Good morning, class is in session, so I hope you brought something to take notes with, since this one's important!
Today we're covering flaws, holes and gaps in champion design.
At first, you may think we're aiming to plug these. In reality, we're actually seeking to ensure they exist!
Confused? After this article, hopefully you won't be!
First off, we need to cover why having "holes" in your champion design is an essential part of it.
Second, we'll discuss some major things that don't work all that well as being these "holes" and should be avoided.
Third, we'll then go over roughly what kind of balance of holes you're looking for in relation to filled holes.
Finally, we'll finish up with pre-planning your design to make it easier to set up these errors before you even finalize your ability loadout!
This is possibly one of the most important out of all of the design concepts within this guide, so let's get started quickly!
Part 1: I can do anything you can do better, I can do everything better than you. ~Irving Berlin
It may sound strange, but you actually want to have gaps in your character designs, and especially in a game that needs to be balanced for actual game play.
Consider a champion that has literally everything they require, in their kit, to perform their role. They have no need to buy items, no need to choose between masteries, runes, or summoner spells.
This allows the champion, once inside the game, to do far too much with no real drawback. While this may sound good, it really ends up being boring.
Instead, a healthy character design, whether it's a champion, or a role playing character, or one for a book, it doesn't matter, will have advantages, and disadvantages. They will have limitations, but also shall they have strengths to counteract those.
The old 2nd Edition AD&D player's handbook put it in a rather eloquent way... the worst thing that you could possibly have, is a character who's equally good and bad at everything they do. Ie: Boring.
Consider Superman... gawd I *HATE* Superman. And Star Trek Voyager, for the same reason. In both these situations, they've been given, over time, so many new abilities and powers, tricks and ways out of messes, that they really just... aren't interesting any longer.
In a narrative, such as a TV show, movie, or novel, you need conflict to occur, be it with the character's inner self, their environment, or other characters. The problem is, if you have a character (or ship), which has been provided so much power that they don't fear anything, they can't really have any conflicts with anything *BUT* themselves.
After awhile, this gets pretty boring. Every episode and every issue then becomes explaining why this near-perfect being or crew, or whatever, is unable to do the same thing that got them out of it the last time. You write yourself into a corner, and have no where left to go. This is why Star Trek Enterprise and the new movie were both prequels (all subsequent, new material would be stuck with decades of baggage from previous series), and it's why Superman is stuck with the same kind of situations every time. Oh noes, Kryptonyte. Oh noes, someone kidnapped peoples I care about and put them on opposite sides of the world so I have to choose one or the other.
Actually, I'll stop right there, because that's my point exactly. Superman doesn't have any choices left to make in his life, such as "do I work on making my good qualities even better, or smoothing out some of my rough edges?", because he doesn't have the ability to do either.
As such, he's stuck being forced into situations where he has to make an artificially generated choice, such as picking between two people to save that are too far apart from each other to save otherwise.
Star Trek Voyager, is saddled with a similar problem, where every episode is the same thing, and reads as follows:
Originally Posted by Every bloody Voyager episode. EVERY. ONE.
"We're under attack!"
"Quick, go to warp to run away!"
"Oh noes, warp engines offline!"
See, the problem with this one, is they have beaten every adverse situation they've come across, but have done so in so many ways, that they have to now go through an extensive list of explanations as to why none of this other stuff will work like it did the last time. You blow half the episode explaining plot holes, and the other half is spent on cheezy soap opera drama. There's no room left for new and interesting content to be added.
This all makes sense. Honest.
See, your character design for LoL, will run into this same situation, if you're not careful to ensure you have some kind of drawback. A champion that "does it all", is flat out boring.
A champion that has strengths and weaknesses, gives a player opportunities to make decisions, and control their game play. They can choose to build glass cannon, or dump on extra defensive power.
In champions like Vlad, you don't really get much option to work with. He doesn't have mana, and he doesn't have need for much of anything other than AP, of which, many AP items have mana on them. He doesn't need to build much for defensive items either, since he already has abnormally high health and a remarkably good amount of sustain and escape capacity.
Is he overpowered? No. But he's boring. There's no real choice, no option, no wiggle room with Vlad. He's a bad design because he's not a character to be played in a game.
Game play involves the player interacting with the game itself. If all you do is watch it play itself, then you aren't really playing a game, you're watching TV. It's "interactive in the way that a book is interactive because you have to turn the page to continue the story", which is a perfect quote in reference to the "game" Dear Esther. Which, honestly, had no actual game play.
Don't make this mistake. Ensure that your champion has to have some kind of choice made!
