WarCraft II is an older game produced five years ago from Blizzard Entertainment with the story and design by Chris Metzen. This game, as it’s predecessor WarCraft, is marketed as a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game. Applying the taxonomy from class, WarCraft II is a hybrid of several game types. It can be considered a “God”, ”Real Time Strategy”, and “Multiplayer” game. The application of these types to describe the game will be covered in the Game Summary section of this paper.
All of this was available to the potential players for about fifty ($50) dollars. Besides the cost of purchase, the player was required to have the appropriate hardware. These hardware requirements consisted of a “100% IBM PC compatible computer, with a 486/33 MHz or better processor and at least 8 megabytes of memory”1. Additionally, the operating system was required to be MS-DOS5.0, Windows3.1, or Windows95. The pc was also required to have a VESA compatible SuperVGA and one of several sound cards including Sound Blaster and other compatible cards.
I was able to purchase the game with a ten dollar rebate, thus the actual cost to me was about forty dollars. I also only played the game on Windows95 with a Diamond Stealth2000 video card, ProAudio Spectrum sound card, and 16 megabytes of memory. The performance on my machine at that time was excellent with no noticeable lags. Performance on almost any up to date hardware today would be superb (after reinstalling on my PC for this assignment the game really rocks!).
In brief, the game consists of a series of battles the player must lead his or her side through to victory. These battles are set against the backdrop of the main story and connected with short animations explaining how the previous battle affected the story and how the upcoming conflict will move the story along. Battles consist of the expected “destroy all opposing forces” and the pleasantly surprising twists such as rescue so-and-so and ensure they survive (I actually tested this by losing one such NPC and lost). Other goals might be to build a certain structure or move your forces into an area of the game map. Each battle is harder than the next (increasing levels) with more difficult goals, more enemies, more powerful forces (essentially more options), etc.
WarCraft II is the story of an epic battle between humans and their allies the elves and dwarves against the orcs invading from a different plane of existence and the native trolls and ogres they have joined with. The bloodthirsty, war-like orcs have been shown how to cross the planes to the land of humans by demons acting for their own mysterious purposes. The time of this battle is one of swords and sorcery, which both sides use quite effectively. The magic of the humans is of manipulating the elements and healing while the magic of the orcs is the darker magic of necromancy.
This game is a continuation of the original story in the predecessor WarCraft where the orcs have successfully entered the world of the humans and destroyed one of their kingdoms, Azeroth; forcing the human survivors to flee across the sea to another kingdom. WarCraft II picks up the story with the orcs hot in pursuit of the survivors, along with any other potential victims they can find. The survivors have warned their neighbors and formed an alliance with them. This includes the human kingdom of Lordaeron, the kingdom of the elves, and the kingdom of the dwarves. In the first game, the orcs have already made friends with the natural enemies of the humans and elves, the trolls and ogres.
It is into this that the player takes a strategic leader/god-role of either the Alliance (“good guys”) or the Horde (“bad guys”). The player has no in-game avatar or representation other than components of these two sides. These components consist of various troop units and stationary structures that they build. The only way for a player (computer or human) to lose is for them to have all of their troop units and buildings destroyed.
As the leader, the player may use the mouse to select one or many of their own units and issue commands such as march to a location, guard a location, attack some target, gather resources, or build some structure. It is the player’s responsibility to direct both the military and economic aspects of the specialized troop units along with the production of these units by the building structures.
The game play typically starts off with the player having limited resources and one unit specialized in building structures and gathering. After directing the unit (human peon/orc grunt) to build a home base (town hall/great hall), the player begins gathering resources (gold/wood/oil) and producing more peons or grunts. In a brief amount of time the player will be able to build a military building (barracks) and produce basic military units. Producing units and buildings uses up resources, so the player is managing not just the production but also the gathering of the appropriate resources needed. Later, the player will be able to build other structures to produce advanced military units, naval units, or magic using units. After gathering enough units, the player then directs his or her forces against one of the up to seven opponents (if they haven’t already done so against the player!). In addition to building structures, producing units, and gathering resources, the player has the option of performing research for upgrades. These upgrades also cost resources and will have one of two effects. They will either increase the fighting effectiveness (offensive/defensive stats) of all units or will make certain magic available to the player’s magic using units. Some advanced units even require certain upgrades be obtained in addition to possession of certain building structures. Combine all of this with the “fog of war” feature where the player can only see portions of the map which are within the sight range of his or her units and it is easy to see the potential of such a strategy game!
