Starcraft 2 September, or, why Starcraft 2's Single Player Ruined Jim Raynor

on Sunday, October 3, 2010
Warning: Will contain some Starcraft 1 and Starcraft Brood War Spoilers (but not Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty Spoilers)


Disclaimer: Just because this might be considered a "negative" assessment of Starcraft 2, don't be fooled. I freaking love the game. It's probably the most excited about a game I've been in a while. Playing with friends is a blast, the single-player campaign kept me entertained throughout the whole experience, and I can see myself playing it from now until the expansion (Heart of the Swarm) comes out. This is just an assessment of Starcraft 2's story in relation to Starcraft 1 and Brood War.

Why Starcraft 2 Ruined Jim Raynor


Jim Raynor, for those who don't know, is essentially the "main character" (amongst a veritable throng of main characters) representing the Terran race in the Starcraft cannon. Raynor is an all-around likeable guy throughout. He was a small-town marshal on the also small-town planet of Mar Sara, who gets swept away by dreams of rebellion and freedom by revolutionary Arcturus Mengsk. However, as Mengsk's tactics grow more and more questionable (luring the ferocious alien Zerg to Terran worlds that oppose Mengsk and allowing the aliens to wipe out the populations), Raynor and his girlfriend Kerrigan begin to question Mengk's true loyalties. The final breaking point is when Mengsk abandons Kerrigan to the Zerg during a mission, which results in Jim fighting through Mengsk and becoming a renegade. Mengsk then becomes emperor of the Terrans and embarks on a plan to destroy not just the Zerg and Protoss, but Raynor as well.
Shortly after, Kerrigan is revealed to be not dead, but instead taken by the Zerg and changed to be their star warrior. Granted, this doesn't please Raynor much, but he knows better at that point than to fight her.

The thing about Raynor in both Starcraft 1 and Brood War is the fact that you are never really "alone" with him enough to see what makes him tick. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. It becomes a staple of Starcraft storylines that, should the crap really hit the fan, Raynor often shows up to help the good-guys overcome. During the Zerg invasion of the Protoss homeworld of Auer, Raynor shows up to help simply because he's become friends with some of the Protoss. This is despite the Protoss higher council wanting him to help them; Raynor just does the right thing when needed. At the beginning of Brood War, when Auer is collapsing on itself and the Protoss are warping to the Dark Templar world to escape, Raynor courageously volunteers (with his Protoss friend Fenix) to stay back on the ruined world of Auer to close the gate behind the fleeing Protoss.

So while Raynor often shows up to help during the worst of times, you don't really ever get to see what makes him tick. He's the "Gandalf" character of the Starcraft universe: you don't know how he has this army, or how he knows to be in a certain place in a certain time, but you certainly know he will be there if crap really gets ugly. Because of that, he has both an aura of mystery and a huge deal of respect and badassary (yes, that's now a word). Even when Fenix is killed in Brood War (by Kerrigan, of all people), and awful things keep happing to Raynor, he still puts on a good face and keeps coming back to the fight. In a game rife with characters who aren't what they seem, and where nearly every "good" character has some terrible dark underlying goal or flaw, Jim Raynor really steals the show.

And then, they made Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty

First off, what the crap happened to him? The left is his portrait from Starcraft and Brood war. You get to know this guy. You like this guy. And on the right (and in the title image) is the "new" Jim Raynor, complete with voice actor. That doesn't even look like the same person!

Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty focuses completely around Jim Raynor, to the effect that you are Jim Raynor (being a faceless "commander" in RTS games just isn't cool anymore). In it, you start with Raynor, four years past Brood War, drinking in a backwash bar and dreaming of a revolution. Well, pretty soon that revolution kicks off, and away Raynor goes on his epic adventure to extract revenge on Mengsk. Of course, Kerrigan (who has been surprisingly absent since Brood War), decides to show up in the middle, and prophetic Protoss revelations about the upcoming end of the universe don't make things easy. It's a quality popcorn plot, that hits all the right notes with regard to the plot itself, and also administering substantial fan-service complete with cliffhanger ending.

And it completely ruins everything I ever liked about Raynor, and what made him the centerpiece of my Starcraft experiences. 

