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.

 

 


HotS: A new low for Blizzard

March 23, 2015

Heroes of the Storm is to League of Legends as Hearthstone is to Magic: The Gathering, and yes, that’s not a good thing.

Old Blizzard made games that were easy to get into but hard to master. New Blizzard makes games that are easy to get into because there is little to master. Hearthstone is an ‘accessible’ card game because not only is it incredibly shallow, but luck plays a huge, often game-deciding role, so even a poor player will think they are doing fine. HotS is ‘accessible’ because most of the actions one needs to think about and make in a MOBA are removed, and what’s left is so slow and ‘who cares’ tainted it puts you to sleep after only a few games.

Before I get into mechanics, is Blizzard not capable of making above-average looking games anymore? HotS doesn’t look bad, but why is a game that is still in beta worse-looking than an older game like LoL? If you aren’t going to make the gameplay interesting, can’t you at least make something that looks better?

HotS doesn’t have a “most people play this most of the time” map like summoners rift. Instead it has a collection of what LoL usually does with short event maps; gimmick stuff that moves away from the core MOBA gameplay. LoL doesn’t keep those gimmick maps around for long because people tire of them quickly and return to the core map. HotS struggling to retain people isn’t a surprise when you ignore the core of the genre and instead make an entire game around a gimmick.

The gimmick maps in HotS are also pretty boring and cheesy. Each one is ‘collect/claim this when the time is up, cash in, move closer to winning’. It makes the fact that the game has lanes and minions comical, because they really don’t matter, and in fact are more of a distraction than a core component. A ‘minion wave’ isn’t really a thing in HotS, which much like Hearthstone and the remove of land cards, cuts a huge chunk of gameplay and strategy right out without replacing it with anything worthwhile. Its a reduction in the learning curve without any replacement at the back-end.

The intent was to kill the laning phase and have the game be all about the team fights (so basically, ARAM), only you aren’t in a single-lane map, so ‘team fights’ is just as often about moving around the map is it is about actually fighting. I don’t think trading minion last-hitting and laning only to ‘gain’ “ride around 50% of the time” is a good trade for a MOBA, but people do love mount collecting so hey, maybe it will work out for the game (spoiler: it won’t).

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the game is how sloppy it feels compared to LoL. Blizzard was known for taking an existing idea (or entire game) and adding polish. HotS is Blizzard taking LoL, making the core design worse, and then releasing it without said polish. Hero movement feels like everyone is ice skating around the map, and skill shots feel terribly off compared to the animations. Standing next to a laser beam still resulting in you taking damage, for example.

Hero design, from my limited experience, is what you would expect from a dumbed down LoL. The usual simple skills are there, while combo abilities or something remotely complex/interesting seems to be missing. Additionally, the game is overall much slower, so killing someone feels like it takes forever unless someone walks into a 4v1 situation, and even then the odds are decent they escape. An entire game might end if two heroes stand next to each other and auto-attack before someone dies. Not that it matters, because killing someone also feels completely unrewarding. No gold gain, no fanfare, and only marginal, behind-the-scenes progress towards victory. Amazingly Blizzard has made a MOBA where killing the other team doesn’t feel special, which is really saying something.

The biggest problem HotS faces is that unlike with Hearthstone and the utter lack of any competition in terms of similar titles (MtG:O isn’t on mobile, and is itself horrible as an interface for MtG), this game is walking right into the most popular genre out with a pitifully weak offering. LoL isn’t just the current king of gaming because of its depth of content and ability to draw in everyone from casual to ultra-hardcore, it’s also the far more polished experience compared to HotS, which usually is the one thing Blizzard does better than others. If HotS makes it out of beta, I’ll be surprised, because right now the game might be the worst thing Blizzard has ever produced, and that includes Hearthstone.


The not-so-short “what I’m playing” update

February 9, 2015

First, thanks to most who commented in last weeks little checkup on the MMO genre, good times. I’d say lets hope when we revisit in 2016 we finally have a F2P champion to make things a little more interesting, but lets not kid ourselves, I’ll most likely just be able to copy/paste that post over and it will remain 100% accurate.

Games roundup time!

Clash of Clans: First I can’t believe I’ve been actively (every day, and often an hour+) playing this game for over a year now. The really crazy part is I’ve spent a total of $5, and I honestly feel like I should spend more, but I have zero need. Also the fact that the game just prints money (likely now above WoW-levels) means they really don’t need my wallet-vote.

