It's telling that Turbine has waited so long to release its tri-lane map for Infinite Crisis. The three-lane map is a MOBA standard, and the foundation upon which the genre gets its strategy. But just replicating what other MOBAs—including League of Legends and Dota 2 —have done would, from Turbine's point of view, only hurt the game's chances to stand out.
“This is our big achievement,” creative director Cardell Kerr tells me, as we watch his quality assurance team run through yet another match on Gotham Divided, the game's in-development three-lane arena. “When you think of Counter-Strike, you think of de_dust. And it's like, you're going to try to make a new version of this map? That's great. You need to make that version at least as good.”
Throughout the match, Gotham Divided's use of destructible environments consistently separates the map from those of other games. When one team destroys a tower in the bottom lane, the blast radius opens up new paths around it, adding areas for additional ganking and escaping. Much of the main jungle on the map is gated off by destructible vehicles and dumpsters, letting a few players from one team optimize their route by bashing through the debris and gaining earlier access to mobs.
“We're all about environmental destruction,” lead designer Ryan Bednar says. “Not only to sell the power of the characters, but also to make it so you could change the map as you play it.”
The tri-lane map also uses many of the micro-objective ideas Turbine developed in its two-lane Coast City map, but without as much reliance on them. The end result is an aggressive, skirmish-heavy match, which fits nicely with the superhero theme.
Standing out is the Holy Grail for all new MOBA developers. Turbine's advantage, then, is the world it gets to play with: DC Comics. Everyone wants to be Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and DC's long history of alternate realities means Turbine can take a base hero or villain and create extreme variations, based on specific parts of a character's personality. Batman uses fear to intimidate criminals—Nightmare Batman takes that fear to the extreme, playing off the vampiric version of Bruce Wayne from Batman: Red Rain to tailor the character for extreme damage and assassination roles. Arcane Green Lantern reimagines Hal Jordon as a medieval knight instead of an Air Force pilot, changing the character's damage-dealing blaster class into a more support-based role. The champion roster includes plenty of role variety while still keeping characters accessible to new MOBA players—a player set the studio is clearly going after.
Turbine's transition to MOBA developer is a big shift from its previous life as an MMO studio, and moving the team away from games such as Lord of the Rings Online to a wizard 'em up could have been jarring. But Bednar tells me it was a welcome change for his team, as the smaller scope allows for more attention to detail.
“When you're working on an MMO, you're constantly adding more and more features and systems,” he says. “When we started talking about making a MOBA, we thought, 'Holy crap, we can build one map with three lanes, and not have to worry about increasing your level cap or adding a new expansion.'”
Gotham Divided will be available to closed-beta players later this month, but the team plans to keep refining it even after it's in the wild. Dialing in the map's gameplay is priority number one for the team. “The most important thing for us on this map is not just to do no harm,” Kerr says, “but to add gameplay where there is no gameplay in the other maps. It's pretty damn important.”
Update : A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Gotham Divided would only be available in the Infinite Crisis open beta.