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A Warcraft 3 Retrospective
In 2017 - which already feels like an eon ago - an article highlighting the early days of the game's release was published in celebration of Reign of Chaos' 15th birthday. In this article we will go even further back; back to the alpha and beta of the game.

Scavenging the internet I have found various facts, anecdotes and media from the early versions of the game. This article will act as a compilation hereof. For some it will be brand new information (as it is for me) while it will be a nostalgia fueled trip for others. Either way, I hope you will enjoy it!

In the end of the article I will add the sources I have used. There are also a lot of additional things I have decided to leave out for the sake of readability, but if it is something you want to explore further, you should check it out!

Let us start off by taking a look at the initial Warcraft 3 announcement from ECTS 1999 (with audio quality in accordance with the year).

The alpha

RPG elements in WC3

You may have heard that the engine used for World of Warcraft is simply a repurposed version of the Warcraft 3 engine. While this is true, I have always had a hard time grasping it seeing how different the games are. If we look at the first footage of Warcraft 3, the similarities to WoW are, however, striking.

Initially the game was marketed as having much more heavy emphasis on the role playing element. So while the concept was still like the RTS we know today, you would see the entire game through your heroes with locked camera angle and only being able to switch vision between heroes. The originally targeted style was inspired a lot by the game 'Sacrefice' according to Rob Pardo. Not long into the development of the game, Warcraft 3 did however settle on the more traditional RTS look, keeping just heroes as the RPG element. 

In addition to killing enemies and creeps, your hero could also complete quests in multiplayer to gain items and experience. This was quests such as killing specific creeps or scouting a certain area.

In the beginning both Far Seer and Priestess of the Moon where designed as airborne heroes, flying on a Wyvern and an Owl respectively.

For a long time in the development, gold was the only resource used apart from for Undead who exclusively used corpses. This can be seen in some developer images where trees look quite a bit different. Instead of being individual trees they are irremovable objects clumped together like in Warcraft 2. This idea of a super simple resource system was, however, also cut together with other RPG elements in the light of WoW already starting to come into the picture as the fully dedicated RPG game.

The art style of the game also changed from being realistic-looking to more simple in order to fit the RTS genre better, according to Art Director for Blizzard, Samwise Diddier:

“The first thing everyone wanted to do was make Warcraft III more realistic,” says Didier. “So everything was smaller. Then we saw it in game, and we were like ‘Everything looks dumb.’ So we started making the colors simpler, decreasing the shading, adding flat colors. We scaled the characters back up and made them bigger and bulkier so they read from that top-down camera. That’s one of the reasons we started doing that style, because it read better, but also because everything felt huge. Everything felt heroic and mightier.”

Factions

While there does not seem to be one acknowledged amount of contemplated factions for the game, there certainly have been quite a few. In the light of Reforged, Game Informer created some great Warcraft 3 related content. Among this is a video where they talk about the planned factions for the game.

Many of the scrapped races are seen in one shape or another in the current game. Among scrapped factions are Taurens, Trolls, Dwarves, Ogres and Centaurs. 

One race was build upon the idea of having a faction consisting of a single unit; a dragon. The dragon would grow larger and larger throughout the game, but in the end the idea turned out too obscure.

Also the Burning Legion we know from the campaign was considered. The faction was, however, scrapped as the developers did not feel having the Burning Legion as a normal playable race was in accordance with lore.

As an April Fool's joke in 2002 Blizzard teased that the Pandaren would be added as the 5th playable. Later on the race was added into the campaign of The Frozen Throne and as a Tavern hero.
 

The beta

Moving on to the beta, the game was much more fleshed out and similar to what we have today.
 

What I find amusing is all the quirky relics from the beta that still appear in one faint form or the other.
For example, the Night Elf's Ancients where first called Ents, then Treants and then finally Ancients. This is also why the announcer voice will say "Your Treant cannot root here" instead of Ancient. Likewise, the Spanish announcer voice refers to Orc Burrows as "Pig Farms" which is what they were originally called.

Another place where such remnants are found is in the World Editor. Here we can still see a ton of icons that went to be unused in the game. Here is a few of them:

There is a Defend-esque pair of icons for Spell Breakers. This was presumably used to toggle spell immunity on and off.

Originally the Undead's Gargoyles were produced from an entirely different building: the Gargoyle Spire (which can also be seen in the video above).

The Archmage has a spell named "Time Stop", which was possibly the hero's ultimate ability initially. The spell has been said to temporarily freeze enemy units while allied units being unaffected.

Originally Steam Engines could load in 4 Riflemen, much like how Orc Burrows work, to shoot out of.

 

In February 2001, over a year before the release of Reign of Chaos, there where already rumors of Steam Engines (or Steam Tanks as they were referred to back then).

If you enjoyed reading through this article, then I wholeheartedly recommend you checking out the links in below for additional information - because there are a lot of things that I have had to leave out of this piece!


Sources

Web Archive with known units an game mechanics in February 2001
https://web.archive.org/web/20010405011353/http://www.warcraftiii.net/units/index.shtml

Warcraft 3 Alpha preview
https://youtu.be/jXMk_Ti0Wug?t=25

Evolution of Warcraft 3 with a loads of listed relics
https://wow.gamepedia.com/Warcraft_III_evolution_guide#cite_note-WarcraftIII.net

Alpha/Beta screenshots of Warcraft 3
https://www.reddit.com/r/wow/comments/3iq39b/warcraft_3_alphabeta_screenshots/

Concept art of Warcraft 3:
https://www.gameinformer.com/2018/11/14/explore-warcraft-iiis-origins-in-this-rare-concept-art-gallery

Gameinformer's Warcraft 3 coverage:
https://www.gameinformer.com/warcraft3
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