Last-hitting in a MOBA is like XP in an RPG; don’t leave home without it

March 25, 2015

Much like when the MMO genre was king and we broke down ‘core systems’ like daily quests, breaking down a core system like last hitting in a MOBA is today’s topic, and much like with daily quests, people tend to have fairly strong opinions around the topic.

As the title states, to me last hitting is like XP in an RPG; without it I’m questioning if you are even the type of game you say you are, and more often than not the removal of the system is more of a mistake than a streamlining or benefit.

Last hitting is a very simple mechanic; if you deal the final blow to something, you get the reward. Generally this relates to minions in a lane, but it also covers killing the enemy hero. Systems like assists or gains-by-proxy (XP or gold) factor in as well, either making last-hitting more important (support champion only gains their bonus gold if their laning partner last hit successfully) or less so (assists reduce the one-character power spike of a kill).

In a standard MOBA setup with laning, last-hitting is a competition and gameplay driver during the laning phase. You need to not only watch the health of your own minions and correctly time your attack, but at higher levels of play you also watch the health of your opponent’s minions to better predict their actions and to make laning life for them more difficult.

One reason people don’t like last hitting is due to the fact that it’s a living scoreboard. If you are in a lane and have half the creep score of your opponent, even if the lane is 0-0 in terms of kills, everyone can see you are being crushed. Sadly we now live in a time when pointing out that someone is losing is a bad thing, and many are quick to get offended or defensive when their failure is put on display. Without last-hitting, someone who is 0-0 k/d is doing ‘fine’, and can’t be directly blamed for the game going south.

Last hitting is also something that, on paper, sounds so simple, yet in reality is extremely difficult to truly master. As you increase in skill level, your mentality goes from trying to get the last hit to ensure you don’t miss a minion in wave. The very act of scoring the last hit on every minion in wave is difficult on its own, but when you also factor in a laning opponent who knows what they are doing, and suddenly things go from difficult to seemingly impossible, or you find yourself on the wrong end of laning exchanges more often than you are comfortable with. Factor in overall map awareness and jungle pressure, and it’s almost a requirement for the actual timing and prediction of a last-hit to be second nature to a player at higher levels of play.

Removing this level of complexity, and the near-endless decision points it introduces in every game, is a massive change to the base game, and unless its replaced by something equally solid (which it is not in HotS), you end up with a simpler game that is easier to master and shallower at the deep ends. Worse still, you end up creating other problems. In HotS, since last-hitting isn’t a thing, ‘laning’ isn’t nearly as important, and specifically keeping an eye on any one minion is completely pointless. A ‘minion wave’ is less of a factor, and when standing in a lane far more focus is placed on the enemy hero since you don’t care about the minions. That might sound like a good thing initially (more direct hero fighting), but constant fighting the other champion, especially if the result is 0-0 (more likely in HotS than LoL due to damage/health scales), gets boring very quickly, and doesn’t create interesting gameplay or player decisions.

To me someone not liking the actual gameplay of last-hitting is like someone not liking questing in an RPG; at some point it’s not so much the game as it is the player needing to find something that better fits them. Just like an RPG doesn’t need ‘fixing’ by removing quests, the MOBA genre doesn’t move forward by removing last-hitting, at least not without a suitable gameplay replacement.


HotS: Shut up newbie

March 24, 2015

First, we have one spot open in our CoC clan, “Supreme Cream!”. If you are at least TH7 with lvl 2 dragons and a functioning brain, feel free to apply and just mention the blog. Also the Boom Beach Task Force has two open spots as well; Hardcore Casual. No requirement on that as BB is more casual than CoC, so the braindead are welcome!

Moving on, a few follow up points from yesterday’s HotS post:

If HotS is your first MOBA, I would expect you to enjoy it, but that has more to do with you finally playing a MOBA rather than specifically playing HotS. Imagine if your first-ever MMO was current-day LotRO. You’d enjoy it more than a seasoned MMO player because all of the normal MMO stuff would be new to you, and only after some time would you come to realize that LotRO is a pretty poor MMO.

