Hey all,Chris ‘Pwyff’ Tom
It's time for another entry in our ongoing series on the Design Values of League of Legends! Today we've got Lead Champion Designer Andrei "Meddler" Van Roon, here to talk about meaningful choices in League of Legends. This is a topic that goes fairly deep, so let's just let him get started!
To us, meaningful choices are one of the key things that allow a PvP game to have depth. The ability to make decisions that directly impact that state of the game is of absolute importance in driving satisfaction and mastery, and we always want to reward those make the best decisions.
Multiple attractive choices also allow for variety in experience, with games following many different paths. Meaningful choices (rather than single best choices) allow players to shape the state of the game based off their own preferences and what they feel they’re best at.
Meaningful choices require that the player have sufficient understanding of the consequences of their decisions. Without knowing (or at least being able to predict) what's going to happen, a ‘choice’ of option basically becomes random. That’s not to say that the player needs to know every detail, or they need to see exactly how their decision will pan out - just enough to make an informed choice.
Significant difference between possible outcomes is also required. Clarity is nice, but if the choice is between a set of almost identical options – or if all choices result in the same, final outcome - there’s no significance to the choice in the first place.
It’s also important that the choices offered are actually accessible. If there are three possible choices of strategy but two can be executed by only the top 0.01% of players (reaction speed, required actions per second, etc) that effectively means there isn't a choice either.
Finally, for a choice to be meaningful there need to be situations where multiple options are potentially valid. If there’s always one obvious correct answer, it’s not a choice but a puzzle to be solved. Sometimes it's okay for there to be one right decision (see below), but games defined by questions that, once answered, stay answered forever (otherwise known as 'solved games') face the challenge of staying fresh (once again, if the focus is on meaningful PvP interactions).
Meaningful choice adds a lot to a game, but it’s not an essential part of every element. Skillshots or challenging combos, for example, can be satisfying skill tests for many, even if the correct play is the same every time. Additionally – and this is particularly true in story driven genres – plot, setting or character development can often justify a lack of choice.
In League, a lack of meaningful choice is worth accepting either because of the benefits a single option brings to the rest of the game, or because the choice is meaningful to other players. For example, participating in the vision game is almost mandatory if you want to be a successful team, but vision control in League of Legends creates a lot of interesting play – particularly around contested objectives.
Sometimes it’s better to simply not offer a choice in the first place. For example, having a deep, unified competitive scene on Summoner's Rift - rather than a fragmented one split over multiple maps/modes - better supports our goals of making League of Legends a long-lasting, competitive game with deep potential for skill development. That’s not to say other maps or game modes don’t have interesting things to offer, but there are many benefits (and tradeoffs) for choosing to focus on one.
There are many different ways to present a meaningful choice, and I'll run through a few examples:
Single choices often have a large impact on strategy and they commonly influence how future decisions in the game will be presented. This isn't to say that single choices have right or wrong answers, but five strategically mismatched choices against five strategically cohesive choices can be very tough.
Constant choices, on the other hand, are ones that influence the game by inches – each time you make a conscious decision, it's just one step toward (or away from) victory.
Choices that are always available are mostly related to mastery of efficiency. Knowing when to use something rarely wins a game single-handedly, but juggling the optimal timing of when to use many things is often what's needed to edge out a close victory.
Windowed choices are ones that are only available under certain circumstances and can therefore carry more weight than always available ones. It's like a form of efficiency, but also knowing what a windowed choice will lead to in the future.
Tactical choices are typically the ones that relate to pure combat mechanics and in-the-moment decision-making.
Strategic choices, on the other hand, are ones that are focused on long-term decisions that dictate the pace and future opportunities within the game.
While some of the above are direct examples of how we approach meaningful choices in League of Legends, I'd like to also look to the future before this entry gets too long.
While providing meaningful choices is a core value that we design around, it's not something we've always delivered on well enough. As a result, there are a number of parts of the game we’re looking to make improvements to offer more interesting decision points. Have a few examples:
We’d like League of Legends to have a broader range of possible options when it comes to how teams try to win a game. While this does rely heavily on champion diversity to influence strategy, we hope for there to be many ways to close out a game – through objective control, split pushing, straight teamfighting, getting strategic picks on solitary enemies, and beyond.
Some champions share too similar a niche with other champions, making the choice between them more a question of who's more powerful than what particular skillset you want on your team. We try to emphasize this distinction where possible – for example, both Trundle and Jax are fighters, but they are picked for a team for very different reasons (initiation, disengage, and strength against tanky targets versus ramping damage with strong offensive scaling combined with a high effectiveness against auto attackers).
In contrast, Mundo and Shyvana do share a bit too similar a niche, with both being tanky fighters that deal AoE damage over an extended period of time as they try to wear down a target via movement speed. That’s not to say they’re bad champions or that there aren’t differences between them (one is better at long skirmishes, the other has superior initiation), but we can certainly be offering a more interesting choice between the two. Trying to find distinct gameplay spaces for champions is one of the core things we’re focusing on with both new champions and champion updates.
Some roles have a range of interesting itemization choices throughout the game. AP casters, for example get to make choices like Tear of the Goddess or Fiendish Codex early, and Zhonya’s or Deathcap later on. Other roles, however, have fewer interesting options available to them. Marksmen have generally followed very similar build paths to each other with low variance. As a result, we're trying to find ways to offer more distinct and appealing options, like the changes to Bloodthirster to better position it as a high end defensive AD item. In comparison, the old Bloodthirster - due to it having the highest AD in the game along with lifesteal - basically said, "Build this on every marksman that auto attacks or uses spells" (that is, all of them).
The above are just a few examples of where we think we can offer more meaningful choices for the future of League of Legends. Remember that this can go even more in-depth in systems like summoner spells, runes, masteries, or even lane positions on the map itself. Also, if you think there are unique opportunities where we can offer more depth or places where you think we've failed to offer sufficient choice, feel free to leave a comment below.Andrei "Meddler" Van Roon