Post news RSS The making of Renegade Wars

I discuss Renegade Wars' inspiration, development, approach and intended gameplay.

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Hi all,

Introduction

I am cnc315d4d - I have a few other aliases I go by, but perhaps I may be better known as the creator of the successful 1.02+ unofficial patch (as well as unofficial 1.03 balance patch several years prior) for KW, which is officially endorsed by the KW competitive multiplayer community based at Gamereplays.org. I've been a dedicated member of the C&C3 multiplayer community (particularly at Gamereplays.org) and modding community since the Tiberium Wars' release in 2007, and consequently KW in 2008.

While working on aforementioned patches, I noticed the vast modding potential in KW's SAGE engine. Working on a pure bug-fix/balance patch implies being restricted to keeping the game familiar to the existing playerbase, so there wasn't much room for me to be creative. Renegade Wars was thus born out of my curiosity to innovate, experiment, explore and push the limits of the engine in terms of gameplay logic and features.

In this article I describe how this map was designed and created, and why it's something truly unique.


What is Renegade Wars?

Renegade Wars is a standalone mod-map for KW designed to be played between 4-6 human players. It is a 2v2/3v3 game mode where each player chooses a 'hero' unit, uses it to gain money and experience to unlock abilities, upgrades and powers with the eventual objective of destroying the enemy team's base. It is styled similar to MOBA ("Massively Online Battle Arena", a misnomer for hero-action/strategy genre games) games and is inspired by successful titles like DoTA and League of Legends.

Unlike traditional mods, the advantage of a 'mod map' is that once installed, you can play it on the regular/official patch version with ease - the modifications are simply in-built into the map itself and hence only apply to that particular map. For me, the success of patch 1.02+ after it was ported to a mod-map pack was testament of the potential mod-maps hold for KW; so I truly wanted to create something bigger with this potential.

Me and Predatore collectively began work on the basic mechanics and map design for this MOBA type map for KW around the early half of 2015. We were initially apprehensive of how far we'd be able to go, given engine restrictions/limitations; however, looking back today, the progress we've made with Renegade Wars since its inception has been nothing short of remarkable in my eyes.


Why MOBA?

RA3 and Generals were perhaps the pinnacle of commando unit design in the C&C series; they are C&C's closest answer to 'hero' units in Warcraft, BFME and many other RTS games. C&C3/KW's commando units were however bland in comparison, so I'd always wanted to see them fleshed out better. This formed part of the inspiration for Renegade Wars - to create commando units that feel fun, versatile, powerful, nimble.

Building on this idea, I contemplated adding MOBA-like elements - what if your Commando could be upgraded in many different ways? What if your Commando was your 'central' unit that gains experience and money? What if your Commando could call in reinforcements and support powers?

All of this essentially implies building an all-new, unique game mode that wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to integrate with vanilla KW gameplay (for both balance and design reasons). So we end up with a game mode with no basebuilding or buildable armies per se, but instead focuses on hero-centred finesse, teamwork and tactical decision-making.

Many C&C aficionados may be put off by the idea of a "MOBA" style mode, but I like to think of it as a competitive multiplayer "Commando mission map" with considerable gameplay depth. While I personally also enjoy the MOBA genre, I understand many old school RTS fans may not share my tastes. That said, I have added elements in Renegade Wars that hopefully make it enjoyable to fans of both genres - I will touch on these in a later section.


Map Development

The map layout and design for Renegade Wars (visual design, features, details) are solely credited to the legendary KW map-maker, Predatore. Predatore is hands-down one of the most talented and adept Worldbuilder users in the history of C&C3 mapping; one of his notable past accomplishments include creating the maps for the "The Forgotten" Tiberium Wars mod several years ago. More recently, he has a large collection of jaw-dropping maps for our KW 1.02+ map packs to his name, which also constitutes a major reason for 1.02+'s success among the online community - I have been fortunate in being able to work with him both for 1.02+ map packs as well as this project.

For Renegade Wars, our original intention was to clone one of the MOBA maps for inspiration and thereby tailor it to our C&C needs. We chose the DoTA map, given its popularity and tried-and-tested design - therefore it's no surprise that RenWars' map layout may seem very familiar to anyone who has played DoTA, or perhaps even any other MOBA. The map features 2 opposing bases, 3 "lanes" between the bases used by NPC (Non-Player Controlled) armies built at each base, jungle areas for neutral NPC creeps, and towers dispersed along each lane.In addition, the map packs a very high level of attention to detail, as you'd expect from any other Predatore map. Complete with unique ambiance, sounds, lightning, props, day-night cycles, the map is quite a masterpiece in itself to behold. In addition, efforts have been made to give even some of the minor map features some functionality - for example, trees on the map provide stealth for any hero standing near them (perfect for hiding/ambushes)!