MOBAs until LoL were the hidden gem of gaming, and the core ideas behind the genre are solid and great. There is a reason DOTA was such a popular WC3 mod for so long, and why LoL today is the top game out year after year. The model works long-term, and HotS doesn’t appear to destroy that model (it does, but that’s not something you will notice immediately). Much like I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in someone telling me LotRO is amazing because you can group with other players to complete quests, people who haven’t played a MOBA before saying HotS is a lot of fun should be taken in the correct context. Not saying you’re wrong, but… you’re kinda wrong.

The “Blizzard wasn’t aiming at LoL” argument. This goes back to the Hearthstone discussion about that game being a bearly-top-50 mobile app. Old Blizzard didn’t release niche products; they made niche products/genres mega-hits and mainstream. If the argument for New Blizzard with both HS and now HotS is that New Blizzard is just aiming at a little slice of the pie, that alone shows how far Blizzard has fallen. Also I’m not sure investors on the stock market would agree that Blizzard is the little guy just hoping to attract a niche audience to one of its ‘different’ titles.

I think it’s more accurately to say that with both HS and HotS, Blizzard simply missed the mark and created two sub-par games. Games that area very easy to pick up, but also very easy to put down due to a lack of depth, a quality previous Blizzard titles always had. And with both games not having a box price, and business models that rely on long-term retention (and continued spending as the dev teams continue to work on them, although I’m not sure I’d call the Hearthstone support ‘work’), that’s a big problem.

Shorter games: I haven’t played a HotS game under 20 minutes yet, while I believe the average ARAM in LoL is less than that, and I’ve personally had plenty end in 15 minutes or less. The surrender time in a ranked game is 20 minutes as well. Worse still, every game so far in HotS has taken that long regardless of what is actually happening. Very close game in terms of kills? 20ish minutes. Complete faceroll? 20ish minutes. It’s almost like what you do in the game doesn’t matter, which linking back to Hearthstone, is perhaps the New Blizzard design mantra? Creating games where player action matters as little as humanly possible?

Same for the community; don’t confuse people not caring to flame you because actions don’t matter with somehow the actual community being better. Let’s not even get into the whisper spam from bots/hackers that doesn’t happen in LoL but is rampant in HotS already.

Where HotS is facing an even bigger challenge than Hearthstone is that we have direct comparisons to other games. People got very upset when I compared Blizzard’s mobile game to the top mobile game out (oh how crazy of me!), but at least there they are very different games. HotS is a very poor LoL, and there is no denying that. Regardless of how much you try to explain the ‘Blizzard twist’ on HotS, it’s a MOBA. And in the MOBA genre, updates are expected to come quickly and with solid depth. Mechanics get tweaked, skills get adjusted, and new heroes are released. Blizzard can get away without updating Hearthstone for months (as is currently the case, in the last few months exactly two cards have been tweaked and NOTHING else has been done with the game), but that won’t fly in the MOBA market, especially when said MOBA is already a kiddie pool of depth banking mostly on a gimmick rather than core gameplay.

That rapid update requirement is going to be a big problem for Blizzard when HotS underperforms, especially after you take into consideration how slow in general Blizzard is about updating anything. How big is the HotS team going to remain when things go south? And how quickly will whatever players the game has left begin to jump ship when the updates slow due to the dev team getting cut back?

HotS is shaping up to be a rather beautiful disaster, one that will be fun to watch unfold.

 

 


FFXIV: People are nice due to design

February 19, 2015

I haven’t done an update post about FFXIV since our return, in part because I wasn’t sure what to write beyond “Playing FFXIV again, still the best themepark out, still has that WoW-vanilla-but-in-2015 feel”, but this post from Loire is a good jump-off point. Go give it a read, including the comments section.

