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Thread: StarCraft & Atmosphere

  1. #1

    Default StarCraft & Atmosphere

    This has been talked about here and there, but I wanted to get some opinions centralized.

    What is was it, in your mind, that made the original games undeniably StarCraft? What was it about the plot, characters, dialog, terraining and maps that gave it that unquestionable feel of the Koprulu Sector? Where and how did SCII falter? And how could the story mode/ship setting have been adjusted to embody the same feel and atmosphere? How did it distinguish itself from similar scifi settings?

  2. #2
    TheEconomist's Avatar Lord of Economics
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    May 2009

    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    Where and how did SCII falter?
    Samwise took a massive Didier all over the artwork.

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  3. #3

    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    For me it was a few things

    StarCraft began at the perfect time in Sci Fi pop culture, the decade itself and the cannibalization of other projects:
    -90's grit, that cold barely put together aesthetic of jury-rigged tech from the Terrans was a major factor
    -Alien franchise influence, people talk about the Zerg being inspired by the Tyranids, but I always felt the Zerg (especially Hydralisks) were more like the Xenomorphs
    -Used future aesthetic (like the Original Trilogy of Star Wars)
    -Starship Troopers influence, the UED campaign... 'nuff said.
    -Gray vs Grey morality, heroes were few in number, basically everyone was a villain, and even the actions of the heroes had shitty consequences in the end (this is something SC2 lacks in spades)

  4. #4

    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    This is going to be an unconventional answer but I think the biggest thing that made Sc stand out the most was (like most things really) its timing. Of course, the initial attraction to Sc would've been due to the influence and familiarity of certain aspects to other sci-fi properties (Strats has got it mostly covered there in terms of aesthetics. The maintained consistency of that particular aesthetic within Sc is also quite strong) but the slight differences and take that Sc took made it stand out from those other properties. Sure we've had space pioneer humans, bug aliens and hi-tech aliens before in their own individual offerings, but never had their been a focus on the direct conflict of these 3 sci-fi archetypes together at the time. That they were each so different in background and gameplay was what made it stand out. The latter was especially notable because all previous RTS prior to Sc either only had 2 very different sides (ala Command and Conquer) or 2 similar look/play/feel (ala Total Annihilation). If there were games with more than two races (like the ancient Dune 2 and Age of Empires), the differences were isolated to either missing or having a unit/capability but still largely felt like it was all just variations of one side.

    Another thing that most games miss these days, and what contributes to why Sc is so memorable, is a really awesome manual. Most of the RTS games I remember most fondly were those that had manuals that went out of the way to give detailed reasons for why a particular unit exists, how it came to be and all the fictional history behind it all (extra points for those games that did this even though they didn't really have straight narratives/stories to there singleplayer - ala Earth 2150 or were tangential to the experience of the game itself - ala Homeworld). All this would be considered pointless and inconsequential fluff, but they really helped build investment into universe being shown.

    By the time Sc2 came into development, games had changed a lot in terms of focus and development. There was also tonne more variety in Sci-fi properties to geek about too. Amongst all that, the only pull Sc2 really had was nostalgia and gameplay. In terms of the atmosphere and what was memorable about SC2, it was more to do with the mechanics and the stuff you could play with rather than the story and lore. I remember playing WoL and getting lost in all the interesting things you could do and see on the Hyperion and being fine with that until I started to get this growing but gnawing sensation that it was all empty. They felt like distractions for the sake of distraction not really getting anywhere. The lack of a narrative for the most part confused the hell out of me at first. I had played the majority of the game being none-the-wiser and then thought, there should be a story to all this stuff going on. When it did, I realised that I was heading into the final arc of the thing and it made me retrospectively think "that's it?" after completing all those missions.
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  5. #5

    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    Timing was certainly a factor. During the nineties there was a lot of gritty, dark things that were still appropriate for younger people. Part of it was the technological level at the time -- like the cold, austere graphics of Star Fox SNES, the dread feelings inherent in Mechwarrior, etc. Maybe this is nostalgia talking, but I like that kind of thing. History is replete with darkish stuff, and how people constantly make mistakes and poor choices that lead to awful results.

    In other words, despite the fact that SC1 isn't terribly original, it is familiar with us in the sense that it feels like history. Most of the time the behavior of the characters feels like something that would indeed happen, somewhere in the world.

    Plus, there's also tension. The player can't relax. The longer the the story goes on, the more things go wrong. And when, at the end of BW, everyone figures out that they should fight the Zerg and not each other, here come the hybrids.

    SCII went wrong by ignoring the first game. They were so concerned about finding a new audience, that they decided they would keep enough stuff so that they could pretend it was a sequel, and then they hired Brian Kindregan to take their crap and try and make it make sense.
    "Seeing Fenix once more perplexes me. I feel sadness, when I should feel joy."
    - Artanis.

  6. #6

    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    StarCraft came in at a very interesting time, riding the waves started by pop culture.

