The Blizzard Epidemic

You’re a serious gamer, right? I mean, your 4 food groups are chips’n’dip, hot wings,  cold pizza and Mountain Dew. You think that by going to bed early, you mean 3 or 3:30am, and you cancel that date you (finally) picked up from the online matchmaking service because it conflicted with your XBOX live time. Wait, no? You’re married to a wonderful woman (or man, even), work full time, have 3 kids who you’re trying to get through the public school system? You have an SUV, a mortgage, and you are looking forward to a relatively comfortable retirement? And you pay fifteen bucks a month to play World of Warcraft. How is this POSSIBLE?!?!?!? World of Warcraft is the bane of existence! It dominates your life! You lose real life friends and replace them with NPC’s in-game! You tell your guildmates that you’re going to go back “into real life” for a bit, like this is Inception and your fantasy world has become reality! It’s a terrifying, life-sucking, social-adjustment-destroying monster. Right?

Well, no. Not really. World of Warcraft (heretofore referred to as WoW) is a game that appeals to a very, very wide audience. I mean, you don’t honestly think that there are 11 Million nerds in America, do you? (Actually, there probably are but a lot of them still play EverQuest and League of Legends, or they’re on XBOX live “pwning n00bs”).  But the fact of the matter is, WoW took the world by storm because it’s a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (or MMORPG [I know, I know, acronyms, they suck]) that is easy to learn, and is slow-paced enough to not dissuade the older crowd from trying it and enjoying it. Also, it has the ability to be fun whether you play for half an hour 2 times a week, or 4 hours every day except raid nights (because you need at least 6 hours on those days). This, combined with the no-nonsense high quality of Blizzard games in general, makes WoW a winner for people who don’t play a lot of games. WoW dragged a lot of people into the MMORPG market that had never played those kind of games before, and possibly never will again once they cancel their subscription.  (Please note that I’m not going to make  a strange analogy and post a random picture here before I go into the main part of what I’m talkin’ about here).

So what’s the deal-io with Blizzard that makes everything they do absolute gold? Well, it began a long time ago… (cue weird time-warp music). Blizzard’s first game that really had any semblance of popularity was a game called “Lost Vikings.” (The link to the game is below). You played as 3 vikings: Erik, Olaf, and Baelog. Facing off against the evil Tomator, you had to use each of the vikings’ unique abilities to navigate a wicked set of puzzles, through every possible environment, and eventually vanquish your tomato-y foe. This is like fledgling Blizzard here! The things that make this game good (which, as much as I hate to admit it, it was) are the things that make Blizzard games good today: challenging puzzles and strategy/multitasking, a good difficulty curve, wicked cool graphics, and an awesome sense of humor that a LOT of games today lack utterly. Already we can see that it possesses all of the characteristics needed to turn it into an extremely popular game-producing company, even in its INFANCY.

Infant Blizzard = Success kid + Baby Godfather. 😀

You didn’t think I’d let you down with the random analogy picture, did you?

So then, in no particular order, came the triple-whammy: the three games that single-handedly (triple…handedly…?) shattered the world of PC gaming and reformed it in a new, scarily addictive image. We are, of course, talking about Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft. Diablo was an “action RPG,” and Starcraft and Warcraft were both “Real-Time Strategy” games. They were FLASHY, they were intuitive, they were easy to learn and hard to master, they (eventually) had some crazy-cool multiplayer capabilities, they had intensely wonderful, rich plots that made you feel like you were actively participating in a (well-written) novel… and they were witty. Diablo was pretty dark all-around, but both SC and WC had just enough funny stuff in them that it kept you going, and made you click every unit you had 50 times just to hear all the funny things they have to say. (In Starcraft: “No, this is NOT ‘Warcraft in Space! I KNOW IT’S NOT THREE-D!!!”) These games are just of such a high quality that they sold like wildfire and probably have some of the most fanatical followings of any PC games ever (personal opinion not at all supported by statistics). Of course, then came Diablo 2, Warcraft 2 and 3, and most recently, Starcraft 2 (which is, by the way, a tour-de-force [more French!] of PC gaming).

So after all these insanely amazing games that catapulted Blizzard to the top of, like, everything… comes the single biggest money-maker in all of video game history: World of Warcraft.

The MMORPG to end all MMORPGs. There's a reason it's called "WoW."

