Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Give Up Already!"

If you're even remotely connected to the ARTS/MOBA community you will know that DotA2 beta is in full swing with more and more invites being sent out daily. I myself have been lucky enough to receive one of these invites and I've already played several games over the course of the last few days and weeks. As somebody who started with DotA before he switched to HoN- and as somebody who has, in his lifetime, definitely played more DotA than HoN, I was (and still am) naturally excited about DotA2. From the start, there have been aspects of the game (and the company, Valve) I dislike. Nevertheless, the positive aspects of the game far outshine my petty grievances and I've already started playing the game actively alongside Heroes of Newerth.

Despite my inherent love for DotA2, I can't help but feel like a lot of the features are still missing. And obviously, this isn't surprising- because the game is in Beta. When Heroes of Newerth came out, it brought about a lot of changes that DotA players had longed for that were simply not feasible on the Warcraft 3 engine. One of these options is the concede vote, which is currently a hot topic in the DotA2 community, as people aren't seeing eye to eye.

For me, this is a non issue. The game should definitely have a concede vote- the question is simply: should it be the same as the one in HoN? As you may know, players in HoN require a unanimous vote to concede until the 30 minute mark, at which point only four players are required to pass the vote. This is definitely debatable, and I don't carry any distaste for anybody who has a differing opinion, because after all, there are pros and cons on both side of the table.

What I don't understand, however, are people who believe DotA2 should simply not have a concede vote. These so called "brave" people argue that, should DotA2 have a concede vote (even if it is only a unanimous vote), it will turn the entire community into "quitters". DotA hotshot and Glenn-Beck-of-the-DotA-Community Maelk wrote an article a few days ago promoting the idea that DotA2 doesn't need a concede option at all. To nobody's surprise, he blames LoL and HoN players for coming up with these silly ideas for features- after all, how could a glorious DotA purist come up with such a retarded idea? He would know, he's never played anything else besides DotA.

HoN and LoL players in DotA2? We need to build a wall!

I find this way of thinking hilarious, not simply because I disagree with it entirely but because it doesn't actually make any sense whatsoever. What Maelk is saying in this article is that, if five people unanimously agree that they want to stop playing a video game, they shouldn't be able to, because he knows what they want better than they themselves do. Proponents of this way of thinking argue that often players will have given up a game that is not quite lost yet.

To this point, I present a rebuttle: who cares? If five players want to give up, let them. It's a unanimous vote, the entire idea of such a vote excludes the situation of one player being on the team who doesn't want to give up. If the entire team wants to give up, who are you to tell them differently? Statistically speaking, who is in a better position to tell a team of five people that their game can still be won: The players themselves who have been playing the game for several minutes, or... some random guy on a forum? I'll go with the five guys who want to give up.

Ironically, Maelk backs up his argument saying "Most players will try harder from the get-go and are less inclined to flame and piss off their allies"- a statement I find hilarious considering a group of players who don't want to play anymore seem more likely to, you know, fuck around than a team that has already counted their losses and moved on. He also writes that he believes that the inability to concede will cause players to become better at the game, because they will have more time to sit and mope around thinking about what they've done. This seems like a silly argument to me, as I would argue playing more games equals gaining more experience and having more wisdom under your belt. He's essentially arguing that since you are "punished more" by having to sit around and waste your time, you're going to play better. Right- because I'm not actually always playing my best, I need a "time out" to bring me back in line?

"Maybe Dagon on Dazzle isn't the ideal build..."

To me, these "pros" of a lack of a concede feature are non-existant. And what's more, I haven't even started talking about why not having a concede vote doesn't even make sense in itself. DotA2 will always have a "concede vote"- its the part of the game where I sit in the fountain and AFK because the game is over. What people don't seem to realize is that DotA1 had a concede vote all along- it was the big shiny "disconnect" button that had no consequence. If I wanted to leave a game, a game which I saw as a waste of time, I could do so at any time with no problems. Banlist wasn't an effective way to stop leavers, as anyone could simply host their own game and it would always fill.

As it currently stands, DotA2 has a concede option- the ability to sit in the fountain. The only difference this makes is that the 5 players sitting in the fountain are wasting their fucking time, something Maelk seems to think everyone has plenty of. A player AFKing cannot play another game of DotA2, he must first wait for it to end, something which does not happen automatically, and in actuality hangs much in the hands of your opponents who are often all too happy to farm up for another half an hour just to spite you.

Even if DotA2 implemented an anti-AFK and a Report-a-Player option (hey look, HoN features!) into the game, do you really think people would continue to fight with all they've got until the "bitter end"? I doubt it. DotA2 is ripe with fresh and creative ways to troll your team while still walking the line of "not rule breaking".

