For the last few months Substantial's had a Starcraft II obsession. You can find many of us hanging around the office long after work or coming in on weekends just to get in a few matches against one another and anonymous online foes. Having had this obsession in college as well, it's interesting that it's not just my skill level that hasn't changed. Starcraft II isn't a radical reimagining of the platform, and ends up great not because of the changes Blizzard made but because of how little they modified. Once you've already made a game that's a national obsession (in Korea anyway), you don't mess with the formula.

For those of you that don't know, Starcraft II (like its 1998 predecessor) is a real-time strategy (RTS) game. Each player starts with a base and a small number of workers and from there must build an army to defeat their foes, balancing between offense, defense, upgrades, and economic health. RTS is a game genre based around micromanagement and the original Starcraft is still held up as one of its best examples.

Since the original release the genre has had a decade to refine itself, allowing ever-larger armies, new tools for management and tweaking resource management with the concepts like supply lines, but Starcraft didn't adopt any of that. It's the same three races, the story involves the same characters, they didn't add in MMO features (making it a competitor to World of Warcraft), they didn't make everything "extreme," and the controls are just about identical, making the learning curve a speedbump at most. It's the same as it ever was.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a cash grab. They did improve usability in some ways. The storyline in single-player is compelling, the graphics look great and scale nicely based on the available hardware (with a full 3-D engine to bump up the experience), and the integration ably brings the whole experience online. But by and large this is the same game I played years ago and it's great to revisit those good times (even in defeat) instead of having those memories tarnished via tweaking the game beyond recognition. It's Product Magic through consistency. I'm already looking forward to the expansion packs and the inevitable sequel in 2025.

Addendum: For you readers that play yourselves, be sure to check out these build order optimizers that have been implemented based on genetic algorithms (Zerg | Protoss | Terran (all three really)). I'm not nearly as technical about the way I play, but this level of seriousness is fascinating.

Image from psiaki.