Here’s the thing: There were MMORPG’s before WoW. There have been MMORPG’s that started AFTER WoW. But World of Warcraft has just dominated everything, and I’m going to explain why (again, opinion unsupported by anything, really. Don’t hate me). The first thing is that Warcraft already had a HUGE following. Drawing them into the continuation of the series was as easy as saying, “Hey guys, we’re Blizzard, and this is World of *WARCRAFT*. Buy.” And the other big thing is exactly what I said above. It is amazingly rich in graphics and virtual environments, it is easy to learn and yet requires intelligence to fully grasp and get the most of. There are so many quests and options to choose from, that it continues to be interesting and unique if you decide to advance your character in that way. And it has one of the more diverse and interesting Player-versus-Player settings that exist in MMORPG’s, so it appeals to both crowds, and yet you can have a satisfying gaming experience, even completely neglecting one or the other. What a concept. AND! It’s witty. There are groan-worthy puns, slapstick antics, and hilarious dialogue strewn about so liberally that it’s like the greatest writers in all of game design have finally decided to come together and use their powers for evil. One can go on and on about the variety and high quality that WoW presents, but I’m not going to. If you play WoW you’re aware, if you don’t play WoW I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to interest you; I’m not. I’m just saying there’s a reason so many people play (although I am no longer one of them…).

But what about other RPGs? EverQuest came before, and look at the brand-spanking-new Star Wars: The Old Republic, aka SWTOR! (SWTOR, seriously? On the 1-10 scale of stupid acronyms, this rates about a 13.5. It sounds like something Gramma knits me for Christmas. Or maybe something I can get at a pharmacy. “Hey, Steve, how’s the emphysema treatin’ ya?” “Great, now that I’m on SWTOR!” *Insert endless list of horrible side effects here.*) Anyway, just forget about them. EverQuest was a catalyst for WoW: it had a lot of mechanics that made it good, interesting, and fun, but it wasn’t perfect, and changing the game in a really big way to remedy the problems it had was something EQ creators just didn’t seem to be interested in doing. And why would they? Their game was very successful (and still is)! But WoW came along and made those changes, and put in a whole bunch of stuff that EQ game developers never dreamed of, while “borrowing” (that’s pronounced ‘stealing,’ kids) plenty of things that made EQ good. And about SWTOR… Check out this link to a somewhat blunt comparison of the two:

I feel like this is a more divisive issue than the 2012 Presidential Election.

For all the “too long; didn’t read” folks, the game developers (BioWare, by the way) consciously tried to avoid making their game too much like World of Warcraft, and didn’t exactly do a bang-up job. And how could they? The kind of game they envision operates on the same basic principles as WoW: you’re a single character, running about the world, completing tasks for yourself and other people, that often involve fighting. Whereas BioWare took a more diplomatic approach (literally) in giving a lot more options for quest completion and such, and has put a more interesting spin on the game mechanics than “Go here and kill x number of y creature, FOR GREAT JUSTICE!” (This is a staple of WoW culture. I hope you like killing boars). But unless you have a completely different kind of environment (like, say, EVE Online, where you are a spaceship… in space), you MUST borrow some of those mechanics. WoW just did it RIGHT in quite a few areas of MMORPG gaming. To deliberately be different just for the sake of being different is to make your game less awesome than it could be. I hope SWTOR does well, but I remain skeptical that it will outdo WoW (even with the huge draw of Star Wars fans).

But there you have it. Blizzard’s claim to fame in a nutshell (sort of). There’s a lot of amazing stuff out there under Blizzard’s name, and there’s still great stuff left to come (Diablo 3 and the Starcraft 2 expansion are thankfully in the works). I’m not going to advocate you buying these games because I think the best things in life are free! But if you haven’t played any of the Blizzard games, start yourself with Lost Vikings! And honestly, even if I never say that a game is worth paying for ever again, I will tell you that every single game put out by Blizzard is worth every penny you pay for it (especially if you can get it for free somehow)!

And although I didn’t want to make this joke, I hope you now understand how Blizzard has taken the world by STORM. Get it?

~Another Gamer

P.S. What’re some of your thoughts? What do you think makes Blizzard games great? Or what do you think makes other games better? Oh, and here’s that link to the ROM. (Remember to download ZSNES first!)

The Lost Vikings. If you don't love it yet, wait till you get to the Candyland level.

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About Isaac Smith

I write about music, technology, video games, and probably many other subjects that don't bear mentioning here. Either way, most of it's worth reading, and you may even enjoy yourself!

Posted on March 2, 2012, in Classic Games, Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m not really a fan of Blizzard, being a console gamer and the majority of Blizzard’s stuff being on PC I’ve never really found them appealing. But, I will say Lost Vikings is awesome!

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