's take a look:

StarCraft Terran Magistrate: In the novel Liberty's Crusade, the Magistrate's role was taken on by the character Michael Liberty in an effort to better novelize the Terran campaign.

StarCraft Zerg Cerebrate: Following the example set by Liberty's Crusade, this Cerebrate was killed off by Tassadar in Queen of Blades and his role in the invasion of Aiur could not have belonged to him, therefore he is a plothole. It is possible that the Cerebrate played in StarCraft during the latter stages of the Zerg campaign, the Invasion of Aiur, was Araq, whose brood color was also purple.

StarCraft Protoss Executor: Again, following the example set by Liberty's Crusade, this character's role was simply given to someone else: Artanis.

Brood War Protoss Executor: Who this could have been is currently unknown, though this role might be assigned to another existing character we'll see later.

Brood War UED Commander: There is no information on who he was or what his current status is, though he is likely dead.

Brood War Zerg Cerebrate: There is no information on who this character was. But it is dead now since all the Cerebrates cannot survive for long without their symbiotic relationship with the Overmind. It is quite likely this character didn’t exist at all.

Some player-characters have been removed due to previous authors; novelizations of the game, so they are plot holes in this sense. Now, some of these characters' existence is really not worth addressing,  like the Brood War Cerebrate, since it is dead. So now, the only reasonable solution is to just say that these characters are gone: they likely will not be addressed again.

Final Verdict: Bad

This retcon has to be made now because of lack of foresight committed a by previous writers a long time ago. There are few reasons why novels could not have been written to include these characters. In addition, there are virtually no StarCraft fans out there who enjoy having the characters that they played as and whose shoes they filled be treated as if they never existed.

Retcon #2:

Protoss only fought on the surface of Tarsonis as opposed to a space battle.

This retcon is a minor detail. In StarCraft, the New Gettysburg mission was played on a space platform, seemingly with the intent of intercepting a Protoss fleet. Everywhere else, New Gettysburg is a ground battle.

Final Verdict: Good

Even the dialog in StarCraft seems to indicate that Kerrigan is on the surface of the planet, so that makes this a good retcon.

Retcon #3:

The Protoss technological level before the Aeon of Strife was retconned to be stone age, instead of highly advanced. This contradicts the line in the manual that "The Protoss harboured an insatiable lust for knowledge that led them to develop radical, progressive strains of scientific and meta-neural study." This creates even more problems if we consider that a map of the week that Blizzard released called "Proving Grounds" describes how Khas traveled to another planet to end the bloodshed there.

What makes the StarCraft races great is not only the fact that they form a healthy balanced triad in multiplayer, but in lore as well. Whereas before, the Protoss were an ancient race with lost technology, that role is now being subsumed by the Xel'Naga, taking away from the Protoss' sense of power and mystery. Warp Gates are an example. Before, they were a lost Protoss invention, now they have been retconned to be a Xel'Naga invention. Instead of the Protoss getting credit for the technology they should have created, that credit goes to the Xel'Naga, who left a bunch of technology, as well as crystals, on Aiur for the Protoss to reverse-engineer. With so little of their technology of their own making, one can’t help but wonder, perhaps the Protoss aren’t so advanced after all.

Before, the Aeon of Strife was seen as a battle so cataclysmic, that it sent this ancient and powerful race known as the Protoss hurtling to a stone age level of such darkness and ignorance that they were still trying to recover their old technology to the present day. Now, it's simply a primitive feud fought out with rocks and rudimentary swords known as "shikmas". Sure, some bad feelings developed between the Protoss, but it hardly seems consequential. One map of the week describes Aiur's landmasses themselves as being torn apart in this battle; this will need to be retconned too, because it's guaranteed that continents aren't going to break from rocks and shikmas. And with sci-fi authors in general having a skewed sense of scale, even the Aeon of Strife has been diminished, with the Shelak tribe in Firstborn hardly being able to number over 100 by any stretch of the imagination.

Final Verdict: Bad

There is no real purpose for this retcon, and it only serves to relegate the Protoss' role to the Xel'Naga, as well as contradict previous lore.

Retcon #4:

There is no longer any artistic or visual continuity between Brood War and StarCraft II.

