I should clarify what I mean. I've never thought that Blizzard's RTS interfaces were outstanding, just good compared to the stuff available at the time (Warcraft III is step backwards, in some respects, because Blizzard has adopted the attitude that the interface is part of the challenge, which I disagree with; Diablo II's interface is solid because it's configurable). Blizzard's interfaces, like the rest of their product, are well-built but not innovative or spectacular in their own right.
Keyboards are good for controls in some games: have you ever tried to play CivilizationII? on game console controller? Not pleasant. If you complain that this is unfair comparison, since CivilizationII? was designed for the PC, try playing the RomanceOfTheThreeKingdoms? games by Koei, or any of the other variants on the same theme: the controls are awkward and annoying because you don't have mouse select and keyboard shortcuts. I'm convinced that turn-based strategy games work best on keyboards and mice. The mouse-and-keyboard combination works much better for FPS's than console controllers, in my opinion.
That said, lay it on me. I'm always interested in other opinions.
I suppose I should also start off by clarifying. I do not mean to say that a keyboard-and-mouse combo is a bad gaming device, by any means. I used the word "typewriter" to refer to the sheer number of letters that are used in Blizzard build interfaces. I have no problem with the interfaces to most turn-based strategy games and first-person shooters.
But, I digress... One of the main reasons that I never cared to finish Warcraft I or II and don't regularily play Starcraft is the cumbersome interface. For some unknown reason, the boys at Blizzard think that everyone who plays their games should have to memorize about 50 keyboard shortcuts. That is what I mean, when I say "typewriter". Oh, sure, you don't technically HAVE to memorize them, but the game feels really slow and clunky if you don't and you progress much slower (there's a reason I don't play multiplayer), as I'm sure anyone who's played the game can identify with. Building requires first selecting a worker, then finding the "build" icon, then trying to figure out which thumbnail represents the building you're trying to build, and then finally choosing a place. Spell-casters I found are even worse, since you generally have to use them quickly. I finally just gave up entirely on building things like High Templar because every potential usage was basically a frustrating process of: find an available High Templar, select it, find the icon to select the spell, be told that it doesn't have enough energy, find ANOTHER High Templar, select it, find the icon to select the spell AGAIN, choose an area, then realize that the opportunity to use the spell is gone. Of course, all the Starcraft players will just tell me to memorize the damn shortcuts. I won't. Having to deal with that many keyboard shortcuts is annoying enough to make me just stick to single player, and furthermore, I object on principle to having to deal with poor interface design. Furthermore, the shortcuts are not even assigned WELL. Half the time, the shortcut is some non-intuitive letter in the middle of the word for the thing you want. And why does every race (for building, although I suppose Starcraft has an excuse here) and unit (for spell-casting) need it's own unique shortcuts? Can anyone explain to me why the hell spell-casting isn't simply assigned like "z=primary spell, x=secondary spell, etc.". Other RTS's have keyboard commands, but they're cleverly condensed down to a small number of intuitive commands.
The response I'm most likely to get for all my wanking is that RTS games are just so gosh-darn complex that Blizzard has no choice but to make the interface the way it is. This might be true, except that other games have found better ways of handling things. Hell, HomeWorld has a much easier interface, and it's actually played in a full three dimensions! Take a simple hypothetical scenario. Let's say I want to build 5 "warships" (let this correspond to something appropriate for each game). In the mean time, I've got some fighting and exploring going on outside my base. Right now I only have enough money for one warship, but by the time that one is built, I will have collected more than enough money for another one, and so on. Here is what I have to do for each game:
Command and Conquer (Red Alert and earlier):
Scroll down on side bar to "Warship" Click it. Click it again after each Warship is finished.
Command and Conquer (post-Red Alert):
Scroll down on side bar to "Warship" Click it 5 times.
Bring up the Build Menu (press B, one of four or so keys you need to remember) Find "Warship" on the menu Click on "Warship" 5 times.
Note that in these examples, I do NOT have to redirect my attention or camera away from the action to accomplish this building.
Scroll back to your base Select a building that produces Warships Find the icon or remember the shortcut for "Warship" Click it. Go back to what you were doing. Repeat the previous steps for each Warship
I have a couple other issues with Blizzard RTS interfaces, such as the somewhat odd and inconsistant assignment of the left and right mouse buttons, or the mysterious feature that only lets you select a certain number of units at a time, but I think I'm done wanking for now. Despite my complaints, I do actually like Starcraft and Warcraft III a fair bit.
I have very little familiarity with the Command and Conquer series, though I know that some of them are older than Starcraft. Remember that Starcraft itself is very old, though, by game standards. Comparing it to newer games is not wholly fair. From what I've played of similar games (I played a fair amount of AoK, a little AoE?, and some other random RTS-like things whose titles I don't remember), their interfaces weren't better. Comparing Warcraft III's interface to these games is fairer, and I think Blizzard addressed some of the issues. Spell-casters are much easier to handle now, and the random keystrokes problem has decreased (most hero spell shortcuts draw from a small subset of the keyboard, for instance). On the other hand, the artificial limits on queues and group sizes remain; here, Blizzard is using the interface to add "challenge" to the game, something which I disapprove of.
HomeWorld exemplifies outstanding interface design. When I first heard of it, I thought, "How do you make a 3-D game playable?" They answered that question well.
Point taken on the age of games, though I think there's another issue here. Blizzard has certainly made improvements to their interface over the years, but they also seem to have come relatively slowly. I think my first bad impression of BlizzardInterfaces came from going from C&C to Warcraft II (which were popular around the same time). Then when Starcraft came out some years later, my reaction was something along the lines of "damnit, they STILL haven't fixed this?!" Moreover, there seems to be an unwillingness to rethink the central dogma to their interface because obviously they have a large fanbase, and they don't want to dissapoint their loyal fans by changing the core design of the games. We saw what uproar a lot of websites and message boards were in over Blizzard announcing a console game (Starcraft Ghost, which looks very promising). It seems that Warcraft III is more or less the same interface as before, but there are a lot helpful things tacked on to make certain tasks easier. I did appreciate the "idle workers" button, the autocasting mages, and the use of heros.
This has been an interesting discussion thus far. I'm curious to see what other people think.
Coming back to this 3 years later, I have to retract some of this. Starcraft Ghost has been looking worse for wear each year, but maybe just because I don't like that it's become an online competitive action game as opposed to a tactical single-player game.
Actually, further note: I use a remapped hotkeys file for Warcraft III, which maps the hotkeys based on the position of the action in question on the bottom right panel from [Mr. Fixit Online's Warcraft III section]. I.e., z corresponds to the build key when you're using a worker; z, x, and c handle most hero abilities; etc. I find this more intuitive than the letter-based system.
Blizzard's motto should be: evolutionary, not revolutionary.
If you want to talk revolutionary, it seems that RTS games would be an ideal use for voice control. "Build battleship." Current voice control systems can actually work really well at distinguishing a limited set of predetermined commands, which is all that would be needed for gaming. Voice wouldn't need to replace keyboard and mouse, but the addition of vocal commands as another option could greatly reduce the amount of time groping for buttons or clicking through menus in the middle of a battle. I'd like to be able to name units or groups of units, and then issue commands to them like "Gold squadron, go north" or "Hydralisks, do a little dance."
This has obvious problems with multiplayer when all players are in the same room. Could be minimized using good headset mics.
CS clinic, anyone? If only Blizzard did clinics... <sigh>