I kept records of some of the interviews from playdota incase the site crashed. Sure enough, it crashed. So, here is part 1 of icefrog’s interview from that site.
Q: Is IceFrog a person or a clan? Is DotA really just a one-man-code-all game? How did you come up with the name IceFrog?
A: I actually thought this was a joke the first time someone asked me, but I’ve been asked many times since, so I guess not. I’m just a person, 25 years old. While I am the only person that edits the map, I don’t really consider it a one-man job. I have many beta testers that help out with testing and feedback. I’ll save the story about how I picked the name IceFrog for another day though.
Q: Any plans on creating DotA for SC2 once it is out?
A: I certainly plan on playing SC2; I am a huge fan of the original Starcraft. It is hard for me to say whether I will do modding for Starcraft 2 at this point. It depends a lot on what capabilities the editor will have, so it is too early to give an answer right now. In either case though, I enjoy what I’m doing and have no plans to stop development on Warcraft 3 anytime soon.
Q: What is the most annoying thing about developing DotA?
A: Some type of bugs take up so much time to fix that it can become very tiresome. An example would be in my most recent updates (6.58-6.59) which was resolved in 6.59b. As a result of some of the new code rewrites aimed at improving performance, a few rare but critical bugs appeared. You would get things like permanently invulnerable heroes, broken abilities or fatal errors and the game would be ruined completely. Although I know that many players find it annoying to continually re-download the map, it is necessary to fix these kind of bugs asap. I consider this the most annoying part because it results in many long boring nights of debugging replays when compared with the more exciting aspect of working on improving gameplay or content. It comes with the territory though, so I don’t really mind.
Q: What is your favorite WC3 map besides DotA?
A: I spend most of my free time playing DotA when I’m not developing it, but I have a habit of playing a tower defense game right after I release a new map in order to relax a little. Recently I’ve been playing Castle Fight and Fufu Ninja.
Q: Do you gain money from making DotA updates or advertisements?
A: No I do not. I get asked this question quite frequently. Some people tend to assume that because many of the dota community sites have advertisements that I get a portion of it, but I am not involved at all with any advertisements whatsoever, as you can see from getdota.com and my blog.
Q: What can I do if I don’t like something you did in the last patch?
A: I think a lot of people underestimated how much I value player emails. The emails allow me to discuss ideas with a wide range players from different backgrounds and get to the root of what is bothering them. If something bothers you and you email me about it explaining why, you can be sure that I will at least have an open ear to your concern and will do my best to respond. I develop this game for the players afterall, so I don’t gain anything by doing something that makes the game less enjoyable.
Q: You have stated that you are going to have Tauren Cheiftain for 6.60, is there anything you can tell us about him?
A: It is too early to say really. He is one of my favorite hero models in Warcraft III though, so I certainly hope he turns out well.
Q: How can I join the beta team?
A: You need to fill out an application at http://www.getdota.com/beta. I am looking for people that have lots of free time and are patient, open minded and passionate about DotA as a whole.
Q: What languages will DotA be available in?
A: It is available right now, in full compatibility mode, for the Russian, Chinese and Korean languages. There are many other languages in the works, the two closest to completion are the French and German ones. If you want to help translate, send me an email. Full compatibility mode means that you can play a game hosted with any language map and the game will still choose your language for localization.
Q: What do you think of the beta leak of dota? I heard you didn’t want the beta version or changelog going public before you released official map. (by SGamer.com)
A: That is very true. There are many reasons why I do not like leaks, but one of the main reasons is a personal one. When I work on the map I add many things that are not yet ready. One big satisfaction I get from developing the game and spending so much time on it is to be able to release a new version when it is ready as a nice package. When the map leaks, it takes a lot of that satisfcation away. In a very small way, it is similiar to when you do a drawing, you don’t want people peeking before you are ready to show it. It is also harder to experiment with some ideas when players are going to jump on it before its fully fleshed out.
Q: Why do you remake heroes? How do you decide which ones?
