Class is in session. Sit at your desks, prepare to take notes, and don't forget to leave the instructor an apple. I also accept apples in the forms of pies, strudels, and $20 bills.
Now then, let's start off here!
Today, we'll be covering... lessee... according to this, we'll be covering Design Philosophy.
There's a few major parts to design philosophy, so we'll be covering the following.
First off, we'll discuss the genre of MOBA games, and why they present entertainment value in the first place.
Second, we'll then delve into the idea of the exertion of vital powers upon others. IE: why people like to win.
Third, we'll briefly touch on what happens when a player feels like they aren't included in the game, for one reason, or another, and why this is bad. Included, also, in this section, will be the idea of anti-fun.
Finally, we'll cover the concept of changing the design based on new information. This sounds pretty obvious, but it really doesn't happen nearly as often as it should, for a variety of reasons, which will also be covered.
Part 1: Moba moba, bo boba fett, banana-nana fo phobia, me mi mobius, mobas!
That's right, I just ruined your childhood. It's alright though, because we're going to be making a better one for generations to come!
The MOBA genre, originated, as far as can be told, back in the days of StarCraft, in the Aeon of Strife map. The idea hasn't really changed much, since then, other than getting a face lift, or a little bit of Botox now and then to fix up the wrinkles.
Interesting Fun Fact: Botox stands for Botulinum toxin. This is a naturally occurring substance, and is the most toxic substance known on the planet. Roughly 4kg, or about 8.8lbs, would be enough to kill every single person on the planet. Think about that the next time you want to get your wrinkles smoothed out, or when someone says "all natural is good for you" ^.~
Now then, the basic idea of the genre is actually an evolution of tower defense maps, wherein waves of NPC (non-player character) monsters throw themselves against your base, and you build towers to defend against them.
In the MOBA variation, thereof, there are two equal sides which are continually throwing equally strong forces against each other, locked in a perpetual stale-mate. At least, that's the theory. slight variations in terrain and travel times, however, leads to the Purple team, if left alone long enough, to win in LoL every game, hence the term "nerf purple caster minions".
These two sides clash endlessly, with no real end in sight, however, is the point. DotA uses this concept, as does every other one in the genre. Sometimes there are more than two teams, but the end result is always the same: a stalemate.
This is where champions and heroes come in. That's you, the player character.
The two teams get a number of players to help out in the fight to destroy the world tree, or the nexus, or the glazed MacGuffin. Whatever. These champions start off relatively weak, and over the course of the game, grow in strength, until they're able to butcher the generic, low level minions, with ease, and kill the enemy base.
Note that I state, specifically, to kill the enemy base.
Many people still haven't grasped this fact, but the whole point of a MOBA is building demolition. It doesn't matter, honestly, how many kills you get, if your nexus is dead.
To that end, everything is balanced around that assumption. Killing Baron Nashor, in LoL, for example, is a benefit in that it gives your team gold for items, health/mana regen for sustained assaults on a base, and generally just makes it easier to kill the enemy base.
Killing a player isn't really worth much, other than the fact that it does three main things:
1: It grants the killing player(s) additional resources (experience and gold) to better kill the enemy players and base with.
2: It significantly slows down the enemy team. In DotA, you lose gold when you die. In LoL, you just stay dead for a long time, is all.
3: It buys you time to further your end goal of destroying their base.
Note that number three, on this list, is in bold for a reason. If you're losing the game, but manage to ace their entire team, it means there's no one left to defend against you. I've had a number of games where one side was losing, then one person does something which is a bad idea, such as being overconfident, and having the carry try to attack the entire enemy team solo, gets CC'd into the ground, and dies. At this point, it's a 4v5 fight, without a carry on one side, and it turns into a 0v4 when the base fight occurs. The team with people still standing push hard, and kill the enemy base with no one to hold them back.
If you don't make use of the time granted to you by an ace, you're wasting it. Running back to base to heal is pointless when you know full well that there won't be anyone alive to shoot you for the next 60+ seconds, which means you have no reason to return to heal or shop. That's the time you bought to push and kill their base with, where they won't be defending it, and it doesn't matter how weak you are.
Everything comes down to killing the enemy base, before they kill yours. Killing a player only benefits your end goal of killing their base, and nothing more, really.