But really, now we're just wading off into hypothetical territory; there is no excuse for not having a unanimous concede vote in DotA2. If the entire team wants to forfeit for whatever reason, they should be able to do so- it was their idea to start the game in the first place and if they all want to stop, they should be able to. A unanimous vote means that there would never be a situation where one player wants to keep fighting but is forced to quit; it would simply mean that the team doesn't want to fight anymore. The enemy team would still win, and that's that.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Shadowblade: First Impressions

Protip - Follow me on Twitter, I am very active!

My blog has undergone quite a transformation- originally a place for me to rant about things I don't like about S2, it somehow recently became the opposite- a place for me to defend S2 from day-to-day forum insanity. But really, the more I think about it, the more this Blog should really be about one thing and one thing only: Heroes of Newerth. So instead of analyzing forum behavior, let's instead talk about the game at hand!

It's only been a few measly hours since Shadowblade, the latest "Agility" Hero was added to Heroes of Newerth. Since then, I've played around 6 or 7 games with mixed results. And while I can't say I won every game with him (I did win ~half), I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed every single one. Indeed, I'm actually very excited about Shadowblade, something which is perhaps in part due to the fact that I neglected playing him in Super Beta Tester games. This lack of knowledge on my part was a pleasant change of pace, as usually I've already gotten the gist of a new Hero by the time they've came out. This time would be different- although I knew approximately what Shadowblade was about (in theory anyways, a "hybrid hero with multiple roles" doesn't really say much these days!), I had no real idea what was to be expected.

First off, Shadowblade is a "hybrid" hero, but not the kind you are used to. Typically what a hybrid means, is that the Hero will be capable of two things, but (if balanced) not a master of either. A good example of a typical hybrid is perhaps Valkyrie. She's a Ganker, but she's also a semi-carry. She is not the hardest Carry in the game, nor is she the best Ganker in the game- she does both roles but only to a certain point. Shadowblade is different in this respect- because unlike these traditional Carries, Shadowblade can actually do multiple things to full extents. Shadowblade is a hard carry, but he's also a pretty hard initiator, and while at times he can be a hard squishy carry, he can also become a hard survivability machine that refuses to die.

To me, Shadowblade is what Morphling was supposed to be but never really achieved. A Hero that could do multiple things. I don't know DotA or DotA2 enough to know how Morphling turned out these days, but back when I played he was designed pretty badly. The option to change between a "tank" and a "agi carry" was managed through two autocast abilities which drained one attribute for the benefit of the other. Your primary attribute would change through this. His adaptive strike would also change depending on your primary attribute. Despite this effort to make Morphling an interesting Hero, Morphling ultimately (at least for me), failed in this regard. He was fun, but for all the wrong reasons. Waveform basically became your bread and butter, the skill he was most known for and his attribute changing mechanic, for the most part, took the back seat unless you really needed Strength to tank through a hectic situation.

By looking at Shadowblade for the first time you almost fear like its going to be the same thing. An ult which is essentially a passive that grants you a percentage of a target's primary attribute permanently? Sounds repulsively boring. But much to me surprise, it really wasn't.

Shadowblade succeeds where other Heroes have failed, to create a balance-able "hybrid" Hero that can actually do multiple things just as well- if only one at a time. Shadowblade's ultimate allows him to change his primary attribute to any he desires, and also gives him a bonus to this attribute depending who he targets. Using this ability, he can switch between a rather squishy but dangerous Agility Hero, or a formidable Strength "tank" (there is a fiasco about whether "tank" is a role or not- to me "tank" is a sub-role that simply means you have a lot of hitpoints). The fun part really comes into play when you use this ability in battle to suddenly change from a full fletched Tank into a squishy hard agility carry in the bat of an eye- a feat no other Hero can really pull off.

But really that's just the beginning. Your other abilities are what truly change the Hero into whatever you want. Gargantuan's Blast gives you a huge heaping load of extra Survivability and works well as an initiation ability (following Feint's Siphon). By using it after you've jumped into a fight (especially when you are using your ultimate to become a Strength Hero) you can be an extremely formidable Initiator, soaking up large amounts of Physical and Magic damage while your team widdles down the slowed masses.

Feint's Syphon is your most versatile spell. In addition to granting you +agility and +damage when used on an enemy (the +agility and movement boost stay on you even after you change forms!) it also provides you with movement speed. It can be used as many things: an initiation tool to combo with your Gargantuan's Blast ability for quick slowing, a simple burst in damage for out-damaging an enemy carry or bursting a support down, an escape mech (although admittedly very weak), or simply a burst in damage to be combod with Soul's Sight. Feint's Syphon can even be cast on yourself for a handy movement speed boost wherever you may currently be. It's your bread and butter and unlike your other abilities, is far from only situational.

