Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How much is too little?

As S2 finally pushes out their latest patch containing their own iteration of Storm Spirit this week, people are again, for the time being, happy campers. For a lot of people, however, this patch was something they expected at least a week ago as this patch did mark one of the longest pauses in HoN patch history.

Now, it's no secret that people love patches. Free content and changes are what make the game interesting to hardcore fans. This is a very one sighted opinion, however, as game designers and balance gurus will often be all too glad to hit you over the head with a newspaper when you ask them why a patch doesn't come out every week. According to them, game balance needs time to settle, and changing things too drastically too fast can often result in some very all over the place heroes that are changed too radically too often.

On the other hand... not changing things often enough can lead to some long term glaring imbalances... mysterious shadow women in this article shall remain nameless.

Wanted: Nerfed or Alive

So how much is too much, and more importantly, how much is too little? Were the glaring imbalances created by [mysterious shadow woman] not enough to persuade a nerf? Or was uploading the patch for something as small as that simply not worth spending the Bandwidth?

The concept that "overchanging" a hero within a short period of time can lead to disaster is something I agree with and that should be avoided. However, when you look at some hero change-logs and realize that they A) haven't been played at all for months and B) haven't been changed in months, you have to ask yourself why no helping hand has come yet.

Arguably, some heroes will simply become played more as other, similar heroes are nerfed. This is the case for heroes like The Dark Lady and maybe even Maliken. Perhaps my favorite change in this entire patch was the change to Devourer, a hero who really needed some sort of change.

"Devour slightly reworked."

In closing, I'm not asking S2 to come out with a patch every Friday (although that would be cool, don't get me wrong), I'm simply hoping that come soon, a lot of long term imbalances (both in the form of overpowered as well as underpowered) will finally be addressed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In Icefrog we Trust?

Two weeks ago, S2 released the very anticipated new Patch containing a new hero and most importantly, some balance changes. For me these changes were extremely exciting not so much because Engineer and Fayde were so annoying (well, truth be told, Fayde is still probably overpowered) but because I feel like we are getting extremely close to that point. You know what I'm talking about. Balance.

Of course, people will most likely disagree with me.

Since the dawn of HoN, a lot of people have voiced their concerns with S2 heroes being blatantly overpowered. Some even more ridiculous claims stated that S2 has it out for DotA heroes, and likes to see their own heroes prevail, a claim that not only doesn't stand up to statistics but also just doesn't make any sense at all.

But with these recent changes, spanning back a patch or two, we finally see heroes like Zephyr and Engineer finally taking the back seat again. In addition, S2 has also removed a lot of stuns from carry heroes, especially carry heroes that they designed. I was particularly delighted to see Forsaken Archer's ministun taken away. Madman's changes are debatable, but I tend to agree with the way they are taking him, and I heard more changes are underway.

All of these changes have lead to one thing: S2 heroes not being banned that often anymore. So what's next? With all the extreme balance and tweaks done to S2 heroes, it seems like the heroes being banned the most of late are DotA heroes.

Responsible for more deaths than Alcohol Poisoning

A while ago in a Honcast inhouse, [S2]Nome stated that DotA heroes are particularly hard to change because the majority of players don't want to see their favorite DotA ports messed with.

Considering how much people believe that S2 is actually running a huge secret mission to make their own heroes the best in the game, it almost seems like blasphemy to even
think about saying the exact opposite.

Typical Heroes of Newerth Forum poster

Of course, the proof is in the pudding. Although bans have been a mesh of both S2 heroes and oldschool DotA ports, what has remained consistent is S2's lack of changes to DotA heroes. I invite you read this thread containing all hero changes since release. Granted, even ports have had a handful of changes to them, but most of these changes all happened a long time pre-release and usually aren't very meaningful.

I just don't like the idea that certain heroes aren't being changed simply because S2 fears a community backlash. I'm not saying Soulstealer needs to be nerfed, or Pandamonium buffed, or any favor given to any type of hero. All I'm asking for is equality, and that S2 not fear the mob.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Screw winning, I'm in it for the PSR

Every since DOTA existed, people have been begging for a way to keep track of their score. It only seemed fair- after all, I'm better than everybody else, why shouldn't I have some sort of concrete number to reinforce my argument?