Many players don't realize that point, but as a champion designer, you have to be acutely aware of this concept. Even if you're building a champion with the express intent of killing other players, the point, in the end, is that you're killing those players to open up their base to attack. If you design a champion who can kill a player's champion, then either that champion you made has to be able to kill their base, on their own, such as Master Yi, or they'll have to kill the enemy team so thoroughly that the enemy won't be able to contend with your team in a fight, so that, even though your champion sucks at killing a base, the person on your team who doesn't suck at it, will still be alive, due to your tank, your support keeping them alive, or your assassin having killed the enemy carry so they couldn't kill yours in turn.
The fun in this kind of match up, comes from a few things.
First off, there's a lot of strategic decisions in play. In ranked games, you get to ban champions, and pick them in groupings of 1-2-2-2-2-1, where first pick gets one champion of choice, and second pick gets two to make up for only having one. The idea is that this is a strategic choice on which champions counter the ones the enemy team played. Vayne counters high health targets and squishies, anyone with sustained healing counters Vayne, ignite counters healers. On and on it goes. Anything that can lead to a long term strategy, such as itemization or countering an enemy, are considered to be strategic.
Adjustments to how many bans there are, in relation to how many champions there are, are a big deal, especially if certain champion types have few new choices. There have been dozens of new damage champions added to the game, but only a handful of tanks and supports, and these have been, for the most part, lackluster compared to the originals. Tweaking the number of bans directly affects the choices in this matter, as it's possible to completely ban all supports from a game, if both teams are insistent upon the concept. As such, strategic elements must be very carefully monitored, as a tiny adjustment can make a huge change in game play.
The tactical game play is another important part of why it's so much fun. Being able to plot ambushes, ganks, counter jungling, back doors, and so on, are all important tactical maneuvers that are part of the game. Note that when Riot removed the Fortify summoner spell, they were directly adjusting the value of back dooring, and this had to be taken into account when making that decision.
Tactics are generally short term, spur of the moment decisions, which grant one a particular advantage at that moment in time. Doing one gank is a tactical operation. Building your entire team composition around ganking, with the express intent of crushing the enemy team very early on, and pushing for an early win before their carries can feed up, is a strategy.
Anyway, these two things are very important to how fun the game is. Other factors, such as progressing in leveling, and team work, are other major components of why the game's fun. There's a thousand things, but some stand out more than others, as can be seen below.
Part 2: You fight, fight without ever winning, but never, ever, win, win without a fight. - Rush, Resist
So, what makes a game like LoL so fun, and so frustrating, at the same time?
The same thing that exists in any competitively natured game. Winning.
More than that, is winning on even terms. This sounds a little silly to many people out there, who simply want to "win", but honestly, this is mostly due to these individuals not having thought it through all that clearly, yet.
Consider the "game" Progress Quest. You press a few buttons at the start of the "game", to create a completely 100% arbitrary and meaningless character, and then it goes off and plays the game by itself, with no further interaction from the "player" at all. Literally, there is no game play to the so called "game". You watch the numbers go up, and have no interaction with them at all.
So where's the fun in that?
Admittedly, it's kind of amusing, but only on an idle scale, and not something to really "do". Even if you were to "win" at a game like this, there's no real challenge. No effort, no purpose, you'll never truly get a sense of satisfaction at having defeated a difficult task or problem.
In a non-competitive game, such as Co-op vs AI, there's a set difficulty. That difficulty doesn't really change, and once you can surpass it, you will pretty much always surpass it, other than in rare circumstances, such as getting a bunch of new players when you're playing around with a ridiculous joke build, like AP Caitlynn.
In a competitive game, since you're fighting other people, you always have to be at the top of your game, since the enemy team is an unknown quantity. They may be better than you, or they may be worse. They scale with your own capabilities, due to ELO rankings, and will generally give you a good run for your money.
See, a bot is only a bot. No matter how good you make a bot, it's limited to being as good as it was programmed, and can never surpass that point. A player can learn to be just as good as you are, so no matter how good you think you are, there's some one out there who can match you toe to toe, every time.
A close game, where you have to fight for every scrap of advantage to win, is what puts a player on the edge of their seat. This increases a lot of the capabilities of the body, triggering a large set of advantages which were designed primarily for survival purposes. Heightened reflexes, greater peripheral vision, and so on, all contribute to your capacity to make the correct decision quickly.