The answer to why FFXIV has such a great community (and it absolutely does) is a large mix of factors, but I do believe the most important or dominant factor is the slower combat; WoW-kiddies and others with that mentality get turned off by it, which helps to filter them out of the game. Related to the slower combat is the need to spend mana or other such resources carefully (ala vanilla WoW) rather than just having basically an unlimited pool like in current-day WoW (so I’ve heard), so having to actually think (not being ‘accessible’) during combat is too much of a barrier for some.

Another large factor is the focus that FFXIV has. It’s not a ‘be all to everyone’ MMO. It owns the fact that it’s a PvE themepark. That’s what the game does, and each update is focused on making that aspect better rather than ‘expanding’ the game in random directions (PvP, unrelated mini-games, side-show mobile-like stuff). This again is important because it not only filters out everyone not interested in being part of a PvE themepark, but it also retains those who do want that, which is just as important. Having a solid core of veteran players is critical for an MMO, and you can’t achieve that core if your MMO only lasts for a month or two per content cycle.

In addition to those two, there are a large number of smaller but also important design decisions to keep the game worldly and active. In FFXIV you don’t progress through zones as much as in other games; you often have a lot of reasons to return to a zone, which in turn means lots of zones feel ‘alive’ with activity, rather than being consumed by a locust swarm of players before being abandoned and forgotten.

Having one character that can switch quickly into an ‘alt’ class is huge as well for all of this, in addition to keeping you online with your one identifiable character that draws you into more social opportunities. That both crafting and gathering is done as a class with its own level and gear, rather than just a skill bar that goes up, further drives this design angle home.

FFXIV being a massive success is also great news for the genre, because the game is yet another example that if you make a quality MMO that has a focus and sticks to that focus, you can attract and retain a large audience. You don’t need to dumb down or make things ‘accessibly’ to draw in millions, and if you continue to deliver quality updates, you continue to justify charging a sub for that content. In many ways, FFXIV is a reminder of how the genre works when you are able to make a quality product, rather than an average-or-worst product that then relies on its business model to separate fools from their money for as long as the smoke show can be maintained.


AA: The true spiritual successor to UO

September 30, 2014

With the lead weight that is Trion and F2P covered yesterday, let’s start digging into WHY you should tolerate Trion and play ArcheAge anyway, because yea, you should be if you enjoy virtual worlds and smart MMO design.

I always go back to this point, but for me the perfect MMO is basically a great RPG game that doesn’t end and greatly benefits from the fact that you are playing with others. It’s because of this that I inherently dislike themeparks over virtual worlds; a themepark MMO has an end, and it also has a preset path you travel along to reach that end.

When this is done well you get quality themeparks like 2005 WoW or FFXIV, which can be very entertaining but ultimately not hit the highs of a great virtual world. Nothing a themepark can do will ever top the best moments in games like UO or EVE for me; by design they simply aren’t capable of such highs, and so themeparks in general are a ‘waste’ of MMO development time compared to crafting virtual worlds.

To call ArcheAge a ‘sandpark’ is selling the game short, or getting an EG-level of experience with the title and claiming you ‘get it’. One flaw AA has is that its first 15-20 levels, which in retrospect are basically an overly long and probably unnecessary tutorial, are classic themepark questing gameplay, and if you don’t know better you might think that is actually a major part of what AA is about. But it’s not, not at all really. It would be like saying mission running in EVE is a major focus of the game, with the other bits being side activities, and hence EVE is a ‘sandpark’.

The truth is that AA is very much a virtual world, and it is indeed a modern-day version of UO. Where UO had very rough “bring the NPC here” ‘quests’, AA has all the questing mechanics and systems of today’s MMOs covered. Where UO had basic crafting, AA has crafting depth deeper than most titles in the genre, and crafting that isn’t a tacked-on mini-game but rather a core feature. Where UO had effective yet simplified combat, AA has all the lessons learned about modern tab-target combat included. Where UO had basic but open character building, AA has a very refined skill-tree setup, with a good mix of options and tradeoffs. Where UO had a large but somewhat unrefined world, AA has a ‘zones without actually being zones’ world, one that feels open yet at the same time organized, focused, and interesting.

