What were you doing in 1998? Chances are if you owned a PC you were playing StarCraft, a breakneck RTS from the creators of World of Warcraft.
On its release, StarCraft blew through the RTS genre like a cyclone, generating a fanatical fan base that still thrives to this very day, especially in South Korea.
The game's allure stemmed from the diversity of its three factions, each of which required a radically different approach to annihilate the enemy. Now, a decade on, these three warring races - the technologically advanced, cybernetically enhanced Protoss; the determined, conventional Terrans (humans); and the insectoid warrior Zerg - are set to clash once again in a battle for supremacy.
Journey with me now to a room rammed with networked machines and games journos at Blizzard's LA offices.Next to me sits a representative from a German StarCraft fan site, who sobs gently as he strokes the hairy hide of a 3D Ultralisk (a massive Zerg unit), a decade-long wet dream a reality.
For the next two days we've been given unrestricted access to the latest multiplayer build of StarCraft II. With Blizzard having already revealed the revamped Terran and Protoss races, we've been invited here for a world-exclusive reveal of the game's final race, the Zerg.
"StarCraft II is the best strategy game we've ever made," proclaims lead designer Dustin Browder as we twitch expectantly, waiting to be unleashed on the first multiplayer session of the day. "It's the most fun. It encourages you to think creatively, to try and be clever. We want to build on the philosophies of the original, to provide ease of use for new players and a big enough challenge for hardcore players. StarCraft has its own style, which is fast-paced RTS. StarCraft II is meant to bring that niche to the current generation."
As my German companion dives into a six-player free-for-all, buck teeth gnashing excitably, I rise from my seat to corner lead producer Chris Sigaty in an attempt to understand why we've waited a decade for the resurrection of this revered game.
"It was really a case of right place, right time," he explains.
"Once the Warcraft III products were finished, we talked about what to do next. Technology was in the right place for us to be able to put loads of units on screen, which is what we wanted if we ever made another StarCraft game. Timing was a factor though. We've had a lot of big titles in development that have required lots of resources, and it's been impossible to start working on another huge project until now."
Curiosity satisfied it's time for me to join the killing fields. Opting for the newly revealed and revamped Zerg, I enter the fray. Familiarity smacks me across the chops like a berserk, bucking fish. Drones are sent to collect Vespene gas and minerals (the game's resources), buildings are constructed and units assembled. Every click is key as I rush to build a force capable of striking at the enemy before they can threaten my holdings.
This is StarCraft just how I remember it: attack biased, packed with early rushes as each player seeks an early advantage. I lose myself in a mass of clicks and orders, never pausing, acting on instinct alone, ignoring the ingrained RTS urge to build defences as I force myself to concentrate solely on amassing a force built for the single purpose of destruction.
Minutes later I've churned out an army from countless Hatcheries (the Zerg's main construction building) - dozens, scores, myriads of units. I march them across the map in search of my enemies, only to wade headlong into an opponent's equally sizeable attack force. Unabated slaughter ensues, the screen a mass of scrapping aliens. But as the carnage unfolds, a second enemy storms my unguarded base and suddenly it's game over. Eight minutes, 17 seconds. That's StarCraft II multiplayer in a nutshell.