Getting into a game that really puts you on the edge, is where the real fun of the game lies, and this is achieved through having the teams be as close to equal in power as possible. When you're being trounced, there's no fun in a losing battle that it feels like you're not having an impact on the outcome at all. On the other hand, winning with nary lifting a finger is kind of bland as well. The smurf/twink players out there, who make new level 1 summoner accounts, and kill newbies, really aren't that fun to play as. I've helped out a low level friend, but to be honest, it's boring. When you can rip through the entire enemy team, without even paying attention, why bother?
As such, you want to ensure that your designs for your champions are as balanced as possible. People often go "don't judge numbers, just judge concepts!".
What generally makes a champion OP or UP, isn't really their numbers, so much as their capacity to do a number of roles entirely too well. If you gave Master Yi a root, along with the rest of his abilities, he'd be flat out overpowered. It doesn't matter if the root is "fair" at only 2 seconds duration, which is below average for a root, especially compared to Ryze and Morganna's 3 second roots. He'd simply be too powerful because of everything else he can do.
Your design has to be one that can be fair to play against. If they're too strong, they're boring to play as, after the first few initial wins go through. If they're too weak, they're just as boring to play against, because they're not a challenge to beat.
It's all an intricate balancing act, as the end goal, is to win a tough fight, that took everything you had. If they were barely worth the effort, it's just kinda "meh", and if you didn't stand a chance from the start, it's still "meh".
So, this segues nicely into our next section...
Part 3: Evelynn, I heard some of the other champions saying you were good for free gold and exp, but don't worry! I stood up for you, and told them you were good for nothing!
Just because you win or lose, doesn't mean it wasn't a fun game. If it was a close, tight match, that's where it really mattered most.
So what happens when you get stuck in a situation where it feels like you have no options?
We've all been there, at one point, or another, where we go back and think about what could have been done differently to have prevented the situation, and come to the realization that we literally did nothing wrong, and it was a fluke, blind luck, a glitch, or some other situation in which we flat out could do nothing to prevent it.
League of Legends has a philosophy of attempting to reduce these situations as much as possible. To any attack, there is generally a counterargument in kind. Physical damage gets armour, magical damage gets magic resist, stuns get tenacity and a veil, or cleanse/quicksilver sash. Even Vayne's silver bolts are countered through lifesteal or healing, which is why my tank Sona build slaughters Vayne 1v1 to many a Vayne player's chagrin.
The point of the matter, is that to every action, there must be the capacity for that action to be nullified, or at least lessened to a degree in which it matters.
Armour gets countered by armour penetration if it's overly stacked, the same scenario on the magical side of things. Carries are countered by stunlocking them down or using burst mages to one shot them. Mages are countered with bruisers who can shrug off the initial damage, who are killed by carries that are protected by a tank long enough to do their damage.
In the end, any action must be able to be countered somehow.
So... what if you have something that can't be countered?
Consider a powerful mana burn effect. Let's say it does 500 points of mana damage, and 1/2 of that mana is dealt as damage. Sure, it's only a 250 damage burst, but against a non-mage, it's brutal. Fiora suddenly becomes horrified that she's now close to 100% useless, and Annie finds that she can't just cast Tibbers 3 seconds later, like a silence would, but now has to leave the battle entirely, since she was sitting at half mana to begin with.
This kind of overwhelming attack strength with no real counter is not allowed in the game, because it's just not fun.
Stunlocks are a problematic area in here, because they're counter intuitive.
See, a stun is needed to interrupt players, and for some champions, like Tryndamere, it's literally the only real counter they have. Go ahead, stack 400 armour and see if Tryndy really cares. I've done it, and trust me, it barely annoys him, because he just kills the rest of your team instead, and if they all go heavy armour based, he just counters all of it with a single item, and your damage output is nil because of all that wasted itemization.
There needs to be things like stun locking in the game, but on the other hand... this also leads to the issue that a player who gets stunlocked really has no recourse, except to build against it, such as merc treads and a QSS, or a Banshee's Veil. Even then, it's sketchy sometimes.
How much stun lock is permitted into the game? It's obviously needed, but it's not particularly fun.
Killing someone who couldn't defend themselves, no matter what they did, is entertainment only for psychopaths, and doesn't really provide a challenge worthy of recognition. Getting killed without a hope of escape, no matter what you do, is also pretty boring, especially if it's on a low enough cool down that there's no way to prevent it.
Things like Veigar's ultimate are broken, in that they don't really show why the damage was increased, nor do they have an obvious counter. "Counter this ability by turning your AP carry into a tank instead, thus negating your entire job" is not a valid counter to employ.
While he makes for a good counter-pick in champion selection, in terms of the actual game itself, it just doesn't work like it should.