Some or all of those points might be covered in future posts, but that’s AA in a nutshell; a virtual world MMORPG the feels like it was made in 2014, with 17 or so years of MMO lessons learned under it.

AA also feels like an MMO made by someone who has actually played an MMO before. For instance, players start with the ability to recall, which works just like it does in most MMOs; use the ability, and you get sent back to your bind spot for free. Simple yet useful. But AA also gives you a teleport book, which has all of your discovered teleport spots, along with a tab for your personal locations (such as your house). To teleport, you must have a craftable item in your inventory, and rather than moving you to the spot, a portal opens. If you jump through the portal, you teleport. Simple again, right?

Only if you have been paying attention to the genre, your first thought should be “someone is going to open a portal in the starting area to a death trap and grief new players”, or “someone is going to use portals to make PvP a complete cluster”. And if AA was made by someone who had never played an MMO, like say SOE or Trion, portals wouldn’t require you to JUMP through them rather than WALK through them. But XLGames made AA, and clearly at least one person there has played an MMO, and so they added that little yet critical tweak to something as basic as moving around.

Plus if SOE or Trion were in charge, not only would the game have gone live with the grief portals, but then the fix those clowncars would have added would be to make portals only work for the player who summoned them, killing another awesome feature that AA has going for it; being able to open a portal for your whole guild/group, and regardless of level or if someone has that location or not, everyone being able to travel together without the usual hassle and, wait for it, play together in an MMO. Mindblowing! And this is just one of many examples of AA feeling like a ‘next gen’ MMO, rather than telling us it is in some manifesto and delivering yet another generic and completely forgettable themepark experience. A title that has learned from previous MMOs and feels like it has actually been designed to not neuter, limit, or ‘make everything accessible’, but just solve the previous issues or flaws while still retaining what made the original ideas so great in the first place.

Speaking of feel, AA has that feel of playing to progress forward, without ‘forward’ being some developer-defined thing like a level cap, or a certain item level, or clearing a certain tier of raiding. It feels similar to playing EVE, that feel of always need more ISK, but not needing to always do the most ISK-effective activity just because the game or the devs laid out the path that way for you. I might not have a clear plan for the eggs I gather from the chickens on a farm, but damnit, gathering those eggs IS progress, however big or small it might be. And if a day comes where I can’t stand the thought of gathering another egg, or watering another plant, I can stop doing that completely and, so long as I have another income stream, never be forced to do that activity ever again while still being able to progress forward.

That is sadly the all-too-rare ‘feel’ of a sandbox, the ability to progress forward in a number of different ways, without any one way being the ‘right’ or the ‘required’ way.

Finally, don’t believe the lies and misinformation spread by some, because while AA certainly has a good amount of PvP-focus to it, it is even more limited than EVE in just how open that PvP is. Should you choose so, you can avoid PvP completely and still quest, farm, trade, and progress. Up to level 30 all questing zones are protected (you can attack enemy players and flag yourself, but they can’t attack you), and within those zones you can set up a house or a farm, complete trade runs, harvest, fish, etc. Even further zones change from allowing PvP to not, so a trade route, house, or farm placed in one of those zones could still be tended by someone looking to avoid PvP so long as they enter when the zone is safe (which is visible from the world map).

Your risk vs reward ratio won’t be the same as someone who does head into more dangerous territory, but AA is far from the fully FFA PvP experience of games such as Darkfall or Mortal Online. As stated above, this is yet another example of the game clearly learning from previous games, and rather than taking the easy or limited route, there exists a nicely working balance that caters to many different types of players.

Ultimately I believe AA is worth your time if you are looking for a solid virtual world experience. It’s not without flaws, certainly, but especially in a genre with such slim pickings, it’s easily one of the better-crafted experiences outside of New Eden.

