Blog 615: Post Mortem: This Wreckage

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 big one, This Wreckage

You know, I actually managed to do this one without any spoilers. Maybe there are a couple in the screenshots.

This Wreckage

Introduction

Originally, I had intended to leave When the Freedom Slips Away well alone as a self-contained story. Most people probably saw the giant hole in that reasoning when I built The Arena half-heartedly off its mythos; others figured it was inevitable because there had to be more islands in the ocean for the Expedition to rock up at. Even if a true sequel wasn’t on the cards, something in the same universe definitely had to be.

I’m not going to claim that This Wreckage was “designed” in any meaningful sense of the word, but by that point I definitely had a firm grasp of what I wanted to make. There was no room for deviation anymore: World of RDZArena would be a pure RPG with a strong emphasis on swords and shields.

Wait a minute, Scholarface -- is this "bastard sword" actually a veiled insult?

Wait a minute, Scholarface — is this “bastard sword” actually a veiled insult?

Yes, the work-in-progress map was called World of RDZArena, which probably sums up everything you need to know about its development. Creation of The Arena led to an explosion in content — equipment, creatures, terrain props, everything — and I needed a proper home for all of it. Somewhere less ephemeral than an online deathmatch arena.

The first tentative drafts of This Wreckage, before it was even called This Wreckage, were for a Rexxar-style map transition campaign. The central compound of The Arena was hauled out and the annex gates led off onto separate maps.

Clearly that was never going to fly; even as a single map it took more than a year to make (plus another six-odd months to do the Version Gamma upgrades).

While he's a source of very cool looking items, Kagrenac's massive prices, concealed fetch quests and waiting times make him not particularly worth the effort.

While he’s a source of very cool looking items, Kagrenac’s massive prices, concealed fetch quests and waiting times make him not particularly worth the effort.

Of course my intention was to create something large and meaty, but after those delusions of campaigning had dissipated I only ever aimed to make the game last about four hours — roughly the length of time it takes to complete Gravano’s Season of Uncertainty in a fairly completist manner. I’ve meantioned SoU a lot because it had a profound influence on me: SoU was what I loved to play, so that’s what I strove to create.

So maybe it ended up a bit bigger than I anticipated, with people regularly taking seven to ten hours to explore the whole map, but regardless of length, it did turn out as just the kind of RPG I wanted. A faintly gated open-world explorathon bound together by a gripping plot with layers of mystery and intrigue. Success!

I was intending to make an interstitial map of the Pig's adventures, but never quite got around to it.

I was intending to make an interstitial map of the Pig’s adventures, but never quite got around to it.

Mechanics

Okay, so it wasn’t all new stuff. There was a little bit of Islands in the Sky 2006 channelled back into This Wreckage — much like the class system that allowed you to choose your hero’s ability set there, Henrik got to choose from the categories of Damage, Enemy Debuff, Self-Buff and Summon as he progressed through the storyline.

The ability system doesn’t quite work, though. Henrik’s maximum level is 30 and there are no experience caps to go with the plot points where you get given each ability — it is quite possible, even easy, to outgrow the number of abilities you currently have available. It would have made much more sense to let you choose all four abilities at the start rather than drip-feeding them, which would also have served to make the summons far less ridiculous (and given you more time to play with them).

It’s not exactly a problem (the ability points just hang around annoyingly on the hero icon), but it is distinctly untidy.

As long as I don't turn green and grow a pair of antennas, as I understand it.

As long as I don’t turn green and grow a pair of antennas, as I understand it.

There are similar issues with the equipment system. The ever-increasing flat damage of swords keeps on trucking just fine, but the armour system really starts to break down the further you get. Quirks of the formula, designed for melee gameplay rather than single-hero powerhousing, create a system of diminishing returns: the higher your armour rating, the more points you need to add on to get more real damage reduction.

Needless to say, I failed to account for this: at the highest levels, shields can have 20 armour points of difference and barely offer another 1% reduction. I suspect the mid-game suffers from the armour sweet spot where an increase in a few armour points gives you much more than I intended, and then end-game shields are less overpowered than I’d planned.

Not exactly a gamebreaker by any means; the main advantage of singleplay is that you don’t really need to balance anything as there is no need to cry unfairness against a friend of equivalent skill. Well, at least, not until we get into the scoreboard, and that’s just a bit of fun.

You'd be even more disappointed if you got a shield that wasn't as good as it looked, Henrik. At least the Lewts do something... or do they?

You’d be even more disappointed if you got a shield that wasn’t as good as it looked, Henrik. At least the Lewts do something… or do they?

Details

Okay, now we’ve dealt with the glaring flaws, maybe I can pat myself on the back just a little?

There are a lot of pieces transferred over from the Arena that really come into their own here. This Wreckage is perhaps best defined by its details — like the weather effects that come and go. It seems like a simple thing, to switch a few particle emitters on and off at semi-random intervals, but it really makes the world feel alive.

