Blog 613: Post Mortem: The Arena

Considering I’m now making a real game for real, maybe now is a good time to go back to my roots and examine what went right… and what went wrong… with my previous development efforts: my Warcraft III maps.

Today: the multiplayer extravaganza, RDZArena

The Arena

Just when you thought I had no idea how to make a singleplayer RPG, I started work on a multiplayer hero arena.

I don’t remember why. Maybe it was burgeoning internet access, and membership of a clan that gave me friends to play with. Maybe I was bored. Maybe it’s not even a multiplayer map.

Either way, I let my imagination run rampant and feature creep take hold and… this is what happened.

Welcome... to the Arena.

Welcome… to the Arena.

The Arena‘s basic gameplay is the essence of simplicity. Two teams of four players, controlling identical heroes, enter an enclosed space and knock lumps out of each other.

The thing is… I tend to find multiplayer maps quite boring. There’s always that point where I kind of suck and have to wait another two minutes for my hero to revive before I can get killed again. Ho bloody hum.

So there’s a lot more to do in The Arena than just bash the other players. The Arena is not conquered by player kill counts — it is won by points gained from all manner of actions.

Life's a beach, and then you die.

Life’s a beach, and then you die.

It begins with the wild animals that spawn everywhere. These can be killed for less points than a hero, but they’re much easier and there are plenty of them to choose from. (KrewL_RaiN once remarked that the presence of creeps made The Arena more akin to an AoS than a true hero arena.)

After that, there are the four annexes that open up occasionally to provide additional objectives; either a giant creature to kill or a flag to capture for bonus points. Flags, of course, can be nabbed by killing the carrier as they try to get back to base.

Finally there is the Hill, which provides a steady (if boring) trickle of points, up until the eighth minute when the legendary Dragon’s Tooth is given to you. There is only one Dragon’s Tooth and it drops on death, so being the King of the Hill is by no means a guarantee of absolute victory for you or your team. (It’s even questionable whether it is the best sword in the game — the Rune Blade’s lifestealing effect possibly outweighs the Dragon’s Tooth’s fast attack and high damage.)

Maybe 40 points is a bit of a mean bonus for eight minutes standing around.

Maybe 40 points is a bit of a mean bonus for eight minutes standing around.

There are also special Rounds that activate randomly. A Chaos Round allows you to kill any hero (including team mates) for bonus points, but causes you to teleport to a random point whenever you try to walk somewhere. An Obelisk Round disables the gaining of points by any means except controlling Obelisks. An Instagib round kills anything in one strike but denies points for wild animals.

The Eclipse Round just makes the lights go out and those glorious omnilight weapons take hold (because pitch darkness was really exciting when we worked out how to do it). It’s a bit more of a weather event — like the wind that spawns tornados or the breach in the ozone layer that drops burning shafts of light or the random appearance of a Feral Machine, so I’m not sure why I added it as a Round.

Don't worry, it's not the Greater Feral Machine hero.

Don’t worry, it’s not the Greater Feral Machine hero.

So, much like When the Freedom Slips Away, a large slew of game types are represented in one place. The key difference, though, is that these varied objectives never stray from the core mechanics. Heros hack and slash, heroes carry items, heroes try to avoid dying. That’s all they do, and that’s all they’re ever asked to do.

Even in the Obelisk Round doesn’t truly deviate — because you still gain control of Obelisks by hitting them until they die and then move on to the next one. The myriad ways to gain points are just window dressing around that central concept: you control a single character and knock lumps out of everything.

Also there are killing spree and multikill rewards.

Also there are killing spree and multikill rewards.

Speaking of characters, The Arena fills all non-human player slots with bots to ensure it always has eight competitors.

I’m not going to call them sophisticated, but they do have a broad suite of capabilities that make them compelling enough opponents. They’ll pick up items, they’ll upgrade their equipment, they’ll attack the gates to the Hill, they’ll head for annex objectives, they’ll run home if their health gets too low — more than enough to differentiate them from the basic animals patrolling the Arena.

They aren’t perfect, not by a long shot. They’ll often head for an annex objective and then turn right around again. They’ll run away with low health even if a few more strikes or ability casts could let them win a duel. Better than nothing, though.

I gave all the bots funny names because I'm soooo zany.

I gave all the bots funny names because I’m soooo zany.

The controversial part of the Arena was always how talkative it is. Heroes spout floating-text phrases as they wander around, use items and kill each other. The announcer voice (that’s me pitch-shifted) narrates important events like killing sprees and special rounds. The AIs use the same text-chat as players to taunt each other. (It’s that trick where you edited the UI strings to push the normal text chat off the screen, then used game messages instead — so human and bot chatter is consistent.)

A lot of people complained, but I’m going to stand by every banter-drenched line of text I added to this map. You’ve got to remember that it’s not actually a multiplayer map. It’s not about extreme balance and eSports and a fair face-off between ultra-skilled opponents.

It’s a multiplayer map as seen through the eyes of a single player. It’s a map designed to fill the roaring emptiness with light and words and sound. Every text taunt and piece of silly announcer narration is a piece of entertainment to brighten up wandering alone around an effectively barren compound. The onslaught might be non-stop, but that’s sort of the point.

In amongst the clutter, bots sometimes give useful hints.

In amongst the clutter, bots sometimes give useful hints.

The Verdict

I’ll stand by The Arena all the way. Sure, there are more than a few balance wobbles in there, but it’s completely wild — though in a more controlled and consistent way than the Islands in the Sky maps ever were. WtFSA was a coherent basis and the Arena mostly grew out from that one seed.

The Arena, however, turned out only to be a stepping stone to something much, much larger…

Fallen Stones? There's something familiar about that name...

Fallen Stones? There’s something familiar about that name…

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6 thoughts on “Blog 613: Post Mortem: The Arena

  1. This is all a bit unusual. I found myself on this blog because I saw a post you made on RPS. I saw the name, “Rao Dao Zao” and thought, “Is this the RDZ I’m thinking of?” Turns out, it is. I was a bit of a lurker on WC3C, and I was semi-active on the Hive for a good bit, and I always enjoyed your maps because they were… eclectic, I suppose? They were just different from what everyone else was doing, and they had their own little nuances and personalities and features that made them special and unique. A single-player campaign on an absolutely tiny map with random TD stuff thrown in? That was quite the opposite of the sprawling, “how big can I make this?” single-player maps of the time. Now here you are, years later, doing a post-mortem on all of them. Keep it up, I’ll be sure to drop by every now and then.

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    • There’s only one Rao Dao Zao, there should be two or three… What can I say? I’ve always loved a good pun thread. 😛

      I figured that having smaller areas packed with stuff rather than massive ghost towns felt like much better value for money (value per megabyte?). Less wandering aimlessly, more relevant action.

      And now, I’m hoping that I’ve been around enough to offer, if not earth-shattering design insights, at least a few interesting points about mod and game development. I’m a total public service, me.

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  2. I find the constant text tags, the announcer’s voice, the bots and dozens of other features make the map very exciting. Compared to the other maps I’ve played this one almost gave me epilepsy. My feeble body just wasn’t ready.

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  3. The arena was chaotic and fun. Perhaps a bit too chaotic for a real competitive game (you play more against the map than against the other players), but I doubt anyone who played it didn’t have some fun with it. At least that’s what I remember from it.

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