Printed Media and Single Player Lore Integration

During my visit to the Blizzard Entertainment offices, I had the opportunity to be among the first few mortals beyond Blizzard developers to be able to play and experience the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty single player back on July 20, 2009.

In summary, it was simply awesome.  Not just as the player who enjoys RTS games in single-player mode and enjoys to go through the whole storyline, but also as the lore-nerd.  That sounds redundant, but I will explain how different both terms are.

The latter means much more than just the single player.  It is no secret to fans who have followed my news reports over the past seven years that I am a hardcore collector of all Blizzard games licensed products such as novels, mangas and most recently subscriber to the Starcraft comic book.

If you are among the fans who have never read a Starcraft novel or one of the Starcraft: Frontline manga you will play through the single player shrugging at many unknown characters, and wondering what certain objects or symbols’ meaning is.  You will probably overlook them, and discard them as you go through the missions.

However, if you are a lore-nerd such as me, who have read most of the Starcraft novels and manga, every step of yours through the missions will be filled with awe and drool.  You will be analyzing every bit of info and details in each mission and most importantly you will recognize them and understand how much work and passion the developers have put into making your printed media lore knowledge and the single player missions be seemlessly one and the same—integrated as one flowing continuity of the wholesome that comprehends the Starcraft universe.

No … I am not smoking anything, in fact I have never smoked or done any of the other stuff.  I’m sober, maybe drunk with excitement and euphoria, but nothing beyond that. Chris Metzen told me the single player stories and ideas came to be first. And from there, it branched out into the novels and manga.  This is a work of ten years of jammin’ ideas in the making integrating both media as time goes to make everyone’s experience much more rewarding.  I played through six missions of the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty single player at a room within Blizzard Entertainment campus in Irvine.  And my lore-nerd spider-sense tingled the whole ride.

That means, I stopped many times to look at something and after a quick glance I had a pay off.  I could recognize certain details from the stuff I have read in the novels and manga.

For example, in the very first encounter with Jim Raynor, you are in Mar Sara at the Joey Ray’s Bar.  On the bulletin board by the wall is a piece of newspaper pinned to it.  You can click the newspaper and the view zooms in to let you read the news report.  There you see a photo of Jim Raynor carrying an orphan girl through a fire.

The news says that the Terran Dominion forces are retreating from the fringe-worlds, recalled by Emperor Mengsk to protect the core-worlds.  All the fringe-worlds are abandoned without military support, risking to be overrun by the renewed zerg invasion.  Jim Raynor heard the call for help through a mayday transmission and decided to rescue all these people aboard the Hyperion.  Eight hundred civilians to be exact.  Where the heck did my lore-nerd spider sense tingled with that? Meteor Station. If you haven’t read the Starcraft mangas the location where this heroics took place will mean nothing to you—you will overlook it and move forward.

To us lore-nerds this will ring a bell.  Meteor Station [Kel-Morian Mining Post].  The only place to my knowledge that this place is ever mentioned is in the short story titled Last Call by manga-writer Grace Randolph.  This short story may be found in Starcraft: Frontline Vol. 3.

In this story, a female singer who used to work in Tarsonis lived the horror of the Zerg invasion triggered by Mengsk when he ordered Sarah Kerrigan to bring the psi-emitter to Tarsonis to lure the zerg upon the throneworld of the Confederacy.

A zerg queen somehow implanted a parasite in her cheek, allowing her to live unharmed beyond the disfigured cheek.  Few years fast-forward, Starry now sings at Meteor Station in a remote fringe-world. She thinks she came here to forget her past, and the nightmares that torments her ever since.  However, she is unknowingly serving a purpose for Kerrigan the Queen of Blades. She is unaware of it.

The Kel-Morian Combine has unearthed a Xel’Naga artifact during an excavation drill.  The Terran Dominion has shown interest in purchasing this artifact from the Kel-Morian before they sell it to the black market.  For this matter, the Dominion sends an ambassador to meet a Kel-Morian ambassador at Meteor Station.

Separately, Starry beds both of them, unknowingly extracting critical and classified info from both men.  Shortly after, the Zerg ambushes both ambassadors and steal the artifact.  The Dominion found Starry, and questioned her about the zerg, the whereabouts of the artifact and the deaths of both ambassadors.  The Dominion asked the doctors if she was infested.  The scanners did not detect anything. An inner-voice is heard within Starry, and we see a closeup of her infested brain.  “We evolve. The next stage of evolution has been successful.”

Pretty nice story—apologies for spoiling it.  So now that you know the relevance of Meteor Station, when you get to play the single player and read on the bulletin board’s newspaper the name of this location—you will go: “Ohhhh … aha!”  It’s a priceless feeling.

