StarCraft II: Wings of Mediocrity
May 15, 2017
The SC2 campaign was neutered and I am bitter about it.
The audience for a game that came out a decade after Brood War (1998 - 2010) is a decade older.
Chris Metzen worked on both and he practically invented the profession of "game story writer".
Also, Brood War was a popular game by 2010 and Blizzard was an established game developer. Plenty of people bought SC2 either because it said "StarCraft" or because it said "Blizzard".
So, with all of that context, it is really really really disappointing to get a power fantasy for the story. It is even more disappointing that they scrapped a version with actual characters and replaced Wings of Liberty's Jim Raynor with a space marine who advances the story by successfully murderhoboing his way to space operatic victory.
OK, you say, that's fine and all but you're just a dude on the internet, so who are you to question the artistic intent of Chris fucking Metzen, inventor of his profession and dreamer of the worlds that spawned your nerddom?
"There's a threshold there for the darkness that people want, and think they want. But there are subtle degrees of heroism and fighting the good fight that I think they also want, but aren't as in tune with. This whole theme is something that's very near and dear to me."
"I like deeply flawed characters, we tried to really push the Jim Raynor character in StarCraft, I almost had him as a full-blown alcoholic"
Among those storylines that didn’t make the cut was a serious "down and out" drinking problem for Raynor. The missions Metzen wanted showed Raynor screwing up in some way, even after players successfully achieved their goal. People would end up hurt, but eventually, Raynor would overcome his personal demons and find redemption.
"At the time, the team was just like, 'Why? It’s unnecessary,'" Metzen says. "'I just wanna see things nuked! I want to feel badass right out of the gate.' That’s perfectly valid. If I were writing a novel about it, it might have been great.
"But in developing these fictions for games, you gotta remember, people just want to feel powerful and effective. If the first X minutes of your gameplay, the first X missions in a narrative wave, if you just feel kinda cruddy and icky and low, you’re not gonna stick with it. You’re not gonna enjoy it or bring out this heroic thing that we were really chasing, for the most part, in the first place."
So this isn't my interpretation – Metzen intentionally scrapped alcoholic Raynor so he could deliver a power fantasy in Wings of Liberty. I fully acknowledge that 11-year-old me would have "just wanna see things nuked!" But it's 2010, I'm 20 now, and I can handle an alcoholic protagonist undoing my work in a cutscene.
Speaking of being about 12 years old, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos came out in 2002 and featured Arthas as a protagonist. Arthas tried to save his people from the undead plague and, as part of that, purges the entire population of Stratholme. He would go on to turn on his friends, turn on his men, accept the cursed sword Frostmourne, kill his father, etc.
Clearly, this sort of actual storytelling has worked before for Metzen. Why, after establishing himself as a writer, establishing StarCraft as a game, and helping establish Blizzard as a game developer, he felt the need to play the safest possible cards for Wings of Liberty is a very confusing and very frustrating question.