I’m going to call them Lane Pushing Games (LPGs). It’s the best moniker I’ve seen and it’s a great blog by a game designer/developer I know who goes by the name of Softmints. If you have any interest in DotA and the myriad maps that came about in Warcraft 3’s day (and Aeon of Strife which started it all) I’d highly recommend you read it. http://lanepushinggames.wordpress.com
I’m calling this part one because I probably won’t say everything I want to say in one post. Let’s find out.
I’m not going to say I was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon, I owned Starcraft (and much later its expansion Brood War) but I rarely played it online and never really got in to the custom map scene. For me, it was the release of Warcraft 3 that sparked my interest.
I distinctly remember reading the review in PC Gamer for the first game. My dad used to buy me the magazine when I was around 10/11 years old and for a long time it was my sole source of information on video games. I didn’t play on consoles all that much and I had a few, very loved games that were all mostly real-time strategy games…Starcraft, Age of Empires, Command and Conquer. I’m not sure how or why I loved them so much but I know mum used to enjoy me playing Age of Empires simply for the historical aspect, so maybe there were factors like that involved. Then I read about this game. Warcraft 3. Made by a company called Blizzard who I’d vaguely heard of…they made that Starcraft game I had didn’t they? I liked that one, maybe this will be fun as well.
It doesn’t necessarily look it now, but it was beautiful to me. Strategy gaming mixed with RPG elements! You get heroes you can level up and do cool things with?! Metacritic says the PCG review ends ‘A brilliant game in every facet of its design and execution, with not a single dull moment in the lot.’ and a big fat 94. My magazine is actually a little less emphatic. The one I had (and still have) gives it a 90% and reads ‘Just what the witch doctor ordered. Classic strategy with a splash of role playing.’ (Funnily enough the next review in the magazine is for Neverwinter Nights, another game I loved in my youth…I guess August 2002 was a good issue.) The review mentions the map editor, is filled with screenshots of the game and little segments telling you wee bits of information about things like how the different workers do their job. For 10 year old Chris coming up to his birthday, this was more than I could handle. I never suspected that 12 years down the line I’d still be jumping on to the game.
Let me get this straight now if you hadn’t already worked it out. Warcraft 3 and its expansion, The Frozen Throne, is BY FAR my favourite game. I love the campaigns, I love the custom maps, I loved the community and many of the friends I had on WC3 remain steadfast friends today. Some of them are people I talk to nearly every day – I’ve even met one of them in person and survived.
But that map editor. There were people trying very, very hard to make really interesting things even in Reign of Chaos (the first Warcraft 3 game) but the expansion, The Frozen Throne, seemed to be where the map making scene was blown wide open. A lot of this was due to improved functionality in the editing suite. My brief adventures editing versions of Tree Tag taught me that it had become far easier to do custom hero abilities and suddenly every idiot could make something interesting. Tower Defence games were everywhere and the ‘maul’ variants such as Wintermaul were extremely popular, something to do with the combination of co-op play (someone to blame if it all goes wrong) and the multiple choices of towers/races seemed to really catch people’s attention. Enfo’s and similar maps like Abyss Gate were amongst my favourites outside of the LPGs, but there’s plenty of time to write about them.
So what is an LPG? Why were people so obsessed with them and why are they still prevalent today? The most popular LPGs today are League of Legends, Dota 2 and Smite, with an honourable mentions going to Heroes of Newerth as I spent much of my time there as well. Essentially, they are variations on a simple theme. Two teams, three ‘lanes’, endless waves of AI controlled minions (‘Creeps’) and player controlled heroes on each team. Why five? Most likely because Warcraft 3 had 12 player slots and 2 went to the AI. Some mapmakers have bypassed this need for the 2 AI players with some intelligent design but the 5v5 has mostly stuck in the core LPGs. There are hundreds of ways to alter the way the game works by reducing team size, lane number, lane sizes, using third person camera as opposed to overhead…Each LPG adds something slightly different to the idea.
Warcraft 3 had dozens of these maps with a myriad of ideas and influences. DotA Allstars is perhaps the most well known, simply because the game is enormously popular and probably not because it was the best. I’m saying this as an avid Dota 2 player, the mechanics of DotA are dumb; the heroes are unbalanced and, to paraphrase a friend, it is probably the greatest accidental combination of successful ideas in all of gaming. There are plenty of LPGs with better and more interesting hero design, more solid mechanics that are logical and make sense but DotA won and there is no contesting that. The fact there are so many heroes almost helps balance them out – the metagame shifts so often simply because certain heroes come in and out of favour so the heroes to counter them become more popular.
What else is there outside of DotA though? There are plenty of anime clashes for a start. Naruto vs Bleach and nonsense like that, some more interesting than others. Some of the Naruto maps used the anime’s wealth of characters to great effect and there were actually some pretty interesting heroes in amongst the crap. Others are simply altered versions of DotA with custom models and effects, they serve their purpose. Age of Myths was one of my favourites, it seemed to have more of a PvP focus and tons of interesting abilities throughout. The bounty system is better than last hitting as well; you’re rewarded for the damage you deal not for simply getting the killing blow. Eve of the Apocalypse (EotA) is another, a map with multiple maps within in and a real triumph of Warcraft 3 design. The scope of the whole project is enormous and I think it’s updated to this day. There were design-your-own-hero type maps like Hand of Sorrow Knight* (HoSK) and maps where you controlled two heroes instead of one (Personas). The map I still launch Warcraft 3 to this day for, Rise of Winterchill has perhaps the most ridiculous set of hero abilities in any map and remains incredibly fun for that reason. Practicality is thrown out the window for the chance to fire long-range, curving arrows; fling landmines and heroes across the map; smash people through trees to kill them and treat creeps like bowling pins. Once you get past the first few hurdles of everything killing you horribly, I would highly recommend it if only because having the Protomen’s ‘Hounds’ play in response to your badass kill is one of the best moments I’ve had in gaming.
I’m aware I’m gushing at this point. There is so much information to share and almost too much time to share it in so I’m going to stop here for now. There will as many posts about gaming and Warcraft 3 for as long as I can think of things to say because it is the reason I play on PC to this day. The way that game played a part in my life could not have happened on console technology in 2002 and quite frankly couldn’t now. There are reasons people like me admonish console gaming, it is not out of a lack of love for the games or the machines themselves. It’s just that, when you remember watching the clock tick over for your 12th birthday and everyone online congratulating you, a random person sat in the dark at home, alone…You want to share these things. They changed you, perhaps they can change someone else. You can be broken people together.
*I am not looking up the names of maps, everything is coming from my memory. That said, I think it actually WAS Hand of Sorrow Knight because I remember the name being really stupid.