Soul's Sight is basically the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of what would otherwise be an only mediocre and possibly boring Hero. Most Agility melee Carries suffer from not being able to maneuver around fights very easily. Their melee attack is a disadvantage right until the very end of the game, where every second of Shrunken Head activation time is precious and every moment not spent wailing on an enemy Hero is time squandered. These hard Carry Agility heroes- Heroes like Chronos or Magebane- they all suffer from this problem. Shadowblade suffers from other problems- primarily a lack of a reliable escape mechanism, no stun or mini-stun. What he lacks, however, he makes up with the ability to be permanently ranged whenever he wants. Yes, you read that right- Soul's Sight has an 11 second duration and only a 10 second cooldown. If desired, although this wouldn't be very practical, Shadowblade could stay in ranged for for how ever long he could sustain the (cheap) Mana cost.

Not only does he become ranged, but he gains vision of an area, making Juking impossible. When combo'd with his other abilities, a clear routine for teamfights begins to emerge:

  1. Be a Strength Hero via Essence Shift (prior to engagement)
  2. Initiate with Feint's Siphon
  3. Activate Gargantuan's Blast for Initiation, Slow and Tanking ability
  4. Wait for the initial onslaught of damage to dwindle, then activate Soul's Sight
At this point, you've become a ranged Hero that still has bonus damage from Feint's Syphon. If all goes well, at this point, your team will have followed up and layed waste to many of the Support Heroes- but perhaps there are still Carries that are alive. Usually at this point I hang back and lick my wounds for a moment, before I begin the second onslaught- this time with less crowd control on the field, I can roam more freely and become a glass cannon:
  1. Use Essence Shift on an ideal Agility Hero
  2. Initiate with Feint's Siphon
  3. If the enemy is distracted, simply wail on them until they react
  4. Activate Gargantuan's Blast for the slow only
  5. Activate Soul's Sight for the ranged attack and finish off the wounded enemy
When I had originally begun playing Shadowblade, I thought Soul's Sight was more of a situational ability, or perhaps an ability that was only worth using if I was using Intellect as my primary Attribute (something you should never do, thus making the ability pretty useless). As it turns out, Soul's Sight turns you into a ranged hero, buffs your auto attack damage, gives you a nice vision boost, and has no drawbacks! If it weren't for the fact that Feints Siphon (probably) gives more attack damage overall (although I can't confirm this), I'd be using Soul's Sight to damage enemies all the time. If it does turn out that Soul's Sight gives comparable DPS, I will probably just neglect using Feint's Siphon for anything else than a positioning tool for Gargantuan's Blast (and +Agility and MS boost), which I would then mostly chain into Soul's Sight.

Concluding, Shadowblade is a fun and effective Hero. Unlike other hard Carry Melee Heroes, he suffers greatly from not having a reliable escape mechanism, doesn't have any stun and has very little crowd control (just one Slow). What he lacks, however, he makes up for in his ability to be on your ass all the time. His blink strike, his ranged attack damage and vision- in a teamfight where the enemy can't make a full retreat, it's almost impossible to keep him off you. There is no place to run and no trees to hide behind. I love Shadowblade for what he is, a unique Hero that scales in an interesting way- having a metric crapton of one primary attribute is a very fun and interesting way to be a carry- having 2.7k HP very early in the game is definitely amusing, and if you have an Arachna or Gemini on your team, +40 Agility is basically ensured once you hit level 16.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's complicated

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, back when DotA was still nothing more than a custom map in Warcraft III that people played alongside other horribly unbalanced just-for-fun "Hero Arena" maps, things were a lot more simple than they are today. DotA, when it started, competed directly with these other Hero Arena maps, but the core concept was the same; the player would chose one Hero out of a large pool and duke it out alongside other players. Since Map Makers were lazy in these days, many Hero Arena Maps would recycle existing skills from the game, often simply exchanging models or graphics while keeping the trigger intact. As Map Makers became increasingly skilled and more tools became available to them, however, more complex skills began to surface and the Heroes became more dynamic, something people appreciated because it showed effort and added complexity to the game.

Fast forward a few years and you'd almost think you've landed in some sort of dystopian future where designers create horrible abominations of skills, the stuff that Mary Shelley probably has wet dreams over. At least, that's what the community might have you believe. As I have pointed out in the past, the community will cry overpowered whenever a new Hero is released, regardless of what kind of Hero it is. But this special kind of gripe that the community holds isn't even about balance; I'm talking about complexity.

