The WarCraft III RPG/strategy mod Defense of the Ancients has attracted millions of players, and now one of its creators is participating in the development of a full-scale, commercial take on the concept.
This week, Los Angeles-based Riot Games announced its first title, League of Legends, planned for a PC release next year.
It's not the first game to advertise its similarities to DOTA. Gas Powered Games' Demigod is in the same vein, although the connection is more straightforward with League of Legends: original DOTA designer Steve "Guinsoo" Feek is driving the design.
Like its spiritual predecessor, LOL (as it will surely become known) blends strategy and roleplaying elements for faster-paced gameplay than in traditional resource-gathering real-time strategy games.
"We want to create games more like Counter-Strike or basketball, something that's really replayable," says Riot president Marc Merrill, who visited Gamasutra's offices with CEO Brandon Beck. "Rather than being Half-Life, we want to be Counter-Strike. Rather than being World of Warcraft, we want to be WoW Battlegrounds."
"We think that this distills the best elements of MMO PVP into really quick and accessible game sessions." he continues, describing LOL as a "session-based, multiplayer, online battle arena game set in a very stylized fantasy universe."
As to whether LOL might have consoles in its future, the team didn't rule it out.
"Our particular game does have a future on those platforms at some point, but we want to stay really focused on PC right now," says Beck.
Merrill adds that about a year ago, the team tested the game on an Xbox 360 development kit, but reiterated the current PC focus.
LOL's art staff includes veterans from games such as Psychonauts and Jak & Daxter, and its art director Hokyo Lim served as Sucker Punch's senior artist on the three Sly Cooper titles -- a credit that Merrill uses to deflect WoW visual comparisons.
"Hokyo likes to remind us that, apparently, a lot of the Blizzard guys used Sly Cooper as a frame of reference as well," he laughs.
Also on board is community director Steve "Pendragon" Mescon, whom Merrill credits with building DOTA's reputation and global reach, and who will simultaneously remain in his role on that game while working with Riot.
Merrill is quick to draw distinctions between League and its predecessor, however. "Since it was built as a mod, DOTA has a bunch of limitations," he explains. "It's only one map ever, and it's still played by millions of people for years because it's so replayable, but there are really limited multiplayer services -- no matchmaking, no stat-tracking, no persistence. League of Legends is designed from the ground up to address the needs of the community and to evolve based on what the players want to see."
The Riot team acknowledges that many gamers are unfamiliar with the WarCraft III mod, despite its popularity, meaning League of Legends will need to make itself accessible to newcomers via new features like matchmaking. Merill pointed to CEO Beck for an anecdote on that topic.
"I had a recent experience with my dad, who's in his 60s," recalled Beck. "He's been around games for a while, playing flight sims and whatnot, but I found out he picked up [Battlefield] 1942, which is one of my personal favorite games.
"We were at home for a weekend, and got a bit of a LAN game going, and he was having fun playing with his kids -- and he was excited if he made it from a spawn point to a tank. That was a small win for him. He was fascinated by the game experience itself, and he had been playing bot mode against really easy bots but was too intimidated to go online.
"I'm convinced that if he was in a game with a bunch of other dudes his age, just as inept at FPS games, they would have had a blast. The kill counts wouldn't have been as high, and it would have taken them five minutes to find a vehicle and another three minutes to kill each other, but they'd have a great time.
"It's about matching players of appropriate skill, and that's one of the biggest challenges facing a game like this -- the degree of getting that right."
Says Merrill, "We think that this distills the best elements of MMO PVP into really quick and accessible game sessions."