 


DF:UW – Being right isn’t always fun

August 28, 2014

One of the better inside jokes around here is the concept of a ‘Jesus patch’, because all too often the fools tossing that term around are talking about an MMO that has either shut down or is a shell of itself. One of the best/worst example of this is/was Darkfall 1. To this day you will find forumfallers who will tell you patch X was a ‘jesus patch’ for that game and caused a ‘surge’ in population. It’s comical, and also a bit sad.

So how is DF:UW doing post ‘jesus patch’ (released 6/10/14)? Woops. I believe the term ‘off a cliff’ would be accurate?

And to make things about a million times worst, that pre-patch population spike was due to the stacking of a Steam sale, the introduction of a buddy key system, a ‘welcome back’ weekend, a PLEX-like system addition, and a bit later multiple “breaking the economy long-term for short-term gain” massive loot buff weekends, plus AV was on its best behavior in terms of communication (overrated) and patching speed (pretty important).

In other words, AV basically fired every bullet in the gun all at once, got a good number of people into the game for the first time in a long time, that crowd saw what the ‘jesus patch’ was really about, and basically everyone and then some left. Even Forumfall moves along at a crawl now, to the point that keeping up with it can be done in 30 minutes or less per week.

To save the game (if that’s even possible at this point), AV needs to pull what CCP did with Incarna, basically roll back the giant mistake that was the removal of classes, forget that ever happened, and return to what, despite being implemented half-assed, was giving them a slowly growing population; getting the economy under control and focusing on producing sustainable content that fit the theme of the virtual world they originally set out to create. They won’t do it unfortunately. At this point they are too far down the rabbit hole that is the current, oversized arena PvP-for-the-sake-of-PvP disaster that the game has become.

Again, its sad, even from the outside glancing back in.


Pathfinder Online: Everything but the game is looking awesome!

July 16, 2014

I was recently talking to a friend about Pathfinder Online, with the gist of the conversation being that I love everything about the game on paper, from the design docs to what the devs have said, but actually seeing it in video is a complete no-go for me, and what that ultimately means.

On the one hand, ‘gameplay’ is a rather important aspect of any game, if not the most important. If what you are doing in the game isn’t actually fun most of the time, what kind of crazy person must you be to keep playing?

As crazy as most EVE players?

I mean, how much fun gameplay is there in many of EVE’s activities? Is mining ‘fun’? Are missions great gameplay? Even the high-point events like massive battles; for the average F1 pilot, is the gameplay really that great? I think most of the above can be answered with a “no, but…”. And that ‘but’ is huge (rimshot), because while mining is either boring or relaxing depending on perspective, it feeding into the best economy in the genre is a large part of what makes it such a popular activity in the game.

If Pathfinder gets the economy right, if it has interesting/worthwhile crafting, etc, would the fact that it has rather poor mining ‘gameplay’ matter? Because at this point I’d rather take poor gameplay but solid, sustainable systems over the opposite. If I just want great but shallow gameplay, I’ll play something other than an MMO.

Of course some of the gameplay has to be good/great. In EVE PvP can be thrilling, and at the highest levels (Alliance Tourney) it’s as deep and skillful as anything else. Pathfinder is in alpha still, so maybe the combat/gameplay will improve significantly, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t fully rule it out, even in the shape it’s in today.

(That said, please for the love of god improve the gameplay Goblin Works!)

 


Risen is a surprisingly great open-world RPG you should play

July 7, 2014

I’ve been playing Risen since returning from vacation (picked up in a Humble Bundle pack a while back), and I’m very pleasantly surprised by the game. I went into it expecting/hoping for an “80% of Skyrim” type of experience, and while in some ways this is true, in a few key areas I think it trumps even that masterpiece.

I actually loaded up Risen somewhat on a whim, as I was looking over my Steam collection and noticed that over 40 people I’m friends with own Skyrim, which is far more than just about any other game (only Civ V comes close). Needing a little break from TBS titles like Eador, and having done just about everything in Skyrim itself, I figured I’d give Risen a shot.

