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Old 07-31-2018, 05:41 AM
BoxCrayonTales BoxCrayonTales is offline

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Unhappy What went wrong with StarCraft lore?

Over twenty years of retcons and changing writers, StarCraft lore has become a mess. When StarCraft II was released, many fans cried foul because of numerous retcons and plot holes. These were so extreme that they can be cataloged in an entire blog. But the problem with the lore goes back earlier. The story of Brood War, for example, is loaded with plot holes.

StarCraft 1's aborted backdrop

Ultimately, the lore went wrong back when the first game was released. According to interviews with IGN and with Polygon, the plot of the first game had not been planned by the time the gameplay and manual backstory had stabilized. On its own there is actually nothing wrong with that. The problem is that Metzen made some rather questionable writing choices that clearly did not account for the limitations of the game engine and the initial lore.

The manual presents the single most consistent and reasonable iteration of the lore. The backstory has a few mistakes here and there, but for the most part the lore paints a nice picture and foreshadows the war for the fate of the Koprulu sector. The zerg want to consume the protoss, but need the determinant so they invade humanity, but then the protoss get involved and alienate the terrans, and both the terrans and protoss have their own internal strife making stuff more difficult than it should be. This is a great backdrop against which to tell stories.

What Metzen forgot is that this backdrop was never planned to advance. The manual has no provisions for what happens if the Sons of Korhal succeed in overthrowing the Confederacy. The game engine itself does not include provisions for what happens if the zerg succeed in assimilating the determinant (which should logically take the form of new units with a terran core genus or something). The entire premise is dependent on the zerg being a vicious, all-devouring swarm that seeks to perfect itself by assimilating the strongest species in the universe.

Episode 1 neatly breaks the whole premise

Metzen made numerous mistakes as a result. He neatly resolves the Koprulu war in the first episode, barely exploring it in the process. The manual included foreshadowing that the protoss would have a civil war over the fate of the terrans and maybe ally with the Umojans, but none of this ever comes to pass. The zerg and protoss forces just leave because Metzen decided they should and rationalized it after the fact.

Thus, the entire premise of the three races fighting is nullified. Pretty much everything introduced in the manual is now meaningless trivia. Metzen ignores this and forces three-way conflicts to reoccur in the following two episodes using flimsy justifications. The terran characters continue to make cameos in the following episodes but contribute nothing to the plot.

Despite these mistakes, the story of Rebel Yell is competent. Not amazing, but as a standalone story it at least makes sense every step of the way. Unfortunately, it easily has the strongest story of the original trilogy of campaigns. The next two were nowhere near as well plotted.

Episode 2 loses it way

In the second episode, Metzen really drops the ball on characterizing the zerg. The concept of the determinant is never explicitly mentioned and since the game engine was not balanced with new assimilated terran units, Metzen introduced an infested terran hero instead who contributes little to the plot besides serving as a plot device. The story of the episode is unmemorable and meanders. It feels like filler that serves solely to explain what the zerg were doing, where they want and foreshadowing an ending involving a blatant deus ex machina. Although Rebel Yell was not perfect, at least it told a compelling story with characters who developed socially if not personally. The Overmind episode is amazingly dull unless you are a diehard zerg fan, and it becomes utterly irrelevant when the sequels roll around and kill the zerg hierarchy off. Most of the zerg characters are not very interesting and are not used in a way to make them look interesting. They are painfully bland and as a zerg fan that hurts me real bad.

There is some evidence that this episode was actually stitched together from at least two separate plots that were not correctly integrated. Midway through QoB vanishes despite being set up as a weapon against the khalai protoss (not the dark Templar) and the invasion of Aiur doesn’t mention her relevance at all. The Overmind claims that the only thing keeping them from invading the protoss is that they don’t know where Aiur is. This is incongruous with the manual, which states that they had probes on the border of protoss space for what was apparently centuries at least and did not invade because their military was inferior.