While we intended to make further changes as per player feedback and as our gameplay meta evolved, particularly to the terrain/layout, we realised the effort it took to modify a 'completed' map was significant. So while we'd loved the map to have a more unique identity of its own, time constraints have not allowed us to toy around with that idea.

Besides the map work, Predatore also worked on various other tasks such as texturing/artwork, the tutorials, and various minor features to make the game more user-friendly and readable. Unfortunately, Predatore left the development effort a few months after many of these features were completed, largely due to personal disagreements on a few matters as well as real-life commitments. Nevertheless, I'm truly indebted to his contributions to this project, and hopefully and anyone who plays this map will also feel the life and immersion he has built into it.


Game Mechanics and Design

The inspiration for the vast majority of heroes, their abilities, upgrades and support powers comes from vanilla KW. There are currently 8 heroes, 2 of which are based off the GDI/Nod Commando, and the remaining 6 off some of KW's advanced infantry units. Each hero has unique stats and abilities, primarily inspired by their original KW counterparts.

Ability use is restricted by cooldowns as well as the new 'energy' system. Energy is depicted by your power bar, and each ability costs and requires a certain amount of it. If you're out of energy, you won't be able to use most abilities. Energy can be quickly replenished in base, but it also slowly regenerates on its own. There are also various upgrades available to boost your energy regeneration.

As anyone familiar with MOBAs would be aware, the most common opposition heroes face at most times are the infantry armies produced from the enemy base. The goal of a hero is to generally assist his own team's infantry waves to clear the enemy waves, and destroy the enemy towers en route to the enemy base. Towers are a key component of map control, not only because they fend off enemy infantry waves from entering the bases, but also because they also allow heroes to instant-teleport to them (via a Wormhole power).

The infantry armies also form the backbone of the economy system in Renegade Wars, as they drop 'crates' when killed. Heroes can pick up these crates by 'attacking' them, depositing a small cash bounty into their bank. Harder enemies are typically worth more cash than others, and heroes are worth much more than regular units. In addition to infantry armies, there exist neutral NPC units in the 'jungle' areas of the map, which can also be killed by heroes for money/experience. These neutral units respawn every minute at their camps if killed.

Experience is another important facet of gameplay. Units gain experience and levels by landing the killing blow on enemies. Heroes can also gain a minor amount from picking up crates. There are 10 hero levels - the first 4 hero levels unlocks the hero's abilities, while the remaining simply improve the hero's stat points (health, rate of fire and damage). In addition, any other units owned by the player also automatically gain levels if the hero is of a high level.

Similar to most MOBA games, experience and economy comes from a 'fixed' number of crates per minute, the primary source being the infantry waves created from bases. Thus, heroes sharing a single lane will gain money/levels at a slower rate than a hero who has a lane for himself. Deciding when to work together and go solo is therefore, an important strategic decision.

Money buys upgrades, and there is a wide range of upgrades to choose from - survivability, mobility, offensive, support/utility and reinforcement upgrades. These upgrades are distributed between 3 different 'market' areas around the map. Heroes can buy upgrades only when at the respective market areas.

The Renegade Wars map is fairly large and has lots of room to roam, even with 6 players playing. For this reason there are also various transportation/mobility options available to get around quickly - the most important being the Wormhole power, which allows heroes to instantly move between any 2 friendly structures/towers for a small cost. Later in the game, players can opt for Carryalls and Hammerhead reinforcements; each of these has its own unique pros/cons of use.

If you haven't figured out by this point, this map/game mode is primarily infantry-focused. While this was simply a personal design choice, there are some technical reasons too. Given the various chokepoints, lane width and size of the map, pathing of vehicles would be messy. It's also no mystery that the C&C3 SAGE engine struggles with mass vehicle pathfinding (anyone who has played KW for long enough would know of the 'reverse move' bug).

