Some old and (mostly) broken LoL mechanics

I would never expect a decent LoL article to come out of a radio station, but I suppose as games gain traction in the media we’ll start seeing some decent content everywhere. A Grand Rapids station put together a quick list of 10 old mechanics in League of Legends that were (mostly) broken. It’s an interesting look back at the game if you haven’t been playing for more than 6 months, especially since the post includes video.

I’ll say my favorite “remember when” from this list is the old brush system. Dear god. Riot was one brush-crazed company back in the day. That shit was everywhere. Innervating Locket was also an interesting item, though several strong characters made it ridiculously broken. I didn’t mind it terribly much on Gragas, mostly because AP Gragas is so much scarier than pure tank Gragas. Locket Udyr though? That was broken. Pair Udyr, Sona, and Gragas, get them all to buy Locket and you have one unstoppable push comp. As annoying as it was to see that comp played, I have to say, it added some flavor to the game.

Head over to the WGRD station for the rest of the article.

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.

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.

Viktor Impressions

Viktor.

What better way to make my return to the MOBA field than with my impressions post for the newest champion in League of Legends? I’ll tell you. DotA 2. Yes, I’m finally in the beta, but more on that later. For now, let’s talk about the man-machine, Viktor.

You may remember Morello announcing that Riot had plans to introduce more complicated heroes and mechanics into League of Legends over the course of 2012. Viktor seems to be the first of that wave, adding a new item-based skill customization along with a somewhat complicated skillset. While I love the idea of adding more complexity to the game, the actual gameplay needs to support mechanically complex heroes. With Viktor, that just isn’t the case. Hopefully we’ll see more playstyle changes to League as a whole. If not, complex heroes will simply be outshined by champions like Annie and Brand, champs that deal huge damage through a simple set of skills.

Personally, I haven’t enjoyed my time with Viktor, pretty much for the reasons stated above. His skills are too complicated to use without enough benefit for using them well. I feel like I have to work twice as hard for kills that would be easier with many other champions. That’s not all bad – champions with a decent skill ceiling are usually enjoyable to play. In most cases, though, high skill ceiling means knowing when and how your skills should be used, not just that it’s difficult to land them. That’s Viktor. His beam can be very difficult to land in a chase situation – it’s certainly easy to avoid – and without augmenting his stun, he can be pretty easy to outrun.

That said, he has some insane burst. When all of his skills land, he hits hard. His ult works essentially like Tibbers, dealing a big burst in the beginning and a damage over time as it “churns.” With an augment on his beam, he’ll one-shot most any carry.

I don’t think Riot’s going to need to change him much unless a streamer unlocks a truly godlike build/playstyle. Viktor does things that a lot of other champions in the game do, it’s just that all of those things – his stun, his big damage, his AoE power – require a lot more effort than similar champions. He’s also just not all that exciting, which is why I think I haven’t seen him picked much. If I compare him to Fizz, I see one champion with an interesting skillset that adds a couple new mechanics and has a high risk/reward threshold, and one champion that plays like most AP casters. I’ll leave you to sort out which is which.

Riot Kills Mac Client, My Remaining Faith in Their Customer Service [RANT]

Note: This is the rant version of a post on communication I wrote earlier today. This is centered on Riot’s Mac Client shutdown. It is long. If you’d rather read suggestions for solving the problem, here’s the link to my earlier post.

I’ve been trying to give Riot the benefit of the doubt over the past 6 months. I got a bit cynical for a while there, but the bottom line was that I was enjoying their game, a game that experienced such explosive growth that very few companies could possibly have maintained, and if I wanted to play with new friends they could jump in the game for free. All of that is great stuff.

There were a few bumps along the way – we were promised things we never got. We were promised reparations for some customer services snafus and never got them. We’ve been promised new features for more than a year and they still aren’t here. But today a friend of mine sent me a thread that trumped it all and effectively killed any remaining faith I had in Riot as “the most player-focused game company in the world.” As of this past Tuesday, Riot officially killed the League of Legends Mac client.

I’m not here to bitch about the disintegration of the Mac client. It had been unsupported for months, and though it ran, some fairly serious problems would pop up from time to time for many of the users. I understand that maybe it was just more work than it could ever be worth, or that it just might never get to an acceptable state. I get that. What I don’t get is the method Riot used to communicate the change, the way rewards are being handled, and the message Riot is sending to a portion of its playerbase.

Forums have a couple problems, not the least of which is the amount of data they generate. Important posts get buried and can be incredibly difficult to find again, and that’s only for the forums you actually read. When a platform has been unsupported for months, chances are good that players stopped reading the Mac Client forum. Hell, who says they were even reading it in the first place? I know for a fact my brother didn’t read it, and the Mac client was the only way we were able to play LoL together since his PC died.