Now you have to wonder.  If Starry returned to sing at Meteor Station, and Jim Raynor just rescued 800 citizens from there—- didn’t Raynor just get a zerg-parasited-spy aboard the Hyperion? One that allows Kerrigan to listen to anything said near her? Hmmm …

From the few missions I played, I didn’t get to see Starry aboard the Hyperion, but ultimately it still makes you wonder what has been her fate after the short story, and how that could mean a world of trouble to Jim Raynor if Kerrigan’s next zerg evolution can effectively cloak zerg parasites from Terran scanners, and spy upon the Dominion and Raynor’s Raiders with terran hosts that aren’t even aware they are serving as an instrument of remote espionage.

You can find Jim Raynor’s Marshal badge from his old days at the Mar Sara backwater pinned to the cantina wall.  You will interact a lot with Tychus Findlay and Jim Raynor who talk about their old days before he was a Marshal; and find out a lot about Raynor’s past in Warcraft Legends Vol. 5 which has a story about Raynor by Chris Metzen and in the upcoming Starcraft: Heaven’s Devils by writer William C. Dietz, [due December 1, 2009].

Most of your entire missions are about earning credits through mercenary jobs and to retrieve Xel’Naga artifacts.  All of these artifacts are a plot you will recognize from Starcraft: The Dark Templar trilogy by Christie Golden.  According to Chris Metzen, there is much more to the artifacts you are gathering throughout the campaign, intimately tied to the Xel’Naga’s return plot.

The next two missions set in Mar Sara do not offer much of a backstory lore reference from the licensed printed products, but once Captain Matt Horner arrives to extract Jim Raynor and Tychus Findlay aboard the Hyperion, you will notice a few interesting lore bits implemented in the game from the novels and manga.

For instance, take a look at this up-to-date screenshot of the Hyperion’s Bridge.  And compare it with the bridge screenshot shown at Blizzcon 2007 [a couple of years ago].  The bridge got a complete graphic overhaul.  It looks more detailed now, and you will notice these black wolf heads on the Star Map console and all around the ceiling.

A fan that has never read any of the novels, will just see some meh-don’t-care-wolf heads there, and ignore them.  A lore-nerd like myself will simply drool and say: “OMG, I know what that means!!!”. And one memory will trigger another, and you will connect the lore references laid hidden here and there.

You know … the Hyperion battlecruiser used to belong to Arcturus Mengsk in the classic Starcraft (1998).  Jim Raynor stole it after Mengsk abandoned Sara Kerrigan to die to the Zerg and defected the Sons of Korhal. That’s an important backstory info—the Hyperion was formerly Mengsk’s.

The next dot comes in the shape of these black wolf heads in the Bridge.  If you have read Starcraft: I, Mengsk by writer Graham McNeill—you already know that this book is divided into three parts which explore three generations of Mengsk: Angus, Arcturus and Valerian.

From this book, you will learn that the Mengsk family’s crest is a … wolf insignia.  See how small a detail the developers integrated into the game? Considering they went through all the trouble of overhauling the bridge’s graphics to add this lore reference, it’s amazing.  Wait till you hear about other major stuff.

When you play through the mission Tooth and Nail set in the protoss shrine-world Monlyth, you will see these protoss are tagged as Tal’drim. To fans who never read the novels, that’s meaningless.  A random name.  Inconsequential. Let’s just pew-pew them to kingdom-come. Right?

To lore-nerd fans this will be a major loregasm.  Though these Tal’drim don’t offer any sign to be the same as the ones in Aiur, they are the same tribe. So we will have to find out throughout the three episodes of Starcraft II who these guys are and how they got there.  Monlyth has been abandoned for centuries, and we don’t know exactly how long these Tal’drim have been in Monlyth.  Whether they are the same people, who somehow managed to leave Aiur to reach this place, or not.  That’s vague, I know.  But you know very well, I will spill the beans—so you better not mind spoilers.

After the invasion of Aiur, the very first Protoss mission in Starcraft: Brood War is about Zeratul finding other Aiur protoss and to rally them toward the Warpgate to escape Aiur.  Remember that mission?  Jim Raynor and Fenix show up and stay behind to protect the Warpgate while you move your units toward the Warpgate.  Its destination is Shakuras.

Many protoss were able to escape and reached Shakuras. As they teleported to the other side, the warpgate’s coordinates to Shakuras were locked out to prevent any zerg from reaching Shakuras.  However, there were still many Protoss left behind in Aiur who still lived and survived.  Artanis knew about them, and still left them behind thinking it was much more important to ensure no zerg would follow them through the warpgate.

