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).

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.

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.

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