Episode 3 obliterates the protoss and zerg cultures

In the third episode, Metzen follows through on the manual’s extremely vague promise that the zerg will eventually invade the protoss. The difference is that the manual teased this as something to happen in the distant future, not feature as the plot of the first game in the franchise. There are no assimilated terrans because the game engine did not have them, so the determinant is invalidated unless you perform serious mental gymnastics. Furthermore, the galactic protoss empire mentioned in the manual has been reduced to a single planet located a short distance away from the terrans. Some terrans are included to maintain the three way conflict, although their presence is really forced and the narrative goes out of its way to revisit Koprulu even though the story has moved on.

Then the game ends with the Overmind, who was previous established as the bodiless conscience of the zerg race, suddenly being made physical so that he can be destroyed by a previously established deus ex machina. This completely invalidates the premise of the setting by destroying the thing responsible for setting the conflict in motion, if leaving Koprulu and dropping the determinant concept were not already sufficient on their own.

Conclusion

Obviously, this is not a strong foundation for sequels. Every sequel basically pulled a new conflict from nowhere and the world building grew increasingly distant from that established in the manual for the first game. Numerous retcons were made that weakened the story. Every game was pretty much set in its own universe that included trivial references to the past games. By the end of SC2 the setting had become a completely different one that used the same names and races but otherwise had a completely different tone and theme and style.

Barring introducing even more retcons, there is no way to fix this. For a game about the three races fighting, the narrative universe went out of its way to remove their reasons for fighting. For a game whose first manual had such a huge potential for expanding on the world building, the subsequent lore was surprisingly unwilling to really explore any of the ideas introduced therein. The games pretty much focused their main plots around events that effectively destroyed what little culture were possessed by the protoss and zerg.

I cannot say anything about the future of the franchise, if it indeed has a future (the esports scene for SC2 has severely declined and right now Blizzard seems to be concentrating their effort on Overwatch). This is not a strong foundation and I fully expect that any sequels will make further retcons and render the setting unrecognizable from the last installment, much less the other predecessors.

A reboot could fix these problems and allow writers to cherrypick elements of the previous continuity that fans liked (later introduced characters like Abathur, Dehaka, Alarak, Stukov, Tychus, etc), reintroducing forgotten plot points (like Umojans, KMC, protoss tribes, zerg broods, the determinant, the protoss' galactic empire, etc), while discarding what did not work (the degradation of the protoss and zerg, Amon's generic doomsday plot, the weekly apocalypses that destroy the sector but are instantly recovered from, etc). The obvious rebuttal is that a reboot would alienate older fans, but the constant string of retcons that destroy the consistency of the existing continuity has already done the most to alienate older fans. A reboot would allow the story to appeal to both old and new fans by dropping all the retcons and repackaging what the old fans loved to appeal to new fans. Everybody wins!

Feel free to discuss. Agree, disagree, etc. If you have any questions about my analysis or want clarification, leave a reply.
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Old 08-01-2018, 02:17 AM
C9H20 C9H20 is offline

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About terran psychics, they were technically incorporated into the zerg swarm. The queen (the original and SC2 new breed) species was made with terran psychic potential... but admittedly that unit is rather underwhelming and doesn't show it much. I agree it should have been a much bigger and move obvious deal. Additionally terran psychic potential helped swarm in other smaller roles, potentially.


And honestly not much to say, I largely agree with your vision. I was always one who valued scale, that is what pisses me a lot about WoW, how those societies face apocalyptic damage year after year in canon yet are not only no worse for wear but flourishing. So I definitely like those aspects, the protoss empire being an Empire and the zerg needing to invest a massive long term effort to reach Auir and break the protoss.