When S2 was looking for ways to make Heroes of Newerth worth buying, surely stat tracking was an idea not to be ignored! But where do you start? What is more important, kills or actually winning? And so it began, a vague question which would eventually spawn a debate even more useless then that of normal mode versus easy mode.

Hilarity did not ensue

Every since PSR was willed into existence, it remains the only stat displayed publicly every time you join a game. This has created increasing amounts of criticism, especially from players with low PSR but comparably high kill-death ratio.

Advocates of KDR argue that KDR does a better job of judging individual skill- after all, a completely useless player can still win a game if his 4 teammates are skilled, right? Stats, after all, should be a personal judgement of skill, completely independent of outside influence.

There's just one problem with arguing this: it's impossible to do because Heroes of Newerth isn't a 1v1 game, it's balanced around 5v5.

Sometime after Arenas were introduced into World of Warcraft, Blizzard stated that 1v1 duels were not balanced. Many people questioned this statement- was Blizzard incapable of balancing a few classes? In truth, Blizzard made it clear that it was virtually impossible to balance team PVP with a set amount of classes while also making 1 versus 1 balanced using the same roster.

HoN suffers a similar fate. KDR is in fact not a perfect system of personal skill ranking. This derives a lot from the fact that certain heroes simply are designed to score more kills than others- in fact, in competitive Heroes of Newerth games, certain heroes are literally discouraged from scoring killing blows on enemy heroes unless they are the only one capable of doing so.

PSR on the other hand suffers from it's own unique flaws. As already stated, it is theoretically possible that a player who is lacking in skill can be carries by 4 other people. This theory, however, simply doesn't stand the test of time. No matter how good your 4 teammates are, eventually you will reach the point where 4v5 simply wont cut it anymore. I do not have any statistics to back up any points I make, you'll simply have to take it or leave it.

It all boils down to one simple statement: Neither systems are perfect; KDR is flawed due to hero roles while PSR is flawed due to teamwork- however, PSR is less flawed overall in determining personal player skill.

So where does KDR fit into this? Is KDR useless? Does PSR > KDR? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Both count for something, PSR is the lesser of two evil ways to describe personal skill. Trying to create a "personal" skill ranking for a team based, teamwork dependent game simply isn't 100% possible.

...I for one am confident S2 will make "Wards placed" the only publicly displayed stat come next patch...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oh, yes, there will be blood.

With Tundra right around the corner and word from S2 that both Kunkka and Furion will be coming soon, one can't help but be excited for all the great ports coming on over from DotA. While this is most definitely awesome, a lot of people seem to not realize the importance, nay, the connection between all of these heroes. They're all ganking heroes. From Puck to Furion, all of these heroes bring lots of ganking to the table. That said, this is even more awesome than we could have imagined.

HoN is a game that has lacked a large selection of ganking heroes from the start. With the addition to orb stacking, carry heroes seemed to take up more space than they should have been allowed to for a long time.

Having a too-small selection of ganking-style heroes not only made carry-style heroes imbalanced, but also completely shifted the metagame into a turtle-style farm-off where ganking simply wasn't as economical as farming. That, and let's face it, matches were just a lot less entertaining.

Then they came out with Fayde. Then Bubbles, now Tundra and soon even more. As of current, I believe most of these ganking heroes are still being banned in competitive play- but it's only a matter of time before the bans run out and these heroes hit the fan. It's hard to say how all of these ganking heroes will change HoN in the long run, but one thing's for sure: Babysitters and Carry heroes are going to be shaking in their boots for the first time in HoN history.

Not shown: Fayde invisible right behind him

It seems like S2 is well aware of this, because quite franky it seems like there's no end in sight or ganking heroes coming out. Heck, even Gauntlet is supposed to be a ganking, anti-carry sort of hero. It's a shame he sucks.

Friday, May 28, 2010

BD was here, BP is a loser.