Several of the older designs suffer from mistakes, such as these, which have been slowly been phased out of the game, but some do still linger, while it's decided what to do about them.
Completely reworking Tryndamere to not have his ultimate would, indeed, fix the issue of needing to stun lock him, but would leave him far too vulnerable to that very same stun lock, which would also need to be fixed. And considering there are other champions, who rely on being stun locked, it would just lead to more problems than it would fix, and would take months of repairs to contain the collateral damage, while hemorrhaging players in the mean time who are upset, as they wait for a fix.
Eve already got this treatment, and that's only because they needed her removed from the game temporarily while fixing the stealth system. Unfortunately, after her nerf, but before the stealth remake was done, the person working on the stealth remake left Riot, leaving them with their hands tied for far longer than intended.
Anything which can't be adequately defended against is, simply put, not fun. A player must always be given the opportunity to at least TRY to escape. They may not always make it, but they have to feel like there was that chance. This will be covered in more depth in section 1-08: Choices.
This idea of abilities or effects which are "not fun", or, as Zileas put it, "Anti-fun", must be considered and weighed carefully.
The benefits of the fun added to the game, through an ability being introduced, must outweigh the amount of fun removed from the game in the process. In the case of a strong mana burn, or an instant-kill ability, neither is capable of doing this. A great deal of fun is lost, but only minimal is returned.
If we give someone an insta-gib attack, which instantly kills a player, regardless of all other factors, it doesn't really matter what the limitations on that ability are, anymore. That ability is now only going to provide a minor boost of fun to the attacking player, as it's like swatting flies. It gets boring fast, and is more of a nuisance, than entertainment, after the first few moments. For the enemy player, on the receiving end, it just flat out sucks.
As such, it can't be considered a fun ability.
Making abilities which are really strong, but have severe difficulties in hitting, or which just have disadvantages piled heavily on top of them, really aren't that interesting.
Consider a spell that does say... instant kill! But wait! It's alright, because it fires only in a straight line, and travels very, very, slowly, and is easy to miss!
But... that means that it's kind of boring, because it either is useless, because it never hits, or it's overpowered, if it does hit. There's too big a gap there.
For something like Nidalee's spear, the idea of something which is weak to start, but the harder it is to hit with, the more useful it becomes, ends up being a mixture of skill for both players involved, as they have to play against each other. The damage does sting, a great deal, but on the other hand, it's a risk vs reward. An enemy player has an easier time to dodge, if it'll do more damage. This leads to increased game play for both players, as they are actively working with each other, and the consequences of failing on either side, while notable, aren't without capacity to minimize the effects.
Nidalee has a low cooldown already, and can lower it further, still. Enemies can get some magic resistance, or get a banshee's veil, to eat the first one when it comes sailing out of the fog of war from the jungle. Either way, it's able to be negated, to a degree.
Make sure that any abilities you add to your champion have a way to be interacted with by an enemy. Make absolutely sure that you avoid adding in abilities that are severely penalizing, with no hope of escape. Compare how fun something is, to how much it sucks to be shot at by it. If you would hate to face off against your champion, then you probably need to make some adjustments on the design.
Part 4: I do not like green eggs and ham!
Sometimes you're wrong. It happens to all of us, even the "greats". Stephen Hawking was absolutely certain that the universe would go into reverse and get sucked back together again in a neat, orderly concept, such as a tea cup falling off a table, shattering, then playing backwards and going back to a tea cup again. It was too complex, however, and the coefficients of some of the constants of the universe meant that it wouldn't have the gravitational force to pull itself back together, but the idea was neat. Shame it didn't work out, however.
No one gets through life without screwing up. We're going to break something, eventually, no matter what we do. We're going to have some awe inspiring idea, that will turn heads, and then someone's going to poke a hole in it, and it's going to deflate like a blow up do...er... I wasn't saying anything.
Moving along, the point is that stuff will go wrong, or we'll get new information, or something will change, and we'll have to change ourselves, and our designs, to compensate.
What works one day, may not work the next. My own champion design, Nemhain, used to use a new resource system I'd dubbed "BloodThirst". At the time, there were no other systems in the game which could do what I needed it to do. Since that time, Shyvanna was released, and Tryndamere got an overhaul to rage, and the rage system, with some tweaks, is now able to be force fit to work the way I wanted it to from the start, but wasn't capable of, back then.
The game slowly changes over time, and so, too, must you and your champions change along with it.
