I think we can learn a lot about game design if we were to study Warcraft 3 (WC3) custom games. WC3 custom games had some of the best multiplayer games that I have ever played and enjoyed the most. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but these games all had a great sense of design. They brought out the best aspects of multiplayer gaming. Most of these games made use of competition and fellowship as key aesthetics of their games. For those who are unaware, aesthetics refers to why we play these games. There is a list of common aesthetics also known as the Aesthetics of Play. Try watching Extra Credit’s awesome video or read the MDA paper here. Fellowship represents the idea that we play games in order to socialize and interact with others. Competition is self-explanatory.
I played these custom games throughout all of my middle school and high school and they never got old. For those who are unfamiliar with Warcraft 3 custom games, they are games made through the use of Warcraft 3’s custom map editor. These games could then be hosted online through battle.net, allowing anyone online to play the game with other people.
As proof of great design, we can take a look at the recent rise in popularity of Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs). One of the earliest MOBAs that I ever encountered was Aeon of Strife on Warcraft 3 (a ported version from Starcraft’s custom games). This game eventually led to another WC3 custom map called “Defense of The Ancients” which has now inspired multiple games such as Heroes of Newerth by S2, Dota 2 by Valve and League of Legends by Riot. To think that MOBAs existed in 2003! It only took about 6-7 years before studios realized that MOBAs are a great format for online play.
MOBAs take full advantage of fellowship and competition because they require strong co-operation and pit teams directly against each other. Players who work together as a team will have a much stronger advantage over those that don’t. Only recently, have I seen more games push for this focus on both fellowship and competition. *I might be ignoring some older games that represent this focus so please let me know if I am (original Mario Party comes to mind). For example, a recent steam game called Evolve relies on a 3 to 5 versus 1 player set-up. In this game, a team of player hunters are responsible for hunting down one player monster. This kind of 3 vs. 1 mode reminded me of WC3 custom games like Cat vs. Mouse. In Cat vs. Mouse, one or two players play the Cat and everyone else play mice. Cats spend their time trying to catch the player mice while player mice try to build up fortresses/defenses to stay alive. Evolve and Cat vs. Mouse both have similar multiplayer concepts.
Well, what about games with team death matches like in most FPS games? They have both fellowship and competition right? Yes. They do have both but they focus much less on the fellowship and more so on the competition. The fellowship in most of these games can only be seen through lack of friendly fire. A good comparison would be the difference between Call of Duty and Team Fortress 2. Team Fortress 2 has clearly defined roles where a well-rounded team with medics, engineers, etc. can support each other better than say a team full of snipers. On the other hand, Call of Duty has more of a focus on performance and how your overall team’s shooting skill is versus the others. *Interesting fact: Team Fortress 2 is also based off a custom game/mod from Quake.
Overall, I feel like Warcraft 3 custom maps introduced me to this microcosm of amazing multiplayer game designs. I always find myself drawing parallels of recent games to older WC3 custom games. Even now, I think there’s a lot to be learned from WC3 custom maps and if you ever get the chance to, you should take a look at some WC3 custom games and see for yourself what I mean!