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[S2]Nome's Blog - Pushing and Pulling

By X-Flame - 12th March 2011 - 09:08 AM

In HoN, “Pulling” is the emergent mechanic of leading Legion or Hellbourne creeps out of the lane to attack neutral creeps. Within the tri-lane metagame, Pulling is often cited as one of the contributing factors to the proliferation of turtling and farming-based strategies. However, it is important to distinguish whether Pulling is indeed one of the roots of the problem or if it is simply a symptom. This difference is crucial in how we handle Pulling from a design standpoint–do we nuke it, thereby directly weakening farm-based strategies? Or do we leave it alone, instead attacking other points or buffing other aspects, thereby leaving it as an optional but comparably less effective maneuver?

To understand Pulling, we first have to acknowledge that there are both positives and negatives to the mechanic.

Why Pulling is Bad
  • Detracts from PvP interaction
  • Is characteristic of passive PvE-based play
  • Is technically an unintended mechanic
  • Requires a gold investment to properly counter
  • Is generally considered “annoying” to play against
Why Pulling is Good
  • Is an emergent mechanic in a game that is built on emergent gameplay
  • May be countered by investment into blockers
  • Provides additional income
  • Helps jungling heroes
  • Gives wards more strategic uses
In game design, there are two schools. The old school of design built games around mechanics that may not have been completely sound in terms of mechanics, but also built their games to last due to the lack of means for post-release support. Think Super Mario World here–extremely solid core gameplay, but full of glitches that enable skilled players, speed-runners, and TAS players to take the game to another level. The new school of design relishes gameplay control, designing every individual aspect of the game but leaving very little room for emergent gameplay mechanics. The end result of this is not only that the game feels extremely polished, but bugs are always considered to be detracting from the core game. Almost every game made nowadays falls into this category. As a gamer, and not a designer, it’s extremely disappointing to see game design slip into the latter, as the serendipitous nature of the old school has led to countless gaming innovations–much of Starcraft’s competitive play is based on mechanical abuse (Mutalisk stacking for example), while entire genres have rested on the laurels of bugs (combos in Street Fighter 2 were not a result of intentional design). As a designer, I wish to point out that this entire blog, including its tagline “Game design in a genre lacking it”, is a purposeful attack on the old school of design. In the case of HoN, this refers specifically to heirloom mechanics and design decisions that obfuscate balance and confuse players to unnecessary ends. Put quite simply, there are portions of the game that simply are not fun to the player. Following this stream of thought, Pulling ain HoN exists not because it was designed, but because it is an emergent mechanic that arose out of a clever abuse of an unintended interaction between lane creeps and neutral creeps. From the perspective of an old school fan, this is part of what makes the game great. From the perspective of a polish-centered designer, this is part of what makes the game so frustrating.

What would happen if pulling were removed?

Tri-lanes would hypothetically be weakened due to the loss of neutral creeps as an effective form of additional income. Currently, according to competitors, the support heroes that lag behind due to their constant engagement as babysitters are the ones who reap the most benefits from Pulling due to the fact that lane creeps provide higher monetary and experiential benefits to a free-farming carry. In today’s game, it’s customary to buy at least two wards; one to cover the pullable neutral spawn point, and one to cover a rune position. To delve deeper along this path, one could also argue that because an additional 100 gold is being introduced into the team’s resources due to the discontinued need to block a neutral spawn, that 100 gold would likely be spent towards either a courier upgrade or a ward to put somewhere else–likely the other rune spot or a position favorable to the middle solo. This would mean that the routes from middle to the side lanes would be bathed in vision, and ganking could in fact become more difficult. In this case, it would be a matter of whether a shift in map vision would be a worthy tradeoff for a decrease in potential farm for support heroes that choose to engage in a tri-lane.

How do we solve pulling without removing it?

The alternative is that pulling is not touched at all, and instead, alternative options, such as buffs to jungling and dual-laning, or a tweak in XP penalties for tri-laning, are implemented. This path rests on the question of whether pulling would be as effective in non-farming-based strategies. For example, it would be unwise to wipe out your creep wave in an early pushing strategy, though pulling could still be used selectively to build up a double wave for a big push. In this usage, pulling is not necessary to do, but is instead an option with both positives and negatives–a true strategic choice. The positives to this solution are very tangible–a mechanic is preserved, while the number of possible strategies increases. The downside is that this is a much riskier route, and requires multiple solutions to discourage tri-lanes (or rather, encourage alternatives), and given the urgency of a stale metagame, the longer, more explorative approach may not always be the one that will please players the most.

As discussed in the Evolving Metagame series, game design is more often than not about a careful balance between multiple sacrifices. Is the sacrifice of the Pulling mechanic worth the decrease in depth and strategic options? Should we be taking the fast route out of the tri-lane metagame, or should we spend the time and resources in developing a more comprehensive solution?

Author: [S2]Nome

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Richard Liu, also known as [S2]Nome, is a game designer for S2 Games and an avid gamer. He is an alumnus of Emory University with a BA in Psychology.