A: Remaking heroes is always a controversial thing because players often get attached them, so when those heroes change for better or worse, the players that liked them are disappointed. That being said, the primary requirement for a hero to be remade is if players don’t enjoy playing with that hero. I try to balance out the fun factor while keeping as much of the core feeling of the original hero the same (when possible) in order to keep the existing fans of that hero satisfied. Often I ask non-beta testers, who have told me via email that they enjoy a certain hero, to review the new version and to make sure they are still satisfied with it.
Q: How popular is DotA and why?
A: It is very hard to give an exact answer to that because there are so many different communities around the world with their own private servers, download sites and gaming centers. Some players do not download from getdota.com because they are either in a LAN or they have their own community sites local to their country for faster access, so a pure download count doesn’t really cover it. A rough estimation from recent download counts would put it in the 5-8 million range. The game has been growing stronger each month, especially in Asia and South America as of late.
For the why, I think it is due to word of mouth. When someone genuinely enjoys a game and feels that it has a lot of depth and things to learn, they tend to tell their friends about it to join in with them without any marketing needed. It is because of this that the game is able to reach such a wide audience.
Q: Do you plan on changing -switch at all?
A: I will probably adjust the voting rules for it in 6.60 so there are fewer undesired switches going on. There are also a few other aspects of it that I am discussing with players to try to find a good middleground.
Q: You said before that sometimes you remove things from the beta map or don’t finish them. Can you give any examples?
A: There was an Ogre Magi remake that got cancelled very recently because it did not feel like an overall improvement in terms of enjoyment levels nor was it particularly healthy design-wise for competitive play. Another was a new capture the flag or capture point mode that wasn’t finished yet and I did not want to rush it. There are other things that frequently don’t make it to the final map as well. I try to focus on making changes for the sake of real improvement. While it is sometimes disappointing to remove something that you spend time on, I think it is better in the long run.
Q: How much longer do you realistically look at DotA as something that you want to put your time into and update? (from Murazor)
A: I honestly can’t see myself stopping anytime soon; It is the only game I really play so I get a lot of satisfaction out of working on it. I think there are a lot of areas to further improve and build upon. I hope for the game to reach new heights competitively and have a much bigger audience overall. I tend to go out of my way to make sure I don’t put myself in situations where I can no longer develop with the freedom and quality needed to take it to that level.
Q: How do you decide what to change? Are you trying to make the game faster or more gank oriented? (from sgamer.com)
A: I don’t think of things that way exactly. While that is usually true, it is not accurate to consider it as the root philosophy that drives everything. DotA’s primary strength is in its depth and the moment to moment decisions it places in front of the player to make. There are also many non-obvious pitfalls that could seem like good ideas, but actually hurt the game’s true depth. My primary goal is focused on improving the quality and depth of the game and not other superficial metrics of success. I want players to always feel there is a lot to improve upon and to encourage situations where a player is rewarded when he is able to make better decisions than his opponent, which is something I think even non-competitive players value. That is the core of what a competitive game should be after all, creating more opportunity for good decision making. There are, of course, many other factors that are considered for all changes, but this is usually the first priority.
Q: What do you think of Starcraft 2 Editor? (from tobby)
A: It looks great, I’m sure there will be lots of interesting games developed for it. By allowing more direct control over the camera and cursor, as well as the other features described, it will spawn new genres, like Warcraft 3 did before it.
Q: Have you decided if you are moving DotA to Starcraft 2 yet? (from Vodotz)
A: I’ve been actively exploring several options for some time now. Starcraft 2 might not necessarily have what DotA needs to become a better game. Moving to any new engine presents various challenges that need to be considered:
– Will we be able to reproduce the subtle, but very important, unit spell, attack and movement mechanics properly?
– Will the art style fit DotA? Will there be enough unique and identifiable character models for heroes to use?
– Will it encourage team sponsors or help improve the DotA competitive scene?
– Will it provide features that improve DotA, such as: accessibility, networking capabilities, visual readability, spectator features, interface design, etc.
These are the general issues I’ve been considering when thinking about what the right thing is for DotA’s future.