That said I do not agree that a reboot would be best, SC is not yet that broken imo (though Warcraft is, bring on the reboot there any day). There are indications that Blizzard wants to do a big time skip for SC. The plot is pretty much resolved as you yourself say. Kerrigan fulfilled her destiny and is now having cosmic sex with Raynor, those two never to be seen again or at best to show up as supporting "big good" characters in the future that help or empower the protagonists. Vallerian is sorting out humanity in league with Raynor's old crew represented by Matt. The protoss are united, rebuilding and poised to have a new renaissance. The zerg in the latest book are moving more towards sustainable living and spreading life to worlds in emulation of Kerrigan. I can see a more botanical zerg in the future, also more mellow and individualistic. A radical departure I know but it could be good if done well and you can always have old guard reactionaries (indeed that is what happens in the book).
So then you do a time skip and let new tension develop. Maybe terran population skyrockets in this time of peace and prosperity and starts to infringe on zerg wildlife worlds and protoss colonies. So the zerg lash out ecoterrorist style and the protoss now recovered revert to their older, zealous modes of thinking and decide they know best how to rule and guild the lesser races.

Anyhow you see the general idea. Time skip leaves the bad stuff but it also leaves the good stuff around and admittedly a reboot is a dirty concept, taking player experiences and expectations and ripping them apart, raping the continuity. A weapon of last resort. With a time skip you can pick and choose which events leave ripples that shape the modern time. Maybe Amon and his hybrids are totally ignored apart from the changes their existence left in protoss society. So let the good things leave a bigger mark on the future (the new present) than the bad things. In some ways it is like a reboot without tearing up the continuity that some people may actually like, and again I think reboots and retcons are just awful, awful tools. I would not even call them writing tools. Imagine if Dostoyevski or someone after him retconned Crime and Punishment? It is just horrid and inconceivable, and it is no better in game writing either, it should just not be done.

Now as I said there are indications of a time skip with Kerrigan and Raynor fucking off and all races healing and changing... but on the other hand Blizzard is notoriously reticent to give up on characters and ideas. Just letting a hundred years pass and have most or all human characters dead is such a big no no for blizz that they are quite liable to reverse course in which case they will likely just hammer the lore until SC3 makes a degree of sense. A reboot is unlikely too since Blizz also hates to discard old stories (and hence invalidate merch like games and books).

We may well be fucked either way friend
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Old 08-01-2018, 06:16 AM
BoxCrayonTales BoxCrayonTales is offline

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Originally Posted by C9H20 View Post
About terran psychics, they were technically incorporated into the zerg swarm. The queen (the original and SC2 new breed) species was made with terran psychic potential... but admittedly that unit is rather underwhelming and doesn't show it much. I agree it should have been a much bigger and move obvious deal. Additionally terran psychic potential helped swarm in other smaller roles, potentially.
The only breeds that are confirmed in the fluff to have terran genes are the overseer, the changeling, and the aberration. Those genes are not specifically mentioned as psychic, and by the time of SC2 the concept of the determinant was irrelevant if not outright forgotten.

Of these, the changeling is the only one with apparent psychic powers (cloud the minds of enemy forces to perceive it as one of their own). The aberration has pretty much nothing in common with its human ancestors in physiology or psychology besides the top half of its face. The overseer has nothing remotely human about its physiology.

The SC1 queen, sometimes called a "brood queen", has no terran genes and the zerg history explicitly states that queens were present on Zerus (and overlords as well, which produces a minor contradiction as this should have given the zerg space travel before the behemoths arrived, but I digress). The SC2 queen, sometimes called a "swarm queen", has ambiguous fluff that cannot decide where her genes come from. An earlier iteration of the SC2 website stated her core genus was "unknown," other lore states they may be partial clones of QoB or incorporate protoss genes somehow (but other lore states that zerg and protoss genes are incompatible... despite the existence of hybrids).

