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StarCraft devs remember crunch: “I was writing code while she was in labour”

starcraft crunch

Crunch in game dev has been a hot topic in the past year, but it’s certainly not a new phenomenon. In Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II, author David L Craddock details the development of the original StarCraft, including the long hours and strained relationships it took to get there.

Jeff Strain, the person behind the free StarEdit tool players could use to create and share their own custom maps, was behind schedule on his project leading up to launch. That led him to carry his laptop and devote spare moments to coding – and as Craddock writes, that was “a decision that didn’t go over well with his wife.”

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“I was writing code while she was in labour,” Strain says. “Here it is, twenty years later, and I’m still paying for that. That’s her trump card, right? Maybe in another ten years I’ll have made it up to her.”

Even so, StarCraft veterans suggest those long hours were self-imposed. “We wanted to perfect our cinematics,” artist Harley Huggins says. “That’s why we ended up separating stuff into layers later on. You’d render the whole [cinematic] and go, ‘There’s something that’s flashing’ or ‘Maybe you could go in and change the frames.’ Instead of just saying it was good enough, we’d go in and redo the whole thing. Sometimes that meant not going home. Everybody just did it because they wanted to do it.”

Rob Huebner speaks similarly, comparing the experience to his time at LucasArts on Jedi Knight. “It was a self-demand more than an external demand. Maybe at a higher level it was from management and they stealthily made it seem like it came from grassroots, but if so, they succeeded at that. There were still long hours, but to me, a sweatshop is like a producer coming in and mandating these hours, or you hear horror stories about L.A. Noire developer Team Bondi. That definitely wasn’t at all like what Blizzard was.”

Whether self-imposed or mandated from above, parts of the game industry have been pushing back against crunch recently, with this year’s GDC being dominated by talk of unionization in an effort to fight the practice – though, of course, any progress at this point would be some decades too late to affect StarCraft.

You can hear plenty more about the making of StarCraft in Stay Awhile and Listen: Book 2, from which Craddock has graciously provided us a lengthy excerpt. The book’s currently available for backing on Kickstarter, and also includes tales from other Blizzard game development – including the origin of Diablo 2’s nudity. Finally, our biggest questions answered.