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I recently switched jobs (from editing to coding! Woo hoo!), and possibly my only disappointment in doing so is leaving the first D&D gr...

Friday, October 18, 2013

An Ode to Blizzard

A couple of days ago I was invited by Blizzard Entertainment to be a part of the beta for their new game Hearthstone. I don't know how often they take aboard new beta testers (I even asked on Yahoo Answers), but it is a great honor nonetheless. Not only do I get to play the game before it's released, but I also get to see it in its beta stage and help the company work out bugs.

Blizzard has been a big part of my life as long as my written history shows. The first journal I had was in 3rd Grade, and I filled much of it with designs for WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness maps, and comics with the game's troops as characters. I even designed and wrote up a manual for an entire campaign I planned to make in the game called "The Hard Lands," which was literally a WarCraft II fanfiction in scenario form. The main reason I looked forward to going to my grandma's house was to get on my uncle's computer and play around on the WarCraft II map editor with my brother.
We also looked forward to seeing the vibrant Grass tileset.

Eventually one of our uncles hooked us up with the shareware demo version of the game. It only had three levels, but we played the crap out of those three levels. If we would've paid for that demo, we would've gotten triple our money's worth. If achievements existed back then we would've gotten Tree Cutter (cut every single tree down on the entire map). We mastered every level, rejoiced when we
came out victorious in a tough battle, and watched the preview for the retail version, dreaming of the day when we could see what a Dragon Roost looked like. When I finally got the game for my eighth birthday, I was ecstatic, and I would even put the game disc in the CD player and listen to the game's music when I wasn't playing it.
But let's take another step back.

This was one of the two hardest puzzled in the game for us to coordinate. After we finally did each, there was much rejoicing.1996. My uncle (I still look up to my uncles as heroes because of how much they spoiled my brother and me with computer games as children) gave me his copy of The Lost Vikings for PC. My brother_Redge and I played the game religiously, diligently copying passwords down as we progressed through the game (I still remember several passwords today—TFFF, QCKS, WCKY...), and then got stuck three levels from the end boss. We were disappointed then, but years later we figured it out and had due closure. That game was made by Silicon & Synapse, so what does that have to do with WarCraft II? Any die-hard fan like me will know that the company later became Blizzard Entertainment.
I can't tell you how cool I thought the dungeon creeps were. I wrote a comic about an Ogre and a Brigand who were friends.Back to 3rd Grade. Along with my beloved WarCraft II came a game we hadn't seen before: WarCraft 1: Orcs and Humans. This game had choppier graphics and odd controls, but there were amazing things about it like fire and water elementals, scorpions, slimes, and brigands. It also had a Unit Editor, which meant we could jack up the attack and HP of all of one race's units and whiz through the campaign. That took all the fun out of it, and even made one of the levels actually harder (where you have to spare one of your enemy's mage towers), but we still enjoyed it anyway. And we especially enjoyed the game's manual!

I also really loved to draw demons. What can I say? They look awesome.Egads, manuals. What ever happened to game manuals?! Games back when I was a kid were like entire experiences in a box. Besides the actual game you got to play, you got at least a few hours' worth of reading along with it that told the story of the game, biographies of characters, and up-close artistic renditions of every unit in the game! What more could a young boy with a doodler's hand want? I would bring those WarCraft manuals to school and read them during personal reading time; I would try my hand at copying the drawings myself; I even made up my my own manual for a fictional game I planned to make when I was grown up. For awhile, I thought that the funnest job in the world would be to illustrate game manuals for a living. It never crossed my mind that hard-copy game manuals would go out of style.

My favorite artist in the WarCraft manuals was a mysterious man whose signature said simply "METZEN." I had no idea until later that this man was the one responsible for bringing WarCraft into existence; I only saw him as my idol as an artist. His drawings were epic, interesting, and detailed—many of my early drawings were modeled after Metzen's.

Hey, you wanna hear a song that conditioned me to think of StarCraft years later? "South Side" by Moby.My first glimpse of Blizzard's next game, StarCraft, was in 1998 at my friend Dustin's house. It must have been only a vague glimpse at that, judging by the prompt drawings of my own version of StarCraft I invented soon thereafter. It was only in 6th or 7th grade that I got the game's Battle Chest and was able to actually play it for myself. I was amazed at the "triggers" in the game that allowed you to actually
make storylines in the scenarios. While WarCraft II depended mainly on context and custom maps had only two possible objectives, the possibilities for StarCraft maps were limitless in my eyes! I had always been a map maker, but this is really where my career took off, and I made over 150 maps with varying themes. I still have these relics on my external hard drive, and am still impressed at how my young, not-yet-voice-changed self was able to program them. This is also when I was able to truly play multiplayer for the first time, with my friends Rick Hoffmann and Jason Durfee.

