Morello offers up design direction


A couple days ago, Morello took the time to write out some thoughts on design direction for the future of LoL. It sounds to me like Riot has some good ideas, but there are a few issues built into the design direction that I find important.

Here’s the most relevant part of Morello’s post:

So while a player’s first few games with a new champion should make sense and they can get to “I didn’t completely -suck-” in these few games, we want the “do well/own” portion to come in with more practice, mastery, and understanding the champion’s little idiosyncratic deatils that makes you a great player compared to an average player.

Love it. Absolutely love it. This is why I really liked Orianna on release. She was fun, but challenging – a whole new way of thinking about the game. Since her release there haven’t been any similar champions, but I’m glad to know there may be more coming down the pike.

Morello calls this kind of design “optimized nuance.” It’s great for the game, but it needs to have a place, and nuance isn’t really what League is about right now, at least not at my ELO. Right now the game is about safety. That’s what the massive health pools and the support lanes are all about. Safety.

The good news is, if Morello really wants to introduce optimized nuance, he’ll have to also change up the metagame, and that’s a very desirable design direction.


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.


LoL: The Flash change (Yordle Stompers)

Alistar will be so happy.Riot snuck another change into the latest Test Realm patch, one we’ve been waiting on for quite a while. The patch introduced the Yordle Stompers, a new pair of boots with a Movement Speed 2 buff and an active that you’ve known up until now as Flash. Yes, Flash on boots.

The boots are expensive – 1400 in total – and obviously take the spot of one of those other pairs of sneakers you love. Personally, I think it’s the best option other than removing Flash completely. It forces players to make a choice between the utility of a Flash (on a 240 second CD, by the way) or the functionality of dodge/CC reduction. It also opens up player options for summoner skills, so characters that previously had to rely on Flash can now make some more interesting choices for their two skills.

If you want to see more of the community feedback regarding the boots check this TR thread. It’s worth reading through to see some of the opinions and the response from the devs. I really like the idea behind Phreak’s post. The basic gist comes from an article written by another game designer who says when there’s only one best way to invade France, you start the game after that invasion. I think that’s the problem overlooked most in game design. It’s not interesting when one spell, skill, rule, build, loadout, whatever is ubiquitous. It kills the variety of a game. It’s the difference between Halo 1 and Halo 2. Halo 1 it was pistol or nothing. While 2 still made heavy use of the Battle rifle, you always had the opportunity to take a strategic point with dual-wielding or a well-placed shotgun blast.


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