DotA 2 update delayed another week

Last week the DotA 2 beta client didn’t receive an update, thanks to development that still needed done on the new replay system and the platform split. The news sort of killed my buzz for DotA 2 updates because it included the fact that updates would now go through a test server before making it into the beta client. I would assume that means no new heroes in the next patch. Bummer. The same is true for this week; we won’t be seeing an update.

There may be some good news for those of you still waiting to get beta access. In yesterday’s bog post, Valve wrote a lot about the number of servers necessary to handle demand and that they continue to increase server capacity.

From the post:

The primary reason we haven’t allowed everyone access to the game is because we don’t yet have enough server capacity to run all the games it would require. Our server deployment team has spent the last few months flying around the world setting up new server clusters to increase that capacity.

Valve has also scheduled 24-hour downtime for next Tuesday. It looks like that will be for converting the servers to the new replay system, but it could also be the day Valve brings more servers online, which hopefully means more players in the system as well.

Valve to fragment the DotA 2 testing platform

As part of last week’s DotA 2 update, Valve mentioned that it would be delivering test content to beta testers in a new way with this week’s patch. It turns out the patch for this week was delayed, but the new content delivery system is still on the way. Unfortunately, the new delivery system means fragmenting the existing test platform. In essence, Valve is launching a DotA 2 test environment alongside the current beta environment. The test environment will run one week ahead of the beta environment, the goal of which is to allow Valve to roll out new features without worrying so much about stability. It’s tough to say if this is a good or a bad thing, but if Valve doesn’t get more beta testers involved soon, it’s probably going to be a frustrating thing.

My baseline guess is this: Valve realizes they need to get DotA 2 to market sooner rather than later but at current development pace that isn’t going to happen until 2013 unless they launch with a limited hero roster or dramatically ramp up development. Moving to a split system allows them to a couple things. First, they can focus on churning out content without worrying about complaints of game-breaking bugs. This could mean more heroes releasing more quickly, even if they aren’t totally polished. A split system also allows them to continue to work on polishing the final product. Smaller bugs and graphical hiccups can slip through to the beta environment, which I’m guessing is where Valve hopes the majority of the beta community will still spend its time.

That is the question, though. Will people want to play the more stable environment or will everyone just move to the test realm? I have yet to see a concurrent user base over 21,000. When it gets down to 12,000-14,000, as it often does during the day, queue times start to get long. If just 20 percent of active players decide to play primarily on the test environment, those numbers are down below 10,000. That is a tiny testbed compared to the millions of players dropping on Riot’s servers every day.

This is why I also think the platform fragment will come with another wave of beta invites. If Valve wants to seriously test both realms, there have to be more people involved. No one wants to wait on 30 minute queues to test the beta of a game, stable or otherwise. If Valve wants to keep the interest of beta players, both realms have to be viable places to find a game.

Clinkz joins the DotA 2 lineup

Clinkz

Yesterday, Valve added Clinkz to the DotA 2 lineup along with a few minor bug fixes. You might think it would be difficult to get into a Thursday evening update schedule, but Riot patches were late often enough that I feel right at home. I kid, I kid. You would know if you could see my adorable yet handsome winking face.

ANYWAY, I’m not overly thrilled to see another invisible hero added to the mix, but Clinkz is soft enough that I usually find him easy to counter. He has a very weak early game and, with a little coordination, can be nothing more than a nuisance. I still wonder why invisibility was ever thought to be a good thing in MOBA games. I understand to a degree that DotA was built on the Warcraft engine, and since Warcraft allowed for the mechanic, DotA designers could add a little variety by including those kinds of mechanics. We’re so far past that point, though, I would think developers had come up with a better way to handle stealth.

But enough about all that. For now, Clinkz is in the DotA 2 beta. Huzzah. It’s another hero on the list. Valve did mention in the Clinkz blog post that they will “change the way we ship new content to you every week,” beginning with next week’s patch. I wonder if that means we’ll start seeing more hero releases at smaller intervals, or if it is truly just a new content delivery method (though I don’t know what that would be – the current system is just using Steam).

LoL to DotA: The Shop

It seems almost foolish to have to dedicate an entire post to the shop differences between LoL and DotA but trust me, it’s necessary. Again, this is one of those things I thought League did really well, and for the most part I still prefer League’s shop, if only for its organization. The DotA system does have some perks, though, which I’ll cover a bit later.