In order to properly experience the irony of today's complaints regarding skill and hero complexity you'd have to go back in time... or just have played DotA. The year was 2009, the place: The PlayDotA forums. Tensions were growing as Icefrog had just released his newest overly complicated, overpowered abomination: Huskar, the Sacred Warrior. But as it is today, balance was only half the story. The problem people had with this Hero was that he was too complicated, after all, DotA was just a "Hero Arena" map that (the majority of) people simply played to relax and have fun, why should they have to bother to try and figure out the rocket science that was a percent sign. Indeed, the Community was upset, it seemed Icefrog was forsakening the very values that had made DotA a success! Simple heroes with simple designs. Stuff like Sven, the Rogueknight, who, as many people love to bring up, was "easy to describe" and could be summed up by saying "he has a stun, a cleave, armor aura and double damage". Trying to describe a new Hero in a few sentences these days is indeed somewhat challenging, "He's got a charge that deals your auto attack damage, an ability that jumps over another player and knocks them back and slows them- and you can use it twice if you are fast, and an area of affect stun that also damages and also goes off twice- and a passive ult that makes you go faster if the enemy doesn't hit you, and it also lowers your cooldowns...." just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Damn kids! Back in my day we didn't have Spell Vamp!

As we know the present is doomed to repeat the past because it cant remember it. But back when people asked Icefrog why he didn't just create another simple Hero with a stun, an aura and a double damage ult, his answer went something like "because that's fucking boring and we already have a hero that does that". As Huskar aged and people began to accept him as a classic DotA Hero, presumably through rose colored nostalgia goggles, his "complexity" problem was quickly forgotten (and pressed onto the next Hero instead). Fast forward back to the future and we've got the same deal between the Community and S2 designers. People often ask S2 why they don't simply create a "simple" Hero that wont boggle their minds. Aside from the fact that there is an equally large pool of people who would be outraged if S2 recycled an ability 1:1 (something DotA used to do, how many Heroes in DotA have crit?), this just isn't exactly possible to create a brand new ability that is both simple and original. A New hero with recycled abilities would quickly be picked apart by the community and quickly dismissed as a boring pile of rubbish- hell, even Cthulhuphant, a Hero that is fairly original by most people's standards, was ridiculed for having "Magmus Stun" despite the fact that the abilities worked differently in almost every way imaginable.

Of course, there are those who link complexity to balance, an age old fallacy that I think I've spent enough time debunking in last week's article. Complexity or "the amount of stuff a Hero does that I can count" doesn't actually have anything to do with balance since everything is relative. A "simple" Hero like Hammerstorm can be viable and strong because his "stun", while simple, is actually an incredible un-missable AoE Immobilize/Silence/Perplex/Disarm that he can spam with a Blood Chalice. When people make simplistic comparisons like "Hammerstorm has a Stun, Monkey King has a Stun and a Slow, Monkey King is superior" they are leaving out important details like "how long does the stun last?", "how easy is it to hit?", "how much Micro/skill is involved", or "how much Mana does it cost?". Gemini has three stuns? That's nothing, Rhapsody has six!

Presenting: The most overpowered Hero in the game - 9 Stuns

In conclusion, it is my firm belief that complexity is not a choice, but a consequence. HoN has over 90 Heroes, each with 4 skills. When you set out to design a new Hero, odds are you are going to have to mix a few things together to create a skill that hasn't been done before. Whether or not mixing all that stuff together will make the skill or the Hero overpowered is something that remains to be seen.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It Only Does Everything™

Whenever S2Games releases a new Hero, the Community is skeptic to say the least. This isn't a new phenomenon, and can be viewed empirically by quickly glancing at YouTube or Forum posts left by disgruntled members of the Community when the Hero is first announced. When this first started happening, I was somewhat confused, because it seemed like no matter what Hero came out, no matter what skills or weaknesses it possessed, it would be quickly dismissed as the newest overpowered garbage to grace the game.

If you read my last article, you might be scratching your head asking yourself if you are about to read the same article twice- but there is a distinct difference here. A hero like Emerald Warden or Tremble didn't just carry the illusion of lower-bracket chaos, they literally delivered it. No matter what the highest tier competitive player says, these Heroes dominated the lower game brackets and left players frustrated. Players who claimed they saw this coming a mile away were quick to remind everybody that "they told you so".

But that's not why I'm here writing to you today. Because for every "I told you so" there are at least one hundred unspoken "I told you so, but I was wrong"'s that are sadly never uttered. What I am talking about is the insanity- no- the literal hysteria that is ignited when a new Hero is announced.

This deafening hysteria quickly consumes the forums in a wave of panic and utter disgust. How could S2 dare to create a Hero of this caliber? With skills like that, why would I even bother picking anything else? These questions are tough to answer because they might as well be rhetorical questions, carefully cherry picked from a garden of stupid. When critiquing a new Hero, players continue to fall into the same traps by regurgitating the same arguments. To set the record straight, I don't have any problems with people criticizing a new Hero, but I do have a bone to pick with the following strategies:

"The Counter"

This argument revolves around simply counting up everything a Hero does to make it sound overpowered. It sounds something like this: "It has a huge Nuke, a Stun, a Slow, Crit, Invisibility, a +300 attack speed buff, increased movement speed, AoE silence (goes through magic immunity), near permanent invisibility, free wards and counter-wards". Sound ridiculous to you? That's because it is- I just described Scout to you, a Hero that I don't think anybody has a problem with today. Good job Sherlock, by counting up every single thing the Hero does you can literally make anything sound overpowered. I hate to break it to the population- but Heroes have to be able to do something in order to be useful.

