Ahh, 1998. High School in Hamilton, 6th form.

Of all the best places to be in the world, this was not really one of them. Living in the middle of a giant cow paddock with some shops, or at least that’s how it felt at the time. A long way away from the world of technology and computers that the dial-up driven text-based internet had shown me.

That said, as far as being a geek in Hamilton was concerned, life wasn’t bad. I was doing 6th form computers and programming, and we had access to the internet through ISDN, which used to rock along at 128 kbps shared across the entire computing classroom. Which was still a lot back then. Life consisted of school, chatrooms, cars, beer and games. Whilst I have some sordid stories to tell about most of those things, I’ll stick to the games.

I had been introduced to real-time strategy with Warcraft. On a Mac. Not really getting it, I had a few games and then went back to playing Doom II. Then I discovered Command & Conquer, then Red Alert, and of course, Total Annihilation, which amazed back in the day, with its 3D graphics, trajectory calculations, anti-aliasing, and awesome units. It was gaming nirvana, except for the fact my Cyrix-powered 200mhz machine sucked. After a hundred or so units were on screen, the game began to slow to a crawl.

The same friend who introduced me to Heroes of Might and Magic also introduced me to StarCraft. Those were the days when a whole weekend could be spent LANning, without worry of work, or chores, just 48 hours solid gaming. Bored of a never-ending Heroes of Might and Magic stalemate, we drove into town (on a restricted licence of course) and went to DSE to see what games were out. StarCraft had just been released that Friday, and as my mate had heard of it, and it had aliens on the cover, he was interested. As soon as we learned it also had a multiplayer-only spawn install, we were sold.

The strongest memory of StarCraft is still the funny electrical sound the mining of crystals made when playing the Terrans. Oddly, we spent half the weekend playing the single-player campaign, watching the videos and learning the ropes of the Terrans. The Zergs and Protos would wait till later.

When we finally cranked up the multiplayer we knew the basics. As I always do, I chose Terrans because they are human. I’ve always done that, I have a fondness for earthlings I guess. My mate went the Zerg. Of course back then there was no such thing as a Zerg rush, nor tactics. Basic gameplay ruled the day, turtle to start with, whilst building a base with some decent defences. Get your resources churning and send out a few experimental attack waves. No real strategy, as I was far too new to the game. I won the match, but only just. For the rest of the weekend we battled back and forth, only stopping for food. Well, mainly sugar.

It’s bizarre to think that a game released that long ago is still being played by so many people in so many places. There are fresh patches, three expansions, and legions of fans worldwide. The reason for the hype surrounding StarCraft becomes clear when you realise just how big this game is. I always thought that when people said it was a national sport in South Korea, it was a joke. But it’s not.

Long story short, that was my first real experience at StarCraft, eleven years ago now, on the PC platform.

There were even Mac and N64 versions. I can only imagine the N64 version was awful, but Warcraft on the Mac was fun, so StarCraft probably was too. Over the years I occasionally revisited the game at LANs, and it always amazed me how the strategy develops over the years. The skill level and tactics in use today are completely beyond the way I played the game back in 1998.

However it was really only the hype surrounding the sequel which made me understand the scope of the game. It seemed people were going a bit silly really. But when you consider how many millions of copies of the game were sold, and the number of people playing on Battle.Net, and it becomes apparent how big this game will be.

I sit and wait, with beta key in hand (or inbox) along with many others, waiting for my first taste of StarCraft II, and most likely my first epic defeat.

Of course, Dan’s already played it, and he thinks this gives him the advantage. Whatever, there’s gonna be a schooling.