Low End Mac Gaming

Blizzard Games

A look at Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo on the Mac

Jonathan Ploudre - 2001.05.23

I have enjoyed playing video games since the Atari 2600 was on the market. A few times a year, I get hooked on a game and play it for a couple weeks. I get a lot of enjoyment out of playing a good game. Like many things I do, I like to get a good value when I play video games. That's why I wanted my 2600. I couldn't afford all those quarters necessary to get good at a game like Asteroids or Space Invaders.

Nowadays I'm a bit of a leech. My roommate has a PlayStation 2, so I haven't actually spent money on a console.

I also love playing Mac games. I'm lucky, because I didn't get to play any games in the late 1990s, so now I can rediscover great games from then. It's easy to find a award-winning game for under $10. In the past year, I've been playing the games from Blizzard. I have played Warcraft II, Starcraft, and Diablo. These are great games for older Macs.

Warcraft and Starcraft are both games in a genre that Blizzard popularized, real-time strategy games. If you are unfamiliar with this kind of game, just split the term in half. Real-time indicates that the game has a running clock while playing instead of taking turns. Strategy means that the game requires as much thinking and planning as it does trigger finger skill. Real-time strategy games are thinking games that have a running clock.

Warcraft II has the lowest system requirements of these three. It plays well on my Quadra 630, with the exception of some slow scrolling during the intermissions. The story is set a fantasy world with humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins. Warcraft can be played on either side. I played as the noble humans against those treacherous orcs. For the most part, both sides are evenly matched. Most of the early units on the battlefield are equivalent. Later in the game, humans and orcs start to differ in their magical powers.

Warcraft is fun to play as an individual, but multiplayer is what put Warcraft on the map. If you look on the Web, you'll find dozens of sites describing strategies you can use to defeat the people you play against. I had trouble finding much mention of the single-player game. It's as if the single player game is just a prelude to train for multiplayer gaming.

Starcraft can be considered Warcraft in space. It requires a Power Mac, but it puts that power to good use. It uses transparency to make the action and explosions realistic. Starcraft is an amazing game. Blizzard started with Warcraft (a great game itself) and perfected all the details. Everything is improved. The story line is more compelling. The graphics are better. Small changes in the interface make the game play better.

But Blizzard really topped Warcraft by including three different races. In Starcraft, the Terrans (Humans) have different abilities from the insect-like Zerg or the enigmatic Protess. The differences are so inherent in the species that you'll have to develop separate strategies for each one. I got Starcraft recently, so I have only scratched the surface of the game. But I can tell already that this is a game that I could be playing for years to come.

Diablo is a different type of game than Warcraft and Starcraft. I don't have my box handy but I think it required a 90 MHz PowerMac. In some ways, Diablo is like Marathon or Doom or Quake. Your goal is essentially to kill everything that moves. As the game progresses, you get bigger weapons. Instead of a first person viewpoint, you look at your character from a fixed angle above.

Diablo is a bit like Dungeons & Dragons, in that your character gains experience. More experience means that you can increase your abilities. More strength means you can wield heavier swords to do more damage. More dexterity means that your arrows will hit their mark more often. You can guess what more magic ability lets you do. In Diablo you can play as a warrior, magician, or archer. Depending on how you use your experience you can make these characters nearly identical or drastically different.

I haven't played Diablo II, but it seems like Blizzard has done the right thing again. They took a great game and made subtle changes that improved it. Each little change seems minor, but taken as a whole the game play is much improved. Blizzard reminds me of Apple. System 7 was great. Little things like popup windows and command-delete for moving things to the Trash make Mac OS 8 even better. The only downside of Diablo II is that its system requirements are much higher (G3), and it is more expensive.

In the future, Blizzard will be releasing Warcraft III. There are multiple fan-sites already, and the game is not even available yet. But with the track record that Blizzard has amassed, Warcraft III should be a best-of-breed game. In the meantime, instead of waiting for it to arrive, I'll just have fun playing the games I already have.

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