Quite a gap between part one and two, but we’re back with the Selects segment! This is where I bring forward some obscure portions of research to shed some light on areas of history. Today, it’s all about the world’s most famous mods.
Mods, or game modifications, are a fascinating subset of a released game because they get to the heart of a game’s audience. Not only is a great leap of faith to create a mod that you hope people will like, but the way a game is altered speaks a lot to what a community felt was lacking in the original game. Sometimes these focuses grow into full-on obsessions and form a completely new game mode and/or a commercial release.
While the accessibility of modding has grown substantially over the last few years, the amount of AAA games which support modding has declined substantially since the mid-2000s. The reasoning for this is beyond the scope of this post, but partially because of the lack of interest in mods in their original form there has been a sparseness in documentation of their release. Thankfully, we do have windows into the internet of the past so we can get a close approximation of the original release window for each of these important games.
Team Fortress began life as a Quake mod and introduced the role of pre-defined classes to the first-person shooter. Perhaps even more importantly, the game was team-oriented which was in stark-contrast to the deathmatch of Doom and Quake which encouraged going for the glory even when you were forced onto a team. This mod introduced a synergistic element between classes which had not been seen on a real-time scale to that point, both due to the interest of the players and the technology of the time.
According to the Team Fortress section of the Planet Quake website, version 1.1 of Team Fortress was released on August 24th, 1996, a mere two months after Quake’s release. While this does perhaps suggest an early 1.0 version that wasn’t widely available, I think it’s fair to call a release date given the rather meticulous patch notes. Important to note is that at the time there were only five classes: Scout, Sniper, Soldier, Demolitions Man, and the Combat Medic. The Pyro class was also temporarily removed from the game, presumably due to balance reasons.
On the opposite side of crazy rocket jumps and wildly different playstyles, there is the perennial favorite Counter-Strike which was derived from the original Half-Life. Created by Gooseman and Cliffe, the game established a whole new type of realism for first-person shooters (realism in the literal sense, not the Hollywood ‘realism’ of Call of Duty) as well the bomb site gamemode. While the game evolved over it’s lifespan, Counter-Strike was one of the first multiplayer games that people started to know inside and out. Every strategy and bug would be mapped out, creating a highly competitive assymetrical game type.
While the original Planet Half-Life page for Counter-Strike does not go all the way back to the beginning, an archive was saved on the official Counter-Strike website for developer logs. March 24th, 1999 was the original creation of the blog, though the interesting thing is that I can’t tell if there was anything available for download yet. Within a few weeks they had over 10,000 hits, but the beta patch notes for version 1.0 say that the build didn’t arrive until June 19th. It could be that there were earlier versions available, or people were coming purely to view all the modelling and animation work being shown off. The new gamemode was less important than the realism aspect.
As an added bonus, here are some of the early screenshots of the game in it’s most primitive form, gathered from here. (You can click the dead picture icon to load the screenshots)
Now we get into the area of uncertainty, with the mod that truly changed everything: Defense of the Ancients. The development history of this mod is a convoluted mess filled with overblown drama and personalities aplenty. However, even before Eul bestowed his vision of DotA upon the world, there were important predecessors to shaping his idea of this lane-pushing game.
The Tower Defense genre was step one, supposedly originating in Starcraft as an extension of the auto-firing towers that could be used by players to defend against incoming attackers. Starcraft being an earlier game that Warcraft III, the mod sites of that era have been far more difficult to probe for convincing info on what was the “first” tower defense mod. renaka.com made a valiant effort to document early Starcraft maps of all types in 2009, but no definitive information of timetables for these games has yet come forward.
Step two was the Aeon of Strife gamemode, created by Gunner_4_ever which served as the direct inspiration for DotA. Again this was a Starcraft mod which predated Warcraft III’s popularity as a modding platform, with the only clues to it’s creation being left by it’s creator. He claims to have written AoS 2 years ago in a post dated from 2003, placing the approximate date of creation in 2001. There’s no reason to doubt this on it’s face, but again I have been unable to verify any more of a timeline. In the Google Group usenet archives, Aeon of Strife isn’t even mentioned until after DotA comes out, so it was not a popular gamemode.
The final step now, Eul coming along and redefining the flat view and four lanes of AoS into the familiar dynamic three lane formula. The earliest download for Defense of the Ancients that I’ve been able to dig up is that of version 2.2 on Warcraft.org’s website, dated February 21st, 2003 (though this is also the date that the uploading user joined the site so it could have been older). Unlike the understandable absence of earlier versions for the other two mods, the “2” prefix of the version number gives a strong indication that this was not the first version. Whether these versions, probably created in 2002, were ever available for wider download I have not been able to verify.
If you want to get a taste of what DotA was like in it’s very early form, check out the video below which showcases a tournament from October 2003. The popularity of the mod really started gaining notoriety in mid-2003, steadily growing over the years.
Hopefully this little escapade has given you a greater understanding of the uncertainty of a lot of research and appreciation for sourcing. There’s so much info that’s just drifting around in the ether, waiting to be sorted so that we can have a better grasp on a community that we’ll never have the chance to be a part of. I must thank the enthusiasts who both created these mods and spread the word about them in the early days, which by itself created a paper trail for preserving that community today.