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Passion Project - An interview with the developer of the last great Starcraft RPG

ScOULaris

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August 2017 UPDATE: The map has finally been released! You can read more about it and download it here.

It will probably come as a surprise to many of you to hear that a new map is in development for Starcraft: Brood War in the year 2015. Having come out almost 20 years ago, Starcraft played host to an online community that thrived for over a decade post-release. Its longevity was thanks largely to the nearly constant stream of custom maps being created, shared, and played on Battle.net all those years in between the releases of Brood War and Starcraft 2. Once SC2 hit the scene, however, it started to eat away at Brood War's popularity at a rapid pace. One thing SC2 failed to do, however, was create a communal environment where creativity flourished and custom maps ruled the roost. Battle.net 2.0's Arcade system was, to put it simply, a failure in comparison to the embarrassment of riches that fans got with Brood War's online community.

If you were to log onto Battle.net's U.S. East server through Brood War today, you'd be greeted with a mere sliver of the bustling activity that used to characterize the community. The number of players online at any given time has dwindled to the point where, at first glance, it appears that Brood War's Use Map Settings scene is all but dead. But stick around for a bit and you'll find that it's still possible to fill up games. Little by little, you'll come to meet other Brood War UMS enthusiasts who refuse to let the old flame extinguish.

Now that you're caught up to speed on the current state of affairs in Brood War, let's get to the subject of this thread. Right now an Australian mapmaker by the alias Oh_Man is putting the finishing touches on an RPG map that has been in development for over three years. He has been plugging away at this passion project over the course of major milestones in his life (like completing his undergad) while the number of people who will ever play it rapidly dwindles with each passing day, and I find that level of dedication fascinating. I found it so fascinating that I thought I needed to share his story with GAF.

I reached out to him for an interview about the development of what I think will be the last great Starcraft RPG map to ever release, and he was kind enough to oblige. First, some background on the map:

Name: The Architect RPG
Map Production Thread: http://www.staredit.net/topic/15150/0/
PDF Guide: https://goo.gl/yQE3OG
YouTube Videos:


The PDF guide is worth checking out, as it details the characters, story, and systems of the map. It even has a bestiary complete with enemy screenshots, stats, and abilities. The YouTube videos are also highly recommended if you want to see some of this map's RPG mechanics in action. If you don't know too much about mapmaking in Brood War, trust me when I say that this is some really high-level stuff being incorporated. During the peak of the UMS scene's popularity, many of these RPG systems wouldn't even have been thought possible within the confines of the Starcraft engine.

Without further ado, here is the interview with Oh_Man, developer of The Architect RPG:

When did you get into custom mapmaking for Brood War? Have you been a part of the UMS scene since its beginnings in the late 90's?

I played custom maps long before I started mapping. I was only 10 years old in the year 2000, and in Australia I was gaming on a 56k modem until something like 2007. :p I'd say probably around '05 I got into mapping, starting off with some very basic maps and then slowly accumulating knowledge over time after that.
What are some of your favorite UMS maps from over the years? Favorite RPG maps in particular?

I played Helms Deep Annatar competitively with my TFE clan. I suppose that is the one UMS map I played a lot. It was very well made for multiplayer and featured asymmetrical teams, which as you see even in today's game industry very few PVP games tend to do. The latest example being Evolve or Left 4 Dead.

I host LANs every year or so with my IRL mates and at almost every LAN we make sure to play Panzer_Kavalier's "Resident Evil: Raccoon City". It is a 6 player co-op survival map where you face off against wave after wave of zombies. It is extremely fun and challenging, and offered bonus secondary objectives which made it stand out from other 'hold-out' type maps.

My favourite RPG map is kind of hard to say, because so many really great ones are incomplete. I'd say Tuxlar's RUSH is up there as one of my favourites, though it almost doesn't qualify as an RPG. It's more of a top down shooter. Leeroy_Jenkin's Middle of the Ocean series was a solid RPG series that got progressively better with each iteration. He won one of my competitions I hosted: http://www.staredit.net/topic/15205/11/ And came second on another one: http://www.staredit.net/topic/15315/

Yoshi's Fallen Memories RPG was a very cool tile-based RPG with neat mechanics and some puzzle gameplay. Chia_Tyrant made a short but sweet RPG called "Essence" which revolved around a mapping mechanic called DDS (direct damage scarabs) which use Protoss Scarabs to be able to deal precise damage amounts.

There are lots of other RPGs and I could go on for quite some time detailing them all haha. I will talk about Death Knights 3 in the next question.
Are there any notable mapmakers past or present who have inspired your work?

I'd say the most famous mapper would have to be Panzer_Kavalier, though his mapping mechanics are quite dated today. His maps were probably the top played back in the day. My favourite was Raccoon City, but Normandy Invasion and A Call for Help were also very awesome. Apparently he went to Iraq and that was the last anyone heard of him o-0.

