[S2]Nome one of S2's game designers has released a great and informative article about denying. He is explaining how denying reflects the Heroes of Newerth game and what impact does the lack of the denies in League of Legends have. It also gives some suggestions how game mechanics that work around denies and creep kills could be solved so that the meta game gets more depth. Here is the full article from [S2]Nome's Blog
First thing I should point out here is that this is not an attack on League of Legends, but an attack on the poor reasoning I have seen many users, from both HoN and LoL, employ. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
I see a lot of people who comment on HoN videos (mainly League of Legends players) who decry the deny mechanic. Not only that, but there are elements at S2 who feel similarly that it is unintuitive, and would likely not include such a mechanic if the designing the game from scratch. Let’s review the three major arguments provided on the LoL site:
- It exacerbates the differences between ranged and melee heroes.
- It’s unintuitive to attack your allies.
- Denying slows the pace of the game.
The first argument is absolutely true; DotA and HoN have attempted to mitigate the range difference by assigning more powerful abilities to many melee heroes, giving melee heroes higher statistics, giving melee heroes a smaller XP reduction on denies, and making items that directly suit melee heroes’ playstyle and address their weaknesses. The discrepancy and design difference between melee and ranged is huge, and all games both inside and outside of the genre have to account for differences in range. One of the proposals I made regarding this was to simply increase the range of certain melee heroes past the typical norm; for example, a melee hero with 250 range that could reach over a single creep to attack one behind it without having to walk around a cluster of creeps. This would be a way to differentiate and balance melee heroes past the typical statistics and abilities, but it was ultimately shot down in favor of making melee range uniform (a change coming soon).
The other two arguments are true to an extent, but both are also ignoring major counter-points proven by years of DotA and HoN play. Yes, it’s true that attacking and killing allies is counter-intuitive. However, the hallmark of high-level play in any competitive game is creative use and abuse of mechanics. Emergent strategies in general are only possible in games that are not overdesigned to limit your choices. Starcraft: Brood War is a great example of open design. For example, scouting your opponents with an Engineering Bay in Starcraft: Brood War isn’t the intended use of the building, but it is an incredibly effective and creative use of resources. Building a pylon to block an early Zerg expansion isn’t how you’re “supposed” to spend your resources, but it is an incredibly creative way to exploit your scouting Probe to its fullest extent. So while it’s unintuitive to attack allies, the fact the option exists enriches the game as a whole. It offers a strategic option and amplifies differences in laning skill. Another way to look at it is that by allowing denies, both allied and enemy creeps become resources to all players. This inherently doubles the number of resources players must fight over. To extrapolate, imagine if each team had its own set of neutral creeps that the other team could not kill. It removes a source of tension, and actually decreases the amount of action. This is not to say that designers should be giving intentionally leaving loopholes into their games for open exploitation, but rather than designers should view discovered loopholes in an objective fashion dispossessed from their initial reasoning.
A sub-argument here given for removing denies is that it encourages PvP action over PvE action. This is partly true; for PvP play to be encouraged over PvE play, there must be greater incentive for PvP play. Simply not allowing denies will not do that. Then again, it’s very arguable whether there needs to be greater incentive for PvP play in a game like HoN. Even in a farm-focused trilane vs. trilane HoN metagame, the primary role of the supports was to engage in zoning, not denying–a PvP action. What’s important to note here is that the end result of the zoning (PvP) is to allow the carry to farm (PvE); this only brings us back to the fact that the entire laning phase in general is specifically focused on PvE, and no amount of PvP interaction is going to take that out of the game. It is worth nothing that a lane focused solely on PvP will end up more behind than a lane focused solely on PvE. The bigger problem here isn’t caused by denying during lanes, but how effective gold is on certain heroes, which I will touch on shortly.
I once watched a game streamed by HotShotGG, who I understand is one of LoL’s top solo players. And while there are no denies in League of Legends, I saw that he played the game highly defensively, focusing on farming and avoiding auto-attacking, only pushing out the wave to return to base and buy items. His advice for viewers was to simply never push out the lane, play defensive and farm, and zone an opponent out when necessary. In other words, he was doing what any HoN player would do, except he lacked the ability to deny. The dilemma here is that the reality of the situation does not match the theoretical intent. Even in League of Legends, gold and items are extremely important; from what I understand, it’s even more important in League of Legends than HoN, but it is generally a more limited resource in HoN due to support classes ignoring farm and the propensity of the game to take out gold from the game via deaths and consumable items. So then we are presented with a dilemma. Does the lack of denies, for the intended reason of encouraging more offensive gameplay, actually do so? What I have yet to see any retail game in the genre do is properly tackle the problem of a stagnant game, and this includes HoN
. Unfortunately for both LoL and HoN, both games at their core place a heavy emphasis on farming and gold, and both games are effectively beyond repair when it comes to this problem.