1) The Hydralisk in the New Gettysburg cinematic is a SC2 version.
2) There was a StarCraft II-style Ultralisk in the "Twilight Archon" story during the fall of Aiur (the type with four Kaiser Blades instead of two).
3) Zealots and Carriers from the "A New Era" video follow the StarCraft II artwork style.
4) Jim Raynor is shown with hair in the "A New Era" video even though he had a buzz cut during the Great War.
5) The art for the old CMC suits don't match. The flashback with Raynor shows him wearing a new-style as opposed to the old-style suits. The new Firebat suit is a CMC-660, and it looks far different than its StarCraft counterpart.

In addition to this, several short stories from Frontline such as “Last Call” and “Fear the Reaper” don’t opt to use the newly updated art, but instead go with the classic look, further obfuscating matters.

Final Verdict: These retcons are largely subjective, as most people will appreciate the artistic upgrades or the time it saves Blizzard's art and cinematic departments to not redraw units in the StarCraft 1 style. However, some items, such as #4 which are largely due to negligence, or the fact that some of the favorite classic versions of StarCraft units never existed, might not sit well with anyone who has played StarCraft: Brood War.

Retcon #5:

Protoss death animations are actually the Protoss warping back to a safe haven. A retcon of much controversy, it was discussed in great detail in the Animation of Death article.

Final Verdict: Good

Protoss are not prolific, and they have been whittled down by wars so much that there is relatively little of them left. In order to preserve their numbers, and make the large-scale deaths of Protoss that we will see in StarCraft II be remotely believable, this retcon is necessary.


Retcon #6:

Protoss can no longer communicate with their deceased. In StarCraft, Protoss could communicate with their ancient ancestors through the Templar Archives. A short story called StarCraft: Revelations by Chris Metzen, provided insight into the Khala’s nature:

Reaching out with his consciousness, Madrid sensed Protoss spirits gathered around him. He became fleetingly aware of hundreds and then thousands of their minds, all scattered throughout the swirling ether that he beheld.

However Andy Chambers revealed in StarCraft II Q&A Batch 26 that the Protoss people cannot speak with their dead per se, but that their knowledge can be accessed by preservers. This has two effects. First, it makes preservers, introduced in the Dark Templar Saga, more important, but that isn’t a good reason for making a retcon at all. Second, it removes the fantasy aspect of “souls” from the StarCraft universe, which, while is a good idea, is somewhat spoiled by the inclusion of other fantasy-like elements such as prophecy.

Final Verdict: Bad

It seems that this retcon was made in vain. It has contradicted the original game’s manual as well as a short story for no particularly compelling reason.

Retcon #7

There is a discrepancy on how exactly Immortals are made. The StarCraft site calls Immortals a “dying breed,” however, in the Frontline manga short story “Why We Fight,” an injured Zealot named Khastiana is placed into a new Immortal exoskeleton:


Final Verdict: Though at first glance this seems like an inconsistency, it does have a possible explanation. In StarCraft, the Dragoons were bonded to their exoskeletons via the essence translators that were kept in the Cybernetics Core, but created at a Xel’Naga Shrine on Aiur (according to the old StarCraft2.com Immortal profile). As we can imagine, not every single Cybernetics Core was destroyed after the fall of Aiur, and the Protoss have probably recovered some of these essence translators, though it is true that no more can be made. The remaining Dragoons have been upgraded to Immortals. Though the Protoss can still bond fallen warriors with exoskeletons such as in “Why We Fight”, there is a finite amount of times they can do this since essence translators are no longer created at the shrine. That's why the Immortals are considered a "dying breed" and why Khastiana was still able to be placed into an Immortal. This is mainly speculation, but it's the only logical conclusion that avoids retcons and is consistent with the info on the immortal page.

Conclusion

Retcons do not need to be bad - they can often be useful tools for fixing a game’s mythos. As we have seen, Blizzard’s use of retcons has been somewhat mixed. Blizzard should hire a dedicated person, or assign another Blizzard writer, to keep track of all the StarCraft lore so that all new StarCraft media can be run past him and inconsistencies can be avoided. A strong and consistent canon is a boon for any franchise.

starcraft 2 xel'naga storyline projection twilight

This is a StarCraft: Legacy (http://sclegacy.com/) editorial.

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