Tuxlar made an amazing and revolutionary map called RUSH. It uses a Defiler casting Dark Swarm as a point and click shooter mechanic. You fight through the game unlocking and upgrading your guns, fighting different monster types and bosses and even fast-paced vehicle segments and a horror segment in a dark cave with an Ultralisk that could practically insta-kill you. Like Panzer Tuxlar has actually made multiple awesome maps over his career. I really enjoyed his PVP map "Astrogear", but it never really took off publically due to its complex nature. He also just recently released a 1v1 map called The Thing, which is like an advanced version of Cat and Mouse.

Alpha(MC) I have to credit for getting me into the mapping business, and that was thanks to his RPG Death Knights 3. This was a 2 player RPG that I've played to completion time and time again with friends. I started working on my map because I basically wanted to make a Death Knights 4.


Pictured from left to right: Sample from the PDF guide and screenshot from the town tavern.

Click to enlarge.
What are some examples of how different mapmaking methods and tools have evolved over time to allow for more fleshed-out RPG gameplay within the SC engine?

There have been lots of advancements over the course of time from the experimental mappers of the community. They don't really make maps themselves, but discover new tricks with the game that allow other mappers to incorporate into their maps. Some of these tricks are still getting discovered even to this day. The latest big thing to the community was this: http://www.staredit.net/topic/15356/ One of its many applications was allowing you to change a unit to look like another unit (like a Zergling that looks like a Marine), which was something never before able to be done without external modding of the game. Leeroy used this to create his Middle of the Ocean 3, which featured a Ghost that was able to use Dark Swarm thanks to this.

There are a lot of improvements, and I'm really not sure exactly the history of when they were discovered and who discovered them. But some of the ones I use are: Hyper Triggers (makes all the triggers in the game execute much more quickly - basically all maps use this now), Death Counters (allows you to create custom timers and boolean variables), Hallucination Trick (By doing funky stuff with Dropships and changing players you can have hallucinated units (blue coloured) that don't belong to you.

Some of the more powerful things are things I don't actually use for my map, but one day I may decide to learn them. And they are EUDs (extended unit deaths). They can do all sorts of stuff, such as detecting the cursor and detecting unit HP.

There are more 'basic' systems which I use, and they've been around for ages: Protoss Stargate for spells (you 'build' a unit from the Stargate, and my triggers detect that and cast a spell instead) Terran Dropship for using items (same principle, you 'drop' a unit from the Dropship, and my triggers detect that as the player drinking a mana potion), Shuttle Menu (have 8 units in a shuttle, which each unit corresponding to a number on a screen. This way players can navigate in-game menus using this system) Day/Night system (uses Medic Blinding to remove vision at night, then during the day you create/remove a unit to extend that vision), etc. etc. There are a LOT of systems.
You've been working on The Architect since 2012. Has it been difficult to stay motivated given the scope of the project and the dwindling popularity of Brood War?

To be honest I've been working on my RPG a lot longer than that. http://www.staredit.net/topic/11745/
It used to be called Hell's Awakening, and it represented the earlier stages of my mapping skills. As my skills advanced I kept going over old systems and replacing them with better ones, and I did this so much that I decided to rename the map entirely. The analogy I use is I'm like a painter who keeps painting over parts of his canvas until he's finished with the final product, even if by the time he's done almost nothing remains of the original concept. I could have stuck with a simpler RPG, completed it, and then made something else with my new skills, but instead I just kept working on the same map, and just constantly upgrading it.

I should say it shouldn't take years and years to make an RPG on the Starcraft engine. But it does when you don't commit yourself to it fully. Throughout the course of working on this map I've completed a uni degree and gotten a full-time job, and I've always put real life priorities ahead of the completion of the map. That's why the progress is so slow. If I was rich enough to just work on the map 24/7 no doubt it would be done by now, but unfortunately I have to work 8 hours a day 5 days a week. And, of course, a lot of the time I decide to spend my free time doing things other than the map. :p

This is why I was intrigued by the whole thing with Paid Mods that just happened recently over on Steam. It wasn't handled very well and inevitably shut down, but I think modders/mappers being able to get paid for their work would result in people being able to commit themselves more fully to these projects. Whether Blizzard will ever do something like that - well, I don't think it's happening any time soon. We're still waiting on them to make Brood War free to play!
What are some features that you've implemented into The Architect that you're particularly proud of?

I'm quite fond of my cutscene trigger which detects if there are absent players and replaces them with CPU replicas during the cut scene. It involved a little trigger quirk that changes unit's player while retaining its colour.