Q: Why did you remove the combat regeneration from Heart of Tarrasque? (from Florian)
A: It was a very specific choice to completely remove combat regeneration from it rather than just reduce it. While it was a nerf, that wasn’t the primary goal. The problem with trying to measure the value of regeneration on Heart is that it makes your success in a fight depend at least partially on how long the fight lasts. The core issue is more about what it promotes rather than it allowing you to survive. It encourages the wrong things and doesn’t reward players who make better moment to moment decisions as much as it could. It removes some depth from the game and makes it a little less interesting over all. If the item needs a certain amount of tanking power, it is much more direct to add more hit point bonus to the item instead of doing it via a method that obscures the ability to measure the balance of the item.
This is more about the design philosophy the item should have, rather than its actual numbers or power, since I consider those as solvable problems if you have the right design to start with. In general, I prefer to lean towards creating a situation of long term solvability to issues. Some things might be knowingly imperfect but done in a manner that increases measurability to allow it to settle in a better place in the long run.
Q: How can I help improve the game itself? Are you going to add my suggestion if I send it? (from JoseC)
A: The best way is to give feedback; I always appreciate getting suggestions from players. While it isn’t practical to expect a specific idea to be used (because of the large number of people with different perspectives), it doesn’t mean that they don’t get factored in. For me, it isn’t always about the specific suggestions as much as what the player is thinking about and how they measure value. Most changes are usually a compilation of many different sets of data and requests over time. I tend to avoid listening to only one type of player. By “type of player” I do not mean competitive or casual at all, I mean the segment of player groups that use different mediums to express their views. There is a very large portion of users that would go unaccounted for if that was the case. Data comes from a variety of different sources, such as: emails, forums posts, replays, joining games with players from different cultures, direct dialog, etc. There are a lot of different types of players and they tend to value things very differently, so it is important for the concept of success or failure not be tunnel visioned to only one medium of opinions.
Q: What will happen with the -switch command? (from n!ight)
A: To be honest, I’m not sure yet. It is a tricky issue. On one hand, I want to remove it because in many cases, it causes more problems than it solves, and it creates an uncomfortable situation for players. On the other hand, a lot players find it very useful, and people have just slowly started to get a better understanding of when to use it and not to. I might implement something that freezes the leaver items and gold until the team decides if they want utilize -switch or take the resources, but of course that is only one aspect of the command. While it is an optional game mode now, I do recognize that it will eventually need to be addressed somehow.
Q: Why you are making new heroes with hard and interesting skills when there are many old heroes with trivial stuns and auras? (from prodota.ru)
A: There is a balance that needs to be maintained between adding new content and improving old. Some players (like me) prefer refreshing old heroes, but others grow attached to older heroes and prefer them to not be changed. The important thing to keep in mind when thinking about a remake is trying to make sure that the qualities players enjoyed in that character are maintained for the rehash. That isn’t always possible, but it is something that needs to be considered. Furthermore, sometimes there is more value in simplicity, not everything basic always needs replacing. New skills might be interesting, but needless complexity should also be avoided whenever possible. I try to find a middle ground between remakes and new content so all players can be reasonably satisfied in the end.
Q: Which way to send ideas and bug reports is the most preferred and most likely to reach you? (from kiu)
A: I prefer email the most because I can sort and organize stuff better as well as being able to respond more easily.
Q: Have you considered the suggestion to make Invoker’s orbs not interrupt movement? (from STT40)
A: I know a lot of people have requested this in the past. This feature was actually implemented in 6.63 before I had to remove it due unresolved technical issues. Warcraft 3 does not provide a straighforward way to do this, so I used a few tricks to achieve it, but it made command registrations unreliable so you would sometimes get incorrect orbs if you clicked too rapidly.
Q: Do you have a schedule for day/week/month, according to which you are working with DotA? (from gibigate)
A: Well it has been different over the years, between studying, programming and college research taking up different amounts of time. I generally try to make a new beta map every day to experiment with, so it’s usually just a chunk of time each day rather than spaced out. It changes from month to month, though.
Q: Do you have any plans to restore custom “-terrain” commands (snow, etc.) in the near future? (from Xochaedo)
A: I could spend more time on it in the future if users want it that much, but I recommend trying out some tools that community members have written. They do more direct modding to Warcraft and can allow more changes than normally possible within a map to create a more cohesive theme.