Part 2: She said "Sure, I'll be your partner, but don't make too many demands". I said "If love has these conditions, I don't understand those songs you love" - She said "This is not a love song, this isn't fantasy-land". ~Cold Fire, Rush
As per the quote, even unconditional love has conditions. So, too, does your champion's gaps have conditions.
Yes, you need to restrict them from doing "everything". The quickest way to fail miserably in designing a champion is to give them the capacity to do "everything" without restriction. The second quickest way to fail miserably in designing a champion is to fail to provide them with the basic tools necessary to do their job.
Now, that being said, figure out what you want your champion to do. Then, list the things they need to be capable of to fulfill those desired things you want done.
An example of this is, the standard melee champion build. (Check back on page three for additional examples)
A melee champion absolutely needs a way to get into melee, to stay in melee, to deal damage in melee, and to survive being in melee range.
If you give every last one of those things to your champion, you've probably made a huge mistake, and they're going to be awfully boring to play.
Instead, pick some stuff to let go, so that they have to go elsewhere to get it. In this example, there is a good choice, and a bad choice.
The good choice, is either survival, or stay in melee. The bad choice is getting into melee or damaging in melee.
Without damage, they may as well be a support or a mage trying to pretend they're melee DPS, so there's no benefit to playing a champion lacking in such as a melee DPS.
Without a gap closer to get into melee range, your champion is in deep trouble, because there are no items which allow this, and no masteries or runes will help. Flash can, to a degree, which is a large part of why it's taken so often, but it's a huge, long cooldown, and can't truly cover this flaw in a champion, so... virtually all melee champions now have a dash, teleport, or other gap closer, because they're pretty much useless if they don't have one, 1v1, which is where melee champions are supposed to excell.
The benefit of survival, is many attack items have a bit of defensive power mixed in with them, especially health, so it's not so great to give health to a melee champion, but rather, give them magic resistance, generally. Their biggest threat at that point is being chain-CC'd and peppered with an endless spam of spells. Letting them survive that to a degree, with spell shields (Nocturne), magic resistance (Xin Zhao), or some other effect, makes them able to perform their job better than if you'd just dumped more health on them.
For staying in melee, that's an easy one. Frozen mallet. It gives health, for survival, a little bit of attack damage, and ensures that no one is ever running away from your champion again. Yes, it can mean that your champion may be stuck with a forced item, so this is not the best choice, really, to give, because it's honestly a false choice, which is something Zileas would be quite GRRR at you for adding to a design. Saying "you can choose any item build you want! But... no, no, not that one. Every build has to look identical to THIS." is not a real choice.
Anyway, the point here, is to ensure that you actually provide a list of options for the player! Without game play, there is no game. Without the player interacting with their champion, and making active decisions, the game isn't fun, because it's not a game any more.
Make a player pick between emphasizing their strengths, or minimizing their weaknesses. This dichotomy ensures the player feels like they have a real say in whether they live or die.
In the end, you have to ensure that there are choices for the player. Go back to the first page if you need to brush up on choices. The short version of it, for those who need a quick refresher, is that you can't "make" choices; all choices already exist, it's just some of the possible choices are less appealing than others, and your goal is to weight the choices a player can make to cause certain ones to be more enticing than others.
Ideally, you want two or more choices to be equally enticing, forcing them to actually make a conscious decision on which choice is better.
Your end goal in this phase of champion design, is to ensure that the player has something they have to decide upon. There's an infinite sea of possibility, but only a finite puddle of plausibility. Pick two or three things your champion wants to do, and then limit them to being only partially effective, or lacking entirely.
The trick, as always, is to never restrict them from the things they can't replace, or it's pointless. Removing a gap closer on Olaf was one of the biggest mistakes this game has ever had, and no matter how powerful he gets, he'll always be lackluster because he has no way to fill that gap.
By leaving a hole, you are intentionally providing the player something they have to choose to fill, instead of simply boosting something else. It's the glass cannon dealie... do you want to live long enough to do damage, or kill them so quickly they can't fight back? Pick one or the other dependent upon personal taste and the enemy team.
If you remove a core feature that can't be replaced, however, you're not actually generating a decision for the player. Olaf can't decide to build a gap closer or to enhance his ability otherwise. The fact of the matter is... he can't do anything to ever make a gap closer. It's 100% forever lacking from his list of things he can do, and no matter how tanky he is, Ashe is always going to beat him in a straight up fight unless he gets someone to help him. Sure he could tear her apart if he could ever get in range, but there's no way in hell that he's ever getting close enough to lay a finger on her, even if he somehow manages to land his pathetic excuse for a slow.
To put this in simple, blunt terms... you're leaving a hole for your player to fill. If they don't have the tools to fill it, you've done nothing to benefit your design.
