Strong multiplayer maps in video games create stories. Their construction and design generate emotional reactions from frustrated defeat to jubilant victory. It is not enough to put players in a space and do battle; strong maps shift and contort in unexpected ways. They are not always fair and they are rarely symmetrical, but they’ll create tons of drama.
One map in the popular online shooter Overwatch has a reputation for being unfair. It’s called Eichenwalde and is not a playing field for 50/50 play. If you play on the attacking team, you’re at a disadvantage. If you’re defending, you’re likely to win. Attackers seek difficult but rewarding victory while defenders revel in their slaughter.
“The initial idea was to move a payload up to a castle on a hill,” the game’s principal level designer, Dave Adams, told me when we recently discussed the map. “On the gameplay side, we wanted to experiment a bit more with verticality and open areas.” In Eichenwalde, a massive castle towers above the war-torn ruins of a once idyllic village. The attacking team presses forward to their objective through tight choke points and uphill climbs while determined defenders snipe from high ground and block the path with shields.
Capturing flags is fun but capturing a fortress is exhausting work. Conquest evokes images in our minds: tiresome marches, bold counter offensives, desperate last stands, and spite-filled duels. It also suggests a landscape: uphill. Traversing flat spaces in games is a dull affair. You press forward and go. Climbing is dynamic. Ascent feels difficult, and high locations command authority. Descent is both dangerous and exciting. We enter spaces unknown with nothing but our grit and skill to save us. Eichenwalde has all of these things.
Eichenwalde has three parts, each an antepiece for the next. A grind towards the first capture point teaches players on both sides about tight spaces. The push leading to the castle gate prepares teams for…