As someone who doesn't have four above-average skilled friends to play with daily (or at all), I am often forced to play Matchmaking. In my last article, I talked about why the system was broken. Thankfully, S2 has indeed closed the SMR gap (at least from what I can see, I am now sitting on 1700 SMR) quite nicely as of last week. On that note, I want to mention that although I do like to criticize things S2 does that I don't agree with, I do give credit where credit is due, and from what I can see so far, S2 has (thank god) done a great job in fixing Matchmaking.

That said, why on earth did they switch it back to Banning Pick?

Webcam footage of me reading the patch notes

On that note, I'd like to drop my personal opinion on both modes.

Banning Pick seems to be, for the most part, the competitive standard, leaving no room for any "luck" of heroes being drafted, and less imbalance to the team who gets to ban/pick first. And that's about it, as far as Pros go. One typical argument myself and others like to bring up against Banning Pick is that you always see the same heroes in it. Sure, somewhere down the line, the last two picks of every team are going to have some variation. But you can bet your balls Plague Rider, Accursed, etc are going to be banned every time, and of course, since there aren't enough bans as there are slightly overpowered heroes, the same heroes are usually picked. Sure, sometimes bans vary, sometimes someone wont ban Hellbringer. But what then? You can bet your ass somebody is going to pick him.

Edwin G. Boring, big fan on Banning Pick

What really breaks my back, however, is the fact that in Matchmaking I can not chose what slot I want to take. As already mentioned, the most hero variation happens in the last two or tree slots of every team. In matchmaking, I am literally always the first picker/banner on my team. I realize this is a "personal" problem that not everyone may share with me, but try to put yourself in my shoes. Assuming I want to try my hardest to win each game (which I do), I am literally always playing the same 3-4 heroes. Demented Shaman, Hellbringer, Accursed, etc. Whatever doesn't get banned.

Banning Draft needs no explanation. It's less fair, but it adds more dynamic to the game, and less of the same heroes every game.

As far as I know, Banning Pick is chosen for "fairness" rather than fun. That said, why on earth would S2, in the midst of trying to make Matchmaking more appealing, change it back to Banning Pick?

S2Jason had this to say, last Wednesday: "We are experimenting with it. We started with BP, decided to try BD for a while, now we are back to BP. It could change again, we are just trying to gauge what is best :)"

The danger I am sensing here is that S2 thinks Banning Pick is more fun than Banning Draft based on the deductive logic that more people played Matchmaking when it was Banning Pick. This is of course ignoring the context completely, which, need I remind you, was that Matchmaking was completely busted due to the ridiculous SMR gap in every game.

I for one hope Banning Draft gets put back in. That, or I want to at least be able to set my slot color to Orange/Brown.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Matchmaking: The Vicious Cycle

Matchmaking is broken. Sadly, S2 doesn't tend to agree.

According to S2, Matchmaking took a nosedive due to an unpredicted drop of players on release (Apparently when you make people actually pay to play a game a lot of people stop playing, whoda thunkit?). In any case, currently, Matchmaking a disaster. If you've played it at least once, you already know that every game looks kind of like this:

Image courtesy of the HoN forums

I don't need to explain why this is a horrible system. I chose "Expert" not because I want to teach people how to play the game (I have a Youtube channel for that), but because I want to play with Experts. Why else would I have chosen it?

In theory, provisional games are a good thing. They give the skilled player a chance to prove himself more quickly than usual and gives the beginner more space to learn. Now I ask you a tricky question: What role can a provision game play when there is no SMR roof or floor to be found when I play with other people?

Nothing. Just like all SMR right now.

Since release, the forums have literally been exploding with complaints. S2 wasn't in any hurry to address the issue, though, and statements made by Maliken on Friday didn't help put out the fire when he said "Please elaborate how our matchmaking is so broken?".

Maliken addressing Matchmaking complaints

Of course, as usual, the community is always wrong until proven otherwise. Today (on a Saturday, mind you!) S2 released a new statement, saying that their reasoning behind Matchmaking pairing you up with a wide array of player skill is due to the fact that there aren't enough people playing Matchmaking.

Now, hold on a minute. Back the fun train up.

