I was feeling sorry for myself and replaying the Rexxar campaign earlier in the year, and decided it was time to try to make another Warcraft III map. Exon is supremely complex and World Editor has always been utterly beguiling in its simplicity and ease of use — you can make stuff so quickly and yet push it so far… if you’re that way inclined.
But this time I was not that way inclined. I just wanted to make something short and simple, inspired by the more innocent maps of those heady days when Warcraft III was new and I wasn’t so jaded.
So for all those who say “Robbie can’t limit scope” and “Robbie never ships”, I present to you… Black Wind: a Nightmare, for Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. Made from scratch in a few very spread-out weeks, between working on Exon (and, y’know, having a job).
(1) Black Wind
I set the rules similarly to when I worked on The Oasis:
- One hero
- Dungeon crawl (no AoS/TD/etc diversions)
- No imports except sound/music
The “no imports” rule was mainly to preserve forwards-compatibility with Re4ged, but also to stop me from getting bogged down in custom artwork because I do tend to rely on it a bit much (even The Oasis couldn’t live without a few more subtle pieces; nobody ever notices the way I painted the Beastmaster skin’s eyes shut to make him blind like the real Illidan). Though I had my model editing process down to a fine art back in the day, I didn’t want to go down any rabbit holes.
I also wanted to get away from my tired old tropes, so I needed a brand new setting. I’ve never managed to ship an Ashenvale map before, so I picked that as my base tileset. That led me to Barrow Dens, sleeping Night Elves and everyone’s favourite imprisoned Demon Hunter. Let’s have a hero who awakens after centuries (millenia?) asleep and finds his homeland overrun with all manner of awful creatures. Cue… Vengeance.
The Demon Hunter’s spells are crap though, so I immediately had to mosey on over to the Object Editor to give him a full command card’s worth of customised abilities — five “Hero” abilities, one unlevelled utility and one passive to be found by exploring the map. After all, a combat crawl needs a lot of spellcasting to keep the interest going, so I loaded him up with as big a variety of effects as I could muster. (Yes, not just direct damage abilities. I’ve grown as a mapper!)
I could have gone for a second hero with the standard four abilities apiece, but I prefer managing a single more complex character to faffing across multiple units (you all saw what happened when the allied heroes were a careless addition to This Wreckage), and since the map is very small, having one hero means I can make maximum use of that space with tight corridors without getting you in too much of a fankle.
In terms of structural inspiration, I’ve always had a soft spot for a little RPG called The Retake of Bugenhelm, by Warnicro (and GodsQ, with some spelling corrections by some bloke called Rao Dao Zao… he never amounted to anything). It’s a 64×64 map that takes about thirty minutes to play through, and has that winding, tight-corridor feel that I’m looking for while still giving you a variety of different environments and encounters to battle through — from the flowery realm of the Gardener to the blighted mountain graveyard to the fortified final village of Berguma.
Put it this way: you can draw a direct line from this map’s use of compacted space to me building When the Freedom Slips Away on a 96×64 island (and you can spot the direct failure of that project when I caved and extended it from 64×64 — unfortunately I don’t have a back-up of its original square form, so you’ll just have to imagine how it might have looked). Honestly, I should give Retake a proper run-down for the SPRPG diaries because although it’s not a map I return to often, it really has been an unsung influence. It was one of the very first maps I ever “connected” with, alongside Gravano’s Season of Uncertainty.
Finally, I had to build a main quest. As a dungeon crawler, I needed a variety of enemies both mundane and magical to keep things varied. For a map of this scale, density is key.
Making the primary antagonist a “demon” gave me a solid focus for an objective (“kill the demon”) and meant I could cast my net quite wide for its minions. Warcraft III is absolutely chock-a-block with enemies that are explicitly demonic, let alone things that can be presented as so very easily. Mur’gul. Fel Hounds. Corrupted Treants. Dark Trolls. Void Walkers. Sludge Monstrosities. Pots of ’em.
As I was laying out the main path, I started to drill into the walls of the map to create little nooks and crannies in which to hide side quests. Considering the shadow theme of the hero, I simply had to nab the Shadow Orb quest from the original Night Elf campaign — find all the fragments, with each one increasing the power of the orb. It gives me extra joy that I’ve managed to shoe-horn a find-the-hidden-objects quest into such a small map, though the proof will be in whether players are confounded or not.
This, I think, is the part of map making that I love the most: the way an incidental bit of terrain layout can spark off an idea for something else. I also made a little grove and obviously it needed a centrepoint… so I plopped down the Enchanted Gemstone Obelisk. How should the player interact with this? Smells like a quest to me — bang!
Then I figured — what the hell, I’ll try and voice it. I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons fairly regularly for a couple of years now (online, over roll20) and discovered that I can’t really get into roleplay unless I do “a voice”, so I’ve had a lot of practice not just doing voices but holding them for extended periods of time. Since it’s such a small map, with a comparatively small amount of dialogue, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do but never quite managed. (Project Y4 had a reduced amount of plot and dialogue in anticipation of voice work, but unfortunately it never panned out.)
So that was a fun reminder about the gulf between where I’ve got Exon and where I want it to be. While you wait another eight-odd years for me to finish that, however, you can enjoy this little bonus Warcraft map. Have fun!