Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 16, 2014

Heroes of the Storm tells us where Warcraft 4 is going to go

I *love* RTS, and it is the genre that I am most passionate about. While I feel miffed about Starcraft 2’s bullshit multiplayer designed around E-Sports, I am very happy to see that not a mention of ‘E-Sports’ has been made with Heroes of the Storm. I think Blizzard designed around the ‘top players’ with the expectation that the difference between ‘top players’ and ‘lesser players’ was simply time. The ‘top players’ would do something first and the lesser players would soon follow. Diablo 3’s endgame woes also share that same idea. What happened instead is that people just bailed out entirely. Without a mass audience, no one would watch the ‘E-Sports’. The top players had no crowd to watch them.

To our pleasant surprise, Blizzard shut down the auction house and got rid of Jay Wilson. Now it seems Blizzard is doing the right things with Diablo 3. It also seems that Blizzard has learned from Starcraft 2 with Heroes of the Storm (the same RTS development team is making it). Heroes of the Storm is NOT aiming to be the ‘elitist’ or ‘most hardcore’ of all MOBAs.

What younger people don’t realize is that Blizzard’s breakout hits were never aimed at the hardcore. Warcraft 2 was mocked by the Dune 2 and Command and Conquer crowd for being ‘cartoony’ and ‘not a serious RTS’. Starcraft 1 also got hit with this as the ‘elite players’ (which I include myself as one of them) played other RTS games. Diablo 1 was mocked for being a ‘dumbed down RTS’ with a focus on ‘action’ because ‘Diablo players can’t handle a real RPG’. World of Warcraft didn’t blow the market away by appealing to the most dedicated Everquest players. To the contrary, the dedicated Everquest players despised WoW. Where are they today?

I keep wondering how Blizzard is going to make Warcraft 4. They obviously can’t do a Warcraft 4 design around ‘E-Sports’ then they get a Starcraft 2 dilemma all over again. The number of heroes and what they can do have been more fully fleshed out with the MOBAs. So what can Blizzard do with Warcraft 4?

Hearts of the Storm is focusing on the map dynamics to really flesh out the game experience. This is very interesting development to me. Most MOBAs use the same old map but focus on the heroes, on the items, or some other element.

Warcraft 4 will likely be focused on the crazy map dynamics.

“That is not proper RTS!” the reader might scream. Are you sure about that? Let’s look at the history.

Lately, the RTS team at Blizzard realized that the initial Starcraft 2 maps were all wrong. They realized they could greatly add and vary the game experience by making different maps. Instead of making the same Starcraft 1 type maps, they could freshen things up with different types of maps.

You might say, “Malstrom, we all know this.” But I don’t think so.

Look at Warcraft 2. There is a SPECTACULAR different game experience if you play on a map called Garden of War as opposed to High Seas Combat. Garden of War had the bases all close to each other, many trees, and encouraged early rushes. No water on that map. On High Seas Combat, you pretty much had to make mostly boats. In Garden of War, you can make just a bunch of grunts while in High Seas Combat, you needed to make boats to seize the oil ASAP.

What is the link between all these RTS games? What extended their life so much? It is the map editor. What made you keep coming back to Warcraft 3? Was it custom units? No. Was it custom heroes? No. It was the Custom Maps.

Why was the Warcraft 3 map editor so successful and the Starcraft 2 map editor so not successful? I found that the Starcraft 2 map editor didn’t allow you to change the map much at all. You could do a ton with the units, add in a bazillion triggers, do marvelous work on new UIs, but the map didn’t allow for much change. In Warcraft 3 map editor, you could quickly and easily make a map around RTS as well as RPG. The fantasy assets in the game allowed much that could be done. The assets in the Starcraft 2 editor didn’t encourage the imagination. There isn’t that much you can do with a roach.

What if Warcraft 4 eliminated resources? “Shocking,” you might say, “Unheard of!” another might add. We have made the assumption that the RTS design is economical. The game revolves around gaining resources to make armies to bash the other side (or prevent the other side to get resources). Starcraft 2 is extremely economically focused. Warcraft 3 had gold, lumber and added experience.

But let me ask you this: is it really resources we want or is it the map design itself? Resources are an essential part of the map design.

The MOBA players say, “There are no items or last hitting in Heroes of the Storm. Therefore, where is the strategy?” But the HotS maps are extremely differentiated and very highly charged with gameplay elements. The answer is that the strategy is in the maps. But then again, isn’t all strategy in the maps? Since most MOBAs use the same exact map, the only thing to focus on is the last hitting, the items, the hero versus hero match up, etc. Resources are part of the map design. Therefore, it is incorrect to say RTSes are about resources. Rather, RTSes are about the maps. This is removing the little picture view into a big picture view.

The direction HotS is going could hint at the direction of Warcraft 4 and the future of RTS. Warcraft 3 melee maps revolved around the placement of lumber, gold, and creeps (experience). But what if Warcraft 4 maps were as rich and diverse as the HotS maps? The map does lead the charge in the RTS gameplay. But what if we have always confused the resources for the map experience? What if with modern technology, we can have maps far more interesting than where gold and crystals are placed?

Instead of Warcraft 4, I have a gut feeling Blizzard might remake Warcraft 1. I’m fine with that as well as I enjoy demonic Orcs.


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