-S2 says Matchmaking has a "wide" gab between SMR because there aren't enough people playing Matchmaking.

-Nobody wants to play Matchmaking because they don't want to play with people outside their skill bracket

Seems to me like S2 is digging itself their own grave. Never before have the words "Quality over Quantity" demanded more attention than right now. I know numerous people who said they are abstaining from Matchmaking until it is fixed. Meanwhile, S2 argues that fixing Matchmaking would result in longer queues. Really? Would all those new players that would actually play Matchmaking once you fix it clog the inter-tubes so hard that I would have to wait longer?

S2's logic simply doesn't add up. And even if it did, even if queues would be significantly longer- what would you rather have? Quicker, horrible, unrewarding games or slower actual games with an SMR system that works? S2 seems to think that as long as we are playing their game, we are having fun, regardless of quality. I know for a fact that for a lot of people, this is not the case. Solo Matchmaking is fun because I know that I am getting a chance to prove myself and get a high SMR despite not having a lot of friends who play at my skill level. With the current Matchmaking system, this isn't possible. Winning games is like flipping a coin. SMR means nothing, people lie about their skill level and aren't adjusted properly.

Here's to hoping S2 sees the light and mops up this mess soon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Easy Mode: Why it's here to stay

Thinking back, I can hardly remember a time before Easy Mode. I'm talking of course of DotA times, back a long time ago when I had no idea what I was doing and played Easy Mode regularly. It wasn't until I started lurking the DotA forums that I learned that Easy Mode is actually shunned by most players as a "noob" mode. For a while I tried to defend my love of the mode with arguments, but competitive players would always be there to tell me I'm wrong and why.

As I continued on, I learned to stop playing Easy Mode and started playing normal games. Eventually, I began to loathe Easy Mode for what it was: A mode that imbalanced the game and turned it into a carry-marathon. My eyes had been opened to the injustice that Easy Mode was and still to this day is, and I wasn't going to stand for it. So, naturally, as anyone with an opinion on a game would do, I took it to the forums.

Suffice to say, I, like many, failed at getting Icefrog to remove Easy Mode. But why? He never seemed to give a straight answer. When HoN rolled around, I had high hopes that with the revamp of everything, the upgrading of the engine and whatnot, Easy Mode would be a thing of the past, something we had to deal with in DotA but now would be gone for good. But alas, I was shocked to see Easy Mode still in the game.

To this day there remains no shred of doubt in any knowledgeable player's mind that Easy Mode imbalances the game and removes a lot of aspects such as teamwork and skill.

If Icefrog and S2 know Easy Mode sucks, why does it still exist?

I, like most people, despise Easy Mode for what it represents: people rolling their head around on the keyboard and getting rewarded for it. To understand why Easy Mode is here to stay, you have to factor in that both Icefrog and S2 like one thing: having people play their game, regardless of who it is.

Easy Mode may imbalance the game, but it also makes the game accessible to people who have never played it. Fact is, if you have never played a game of HoN or DotA before in your life, the odds of you having a decent score, and hell, having more fun playing for your first time whilst playing Easy Mode are significantly higher. I don't need proof for this, the proof is in the pudding.

Easy Mode, as we would all agree, does not punish as hard as Normal Mode. Deaths aren't as a big deal as they usually are, and generally, despite getting killed, you can farm up a sizable inventory and generally be more productive than you would be playing normal mode.

Fact of the matter is, nobody wants Deferred gratification. The HoN tutorial says it best, "Heroes of Newerth is a tough game with a lot to master, but stick with it!". Think about that for a moment. Have you ever had a video game have to tell you to "stick with it"? That's something most people expect to hear when they are learning the Guitar, not playing a video game.

Video games are, for most people, a recreational activity, where they demand instant gratification. Although HoN, like DotA claim to be competitive games, they will never shut their doors to Easy Mode, for the simple reason that it attracts more customers.

"People who pick Rampage every game are still people with 30 dollars."

So the next time you are thinking about making a post letting S2 know that Easy Mode is an imbalanced game mode that should be removed for the sake of getting people to learn the game properly: Don't bother.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The HoN community - how bad is it?