Part 3: The problem with the balance between life and work, is that we were lead to believe it's possible. ~Actually this was pulled from "powerfulwoman.net" and re-translated to be more fitting to everyone. The concept is still pretty sound.
As with the article I was looking at out of sheer curiosity says... it's not a consistent balance. There is no singular point where your champion will be perfectly balanced with the right number of flaws to the right number of benefits. Every situations is different, and every new design a brand new balancing act to be juggled.
This is why design is so complex of a task, likely more so than any other aspect of this guide. It's not the numbers, it's not the power of the skills, and it's not making stuff interesting. It's that nothing you do is ever going to work the same way twice, and you have to be constantly reinventing the wheel on a regular basis.
Every single new champion has to be remade from scratch. That ability that was so cool that you wanted to use in a previous design but couldn't, and you now want to use on a new champion design? Unfortunately it doesn't fit quite right with the new champion, either, and you have to make endless adjustments to the other abilities to make it work, or to hack away at the original ability to force it into a shape that will actually fit the space you have set aside for it.
For a general rule of thumb, however, you need at least two things your champion has to do, which are possible to be itemized for, to both be a bit weaker than ideal, so that they have to consciously decide which of these has to take priority.
Everything past that point, is basically up in the air.
Seriously, I can't really give you complex and intricate models of how to do this part, because they literally change drastically with every single design. There is no "right" way to do it that universally applies. In fact, sometimes even the "wrong" way can work for your particular design, despite that it normally shouldn't.
What I can tell you, is that all rules are optional. There may be penalties for breaking a rule, but the rule exists for the sake of doing something. If the rule fails to allow for that something to be done, then the rule is what needs to be changed.
This means sometimes you might actually be able to leave a single, highly important part of your design completely absent, so long as they can't just ignore all else to pump it up and still be effective.
You need to emphasize decision making on the player's part here. Everything you do in this phase of champion design must cause the player to reconsider things, and make it harder for there to be a "one, true build".
In the end, this is in your hands, not mine. Use your imagination, and think things through as to whether it will be possible to build your champion in such a way as to make them effective, without covering all the bases too easily. This is the key difference between what makes a champion top tier, and bottom tier; their capacity to do "everything they need to do".
So long as you keep that "perfect build" just barely out of reach where they can't have it all, then you've done a good job. Just don't keep everything so far out of reach that they can't have any of it, either.
For now, simply work on the next section, because it'll probably be what leads you towards doing this part correctly on your own.
Part 4: Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress. ~Planning (despair.com)
So, here's the plan...
Yeah, we're actually covering planning. I've mentioned it a lot, but this is the section when it's needed the most.
Your design for your champion is going to be difficult to wrangle into being fun and possible to balance without some capacity to plan out in advance what it is you're trying to do.
Before you even start planning, however, you first need to pre-plan the plan!
Sounds redundant, doesn't it?
In reality, it's more of a much needed step that will single-handedly increase the quality of your designs considerably.
The first step is simply to lay out the things you need to know about your champion. Things like what their purpose is, their methods of doing such, the key features they'll need to cover to accomplish those methods, and so on and so forth ad nausium.
By having a layout of required information, you can then ensure that the things you need to have are all there. This way, if you're lacking something, you're at least aware of it, and can go back and fix it before carrying on further.
Setting up intentional flaws in a champion's design is a very lengthy and extensive process; you don't just make a bunch of abilities, then walk back and edit out some stuff at the end and say it's "good enough".
Instead, you need those flaws built into the design from a core concept level for it to work right, in the end, otherwise you seriously risk removing something that you weren't really able to remove, or you break something in the process, and spend far, far more time fixing up continually cascading problems that resulted from removing a primary support structure.
In short, it saves you time and energy to do things right the first time, then it does to do it the wrong way seventeen times in a row before getting it right.
When you're working at a game company (or any other job, for that matter), things are on a budget, not just for money, but also for time. You only have so much time to work with; the halloween skins have to be out for halloween. If they're out a week later, it doesn't matter how awesome they were, they won't sell and the time and effort that went into making them is 100% wasted.
Fortunately, you don't have that kind of time budgeting to worry about on the forum here. Even so, why waste hours of work on literally nothing? You could've spent that time polishing up your design and making it that much more awesome, and instead you simply spent that time fixing mistakes that shouldn't have been included in the first place, and once they're in, it's harder to rip them out than it is to install them in the first place.
Think of it as a car being built, I suppose. If you have a problem in an area that's not easily accessible, you might have to rip half the chassis apart to get at that one tiny spot, or you may have to rip the whole engine block out just to reach one small problem. If it was still under construction, with the engine block not even installed yet, and you noticed the flaw? You can walk right over with ease of access and fix it quickly and easily.