Q: Will there be a new easter egg map soon? (from Zeyall)
A: What easter eggs?
There you have it, Dota fans. If you have questions you want to ask Icefrog, just ask it here at the NeutralCreeps – where DotA pros get OWNED.
Q: When will we hear more about you and Valve? Some people say it will take 2-3 years, can you give us any clues? (from Zeyall)
A: It certainly won’t take that long. There are a lot of very talented people here at Valve that are working hard on it every day to ensure high quality in a timely manner. We’ll be making an announcement soon actually, and based on the feedback I’ve been getting since the last mention, I’m sure you all will be as excited as I am.
Q: Can you tell us how you first met Valve and how you like it so far? (from Sodoes)
A: It started off with an email from Valve where they mentioned that they were big fans of DotA wanted to fly me out to spend some time with them and visit their studio. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the trip. After arriving and chatting with them, the first thing I noticed was how much of their decision making process was like mine. They shared the same aspirations towards building a long term and sustainable community without having short sighted business goals that end up hurting the quality of the game. One of the most important things for me though was that there wasn’t going to be anyone standing above telling me how I should be doing things. They trust the developers that have experience to make the best decisions for their playerbase. The atmosphere at Valve allows everyone to be very comfortable and able to focus on what they love doing. It also doesn’t hurt that they are huge DotA fans.. until their favorite heroes are nerfed, then I’m the bad guy for a week!
Q: How popular is DotA these days? (from china_white)
A: I can only give estimates based on getdota.com usage, because I can’t track ingame downloads or fansites or downloads from China. It is roughly estimated (based on the statistics from popular Chinese sites) that the Chinese DotA audience is about 40-50% of the worldwide audience. Not counting China, the playerbase is estimated to be somewhere between 7-11 million. I expect the audience to grow even more in the not too distant future.
Q: Is your goal to make everything picked the same amount of times? (from j.walsh)
A: I don’t think about it that way exactly. Sure it’s good if there is a nice distribution and that is something to work towards, but really the goal in DotA’s development is, first and foremost, to make the gameplay quality the best it can be. It is the combination of all the heroes, items and mechanics together that makes DotA what it is and not the individual elements alone. Sometimes that means certain things are carefully adjusted to be more frequent than others, sometimes it doesn’t, but ultimately the main judge of a game’s quality is not in some artificial balance metric, but in the overall gameplay quality and depth that it has.
Q: Can you tell us something about 6.68? (from Carlos)
A: It is still a work in progress and needs some time, but it will have new heroes, more balance improvements, and some new features as well. Here is one of the new heroes in development: Icarus, the Phoenix
Q: What do you think about DotA’s future, will it continue to grow? (from Amir)
A: Definitely. I think players like to spend their time on something they both enjoy and trust. While DotA has a lot to offer now in terms of content and gameplay quality, I will always be working hard to improve it and all that work will be maintained when it matures to something that solves all the other non-gameplay elements that it needs to go to the next level. I think it is a good option for players that want to spend time on a game that will grow with them. It also has a very bright future in the competitive scene. In addition to the already announced SMM ($32,000), ESWC ($24,500), a soon to be announced online ($30,000) event and another huge offline event that will be revealed soon, there will also be an even bigger set of opportunities in the future for players that are dedicating their time and energy into DotA. I think players on all levels of play will be satisfied with their choice and experience with the game.
Q:Why are some heroes unavailable in -CM mode? (from Brandom Lim)
A: It is a largely experimental idea so it may or may not remain for the future. There are a lot of different reasons for it though. In some cases it’s balance or bug-potential related. Other times it is done to limit the number of simultaneous changes so that certain changes can be more easily measured. In a lot of cases where the above aren’t a factor, it is actually done to give enough opportunity for players to understand how to play with and against them and understand the strengths and weaknesses better. This also makes new versions less destabalizing for competitive gaming while still providing a continuous stream of fresh content. That being said though, I’ve gotten a lot of requests from players that use the mode for casual or semi-competitive play and miss omitted heroes, so I may add a subcommand to unlock all.