It’s impossible to talk about the DotA shop system without first discussing the differences in gold, which is where the shop differences really originate. In LoL, your gold is your gold unless you spend it. In DotA, gold can be lost on death, depending on a few different factors. Gold is divided into reliable and unreliable gold. Unreliable gold, as you probably guessed, is the gold that gets lost when you die. Reliable gold is yours no matter what. As you save more and more gold for more expensive items, more of your gold becomes unreliable. However, when you buy items you buy with your unreliable gold first, which is why shopping frequently is important.

In DotA, players can use the main shop anytime, anywhere. Yes, you can shop from your lane. Items that are purchased remotely go to each player’s individual stash. Those items can then be retrieved by either visiting base or sending a courier to retrieve them. In most games, each team will purchase a courier for the purposes of hauling items to remote locations. It’s a nice system, and it can keep you in lane for a very long time.

DotA also has a “secret shop” hidden in the same place in each team’s jungle. The secret shop contains different items from the main shop and can only be accessed by standing next to it or sending a courier to do the same. Each side lane also has a “side shop,” which contains a mix of items from both the main and secret shops. This can all be a bit confusing, but that’s the DotA way. At the very least, Valve has tried to make the experience a little less frustrating by placing a small “S” symbol on the icon of any item that is only purchasable via the secret shop. If a player tries to buy an item from the secret shop while out of range, Valve implemented a “shop not in range” error that also pings the map so the player knows where to go to buy the items.

The only other significant difference in my mind is the presence of actual recipe items. When a player buys Madred’s Bloodrazor in League of Legends, there is no 775g item that combines the components into the actual item. It is simply a combine cost that automatically happens. With DotA, there are actual recipe items. This is important because it allows the player to spend unreliable gold on a recipe though they might not be able to afford another component. It’s also important because it is possible to accidentally buy duplicate recipes, which is just no good. As in LoL, where I occasionally buy double boots, I sometimes find myself with double Yasha recipes in DotA. Be aware of this.

As with any MOBA, your best bet for understand the shop is to simply look through it. Play a bot game or find a functioning web tool that works like the shop so you can learn which items are purchased at which shop. For me, I always learned best by playing a couple characters that I really enjoyed, trying a few different builds and stumbling across items that way. Once I’ve seen them in shop a few times it gets much easier to remember how to find them.

Is casual MOBA play possible?

Since I got started with the DotA 2 beta, my time in League of Legends has dropped off significantly. At first I thought it was just that DotA 2 was a new game and that I might someday reach a point at which I was splitting my time between the two. That hasn’t happened yet, and I honestly don’t see it happening in the near future.

Every time I’ve gone back to League over the past couple weeks, I’ve been sorely disappointed. My games have been quick and unenjoyable, whether winning or losing. Those same kind of games have been happening in DotA on occasion, but with DotA I’m playing enough to balance the bad games with plenty of good. With LoL, that’s just not the case.

I think this is a core part of the MOBA experience, and something MOBA developers may have to address over the next couple years. Though I go into each play session hoping for a hard-fought, drawn out battle, I would bet the majority of games tend to be shorter and fairly one sided, at least to some degree. Once the lopsided game has played out, my inclination is not to walk away; it’s to stay and play until I get the game I was looking for.

This situation isn’t totally unique to the MOBA genre. RTS players have long dealt with a protracted gaming curve, wherein they might spend as much as 70-80 minutes developing a strategy only to be wiped off the map in 90 seconds. In a lot of RTS matches, though, there are things to be learned. Maybe I should have had more resource nodes. Maybe I needed more unit diversity. Maybe my micromanagement needs work. Most competitive RTS matches provide an immediate and actionable feedback loop. That is, the player knows what he/she can do in order to improve their next experience.

With MOBAs, it’s more like two teams of five people trying to throw darts at the same dartboard, all at the same time. If they all get a bull’s-eye, the game is a success. As players start to miss, the game deteriorates. A few people from a team may be playing well, but when there are two people who can’t even hit the board, the game gets dramatically skewed. That actionable feedback loop from RTS games is all but gone. It often doesn’t matter if I’m hitting the bull’s-eye every time (and let’s be clear, I don’t); the failed efforts of my teammates have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the game.

So back to the question at hand – is it possible to play MOBAs casually? I can’t do it. I’ll own that. I can’t just jump into one game, unless that one game is the 50+ minute back-and-forth that MOBA dreams are made of. How do you guys do it? Do you focus in on a small subset of champions? Do you save up your playtime for one long play session every so often? Do you even bother? Sound off in the comments.