The surviving protoss defended themselves from the Zerg for the past years in a ruined Aiur, and their faith in the Khala remained strong.  But they kept losing more protoss to the zerg’s attacks day by day.  Other survivors however grew tired of fighting the zerg and their faith in the Khala was severed.  These felt anger and despair.  Their fellow protoss had abandoned them in Aiur, left to die and rot to the zerg.

The Tal’drim tribe felt again the memory of the day the Xel’Naga abandoned them, when they felt unworthy and blamed each other for that back then. They felt the same now that their fellow protoss abandoned them by closing the way to Shakuras.  The leader of the Tal’drim decided they would no longer believe in the Khala.  He rallied other surviving protoss to follow him to the forbidden caverns of Aiur to seek shelter and technology to survive the zerg.  The Tal’drim are in a mental state similar to that of the Aeon of Strife, before Khas thought them the Khala.

Those who did not follow the Tal’drim, remained in the jungles and other ruins for shelter, and fought bravely the zerg day by day. Their faith in the Khala stronger than ever. These renamed themselves the Shel’na Kry’ha [“Those who endure”].  While the Tal’drim renamed themselves to “The Forged”.

The Khala heretics [The Forged / Tal’drim] entered the forbidden caverns beneath Aiur, where the Xel’Naga chambers hide many secrets.  There they found a patron that protected them from the zerg.  Their patron was Dark Archon Ulrezaj [from the Enslavers: Dark Vengeance campaign mission in Starcraft: Brood War—you might remember the Schezar’s Scavengers too]

These Tal’drim known as the Forge use a drug named Sundrop, provided by Ulrezaj.  It inhibits the Khala, and blocks them from the other protoss tribes. You will learn a lot about the Tal’drim in Starcraft: The Dark Templar trilogy, book two: Shadow Hunters by Christie Golden.  You can watch my video interview with Christie [Book Revue, Huntington, New York – June 13] for further details on this trilogy.

Now we find the Tal’drim in the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty single player in a remote shrine-world that is not Aiur.  How did they get here?  Are they the Forged, or were they already in Monlyth unaware of what happened to the Forged in Aiur?  I asked Chris Metzen during my visit to Blizzard Entertainment’s headquarter [on July 20, 2009] if these Tal’drim are also influenced by Dark Archon Ulrezaj.  His response was kinda cryptic, and all he could really say is that we will see the Tal’drim’s motives play out throughout the single player and it sounded like we will keep seeing the Tal’drim throughout the next two episodes [Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void]—you can watch the video interview with Chris Metzen here.

Another reference from the Tokyopop manga merchandise can be seen throughout all the single player.  Blizzard introduced a new character named Reporter Kate Lockwell.  She reports for the UNN news network. She is neutral on her coverage of the Terran Dominion and rebel affairs.

Fans who do not read any of this merchandise stuff prior to the game will just see a random reporter with no backstory to her.  Lore-nerds however will be excited to see Kate Lockwell in the flesh integrated into the game each time you visit the Cantina Room to learn the latest news from the interactive TV screen. After any mission ends, you can head to the Cantina Room and click to the TV screen.  It will play a different news report by Kate Lockwell each time you complete a mission.  Very nice.

Kate Lockwell has been in a few of the manga short stories such as Newsworthy by manga-writer Grace Randolph [Starcraft: Frontline Vol. 2] and War-Torn by the same manga-writer [Starcraft: Frontline Vol. 3].

Starcraft: Frontline Vol. 1

Starcraft: Frontline Vol. 2

Starcraft: Frontline Vol. 3

In Newsworthy, she comes aboard a battlecruiser to report the lifestyle of the Dominion marines, and why other youth should join the marines.  They are portrayed as heroes who protect the Dominion core-worlds from alien threat (zerg and protoss).  However, she soon finds out that Emperor Mengsk and the Dominion forces are hiding many info from the news media and the public eye.  These past four years the Terran Dominion hasn’t gone offworld to fight the zerg nor the protoss.  All this time they have been salvaging Confederate properties and resources, disowning legally acquired property, and killing Terrans who spread bad propaganda against Mengsk, or that may have ties with the rebels who support Jim Raynor and Michael Liberty.

Reporter Kate Lockwell found out there were prisoners aboard the battlecruiser after a mission she was not allowed to partake for her news coverage, and to her shock a storage room was full of corpses from the mysterious mission the Dominion forces were sent to. She took video footage of this storage room, and was threatened by the captain to give up the CD copies to him, and shoots her.  At this point, Michael Liberty and his rebels aboard the battlecruiser and Lockwell gives him the video footage to report it through the clandestine communication channels.