Our clan is at 50 members right now, although with a group that size its fairly common for someone to go inactive. However due to our core moving up in town hall levels, at this point we really need players who are TH7+ with lvl2+ dragons, otherwise you will have a really tough time doing much of anything in a war. That said the above requirements are fairly easy (a month or two?) to achieve, and considering how awesome the game is overall, the ‘grind’ (get it) is worth it.

Boom Beach: It’s CoC with guns! Only different enough to be very interesting on its own. In a lot of ways CoC/BB are like UO/EQ1. Sure, one is better, true to what it should be, and came first, but the other still has some things going for it. Much like the lesser MMO EQ1, BB is more PvE focused, easier, and more casual than CoC. Which isn’t to say it’s ‘bleeding customers accessible’ ala WoW during the intern years, don’t worry. There is a good deal of depth, especially when it comes to force composition and executing attacks. Base design, other than lacking CoC’s base layout tool, is something that can keep you busy for a while as you tweak placement and watch replays to see the results.

The clan in BB is currently at 25/25 members. The next increase would be to 50, but I’m hesitant to pull the trigger since its a permanent increase and I don’t know that I have another 25 people looking to join. This might change in time, but unless there are a good number of requests in the comment section here or via chat in CoC, we will remain at 25 for now.

We run Operations almost daily (24hr timer on those), which are really fun “clan vs NPC super base” events. We can clear the level 4 Op, but the level 5 has yet to be conquered. This will shortly change as our members gain power and access to more and better troops, and we collectively learn how best not to run out troops into insta-death traps.

Age of Decadence: I downloaded the demo of this game, and it’s interesting. The game bills itself as an RPG, but the more I play the more I feel its a rogue-like graphic-novel style title, with heavy RPG elements. Allow me to explain. You die a lot in AoD. A lot. You could very well die after the first decision you make, or the second, less than five minutes into the game. After you die you ‘reroll’ a new character and try again. Then you die some more.

The dying often thing is very rogue-like, as is the fact that you have so little control over death. You pick a text option, the game tells you the action you selected failed (lie to someone, try to attack someone, move to a certain location, etc), and you see the ‘you are dead’ screen (which often has very comical ‘why you died’ text). Even combat is pretty simple, with you just trading blows with someone, and it just doesn’t feel like you have a lot of control over the outcome.

The game is in early access so I’m not buying it just yet, but I will say that despite the somewhat random ‘gotcha’ aspect, the demo was highly enjoyable, and the game is something different and entertaining. You can get a feel for a the game overall in just a few hours, so I’d recommend grabbing it. Just power through the initial 10-30 minutes of ‘wtf am I doing’ learning curve in terms of UI and game basics.

FFXIV: I think I mentioned the wife and I are back playing this gem of an MMO. I need to write a longer post about it, but haven’t done so yet. It’s all the great stuff of vanilla WoW, presented in a better-looking package, with (IMO of course) a better IP behind it. Not hard to understand why it’s so successful, and still growing.

LoL: Oh LoL, how I love to hate you. The seasonal ranking reset happened, and as luck would have it during my placement matches I got the derpy derps on my teams, resulting in a silver 3 initial placement (I was Plat IV last season). S3 is I believe the ELO where the average player does in fact have two hands to play with but still hasn’t fully grasped how to use them (lower silver is the dominion of the one-handed cripples, while bronze league play is mostly just animals running across the keyboard hitting keys, or so I’ve heard). Think of a newborn discovering their hands for the first time; that’s basically the skill level in S3. Mental development for the average player also aligns with said newborn.

Now the ‘fun’ part of this is that during laning, I absolutely crush whoever I face unless they also happen to be a lost soul like myself playing with the mutants. The problem is that even with one lane dominated, the fate of the game still mostly sits on the shoulders of the team as a whole. You can’t really hyper-carry in LoL by design, which while generally a good MOBA design decision, somewhat hurts in this particular situation. Long story short, the climb back to Plat isn’t as swift as it should be, especially when the promo series to just get back into gold is a best-of-five. Lots of derp chances in a longer series.

Avernum: I finished the first game, and can happily report the ending is as awesome as the rest of the game. Total playtime came in at just over 50 hours, though I did almost all of the side quests. If you skim on those, I believe you could wrap things up in under 40 hours. Either way a great way to spend some time with a great RPG.

Age of Wonders 3: Currently playing some multiplayer with a friend, and having a great time. This is another game that needs a full post, which is coming ‘soon’, but I’ll just write here that I’m pleasantly surprised by the depth, and so far its basically everything one could ask from a TBS title of this sort.

