The StarCraft Mod panel this year featured new info concerning Battle.net features pertaining to joining custom games, the plans for editor improvements, and previews of Blizzard DotA. The discussion revolved around upcoming features in Heart of the Swarm, so the content mentioned is still a ways off.
The panel started by introducing the Arcade, the upcoming improved menu for joining custom games. The Arcade replaces the Join Custom Game screen entirely, adding in a five star rating system and game info pages for each map that’s been uploaded. In addition, the front page of the Arcade includes lists of the most popular maps, what’s hot (maps that are rising in popularity but aren’t popular yet), up and coming (high ratings, but aren’t played a lot), new and noteworthy (new and high ratings), and featured maps chosen by Blizzard. With these improvements, Blizzard hopes to make the Arcade an effective hub for games created by the community.
There’s a number of improvements to the menus we currently have in Wings of Liberty, one being the method you join games. When you choose one of the various games up on the front page or from a list of all games, you are taken to the game’s respective info page where you can then click buttons for joining a game or creating one. When you choose to join a game, the game actually uses the matchmaker to match you with players of the same skill level. This matchmaker is completely separate from the matchmaker for ladder games; you could get a Diamond rank in Blizzard DotA specifically, for example. Also, while you wait for a match, you can browse the game’s How To Play page or its patch notes, or even take a look at the reviews that other players have given the game along with the rating.
For people who have been waiting since the announcement of the map Marketplace, there’s still plans to release the Marketplace sometime after the release of Heart of the Swarm, and the Arcade will be a preparation for that. With the addition of the Arcade, there will be a strong foundation for adding in new content, and make the Marketplace more accessible and congruent in style to custom game menus.
The Arcade, once released, will be available to everyone, not just players who purchased Heart of the Swarm. Even Wings of Liberty players and Starter Edition players will get the update, which means it will be a general Battle.net improvement that allows as many people as possible to join and create games. Of course, this might not necessarily mean that all maps will be playable on Wings of Liberty; maps that use Heart of the Swarm units might not be playable on Wings of Liberty, although such a thing would be unreasonable considering entirely new units can be made, imported, and exported with the map editor.
Concluding the Battle.net side of mods, the panelists move on to the editor, saying they plan on making improvements to debugging, UI editing, making cutscenes, and a custom model exporter for 3DS Max. These editor improvements will allow modders (map makers) to build higher-quality maps without struggling as much with the editor to do so.
One thing they are adding to help debugging is the trigger debug window. This window provides a number of ways to debug , such as helping identify the most expensive routines and allowing line-by-line stepthrough.
As mentioned before, they’re also adding in a UI editor to make the creation of custom UI a much easier task. You can now click and drag elements around the screen to realign them, change the property of any element by clicking on it, and save all frames with the click of a button.
They’re finally adding a cutscene editor, which will make it easier for both mapmakers and machinima directors to create high-quality content in a shorter time. While, currently, the only way to create cutscenes is with triggers, the new method is visually based, meaning there’s panels showing the map exactly as it looks in-game and has many functions that can be used to alter camera movement and positioning, model positioning, and special effects.
Next up is the exporter for 3DS Max, which is hoped to empower modders by allowing them to create custom models with their own tools. The exporter allows users to make custom models for units, buildings, doodads, spell effects, and even entire tilesets. There’s also documentation included, such as tutorials, tool breakdowns, and example files to help people start off.
Finally, Blizzard DotA is brought up, which Blizzard is aiming to be a DotA game that fixes the fantasy of fighting as iconic heroes on a battlefield. The fantasy, which involves being an epic hero in an epic battle, is generally underplayed in other DotA games because, in reality, players have to hide behind towers and run back and forth waiting for last hits. Blizzard is trying to fix the fantasy by rewarding early aggression and creating a more intuitive battle line, both accomplished by making towers have regenerating ammunition and adding health globe minions.