The HoN community gets a lot of shit, all the time. Every time I read a review of HoN or hear somebody's first impression of the game, it always starts the same way, "It's a good game", they'l say, "but the community ruins it for me."

Ah yes, the infamous "HoN community". Never before has a game attracted so many sadistic, trash talking 12 year olds and placed them securely within arms reach. It's always the same story, the new player doesn't know how to play, asks his team what items he should get, they yell at him, he learns nothing, and probably gets votekicked. But the community's evil doesn't stop there. Say you're playing a 5v5, and somebody on your team disconnects during the load. He isn't coming back. You politely ask the enemy team if they would please remake the game. They don't. You are forced to play an uphill battle for 50 minutes that ultimately results in a horrible loss.

What went wrong here?

Is the HoN community really to blame for what it is? Well, it would at first seem so, as it is the overwhelming consensus. But what if I were to tell you that, in fact, the community itself isn't to blame in it's entirety?

In order to understand why HoN as an exception to most other games carries with it a community that is almost literally foaming at the mouth, one has to consider what kind of game you are playing. What other kind of game can you play where you have to rely so heavily on 4 other people? In Heroes of Newerth, dying does not simply have a negative effect on you, it benefits the enemy team more than it hurts you.

In a game like Team Fortress 2, you dying does not have a large impact on the game. Even though you (hopefully) work as a team and try to defeat the enemies, you don't always have to work in perfect synchronization with one another, you can go do your thing while contributing to the team, so long as you do it effectively. Should you die- you will respawn, and almost nothing of value was lost.

In HoN, it's a different story. One wrong move, one twitch of the mouse, press of the button, can waste an ult, miss a spell, cause a hero to die and maybe even lose the game for you. Is it not realistic that following this kind of metagame the community would be a rabid animal, screaming at you every time you make a mistake? No other game punishes mistakes as heavily as HoN. If you bought the wrong items, you're useless. If you don't cast that spell at the right time, you're worthless.

For a game so heavily reliant on teammates, it should come to no surprise whatsoever that the HoN community hates one another.

So okay, I can see why the HoN community hates bad players. But why all the hate against new players? They just started, how the hell should they know what to do?!

To answer this question, you really have to put ethics off the table for a few minutes and start thinking like an Economist. In 9/10 scenarios when I am faced with a new player, I am never going to see him again. That said, the tremendous amount of effort required to tell him how to play whilst also simultaneously playing the game well myself is an opportunity cost (almost) no living man is willing to pay. It simply takes too much effort to teach someone how to play HoN while actually playing HoN. And since I'm never going to see said player again in my life, why bother?

This is not a cruel, "I am lazy" opinionated statement, but a harsh reality. Take it from me- I spend hours making Youtube videos to help new players get into HoN. I have payed my dues. But the fact of the matter is, most of the time, nobody is going to help a newbie in a game.

HoN is all about synchronization- and when one link in the chain breaks, the whole thing comes crashing down. Cause and Effect. When S2 made a game that makes you rely so heavily on 4 other people, no amount of tutorials and tips screens could prevent the community from becoming what they are today. They are the simple, predictable outcome of what has existed for years before them in DotA- a product of HoN's gameplay.

So keep this in mind next time you're raging- hate the game not the player.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Hello and welcome to my new Blog.

You may already know me as Nigma- the guy who makes videos over here on the Honleague/HonCast Youtube channel. Hopefully with time I'll be able to cultivate this Blog with some fun and interesting HoN editorials/articles. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but never really got around to it.

I suppose with my first post I could introduce myself a little bit. My name is Markus and I am a Honaholic. Despite my rabid enthusiasm for the game, I do actually not play Heroes of Newerth competitively. Still, I've managed to assemble a (what I like to consider) sizable amount of wisdom, which I am currently trying to convey over videos/this blog on a regular basis. But that's okay, because I don't make videos or write Blog entries for professional, competitive players, but rather for the majority of HoN players- namely, casual players who want to get a little better at the game. Suffice to say, HoN has a pretty brutal learning curve.

So join me if you will!