I'm also very proud of my Inventory system and just the whole shuttle menu in general, which was extremely trigger intensive. Thousands and thousands of lines of code.
One thing that stands out in the details you've released for The Architect is the quality of the writing, which is a rare attribute in the world of Starcraft RPG maps. One would be hard-pressed to find grammatical mistakes, typos, or other telltale signs of amateur-level writing skills. What is your writing background?

I do read a lot, so that is probably where I get my writing skill from. I've never written anything in the scope of a novel though. I've actually found writing for SC quite difficult. There are numerous limitations:


  • Can't use italics, bold, underline.
  • Most of the story is delivered in dialogue. So I have to try and inject emotion into that without using things like "he said, angrily," like you would in a novel.
  • String limitation. This is the single most crippling limitation in all of Starcraft, in my opinion. There are only a finite number of strings (unique lines of text) you can have in a map. If you go over this limit the game won't work. So on top of everything else I have to be concise in my writing, and deliver mission objectives to the player with as few words as possible, while also trying to convey personality in the characters. This is why I decided to split my map up into Acts, because I couldn't fit the story I wanted to do into just one map due to this string limit. I've also used numerous techniques to recycle as many strings as possible.
You've said that you're inching closer to completion these days. Are you willing to throw out an estimated release window?

Every time I've estimated a release date in the past I've been hopelessly wrong. This has been due to either underestimating the amount of time a certain system takes to create, overestimating my productivity, or simply feature creep.

These days I say inching closer because I actually have a finite list of things left to do on my to-do list. I don't have any plans to add or improve more features, something like 90% of the game is already complete, and my real-life schedule is stable. I've also been working at a steady pace for something like six months now, knocking off bullet point after bullet point on my to-do list. At this point my main remaining task is to complete two side quests (my RPG only has one at the moment), and then finish off an inventory trading (allow players to trade inventory items to each other) and inventory comparing (allow player to compare two separate items) system.

I feel very confident I can finish Act 1 within the year, let's leave it at that. As to whether I want to continue working on future acts, well, that will depend on my motivation and the interest for it. Even with all the systems of the RPG now in place, it is still a monumental task making additional Acts, because they are whole new quest lines, new inventory items to collect, new spells to unlock, further gameplay mechanics I may want to include, etc. Etc..
Any final thoughts for people reading this who didn't realize that there was still some life in the Brood War UMS scene?

I wish Blizzard would make the game free to play, because then lots more people could experience this scene, and it would add a much needed boost of popularity to the game. People still play UMS every day in Battlenet, it's just there are less of them.

I also wonder how much people recognise Broodwar's custom scene has contributed to the history of gaming. Aeon of Strife was made on Starcraft BW. And Defence of the Ancients copied that concept for Warcraft 3. DOTA went on to become a huge game genre in its own right, but I think few know that it didn't actually begin with the Warcraft 3 mod, but actually the Starcraft BW map.

Alpha once told me that mapping was like "The Macgyver of programming" and that perfectly sums it up. We all know that we're not going to create something like Skyrim or the Witcher 1 to 1 on the SCBW engine. The fun is that we're basically doing things the original devs never would have thought possible with their engine by doing all sorts of funky tricks and workarounds to make things like giant RPGs from 1990s RTS games. That's the beauty of mapping. And that's why it's my favourite hobby.
Links

For the curious, here are some resources that can bring you up to speed on the current state of the Brood War UMS community.


  • Staredit Network - The home base for what remains of the UMS mapping community, and home to most of the output by modern mapmakers in recent years.
  • Morrowind RPG (by MetalGear) - Released in 2013, this is a great example of how far SC RPG maps have come. In this map you'll find a menu system similar to that of The Architect RPG, complete with a spellbook, journal, inventory, equippable armor for different body parts, a trading system, and even weather sound effects that can be enabled/disabled.
  • Oblivion RPG (by MetalGear) - MetalGear's followup to the excellent Morrowind RPG. This features many of the same cutting-edge RPG systems seen in his previous work (and probably some more), so it's definitely worth checking out as well.
  • Tower of Dream (by zzt) - Another 2013 map, this one is a single-player action/puzzle RPG that plays out more like a difficult arcade game than a traditional RPG. It will test your micro and puzzle-solving skills, and it features a built-in save/load system to manage your progress. Again, it's an impressive piece of modern mapmaking that showcases all sorts of features that were just not possible in the earlier eras of UMS maps.
 

butalala

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This is really interesting. I once set out to create a UMS map in War3 based on the Lord of the Rings, realized how little I knew about what I was doing, and quit after about 30 minutes. It's awesome to see such dedication.
 

grandwizard

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This is really impressive. I hope it reaches a good enough audience for him coming out so late, but finishing something like this is a good achievement on it's own.
 

ScOULaris

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This is really impressive. I hope it reaches a good enough audience for him coming out so late, but finishing something like this is a good achievement on it's own.
Same. I hate the thought of only a few people ever playing and giving him feedback after all the time he's put into it, especially considering the fact that the map looks to be really good.
 