In fact, terrans in general are mentioned in one short story as being incompatible with the zerg genes for no apparent reason. Most of them are driven insane for no apparent reason (as the gargantis proximae had language and did not suffer the same problem, nor did infested terrans in the games since they can still speak) and their psychic powers are destroyed... although all these problems can be trivially reversed by a simple terran nanomachine treatment, much less whatever treatment might be available to zerg or protoss medicine. Supposedly psychic powers are rendered useless if you make the tiniest modifications to unrelated parts of the genome... even though this makes no sense since that means simply evolving would destroy psychic potential. QoB (and also Stukov) ignored all of these hurdles because she is a special snowflake and by that I mean one of the official Q&A sessions explicitly calls her a demigoddess.

These are some the least annoying inconsistencies in the lore, but only because the plot of the games does not hinge on this and outright ignore it. Claiming that the determinant still existed in some form outside the original manual is, in my analysis, nothing more than an ad hoc rationalization. If you analyze the game script itself isolated from the manual, the presence of QoB comes off as a red herring since she is setup as some kind of zerg messiah but ultimately contributes nothing to the war effort since all the work is done by the presiding cerebrate. This is bad writing because most of the zerg campaign is dedicated to this red herring, making the whole thing filler and a pointless waste of time.

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Originally Posted by C9H20 View Post
And honestly not much to say, I largely agree with your vision. I was always one who valued scale, that is what pisses me a lot about WoW, how those societies face apocalyptic damage year after year in canon yet are not only no worse for wear but flourishing. So I definitely like those aspects, the protoss empire being an Empire and the zerg needing to invest a massive long term effort to reach Auir and break the protoss.

That said I do not agree that a reboot would be best, SC is not yet that broken imo (though Warcraft is, bring on the reboot there any day). There are indications that Blizzard wants to do a big time skip for SC. The plot is pretty much resolved as you yourself say. Kerrigan fulfilled her destiny and is now having cosmic sex with Raynor, those two never to be seen again or at best to show up as supporting "big good" characters in the future that help or empower the protagonists. Vallerian is sorting out humanity in league with Raynor's old crew represented by Matt. The protoss are united, rebuilding and poised to have a new renaissance. The zerg in the latest book are moving more towards sustainable living and spreading life to worlds in emulation of Kerrigan. I can see a more botanical zerg in the future, also more mellow and individualistic. A radical departure I know but it could be good if done well and you can always have old guard reactionaries (indeed that is what happens in the book).
So then you do a time skip and let new tension develop. Maybe terran population skyrockets in this time of peace and prosperity and starts to infringe on zerg wildlife worlds and protoss colonies. So the zerg lash out ecoterrorist style and the protoss now recovered revert to their older, zealous modes of thinking and decide they know best how to rule and guild the lesser races.

Anyhow you see the general idea. Time skip leaves the bad stuff but it also leaves the good stuff around and admittedly a reboot is a dirty concept, taking player experiences and expectations and ripping them apart, raping the continuity. A weapon of last resort. With a time skip you can pick and choose which events leave ripples that shape the modern time. Maybe Amon and his hybrids are totally ignored apart from the changes their existence left in protoss society. So let the good things leave a bigger mark on the future (the new present) than the bad things. In some ways it is like a reboot without tearing up the continuity that some people may actually like, and again I think reboots and retcons are just awful, awful tools. I would not even call them writing tools. Imagine if Dostoyevski or someone after him retconned Crime and Punishment? It is just horrid and inconceivable, and it is no better in game writing either, it should just not be done.

Now as I said there are indications of a time skip with Kerrigan and Raynor fucking off and all races healing and changing... but on the other hand Blizzard is notoriously reticent to give up on characters and ideas. Just letting a hundred years pass and have most or all human characters dead is such a big no no for blizz that they are quite liable to reverse course in which case they will likely just hammer the lore until SC3 makes a degree of sense. A reboot is unlikely too since Blizz also hates to discard old stories (and hence invalidate merch like games and books).

We may well be fucked either way friend
Every game has made retcons that so thoroughly invalidate the cause and effect relationship of past events that they might as well be reboots since they clearly do not make sense as part of the same universe. You want Blizzard to continue that course of action and further diverge from the original vision of StarCraft? I completely disagree.