Q: What do you think about the fan support of competitive teams? (from Mooseman)
A: Fan support is, for the most part, very good. I think it’s great how passionate many of them are about competitive DotA. At times, though, some of them can be a little too judgmental towards teams based on their last few consecutive wins or losses. They have a lot of pressure on them and sometimes they make mistakes or just want to relax and try something different. I don’t think it is always fair to judge them for that. They also face top competition regularly, so its hard to win every time. Teams have a lot of pride and spend a lot of time practicing, so it can be demoralizing to them when some fans change their attitudes towards them so fast.
Q: Are we going to see more visual effects in the future? (from Zikaro)
A: Visual upgrades can be a good thing (and they will come in the future) but is extremely important to not add too much visual noise. You want a scene that has a nice atmosphere and theme but isn’t too cluttered or shiny that it negatively affects gameplay by making it hard to tell what is going on.
Q: Should we expect to see any more loadscreens by Kunkka? (from 27302)
A: Yes, he is planning a new one now, but I can’t tell you when it will be done since it depends on his free time.
Q: Do you use WC3 Editor by itself or other things as well? (from Sasha200)
A: Most of the map development is done outside of the editor actually. There are a lot of separate script files and program tools that are used together to create the map file.
Q: Any interesting bugs or features that were in beta maps? (from OpyyuRDs)
A: We once had a different ability for Techies that used the same visual art and sound effects from starcraft one for the ghost nuke. When he used it, a red indicator would appear on the ground like in Starcraft and then it would play the classic “Nuclear Launch Detected” audio. It sounded a lot cooler than it played out in practice and it was near the end of a beta cycle and had some balancing and design issues, so we decided to remove it instead of rush it in. As far as bugs go, Chaos Knight could pull towers in one beta version, so you were able to have a line of towers pushing on the enemy side!
Q: Will more heroes get an Aghanim upgrade to their ultimate? (from Akder)
A: Yea, I usually try to add some more every version or two. I think it’s a good idea to add them in slowly though, instead of too many at once. I’ve also gotten more requests for extra graphic animations for the ones that already have, so I’ll try to find suitable ones for those as well.
Q: What is the hardest part when developing dota? What risks are there? (from Bannion)
A: The hardest part is actually not the development itself, but in how to measure success. The thing I always try to work on the most is increasing the measurability/prediction of a successful patch. The goal is to be able to improve the development process and feedback systems for better accuracy to what reasonates best with players. The riskiest thing is making a change where it might take too long to discover its true impacts on the game where it becomes hard to reverse. We work really hard to eliminate that stuff early on in the theory phase with either careful analysis or specific beta testing.
Q: How do you decide when to release a new patch? (from VinceX)
A: There are two separate considerations for this. The first is frequency. If you update too frequently players do not get a chance to settle into the previous changes and learn the game, if you update too slowly then you aren’t providing enough fresh content. It is a balance between the two that I’m always trying to find a happy medium between as I get more feedback from players. The second is when it’s “ready”. I usually release it as soon as I feel that the value we get out of more internal testing is too low compared to external feedback we’d get from the larger community. If we are still in the experimenting phase where we are trying out ideas then it’s not ready. Once it feels like it needs external testing to be able to make more good decisions, then it is released. From my perspective, the game is in constant development and improvement regardless, it just becomes a matter of what is the most effective way to improve something.
Q: What takes the most time each patch? Researching, Balancing, Implementing or Bug Hunting? (from Enders)
A: The two most time consuming are usually research and experimentation. Research involves more than just playing the game, it’s also watching replays, reading a wide range of feedback and talking with players. Experimentation is the other time consuming part. It would be fast to just reproduce a patch if I already knew exactly what to do, but the hard part is usually figuring out what you want to do and doing the proper testing before making changes.
Q: What are you most happy about with regards to DotA? (from Artem)
A: I am really thankful for all the support players have given this game, it is more than I could ask for. I see a vibrant community that, despite the very hard learning curve DotA has, grows through the dedication and passion of its players. That shows me how much more potential the game has and encourages me to work harder.