This scene still stands in my mind as one of the more exciting days in my life.
Around this time, rumors began to surface among my friends about something too good to be true: a third WarCraft game, with 3D graphics, animated portraits, two new races, and best of all, a map editor with triggers like StarCraft's! I watched the game evolve on its website during its development for a long time, and Redge and I hurriedly took a glass jar and taped a note on it that said "WarCraft III Fund." We saved money every way we knew how, and at last the time came to go to WalMart and buy our coveted game. I still remember the day we installed the game and played through the tutorial. It was more detailed than ever before, and the environments with waterfalls and shallows instilled awe within us. We couldn't believe that the characters we had come to love as children were coming to life in the cinematics! Soon after playing the game, I went to the World Editor to see what I could make. It was mind-blowing how many triggers there were. There were infinite possibilities for game creation, and even a Unit Editor. I could make myself in the game with the spells I liked best!  (And I did.)

I'm curious to know how many hundreds of hours I spent in this program. Very probably several.The new, more logical way triggers worked ruined me for StarCraft. Even though I've had the urge to make a StarCraft map since, the triggers are just too primitive for my mind to wrap around any more. And when WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne came out, the World Editor was made even more powerful and user-friendly. To this day I  still have phases of playing and making games on WarCraft III. It has only been in the past two or three years, after over 10 years of on-and-off play, that the game's lack of updates has begun to make the game feel dated.

I could spend a whole post on the Map Editor for WarCraft III, or the zany and cheesy maps my brother and I made (this time numbered at over 200), and I probably will someday, but I've probably lost readers by this point anyway at this long of a post, so I'll move on to...

Ah, original WoW and Burning Crusade, how I miss you. I lay a [Withered Rose] on your grave.
For whatever reason, when I read about World of WarCraft in the back of the StarCraft: Brood War strategy guide (I also miss strategy guides coming with games), it didn't seem interesting to me. Perhaps I was scared of branching out of my favorite game universe expanding outside of the strategy game genre. At any rate, I didn't even try to play the game until my uncle (yes, one of the uncles) let me try it out on his computer. I had never played an MMORPG before, except Runescape, and the third-person perspective dazzled me. Before long, my brother and I were taking the "shut up and take my money approach," and WoW was ours. We shared the subscription fee and account, which made it easier to fund. I always get frustrated at the bad connotation WoW has because of some idiots who couldn't put it down. We would play the game for six or seven months, get tired of it, and play it six or seven months later again. I think the real-time commitment to playing with other people online came across to many as an addictive force to the game, but it was more like politeness and keeping appointments.

After two tries at other classes, Thebis the troll mage was my favorite character, and I played him through the first expansion to the game, Burning Crusade. I loved the day/night cycle, meeting people and making friends with people I would never meet in person, celebrating holidays in-game, and questing and playing battlegrounds alongside my real-life friends. I was never able to meet the concurrent level cap with Thebis, but he made it to level 68, and there he sits till this day. After the Wrath of the Lich King expansion (which came out during my Brazil crusade), I was never able to get back into the game completely. I've since tried out the Starter Edition just to try out the changes, but a part of me feels dead now that the original, untouched versions are gone for good. It has been in the past three or four years that Blizzard has begun to become ultra-modern in their game designing, and WarCraft has become almost beyond a fantasy genre into a sci-fi/steampunk/fantasy/chinese genre.

Still, I am delighted to play Hearthstone. They use classic sound effects from the World of WarCraft I knew, implement characters I'm familiar with after years of reading and playing through the lore, and even play WarCraft II music when searching for players to challenge. Lots of things about it bring back memories of what Blizzard has become for me today. It has been a pleasure to grow up with Blizzard, and even though they may not have the same style or standards of gameplay as they used to, I still salute Blizzard as one of my favorite game developers of all time. (Now if only they would release Heroes of the Storm already!)