The same is true of your champion designs. As you add on layer after layer of new information, they become more and more complex and interwoven. One ability plays off another which weaves into your stats being set a certain way, which leads to other effects being intentionally left out, which in turn locks down other choices as well. If you suddenly go back and pull out one piece, you have to either rebuild everything that it was supporting, or dig your way back through the design a piece at a time to reach the part that's broken.
As such, you want your gaps and flaws worked into the original design, long before you even consider their final stats.
This means breaking down your abilities to the core concepts behind what you want those abilities to do, and going "Alright. I have a tank... I want my tank to be great at drawing fire once they're in the fight, but a bit on the weak side for initiation to counterbalance that".
Before you even know what your abilities actually ARE, you should already know roughly the outline of what your champion is intended to do, what their key traits will be, and what they're going to be lacking from their design.
Now, once you have this laid out, you then want to go in and start filling out abilities witht he stuff you've already decided needs to be present, while leaving out the things you've decided should be excluded.
This process ensures that your abilities will always be balancable, so long as you think far enough in advance around your concept's strengths and weaknesses.
It doesn't mean they will be *BALANCED*, it just means that you'll at least be physically capable of balancing them. The previous version of stealth wasn't possible to be balanced, as it was a binary function; it was overpowered if active, and underpowered if not. Sad part is, the new stealth remake didn't actually fix that problem.
In any case, this kind of a setup means you at least can fix your champion so that they can be balanced, not that they are already. You'll still need tweaks, and you'll still need to make adjustments, but I can guarantee you that you'll find it much easier to make them work smoothly if you first make sure all the pieces fit together from the start.
Now, from this point, you can begin work on actually making your champion itself. You have it laid out on what needs to be done, you have the rough outline plotted of exactly what kind of mechanics you're hoping to use to get those effects, and just need to work on fine tuning after that part, honestly.
If something goes terribly wrong, such as an ability turns out to be too strong... well, as long as you have that original layout of what you're trying to accomplish hanging around, still, you can go back and fix it by realizing that you have a concept of what the feature you're trying to fix is supposed to do.
This is kind of difficult to explain, so let's use an example.
If you give your champion a stun, and it turns out to be too powerful, you might have previously just changed it in for a slow, which is weaker, or tried to lower the duration of the stun. At that point, you probably didn't understand the idea of why it didn't work, or what effect changing it would have.
Hopefully, by this point in the guide, you now are planning things with intent, and your pre-plan states that you need the stun specifically so that your enemies can't run away.
With that in mind, you now know that a silence or a root would probably be almost as effective as a stun, but both provide options for the enemy to at least attempt to escape, which gives the enemy at least one option on how to counteract your champion, which helps prevent it from becoming overpowered.
If you root them in place, they can still cast spells to shut you down long enough for their escape, but if you silence them they can run. In both cases, they can hit you back with physical attacks.
If, however, you decide that you really just don't want them fighting back? You can implement a new "pacify" style CC which prevents them from using auto-attacks or spells which deal damage, but allows them full motion and the ability to cast spells related to motion only, but which may disable damage aspects of such, like letting Kassadin still teleport, but for 0 damage.
As you can see, so long as you know what your ability's purpose is, you can replace the ability by making a new one to meet the same criteria. So long as the criteria you set is sound in the original design, you have a lot of leeway to work with.
Plan things out and think about why you're doing anything. Why did you give your champion a stun in the first place? Why not a root? Why not a silence? Why not give them zero CC at all? What is the purpose behind them having the ability loadout they have?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, then you're probably not going to be able to ever make your champion design a good one, because you don't even know what you're doing. I don't mean in the sense of "you're unskilled or untrained", but rather, I mean that you literally don't know what you want your champion to do, so it's pretty hard to make them actually do what you want if you're not even sure what it is in the first place.
While you could probably have gotten away with most of the stuff in this champion design up until this point without careful planning, this is the part where we change from just randomly throwing ideas together, and start making truly informed decisions. From here onwards, you're going to be learning how to build your champion from the ground up in the most detailed and important ways. It requires some really complex and deep understanding of mechanics and design in general, but with this stuff, you'll finally have the tools you need to turn your champion from just being a generic design, into one of the best this forum has to offer.
Tomorrow we have work to do. Important work. This is the line where you go from being "some random person on the forum" and become "that awesome poster who always has ridiculously epic win ideas!".
For now, rest up and study hard on what you've been fed for information to this point, because we're stitching it all together in these next two pages. You might actually want to go back and re-read the first three pages to make sure it's fresh in your head before continuing on, even.
For today, though, class is dismissed!