In my experience, one of the common downfalls of computer games is the installation procedure can be difficult. WarCraft II does not have this problem and actually has a well designed interface for doing so. The user is presented with a window on either inserting the CD if autostart is enabled or by running the ‘setup’ executable. This window (see appendix A) presents options for installing the game or running the map editor, which will be discussed later. After running the install, the setup utility automatically runs where the type of hardware is not only automatically detected (not bad for a DOS based game!) but also a list of hardware is presented for the user to override the automatic behavior. Following the selection process the user is given options to perform tests to ensure the setup is correct.
In addition to the well thought out install procedure, the game has a noticeable lack of bugs. At least of the kind which causes the program to crash. There were some patches after the game was released to resolve some minor balance issues and to fix non-critical problems with some troop unit feature not operating as expected.
The user interface of the game is also well thought out. The main window is a zoomed in map showing a good level of detail with an oversized command bar to the left. The command bar contains a menu button for options, mini map showing the entire game map (mostly blacked out) with colored pixel-block-icons showing friendly/enemy units and a white box showing where the zoomed in map is, what units are selected, and finally icons for what commands are available. The size and systematic placing of these icons is very well done. For more experienced users, key shortcuts are also available for these commands. These shortcuts usually are the first letter of the command, although some require two sequential key strokes (such as “A” for attack and “BH” for build town hall).
The game does not consist of just a win/lose scoring system. Although it is not fully explained (perhaps to prevent playing to just the score and damaging the immersive aspects needed for role playing) a numeric score and title ranking is presented to the player at the end of each battle scenario. I believe this score is based on the number of enemy units and buildings destroyed, friendly units lost, resources gathered, and elapsed time. However, I can not be certain of this observation.
The artwork of the documentation, install program, and animated cut scenes is professionally done and quite impressive, if not imaginative! The art of the game itself is also very good, although it is only 2D (not 2.5D) and a little cartoon-ish. The sound for the music is appropriate and provides a good atmosphere for the game with a tempo that keeps the player anticipating the next attack. There are also sound effects for the unit actions, for selecting units, and for completion of tasks. The sounds include a range from burning buildings to spoken phrases such as “at your service” with appropriate effects. These sound effects serve to provide more immersive ambience. They also signal the player as to what action the unit is taking (such as grunts chopping trees to gather wood) or what units have been selected (each unit type has its own select sound). They can also inform the player when a task has been completed (my favorite is the grunt saying “work complete” in an orcish like voice).
The documentation supplied with the game isn’t just excellent artwork though! It contains detailed instructions on the features of the game, capabilities of each unit type, building types and upgrades (tech-tree), and background stories. The instructions left the player little need to look elsewhere for information on how to play, although the learning curve was a little steep. An improvement might be the inclusion of a beginner walk through in the documentation. Although this isn’t a significant issue since once the player begins, the initial battle scenario levels almost lead the player though the beginner phases (advanced units aren’t available until later scenarios). The stories were well written and obviated the need to purchase the first game to understand the background and how the main characters got where they were. The document even contained a brief character bible!
WarCraft II contained a couple of good special features beyond the more typical ones already discussed. First is the ability to change the speed of the game. With a couple of keystrokes the player can slow the game down to the point of almost being a turn based game or speed it up so the normally slow parts pass within a few seconds (useful when building that first building since you can do nothing else!). Another feature which is not a part of the normal game play and which has become more standard on such games today is the scenario editor (see appendix B). This separate utility allows the player to create new battle scenarios by defining a map terrain, what units and buildings are already on it, and even what the unit/building stats are. These statistics include how much damage each can take/put out, production time, and even cost. With this capability the player can not only define a new scenario but also adjust the physics such that a new game could almost be produced. This capability has proved so powerful that a year after the game was released, third party companies were building (royalty free?) scenarios and selling the CD’s in stores. The last special feature worth mentioning is the ability to have multiple players in a game as either allies or enemies, as well as computer players. With this, the player can play against the computer AI (which is fairly good) with another player, or against another player with perhaps a computer player ally and opponent! WarCraft II is capable of supporting 2 players across a modem or up to 8 on a LAN.
The game is a lot of fun to play for a lot of reasons. One is because of the well thought out story line and the connection of the game to it. This enables the player to immerse themselves into the game and role play the part of the defender of good or the master of the evil war machine. Another reason is because of the multiplayer capability of the game and the opportunity it presents the player to pit their skill against another player or with them against a computer opponent. This is even further enhanced by allowing the inclusion (or exclusion) of additional computer controlled players. The final and most obvious reason is the strategy component. The game is fairly well balanced between the two sides so the player can choose based more on ‘flavor’ of either the Alliance or Horde and not some tactical advantage. Any player looking for a strategy game won’t be disappointed with this one!
