For this week's Burning Questions, Kirk and Jason talk about Blizzard games, specifically Diablo III and StarCraft II. Which game do they like better? Do the two games compliment one another? Why is pro-level StarCraft so fun to watch? What would it be like to live in a house made by Blizzard? Is "Eight Legged Freaks" the funniest hyphen-omission in cinematic history?
Whew! Those sure are some... Burning Questions.
Kirk: Hello there, Jasonamigo. I hope you're doing well. Today, we're going to talk about Blizzard games, specifically StarCraft II and Diablo III.
Jason: Hola, Kirktaku. Blizzard games? I love Blizzard games!
Kirk: So I've heard. And hey, so do I! Well, mostly. So this conversation is predicated by you and me talking a lot about StarCraft II, and we've both been playing a lot of Diablo III, and so we got to talking about how the games are different. Should we rehash that conversation for our readers?
Jason: If I recall correctly, I was telling you about how I got bored of Diablo III after an act or two, and how it just made me want to go play StarCraft.
Kirk: Right. So it starts with that comparison, though it's probably not the most helpful comparison. In fact, we've been wrestling with how to keep it out of the headline to this article. Which one is better, StarCraft II or Diablo III? I suppose the more relevant question to this discussion is: Which one do you prefer? It sounds like you prefer StarCraft II.
Jason: They're entirely different genres and entirely different beasts, so this is sort of like comparing apples and elephants, but yeah. To me, StarCraft II feels like much more of a game, much more of a strategic, skill-based endeavour. Diablo III is more like... well, FarmVille.
Kirk: Certainly not a fair comparison, but an interesting one if only because Blizzard seems to be amassing an arsenal of games to cater to every desire. On the one hand, you've got StarCraft II, which is this super-deep, pro-level strategy game. And on the other, you've got Diablo III, which despite the fact that it can get super duper hardcore is still a much more casual-style game than StarCraft.
Jason: I think the big thing is the way each game presents its choices. In StarCraft, you're constantly making split-second decisions. Where do you move this unit? Do you spend your resources on a new barracks or more workers? Is it safe to leave this base undefended? Literally every second of the game is just non-stop tough choices. In Diablo III, you might get to pick your skills and armour and all that jazz, but most of the minute-to-minute gameplay is just mindless clicking.
Kirk: Yeah, both games have a lot of prep, but Diablo III's execution stage is far less involved than StarCraft II's. Do you think that a game as mechanically simple as Diablo III hits a ceiling with how rewarding it can be? Like, can a game only do so much with four hotkeys and two buttons?
Jason: I think so. Also, the rewards you get out of Diablo III are all randomised and computer-generated. You might think "woohoo! Got this rare item. I own!" but you didn't really do anything to earn it. You just got lucky. In StarCraft II, you can only win by outplaying your opponent, whether that's a computer or another human being. To win, you have to win.
Kirk: I kinda think that the biggest problem with the Real Money Auction house is that it removes a lot of the sense of accomplishment from the only thing that Diablo III had - the loot. In StarCraft II, when I have a victory, I feel like I really did it. It's a much more rewarding game. The RMAH really does make Diablo III feel like FarmVille.
Jason: Yup! Want to kick ass? Insert money into Blizzard's new cash cow.
Kirk: Exactly. Which is a bummer, because I do like loot! I'm also surprised at all the balance issues and other sorts of things that were present when Diablo III launched. I know that StarCraft II has been around a lot longer at this point, but when I went back to play some StarCraft II this past weekend, I couldn't help but think "My god, this game has so much more going on than Diablo III, and yet it's all so balanced!" How do they do it, you know?
Jason: Yeah, I mean in fairness, StarCraft II came out two years ago. And it has had all sorts of balance issues over those two years.
Kirk: Right, right. And I'm sure that Diablo III will have all the kinds worked out at some point. All the same, StarCraft II is a real accomplishment. Seen largely in the robust pro-gaming scene that the game supports. Now, you're very into competitive StarCraft II, right?
Jason: I used to be more into it, but yeah. I've watched a lot of pro StarCraft II matches over the years. They're super fun!
