The first real game I ever played on a computer was the legendary Warcraft II. As a kid the box art had me hooked, whoever decided to put a pirate on the cover was a marketing genius. Before Internet reviews, the box (which was half as big as you) and what your friends said was how you learned about new games, unless you could pay for a magazine. Thankfully, my intuitions on pirates and pirate orcs proved solid as this game blew my mind and got me started down the dark road of strategy gaming.
I was immensely excited to play the game on my dad’s new Macintosh computer, but my dad had other ideas. He pulled a power move on me and made read 3 hours for every 1 hour of computer time. In the long term, this had the opposite effect, it’s a miracle if I finish a novel these days. In the short term, I found a loophole to the law and read the well crafted stories that came with the Warcraft II manual. These were pretty fantastic with super cool sketches included. The detailed background lore and artwork was one of the reasons that I loved Warcraft so much.
When I finally did get to play, it was well worth the wait. There was so much to enjoy here, building bases and armies, making sure peasants didn’t chop down a strategically important forest and clicking on critters until they exploded. The graphics were amazing for the time and I must have watched the opening cutscene a dozen times. Aside from some annoying pathfinding problems, the battles and building played out flawlessly, likely because the entire game was divided into a grid system with buildings and units taking up squares. Both the human and orc races were fun to play and had some great units, the creations from the dwarf and goblin engineer shops were some of my favorites. In fact, the game had such a hold on me, I used to sneak out of bed at night to play it, a feat no other game has ever accomplished.
And it wasn’t just me who liked it, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness is recognized is widely recognized as one of the greatest PC games of all time. What Warcraft I started, Warcraft II perfected, laying the blueprint for the entire real time strategy genre (RTS). Resource mining, unit caps, fog of war, faction balancing, hero characters, building upgrades and many other standard RTS features were all perfected in this game.
So how did my first computer game, and a personal favorite, become my first unfinished game?
Moment of Unfinishing
I really tried to beat this game. I really did. I even loaded it up on my computer a few years ago to try to crush some pixels, but still no success. The main reason Warcraft II went unfinished was that it was simply too much good stuff. And just like a late night convenience store, the seeming variety was really an illusion, because it’s all pretty much the same thing. In Warcraft II, the levels may seem different, and have different tile sets, but the end goal is almost always the same; destroy the enemy base. After chasing down the last farm or oil rig on several maps, the process just got repetitive. When the level of difficulty increased and the missions became longer, it only further removed my attachment to the game. With 2 long campaigns, finishing Warcraft II would require some serious RTS skills or a large amount of computer time, both of which I didn’t possess at a young age. Even the epic story wasn’t enough to carry me through the 14 missions in each campaign. It always seemed like the map changed, but the mission didn’t; build base, explore, build army, conquer, repeat. Of course, this is a problem that is in most RTS games, but the computing and AI limitations of the mid-90’s made it even more obvious. Even though I never finished it, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness holds a special place in my heart as an OG in the RTS genre and the game that started me down the dark road of late night gaming binges.