Then there’s the timing. The announcement was made on September 2nd. The shutoff date was September 6th. That’s four days. Four days. That has to be a joke. It’s not just that the notice window is so small, it’s also that the consolation prize for Mac testers can only be verified within that window. Here’s a quote from Tamat’s post:

Riot would like to give all active participants in the Mac beta a code that unlocks the Champions Pack, as a token of appreciation for the time they have dedicated to helping us evaluate the Mac client and our sincere apology for not being able to have the testing work out as originally planned. To qualify for the reward, you must have a majority of your logins come from the Mac client, and you must login to the Mac client and click on the Store button between Friday, September 2 and Tuesday, September 6.

So if you aren’t actively reading the Mac Testing forum (which is probably most people) and don’t log in for four days, you get nothing but a giant middle finger to stare at. This might not affect millions of customers. This might not affect even a thousand customers. It will affect some, though, and the message from Riot to those players is loud and clear: We don’t want you. Despite the time you spent testing the stillbirth that was our Mac client, we’re only going to offer a thank you once, and only for four days.

It’s pretty easy to imagine a situation in which players wouldn’t be able to log in for four days, or that they might choose not to. You know, like if they had been planning for the end of a season that was delayed without explanation. If they made the grind to Bronze or Silver or Gold status and then decided to check out other games while they waited for those rewards to come through. Gee, wasn’t that also a holiday weekend? You don’t think anyone may have been traveling or otherwise away from a computer that entire weekend, do you?

Well, we actually don’t know the answer to that because, as far as I can tell, Riot hasn’t been back to that announcement thread since Friday. I say “as far as I can tell” because that thread is now more than 100 pages long, and I’ve only been through about 30 of them. I would use Riot’s DevTracker, but it’s actually more polluted than the thread itself (more on that in today’s earlier post). I would use CL Gaming’s redtracker, but I can’t filter for the Mac Testing forum because, again, no one reads it or posts in it.

So I’m done. I’m done digging through thousands of forum posts for information that should be easy to find. I’m done assuming Riot knows best. Most of all, though, I’m done believing that somewhere Riot has a plan, that when the timing is right they’ll let us in on it, or that they’re actually in touch with their playerbase at all.

Come at me, most player-focused game company in the world. Prove me wrong.

Today I learned how big League of Legends truly is

Shrimp Tacos

My girlfriend and I are headed on a road trip up to Ohio this coming weekend to spend 10 days or so with our families. We’ve been preparing for the trip for the better part of the week so far – buying snacks for the road, doing laundry, all the boring stuff you do before a road trip. We also wanted to get together with some friends before taking off, which tonight meant dollar tacos at a local bar. They’re good too – way beyond fast food fare, replete with cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of cheese.

A friend turned to me at one point during the meal and said, “I just read that League of Legends has 15 million subscribers. That’s huge, right?” Granted, he knows that’s the game I write about, but he’s not a particularly avid gamer, and certainly not a PC gamer. Still, he not only knew the game, he knew the numbers, and that speaks volumes more than any number could.

To say that League of Legends holds a special place in the gaming industry would be a gross understatement. At the beginning of the week, Marc Merrill gave us proof of the game’s success in numbers so big I couldn’t begin to break them down. My conversation over dollar tacos tonight gave me tangible evidence of LoL’s unique position in the industry.

I’m tempted to quote Spider-Man here, but I think I’ll just say this: keep earning it, Riot. Riot earned my loyalty to the game by honing one of the most energetic and aggressive new genres into an excellent play experience. To keep my loyalty, they need to give us something great for Season Two. I absolutely think they can do, but I’ve also been burned before, and that’s not a good feeling going into Season Two. Here’s hoping the game gets the support it needs. Here’s hoping that six months from now I have random people rattling off news stories about a game over dinner.

The next great MMO: I need a game where the mechanics don’t break my immersion

World of Warcraft UI.

With any game, I always hit a point where I cease to be immersed in the game as a world and start thinking about the mechanics, the way the game actually works. In Counter-strike, it was the day I learned to jumpcrouch. Suddenly this game-changing mechanic turned me from a terrorist running about desperately trying to stay alive into a hopping ball of impossibly accurate death. In Halo, it was the way grenades would explode once they sat still. I perfected grenade trapping on every map, so there was always an extra burst of damage where and when I needed it. With Oblivion, it was discovering that I could beat the game at level one by choosing primary stats and never leveling them up.

WoW suffers from this immersion problem as much as any game. Creating a class for the first time, you rarely think about the different racials. If you’re going to PvP, though, it’s obvious that human is your best choice. I always loved Beast Mastery on my hunter because I got to have a big scary pet and, in Wrath of the Lich King, unique pets, but when Blizzard nerfed BM damage into the ground, it pretty much killed my favorite way to play the class. Hunters lost a lot of flavor for me that day, and it was because of a mechanical change.

