From Delusion Comes Grandeur

When I was in University we played this team building game where we were given a block building puzzle of some sort to solve. We were timed.

After putting everything together the best time in the room was announced, let’s say it was 2 minutes. Wow, good time, we all thought. Then the instructor told everyone that a rival school’s best team did it in 10 seconds. Huh?!

Immediately our expectations of excellence were reset. Let’s figure this out and try again. After the next round, our times were read out: 4 seconds, 6 seconds, 8 seconds, 8 seconds, etc.

Was the story about the other school true? Meh, maybe. Didn’t matter. All we needed was a different definition of success.

Now read this story from the video game world:

The race to build the next great RTS was on, and consequently Blizzard was about to be publicly embarrassed by its choice to show so early in the development lifecycle. Just a short walk away from the Blizzard booth was that of another game which appeared to be better than StarCraft in every respect: Dominion: Storm over Gift 3, from Ion Storm.

It’s 1996 and you want to buy an RTS game. Would you pay money for this?

Dominion Storm game screenshot

Dominion Storm

Or this?

StarCraft "Orcs in space" screenshot prior to the project reboot

While we didn’t have the opportunity to play Dominion Storm because it was a hands-off affair, it didn’t seem necessary. The Ion Storm staff members who demonstrated the game had a remarkable event that showed great-looking game units, including a signature unit that moved like the AT-AT walkers first seen in “The Empire Strikes Back” during the Battle of Hoth. With other impressive units of all sizes and forms, electric fences that could be chained together to create impenetrable barriers, and isometric-perspective artwork that showed the game units from a more compelling angle than did our nearly top-down perspective, Ion Storm’s game was kicking our ass in every regard.

It was a glum crew that made the drive back to Orange County to lick our wounds and plan for the future. The fundamental problem was that StarCraft wasn’t envisioned as a triple-A game; it was intended to fill a hole in Blizzard’s development schedule so that the company would ship a game in 1996 and thereby continue to generate revenues.

…At some point I talked with Mark and Patrick about how Dominion Storm knocked us on our heels, and they let us in on Ion Storm’s dirty little secret: the entire demo was a pre-rendered movie, and the people who showed the “demo” were just pretending to play the game! It would be an understatement to say that we were gobsmacked; we had been duped into a rebooting StarCraft, which ultimately led it to be considered “the defining game of its genre. It is the standard by which all real-time strategy games are judged” (GameSpot).

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