When LoL was first released, there were a great deal more mana regeneration items in the game, and they were significantly stronger, at the time, for relatively low cost. Energy and rage didn't exist yet, since every single rage and energy user have been released after the game came out, except for Tryndamere, who used to use health instead.
As such, mana used to be very expensive to cast, and you could only use a few spells before running dry, and then you would use high mana regen items to gain it all back again. This was kind of a mixture between the current mana and energy systems, and honestly, it kind of failed at both concepts pretty badly.
These days, mana works a bit differently, since there are other options to it to go around, other than "mana" and "cool downs only".
This means champions like Katarina have had to be adjusted, but still need further tweaks to make up for a change in how the game plays. It also means that many of the older mages have been undergoing significant remakes over time.
Mana users can't regenerate mana like they once did, and champions that lose health tend to keep it lost to compensate.
This also means, however, that support champions are no longer as valuable as they once were. Heals are less valuable these days, due to the decision to make damage last a bit more permanently in a fight, and the concept of having a long duration "siege" team, designed to whittle down another team from long range over time, has been diminished greatly.
As such, you have to consider these things when going through your champion design. Some people still suggest new "healer" champions, but the problem is, healers are intentionally being removed, bit by bit, because they harm the current design decision to make damage permanent. As such, you'll notice that the last few "support" champions have been pretty much just magic damage dealers, who happen to have slight support abilities tacked on. Lulu, Orianna, and Karma, are all pretty much damage mages, which do sub-par damage, but have some above average crowd control effects to counteract such.
The old support champions of the days of yore, such as Soraka and Janna, have had it pretty rough, lately. They don't really do much for damage, their CC capacity just isn't enough to make up for the higher overall mobility in the game these days, and their sustain capacity has been continually beaten down.
This isn't to say that the champions are BAD, it's just that the game's current incarnation is not the same as it used to be, when they were originally developed. This does mean, however, that they are going to have to undergo an entire rework, from the ground up, to truly be worth playing any longer. Giving Soraka a bit more damage on Starcall, although nice, doesn't fix the fact that three of her abilities are less than half as effective as they once were, while other champions have been getting stronger, she's only been getting weaker.
Riot will tend to these things in time, but it does take time. Reworking an old champion requires the skills of a designer to pull them apart and build them from the ground up. The team which usually does balance tweaks after a champion's out, tend to be more dedicated towards adjustments and tweaks on designs already in place, with focus on balance, rather than on creating a new concept, so aren't generally set up for large scale revisions of that nature.
Unfortunately, a champion, once released, gets most of it's sales early on. There's less incentive to rework an old design, unless it's getting an appearance update, that may draw in additional revenue from skin sales.
We are fortunate, in that we don't have the "must do this project first, because it makes more money" sitting over our head. If we want to work on a design, and sit on it for a year, fussing over it, then we're able to. This means you can keep tweaking and adjusting your design to fit into the current game as you please.
Even so, there are decisions made which need to be understood before you can change your champion.
For that, I personally advise going into the game, and checking their videos, as the patch previews hold a wealth of information as to why they're making the changes they are. The game is ever changing, and while people tend to toss out the term "meta-game" to mean almost anything, there is a distinctive set of phases through which it evolves over time.
I can provide the current ideals of the game as it is right now, but that's pointless, as, in a few months, anything written here will no longer be valid. Instead, pay attention to the patch notes, and consider why they would do something. If you see a consistent trend, such as the current one of health regeneration, life steal, spell vamp, and healing spells all being continually nerfed, then it generally means there's an over arcing reason behind why such is occurring.
Watch for these trends, and then consider what this new concept suggests.
Right now, that means that support champions won't be doing much healing, so any new support design would be best off avoiding healing almost entirely, and instead focus on the CC aspect of their design. Kind of like... Lulu. Funny how that translates into exactly what the logical line of reasoning would suggest.
Anyway, the point is to watch the shifting trends of the game as it evolves over time, and think about what it lacks in it's new incarnation, that you can plug the hole with, and you'll find that there are some neat ways to go about doing so!
As always, have fun in making your champion, but if you want to make something that would be truly awesome to play, consider where the game is right now, rather than a year or two ago. Don't forget to go back and update old, favoured ideas that have fallen to the wayside, either! Some of them still have life in them, and a little touch up every few months can be just what they need to stay current, and fun!
Well, that being said, it looks like we're out of time, and character count. Class dismissed!