Let's go back to saying Raynor is like Gandalf. In Lord of the Rings, there was a very good reason Tolkien didn't go into detail about Gandalf's past. He doesn't even go into detail about his amazing resurrection, magic, or...well, anything. Gandalf is Gandalf because he must be: he's one part plot-device and one part mysterious badass. Explaining Gandalf would take away an integral part of what Gandalf is. It would completely destroy the character. 

Back to Raynor. We all know he does good things for good people. But what happens when you are Raynor? Wouldn't that just be a magical adventure, roaming the galaxy helping people, getting revenge on Mengsk, that jerk you wanted to kill since the first part of the very first game? Trying to help Kerrigan?

Well, no. Actually, it kind of sucks. Not only sucks, but it ruins Raynor.

Here's the thing: going around randomly helping people just...isn't very exciting. Not only that, in terms of a story-driven game, it seems rather pointless. Two major story arches just open and close during this game, and since the ending decisions are so dramatic, I can't see any of these characters ever returning. So what was their point? To gain new units, sure, but what else? To show us more of Jim's character? Well...it doesn't. It just shows that he goes from place to place, helping whoever will ask him for help and then continue on. What's the point? It makes Raynor seem like the biggest "gopher" ever. Where was this revolutionary, this guy who would "Save the galaxy at any cost?" Instead I'm gathering artifacts that may-or-may-not have some attachment with the overall plot, saying colonists for whatever reason (and ignoring all the others), and helping some psycho Ghost. Why is this? 

But that isn't the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that Gandalf bit. Jim in Starcraft 1 was an enigma, and because he was an enigma it let your mind go CRAZY about how totally awesome he must be. Planet hopping? Friend to both Protoss, Terran, and a personal stake against the Zerg? Betrayed countless times, but still gets back on his feet and fights? That's awesome!

But Jim in SC2 isn't like that. It starts with him drunk in a bar, wooing over a picture of un-Zerged Kerrigan like a cliche. He initiates the "rebellion," sure, but he hardly seems completely in charge. He fights with his companions, gets in lame slumps, and constantly dwells on the past. While I knew Jim couldn't ever live up to the expectations I'd made for him, it's like Blizzard just took the "generic put-down hero" out of every other story and applied it to Raynor. Why? 

This problem, the saturation of Jim with disappointment and cliche, ruined the game for me, and in so doing almost ruined the Starcraft story. Here's how bad it was: when I first got the game, I was super pumped about the single player. However, after about four missions, I quit it for the multiplayer. I had to force myself to get back into the story, because I heard the ending was crazy (it was). But come on...I waited over ten years to get back to this story, and it was so poor that after about five missions I stopped caring? Something is wrong here.

Blizzard saved themselves because, as stated, the Wings of Liberty ending is just so completely crazy that everybody is going to get the expansion just to see what the heck happens in the universe. But I'm now more interested in the universe, not in the characters. Raynor, the mystical, roaming badass of the first game is gone. There's some new guy with his name and his past, but it isn't the same. 

RIP Starcraft's Jim Raynor. I'd say I hardly knew you, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Now, I have no idea who Jim Raynor is. 

20 comments:

Raghav said...

nice post ...i love jimmy ..huge fan of SCII

The Reaver of Darkness said...

I like SCII gameplay overall. It seems like apretty good upgrade, with lots of cool units and great balancing. They took out some of the "cool" factor things from the original though, like the zergling sounds, for instance. SCII zerglings no longer make that "bwang" sound when they die. So that's maybe the only reason my attitude toward SCII gameplay is only so-so. But it's still good enough as a game to be worth paying for.

Except for the awful, awful story. I feel exactly as you do. From the moment I started playing the single player (which is what I was really psyched about anyway), I just couldn't stand this impostor who stole Raynor's name. I didn't even like the new guy.

So I'm not going to buy SCII or any of its expansions. Better luck next time, Blizzard. Maybe you can admit you royally screwed up, give this game a different name, and try your hand again at making SCII for real. If you do even a half-way decent job at it, I swear I'll pay for it. And I might buy Wings of Liberty if you take the Starcraft name off of it.

