I wanted to kick off this series of articles with one of my favorite, and probably one of the most requested Heroes maps (or is that just Warcraft maps in general?), Alterac Valley. As a general overview, Alterac Valley will be a three lane map, not particularly wide, but longer. It will have several unique mechanics in regard to the core, mercs, and flow, but will be familiar enough that it should be easy to pick up on after a few games. As Hanamura proved, the trick to making new maps is to introduce enough new things to make the map unique, but not so many as to significantly change game length or standard match flow.
Setting: From an art standpoint, Alterac Valley is very straightforward. We have our first Warcraft themed area, with Alliance and Horde tilesets, as well as a nice snowy landscape. This type of tileset would be great, as it would easily transfer many assets to something like Warsong Gultch, or Arathi Basin, should those maps be made. Aesthetically Alterac Valley has existed for years, so there are many opportunities to create landmarks and familiar sites along the lanes as well.
Gameplay: Alterac Valley will have a few unique objectives that will keep teams pushing towards the win. I'll breakdown the fundamentals of how each will work within their own sections, but the map will contain two new types of mercs, a new building mechanic, a graveyard mechanic, and a completely new core mechanic. The map will reward teams that push with an easier victory once the core has been reached, but will also give specific team comps, potentially, a chance at an earlier victory if they play well.
Mercs: There are two types of mercs present on Alterac Valley, Griffon/Wyvern Fliers (3 per), and Horse/Wolf Riders (3 per), each for their respective factions.
Fliers will be captured like normal mercenary camps. You will go up to one of three camps (one on each team's side, one neutral one between the top and center lanes), defeat the Fliers, and then an Air Bombardment item will drop. When used within a lane, the respective faction's Fliers will spawn from the base, and proceed to fly down that lane dropping bombs that will do low AoE damage (mainly to aid in wave clear). Fliers will also always bomb the closest building set (Fort or Keep) in a lane as well for moderate damage.
Riders will be summoned by turning in meat stacks that drop from melee lane minions. Meat can be turned in by channeling at any Fort or Keep (or in a last ditch effort, at the "core" to get some help in pushing lanes back). Riders will spawn at the base and proceed down the strongest lane, clearing minion waves quickly as they go with cleave attacks, though their damage will not be particularly strong versus buildings.
Buildings: The main structures within Alterac Valley work a bit differently than in other maps, as they will be tied to "Core Defenders". Each Fort and Keep will have a symbol on it, that corresponds to the crest of a Defender that stands near the Core to protect it. Every time a Fort is destroyed, the corresponding Defender will weaken. Every time a Keep is destroyed, the corresponding Defender will weaken further.
Graveyard: There will be a neutral graveyard in the middle of map. This graveyard will activate every 2-3 minutes, and will be capturable with enough time spent in the small capture field around it (similar to the capture area on Volskaya). Once captured, it will allow the capturing team to respawn at that point if they choose, after a death timer has finished. The graveyard will become capturable again 2-3 minutes after the initial capture time was completed. Due to the large map, this could give a capturing team an advantage on positioning, or getting back into the action faster.
Core Defenders: To keep things from becoming to complex, Core Defenders will (or could) differ from one another in looks only. All Core Defenders will have an AoE attack that they will lose, along with some health and damage, when their Fort falls. When their Keep falls, their health and damage are decreased significantly. Core Defenders will stand near the Core on each side, and in the front, corresponding to their particular lanes. Core Defenders can only regen up to 10% of their maximum health. Core Defenders will have a leash range and have faster movement speed than Heroes to prevent ranged kiting.
Core: Perhaps the largest change for Alterac Valley is the Core. Instead of being the normal structure that shoots AoE lightning and has a shield, this Core will be an oversized unit, known as the General. The General only has a health bar, no shield, and can only regen up to 10% of his maximum health. His "shield" is basically the three Defender units that will be around him, doing extra damage. The General has a frontal cleave attack, and will also periodically perform a whirlwind attack, following the target that has his aggro. The General will have a leash range and have faster movement speed than Heroes to prevent ranged kiting.
Strategy: Alterac Valley will be a balancing act on deciding how many buildings you want to take down, how early you can go for the Core (General), and the composition of your team. Do you push one lane strongly to quickly get to the Core, but have to face the might of fully equipped Defenders? Do you go for a more measured approach, weakening all Defenders through equal lane pushing? Do you unleash Fliers and Riders to push one lane while sneakily killing one of the Defenders and making a hasty retreat? The hope is that there will be several viable strategies that you will be able to adjust to and build comps for.
Final Thoughts: Now, you may notice that there are very few numbers here, and that's for very good reason. We could literally argue about the balance, and numbers, and tuning of these ideas forever, but that is meant for the testing phase, which unfortunately is the phase we have no way to try. Just consider this map (and anytime you make a map of your own) as a framework, or bones, which are the map ideas and concepts, and the numbers are the skin, the clothes, and that crazy hat you're never quite happy with.
Second, you may ask, "Hey TBK, where's the cool graveyard mechanics, where are the bosses you summon, WHERE IS BALINDA?!?!?!". Trust me, I've thought and lamented about all of this. It's really interesting to "step into the shoes" of a designer as it were, and realize to make a map that is actually legitimate, you have to leave a lot of stuff on the drawing board, and hone in on the few things that make the map "feel" like it should, but don't inflate game time.
Regardless of what Blizzard actually does, I hope you enjoy the concept and I know I can't wait to finally play that first real Warcraft map!