Back when I was but a wee little gamer, I used to play a lot of Starcraft. Not competitively, mind you. If it wasn’t a “no rush-20” game where I could safely generate a massive army of carriers and watch my lovely mini ships swarm a base, it wasn’t worth playing. No, I played a lot of “Use Map Settings” games.
For the six people who read my rants who don’t know what a “Use Map Settings” game is, I will explain. When Starcraft originally came out, Blizzard released a map editor to go along with the game. With the map editor, an enterprising young Starcraft player could create a fun map for a competitive game, such as by giving each player infinite currency or generating bases on islands. And some of those maps did exist. But the biggest use of the map editor was to create wholly different games.
Starcraft’s map editor had some fairly basic controls that allowed a person to change unit prices, damages, and availability as well as to create map triggers and various different win conditions. Using these tools, people created brand new games which could be found under the “Use Map Settings” tab of Battle.net. Long before DotA was even a conceivable concept, I was using Starcraft to play such amazing games as Marine Special Forces, Final Fantasy III, Space Pirates RPG, Bunker Wars, and Matrix Defense. I lost a whole summer to these games.
When Warcraft III came out, the first thing I did was look at the map editor. I was never going to create my own game – I just don’t have the dedication to move an idea from “that sounds awesome” to “what color pixel should we use for his shoes?” – but I was excited to see what controls would be available to the next group of game designers. Just viewing the tools was exciting. Warcraft III’s tools allowed a person to turn a building into a unit or a unit into a building. Every unit could be given every type of attack with any range. This means that a zergling could spray a command center with machine gun fire which could respond by shooting back a fireball. I could not wait to see what people would do with these tools.
But I was disappointed. With the notable exception of the aforementioned DotA, there were not a large number of original interesting games on the Warcraft III engine. When Starcraft II came out with an even more in depth map editor, I saw even fewer interesting games.
At the end of the day – and the beginning of the next day – it seems that as more controls are made available, the less people seem to make. With the few options available in Starcraft, people made an extremely diverse roster of games, using triggers to make up for the fact that certain effects were not available. The limited controls necessitated creativity in map creation which pushed the game creators to try to explore the depths of what they could do. But when given the capabilities to do way more, they ended up doing way less. It’s almost as if the number of options were too overwhelming.
Now I don’t think having a large number of options is a bad thing. The people who can handle all of the available options can make some amazing games. It would have been almost impossible to make DotA without the added controls of Warcraft III. But the added depth comes at a cost. With the ability to make even better games, the pool of creative game creators seems to have shrunk.
I think the problem of too many options is too fun to rant about for me to leave this to one rant. Join me next week when I will rant about the problem of too many options in character creators and my proposed solution which could create a nice balance between the casual creators and the crazy detailed creators.