Introducing more and more retcons only weakens the story. Any attempt to appeal to old fans by referencing past events is undermined by the retcons rendering those events nonsensical as part of the same timeline. Claiming that a reboot would confuse fans is hypocritical because the existing retcons and inevitable future retcons are already confusing enough. A reboot would offer a clean slate, free of the arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions of the current lore, and the ability to plan the new lore in advance with an eye to avoiding retcons and other inconsistencies. Comic books have realized this long ago and it works great for them because you cannot honestly expect fans to keep track of decades of backstory that is loaded with retcons and inconsistencies.

I think the new lore is bad. Not bad because it overturns past lore, but bad on its own merits. The old lore was the best lore because the writing was genuinely better, even as bare bones as it was (in fact the lack of detail probably helped by inspiring the readers' imaginations to fill in the blanks). I do not believe that the current lore can be course corrected, not without retcons so extreme they might as well be reboots anyway, and especially not by following your suggestions.

Turning the zerg into individualistic territorial eco-terrorists leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The original zerg were awesome even as bare bones as they were and had so potential for expansion. They took the science fiction cliche of the devouring swarm and took it in a new direction, they gave it personality for the first time in literary history. This gives them more storytelling potential compared to a typical devouring swarm like the tyranids.

Now the zerg are just bland and boring. Even Blizzard seemingly acknowledges this because the primal zerg have the exact same motivation as the pre-retcon zerg... except they are utterly incompetent due to their lack of hive mind. The primal zerg do not hold any appeal for me either.

I was never much interested in the protoss as I was the zerg, but I since they are supposed to be the zerg's final enemy I absolutely hated the way Blizzard systematically destroyed their civilization. That is not something that can be fixed with a time skip, it would still be a massive retcon that further weakens the story.

That is not to say your suggestion is bad on its own merits. It is fine on its own, but I do not find it suitable for the StarCraft franchise. The original lore carefully contrived reasons for the three races to interact violently. Not only that, but they were given their own motivations that were not solely dependent on the three way conflict. The terrans are motivated by many desires that cause conflict between the greedy oligarchy and the downtrodden civilians chaffing under their human rights violations. The protoss disagree over how best to enforce the philosophy of the great stewardship and to deal with the insatiable expansion of the terrans. The zerg seek perfection by assimilating the strongest species in the galaxy, and it is mere happenstance that the terrans and protoss play into this goal.

Brood War pretty much ruined the zerg by making QoB into a generic evil overlord who had no goals other than to take over the sector by butchering most of the population simply because she could. Not only that, but this completely clashed with her characterization in the last game as a short-sighted killing machine interested in nothing more than killing any non-zerg she could find, to the point she would threaten other commanders whenever they questioned her loyalty when she sought means to become a better killing machine. This basically makes her identical to Surtur/Kagg in the manual, which is described as so bloodthirsty it must be kept restrained to avoid collateral damage against the other broods, and I suspect that during development Kagg and QoB might have started as separate characters who were later merged. Contrast this against the Overmind, who displayed an extremely unsubtle god-complex (Metzen admits in an interview that its speech pattern was modeled after the King James Bible and Shakespeare) but ultimately cared only for the future of its "children" like any loving parent would.

StarCraft 2 discarded the three races' own motivations in favor of making them solely reactionary and forced to team up by the ham-fisted inclusion of Amon. Like QoB, Amon was a generic villain with a generically evil goal that was not the least bit believable. He was a watered-down rip-off of the Overmind.