To elaborate on both changes, towers that are generally used as a full crutch for early-game defense now have ammunition that runs out fairly quickly. This ammo does regenerate, but since the regeneration rate is slower than the fire rate, the towers are severely weakened. Essentially, enemy players can take down towers in the early game if they are left unchecked by heroes, and creates a more hero-versus-hero gameplay rather than a hero-versus-tower gameplay.
In the case of minions, game designers felt that something was missing when they playtested a version of the game that removed the benefits of last hitting entirely. Realizing that last hitting adds tension and positional gameplay, Blizzard decided to add minions that drop health globes upon being last hit. This creates the results and benefits of last hitting without making the effects “hidden” (hidden by making players keep track of minion kills to assess how much gold and experience they earned).
Another thing they removed is the concept of boots. Boots seemed bland and detrimental to gameplay because all heroes are unconditionally required to purchase them, so the designers decided to introduce mounts. Mounts have a two second channel time and allows heroes to move around faster on their respective summoned mounts. This replicates the boots mentality, but removes the need for boots.
One core Blizzard mentality they wanted to add to Blizzard DotA was making games that are easy to learn, but difficult to master. When first playing DotA, players pick a hero they like, go to the hero’s wiki page, choose and memorize a build, and learn the jungle paths if applicable. While it’s not bad to teach people the importance of studying hard, but it doesn’t make for compelling gameplay. To make the game easier to learn, they made the stats more simplified, by only having Health, Damage, and Mastery. This removes stats like Armor that, at its core, is just another form of health that forces players to perform calculations. Items are also simplified, making all the items fit on a single page and each one be upgradable.
On the hero design side, they wanted to add iconic Blizzard heroes from different games into one battlefield. They also wanted to form crisp hero roles that were easily identifiable, such as Tank, DPS, Support, and Siege, all of which are fairly self-explanatory and easy to memorize.
With a more exciting metagame in mind, Blizzard wanted to add more exciting map bonuses. For example, there are merc camps in the jungle that, once defeated, will be impressed by your hero’s strength and fight on your side by replacing lane minions. These mercs are naturally stronger than lane minions, so this allows a team to gain map control by sending out stronger waves of minions than their opponent. There is also the Stone Zealot, which replaces high-level bosses in DotA that grant a substantial boss upon its defeat. The Stone Zealot, however, fights on your side and pushes a lane after it is defeated, which forces a team fight since it outranges towers. This, in Blizzard’s opinion, creates more exciting gameplay than just a buff.
Something that was finally decided on was the possibility of multiple maps. The decision was initially an uneasy one, likening the impact to having different fields for football. Even though many ideas were found to be unbalanced in testing, one map that was found to be decently balanced added some fun to the game because it added variety. An analogy was made to StarCraft II multiplayer; it’s possible to play Lost Temple a hundred times over, but people will seek out variety eventually. Once the decision was made to include different maps, this created the opportunity to find new locations, such as Tristram, Korhal, Onyxia’s Lair, etcetera.
Watching people play DotA, it’s not difficult to conclude that DotA players are known to rage. Blizzard, as developers, wanted to see what they were responsible for, and if they can fix some of the problems that lead players to get angry. To remedy some of the rage, a goal of Blizzard DotA is to create faster games (average of 20 minutes long) so that players won’t have to be stuck spending an hour with poor allies. Another goal is to remove conflict points, which the panellist explained to be a desire to be the superstar of the game; players want to choose heroes that get them more kills, but a team full of these types of heroes are unlikely to win. Blizzard wanted to remove these superstar heroes and reward players for unselfish play. Kills, Assists, and Deaths have been removed. Instead, if you contribute to the takedown, you get your own full bonus. An analogy was made to WoW, that if the player that got the last hit got all the loot, the game would become outrageous and would be more hardcore individual focused instead of hardcore team focused. Also, non-kill-based heroes became popular as these changes were implemented because team play was rewarded, not an individual’s kills.
The Q&A is forthcoming, so check the frontpage to see when all the Q&As are up.