It was Fall of 1998 and I was riding the bus home from school. A few friends were talking about building bases and raising armies. At the time, I had no context for what this meant, but they had my attention.
Within two weeks I was installing StarCraft on my Dad's Pentium 2 PC.
Jumping into StarCraft for my first time was a momentous occasion for multiple reasons. Prior to playing it I had never touched a real-time strategy game before. My understanding of what video games were capable of was limited to what was available on PlayStation at the time, and it certainly didn't have a big strategy game like StarCraft. Experiencing the deep strategy and wide scope of the game was astonishing, re-shaping what I thought a video game could be.
StarCraft was also the very first online game I had ever played. It arrived at a time when people were just starting to learn about the internet, including myself. Napster wasn't even out yet, and neither was any reliable way to watch videos. Listening to the loud dial tone as I connected to dial-up and anxiously awaiting my arrival in Battle.net was the highlight of many of my evenings. There was a sense of urgency when I was trying to complete my homework, as all I wanted to do was hop on StarCraft without any distractions.
I remember just how profound the experience was for me. Battle.net, with all its chat rooms, competitive games, and custom maps, was unparalleled at the time. It was the first game I would spend more than 200 hours playing—sorry Final Fantasy VII—and make online friends. The value it delivered between its compelling campaign, LAN games, and Battle.net went well beyond anything else I had ever experienced, and by a long shot.
I would quickly learn that competitive RTS multiplayer wasn't for me. I would try to rank up in ladder, but my lack of game knowledge would lead to tragedy. While I enjoyed discussing strategies and watching games, most of my time would be spent playing custom games and completing Big Game Hunters against A.I. I must have spent over a dozen hours playing tower defense games and custom RPGs alone. I even tried making my own map in the Map Editor, which would be my first foray into game design and triggers, preluding my Computer Science education.
As a Protoss player it was fun just to build up the resources to amass an army of Carriers. Looking back, the strategy made no sense, but there was something magical about watching dozens of Interceptors pick an army apart before seeing the victory screen.
StarCraft delivered on several fronts. What it didn't get enough credit for was its excellent cast of characters. Kerrigan, Raynor, Zeratul, and Tassadar have remained interesting characters even a decade after their debut. I still remember wanting to hunt down Alexei Stukov after watching the Brood War intro cinematic, one of the most powerful videos that Blizzard has ever put together.
A couple years later I would move onto Counter-Strike where I would become equally as engrossed, but I wouldn't forget where I came from.
In 2010 StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty's arrival was a nostalgic one for me. It arrived a full 12 years after my first time playing the franchise. Seeing my favorite characters come to life in HD and listening to the unmistakable musical composition of Derek Duke and Glenn Stafford instantly brought back some of the best of my gaming memories.
I would find myself enjoying StarCraft 2 in a different way than I did with the original. Instead of focusing on custom games, during Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm I would spend time competing online in one-versus-one matches, eventually achieving a Gold ranking in ladder—which is nothing to brag about, but required a lot of effort for me.
Although I logged countless hours in the game, I had almost just as many spent watching others share their gameplay on Twitch and YouTube. There's something about StarCraft that makes it one of the most enjoyable games to watch, whether or not you play it. There's a reason it gets huge turnouts at tournaments, such as this last weekend's WCS Global Finals at BlizzCon 2015. This video side of the game reminds me a lot of my first time logging into Battle.net. It's a compelling use of the latest in technology that keeps you invested in the game.
During Heart of the Swarm improvements would be made to the social experience, in addition to Arcade being given a great deal of attention. These were long-requested and had an immensely positive impact on the atmosphere and longevity of StarCraft 2. I would soon find myself once again consumed.
Here we are in 2015, and StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void's arrival signals the end of an era. It goes without saying that this week is an emotional one for me, as this will be the last StarCraft release for a long, long time. Unfortunately, real-time strategy is a genre that is holding on for dear life. The masses have spoken, and action RTS' such as League of Legends have chewed into the popularity of classic RTS resulting in diminished community size and activity. Most gamers are no longer willing to put themselves in a position of responsibility to control an entire army and base at the same time. Even then, I find myself wanting to spend time within StarCraft's world instead.
For that, Blizzard has done everything you'd hope for to make it inviting for casual players. The new Co-op mode lets you to work together with a teammate to complete Campaign-like missions. Meanwhile, Archon mode allows you to share control of a single army with two players. In my case, this means that myself and some of the people i played StarCraft on LAN with back in the 90's can enjoy the gameplay and atmosphere without the frustration of being overwhelmed with tasks. Production and unit orders can literally be split between two players.
In addition to this, StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void ends a story arch that's lasted more than a decade. During my time completing several of its missions I've found myself with goosebumps from the magnitude of what unfolds. This is the epic climax that fans have been hoping for, and as someone who has 17 years of history with the franchise it's magical.
When I look back at the last 17 years, I see a king of a genre, an innovator, and a leader in its space. I see what has been inarguably one of the most influential games to ever be birthed, and I've forged lasting memories from playing it.
Now that the final chapter has arrived, it's time to savor the moment and enjoy the last moments of this StarCraft era that we've all been fortune to be a part of.