If the modern zerg are basically hippies, why even call them zerg anymore? (I level the same complaint against the modern protoss.)
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Old 08-03-2018, 08:19 PM
Cacofonix Cacofonix is offline

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What went wrong with it is that it focused on the characters when it should have focused on the world. Instead it, like Warcraft, became a soap opera about Kerrigan and whoever's relevant to her.
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Old 08-07-2018, 06:39 AM
BoxCrayonTales BoxCrayonTales is offline

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What went wrong with it is that it focused on the characters when it should have focused on the world. Instead it, like Warcraft, became a soap opera about Kerrigan and whoever's relevant to her.
Putting it that way is excessively reductionist, but that is essentially what my complaints boil down to. The SC1 manual introduces the Confederacy, pirate militias, zerg broods, and protoss tribes and set ups a multifaceted conflict over the fate of Koprulu and ultimately the galaxy. Then QoB takes over the plot of Episode 2, then the plot of Brood War and every subsequent game until she defeats Satan in a deus ex machina.

Meanwhile, the plot we should have had is completely forgotten. If you listen to people on the Blizzard forums, they want to have a sequel that takes place thousands of years in the future instead of a reboot. Rather than reboot back to basics and write the story we should have gotten, those fanboys want Blizzard to write absolutely everything from scratch.

I think the distant sequel concept is pointless and that a reboot is the best choice. I do not trust Blizzard to write anything decent and the factions in the SC1 manual are still emblematic elements of the franchise even if they have been eclipsed in importance by the boring gimmick factions in the sequels.

Here is a more detailed explanation:

Terran politics
Terran politics are divided between four major power blocs and unnumbered independent colonies. The four blocs are the Confederacy, Umojan Protectorate, Kel-Morian Combine and Sons of Korhal. The latter three all have important reasons to be at odds with the Confederacy. The Umojan Protectorate is a democratic utopia that disagrees with the Confederacy's oligarchy and their massive human rights violations. The Kel-Morian Combine was stripped of its resources and forcibly inducted as a client state of the Confederacy. The Sons of Korhal want revenge for the numerous human rights violations committed by the Confederacy, such as the genocide of Korhal.

The zerg and protoss complicate things. While you might think they give the terrans a reason to unite, in truth they prove to be an opportunity in the internecine strife. The Confederacy wants to enslave the zerg and unleash against their own people. The Umojans want to ally with the protoss in order to learn from them. Etc.

Zerg politics
Although zerg all shared a single unified will and drive, as represented by the Overmind, this is not to say they are devoid of politics. The Overmind seeks to marry the strengths of unity and diversity, so to this end it gave the broods distinct personalities and these personalities can bicker just like any family. An efficient yet dysfunctional family. The manual explicitly states that Zasz, master of Garm and cleverest of cerebrates, is considered whiny and unstable by his peers. The Surtur brood is so violent that they need to be restrained when not unleashed upon enemies of the swarm, and even in battle they cause collateral damage to fellow broods despite lacking any ill intent towards their kin.

Although the zerg are normally unified (as dysfunctional as that may be in practice), targeting the hive mind connection will disrupt this unity. Whether this is the result of unintentional madness or deliberate attack, the result is the same: the brood turns against the swarm. The natural behavior of the zerg is to viciously expand and consume all in their path that isn't part of their hive mind. A brood may even be enslaved by terrans or protoss, although this is almost certainly a matter of mental trickery. The logical extreme of this is severing the connection between all the broods, leading to "brood wars" as they fight to become the new Overmind.

Protoss politics
Although composed of numerous different ethnic groups, the protoss are able to build a communist utopia by using the Khala to force a civilization-wide empathy. Even so, this does not restrict their free will and tribes like the Ara and Akilae came into conflict over the fate of the terrans. For example, an impatient and genocidal Judicator Syndrea started a civil war against the forces of the compassionate Executor Andraxxus and this mistake allowed the zerg to claim Brontes IV.

Ethnic groups that are not part of the Khala, such as the dark templar and other groups dating back to the Aeon of Strife, introduce further elements of conflict. For example, Ulrezaj sought revenge against the Khalai for exiling his people all those millennia ago and to this end he allied with terran pirates, tal'darim cultists and enslaved zerg. The terran pirate militias are even known to employ protoss "shadow pirates" among their numbers.

We had so much room for morally grey scifi warfare and it is a true shame that we never got what we deserved.
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