Warcraft III News

Warcraft III

More details on Blizzard's genre-busting "RPS."
February 25, 2000

While I was at Blizzard checking out Diablo II on Wednesday, I just happened to sneak a peek at Warcraft III and talked with Producer Rob Pardo about some of the progress that's been made on the game. Visually it continues to shine, fleshing out the Warcraft world and giving it all the justice it deserves -- but it's the ideas involved with the development right now that are the most exciting, especially when you see the company once again breaking into new territory. The animation in place for some of the races and the world, though limited to two small areas at this point, already proves just how successful the leap to 3D has been. Right now the design team is focusing on the foundation of Warcraft III's gameplay -- the units. The hero units are the most important addition to the Warcraft universe, and exemplify the new RPS (Role Playing Strategy) philosophy that Blizzard is promoting. Like Tal mentioned in his earlier preview (just scroll down the page a bit to read it), hero units will carry-on throughout the game, gaining experience, abilities and levels as the game progresses. The key to having specialized heroes such as the Arch-Mage or the Paladin is that not only will they have the ability to gain levels, cast more spells and carry an inventory of items, but they'll be characters within the world that you can grow attached to, something that hasn’t really been given much thought in the strategy genre. Pardo mentioned more than once on my visit the need for a universe that gamers could feel a part of, like classic RPGs, without having to sacrifice the Warcraft flavor. For Pardo, creating the perfect mix of connection and depth while making sure that you don't get bogged down in pure RPGing is key to the game's success. For instance, though they would like players to choose how stats are changed by leveling up a character, they're unsure as to how much control a gamer will have over every individual stat. The game is still steeped in strategy, and the team is trying to avoid anything that might pull gamers out of that broad brand of action. The same goes for leadership points, the statistic that covers how many units a particular hero can attach to them when in battle. Warcraft was built on large groups taking each other out in battle, but WIII is more about parties, and the leaders that will guide the smaller parties through specific goal-oriented tasks. It may be useful to allow gamers to build up the leadership levels in characters over time, but if it proves to bog down the focus of the game, then they might just decide to give different heroes different set leadership skills, or just simplify the process of setting stats altogether. Though the amount of units you control are much less than in Blizzard's other RPGs, you'll still be controlling multiple teams simultaneously, which is exactly why the team is wary about getting too involved with tweaking every individual character.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the new storyline is becoming its own little fantasy soap opera. Take a look at the WIII trailer (25.5MB EXE), and you'll realize just how this new game really will be from its predecessors in terms of style and storytelling. With six different races involved, each with individual skills and slants, you'd be right to assume that the game is taking a page from another Blizzard classic, Starcraft. A large story will link all of the races together, and by playing each race through, you'll get a different section of the larger adventure. In-game cutscenes will push each individual mission forward, as well as RPG elements such as a broad range of NPCs that will give you key information, or tasks to accomplish within a certain mission.

The largest problem with introducing heroes, deeper NPC characters, or anything other than a couple of mission objectives and some targets to pummel, was that you frankly just didn't have the time to deal with it. Pardo cites this problem as the Peon Train: having to spend what he felt was 70% of your time on resource management for about 30% of time on some heavy action. This time around, the goal is to flip that percentage over, and part of that process is tossing out the old resource management guidebook altogether. Instead of sending off peons to gather resources, you'll encounter resources within specific missions that you must gain access to in order to build units and buildings. He illustrated this by showing a mine that had been ransacked by Orcs and Minotaurs, where a human promised that upon return of a special object, that the mine could be repaired. Once the mine was repaired, than the gold level began to rise automatically. You'll still have to defend your resources, of course, but it seems like you won't spend nearly the amount of time making sure that your loser grunts are transporting your goods instead of sitting around… grunting. The streamlined resource plan also means that you won't be defending 30 buildings in town, but more like three or four. You'll still have to use a resource tree, but for instance, instead of building a separate stable yard in order to create knights, a set of stables would add on to the barracks.

While resources are getting trimmed, units are getting a huge makeover. "We wanted to get away from the fodder effect," says Pardo about the new school of unit building. "We want to try and have less units, and make those units more meaningful to the gamer. Like how every unit has a special ability." Grunts can go berzerk as a special power, whereas a footman can use a defense command that may not be available to other characters, with each unit having a similar sort of special power or skill available only to them. While you'll lose units a lot faster than hero units, the Diablo-skewed character slant to battles now means that you'll care a lot more who dies and who lives in nearly every battle, and you'll also spend a lot more time tweaking individual fighting styles and making battle choices than you would have in the earlier installments. Individuality also translates to the races themselves, with the orcs skilled in melee' combat, the humans given access to a much larger tech tree, and the demons ready to handle a larger range of magic. As for the other races, we'll all have to wait until the company reveals their place in the overall story, as well as their special skills.

Even the maps themselves are lending a hand to trick you into thinking (a little more than you usually do) that the Warcraft world is a living, breathing environment instead of just a computerized game board. The screens demonstrate the expansive look of the Warcraft world, down to small graphic details such as huts, trees, and waterfalls meant purely to keep your eyes glossy. Pardo also mentions that like Zelda, where one large world was slowly revealed by accomplishing specific tasks in certain areas, Warcraft III wouldn't chop up the world into individual maps, but instead would slowly open up new areas as you progress through missions. The goal is not only to create missions that feel friendly to strategy gamers, but a place where you might spend as much time gaping at the scenery as you would goring.

And the multiplayer? Pardo says that they've always developed the multiplayer game alongside of the single player adventure, and furthermore, usually develop multiplay first. "We definitely think about multiplayer, how to make it fun," says Pardo about the process. "Once you have a good multiplayer game you can break rules in the single player." It makes sense. Characters may have specific weaknesses and strengths that only come out when fighting with a range of other human players. By discovering that a Knight is especially weak when attacked by a specific combination of units, for instance, then the team will know how to tweak the single player game and the computer AI to make for a more realistic experience. And you can also be fairly certain that by the time this game hits shelves that it will be fully tried, tested, and true in both game modes.

If Blizzard has its way, Warcraft III will once again change the playing field for strategy/RPG fans everywhere -- and all we can say about it is thank god. Strategy games have begun to smell a bit like that old pond behind the ranch house, but with any luck we'll all be drinking some fresh mountain spring water from Blizzard mountain come this winter. And hopefully I'll stop making wretch-tastic metaphors like the previous one when that time comes.

-- Vincent Lopez