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: my swansong, RDZ Industries: Project Y4
Wow, I managed to do this one without spoilers, too. Check me out.
Much like This Wreckage, Project Y4 was originally an arena. Unlike This Wreckage, I was a fully armed and operational blogger and diarised pretty much the entire development process. It took two years to make, because I did everything myself. Everything.
Because I wanted to. To prove that I could.
From the basic tug-of-war AoS gameplay of the Islands in the Sky to the long and tangled quests of This Wreckage, each of my maps was always bigger in some way than the one before it. With Project Y4, I took the biggest leap of all to combine more engine fighting than ever with 100% brand new artwork. The culmination of ten years of modding, literally and figuratively.
(Okay, I got plenty of JASS help from Anitarf and the WC3C IRC crew, plus a wee script from Ammorth’s LineSegments.)
Project Y4 the one map I really did design, in the true sense of intending to create gameplay of a particular shape. I didn’t just throw fairly basic WC3 numbers together, I started from scratch with every single unit: I considered how many hits it would take to kill particular enemies, and how bosses could subvert certain capabilities and tactics…
Did I succeed? It’s hard to say. There is clearly an optimum way to cheese the map, but it may not be the most fun and engaging play style. I heard the Ammo Scavenger artillery mod is actually pretty broken, but it’s also really boring compared to the gas cloud or the spiderbomb.
On the other hand, you really can’t just attack-move to win — every engagement, even against basic enemies once you’ve improved your equipment, requires your full attention, and that was the main goal. I wanted a map you couldn’t safely tune out of for long periods of time.
Luckily the problems This Wreckage had with damage reduction are neatly sidestepped by the change in shield mechanics. Exchanging the weird points/percentage mash-up for a flat reduction not only gives a clear and immediate understanding of the actual value of a particular pair of shields, it also makes them a neat and consistent mirror of the flat damage boost from swords.
The biggest mechanical shift, though is that in space, there are no experience points.
That puts progression completely in the hands of the equipment you can scavenge. On the one hand, you avoid the spiralling sack-o’-hit-points bosses that go beyond all believeability (ahem, Five), but on the other, abilities can rarely improve to match the increasingly numerous and more capable enemies.
The open-world nature of the map really didn’t help with this — items had to be balanced for the earliest point they could be acquired, hamstringing the more overblown abilities that made This Wreckage such a riot. The Tarobium blades, for example, should have been better but you can get them as soon the central administrative compound is open.
In my eyes, though, Project Y4‘s biggest flaw is that it’s thoroughly miserable.
I built the entire thing during a turbulent period of my life, working through two miserable jobs where I didn’t really fit in, and it shows. It shows in the rampant cynicism of the player character. It shows in the grey and brown landscape under muted lighting. It shows in the downer ending. Real life is brown, just like my heart.
My excuse is that the Captain had to be cynical so that he could make choices between killing and saving, between handing over criminals to the boss or taking their bribes. He had to be morally questionable so either outcome would make sense.
In reality, I was miserable and of course that bitterness shone through in every single piece of dialogue, not even just the Captain’s. Game would have been just fine without those choice elements anyway.
The plot, the setting, the premise, too, though — it’s all so very dull.
I’ve always said that sci-fi and fantasy are two sides of the same coin, but in the face of how easily and naturally I spun off fantastical items and side quests for This Wreckage versus the painful birth of the few elements Project Y4 ended up with I don’t think I can hold on to that opinion anymore.
I tried to make the lore tight and consistent, and all that served to do was hamstring the variety of items and abilities I could add, both visually and mechanically. Originally, there weren’t even going to be force fields, it was that bad. Just take a moment to imagine the grey rocks and brown concrete without even the glowing orange of the force fields to spice it up. Exactly.
The funniest thing is that I’ve spent most of my life lambasting gritty, grimdark realism franchise reboots and everything those entail. “He who fights with monsters” and all that — I ended up creating the thing I hate most.
And yet, that original brief that excluded force fields had a different kind of charisma planned: the villain was going to taunt you throughout the game, like Icarus does during the later stages of Deus Ex. Details like Countermeasure being called, well, Countermeasure, would have been signalled with cryptic lines like “I have analysed your capabilities and developed a countermeasure.”
Alas, the nebulous intention to voice act the map closed off all the extra dialogue that could have filled the emptiness, and took those incidental bells and whistles with it. As I said earlier, I wanted to create a map that demanded your full attention — and while I might have managed that mechanically, I failed to offer all the other distractions with which The Arena rewarded you for giving it that attention (and hobbled the story while I was at it).
My final excuse is that it was supposed to be much smaller than it was. In early developer diaries I said that Project Y4 was only going to have one or two side quests per annex — this was supposed to let me finish the map in some kind of sane timeframe.
That plan failed on all counts — I took two years to squeeze out a short map that overstays its welcome and still barely managed one side quest per annex.
I guess Project Y4 is still an open wound for me.
It was supposed to be a grand, overblown finale, a huge crescendo with which to step off the Warcraft III modding stage and out the door into the world of stand-alone development. It was supposed to be proof that I could bloody well do this for real.
Instead, it fizzled out and I left with a whimper. I tried too hard for too long and I dropped the ball.