What’s next for MOBAs?

Invoker.

Tomorrow is a big day in the gaming world. Tomorrow, more than a million people will have made a decision to either renew or cancel their subscription to SWTOR. I say it’s a big day because Star Wars was heralded by many as the “next generation of MMOs.” In my experience, it’s little more than single-player RPG wrapped around a near exact clone of a seven-year-old game. Nearly everyone I know who was interested in the game at one point either cancelled at pre-order or have cancelled in the first month. I think a lot of that can be attributed to the lack of innovation — people just know the current MMO scene too well for even a kickass license like Star Wars to save a game.

How does this relate to the MOBA/ARTS genre? MOBAs are about to be in the same position SWTOR is currently in. There are several highly successful models in the genre, but for something to be successful in the next few years, I think it will really have to innovate. I’ve been looking forward to DotA 2 for a long time, but I know the map and most of the heroes so well that I still find myself bored with the experience. Blasphemy, I know, but I like a little variety and sometimes the hero list just isn’t enough.

For a while I thought Dominion might be the answer, but a few months after that map launched it started to drop off the radar. Obviously I don’t have usage stats, but I know they aren’t what Riot would like them to be. I still enjoy Dominion on occasion, but it just wasn’t enough.

One thing I would really like to see is game mode variety. The original DotA had some truly fantastic variations (my personal favorite was -dmarem). I would love to have different options for games with similar developmental arcs to a Classic Summoner’s Rift or DotA match with some different game mechanics.

What do you see for the future of the genre? Will we be stuck with a branching DotA-clone, LoL-clone future or is the next big MOBA development something else entirely?

The surrender problem in DotA 2

Over the past few days my DotA experience has taken a significant turn for the worse. I’m not sure if my opponents have been getting better or my teammates getting worse. I haven’t been playing terribly. In fact, in some cases I would even call myself “decent.” Regardless, I’ve been losing a lot of games. Most of them, come to think of it. It has been a frustrating run, and the fact that DotA has no surrender has added to that frustration.

Yes, that’s correct. There is no surrender feature. But that’s not the surrender problem I mention in my title. The surrender problem is that the game does not have one, occasionally feels like it should, but ultimately should not. Confused? Don’t worry, I’m with you. I’m just as confused by my feelings about this as you likely are by this post. Just bear with me for a moment.

I don’t think DotA 2 should have a surrender feature, at least not like the one in League of Legends. DotA is a fundamentally different game, and I’ve come back from odds that were steeply stacked against me on more than one occasion. The games didn’t involve leavers or quitters or ragers. They were games like any other, the difference being that my team banded together and either made an epic push or started to turn teamfights in our favor or any number of other measurements of success. If Valve were to implement a surrender feature, most of those games wouldn’t have happened. My team would have thrown in the towel much earlier and I wouldn’t be learning what it takes to overcome a challenging deficit.

That said, I have had games in which my team was getting utterly stomped – stomped so badly we would be unrecognizable to loved ones – but the game dragged out beyond the 40-minute mark. The only recourse is to ask the enemy team to push to win. Compliance is rare, which I totally understand. We’ve all had games in which we pulled ahead of the enemy team and wanted to see just how farmed we could get. Unfortunately, staring at the business end of a hugely farmed Anti-Mage just isn’t a good time.

The one acceptable solution I can think up would be to implement a unanimous surrender option that only becomes available if certain conditions are met. Even this, though, feels a little bit dirty. It feels out of step with the DotA philosophy, which is generally to suffer through a lot of games until you are passably competent, followed by more suffering until you are almost “good” at the game. Really, DotA is a constant learning experience and what can be learned when you aren’t playing the game, even when the odds look insurmountable.

LoL to DotA: Getting Started

This is the first in what will be a series of posts dedicated to preparing players to make the transition from LoL to DotA. It is a bit strange to be making the transition back to DotA after leaving the game a few years ago for the newer mechanics of League of Legends. I’ve enjoyed both games immensely, spending more time in this genre than I’ve probably spent with any other game, including World of Warcraft. While they are definitely similar, the games are different enough that the transition will be difficult for a lot of players. Hopefully this guide will help anyone trying to make the switch.