"The Contextless"
The context-less argument is all about throwing out random information that sounds ridiculous because it has no context at all. This usually sounds something like "780 magic damage every 11 seconds at level 16", a hilariously out-of-context statement written by an Anonymous writer impersonating [S2]DivA. We can only assume what he meant to say was "Buffs you and 2 random Heroes around you if they are in 600 range- if both you and the two random units that get the buff happen to attack twice within a short interval you can deal around 780 damage- also you are playing a squishy Int Hero that has one of the lowest base HP in the game and has no ultimate". But technicalities like "the hero has a passive ult, of course his base abilities are going to be better" usually fall quickly (and silently) under the table.

"The S2 Conspiracy"
There's an ongoing conspiracy theory that S2 designers are secretly sexually insecure and overcompensate for this by creating overpowered Heroes to "one-up" (no puns intended) the original DotA cast. Fans of this theory like to attribute this fact by the fact that "all S2 Heroes have stuns, long range and good attack animations"- statements that aren't just false but also, again, don't provide any context for the Hero that is coming out. S2 Conspiracy theorists tend to be DotA loyalists who don't understand that a Stun is actually an Immobilize, a Disarm, a Perplex and Silence balled into one and are then disgusted when an S2 Hero contains two or more of these abilities split into separate skills. These are the same people who don't understand why Hammerstorm and Magmus are good roaming Heroes.

"The Astrologer"
The astrologer, similar to the S2 Conspiracy Theorist, prides himself on being ahead of the curve. He is quick to recognize something he's seen before, which can only mean that S2 is all out of ideas. Sentiments from the Astrologer include statements such as "Another Invis Hero?", "Ranged, has a Stun, AoE ult- big surprise!" or "can you guys create anything other than Int Heroes?" when the 2nd Int hero in a row comes out. The Astrologer, like the others, is fool-proof, because no matter what the last Hero was that came out was, he will always be able to somehow connect the two to confirm his ongoing suspicion that he's got S2 all figured out. His predictions are, and will always remain, completely flawless.

So, all these bases covered, how is it possible to actually judge a Hero before it comes out? Simply put- you can't, stop trying. There's no way to judge exactly how balanced a Hero will be when he isn't out yet because you simply don't know how he will synergize with other Heroes, how the finer points of his abilities work out- Mana costs, Cooldowns, Armor values, Stat Gain, etc. All these finer details mesh together and often paint a much different picture once the Hero has sunk into player's minds. So the next time you watch a Spotlight video and you're absolutely sure Flux is going to be the next pubstomper- do everyone around you a favor and keep it to yourself until the Hero has been released and is at least 1-2 weeks old.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Balance- Or: Why your Opinion is Wrong

Balance is and will always be one of the hottest topics in any video game that revolves around winning. In a game like Heroes of Newerth, where there are over 90 Heroes, each with their own unique synergies with one another, Balance can often be somewhat challenging. Adding one new Hero to HoN every two weeks has been a controversial change among many players on the grounds that they don't believe S2 can balance the game fast enough.

As somebody who is very attuned with the Community of Heroes of Newerth, I observe a lot of balance complaints. It seems like there is always one Hero out there that the majority of the Community believes to be overpowered- currently this hero has a name; Emerald Warden. In a HoNCast Interview yesterday, balance guru DOGKaiser was asked what he thinks about the numerous complaints about Emerald Warden being overpowered. His response left a lot of the Community flabbergasted- "95% of Competitors think Emerald Warden could use a buff".

This isn't the first time Competitors and the casual Community have been in disagreement, it happens all the time, and while it is not uncommon to see a Hero that is both viable in Competitive play as well as pubs, a Hero that is viable in one but not the other is somewhat less common.

I'm frequently asked why S2 doesn't nerf such Heroes. It's hard to answer this question without offending somebody. Maybe this graph will help:

Balance in HoN is done the same way it is done in every other (good) RTS (or ARTS) style game- from the top down. To a lot of people, this seems unjust. Is it fair that competitors' opinions are valued more than the average joe? No. Does it make sense? Yes. In today's world of the vocal internet forum, everybody believes to be a beautiful unique snowflake. Designers, not keen on being tarred and feathered, will never be seen uttering these words:

If you aren't the best of the best, your opinion is worth less.