  1. Wow sorry it took me an entire month to finally read this. SUPER cool post. First off before I forget, there's a paragraph that didn't get finished (the second to last one) But anyways, here's some input from my memories. Warcraft 1 - Besides all those cool creeps you were talking about, I remember being enthralled by the 3d-esque campaign maps. Something about taking each piece of the map instilled a sense of wonder at what would come next, as well as massive satisfaction once the map was complete. The mysterious story of Griselda also fascinates me up until today (I just looked her up on a WoWwiki and I had forgotten that she was banished to the Deadmines (another bittersweet reminder of the classic days of WoW)) Warcraft 2 - I'm not sure why, but our fascination with building walls was absolutely overpowering. I wanted to make castles and barriers so bad, and I remember rejoicing when we finally played a lan game and were able to try them out (strangely I think this only happened a very VERY select few times) I also remember one of the last levels of the campaigns where you had to destroy a castle/fortress, and we found a flaw in the maps design where you could just dock an ogre destroyer into an inlet and destroy it without land troops. I still vividly remember those Warcraft 2 campaign levels, and something about the simple unit responses is such a priceless thing. I still remember thinking those MALE elven archers were some of the coolest beings alive. I'll now just skip to WoW, but my first memory is watching one of The Uncles playing his dwarf warrior walk around Loch Modan. I remember him talking and getting a quest from Daryl the Youngling and hunting down bears and gnolls. I still remember the night I babysat out cousins and Jer gave me the ok to make a character once they were asleep, and with the familiar smell of Grandpa's rental in my nostrils, I played up several levels worth in the glow of the computer screen. I still wonder to this day what that character looked like, he was discarded after we got our copy, but he was in fact the original Flufhamster Hunter. I think the biggest tragedy of the mindless updating and expansion of WoW is that fact that the challenge is now a thing of the past. There was something so adventurous and satisfying when after the end of a trimester getting your report card time, and spending a saturday afternoon running around Westfall killing golems and murlocs in a group of 3 or 4, and every three or four minutes saying "/3 Looking for healer for Deadmines! Already have a hunter, tank, rogue and a mage. PST for details!" And then finally seeing that beautiful purple text saying, "is lvl 15 high enough?" Back in those days, yes of course we would wipe 4 or 5 times before finally beheading VanCleef. We didn't have robotic group leaders shouting out move sequences or kiting techniques, we were all like REAL adventures delving into the depths of the mysterious Deadmines. We had to learn the hard way that half way in, other Defias would in fact trickle down behind you and try to catch you off guard during a boss fight. Of course it was frustrating when the tank's helmet and chest piece would shatter or when in complete embarrassment I would admit that my quiver had run empty. But this made the game have a story!!! No one knew which rare gear would drop, we just knew that we had to foil VanCleef's plans. This was when WoW truly was immersion inside of the World that we had grown up experiencing - drawing it, inventing it, embellishing on stories from it - the wonder and mystery of it all was incredible.

  2. Even the less adventurous parts of the game became fond. I remember spending literal weeks in Ironforge, posting and reposting my leather woven goods in the auction house, trying to find buyers to fund the purchase of my mount. In that time there were no daily quests to steadily gain your fortune; your fortune was made from your own sweat and blood. The skins of numberless beasts that you had fell on your own, the uncommon gear that happened to have the "of the Monkey" buff, which rogue and hunter twinks alike sought after. I felt like a child on his birthday as I would run from the forge to the bank mailbox, pushing my way through the crowd to finally reach in and pull out letters marked "Auction Successful!" Those were the days when learning new class abilities and riding your OWN mount really meant something. It wasn't inherent, you had to work to get it. I could go on and on about those good old days. Sorry if this comment is longer than your original post :D It's hard to stop reminiscing once you start. All in all, at least we had the memories. Sadly most ORPGs are doomed to shrivel up into a lifeless money maker, but luckily Blizzard's spirit still continues. Thank you Blizzard.

    Holy crap, I didn't realize there was a max comment character limit. Achievement unlocked :D

  3. No, feel free to go on longer if you can remember anything! I loved hearing those memories. I remember well the first character I made, a troll rogue. I remember even though rogues weren't my style I went on to make my main character Abelhawk a rogue, whom I deleted and replaced with the paladin. I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to adventuring. It was so much fun to look over the golden plains of Westfall, listening to that calm music, hunting murlocs and bandits. Another thing that they took out I miss was the simple act of going to your trainer to learn skills! Now you just learn them automatically, and they just level up in damage depending on your level. This was a HUGE stab in the game's lifeblood. I loved leveling up and making my way to the nearest city (or teleporting there, with Thebis) and consulting my trainer for the newest skills. Then when I used them, I noticed how much more powerful they were. Nowadays it's just "Deals 52.71 damage over 4.12 seconds," because it's just some stupid internal math formula depending on your level. How on EARTH can that be any fun anymore? Updates killed all the satisfaction of WoW. Quests point to the exact point you have to go to, you practically regenerate all your health and mana seconds after a battle, so there's no time to sit down, have a drink and some conjured bread rolls, and reflect on the battle you just experienced. Truly, the mystery of adventure is what I miss most about WoW, and if they released a "classic" server (like Runescape did) that was, say, the game right before or during Burning Crusade, I would not hesitate to pay a subscription no matter the cost, at least for a few months. That's the thing about MMORPGs, they change. I wish they didn't. Of all the types of games, that's the type that I have the most fun meeting people and such, but now that cannot ever be again for WoW.


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