The thing I’ve always loved about MMOs is the flavor of the different classes. While I love to try different things, I’ve always been a player who settles into the class I enjoy most and really identify with. Every time mechanics intrude on my class immersion, I wonder how the next great MMO will deal with it. I started taking a look at RIFT recently, a game that has been getting a lot of positive attention in its beta phase. To me, the game looks too much like WoW for me to seriously consider it. If I’m going to pay a monthly fee for WoW or a game that looks an awful lot like WoW, I’m probably going to stick with WoW if only because I have so much time invested in it. Still, I was trying to keep an open mind on RIFT, until I read the talent trees for the different classes. They’re basically the same kind of boring crap you get in Warcraft. Increases your spell haste by 3 percent. Increases your damage from this spell by 10 percent. Gives you a chance to get a free spell cast. None of that stuff is fun or flavorful – it’s all mechanical. It helps your name climb up the damage meters. It doesn’t make the game any more interesting than it was before you put your talent point there.

My hope is obviously that someone will find a way to blend flavor and mechanics for an MMO, but it’s going to take someone with serious vision. I think a lot of developers confuse depth with complexity. League of Legends is a great example of a deep gameplay experience without a super complex experience. The fact that my hunter in WoW has 50 action buttons on the screen seems to me like a design failure. With so many different skills, I’m immediately sucked out of the game to worry about where to put my latest macro. While the four button approach for LoL may be too slim for the MMO experience, there has to be some happy medium, one hopefully much closer to four buttons than 50, that allows me to engage with the game world intuitively and simply enjoy my class for what it is.

The importance of community involvement

Tol Barad.

If I had to pick one thing I love about Riot, it wouldn’t be the frequent champion releases, the skin sales, the contests, the fact that they provide a free game, the commitment to not sell power, or the long overdue Garen nerf (I am really happy about that last one, though). Out of all the things Riot does to give us a great game, the thing I love above all else is community involvement.

Of all the developers I’ve seen, I can comfortably say that Riot does the best job of staying involved with the community and using the forums to quickly and consistently address player concerns as soon as they’re on the radar. Sure, there are a few places the Riot staff has dropped the ball, and the occasional trolling still upsets me, but by and large, Riot’s pretty great about keeping the player base informed about the design that goes into a game.

The reason I decided to write this post today is actually because of Cataclysm. I know not many of you are playing, so I’ll try to cover the issue as briefly as possible. Blizzard made some major adjustments to the PvP system, most notably the way that you progress and earn gear. The honor system still exists but, unlike every other number system in the game, there has been point deflation. Items that used to cost tens of thousands of honor now cost 2200, max. A five-piece set of PvP gear now runs a total of 9900 honor. Obviously, battleground rewards have been scaled back, so players are earning less total honor, but about the same percentage related to gear as was the case in Wrath.

Cataclysm also introduced another world PvP zone named Tol Barad. Like Wintergrasp before it, Tol Barad offers raid access to the faction that controls it, a fight for which is waged every two and a half hours. When it launched, the defending team had a massive advantage and was able to win nearly 100 percent of the battles. To counteract the issue, Blizzard increased the reward for successfully attacking Tol Barad by a factor of 10, literally. The assaulting faction now receives 1800 honor (more than the cost of several of the pieces of gear) for a victory instead of 180. It’s a big problem because it has artificially inflated the gear level for a lot of PvP players and made running battlegrounds seem paltry by comparison.

The design issues this change raises belong to another post. The interesting part for the purposes of this post is that Blizzard hasn’t responded to the change at all, despite the fact that it just went live this past Tuesday. The latest blue posts are a full two and a half days old, one of which says we should look for a blog post after the new year discussing the design direction for Tol Barad. I realize two and half days isn’t that long, but this is prime playing time for a lot of people with the holidays in full swing and this change has already had major impact on the game, an impact that might be compounded if the fix is to re-nerf the rewards. It basically nullifies the gear reset for anyone who makes it to 85 after the change gets reverted.

I have never wished Phreak was a Blizzard employee until now.

The holiday happenings

Noxus vs. Ionia.I hope you all got to enjoy a lovely holiday (those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, anyway) and have the good fortune to slowly get back to work today. I woke up early to get caught up on all the goings on over the weekend. It was nice to spend a few days unconnected, but I always start to feel a bit panicked when I see more than a hundred emails, a slew of comments, and all the forum posts/RSS feeds I have to catch up on. I’m getting there, slowly but surely. A lot went down over the weekend so let’s get caught up, shall we.

First, we got Trundle’s official skill list. I’ll be covering that in another post today. Riot also teased what is likely the Olaf legendary skin, Brolaf.

Next up, Riot joined in the Black Friday madness by offering several champions at reduced prices and deeply discounting several skins. My personal favorite is the Grungy Nunu sale, which brought him from 975 RP down to 243. The sale goes until the end of day today so make sure you get to spend some RP.

Riot also prepped for the Noxus vs. Ionia event, for which select summoners will be representing the two nations as they aim to resolve their conflict. I think this is a pretty cool lore-based event. I’m always happy to see the game offer a limited field of champions. It definitely makes things more interesting. You can read more about the event at the official forum post. A livestream of the match will be available on December 10th.

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