In the meantime, Lockwell was rescued by the Dominion and continues reporting what the Dominion wishes her to report.  She pretends to be a neutral reporter, but in reality she knows the truth and knows what Jim Raynor and other rebels are doing is rightful.

In the manga short story War-Torn we learn about the telepath boy Colin Phash—son of Dominion senator Corbin Phash—who is hunted down by the Dominion after finding that the senator had held info about his son’s psionic potential.  Both are hunted down throughout the fringe-worlds.  The Senator asked the Umojan Protectorate Minister Jorgensen to offer asylum to him and his boy.  However, the boy is captured by the Dominion.  We see Reporter Kate Lockwell announcing his capture and revealing to the public what the Dominion wants the public to know (lies).

It’s awesome to see this character [Kate Lockwell] in the single player informing players of the current status after our missions. It feels like players are part of a breathing-universe while playing through the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty single player that integrates the licensed products and the game lore as one and the same strongly rooted in a flowing continuity.

We will see Colin Phash branch out into the upcoming Tokyopop manga Starcraft: Ghost Academy Vol. 1 [January 1, 2010]. Metzen said during our interview there are no plans any time soon to include Colin Phash to the single player—however, between you and me, I smell the Starcraft: Ghost game rebirth somewhere in the depths of some triple-neosteel-plated vault within the Blizzard campus.

Regardless, two characters from the Starcraft: Ghost series will appear in the Single Player: the Terran Dominion ghost November Annabella Terra also known as Nova from Starcraft: Ghost Nova by Keith R.A. DeCandido. Also known as the main character of the postponed FPS game. She will make a cameo in one of the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty single player missions—according to Chris Metzen.

The other character from this series is Gabriel Tosh who appears onscreen in the Mission Briefing computer at the Hyperion’s Bridge Room.  He offers you a mercenary mission titled “Mining Your Own Business” in planet Redstone III—known as the lava world.  He seems to know his share of info about the Terran Guild Wars and the Kel-Morian Combine and Umojan Protectorate history from what I could read in the single player hands-on.

The lore-nerd spider-sense in me tingled wildly when I read the name of this guy.  The reason?  He is one of the students in the academy where Nova studied and will appear in the Tokyopop manga titled Starcraft: Ghost Academy Vol. 1 [January 1, 2010].  We will see a younger self in this new manga series.  However, we will also find Gabriel Tosh in the upcoming Pocket Books novel titled Starcraft: Ghost Spectres [March 30, 2010].

We will learn a lot of backstory lore about Gabriel Tosh and Nova in these merchandise.  Additionally, Nova will appear in the Starcraft comic book published by Wildstorm Comics from famous-writer [of The Transformers] Simon Furman—as revealed during the San Diego Comic Con 2009, a few days ago.

During my interview with Chris Metzen a few weeks ago at the Blizzard campus, I asked him if the War Pigs mercenaries would be among the mercenaries we hire from Mr. Graven Hill at the Cantina Room in the Hyperion.  The War Pigs are the main characters of the Starcraft comic book by Wildstorm Comics.  Metzen said there are no plans to add them to Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, but they will have them in mind for any of the other two episodes [Heart of the Swarm or Legacy of the Void].  We will eventually see the War Pigs in the next episodes of the single player.

So keep your eyes peeled and subscribe to the comic book to absorb all the new lore these guys have to offer by no less than Simon Furman.  In the first arc, they are sent by Arcturus Mengsk to kill Jim Raynor.  They have been hunting him down through the Kropulu.  What I am wondering is if the zerg has started invading the fringe-worlds once more after four years of hiatus—could this mean the War Pigs will be surrounded like General Duke and be saved by the man they are sent to kill?

That would be very interesting if they join the rebels, and eventually show up in the single player.  Before wrapping up, for those who have missed it, Chris Metzen wrote a short story based on Jim Raynor which will be published in the upcoming Starcraft: Frontline Vol. 4 [Sept 29, 2009] which may offer some extra backstory to digest in preparation for the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty single player.  Enough of my musings and speculations—the Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is full of fun to play, but it gives me that extra kick in the brain to see all this lore from the novels, manga and comic book integrated into the core of the single player.  I LOVE YOU, BLIZZARD !!!

I also wish to thank Chris Metzen for inviting me to this single player event, as well as Shon Damron, CW, Karune, and Bob Colayco. I also wish to add it is amazing to see Robert Clotworthy back in action as our beloved voice of Jim Raynor. Thus, thanks to the Starcraft community who signed our petition to Blizzard to reconsider the reprisal of the voice that’s dear to us. Rock on!