    I'd also say a contributing factor were the inherent limitations of the editor. Atmospheric touches -- the crunch of metal, foot steps, chirping birds, the rush of water -- were all absent; while in SCII they're are strongly pushed. I'd almost characterize it as minimalist. Moreover, the terraining told the tale of harsh conditions breeding harsh people. Trees were a rarity; the only doodads you had for the terran-aligned wastes were these dead things, mere shadows of trees really. Every world humanity touched, every world within their grasp, were ruined, sad things.

    The only real atmosphere was in the briefings and cinematics. The Terran theme, both ominous and uncertain, was made chilling in the confines of the fallout bunker. The terran faction was a collection of war-torn tribes, individual lives nothing more than meat for the grinder. This disregard for life owes itself to both pop culture scifi, and its WarHammer 40K roots.

    I think all of this atmosphere is upset by the assets provided to the mapmakers by the editor. Lush forests and diverse peoples now dot the terran worlds in the SCII era, eliminating the omnipresent and palpable bleak veil of its predecessor.

    StarCraft made due with less. StarCraft II made more and lost.
    Aaand sold.

    Be it through hallowed grounds or lands of sorrow
    The Forger's wake is bereft and fallow

    Is the residuum worth the cost of destruction and maiming;
    Or is the shaping a culling and exercise in taming?

    The road's goal is the Origin of Being
    But be wary through what thickets it winds.

  7. #7
    The_Blade's Avatar Administrator
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    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    The atmosphere in general was also quite "empty", per say. Not like SC2, where the clutter leads to nowhere (like Turalyon said).

    Dialogues and texts were the only source for story at the time. Small flickers of artwork, be it portraits or cinematics, worked as references for your imagination. So, we all imagined a vast universe on our own, which was nurtured and inspired by other franchises that came first (either directly or just as a parallel we did on our own).

    I always loved watching the Zerg cinematics. It was just a monologue over Zerg ruining a city. The Heroic characters were no where to be seen, they were not as relevant to the mayhem as in SC2. This inspired fear. I remember thinking that if Kerrigan ever invaded Earth I would die to Zerglings and not her. Earth's armies would fall too Zerglings and Hydras too. Hiding my Heroes at the base also helped build a thought of mortality around them. In contrast, Kerrigan in HotS can demolish whole bases on her own. Her cinematic interpretation was also of a one woman army. HotS opening cinematic tried to be true to the original StarCraft, but there were too many mistakes. We could see the Zerg army attacking during the day, the Terrans fought them without fear, there was little swarming into or over buildings, and Kerrigan was just standing there waiting to be sniped.

  8. #8

    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    Oh, you just made me think of that cinematic in SC1 where a marine watches as shockwave washes over him. Man, that was dark. Simple, but effective.

    So I guess SC1 was more about emotion, whereas SC2 was more about spectacle.
    "Seeing Fenix once more perplexes me. I feel sadness, when I should feel joy."
    - Artanis.

  9. #9

    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    That's pretty spot-on Nissa. I'd watch the cinematics repeatedly but it wasn't for the CG. I'd always get a little more out of them with each viewing. It's also telling that they were kinda vignettes; they never followed the main characters, but explored the consequences of their actions.

  10. #10

    Default Re: StarCraft & Atmosphere

    Quote Originally Posted by Nissa View Post
    So I guess SC1 was more about emotion, whereas SC2 was more about spectacle.
    I wouldn't say Sc1 was more about emotion exactly since Sc2 tries to be emo too through its focus on "characters". Rather, Sc1 is more about consequence. Things that happened throughout Sc1 resonated more because they felt more significant, long-lasting, irreversible and natural. In contrast, Sc2 is definitely more about spectacle but it's also more about contrivance.

    One only has to look at how death is treated in Sc1 vs Sc2 for a prime example. In Sc1, most characters that die stay dead. In Sc2, there are re-appearances of "dead" past characters like Tassadar, the Overmind, Stukov and even the concept of Amon revolves around him being apparently "dead" at first. The announcement of Raynor's "death" in HotS and the appearance of "Fenix" in LotV also qualifies in this regard. Death is treated like a gimmick, something temporary/to be gotten over. The perceived unreality of it is already one thing to contend with (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but that it's also purposefully and obviously done for the express sake of cameo/callback is what makes it contrived. It also makes any death that does occur in Sc2 somewhat meaningless because of the precedent of death not being permanent.

    Compare this to the only characters that come back from death, so to speak, within Sc1 (Kerrigan, after being lost on New Gettysburg, and Fenix, after the Zerg recapture New Antioch). It is not done lightly and there's been significant change from the characters experience of having survived that near-death experience (it's interesting that both seem to be fairly ok with it). Sure, it's still considered contrived in terms of how it was ambiguously setup in the first place (we never see those characters actually die) but it isn't all just for the sake of contrivance. Contrast this with what we get in HotS, where the "death" and reappearance of Raynor is used expressly as contrivance in order to move Kerrigan's character into a certain direction/position for the story (to first avenge this "death" and then "do good" when reprimanded by this one specific guy) whilst making Raynor, whom we first see after being missed for the majority, be an out-of-character dick to her temporarily for no other reason (except perhaps that he's just repulsed by her physical appearance and pissed that he can't love her anymore in that state?) despite being rescued by her.
    Last edited by Turalyon; 07-07-2017 at 06:31 AM.
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