Full Tilt: Blizzard's Starcraft at 20

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Mar 31, 2018

Welcome back to Full Tilt, SYFY WIRE's 21-joystick salute to iconic and influential video games hitting their 20th anniversaries in 2018. All throughout the calendar year we'll be plugging in and peeling back the cover on how and why these addictive electronic amusements ascended into Gamer's Heaven.

For March, we're zooming off into the Koprulu Sector for Blizzard Entertainment's interstellar shoot-'em-up military strategy classic, StarCraft.

Before Blizzard became a household name with its World of Warcraft MMO sensation, it was cutting its digital teeth on titles like the first Warcraft game, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, Diablo, and The Vikings Saga. But this next endeavor shot them into the black voids of deep space and into superstardom!

Launched on March 31,1998, and developed and published for Microsoft Windows and MacOS (in 1999) by Blizzard Entertainment, StarCraft centered around a trio of species battling for supremacy in a remote corner of the Milky Way galaxy during Earth's 25th century.

Its immersive world-building and tactical strategy components make this real-time icon one of the most important games of the decade, one that acted as a progenitor of today's mega-franchises like Gears of War, Mass Effect, Halo, and Destiny.

StarCraft hit the afterburners when it dropped into the mass market to become the best-selling PC game for that year, selling over 1.5 million copies worldwide. Stateside, it was the best-selling computer game of 1998, with a total of 746,365 units shipped. A Nintendo 64 edition was released in 2000, with inferior graphics, truncated cut-scenes, and a lack of mission briefing voices.

Concerning the game's main combatants, there are three factions to consider: the Terrans, humans banished from Earth and adept at adaptation; the Zerg, an ambitious race of insectoid alien creatures; and the Protoss, a super-smart humanoid society equipped with superior technology and psionic abilities.

The story is focused in the Koprulu Sector of our home galaxy, where the savage Zergs show up to slaughter the exiled human colonies and the Protoss intervene to exterminate the Zerg. As you progress through the levels and plan strategy you're constantly directing troops, receiving mission briefings, harvesting vespene gas and minerals, and charging into danger while eradicating colonists and alien infestations.

After the slaughter it's time for building barricades and fortifications, exploring alien environments, spawning more marines, tapping into the collective's hive mind, and moving out to blast that next wave of extraterrestrial or humanoid butt. The plot is separated into three phases, each one allowing players to command one of the three distinct species.

Their cinematics became the standard of the industry, and critics applauded StarCraft's vocal talent and ability to blend its storyline in the gameplay. Game Informer ranks StarCraft the 35th Greatest Game of All Time, and with literally thousands of titles produced over the past four decades, that's high praise indeed.

For its time, it was recognized as the finest example of a real-time strategy game, and even at 20 years old remains an entertaining exercise in science fiction battle simulations and combat theory.

And StarCraft was not limited to gamers on our Big Blue Marble. In 1999, NASA astronaut Daniel T. Barry carried a StarCraft disc into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery during STS-96, the first mission to dock with the International Space Station.

Over the years, the original StarCraft branched out with sequels and expansion sets like Insurrection, Retribution, Brood War, Ghost, Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm, and Legacy of the Void. The franchise's longevity has been further extended with a series of tie-in novels, action figures, model kits, and board games.

As a testament to its revolutionary design and continued popularity, Blizzard offered up a completely updated version of the original StarCraft game last summer, titled StarCraft: Remastered, which showcased revamped UHD graphics, special effects, and voice-overs.

Where do you rank StarCraft in the Video Game Hall of Fame, and what are your favorite memories of this seminal sci-fi classic?