StarCraft: Engaging Mass Recall!

The secret mission Biting the Bullet in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I talked about a mod that adapted the original StarCraft campaigns to run in StarCraft II, an impressive and incredibly faithful effort guaranteed to send a powerful jolt of nostalgia through any StarCraft fan.

After I wrote that, the mod’s creators continued to expand, iterate, and improve upon it. The last campaign was completed, and it gained the much fancier title of “StarCraft: Mass Recall.”

As of a few days ago, the latest version of Mass Recall was released, updated for Heart of the Swarm. This version contains many more improvements. I’ve been playing through it again, and I am once again blown away by the quality of this mod.

Shiny:

One of the more obvious changes is the level of polish that now exists. When I first played Mass Recall (back when it was just “StarCraft remastered”), it was an impressive accomplishment but obviously non-professional. It had various bugs and rough patches.

However, I’ve yet to encounter any significant bugs or hiccups in this version. You’d never know it was made by amateurs.

The briefing room in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modWhat impresses me even more is their dedication to keeping true to the original campaigns. Not only are there now many more custom models for all of the units and buildings that don’t exist in StarCraft II, but even many units that appear in both games now have updated models to more closely resemble their original incarnations. These include everything from marines, to SCVs, to battlecruisers, to evolution pits…

There are now custom unit portraits, as well, and these are fully animated.

Everything is so true to the original. It really is just like playing StarCraft I with better graphics and more polished mechanics.

They’ve even improved upon the original in some areas by adding more details or new cutscenes. This isn’t a Lucas-esque rewrite — nothing substantive has changed about the gameplay or story. But there are little extra touches to make it just that much cooler.

For example, in the first mission on Antiga Prime, Kerrigan’s assassination of the Confederate officers now has its own cutscene. It uses the original audio, but we are now treated to the visuals of the Confederates being gunned down.

Extra details have been added to hero models to make them stand out more. You can now see that it’s actually Raynor on his vulture, not just some generic dude. The Norad II now has a custom model.

A mission from the original StarCraft campaign

Before

A Terran mission in the StarCraft: Mass Recall mod

After

They even made their own road sign doodad for Backwater Station!

I wish I could go back in time and tell my eight year-old self something this cool was coming. He’d have had such a nerdgasm.

Of course, then I’d have to tell him to avoid all my mistakes, and then use my time machine to kill Hitler, stop the invention of the atomic bomb, prevent the harmonica from ever being invented, and deal with inevitable temporal paradoxes created by my own meddling.

But I digress.

Difficulty:

One of the big issues with the original version of the mod was that the difficulty was rather over-tuned. Even on the lowest settings, there were some missions that practically required GSL-level skills to defeat.

In the new version, difficulty has been heavily retuned. I’ve only played the first Terran campaign so far, but from what I’ve seen, the new settings are a lot more sane. Playing on normal, I’m finding it challenging enough to be interesting, but not truly stressful.

A cutscene in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modThere’s also a new easy setting for those who wish to focus on the story rather than on challenging themselves.

Bonuses galore:

Something I’m also enjoying about this version of the mod is the amount of bonus material they’ve crammed in.

The campaign includes several secret missions I never even knew existed. I’ve completed two so far — Biting the Bullet and Operation Silent Scream — and both turned out to be quite fun. Maybe it’s just the novelty of never having played them before, but I think they were actually a bit more inventive in their design than most other campaign missions of the time.

I haven’t played it yet, but Mass Recall also includes the Resurrection mission which explains the continued existence of Stukov in the land of the living, which has been declared canon by Blizzard.

There are also little bonuses for those who aren’t too concerned with being perfectly true to the original. You can still use certain Brood War units, such as medics, in the original campaign — though that can be toggled off in the options if you’re a purist.

The Jacobs Installation mission in third person shooter mode in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modWhile you can now play the dungeon crawl missions as they were in the original, it’s still possible to play them as a third-person shooter.

I am still blown away that this is even possible, and these missions have been greatly improved from their original incarnation. When I first played the shooter missions, they were horribly buggy and awkward, but now they’re much smoother, and it pretty much feels like playing a real shooter — albeit a stripped down and basic one.

I also quite enjoyed the number of Easter Eggs snuck into such missions. Apparently people will still be playing World of Warcraft and Diablo III in the 26th century.