This won’t be a full review (here is an excellent one that says a lot of what I would), but rather just some observations, mostly around how this game is and isn’t like Skyrim.

Graphically Skyrim is far superior, but then again it’s also the newer game (Risen came out in 2009) with a lot of mod support focused around making it look even better. That said maxed out Risen doesn’t look bad, and I think it’s graphic style has aged better than say ES:Oblivion, particularly character faces. Even a bit dated, Risen will sometimes surprise with a great looking vista or atmospheric cave/tomb.

I have a same-but-different love/hate relationship with the combat, similar to Skyrim. Initially I thought Risen combat was clunky and frustrating, especially because the game can be so difficult (more on that later), but the more I play the more I appreciate fighting different monsters, using different weapons, and getting a ‘feel’ for things. Killing a tougher monster through successful use of combos, blocks, and dodging can be a fist-pump moment, which I think says a lot about the game overall but specifically about the enjoyment of combat.

The biggest difference between Risen and Skyrim to me is the setup of the world you play in. While Skyrim is almost too open-world, Risen jumps between keeping you restricted to one area for a bit of time to letting you run free around the island (though highly limited based on monster difficulty).

I think my favorite example of this is design in Risen is the placement of monsters. Just outside a cave you will find easier monsters like wolves, and if you kill them you can loot a chest they were near. If you go into the cave you might encounter a ‘higher tier’ of monster, and if you manage to kill them and go a bit deeper, you might find an even tougher challenge. The important part here is that unlike many other games, the ‘monster tiers’ in Risen are pretty harsh. An easier monster might need to hit you 10 times to kill you, while you only need to hit it 2-3 times. A ‘normal’ monster might take 5-6 hits, killing you in about that many, while a tough mob will drop you in 2-3 hits, and will require 15+ hits to kill. So while a tough monster isn’t impossible to take down, it sure is damn hard, and when you come across a location with 3-4 of them, you know this is a location you should come back to later.

What I love about this design is that the game doesn’t force you to stop. You can try and power through that tough monster (or have its AI bug out for a cheap kill, which occasionally happens), and if they are related to some future quest, you will actually get credit. More than once I’ve gotten a “quest complete” message while randomly exploring and killing/collecting stuff, and to my surprise, Risen is smart enough to not only give you credit, but also have the related quest NPC dialog handle this situation (“I want you to go kill X” “I’ve already done it, here is the proof” “Well, you work fast don’t you” is dialog that happens in Risen).

Speaking of characters and dialog, I must say I like them more in Risen than I did in Skyrim. Skyrim too often wanted to be epic about something, but came of kinda silly (a lot of the main quest, IMO). Risen feel authentic to me. Everyone is stuck on this island due to the storms, they are all bothered in one way or another by the monsters, and the two major factions dislike each other for solid reasons. Some character are smart about what they want, others are selfish, but I’ve yet to come across anything that feels majorly out of place or disconnected from the game. The voice acting and writing is also top-notch and pulls you into the game, rather than shaking you out of it.

Finally, while Skyrim never felt exceptionally difficult due to its world scaling with you, Risen is one of those “save before every fight, reload a bunch on anything tough” type of games. You will die, a lot, but that also makes finally beating something tough so much more rewarding. I also like that failure isn’t always ‘game over’. For example, I upset a local leader in one location, and to teach me a lesson he had all his goons attack me. Anytime I got close to one of them, they would agro, and most of them were too tough for me to beat at the time. They would beat me in combat, knock me down, take some gold, and walk away with an insult. Once all his goons got me once, the local leader’s dialog reflected this, which was not only excellent but made me really want to get at the bastard when I got stronger.

To tie this all together, I went in just hoping for a budget Skyrim, but instead found a different, and at times better version of the open-world RPG that Elder Scrolls is famous for. Risen isn’t an outright better game overall (Skyrim’s giant pile of content, and just overall polish, are very tough to beat), but for anyone who enjoyed Skyrim, I would say it’s very well worth your time.


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