Monday, August 22, 2011

Warcraft 2

Warcraft 2 was a game that I loved when I first played it over 15 years ago. I was playing it through single player, and having a blast. Then one day, I found out a friend also played it. So we set up to play together.

That first match devastated me. I have no idea how he get to me so fast. It was over in less than 7 minutes. My matches with the computer usually lasted 15 to 20 minutes. We tried again, and again I lost. The total defeat soured me from online multiplayer. I went back to playing single player, and I began reading how to play multiplayer. There were some sites back then with strategies, but I could never quite pull it off compared to other people.

What drew me into Warcraft 2 and as a game that highly influence me has almost nothing to do with the game that Blizzard made. Instead, it was the game mods and special map editors that had me enthralled to the game. I would explore Total Conversions of Warcraft 2, and I would replace art assets with my own. I would modify unit behavior, and spell strength, and balance.

I would play with different tilesets. Warcraft 2 showed me the power of user created mods, that I’ve seen and experienced through other games as well: Unreal Tournament, World of Warcraft, Diablo 2, Minecraft and more. Sometimes these mods are encouraged by the company. Other times the company fights against the modders. In the end, I believe that designing the game around allowing for user mods is better than not.

It adds to the game, and gives players other things to play with in the world you’ve created. At the same time, I can understand the frustration that can occur through what is essentially cheat system.

For example in Team Fortress 2, I went to a server that was running a custom map. I was trying to figure out why so many people were showing up to play on this little deathmatch map that had no strategy and simply resulted in players dying continuously. I then realized that it was an achievement farm map. Needless to say, I left (after I got 3 achievements trying to figure out what was going on). Similarly, many mods for Diablo 2 were used for cheating and gaining power faster or easier.

So the more sandbox the game experience, the more likely that allowing for mods will improve the game. On the other hand, the more the game focuses on requiring balance, and fairness for all (classes, champions, lifestyle choices, etc), the the more likely that the game should not include mods, or only allow mods with certain limitations on how it can affect the game. As Raph Koster says, “Never put anything on the client. The client is in the hands of the enemy. Never ever ever forget this.”
This of course makes sense when dealing with any kind of persistent world. Especially when it requires fairness to maintain a sense of community. This includes games with PVP, MMOs, MOBAs and any game with RMT.

This limits the kinds of games or the kinds of modding that the game designer could allow for the game. Things like GUI mods, or reskins (unless your revenue model is based on such things). Come to think of it, despite how awesome modding is, it has almost no place in any game that wishes to be an esport or to support itself through subscription or RMT.