An Easter egg in the StarCraft: Mass Recall mod* * *

All in all, Mass Recall is an incredible effort, and far better than we have any right to expect from unpaid fans tinkering in their free time. I’d consider it a must-play for any StarCraft fan.

Get it. Get it nao.

New article:

I’ve got a new article up at Nexopia on Great Songs From Wicked Games.

WoW and TSW: Buffoonery Behind the Scenes

Mankinigate:

Before I get into the incident known as Mankinigate, I should provide some context.

Mama Abena in The Secret WorldThe Secret World, like most games, has a somewhat spotty record when it comes to gender equality, mainly in the clothing department.

TSW is not any worse than your average MMO in this regard. I’d even say it might be a little better. Since clothes have nothing to do with your stats, you can always look however you want, and there are numerous options to dress your female avatar in modest, practical, and realistic clothing.

But still, there are some glaring flaws. There are some truly ridiculous outfits for female characters. There are some instances where the male version of an outfit is realistic battle armor, and the female version is a thong an and a halter top. There are still some clothing pieces that are male-only that really should be available for both genders — like lab coats and biker jackets.

There is also a notable lack of slut-tastic clothes for men, which has also received some complaints.

However, TSW’s developers have shown an admiral level of sensitivity to gender issues. Since they stopped outsourcing their clothing, female clothing has trended more towards the realistic and away from, “Look, I have breasts!”

When people complained about the numerous female NPCs who flirt with the player compared to the zero male NPCs who do the same, the developers promised at least one flirtatious male in the upcoming Tokyo expansion, a task the lead writer took up with an almost disturbing level of gusto.

My Templar in her "Angel of Death" Halloween costume in The Secret WorldIt’s also worth noting that the female NPCs in the game are generally treated very well. Two out of the three main faction contacts are female. Two out of the three iconic faction heroes are female. We’ve got all kinds of awesome and/or badass female characters in every zone, from Carter to Zaha to Carmen Preda to Hemitneter to Dame Julia.

The point is they’re sensitive to these things. I’ve seen a lot of the conversations with the devs on these issues, and they do seem genuinely interested in being improving the way they treat the issue of gender equality. They’re a pretty awesome bunch of people.

That brings us to this year’s April Fools’ gag. As an obvious parody of the “female armor” issue that plagues MMOs, including TSW, they released an outfit called “Gender Equality.” The female version is a practical, realistic scuba suit. The male version is a Borat-inspired one-piece mankini that leaves almost nothing to the imagination.

I found it a brilliant piece of satire, a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of past errors.

But then a few days latter, the Filth hit the fan. The mankini was removed — not just from the store, which is to be expected for seasonal outfits, but from the game entirely. Everyone who had bought it had it removed from the character, and had to contact customer service for a refund.

Suffice it to say, the forums went apeshit.

Art of the "Gender Equality" outfit in The Secret WorldMore importantly, the forums had good reason to go apeshit. People were led to believe they’d been pranked with a real money purchase. They had to go through the rigamarole of contacting customer service to get a refund, and the refund came in the form of cash shop points that can only be spent in TSW. Many lost money to banking fees and the like.

Others were bothered by the fact that developer resources were apparently wasted on something that was only planned to exist in the game for a few days. In a game operating on such a shoestring budget, that’s just not acceptable.

But perhaps the most unpleasant thing about this was its implications on the issue of gender equality. It now seemed as though the joke was the idea that men could possibly get the same treatment as women. It’s fine to objectify women, but God forbid the same happen to men!

After a few days, things were finally clarified by game director Joel Bylos. His statement is quite long, and I’d recommend reading it in its entirety, but here’s the short version:

The dev team never intended for the mankini to be removed entirely. Someone in Funcom’s upper management freaked out over the ridiculousness of the mankini, feeling it didn’t fit with The Secret World’s horror setting.

My Templar in the Besieged Farmlands in The Secret WorldWhich, of course, is absolutely ridiculous. I agree with the idea that the mankini is immersion-breaking, but so are plenty of other clothing items that are still in the game. There’s an outfit for women that amounts to nothing but a tiny bra and a strap-on dildo shaped like a cobra. There’s the eye-boob-strocity. There are the horse-head masks.