To the majority of HoN players, this will definitely seem unfair. After all, if the majority of HoN players are in the 1500 bracket, shouldn't their opinions be valued more? Shouldn't the game be balanced around their metagame? Why should we balance a game around the smallest percentile of players? The truth is somewhere in this graph:

The problem with balancing a game around the "sweet spot", or the area where the most players play, is that it doesn't work. This is because, depending who you ask, you are always going to get a very inconstant consensus. The further down the MMR ladder you climb, the more erratic the metagame becomes. If you ask somebody in the 1000 MMR bracket who they think the most overpowered hero is and why, they'd probably give you a Hero you almost forgot existed.

Competitors aren't perfect. A competitor is not a designer, he can identify a problem but not provide a solution, much the same way a designer can release a well designed hero without it being completely balanced from the get-go. But when it comes to balance, a competitor will always be held to a higher regard than somebody else, because he is playing in an environment where people will be utilizing their heroes to the highest possible potential, and that's where "sweet spot" balance drops the ball.

So where does this leave the players in the 1500 bracket? Are they doomed to be victims of Emerald Wardens, Trembles, Nomads and (if you can think that far back) Zephyrs? Sources say: No. While it is true that competitors will always be held to a higher regard, that 1500 bracket players are, in fact, not doing everything in their power to counter that Emerald Warden, that Tremble, that Zephyr, balance can often be changed in a way that it nerfs the Hero in such a way that he is less effective in pub play while retaining his skill in the competitive scene. This can be accomplished by making the hero less easy to play while keeping his overall strength intact.

Concluding, let it be said that just because a lot of people think a hero is overpowered, it doesn't necessarily mean he is, because HoN is balanced from the top down. Playing only one hero and getting to 1800 MMR without losing does not, contrary to popular belief, prove anything. Most competitive players could reach 1800 MMR without losing playing pretty much any hero, given the right team and communication. While Tremblerape & Crew are certainly an entertaining sight to see, they don't actually say anything about balance on a competitive level. This doesn't mean the Hero shouldn't be tweaked in such a way that he is less powerful in pubs, but it does mean the Hero probably isn't overpowered.

So, before you cry nerf, take a good long look at yourself. Who are you, and why do you think your opinion matters?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Hardest Heroes to Play

5. Soulstealer

Without a doubt, Soulstealer is one of those Heroes where skill (or the lack thereof) really shines through. The difference between somebody who knows what they are doing with Soulstealer and somebody who does not is clearly visible in games, and it's no surprise that in the hands of a skilled player can single handedly win games. A lot of people attribute Soulstealer's difficulty to landing Demon Hands, one of the most fickle abilities in the game. This is only half true, however, as there's a lot more to Soulstealer than meets the immediate eye. In addition to landing his Demon Hands and Soul Bursts, Soulstealer is a Hero who is naturally at a disadvantage towards all other Heroes in terms of HP. To make up for this, Soulstealer has the gift of being able to clear entire creepwaves in less than a second, allowing him to make items quickly. A blessing but also a curse, his above average farming skill must be utilized to it's fullest potential to be truly terrifying.

4. Ophelia

No surprise here, Ophelia is probably one of the most microintensive Heroes in Heroes of Newerth. With the recent addition to Energizer, an item that provides not only her but also her minions with increased speed and unitwalking, it remains to be seen how her ganking potential may be boosted if the item proves viable. Overall, Ophelia has been viewed as an arguably underpowered Hero, able to control only one Minion up until level 5, a severe nerf to the arguably overpowered version of Ophelia that preceded the current version. Nevertheless, some players hold fast that Ophelia's reward is worth the risk, believing that with the proper micromanagement she could be worth her weight in gold.

3. Flux

Flux is a Hero that isn't naturally difficult to play in the traditional sense. His abilities are quite straightforward, even with the push/pull polarity swaping, it isn't that complicated. Even his Q ability, arguably one of the more tricky things to master in terms of split second decision making, can be mastered by a decent player after only a few tries. No, what really sets a good Flux player apart from a bad one is teamwork and communication, one of the hardest things to come by in Heroes of Newerth. Flux is probably the most worthless Hero in Heroes of Newerth if not combined correctly. Even with a proper team, however, Flux is still a risky business. His ultimate, although on a relatively short cooldown, can actually do more harm than good when misused and unlike other initiator Heroes like Magmus, offers no real reliable stun or damage output. It's not surprising, then, that we don't see Flux in many games. The ones you do see him in and used correctly, however, are some of the most entertaining things you will ever see in your Newerth career.

