The new design
A chat with the designer
We sat down with designer Rob Pardo during a visit to Blizzard last week and asked him what they were aiming for in general with Warcraft 3. What sorts of enhancements and changes to gameplay did they want to make, and what lessons did they learn by deconstructing Starcraft? To understand that, one must first recognize the strengths and weaknesses of Starcraft.
Macro vs Micro
Despite Blizzard including so many spells and special abilities in Starcraft, the fact remained that players who used most of their time collecting resources, spending them, and hurling troops into battle tended to win out over players who carefully managed their troops in battle, with positioning and casting spells. This is what is known in the Starcraft community as macromanagement vs. micromanagement. The micromanager might win the first battle, but in the time he/she spent in the tactical mode, the other person has built up another wave of troops that are ready to fight. By the time the first battle is done, the macromanager is already sending a second army in, while the micromanager hasn't had time to build up a new army. The micromanager's first army, already weary and damaged from the first battle, becomes easy pickings for the macromanager's second wave of fresh troops. Continued pressure, no matter how mindless, would eventually break down a micromanager's defenses. You can see the short term/long term consequences: Starcraft was less about being a field commander, and more about being a great resource manager and controlling the map.
An Orc outpost
While map control is a legitimate skill and means to win an RTS game, Blizzard wishes to depart from that style of play in Warcraft 3. Instead of players spending 70% of their time managing towns and resources, and only 30% of their time managing battles, Warcraft 3's design goal is for players to spend 70% of their time watching and conducting battles, and only 30% of their time worrying about money and making armies. In other words, Blizzard wants to reverse the ratio.
Blizzard internally tested their theories using modified Starcraft maps. They played games with a simplified resource model (gas only), and with more powerful units (3x the hit points and 3x the cost). The testing more or less confirmed their suspicions - the players who won more games spent more time and energy with spell casting and battle tactics. It also altered the balance of parallel production, another critical base management issue.
Two armies stare across a chasm
The best Starcraft players tend to be ones who can effectively utilize a lot of troop producing buildings. I still clearly remember a late round PGL victory by Maynard, when he used no less than ELEVEN Barracks to pump out dozens of Marines. Needless to say, Maynard's efficient management of so many Barracks easily overwhelmed his opponent. Again, the skill it takes to utilize so many structures is legitimate, but it falls under the category of "base management," which Blizzard wants to de-emphasize. By making units more expensive and harder to kill in Warcraft 3, Blizzard expects to diminish (but not eliminate) the importance of parallel production. It will be worthwhile to build only 2 or at most 3 barracks instead of 6, 7, or 8 like many Starcraft players use. This will make it so that players who are more tactically inclined are not going to lose to someone who simply clicks faster than they do. We're particularly pleased that Blizzard is approaching this issue in a non-artificial manner. Many other RTS games on the market keep players from making multiple Barracks/Factories by simply slowing down production times with each extra structure. Blizzard's design seems to be a more appealing way to deal with the issue.