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.

Heroes of the Storm: Where Anticipation Meets Concern + New Article

The alpha for Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s new MOBA, is upon us… though I suppose this is really more of a closed beta.

Promotional art for Heroes of the StormHonestly, the meanings of these things have become so muddled that I don’t what anything means anymore. Alpha is now beta. Beta is now soft launch. I suppose by traditional terms, Heroes would be in closed beta. But they’re already accepting real money payments!

I’m so confused.

But I’m already off-topic. My point is that Heroes* has been in the news and on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been combing Heroes Nexus for news, dutifully checking my email for an alpha invite that may never come, and watching HuskyStarCraft play matches. Through it all, I find myself filled with excitement, but it’s clouded by a lot of worry.

*(I can’t bring myself to call it HotS, because that still means “Heart of the Swarm” in my mind.)

I’m not worried because it isn’t shaping up to be a good game. Quite the opposite. It looks to be a major improvement over past MOBAs. Many of the heroes look fun to play, the map objectives make battles much more varied and interesting, and I much prefer the talent system to items.

There are a few areas it could probably be improved — the matches still look to be pretty damn long — but on the whole, it’s looking to be a very fun game.

A promotional screenshot for Heroes of the StormBut all throughout, there’s this nagging voice in my head saying, “Tyler, you don’t like these kind of games. You never have, and you never will.”

It’s true. Competitive gaming has never really been able to hold my attention. I consider this a personality flaw on my part.

In the abstract, I love the idea of competitive gaming. It’s a test of wits and reflexes between even opponents. It’s a contest of the mind. I have great admiration for what competitive gamers are capable of, and it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy watching professional StarCraft matches.

But when I try it myself, it quickly becomes more stressful than anything. I tend to be pretty bad at such things, and I lack the patience to wade through loss after loss and improve. Even if I did get good, these things are designed so you always lose at least half the time, and I find that pretty demoralizing.

Competing against other people adds an extra layer of humiliation, as well, and being on a team makes it even worse. It feels terrible to drag down your team with your noobishness — or to have someone else drag you down.

I push a lane in DOTA 2Then there are issues more specific to the MOBA genre. Their communities are infamously toxic and unforgiving. I didn’t find the community in DOTA 2 any worse than what you’d find in your average MMO battleground, but that still puts it somewhere between “terrible” and “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.”

And World of Warcraft has clearly shown that Blizzard doesn’t really care about the quality of their in-game communities, so I doubt they’ll do much to curtail such behaviour.

There’s no real story, either. It’s not even remotely canon for the lore of any of Blizzard’s universes, and nearly the entire game revolves around PvP. Recent history has shown that it’s all but impossible for me to maintain long-term interest in a game without a story to keep me hooked in.

If this were any other game, I’d have already written it off as not to my taste, as I do all other MOBAs.

But damn it, it just seems so cool. I’ve been a Blizzard fan all my life, and throwing all of the greatest heroes and villains from all their games into a ring and forcing them to fight is the stuff of my darkest, nerdiest dreams. It’s like an even more ridiculously awesome version of Stadium Love.

Several of the playable characters in Heroes of the StormThe idea of Illidan plying his demon-hunting skills on Diablo, of Tassadar laying the psionic smackdown on Arthas, of Nova sniping Tyrael… It just fills me with child-like glee.

I love the art style, too. It makes me painfully nostalgic for Warcraft III, and I wish more than ever that Blizzard would get to work on Warcraft IV.

So I’m filled with excitement for Heroes of the Storm, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it, but I fear I’m only setting myself up for disappointment. This is exactly the sort of game I don’t like. Maybe Heroes will be good enough to force me out of my comfort zone, but somehow, I doubt it.

New article:

My latest article for ADANAI takes a look at how Warcraft and Mass Effect may be the first in a new generation of quality films based on video games.

I know I couldn’t be more excited for the Warcraft movie. Having watched Vikings, I’ve come to the conclusion Travis Fimmel is a great actor, and I think he’ll do very well in the film. His intensity is well-suited to the Warcraft universe.