WarCraft II does have some aspects which reduce it’s fun and which can be considered design mistakes. One is the need to micromanage the production of units and gathering of resources. After producing a unit, the building structure will sit idle unless the player instructs it to produce another. Initially when the player has only a handful of troop units this is not an issue. However, in long games the player may have two or more of the same building type producing units and be managing fifty or more troop units, not counting gathering units. At that point the game changes from a RTS to a production managing game which is repetitious and boring. Additionally, the role playing aspect begins to suffer as the size of the player’s army grows. Essentially, all improvements/upgrades apply to all units of that type. This reduces the value of any individual unit to the player and encourages their use as “cannon fodder” (see appendix C). This and the lack of an avatar/hero character unit in the game damages the role playing aspects. The only game I have ever played which was able to do this and not suffer the same problem was Populous.
All of this said and in spite of it being a 5 year old game, WarCraft II is one of the best RTS type games ever produced. I even prefer it to the newer and popular StarCraft RTS type game, also by Blizzard Entertainment. This is because no other game (other than perhaps a clone) incorporates as well the things which make WarCraft II fun. The StarCraft game is very similar in terms of play with improved features (such as being able to set production of buildings for the next X number of units). However, it lacks the ambience and role playing possibilities since these very feature improvements exacerbate the “cannon fodder” issues. Other RTS games seem to lack the amount of options for unit capabilities or even in units themselves. WarCraft II even won the “Game of the Year” award from PC Gamer magazine and was reviewed with such comments as “…the best strategy game of all time.” by Next Generation magazine.
In determining the game appropriateness for audience groups, consideration must be given to its comparison to other RTS games (if it is bad it’s not appropriate), the complexity of the game, and it’s moderate level of violence (it does show some blood pixels on the ground when a unit dies). I would have to say that the game is appropriate for a middle school audience and possibly an upper elementary level audience.
Overall, WarCraft II is a very strong RTS/God type of game with weaker elements of a Role Playing type. It does have a weakness in terms of scaling for larger and/or longer games where the military strategy component is minimized and unexciting aspect of resource micro management made more important. Even so, the game is definitely worth purchasing and can be considered not only a classic, but also a trend setter in the area or RTS. After the release of WarCraft II, more RTS types of WarCraft II knockoff games which have been produced by other companies. It has been said that emulation is sometimes the best form of flattery and it can be assumed that profit-seeking companies will try to duplicate the successes preceding them.
Additionally, after WarCraft II, it has become standard fare for a RTS game to have a scenario editor and those not are considered lacking. Another strength of the game is that it will support not just 2 human players at once, but up to eight. The aspect of working with and against human players in a setting which includes multiple computer controlled armies can make for a long fun filled game session.
The story of the game, an essential feature often trivialized by computer games, is probably one of the WarCraft I & II games greatest strengths. With this well written story line, Blizzard Entertainment has been able to use it for WarCraft I produced about seven years ago. They have also been able to use it for WarCraft II produced about five years ago, and will be able to use it for WarCraft III currently in production and slated for release late this year (probably for the Christmas season).
In closing, a few of remarks about improvements that could be used by WarCraft II are appropriate. WarCraft II would be improved by addressing the design flaws discussed earlier, which have an adverse effect on the fun aspects of the game. Namely, the issues of production micro management and the “cannon fodder” effect. The production management needs to be either more automated, such as produce so many of unit “X”, or the user interface needs to be simplified. Currently in the game the player must select each building to set its production and select each peon/grunt gatherer unit to select what it will harvest (gold/wood/oil). This could be improved if the player could have a single pop up dialog to set how many peon/grunt units are to gather wood or gold and also to set the production of all of the buildings. The “cannon fodder” effect could be addressed by making limited numbers of special troop units available. These special units would be capable of upgrades and the normal troop units (currently in the game) would have no such upgrades.
Interestingly, the WarCraft III game in production at Blizzard addresses these very features. The new game will have special “hero” units which can be individually upgraded and which will have special features not available to the troop units. Also, it will attempt to de-emphasis the use of large armies in an attempt to make each troop unit also more valuable to the player. Making the troop units more expensive to produce will do this. The production management issue will be addressed, not by making the production easier to manage, but by simplification of the process, reducing the importance of it altogether, and making what remains more automated. Blizzard press releases have been a little vague on this latter issue and a real evaluation of their approach will have to wait for its release. Considering the discussed improvements would probably involve a redesign for WarCraft II and that Blizzard is attempting to incorporate solutions in their next release for the series bodes well for RTS players.