'StarCraft: Remastered' Doesn't Fix The Broken Perfection of 'Brood War'

Bad pathfinding, a ridiculous engine, user-unfriendly controls, all preserved to update the greatest competitive RTS in history.

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Mar 27 2017, 6:00pm

Blizzard announced this weekend that StarCraft: Remastered is in production and will come out this summer. A high-res update built on the Brood War engine, StarCraft: Remastered should preserve the challenging controls and idiosyncratic unit-pathing that made the original game into a competitive classic. In the meantime, Brood War itself is getting a new patch and will be made free to download and play in its entirety.

While "Brood War HD" was one of those projects that's been rumored for ages, it was never clear what form it would or should take. StarCraft 2 preserved a lot of the original game's aesthetic, and would have seemed like a natural foundation for a rebuilt Brood War. The problem, however, is that StarCraft 2 was a 3D game with completely different movement mechanics and pathing, and it was never clear that anyone could faithfully re-create Brood War inside of that engine.

The best explanation of the difference between the two games—indeed, one of the best essays on a strategy series I've ever read—came from "Thieving Magpie" over at the Team Liquid forums. The piece lays out how the cobbled-together StarCraft engine generated such classic gameplay because of its awkward compromises between a flat 2D engine and the forced isometric perspective it presents to the player.

This is the where a large majority of unit glitches come from in Broodwar, but it is also where the micro potential comes from as well. Each unit in Broodwar has a different size, a different shape, and a different orientation. So while a Dragoon is a square that expands and contracts as the legs move, the Vulture is a tight rectangle that doesn't change in size or shape. The marine is tiny, while zerglings double in length as they run, their stride stretches them as their legs first expand outward and then contract back inward. Units rotate, and as they do, they change their shape and their spatial relationship with the squares that they are trying to fit into.

And StarCraft only worked that way because of the way Blizzard evolved StarCraft out of the Warcraft engine. It's not something that you could easily re-create in StarCraft 2 with a few changes to pathfinding behavior, especially if the goal was 1:1 fidelity between Brood War and a modern update.

Blizzard seems to have agreed, and so StarCraft: Remastered was built on top of Brood War, with fresh 2D art for modern displays, but with all the limitations and quirks that were baked into Brood War from the start. Blizzard's Robert Bridenbecker and Pete Stilwell explained to Team Liquid that in almost every respect that Brood War fans care about, StarCraft: Remastered will be the same as Brood War, as it's the same client powering each version.

StarCraft: Remastered uses all the same gameplay code as Brood War. This means that Dragoons and Goliaths are still a bit derpy in how they react to movement commands. The Reaver's shot doesn't always find a target. Mutas stack.

The gameplay is identical enough that old replays from 1.16 will play and work just fine under StarCraft: Remastered.

Art and screenshots courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

StarCraft: Remastered will part ways with the original in campaign presentation, with comic book interludes between missions over (presumably) the same briefing dialogue. It should be a nice upgrade from StarCraft's galleries of talking heads arguing with each other from inside tiny TV windows.

It's unclear what this will mean for the future of competitive StarCraft. In Korea, Brood War has been enjoying something of a resurgence. Pro players who "retired" from StarCraft 2 have started coming out of retirement to compete in Brood War tournaments, returning to the game that made their reputations and built Korea's unmatched eSports infrastructure.

StarCraft 2 never quite succeeded in replacing Brood War. In Korea, it always lagged far behind its predecessor in terms of popularity, and in Europe and North America, a lot of key community figures were unabashed in their nostalgia for the earlier game. Occasionally, that nostalgia would tip into outright frustration with StarCraft 2, and its sharp departures from Brood War's design. Three years ago, as I interviewed a noted European pro who competed in both games, he finally leveled about how joyless StarCraft 2 could be for someone who had come to it from Brood War:

Everything is happening so fast that it takes away from the fact that it's a strategy game.
People always says, yeah, we should make the game easier so that people can play more like a strategy game and it's less about mechanics, but I don't think it's about the ease of the game. It's just about the speed of StarCraft 2. Everything happens so fast that in the end you're just going to be like a mindless monkey trying to do everything as fast as possible because that's the only way you're going to keep up with what the other guy might be doing.

It was a complaint I'd made myself, and heard often among more casual players, but it was startling to hear it from someone who played the game professionally. It encapsulated the problem that has dogged StarCraft 2 almost since the original beta. While the game developed a devoted following, it never commanded the kind of love and veneration that players showed toward Brood War.

Now, in what is likely to be the twilight of StarCraft 2 as a major competitive title, StarCraft: Remastered's arrival seems like a tacit admission about which of the two RTS games is going to be the more enduring classic. After seven years, Blizzard are finally giving Brood War fans what they wanted all along.