And while we’re talking about atmosphere, I have to stand up and beat my chest about the swamp. Yes, everybody has so much trouble navigating it, but just look at it! It’s a sea of soupy green fog, global map effects applied “locally” thanks to the magic of camera-lock so you can’t see them also affecting the rest of the map. It is completely oppressive and disorientating despite the fact there are only actually two routes to follow.

Henrik's quips don't quite break the fourth wall, but they fly pretty close sometimes.

Henrik’s quips don’t quite break the fourth wall, but they fly pretty close sometimes.

The shield armour system might break down pretty fast in terms of mechanics, but I’m still pleased with items in all other respects. The variety of gold items of different values, rather than just one “coins” item, really adds colour and flavour to the world. Whale figurines being randomised auto-use power-ups neatly subverts the figurine from WtFSA into another combat mechanic, all the consumable wands and scrolls give you plenty of options for murdering your way across the land…

In WtFSA the item system was a bit of an afterthought, but here there are enough to have fun with but not so many they are incomprehensible. Each weapon and shield has a unique attachment model so there’s as much an element of dressing Henrik up in a way you consider fashionable as tracking down the most powerful items. I love the dress-up aspects of RPGs, have I mentioned that before?

The missed opportunity here being that it doesn't *actually* consume your soul, so there is no downside to its imbalanced life-steal.

The missed opportunity here being that it doesn’t *actually* consume your soul, so there is no downside to its imbalanced life-steal.

The Verdict

I think This Wreckage is the one map I am unashamedly proud of.

It’s old and wise enough to have a big, meaty plot but still young and fresh enough to deploy silly jokes along the way. It’s got a good balance of systemic enhancements and just playing along with WC3‘s built-in strengths. It’s an average-sized geographic area packed with things to discover that seems far bigger than it really is.

It is, in short, everything I wanted it to be.

I've always encouraged a positive attitude to alcohol.

I’ve always encouraged a positive attitude to alcohol.

My Scores

Don’t worry, SubZero, your million point champion status is still safe.

  • 52 quests: +10400
  • 16993 gold: +8496
  • 919 animal kills: +4595
  • 71 HAIs: +1420
  • 22 Secret Seashells: +2200
  • Dragon’s Tooth: +3200
  • Feral Shield: +2800
  • 62 Double Kills: +6200
  • 15 Triple Kills: +6000
  • 3 Multi Kills: +2550
  • 3 Ultra Kills: +4350
  • 1 Mega Kill: +2200
  • 12 Scholars: +1200
  • Bloody fanboy: +1000
  • Phat Lewts: +2500
  • Erika’s Heart: +1000
  • Smooth Devil: +1000

Total: 61511
Duration: 6 hours, 19 minutes and 16 seconds

I didn’t even get all quests or the secret ending — this is terribly embarrassing. I missed the Pink-Haired Agent’s quest in the swamp, but you do have to go out of your way to find her so I figure that’s totally acceptable.

It's a powerful artefact, it could do ANYTHING.

It’s a powerful artefact, it could do ANYTHING.

I'm such a tease.

I’m such a tease.

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4 thoughts on “Blog 615: Post Mortem: This Wreckage

  1. Still my favorite War3 RPG. I had actually gotten away from War3 for awhile and when I came back, this is the first custom map I played and I was hooked again for another 3 years. =P

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  2. Woooot!

    I absolutely adore This Wreckage. I’m always surprised when I realized I’ve never written a full review of it myself.

    You’ve got it spot on though. It’s kind of the perfect size. I don’t think I’ve ever beaten it in a single sitting (..hmm, that might not be true,) but it never takes so long that it drags. I’m amazed you went the entire write-up without mentioning allies, to me they’re kind of huge. I guess mentioning them could technically be considered spoilers though.

    It’s this very straight forward, linear trek, that has you passing all this beautiful fluff. From the scholars research to the sprinkling of iconic characters from town to town, it’s really cool.

    I will say that on more than one occasion I’ve accidentally blown up the pig.

    He counts as a critter, and sometimes I find myself clicking on him repeatedly as I’m sure he rarely says something other than *oink*.

    One too many clicks and away he goes. Along with the rest of Erika’s quest prompts.

    I totally get what you mean by dressing up characters though. Sure I stick to the best items, but with all the allies you eventually gather that still gives you a lot of customization options, and of course I’m going to go out of my way to give the same guy a plasma shield and a emerald sword, or whatever.

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    • Hehe, I had to focus on the main points or this blog would have been as long as the map itself! That’s the best thing about big projects: lots and lots of talking points.

      The allies have their ups and downs but like a lot of things they kind of emerged rather than being a part of the original plan, so they’re a bit wonky in places. I figure some kind of “wait here” setting should have been added so you don’t risk losing them during difficult fights, though they’re also bitten by the same broken shield/armour ratings as Henrik.

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