Blog 541: Almost Half of My Life Just Fell Out On the Floor

I want to tell you a story about a little boy who got a computer game ten years ago.

… No, please, bear with me on this one, it’s not a technical entry.

What Have I Done With My Life?

The year is 2003. It’s March, and this kid is mid-way through his fourteenth year of life. He’s young and, so it would seem, happy. Carefree at least. Ignorance is bliss, and so on.

He’s actually already been making maps for a wee while, by this point. Age of Empires II and its expansion The Conquerors have been his weapons of choice, though even before that he used to make pixel worlds by colouring in the blocks on squared paper. And he drew to-scale levels for that James Bond game for the GameBoy. Damn it, he used to design fantastical tracks for an imaginary racing game and build assault courses for Micro Machines out of cardboard boxes.

In hindsight, it’s blindingly obvious he had game design burning white-hot in his veins all along. The shift from static renditions in paper and card to dynamic virtual environments should have surprised no-one. Did it surprise anyone? Did anyone even notice, before it was too late?

He even designed a board game, based on some insane comics he had written about a machine that allowed you to enter your dreams.

He even designed a board game, based on some insane comics he had written about a machine that allowed you to enter your dreams.

About a year before this, in 2002, the boy is ill (properly ill, and this could well be the time he sicks up all over the brand new cream lounge carpet). His family gets him a copy of PC Gamer — it’s a special edition, in some kind of cardboard box, with a big feature about an up-coming game called Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. The game looks pretty cool — he already owns Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (where he found the WC2¬†map editor completely beneath notice), so he kind of knows what it’s all about. (This issue also hilariously notes that Duke Nukem: Forever is “due 2003”.)

But it’s that little snippet in the top-right corner about a map editor that catches his eye. The tiny thumbnail images don’t show much, and they certainly don’t remotely predict the bewildering variety of creations that will emerge from the community in the following years, but they tease enough. The spark gutters into life.

Remember when people still read things on paper? Yeah, it started THAT long ago.

Remember when people still read things on paper? Yeah, it started THAT long ago.

So it’s finally 2003, and he’s got this game, this Warcraft III. The family computer can barely run it, but it does work with a bit of juddering in areas of high action. (After a while the family buys some more RAM, taking the machine to a heady 256MB and up to bang-on the game’s recommended requirements, but this doesn’t seem to help much.)

Somewhere along the way, the boy succumbs to the inevitable and takes his first forays into the World Editor. It’s an incredible thing and he hasn’t got the faintest idea what he’s doing, but he persists anyway (unlike the multiple attempts it took to get over the fear of UnrealEd2’s interface, World Editor comfortably uses the Windows colour scheme).

Admit it, your first maps looked like this too.

Admit it, your first maps looked like this too.

He uses the War Golem and calls it a Mech. He tries to transplant individual units from bonus example map Warchasers, not realising that the export/import unit data function takes all unit data and not just the currently selected unit. (There was a bit of a bug that, after an import, only a single imported unit would show up in the display until it was refreshed properly, which helped to feed this delusion. The fact that the one unit that showed up was never the one he attempted to copy just made him furrow his brow even harder.)

Eventually he reaches a startling landmark in his life and turns to the Internet in search of beginner tutorials. With the aid of a cinematic guide, he soon produces a short comedy — his first real map, composed of more than just a few renamed units and blue fire doodads plonked down everywhere. It’s still not much, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

That's how the world works, right?

That’s how the world works, right?

The rest, as they say, is history.

Amongst all of the frenzied hours of scripting and interminable days procrastinating over terrain decorations, he starts a blog, leaves school, discovers a love of synth pop, starts a four-year university education, discovers a love of drink and dance, finishes a four-year university education, gets a job, leaves it, gets another job, hands in his notice again…

Or maybe amongst all of that he did some mapping. Who can say which way around it’s meant to go?

You and me both, Jaina. He's got a lot to answer for.

You and me both, Jaina. He’s got a lot to answer for.

That first cinematic was “last modified” on the 30th of March 2003. Do you know how long ago March 2003 was? Aye, you do, but I’m going to spell it out anyway — that was ten years ago. I have actually been modding Warcraft III for ten fucking years.

Has it been worth it?

Some days, I honestly don’t know anymore.

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4 thoughts on “Blog 541: Almost Half of My Life Just Fell Out On the Floor

  1. Amazing, feels like a kindred spirit! That is exactly how my childhood and upwards felt like when it came to enthusiasm for game design and the wonderful editors that so many games came packaged with.

    I remember making two pretty hefty (and childish) campaign in Age of Empires and Empire Earth… though with absolutely no historical context or accuracy at all. And trying to make them more Action/RPG than Strategy.

    There is definitely something appealing about taking an editor for a game and trying to work around it’s boundaries to accomplish things it was never meant to do.

    Like

    • Hehe, yes, all my Age of Empires scenarios were leaning towards RPGs too. When The Conquerors introduced those “change unit name/hitpoints/armour” functions… Mmmmmmmm.

      Like

  2. This is a great blog. Love the way it’s written. The fact that you drew up a board game is tremendous, too.

    Roll on Thursday!

    Like

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