It was the biological transportation of a nerve cell through what would more simply be considered a canal that started it all. To an extent, it was the replication of how the brain works as it transmits data. Little did anyone know, something so small would evolve into something immense.
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A year short of a decade later, this would be the source for a gaming company name that three graduates of UCLA, Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham and Frank Pearce, would deem Silicon & Synapse (S&S). Since their conception in 1991, this garage-based project has evolved quite a bit including a re-branding into Chaos Studios in 1994, and then a transformation into its final form. Most of you are familiar with this company, better known today as Blizzard Entertainment.
Pearce, Morhaime and Adham... The Bro Squad
Focusing on ports in the early days was what the three-person team was all about. Essentially, taking one game on a certain platform and modifying it, enabling it to be played on various platforms, in different technical environments and making it more efficient as far as space (memory) and speed. Between 1991 and 1992, Silicon & Synapse ported four games, all more mathematical than not.
By doing so, the porting was more mathematical based with systemic algorithms and would never have contained such complications as a game in today's era would -- no intensive 3D models, no compatibility issues with newer technology and the list goes on. For the sake of boredom, one copypasta game summary can be found below; the others you'll have to search for (which I'm sure many of you will).
Battle Chess is a quite typical chess game, but it comes with a twist: all pieces are represented by small, realistic figures that walk around on the chessboard, and when one piece takes another, they both take part in an animated battle. There is a different animation for each permutation, depending on which pieces are capturing or being captured. You can also play in 2D without animation.
The game's opening library includes 30,000 different moves, ensuring a variety of games will unfold across the 10 skill levels.
Multi-player support can be extended to modem and/or serial port play.
Platforms supported: 3DO, Acorn 32-bit, Amiga CD32, Amiga, Apple II, Apple IIgs, Atari ST, CDTV, Commodore 64, DOS, FM Towns, Macintosh, NES, PC-98, Sharp X68000, Windows 3.x
As you can literally see above, although Silicon & Synapse was still attempting to put their foot into the industry as a tractable entity, they were extremely good at what they did. Unfortunately, porting these days is a hit-and-miss for PC with many large titles usually releasing a few months after the initial console release, a process which could be taken up and improved.
After wanting to push forward further, Morhaime, Adham and Pearce splashed into the gaming scene as a development company in 1994 under the name Chaos Studios. After running into licensing problems regarding the name Chaos, the three musketeers renamed to Blizzard Entertainment and it's remained as such ever since.
The not-so-stunning graphics of the old school Warcraft: Orcs & Humans...
After several minor games failed to take off, their first hit entitled Warcraft: Orcs & Humans exploded in 1994, giving a sort of persona to the company that was still struggling to find its own identity despite the incoming wave of fame and respect for their unique approach to game development which we'll touch on more in-depth. Although not the most graphically pleasing game of its time, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans would be the precursor to future Warcraft expansions including both Tide of Darkness, Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne. Shortly afterwards, a game known as World of Warcraft would emerge from the ruins of Warcraft, the RTS series that, along with Brood War, pushed forward the genre further than ever before, cementing its own tier in gaming history.
Let's fast forward to 2004. It's been 13 years since the three college graduates started up a game company, and Allen Adham (VP of Blizzard at the time) decided to peace out, pursuing his own career and remaining as a consultant to both Morhaime and Pearce.
World of Warcraft is about to release, and no one knows how successful the game will be. Fortunately, over the next several years, it would become the world's most widely-played game and would trump anything in its way. The catch that we're focusing on today? Its appearance.
We're aware of Blizzard's approach to games, but why is it so successful? In the previous edition of Pixels of Truth, we touched on Gabe Newell and his theory of designing a game, using unique shadow-like shading techniques to create prolific silhouettes recognizable instantly. Blizzard has always said since day one gameplay triumphs graphics; evidently this is true, as they've become the top dog in PC gaming worldwide.
A sad yet nostalgic picture showing the game's steady recession over time.
Consisting of now what most would consider "bad" graphics that have evolved over the years just slightly, World of Warcraft has always been the game with gameplay much more intense than the aesthetic aspect. Smooth textures, fluorescent colors and somewhat thin sheets of model layers riddle the world of Azeroth as we take a look around... but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this is one of the reasons the game has become so successful. It gives the virtual realm character and the graphics have been modified slightly to live up to hype, but not take away from both accessibility and feel. There have been hundreds of MMOs with more advanced graphics that instantly flop due to game mechanics being broken and storylines falling through.
We're all familiar with the game Brood War, however little or extensive our knowledge of the scene is. Let's be honest; the graphics are absolutely horrible, but the gameplay is arguably unrivaled to this day across any RTS game ever developed. This is the textbook example of how important gameplay is and how much it triumphs graphical appearance. For those that doubt this theory of video game development, I refer you to an old school classic called Asteroids.
Needless to say, World of Warcraft was released in 2004 when it was ahead of its time as far as game mechanics and graphics, especially the storyline within the game. Fast forward six years and StarCraft: Wings of Liberty releases, once again defining the RTS genre despite getting mixed reviews from the elitist community of the series claiming it was too easy compared to Brood War, a trivial argument with no substance. In regards to the newest expansion, Heart of the Swarm which is on schedule to be publicly released in March, Chris Sigaty had the following to say to John Gaudiosi over at Forbes.
We’ve really put in our best effort so that all aspects of game are getting attention. I believe Heart of the Swarm is the best campaign yet.
We’ve overhauled the user interface. We’ve added new systems for new players that will come along and take a look because of the Battle.net World Championship.
We have a new training mode to wrap around multiplayer. We have a new Versus AI mode that plays at your skill level. It allows you to just select and go. We have a new unranked play experience to play against like-skilled players.
We have new updates to the editor through Arcade Patch 1. It’s honestly the best product I have worked on for giving something for everyone.
Heart of the Swarm Cinematic
Above, an example of how far Blizzard has come graphically, design-wise and storyline-wise. Constantly updating and consistently providing insight to updates, the Blizzard development team is one of the most interactive in the industry. By looking at user forums and other outlets of social media to improve and tweak game mechanics based on feedback, they put themselves in a category that's rare at best in today's video game scene.
Therein lies the end of the first part of our look into Blizzard; next time, we'll be taking a look at the maths and hard-crunching numbers behind StarCraft: Heart of the Swarm and why it's best to have three different races opposed to the classic two. After that, we dive into the art of Blizzard and what makes the lines we see in-game so special, along with the endurance that the Diablo series has endured all of these years.