2. Legionnaire

Legionnaire is the forgotten Hero of DotA days. A pub favorite for some reason, Legionnaire seems to make appearances in all the wrong places. Although you might not see the connection at first, Legionnaire actually has a lot in common with Soulstealer. Both are at a massive natural disadvantage, a gap that they must bridge using their above natural farming ability. Legionnaire is one of, if not the best, neutral farming Hero in the game. This is largely due to his ability to deal more damage depending on how many creeps are attacking him, all for no Mana cost. The problem with Legionnaire is his schedule- should Legionnaire spend his time farming, or ganking? Both! But to which degree? Many players feel the need to rush a Portal Key à la Tempest, a strategy that often falls on it's head because Legionnaire often needs a Helm of the Black Legion, boots and a Chalice or other Mana source first, a long list to check before he can move on to his trusty Portal Key. A good Legionnaire player knows what he's doing, and is never wasting time. When he's not farming, he's ganking, and when he's not ganking, he's farming. He knows where he needs to be all the time and is always right on time.

1. Monkey King

The initial release and now the full release of Monkey King had a lot of people complaining. The consensus seems to be "why should I play this Hero when I can play a more reliable melee ganker?"- a question that isn't very easy to answer. DotA and HoN's Metagame has always been about reliability. Reliable stuns, reliable carry, reliable ganker. This is why Heroes like Magmus, Andromeda and Witch Slayer will always be top picks, because there's no chance of failure. Monkey King is the opposite of everything you'd want from a competitive Hero; he's risky and he's difficult. That said, Monkey King might just be one of the most powerful Heroes in the game, and I don't think we've even begun to see his true potential. Monkey King's strongest ability often goes unnoticed by players- his ultimate. No, not the movespeed buff- the cooldown reduction. Every time Monkey King casts a spell, his cooldowns are reduced significantly. Put this on a Hero with 3 activated damage abilities with low cooldowns, and you have a Hero that is capable of almost 0 downtime- Monkey King can effectively spread his abilities out in such a manner that he's almost always casting something, which puts him at a considerable advantage over other carry Heroes. Carry Heroes in HoN are characterized by the fact that most of the time, they would rather be standing still and auto attacking to maximize their damage. Monkey King on the other Hand, maximizes his damage by flying all over the place and completely disorienting his enemy. The difference between Monkey King and other Heroes is that he has to plan out what combination of abilities he's going to use in what order to match the situation he's in, a task not easily accomplished. When will we see Monkey King in higher level play? We can only hope soon.

Monday, June 13, 2011

5 Easy Ways to Lose a Game of HoN

If you notice any constellation between this post and my previous one, it may be because I've been spending a lot of time playing HoN with groups of people who are new to the game. In many days of teaching HoN to people, I've found that while it can be productive for new players to observe higher tier players, it's equally important for the teacher to observe the student. Simply put, many veteran HoN players seem to forget that there isn't some magical school that teaches new HoN players important rules that, when ignored, can cost you a game faster than you would believe. To these neglected new players, I present to you my Top 5 ways to lose a game of HoN:

5. Run a Double Melee Lane

For a rule that many people seem is a given, the infamous double melee lane is a phenomenon that is anything but extinct in lower level play. To a veteran player, the implications are clear: not having at least one ranged hero in the lane is a one way ticket to not getting any last hits, any denies, and in many cases, any experience. When sitting in the hero selection screen, it helps to count all melee heroes picked or prepicked. If the number is three, then you must make sure that one of them is headed for the middle lane. If the number is larger than three, something needs to be changed.

4. Play Passively in the Laning Phase

The Laning Phase's importance to the game depends how long the game goes on. In most cases, however, games rarely exceed 60 minutes, making the laning phase extremely important. The error that many players make is that they rely too much on the hero in the middle lane to assist them in ganking. While it is true that the middle hero should collect runes and gank the lanes whenever possible, many heroes that run the middle lane are simply not able to find the time to gank all the time. Often players won't take this into account and expect the player in the middle lane to solve all their problems. In reality, however, much of the blame can be put in the lane that failed. Players who are new to the game will find it difficult to harass and initiate local ganks in the lane. Harassing, pulling, initiating and 'AI-pulling' (right clicking an enemy hero and then running back to pull the creepwave back towards you) are all extremely important things to learn and apply in the laning phase. Learning when to initiate within the lane requires communication and timing, which, while I wish I could sum up in a few sentences, requires practice more than anything to master.

3. Dick Around

Although the term might seem crude, dicking around is a very serious issue which plagues lower level play. It helps to think of every creep in the lane as potential experience and money. When nobody occupies a lane, this experience and money is essentially being thrown into the trash. More times than I can count have I seen lower level players perplexed at how the enemy heroes have accumulated so much experience and so many items. Simply put: they spend more time in the lane and less time between lanes. Of course, depending on what kind of hero you are playing, being between the lanes might work to your advantage. Running between the lanes when it doesn't benefit you, however, is something else. As the famous saying goes, "time is money" and every second you spend treading between lanes is money lost.

