While revisiting material for the SPRPG Diaries, I’ve ended up replaying as many unsavoury maps as I have classy ones that I’ve eventually presented to you. Even so, some of these have got me to thinking that I do actually enjoy the very basics of WC3 RPGs: RTS controls on a single hero with a pleasant suite of abilities. (By the way, if you’ve spotted something that might be worth a punt for the Diaries, do drop me a line.)
I attempted to play a very recent RPG campaign release a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck by how… Well, crap it was. It had lavish terrain, all the HD imported art you could imagine — but the game itself was pretty much nonexistent, even in terms of attack-move-and-unload-spells-to-win. How difficult can it be to set up a compelling little hero with meaty abilities and set him loose on a world of creeps? Apparently too difficult for some. (I guess “don’t fill him up with passives” is a good start. Critical Strike and Evasion may make for a “realistic” combat system, but it’s hella boring to operate.)
So I got to thinking about going back to basics, stripping away all the weapons systems, backpacks and triggered knockbacks, to see if WC3 can actually stand on its own out-the-box RPG-lite hind legs.
A long time ago, WC3Campaigns hosted a mini-mapping contest. According to the logs from that period, I spent 2 days on an entry called The Oasis before unceremoniously dumping it. The central tenet of this entry was using in-game dialogue to facilitate voiced cinematics, and I believe the contest demanded it be done in a 32×32 space.
I have decided to take this project on again as the basis for this experiment. It would have been a candidate for The Forgotten, had it not been in quite such a broken state — only the first quest functioned at all — so I figured it might be worth finishing before chucking it out.
(I also keep thinking about rebuilding WC3’s official campaigns as snappier RPG campaigns but I really don’t have the balls for that — and it’d be embarrassing to rebuild the already RPG-esque missions in inferior quality, because there’s no way in hell I’d be triggering things like those Frozen Throne Icecrown underground elevator puzzles.)
Okay, I’m not going to go totally import-free, but I’m not going to go overboard either. I’ve always said that the best imports are the ones you can’t distinguish from the in-game artwork, so I’m keeping it really down-low with a custom dismounted Thrall model (based on the Paladin). His abilities are mostly based on the Mountain King, as befits a fun loner — damage and hard stuns/horrendous slowing effects are simple but forceful and highly visible. The one concession to the other units and allies he sometimes finds himself around is a heroic version of Roar, while poor old Feral Spirit provides the fourth ability (I’ve fiddled with the wolves a bit, though).
There are no ultimates for our player heroes, so I’ve raised the level cap to 12 to allow four three-tier abilities. I want the emphasis to be on actually using your abilities, rather than saving up an ultimate for the right moment and either never using it or having it locked away again for another five minutes.
The bulk of the imports are going to be bits of dialogue. Yes, the central tenet was to use only in-game dialogue, but then the story became just a little bit too constrained. With the judicious cutting and shutting of bits and pieces of existing Blizzard samples, I hope to assemble a few more unique and appropriate sentences to round things out a bit. I doubt I’ll end up with Deus Ex: The Recut, but neither do I intend to shy away from such surreality… If it feels right.
I’ve also increased the size of the map. Not the playable area, which remains locked to the 32×32 square of the titular Oasis, but the unplayable edges — so you won’t be staring down at the black abyss at the bottom of the skybox.
I’m aiming for about 25-30 minutes of gameplay, but so far it’s been pretty tough going. We all know that This Wreckage is artificially bloated by at least three hours of cinematic conversations, whereas here I don’t have the freeDom to ramble. The story is split into fairly discrete main quest elements bracketed by little cinematics, though each game part lasts far less time than I’d have hoped. At the moment I’m just about at the 20 minute mark… Though I guess adding VAT for not knowing the level should push it up to 30 minutes, at least for a first-timer (and replay value is not exactly a consideration here).
In terms of gameplay, it is basically a linear dungeon crawl — except, since it’s a 32×32 square, the enemies come to you rather than you having to fight through them. Various heroes and their armies try to take on the Horde and are successively beaten back; the only common objectives are that Thrall and the Fortress survive.
Timescales for The Oasis?
Well, I’m two planned quest phases from the finale, and I’ve only been working on it for a couple of weeks now. Maybe one more to polish it off and then we can talk about a release. On the other hand, I am starting a new job so let’s not make any hasty promises we can’t keep.
Other quick experiments once this is done?
Well, I’ve got dreams and a few hastily scribbled plans (and other old feedstock maps), but I’ve also got Project Y4 R02 and Brownscape to continue making. If I start on any other “minor diversions” we’re awfully likely to get into another Pre-Cambrian Explosion of barely started fragments of terrain and triggerwork with no meaningful results…