Anonymous said...

oh shut the fuck up you spoiled idiot The Reaver of Darkness,when you make such an excellent game (with awsome graphics and STORY ) then tell someone.Do you think anybody actually wants to listen to you bragging about your idiotic thinkings and ideas of not buying the game?
if your a sc fan youd realise that raynor changes because he lost his love kerrigan to the zerg because of a idiot.Its logical that he doesnt give a shit about life and wants to kill Mengsk,the son of a bitch that playminded them all

Chris said...

Seriously, I like the second ones story more, being able to project yourself into the emotions you get in the game, Raynors emotions...

Anonymous said...

This post is so un-insightful it's not even valid because you don't look at the bridge between the games at all. You're just practically asking "What the hell happened to Raynor and why has he changed?" without even looking or reading the facts that are right up your bloody face.

Further more, Starcraft 2 was tailored to show MORE about Jim Raynor, because it's much more CENTRALIZED on him. In fact, it's all around much better the way Blizzard made things around him, and just by the way you put things, you want him to be a road warrior with no name, personality, backstory, and history with just the same face going throughout the galaxy following a "storyline".

Anywho, you forget the fact that this is just the first installment in a trilogy, and that the rest is gonna complete the "crazy" story. Which btw, is absolutely enthralling and epic.

Nathan Major said...

I forgot this was the internet, so if people get the chance to be rude anonymously, then they'll do it.
As for what happened between games, I don't know, because the game itself never tells you. The only hints are during the scene after the "flashback," where Horner tells Jim to stop moping around all the time and figure stuff out. How am I supposed to draw backstory for these massive changes to character if the only thing implied is that Jim sat around all day?
As for the game being centralized around Jim, it's as if you didn't even read the entire post (which, based on lots of these comments, I am certain lots of people didn't and just read the subject and posted because they were angry). Jim's strength in the first game was you didn't know a lot about him, you only knew that he had loved and lost, and it was partially his own fault (though mostly Mengsk's). As stated, this made him "Gandalf"-esque because it wasn't over-explained how he did some amazing things in SC and Brood War. Take that away, however, and you have little left.
I can't believe I'm defending myself agent people who won't even bother to read an entire article, because most of the stuff I just said was up there. I also have another post in the works about how video game stories aren't nearly up to the level of other forms of media, and how it's is the gamers fault for buying into melodrama and cheap tricks meant to "spurn emotion" rather than use a slow build or more subtle means to infer feelings. Starcraft 2 is an excellent example of a melodramatic, "in your face!" plotline, which most gamers will eat up as quality because they haven't read a good book in years.
Also, this is a blog for civilized people, not Joystiq's comments thread. If you are going to reply, any personal attacks on me or another person will get you IP banned. If you want to comment and say I'm wrong with insights, be my guest, but personal attacks are unacceptable. You can get away with that 12-year-old on the internet crap elsewhere, but it isn't going to happen here.

Nick said...

In regards to Jim Raynor looking completely different in wings of liberty from starcraft and brood war you've got to realize there was a four year gap. I've seen my share of rants flaming blizzard for making raynor look completely different (Though I wouldn't call this a rant, you've given legitimate reasons for you opinions rather than the "Lol WTF thats gay!" defense most people use). As for the change in appearance? new graphics would have changed the look anyway, but take a look at Raynor's back story. Raynor served with the confederacy for a time before becoming a marshal on Mar Sara. Though they've some defining characteristics, most terran soldiers have the same generic look (The most obvious is that they're jar-heads.) Now I'm only speculating based on what I've read and what I know from the campaigns, but after becoming a marshal he wouldn't have had to adhere to the same regulations as marines. Ergo Lazy bum grows chin-scruff! Four years after Brood war, Wings of Liberty takes place. Four years is plenty enough time to grow hair and a beard xP.
As for the game-play and the story I had mixed feelings. I was Wowed half the time, and other times I was wanting to know more, somethings were just seemed to come out of nowhere so I took a read through the lore at http://starcraft.wikia.com/wiki/StarCraft_Wiki
and enjoyed a bit.

Christian Griffin said...

Just thought I'd point out, Jim Raynor has retained the same voice actor from SC1. His face structure is exactly the same. And don't people grow out their beards in your universe? Because hair, you know, grows.