Any genre designers, or budding designers wishing to create a game of your own, listen up and listen hard. Fire up Warcraft 3, download Eve of the Apocalypse: Twilight (EotA: Twilight), and gorge upon it. Even as I played DotA, I immediately recognized EotA as a game without the flaws and restrictions of a traditional “MOBA/AoS” genre game. Here’s how EotA handles many of the problems presented by retail MOBA games.
- Gold: Gold only from last hits, allows for skilled players to last hit. However, many heroes had AoE abilities that were great for farming and pushing. Gold could be spent on either items (100% refundable), base upgrades, creep upgrades, or uncontrollable mercenaries and mercenary heroes to help push. Gold was readily available and extremely effective no matter how you spent it.
- Items: Very basic items, no recipes = no confusion. All items are 100% refundable, including consumables. The strongest items were unique and could only be purchased by a single user before a neutral shop ran out of stock. The windwalk/invisibility item fell into this category. This mechanic meant that players had to rush to buy them; however, they were so expensive that players who rushed the item put their team at risk due to the gold not being spent on upgrades and bases. They were situational, risky buys, and that’s what made them brilliant.
- Abilities: Every hero had 1 innate ability (sometimes a passive), 3 normal abilities, and 1 ultimate. Abilities could be leveled up many times. All abilities scaled according to either statistics (STR/AGI/INT) or archetype. All abilities fit into one of several archetypes; for example, Necromancy (manipulating dead stuff, usually) or Evocation (most “arcane” type magical nukes). Each school of abilities had their own modifier items, roughly equal to what League of Legends calls “ability power”.
- Crystal: This is the most stunning innovation of EotA, and one I have been wanting to implement into HoN for a long time. In EotA, crystal was a secondary resource that was obtained by your TEAM killing heroes–that is, even if you had no part in a kill, you got crystal for an opposing hero dying. You also got crystal for taking down enemy structures, of which there were plenty sprawled all over the map. Crystal was extremely valuable because it was the primary way to increase the power of your hero. Items were extremely expensive, though refundable, so gold was often better spent on more tactical means such as siege towers to break a fortress’s defenses, or mercenaries to build up a global push that filled half the map. But Crystal was also what allowed you to customize your hero beyond what any game in the genre has allowed you to do so far. Imagine if every hero in HoN had a Staff of the Master upgrade. Now imagine if every hero had 3 or 4 SotM upgrades for different skills. That’s what Crystal could do; it could change your hero and specialize it into something truly unique. In terms of how this would apply to HoN, I’ve long pushed for the Fortification ability, buybacks, and more to be moved onto a secondary resource that plays would have to earn. In other words, to earn a buyback, you’d have to play aggressively and kill players and towers until you had enough currency to buy it. Not just PvE gold, but PvP Crystal. That’s the difference.
DarnYak, the sole designer who handled the creation of the EotA maps, was truly ahead of his time, not just in how he implemented basic mechanics into his maps, but how he turned some of the most insane and complicated hero concepts into fun, playable, and memorable heroes. But that’s a story for another day. Where EotA ultimately succeeds, where other games fail, is that PvE and PvP are in perfect harmony, and players never lose sight of what the ultimate goal is–to crush the opponent’s base. Pushing is not a chore; it’s fun. PvP is fun, but so is PvE (ask the millions of players who enjoy WoW raids), and EotA makes the most out of both worlds. There are two things that make make me, as a designer, giddy. The first is when players use my creation to its intended effect. The second is when players use my creation to an unintended effect. The difference between classic game design and the “new school” of design is that the new school does not recognize the latter. The new school sees unintended design as bad, usually classifying the result as unwanted abuse of a mechanic, and patches it out. I don’t see it that way; I usually first ask–what real harm does the abuse do? Does it add more depth to the game, or does it remove depth? If it adds depth, why remove it?
As I have mentioned previously, game design is composed of many sacrifices. By removing denies, the game inherently sacrifices depth. But does it in turn make the game more exciting? Theoretically, yes. Unfortunately, its contextual implementation leaves much to be wanting. Is this a fault of the game, its designers, or its playerbase? Are HoN, LoL, and DOTA 2 destined to be stagnant? Not at all. It’s simply a signal that the genre has much to evolve, and the best is yet to come.
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.