Kirk: Right? Before I knew you, one of the first things I read of yours was this great write-up of pro-level StarCraft II and its shoutcasters. Thanks to that article, I started watching pro StarCraft II and got hooked. This game is seriously fun to watch people play.
Jason: One of the coolest things about watching pro StarCraft II games is that feeling of "hey, if I practiced enough, maybe I could do that too." It's a game that rewards you for your time not with extra pixels, but with extra skill.
Kirk: I seriously got like 500% better after watching my first match. I had no idea people could move their units that fast. Part of it is that Blizzard is really good at making their games fun to watch. I even like watching people play Diablo III in infernot! It's in part because of the whole toy theatre thing that Jenn Frank talked about — you've always got a good perspective on the action. But it's more than that — they make their units very readable.
Jason: Oh, for sure. Blizzard is stellar at many things, and art direction is certainly one of them.
Kirk: And not just art direction for its own sake, but as a means to making the game work better as an e-sport. I mean... I went to a BarCraft event at a bar in San Francisco and everyone there, fan and fan alike, was super into it. The game is easy to watch, like any other sport. Better still, it's easy to recognise when someone is super good at it, which is such a thrill of watching sports, at least for me. Seeing that kind of excellence.
Jason: Color-coded teams help. Just like in real sports!
Kirk: Yeah, whoda thunk it? And also unit size, and the way they move. It's easy to tell what the basic units in StarCraft II are gonna do. Diablo III is kinda less readable in that regard, but then, that's not designed to be an e-sport. So let's get back to Diablo III. What class do you play?
Jason: I've played with most of them, but my main (before I gave up) was a Witch Doctor, who has some ridiculous skills. My primary attack was throwing jars of spiders at enemies. The jars would crack open, releasing arachnids everywhere. It was basically like that movie Eight Legged Freaks.
Kirk: AKA the greatest missing hyphen in movie-title history! "Run for your lives! There are freaks! Eight of them! And they are legged!"
Jason: "Legged Freaks" would be a good name for a ska band.
Kirk: I love the idea of describing something as "legged." I also like "legged" as a verb, like, "Man, I'm gonna have to leg it to this Tomb Raider interview."
Jason: Man, the executive producer of Tomb Raider is gonna want to leg it after that interview. (Just kidding.)
Kirk: Heh. So, you really only played Witch Doctor? I've mostly played Monk, with a second character who's a Demon Hunter. I get the feeling that Demon Hunter is a really popular class. Mr big-brain Simon Ferrari wrote a really smart review of the game at Paste, and described the high-level Demon Hunter stuff as basically a bullet-hell shooter. From the videos I've seen, that's certainly true! What do you think of that, that Diablo III changes so fundamentally on the higher difficulty settings?
Jason: I think that makes sense, but at this point in my life, I'm not willing to sit through the tedium required to get there. Twelve years ago, when Diablo II came out and took over my life for a while, things were different. I had much more time on my hands. I didn't own nearly as many awesome games. I didn't have a stockpile of untouched Steam titles to get through.
Maybe for people in high school or college today, Diablo III can be just as magical as Diablo II was for me back then. But I'd rather spend my (limited) time with a game like, say, StarCraft II, where I can start having fun within five minutes.
Kirk: Yeah, I hear you. Things have certainly changed for how we want to play games. I do think, however, that critiques of Diablo III should take into account that it's been designed not just on the ground level, but all the way up to the top. I personally can't speak to how it works up there, but sometimes it feels like everyone's talking about the entryway and no one's talking about the upstairs master bedroom, you know?
Jason: When it takes 50-60 hours to get to the master bedroom, it's hard to blame them!
Kirk: Ha. THIS HOUSE IS FUCKING HUGE YOU GUYS, WHERE IS THE BATHROOM
Jason: SERIOUSLY GUYS IT JUST TOOK ME FOUR DAYS TO GET TO THE KITCHEN HOW DO YOU EVEN LIVE
Kirk: WHY IS EVERYONE ATTACKING ME I JUST HAVE TO PEE GOD
Jason: Readers. If you take away one thing from today's Burning Questions, make it this: Never, ever live in a Diablo house.