The rest is all opinion so I'm not going to say that you're wrong, because you're not :P

colvat said...

you ARE right I love fucking Jimmy Raynor, but they seriously fucked him up I would even hold off buying it if they make a new one that actually works with Raynor

Anonymous said...

Simple you moron, after mergsk send after he whicht all the fithing force he can get i let the hair grow and make a plastic, after all only after the revolution started he lefted he dawn bar and pick up has many dawn troops to give a GAS in that revolution.

that,s why he is that diferent, you can still pick up around a poster of him a A HUGE Reward of 100000 dolars in his head, being the same in SCI,

copy?

Oswaldo said...

hello guys, i had same impression about Raynor: what happened with real Rainor? is no same face, take a moment and look, in SC I, he was brown, and his face was more rounded... is no the same guy...

History, is no good, look like a novel, everybody knows that between sarah and raynor had something: "Raynor you are my only hope", but i hoped more action about Xel naga, for example.

other caracters was changed, for example, Sarah look so beautiful before be infected; arcturus is no the same, look younger... they changed all the SC peopel...

but the real problem (i think like Nathan) is the history... SC I story is so good, very nice worked... problem is... when you create a hight expectative you must to be wonderful or no will work.

i think the end was good, with Raynor carrying kerrigan, no killing her

i think SC II dont sucks, but is not whats for i have been waiting 10 years, i would like much more actions, and a bigger story

Anonymous said...

glad some one els sees this i cant stand that u play as jim it makes no sence

alucard said...

Your Gandalf comparison is crap. If you were actually into the LOTR universe, you'd realise that people know LOADS about Gandalf. People know where he's from, where he stands amongst other maia, and his personal background. Most of it's in the Silmarillion.

Draven said...

Aiur right? I've never heard of Auer or whatever you wrote.

Draven said...

O and another thing. WTF, are you guys THAT into Jim's portrait picture that your THAT mad that it looks different. Jesus Christ. KERRIGAN looks different. Remember back when Starcraft I came out 1998... 98'. The graphic's on computers wasn't anything like it is today. They are able to add more features and more detail now than almost 15 years. Thank god they upgraded. Jesus Christ. The old Jim Raynor looked like a More red neck version of Dr. Phil. Even Kerrigan got a gnarly upgrade. She looks amazing than ever.

Nathan Major said...

@alucard

I've read the Silmarillon. However, I'm amongst the minority who have read both LOTR AND that book. If you knew anything about authors or fantasy writers, the Gandalf comparison is one frequently brought up, so much so it's considered a trope in the medium. Ask any author what a "Gandalf character" is. Really, please do. They'll all give you the same definition I gave above. I'm glad you are a LOTR elitist that has to toute your knowledge of Middle-Earth around on a blog, but it doesn't make my analogy any less sound for, I dunno, 90% of the people who read it.

People need to realize this is an opinion, one that the vast majority of people I've spoken with agree to. If you want to actually provide thought-out arguments in retaliation go ahead, but stupid comments like "you are so wrong" just prove you are a child.

And also, I never said I didn't like Starcraft 2, so no need to go instantly fanboy defensive. I said I though it ruined Jim, that's it. I mean, take a serious look at the story in that game. He follows every cliche in the book, from the hard drinking to the moping about in his down time to finally pulling himself together at the end to save his lady-love. Face it: Blizzard phoned this in (except the final plot twist) because they knew anybody would just eat it up. And you have. Good work. You'll never get better stories out of your games if you don't demand it, and based on these posts I'm guessing Gears of War and Halo and the likes will remain the pinnacle of video game storytelling.

Bubbelz said...

Hey mate,

I'm glad that for a change I found a blog writer that actually still reads and replies to his old blogs. Let me start on your blog post first: you really should edit the few spelling/typing mistakes you made like 'Auer', it hurts my SC-eyes :P But more seriously, I agree they made him look different. I agree on the cliches, but I remember reading an interesting (fake or real, you decide) post about that on the SC2 forums.. About a new guy in charge who thought of the cliches that partly wreck, but IMO mostly increase depth in Jimmy's character. Which is good too.