Whelp, that post got long, you’re welcome. Also if it could stop snowing that would be neat, because as fun as snow-throwing a landing strip-worth of driveway is, doing it every other day is getting a bit old. Give me a different daily quest life, the ‘grind’ of this one is too much!


Looking back at 2014, looking forward into 2015

December 15, 2014

Time to review 2014 and make some 2015 predictions (I don’t get as fancy as some people and do two posts!)

Here are the 2014 predictions:

EQNL will have everyone loving it the first month of release. Shortly after just about everyone will be asking “now what?” and drift away.

Anyone want to comment this isn’t 100% accurate, other than the whole “release but its beta” scam?

EQN will continue to attempt to copy/paste from my design docs, and will continue to SOE them into failure.

Nope, but only because literally NOTHING happened with EQN, because SOE, so 50/50?

ESO will have a big launch, followed by a quick death (F2P). I’d like to pretend that THIS massive themepark failure will teach the industry to stop, but if SW:TOR didn’t, nothing will.

Big launch; check. Quick death; nope. Game isn’t F2P (yet?), and I wouldn’t be totally surprised to hear it has more subs than we expect (not a ‘huge success’ amount, but not skeleton-crew numbers).

WildStar won’t suck. Just throwing a dart here, as WildStar doesn’t interest me personally, but what little I know about the dev team, I like. If they stick to their ideas/goals post-release, I can see WildStar being a solid ‘niche’ MMO. We might even be calling it “themepark done right”.

Mostly wrong here, other than I think WildStar clearly is a niche MMO, although I don’t think the plan was for it to be SO niche.

The GW2 train will continue to roll, although with less steam and more heavy-handedness towards the cash shop. Such is F2P life.

I guess? So little gets posted about GW2 its really hard to follow, but I’m assuming Anet is doing something with the game?

LotRO will continue to provide us with amusing stories, perhaps selling you a character 3/4th of the way into the game, or something equally dumb. 50/50 on being able to play Sauron. 75% chance you will be able to buy the One Ring in the shop.

Guess 3/4th of the way into the game was giving Turbine too much credit. My mistake.

CCP will go bankru… haha just kidding. Best MMO out will continue to play chess while the genre learns checkers. 450k subs in 2014. Edit: Since we are at 500K already and this isn’t WoW, raising this to 600k.

600k didn’t happen, so nope. On the other hand so far CCP is showing what they can do with quicker releases, which is basically more than anyone else, and I think they are in a good spot going forward to once again return to growth after a stagnant 2014.

WoW will bounce back with the next expansion and have a strong 2014. Now that the interns are back to being interns, and the real devs are back from failing to make anything with Titan, WoW will prosper. It will also help that 2014 won’t offer it much real competition (Unless WildStar draws away a significant portion of the raiding crowd, which is a possibility). WoW will end with more subs in 2014.

Other than the WildStar bit, rather accurate.

2015 predictions:

DF:UW will shut down. The population is at an all-time low, AV is completely lost with the title, and Forumfall continues to stick daggers into the one game even trying to give that crowd something to do. I don’t see how the game survives 2015 short of a miracle turnaround or wipe/DF3 plan.

WoW will lose subs. Yea, going for easy points here. I think the WoD bounce will fade, and I’m not sure New Blizzard is capable of really fixing the game to return it to growth.

FFXIV will gain subs. More easy points. With an expansion coming, a solid foundation, and a studio not called SOE or Trion supporting it, I think 2015 will be an even better year than 2014 was for this gem.

EVE will gain subs. Again more ‘in the right direction’ thinking here, although less confident in this predication than I am in FFXIV, especially if Star Citizen launches (it won’t) and isn’t completely horrible.

LoL will continue to sit atop the gaming world. I don’t see Riot slipping in 2015, I don’t see any game challenging its popularity, and the MOBA genre has a long-established history of longevity. The eSport side of the game will also continue to grow and dominate that segment.

CoC isn’t budging either. Similar story to LoL; solid developer, solid foundation, no serious challengers, CoC will finish 2015 as the top mobile game, just like it finished 2014.

Hearthstone will continue as Blizzard’s least-successful title. A weak foundation, core design flaws, and a complete lack of long-term hook will continue to see the title float between unknown mobile titles on the revenue list, while occasionally getting a jump when new cards are released and the whale famewhores dive in, only to drop back down shortly after. Won’t be much of a factor in the 2015 eSports scene either.