Kirk: So, whether you're talking about Diablo or StarCraft, (or World of Warcraft, which we've mostly left out of this discussion), there's this certain "Blizzardyness" to all of the company's games. How would you define that?
Jason: Polish. Blizzard games always feel super responsive, super intricate, super detailed. From the tiny little artistic decisions (like random billboard jokes in StarCraft II) to dialogue that always seems like it was workshopped multiple times, every Blizzard game always seems like the product of lots and lots and lots of development time. (Which it always is.)
Kirk: Something about the animations stands out to me, at least on their most recent games. In both StarCraft II and Diablo III everything is so small, but moves in this chunky, visual way.
Jason: How so?
Kirk: Like, you can see everyone's belts? I think that belts are a big part of the Blizzard thing for me. Lovely, flowing belts.
Jason: Wait, did Blizzard make Kingdom Hearts?
Kirk: Maybe they could finally make the plot make sense. Wait what am I talking about... if anything they'd make it make even less sense!
Jason: Sora would turn evil, then good again, then evil. And then his parents would show up and kill everyone.
Kirk: It's remarkable how Blizzard's games are so compelling despite the fact that their underlying fiction is... well let's face it, it's pretty rubbish. I mean, I guess people are somewhat invested in Kerrigan, but is that really because she's a great character? Or only because she's the best we've got? And don't get me started on Diablo III... I think it was Michael Abbott who awesomely referred to the Diablo lore as "arch codswallop."
Jason: Disagree! I loved the narrative of Warcraft III and I love the narrative of StarCraft. I dig the Western vibes, the gruff protagonist, the Firefly-esque tribulations. I really, really love the lore that Blizzard engrains into all of its games.
Kirk: Hmm. I do think that StarCraft lore rises above the other games, but all I remember of WarCraft lore was WarCraft II. I guess I haven't played the one with the good story?
Jason: So first of all, believe it or not, StarCraft uses the capital C, but Warcraft doesn't. Stupid, I know. Did you play Warcraft III? That's the one that starred Arthas.
Kirk: Man. I cannot keep this shit straight. First it's inFAMOUS, now this crap. OK, I got it. Now... no I haven't played. Warcraft III.
Jason: You should! It's really cool, and drastically different than StarCraft II because it has heroes — stronger, more powerful units that can level up and use items on the field. I like the story a lot, too, although that might just be because I enjoy the lore so much.
Kirk: Huh. You know, maybe I will. I wanted to, it just happened to come out at a point where I wasn't really playing games. I mean... Warcraft II almost caused me to flunk French class in high school. I do love me some classic Warcraft strategy. Zug zug!
Jason: Slice and dice!
Kirk: So yeah, while I maybe haven't loved every Blizzard story, I do have to give them credit for some ace worldbuilding. Diablo III is the only game that feels mostly derivative. Warcraft could have been equally derivative, but it's actually darned original.
Jason: Man, we are just shitting all over Diablo III. Let's end on a positive note: What did you like most about D3?
Kirk: It's so weird, I'm very critical of that game, and yet I still like playing it! It's amazing how physically satisfying they've made a game that is entirely about clicking the mouse on dudes until their bones explode. I mean, everyone says the same thing, "It's like FarmVille," and "It's just clicking," but if you can make a game where clicking feels as good as it does in Diablo III, more power to you!
Jason: I think it might be the type of game where you realise you're being manipulated, and you can't help but enjoy it anyway. Kinda like FarmVille.
Kirk: I think there's something to that, even though it means I can only play the game for limited periods of time. Plus, the sound design in Diablo III is so good I practically play just to listen to how creative they can get. I've said this in the past — not many games have a specific sound effect for when you punch a Goat-Man so hard his skin flies off.
Jason: Do they really have one sound just for that?
Kirk: I like to think they do. It goes like, "BLATSSCHHH!"
Jason: "Hey Kirk, what's the best part of Diablo III?" "BLATSSCHHH!"
Kirk: Hahahaha yes, that about sums it up! So to wrap up, I think we've come to the conclusion that you and I need to play some StarCraft II together. Sorry I flaked last weekend.
Jason: Yeah. Jerk.
Kirk: That's why they call me Kirk The Jerk. Jirk.
(They don't really call me that.)
(That I know of, anyway.)