Another reason why I think they did this, is because the WarCraft series is disbanded. Sure they came with World of Warcraft, but it's nothing like WarCraft III with hero-units and personality. To be honest the bond Jim and Sarah had wasn't really shown in SC1, just some giggles here and some smooth talk there. It really was our imagination that was triggered (which is good). However I don't feel like SC2 was in any way lesser than SC1, neither story or how Jim is. I did however notice the visual difference between Jim 1 and 2, but as someone pointed out: dude has the same face structure and hair grows. I completely agree with the comment made on what Draven said and his Dr. Phil line made me choke in my drink :P

The people who said not to buy SC2 because of these improvements: please don't call yourself a StarCraft fan or lover. A simple change like this wouldn't destroy your every love for the game.

Furthermore I think there's enough on the ship in between missions and all and surely Raynor's Raiders would take any job as they mercenaries since credits aren't found just anywere :)

Nathan, thanks for your piece, I enjoyed reading it. I think habituation is the problem and solution ;)

Cheers,
Nick

marc said...

I agree that some of the story is cliche, however they took the approach to make Jim Raynor more human, someone you can relate to. Makes you feel what he is feeling,lets you get inside his shoes and lets you see what he does. If you yourlove died, and you were partly responsible,how would you react. Its logical that he went into hiding. He must've felt depression and guilt for Kerrigan. SC 1 was great, but it was limited by its time.

The differences in the 2 versions of Jim Raynor is also logical, when you consider the low levelof 3d graphics capable at that time. Less polygons in the face means less detail, hence the roundness of the face, hair has always been difficult to do in 3d animation, this is why most of their characters back then had no hair, they'd have hats or helmets instead or be bald. It was convenient that he was a military man thereby having shaved hair was logical.

10yrs on, we can now do hair in 3d faily easily, also the polygon count is higher, adding more detail, so where as his face was more round, they can now give it shape and features, make him look natural. It also adds to his cowboy like persona, long hair, dirty scruffy, even carries a revolver. He is basically an outlaw now. His look fits that. Like someone mentioned before while being in the military, he had to stick to military rules, shaving your hair off, now he is not in the military and can do what he likes. I would grow my hair too, not bother to cut it. Would be too lazy.

The idea of following Jim Raynor for me was epic, he was my favorite character, now i could be him, plus what other terran story would you have wanted to follow from SC 1. I can't think of another faction or group i would follow.

I also don't think Jim Raynor was intended as a Gandalf type character in the first one, he was less of a main character maybe, But he only shows up unexpectedly when you play non-terran campaigns. Which is exciting. But when you play the terran campaign you do follow him on several missions, he doesn't just show up.

Your post is really just your opinion, as is the comment of everyone else here, just their opinion.

However i must strongly disagree with your blog, its a great game, and the improvements to story and graphics and gameplay are great. SC1 was great for its time, and stood out more cause most other games were shit. But Sc2 is a better game in my opinion. SC1 was the learning curve, lets be honest, through wc3 and now sc2 they have improved drastically.

I think there are a lot of people who hate film remakes and sequels cause they too busy comparing it to the past, or there expectations. People generally struggle to accept a story line that has changed slightly purely cause they remember the original and have some childhood nostalgia to it.

thanks

Vinny Mar said...

sc2 wol and hots are the best campaigns ever!! fuck all who disagree ill murder you

Epi said...

You are so right. Considering how the mysterious Azeroth somehow turned into a some kind of theme park in WOW, the moment I saw new Jimmys face I decided I will never play Star Craft 2 campaign. Still havent. Star Craft 1 is such a great story and has so great characters that I dont want to ruin it.

Old Jimmy looks like just a regular guy. I did't think that he and Kerrigan actually had a relationship. I mean, sure, that would have suited Jim very,very well but seriously, Kerrigan was totally out of his league: the girl is super hot and the guy looks actually a bit old and is not very handsome in any way.

And it was awesome! It was just great to watch such a usual looking guy to fight his way to such epicness that even the ever so proud protoss thought that "hey, this guy is actually pretty tough for a human, lets have him fight agains the zerg for us"

The new Jim has such a stereotypical hero face. If the guy kicks some ass, so what? It doesnt surprise anyone.

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