Around 2001 or 2002, I came across a couple games from a company known as Blizzard. They were called Starcraft and Diablo II. Both considered masterpieces of PC gaming playable as single player games , via a Local Area Network (LAN), or via the internet. Starcraft was a real-time strategy game set in a futuristic world where humans had encountered two other alien species. The humans were called Terran, the aliens Zerg and Protoss. I mention this for it has given birth to some concepts that have consisted throughout gaming culture. While the game featured a single player campaign, it became immensely popular for the online play where up to 8 players could compete in free for all or team based competitive matches. It also featured a campaign editor that allowed players to completely customize the games maps and settings and even afford the opportunity for maps that were completely cooperative. The game became a major source for online competitive play and even featured leagues that revolved around it (especially popular in Korea). One term that arose from Starcraft was what is referred to as “zerg rush”, “zerging” or just “zerg”. In Starcraft, this referred to a player using the Zerg race, utilizing a strategy that consisted of creating the most basic unit (a zergling) and immediately attacking their opponent. The intention was to attempt to kill the opponent before they were able to produce any units or defense of their own. This slang carried over into other games and was applied to any attempt of a (generally) a group of players attempting to rush their opponents before they have time to prepare. While there are certainly more examples of influences Starcraft has had across all gaming, I’ll leave it at that.
Diablo II, though developed by the same company, was a completely different game. It was a Role-Playing Game where the user was able to select 1 of 5 (7 with expansion) classes and give the character a name. They would then proceed through the games 4 (5 with expansion) “acts” (zones) completing quests given to them by NPC’s. It was fantasy based and set in a medieval sort of world with magic, monsters, and demons (the main protagonist, Diablo, being the Lord of Hell). The game featured random drops of gear of varying value and rarities that were designated by different colored titles for those pieces of gear. Treasure chests, dungeons, all sorts of creatures, and shops to spend your gold in. Another key feature was the ability to play the game with up to 8 other players. While this was largely a cooperative experience, players did have the option to enter into combat with other payers if they accepted it via in-game menu’s. When players beat the game, they were able to play it again on a harder difficulty, and continue leveling their character and obtaining even rarer gear. Players were able to locate each other via chat channels, and also by their games being listed in a public channel based on their location (server) they selected before entering (my memory only recalls US East and US West (this system was also used in Starcraft)).
Both of these games contributed heavily to LAN gaming, as well as online gaming. We can see the success of both of these titles cumulating in the online phenomena known as World of Warcraft, which I will address later. As mentioned above, they also served as inspirations for many other future games, in the RPG genre as well as the others. The Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft series have all elevated Blizzard to be perceived as one of the best game developers in the world.
Games by Blizzard: Starcraft+expansion, Starcraft 2+expansion (and 1 more due), Diablo, Diablo II+expansion, Diablo III (incoming expansion), Warcraft, Warcraft 2, Warcraft 3+expansion, World of Warcraft+4 expansions.
As for my experiences, while I joined both games later than their release dates (both had had their expansions released by the time I got to them), they were still extremely hot titles and far from dropping in popularity. Starcraft I largely played online. I became quite fond of developing my own maps, and mostly only played UMS (Use Map Settings) games, as these were the ones that completely customized the games parameters and offered unique forms of cooperative play. Through hosting games and sharing my maps, people began to initiate conversations with me and enjoyed my work, and thus I was invited to a clan. Thus my interactions within the Starcraft community was largely with map makers and users looking to play cooperative games.
I approached Diablo II later, and actually got into it with a couple of friends from the physical world. We played online together, leveling, doing quests, and securing rare gear. I also played with a few friends from the Starcraft community. Most of my time was spent progressing myself however as my friends preferred to play utilizing the “open Battle.net” servers, which allowed you to use your offline characters online, which allowed you to utilize “hacks” to modify your characters stats and gear. This led to competitions between my friends and others online for who could find and utilize the best hacks in player versus player (PVP) combat. I preferred the “closed battle.net” servers, which restricted you to only using characters that you created to be used on their servers, those “closed” meaning you had to be on their servers and utilize those characters. They could not be accessed offline. This is how most MMO’s are done now-a-days, requiring you to connect to their servers to access your characters. This was a feature many liked as it created an environment where you could use their characters offline and then with your friends in open battle.net, or simply utilize closed battle.net and be on equal standing with all others. LAN users obviously could not use closed battle.net, however they could use open battle.net.
On another note, these featured options were sadly removed with the release of Diablo 3 over 10 years later, and required all users to connect to Blizzard’s servers in order to even play single player (called DRM, digital rights management). This caused Blizzard’s fans a large amount of distress as this meant players could no longer enjoy this extremely popular title on their own terms, with Blizzard standing on the grounds that this prevented people from pirating the game. However, this is a discussion on another topic, and only majorly impacts gaming several years after the release of Starcraft and Diablo II.
(A screenshot of Error 37. This error was so widespread it has become synonymous with not only Blizzards greatest misstep, but is commonly referred to when any game now has a server failure at launch, generally connected to too many users trying to access a network that cannot handle the load. The latest example at this time I experienced was Late August-early September 2013 with the Launch of Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. More on that later).