However, one aspect that differentiates Renegade Wars from traditional MOBAs is that of vehicle reinforcements. Certain heroes can summon vehicle reinforcements, and there are certain upgrades also allowing you to do the same. Although each player is limited to only 1 of each vehicle type, their impact can be significant if used well. Currently available reinforcement vehicles include the Predator tank, Flame tank, Hammerhead, Recon Bike and Devastator Warship.

While some of these design choices may sound restricting for an RTS or C&C player (but natural for anyone familiar with MOBAs), the gameplay is flexible enough to allow as many options as possible. For example, While a player on average isn't likely to have more than 2-3 units at any time (including the hero unit), there's nothing stopping a player from purchasing every reinforcement power/unit, and using mind-control abilities to recruit a mini-army of neutrals from the jungle camps!

On the whole, Renegade Wars is intended to be relatively fast-paced. The infantry armies produced at bases gain veterancy over time, eventually attaining heroic by 20 minutes into the game, allowing them to quickly demolish either base if given a slight advantage. This means heroes are constantly working against the clock to secure ground, destroy towers and push towards the enemy base.


Balancing Approach

I believe in a hardcore gameplay-longevity oriented philosophy. I don't believe in 'novelty' features that keep players go 'wow' for 5 days, get bored of it, and never come back. I believe in building experiences that keep you entertained for a lifetime. The ability of many of Blizzard's titles as well as C&C classics like Red Alert 2, Generals/ZH to stand the test of time has never ceased to amaze me. And to me, the way to accomplish this is by having tons of variety and depth in gameplay which allows you to explore, discover and learn new things every game, even 5 years down the road.

My firm belief on gameplay design and balancing approach is - "give players the tools to solve problems, and let them figure out the solutions". This is what competitive multiplayer RTS has taught me - players enjoy 'controlling' the game, finding their own little niches and playstyles; they don't enjoy being forced into particular styles by developers. This is the kind of experience that keeps them hooked for years.

Keeping this in mind has been paramount for me in designing Renegade Wars. With the wide variety of upgrades, interactions and game mechanics, my hope is players should eventually find solutions to 80-90% of even the most game-breaking perceived imbalances. The remaining 10-20% can ofcourse, be tweaked by actual patching once the dust settles on the metagame.

In most MOBA titles, it is common to have game partially decided at the hero selection phase due to "counterpicking" - every hero is 'countered' by another hero. As an RTS player, this is something I've disliked about MOBAs. In my opinion, player skill should triumph over every other factor, and counterpicking tends to marginalise the effect of player skill. For this reason I have attempted to minimise counterpicking in Renegade Wars - so in theory atleast, you are guaranteed a fair chance of victory no matter what your hero selection.

Unlike traditional MOBAs, heroes here also lack well-defined roles. In fact, all heroes are designed to excel reasonably well at everything - be it to fight enemy heroes or destroy enemy towers. While some heroes are obviously better at some of these than others, and each hero has its unique strengths/weaknesses, they're all meant to be quite self-sufficient in order to take on whatever 'roles' they wish on the fly.


Final Thoughts & Future Development

I'd like to apologise for the shoddy state of Renegade Wars' current ModDB page (if you've had a glance at it). I have a hard time getting hold of classy-looking screenshots (eg I don't have a capable PC to run the game on max gfx) and video content, especially given lack of time and manpower. On a related note, anyone willing to help out with these - please send me a PM!

One thing is certain - this is a mod (or mod-map) the likes of which has never been attempted or seen in C&C, at least to such a scale. Building the mechanics and making them work as near-flawlessly as they work now has taken several months of constant experimentation, iterations and improvement.

There are still a few loose ends to be tied. For example, there's even a "Capture the Flag Mode" available, but the implementation/idea is somewhat crude as I've not been able to test it extensively with players. In addition, I'd love to have a couple more units re-textured, and make a few map terrain alterations, but I'm not adept with such changes. Feedback on any of the current features is much appreciated. Or if you think you may be able to help out with these (aka join the team), please give me a shout out!

Future development plans will be largely shaped by how well this map is received. While I'm aware both the playerbase and modding community for C&C3/KW isn't what it used to be, I'm holding out a bit of hope that this map will be appreciated by at least a few in the community. If given sufficient constructive feedback, I can make tweaks to balance, bug fixes and possibly add features in future updates.

Ideally, I'd love to see the map being played competitively. To kickstart the process, I'll be hosting a tournament at Gamereplays.org soon with a small cash prize - if you enjoy this map, please come join the fun!

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I look forward to any comments or feedback! Enjoy the mod!



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