The Most Basic of the Basics

DotA is a mechanically complex game in ways that LoL just isn’t. There is no way around that. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. I tend to prefer the complexity because I feel like it gives me more options for counterplay against my opponents, but that complexity can also be overwhelming and even unnecessary at times. I will cover those things more in depth with later posts. For now, we’re just trying to learn some of the basics.

Expect Longer Games

I am going to stress this first and foremost. I have heard a lot of complaints about game length for both League of Legends and DotA. While I have often been the source of complaints about LoL game length, I really like the longer game length in DotA. My biggest problem with game length in LoL is that the first 20 minutes is just one big farm fest. It’s not particularly interesting and often feels tedious. DotA has a much more active early game in most cases. There are times when it is a tedious farm fest, but the game seems to have a more balanced developmental arc to it.

You should expect an average DotA game to last 50 minutes. I would guess 20 percent of my games run longer than an hour and maybe 15 percent are done by the 45-minute mark.

Attributes versus Roles

In LoL most every champion falls under a small set of archetypes: tanks, ranged AD carries, AP carries, supports, junglers, bruisers and assassins. Some champions fill multiple roles therein, but the character type is basically determined by their skills and in some cases resistance scaling.

In DotA, heroes are divided up by their primary attributes: strength, agility and intelligence. Within each attribute tree you will see a wide variety of subclasses (the equivalent to an asssassin, for instance), but most attribute classes adhere to certain roles in some way based on the bonuses an attribute provides.

Strength: Provides health points and health regen. Strength also provides damage to strength heroes at a 1:1 ratio.

Agility: Provides attack speed and armor. Agility also provides damage to agility heroes at a 1:1 ratio.

Intelligence: Provides mana points and mana regen. Intelligence also provides damage to intelligence heroes at a 1:1 ratio.

As you may have guessed, strength heroes tend to be tanky, agility heroes tend to be carries, intelligence heroes are the casters. As I said, since this is just the basics I’m going to hold further analysis for a later post. For the most part, you’ll want to be seeking stats that augment your character’s primary attribute.

Active Item Use

League of Legends has relatively few active items when compared to DotA. That’s not a bad thing, just a fact. DotA makes use of active items to provide some of the mechanics seen in LoL through Summoner Spells, along with a few unique abilities. I would strongly suggest that any new DotA player spend some time in a custom game just reading through the store. You’ll also want to rebind your item keys away from the keypad and on to something more useful. Personally, I like Z, X and C for my top row of items. I’m sure you can figure out the rest.

A Good Place to Start

As this post is growing ever longer, I think I’m going to give it a rest and let you internalize all of this info until the next LoL to DotA post. If you want a good champion to start with, I would recommend Tidehunter if you’re interested in strength, Dwarven Sniper if you like to carry, and Lich if you want to play an intelligence hero. Those heroes are fairly straightforward but have enough power to make a big difference on the field.

DotA 2 is more than just extra mechanics

I’ve talked to a few people who have voiced concerns that DotA will be little more than a complexity buff to League of Legends, leaving players fumbling over mechanics and new champions for weeks. That may be true to some extent (although I have faith that players can pick the game up more quickly than that), but now that DotA is in Valve’s hands, there’s a lot more than just complexity on the horizon.

One of the first things I noticed about DotA 2 was the voice acting. Each hero has unique voice acting, complete with context aware clips for buying certain items, killing certain champions, or even missing abilities. Kunkka, a pirate-themed hero in DotA, casts a giant ghost ship that boosts allied move speed and stuns in an AoE on landing. It is notoriously hard to land. When the player misses, Kunkka says “now THAT was a failboat.” It’s little things like this that add a lot to the DotA experience. I know some champions in League have these kind of “hidden passives,” but to hear them for every hero in a game is really cool.

I’m not sure if this falls under the same umbrella, but I’ve also been enjoying the suggested items editor. League of Legends has gone on far too long without adding the feature. It’s so nice to not have to browse an ever-growing shop for the items I need. I find them once, add them to my build for that character and they’re available the next time I play. It’s even possible to save generic item builds that can be loaded for any character. I’m sure this is somewhere on Riot’s radar, but I would love to see it implemented sooner than later.

Machinima’s “All Your History” series covers the MOBA scene

I was really happy to receive this video from a friend today, particularly because it fits so well with the slight content shift you’re going to see at the site. Both DotA 2 and League of Legends have their roots in a game that was originally developed as a map mod for Blizzard’s Starcraft. While this video from Machinima doesn’t cover the history in full detail, it does give a nice overview of one of the fastest growing segments of the video game industry.

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