ArcheAge will continue to be comically mismanaged by Trion, giving us as least half a dozen “Trion being Trion” moments in 2015.

EQN won’t release. Nor will Landmark move out from under it’s ‘beta’ tag.

The rest of the ‘that’s still online huh’ F2P junk titles like LotRO, SW:TOR, EQ2, etc will float on in who-cares-land. None will be put out of their misery, but none will move up either.

I think game funding via Kickstarter will see an uptick as more Kickstarter-funded games launch and are well received. Pillars of Eternity is the one that has my eye (and money), and the continued positive development of MMOs like Camelot Unchained will show people that the platform, when used correctly, does work.

I honestly don’t see any MMO in 2015 shocking us and restoring faith in the genre. It will be more of the same, with some good (FFXIV), some bad (pick a F2P MMO), and most being meh.


LoL – The future is here, and everyone is watching

December 3, 2014

As mentioned before, I greatly enjoyed watching much of the League of Legends world championship, taking in about two dozen or so matches (though all on replay due to the time zone differences), including watching the final matches on the big screen TV with the wife. Just in terms of pure entertainment, the product was on par with other offerings on cable TV.

In other words, if I had the choice between LoL Worlds and say, Game of Thrones, it would be a 50/50 situation (I’d end up watching both, but gun to my head and being only able to watch one… think I’d lean towards LoL honestly).

The production quality was top-notch, the matches were filled with surprises, upsets, and comebacks (though the final winner was the favorite going in, so ultimately things played out as expected in that regard), and technically the product was error-free from what I watched.

All of this is especially impressive considering the size of the audience. Riot has provided the numbers here, and again if we compare this to TV viewership, the LoL Worlds would have been amongst the highest rated shows on TV, and extremely valuable due to it catering to the highest-sought demographic (18-35 males) in terms of advertising. Network execs would KILL for those numbers in that demo for a prime-time show or event.

Consider that by far the most valuable TV property right now, the NFL, averages just under 20 million viewers per game (granted Worlds is closer to the Superbowl in terms of frequency and importance, but the Superbowl blows EVERYTHING out of the water in terms of viewership, and the Superbowl comparison is like comparing MMO success using WoW as the starting point). The average prime-time TV show averages around 7 million viewers, and more and more the viewership is NOT the key 18-35 demo.

I was going to say I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the near future, we see eSports on TV here in the US in a major way (this is already the case in Korea), but that might not happen simply because the TV model itself is a dinosaur. Pro players today aren’t looking to get on TV, they are looking to build streaming viewership numbers, which in turn result in more ad revenue and sponsorships. They don’t NEED a network or TV deal, because they have Twitch, and anyone can start up a Twitch channel. In a way it’s like how the news business has changed; in days past a reporter and the newspaper company behind him were in control of the information and when/how it was shared, while today anyone with a Twitter account can tweet and ‘break the news’. For better or worse, technology has changed the news industry, just like today it is changing the TV industry.

And because change is scary and the internet allows us to view fear as it happens, the Massively comments section does it big once again on this story. Worth reading if only for GoldenGirl, clearly a new gem to keep an eye on going forward.


Burnout is a myth

November 25, 2014

When WoW was declining due to one crappy expansion after another featuring accessibility-inspired dumbing down, some people tried to write this off as not being about the content, but just due to ‘burnout’. They would have you believe that after 1, 2, or 4 years, people were just getting burned out on WoW and that’s why sub numbers were declining. The counter point the entire time was EVE, but now you can toss WoW itself into the mix.

Related is this recent info about Payday 2. The highest activity in the game, which is now more than a year old, just occurred this October. Perhaps FPS gamers are just immune to burnout? Or maybe its because the content that is constantly added to Payday 2 is fantastic. Deathwish difficulty raised the bar and gave even the most experienced players a real challenge (or for most people, an unreachable/impossible tier, which sounds vaguely familiar to something else…), the mix of paid DLC and free updates have been solid and steady, and the game today doesn’t just have more ‘stuff’, but it has more stuff that fits and actually expanded all of the original content, rather than replace it (now where have I heard about that approach working long-term…).

LoL (4 years+, peak numbers), CoC (2 years+, top grossing app today (oddly Hearthstone didn’t show up in the top 150 for either downloads or revenue, wonder why)), DoTA2 (crazy growth this year), etc etc etc. I think you get the point.

If a game is great and keeping being great, while giving you more of that greatness, you don’t get burned out. If a game stagnates, or especially if it gets worse (hi Trion), people leave because of that, not burnout.


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