So in a way, this confirms the worst. Removing the mankini was nothing but an act of blatant, shameless sexism. Management couldn’t handle a neon banana hammock.

The silver lining here, if you can all it that, is that the devs had nothing to do with it. Joel seems as pissed as the players are. Some might suspect him of trying to pass the buck, but I know him to be a very honest and straight-forward man, and I take his word for it.

Some people have refused to continue supporting the game over this. I’m not one of them, because I don’t believe the developers deserve to be punished for the actions of their bone-headed boss, but I can sympathize with those who feel differently. It’s very discouraging to find such idiocy behind the scenes of such a good time.

Warlords of Draenor: What? Alpha? Seriously?

I wonder what’s going on at Blizzard.

For ages now, they’ve been going on about how they want to get content for World of Warcraft out quicker. Quicker patches, quicker expansions. No more year-long raid tiers at the end of an expansion.

A screenshot of Telador in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorAnd for a while, it seemed like they would actually accomplish this. Mists of Pandaria’s patches came out like clockwork, with roughly three months between each. At the announcement of Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard proudly talked about how quickly it would be in our hands.

I recall Ghostcrawler saying before he left that WoD was farther along than Mists of Pandaria was at its announcement. They talked about how beta would come “sooner than we thought.”

Nearly half a year passed, and now they’ve finally announced the start of alpha.

*Double take.*

Seriously? Alpha? Not even beta — just alpha?

Alpha usually takes a month or two, and then beta is around six months. It’s also worth noting that every WoW expansion’s beta has been longer than the previous one. So we’re looking at seven months at the very least before WoD is released.

To be clear, I’m not complaining. I’m so thoroughly unimpressed with everything about WoD so far that they could take another five years for all I care.

A player garrison in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorBut I do wonder what happened. They were so sure this expansion would be out quickly, but it looks like it’s going to take significantly longer than Pandaria did. We might have our first year-long raid tier since Icecrown Citadel, and without a filler raid this time.

And this is with a much smaller expansion than Pandaria was. It has one new feature — just one. Compared to MoP’s new race, new class, scenarios, pet battles…

Maybe it was converting to the fancy new file format they’re using. Maybe it’s all the effort going into the new player models. But it’s hard to imagine either of those things holding up the entire expansion to this extent, and you’d think they would have factored such things into their plans.

Even if it was as simple as poor time estimates, it seems someone must have dropped the ball behind the scenes at Blizzard. Something clearly went wrong somewhere along the line.

Nerd rage:

While we’re at it, I do have one thing to complain about. According to datamined spoilers, Ner’zhul is a dungeon boss in Warlords of Draenor.

As a lore fan, this is all I have to say:

Of all the big name Orcs of that era, Ner’zhul is one of the least boss-worthy. Sure, he ultimately destroyed the planet and became the Lich King, but that was only after years of watching the slow death of his people drove him mad. In the early days, he was a good guy.

Yes, he launched the war on the Draenei, but he was deceived by the greatest liar in the entire Warcraft universe, and once he learned the truth, he was horrified and refused to continue cooperating. Gul’dan took over, and most of worst atrocities committed by the Horde occurred under Gul’dan’s leadership, not Ner’zhul’s.

Ner’zhul was (in my opinion) the greatest villain in all Warcraft lore, but it was precisely because he didn’t start out as a ruthless lunatic, unlike Gul’dan.

Ner’zhul was not a monster. He was a tortured soul that eventually got pushed too far, but at the stage of the story WoD takes place at, he should still be a decent guy. If anything, he should be on our side.

Blizzard has a terrible habit of taking their most complex characters and then making them into one-dimensional loot pinatas. I really thought we were past that point now, but apparently, I was wrong. And now Ner’zhul joins the ranks of Illidan, Kael’thas, and Malygos — all brilliant characters who were utterly ruined just for the sake of giving players a recognizable name to beat on.

Ner'zhul in World of Warcraft: Burning CrusadeStop it, Blizzard.

Stop.

It.

Now.

Ugh. I’m trying so hard to give WoD the benefit of the doubt, but everything I’ve heard so far leads me to believe this is going to go into the same “I wish I could burn it from my memory” pile as Burning Crusade, and it’s just getting worse.

Just… ugh.