A Blizzard of Personality

People often wonder what it is that makes Blizzard games so popular. I think you need look no farther than the product website for Starcraft II to get the answer to that question.

Take note of the way everything there drips with personality. Observe how the entire site is built around putting you in another world, one that Blizzard themselves have built from the ground up. It overwhelms you with information about the world of Starcraft, so much so that you can’t wait to get there and play. Sure, the naysayers will tell you that Blizzard rips off anyone and everyone to build their success. In fact, there can be no doubt that Starcraft and Warcraft originally bore similarities to Games Workshop’s Warhammer line. But while Warhammer is the geek’s favorite line of minatures, sort of stagnant and unchanging, Starcraft and Warcraft have conquered a far larger amount of public attention and carved out a legendary amount of mythology. This has been done without a lot of expensive advertising and mostly through fan excitement spreading the word far beyond the reach of most games.

I think Blizzard’s constant focus on a few powerful properties that they own, building them, enhancing them, filling in all the tiny little corners of them, is what ultimately drives their success. The gameplay that underlines these worlds is often slick, accessible, even innovative; but the genius is in the background around your actions. You can eat up as much or as little as you’d like, but if you want to delve deeply, the hole goes on and on, seemingly endless in the amount of context it provides for the game. All this focus on world building draws people in like so few games are capable of doing.

Blizzard’s attention to detail is something I want all developers to strive for with every product their produce. When it comes to animation, everything about a Blizzard game just fits. Characters move with a fluid grace that doesn’t interfere with gameplay but also enhances the sense of controlling beings with a personality all their own. This fluid animation starts in the incredible cinematic intros that grace all their games and doesn’t ever let up whether you play single-player, multiplayer or even massively-multiplayer. Their games are the poster children for how great animation can take simple game concepts and give the worlds they take place in a life all their own. Animation of top quality drives emotional responses from the player, disconnecting them with the real world and keeping their focus on that virtual one where the game takes place.

Strangely enough, the depth of their games is almost always overlooked, especially by those who want to hold up Blizzard as some kind of chop shop copycat gamemaker. Few developers seem to spend as much time massaging the numbers of their games as Blizzard does, both before and after release. The fact they can even do that speaks to the time that must be spent in their development process tweaking and tightening the screws of all that interplay between numbers. And yet the numbers can be completely forgotten when you delve into their worlds.

The brilliance of Blizzard is found in their uncanny ability to take all these numbers that build up a great game filled with complex interaction and imbue that with personality. They make it fun to drive down into fantasy worlds that seem to stretch on endlessly while at the same time making all player action affect the game near instantaneously. They do this in the single and multiplayer game space in ways that everyone should marvel at and applaud.

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