LurkerPrime

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Very interesting thread, thanks for making it.

I wonder if any newer games will manage to inspire such large, creative, and vibrant modding communities. I feel like a lot of Starcraft's (and in turn Warcraft's) modder-oriented success was due to the user-friendly nature of its map editor, giving amateurs and masters alike their own place within the community, and in turn inspiring each other to greater heights. I really hope so, because I miss all of the cool stuff they came up with.

Anyways, I may have to reinstall SC to try out TARPG when it's finally released.
 

ScOULaris

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Very interesting thread, thanks for making it.

I wonder if any newer games will manage to inspire such large, creative, and vibrant modding communities. I feel like a lot of Starcraft's (and in turn Warcraft's) modder-oriented success was due to the user-friendly nature of its map editor, giving amateurs and masters alike their own place within the community, and in turn inspiring each other to greater heights. I really hope so, because I miss all of the cool stuff they came up with.

Anyways, I may have to reinstall SC to try out TARPG when it's finally released.
I think everyone would be thrilled if something akin to the SC1 and WC3 editors were to ever see the light of day in a new game, but unfortunately it doesn't seem likely. It's just a completely different climate now, whereas the old days of custom maps were basically like the wild west. There were no limitations on anything. People could just make whatever the hell they wanted and start distributing it easily. It was quite a time to be alive, and I feel fortunate to have been able to experience it for the better part of a decade.

And if you end up playing TARPG once it's finished, I'll consider this thread a success. I mainly just want to give the map and its creator the exposure they deserve. Thanks for reading.
 

ScOULaris

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Hot damn. I was just able to spend an hour or so with The Architect RPG in its 90% complete state, and I was just as impressed as I thought I'd be. It's starts off pretty difficult when playing alone, but the writing, terrain design, and RPG systems are just on another level in this. Even in its unfinished state it's clear that this represents the apex of RPG map design in Brood War.
 

Sickafant

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StarCraft UMS is pretty much my childhood. I remember one map maker named Wumbate because his maps played unlike the typical UMS genres like TD and such. He made some interesting maps like Changeling and Worms, although I could be wrong, it's hard to tell who really makes the original versions of the maps. I'll probably reinstall to check this one out.
 

ScOULaris

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StarCraft UMS is pretty much my childhood. I remember one map maker named Wumbate because his maps played unlike the typical UMS genres like TD and such. He made some interesting maps like Changeling and Worms, although I could be wrong, it's hard to tell who really makes the original versions of the maps. I'll probably reinstall to check this one out.
Both of those maps sound familiar, but I can't quite remember how they played. That being said, Worms just reminded me of the Tremors maps where you had to outrun the players controlling the sand worms on the desert tileset. That was a lot of fun.
 

ScOULaris

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Bumping this old thread because The Architect has finally been completed and released! I've updated the OP with the download link.



And it couldn't have come at a better time with Remastered launching next Monday.

I can tell you right now that the final product is the best SC1 map I've ever played. I've put 4.5 hours into it already as the Warrior class (doing a solo run), and I still have plenty of content left to see. This is the new standard for RPG maps.
 

Syf

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Nice to see a thread for this. I've heard good things and plan on playing through it after the remaster launches.
 

Syf

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Oh just some friends talking about it on discord earlier. I haven't seen much talk anywhere else, that's why it was nice to see this thread.
 

Jrs3000

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This bring back memories. Have they mentioned the editor being updated in the remaster? I'm assuming it's working off of Sc2 editor instead of the old trigger based in SC1 correct?
 

ScOULaris

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This bring back memories. Have they mentioned the editor being updated in the remaster? I'm assuming it's working off of Sc2 editor instead of the old trigger based in SC1 correct?
StarEdit will be updated for Remastered with some additional functionality, but it will still be based on the original trigger-based one. These days most seasoned mapmakers are using far more capable third-party editors like SCMDraft 2 to make SC1 maps, however.

The underlying game is still the same as before, so all custom maps (with a few exceptions) will continue to work as they always had. They'll now just get an audiovisual facelift.
 

Argonis

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When hosting this map for others to download it downloads like its on a 28.8 modem, I've tried hosting it as well as trying to download from others hosting the map and the same thing happens every time. It's not just me either, everyone else is saying the same thing in chat.

Not sure what's up.
 

ScOULaris

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When hosting this map for others to download it downloads like its on a 28.8 modem, I've tried hosting it as well as trying to download from others hosting the map and the same thing happens every time. It's not just me either, everyone else is saying the same thing in chat.

Not sure what's up.
I think it's just an issue with Battle.net. It has always had problems sharing really large maps. That's why the link to the download is shown in the team names in the lobby.

It's unfortunate but not much can be done about it.