Dota through the ages: Eul's failed revolution and the map chaos before All-Stars
Artwork by: Kunkka

Dota through the ages: Eul's failed revolution and the map chaos before All-Stars

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For Part 1, click here

In the days of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, Defense of the Ancients firmly established itself as one of the game’s most popular custom mods. In this second part of our overview of Dota history, we are going to talk about Eul’s failed attempt at a revolution, and the continued elaborations of the classic version by other developers.

The original DotA 2: Keep it simple, Sentinel

On July 1, 2003, Blizzard released Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. The expansion came with an update to the game’s map editor. Developers could now create complex scenarios, modify ability mechanics and change the way the heroes moved. Eul spent the following year carefully studying the updated editor so that he could come up with a complete reworking of his version of Dota. He named it DotA 2: Thirst for Gamma.

All that was left of the Reign of Chaos versions were the neutral jungle creeps, the shops, the lanes and the towers. The rest was made almost from scratch. The terrain was the biggest change as the map became vertical instead of diagonal. Two additional lanes were added to the three main ones; creeps spawned there whenever an intermediate point was being captured. These creeps were weaker than the ones in the main lanes, and the towers in the additional lanes were replaced by friendly ones upon destruction.

This is what the DotA 2: Thirs for Gamma map looked like
This is what the DotA 2: Thirs for Gamma map looked like
This is what the DotA 2: Thirst for Gamma map looked like

Heroes’ purchases were now limited to a single item of each of Weapon, Armour, Shield, Helmet, Accessory and Jewellery, much like in a regular RPG: no more packing five Divine Rapiers. Items were classed into three tiers according to price and stats: Basic, Enchanted and Legendary. Whereas these days, a hero changes no more than a slot or two in the course of a game, in Thirst for Gamma it was quite common to buy six Basic items, replace them with Enchanted ones towards the mid-game, and assemble a Legendary before the decisive attack. Shops selling different tiers of items started working at different times. Basic items became available at the three-minute mark, and you had to wait until the twelfth minute for Legendaries. The latter were unique; as soon as a player bought an item, no-one else could have it.

Orbs were another Thirst for Gamma peculiarity. Neutral creeps had a 42% chance to drop a black, blue, green, red, yellow or white orb. There was a fountain at the center of the map where you could add orbs to Basic-tier items. This gave your hero various stat buffs depending on the orb color and item type. Orbs could also be given to other players, so junglers were usually in charge of collecting them while the others were busy laning.

What the orbs gave to different types of items

But all this abundance of choices did was to frighten players off. DotA 2: Thirst for Gamma didn’t remotely enjoy the same popularity as Defense of the Ancients. Eul released several versions, tweaking the terrain, items and balance, and adding new heroes, but with no success. Eventually he gave up on the development altogether. Nevertheless, his work contributed significantly to the evolution of Dota as well as other modern MOBAs: features from Thirst for Gamma were adopted by League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm. Eul was also instrumental in further development of Defense of the Ancients; before abandoning the project, he opened the source code for the old map, and dozens of developers picked up on it.

Devs and decay: The true reign of chaos

Only the laziest developers didn’t try to create their own Dota in 2003–04. The concept remained the same, but each creator added something of their own. And the players could not decide which one got it right.

Some were downright botched. In one version, upon picking a hero, it spawned next to the tavern in the upper left corner of the map. It was impossible to get out of there unaided. So while creeps were pushing the lanes, players duked it out at spawn points. After death, they’d be resurrected at the fountain, but the last hero standing remained trapped. And it could only be freed by heroes capable of destroying trees: the shops weren’t yet selling Culling Blades, Tangos, or flying couriers that could airlift a teleportation scroll.

An example of botched design. The trees are blocking the passage up the river to the top lane

In another version, offensive abilities could deal friendly fire. Imagine a Crystal Maiden freezing an allied tower or hero! And her ultimate rained deadly ice not just on all friendly units, but also on herself. And yes, she could freeze herself too! Other area-of-effect abilities had the same problems: a Lich could be caught in his own Frost Nova if he came too close to its target.

There were, however, devs whose priority wasn’t to roll out a map as quickly as possible, and who took a close look at Eul’s code. They would add their own heroes, jungle shops, items and neutral creeps. It was these devs who competed for the largest chunk of the player base, with DotA Unforgiven and Defense of the Ancients: EX Series emerging as the most popular versions.

This was how you picked a hero in almost all early versions of Dota

Both mods offered a choice of 18 characters for each side. They already had most of the regular items, such as Boots of Speed and Gloves of Haste, but those couldn’t be crafted into anything more powerful, which meant that there was a severe limit on how much you could beef up your hero with inventory items.

In-lane balance was broken, too. The Sentinel side had the stronger creeps: two huntresses or two bear druids. Thus the lane was nearly always pushed towards the Scourge side. On top of that, Sentinels earned more gold and experience, as Scourge attacked with three ghouls and a necromancer. More units meant more money. Many items didn’t work or were buggy, while others were pointless. For instance, Sacrificial Skull blighted the ground without any resulting bonuses.

Unforgiven also had dubious gimmicks such as an enormous Chimaera for the Sentinels and a Frost Wyrm for the Scourge. They had a lot of HP and attack power, but were very easy to kill in the late game. However, only ranged characters could hit either of them. TP scrolls weren’t sold in the game. Instead, each hero had an ability allowing it to return to its Ancient, with a 300-second cooldown.

The Chimaera guarding the Sentinel base in DotA Unforgiven

EX Series was most like Dota as we know it today. Its ten or so developers did not change it a lot from the Reign of Chaos version, and were mostly preoccupied with hero and item balance. However, the game was still bug-ridden, some heroes were completely useless, and others were too easy to play.

Someone needed to put together all the best ideas and approach Dota development comprehensively. This was undertaken by Meian and Ragn0r, a duo of developers who studied all the existing variants of the mod and created their own, titled DotA Allstars. The beta was released in February 2004. It combined all of the most useful features with the most balanced and fun heroes; slight changes had been made to the terrain, and a huge number of critical bugs had been fixed.

By the time of DotA Allstars Beta v0.95, it was the version preferred by the majority of the players.

original article by: Kirill “Gr1nder” Rusakov

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