2. Have a nonsensical Hero Lineup

Tying into point number 5, the correct hero composition is the key to any game's success. Contrary to popular belief, a good hero composition can make a large difference in any tier of play. When I started playing DotA a long time ago, my friends would often make some sweeping generalizations when trying to define roles and compositions, and I would often hear stuff like "we need more stuns". As time went on, however, I realized that although it's important to get a diverse group of hero roles on your team, "Stuns" are somewhat of a miracle mechanic. Any ability that stuns you also immobilizes, silences, disarms and perplexes you, a mixture of disable which often goes under-appreciated. The point I'm trying to make here is that in addition to getting a diverse mixture of roles (friendly reminder that "Tank" is not a role) and a lineup that doesn't have a double melee lane, one should always count the amount of easy to land/area of effect stuns your team has. Additionally, you should also think about what two heroes will lane together, but that's a story for another time.

1. Don't buy a Courier and Wards at Level 1

The easiest way to lose any HoN game, of course, is to not buy a courier and wards at level one. For any higher level game, this goes without saying, but for lower level play, it remains an issue forever unsolved. Wards and a Courier at level one are, in fact, the most crucial building blocks to winning any game. The chain reaction which ensues when this criteria is not met often goes unnoticed. Without a courier, the middle lane cannot send a Bottle (friendly reminder that you should never buy a Bottle at level one), without Wards the middle lane cannot compete for runes. Without runes, the middle lane cannot fill his bottle, and without a filled bottle the middle lane cannot gank the sidelanes. Without ganks to the sidelanes, the sidelanes are susceptible to failure (not to mention the middle lane which is basically guaranteed to fail). Like the Keel of a boat, without Wards and a Courier straight out of the gate, your ship is destined to sink. The tragic aspect of this is, as already stated, that the connection between the cause and effect often go unnoticed and the hero in mid is often given the blame.

You may notice that most of the things I have listed all stem from decisions made at the beginning of the game. The hard truth about Heroes of Newerth is that you can often (and very easily) dig your own grave before you even kill your first creep. Without the right hero composition, you will lack proper lanes and proper Support. Without proper Support, you will have players who feel no obligation to buy Wards of a Courier and lanes that are destined to fail. Without these things, games simply cannot be won in a game of equally matched skill.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Top 5 Worst Pub Heroes (That you need to stop Picking)

These days, it seems like the only mode you can get away with in Matchmaking is Single Draft, which although I have advocated in the past as a good map for people learning the game, isn't very versatile. In lieu of not being able to see what Heroes your enemies are picking, as well as having a relatively restricted choice of Heroes yourself, playing Solo Matchmaking in Single Draft can always be a chore of trying to persuade your teammates to pick Heroes that actually fit into your team's makeup. For many players, such as myself, this exercise can be tiring to say the least, as players will often be hesitant to abandon their premeditated desires to play Heroes that won't help your team at all (or just ignore you completely).

So without further ado, here is my (not entirely serious) top 5 list of Heroes that you need to stop picking because it's making me sad (excluding Scout, which, honestly, I have not seen a lot of lately). Note that this list has nothing to do with Balance, but is really just Heroes that typical 1500-1600 players can't seem to get to grips with. Here we go!

#5 Pandamonium

Ever since Pandamonium has sprung into existance, a lot of people have been confused to his role. At first glance he almost seems like some sort of Melee-Physical based ganker, similar to Fayde. His small Mana pool and two scaling abilities, however, tell a much different story: that of some sort of carry/disabler hybrid. What's safe to say about Pandamonium is this: You probably don't know what you're doing. For real.

Pandamonium demands an extremely aggressive laning phase, during which he will need to rush Ghost Marchers and synergize with his ranged counterpart. Because it is the nature of most pub players to play passively in the lane and not communicate with their partner, this (ever so important) aggression is often non existent. Pandamonium also requires a (very) good farm, meaning it wouldn't hurt to last hit every single creep in the lane, something most players aren't capable of due to his low base damage. Mix this in with Canonball, a skill that is seemingly impossible to land (based on my observations) and you have a recipe for disaster.

#4 Electrician

Another Strength Hero with a difficult to define role for many people, Electrician's appeal to pub players remains a mystery to me. After all, most pub players thrive on heroes that have high damage nukes and long range spells which allow them to score last hits. It seems, however, that somewhere at the other end of the spectrum, these melee strength heroes with extremely obscure roles are somehow appealing. In any case, Electrician is, at least to me, known as being a hero that is extremely easy to screw up.

First and foremost, playing Electrician in the middle lane requires extensive practice and knowledge of what you are doing. When playing against ranged heroes with high base auto attack damage, it's easy to get shut down quickly. In the side lanes, Electrician must often play aggressively, gripping players at key opportune moments in which they over extend themselves. Since you can often bet your life that an inexperienced player will not be doing these things, Electrician will often come with a one way ticket to being useless later in the game.

#3 Gladiator

Another Melee-strength hero, Gladiator is known as being a difficult hero to play. This, however, does not seem to stop people from wanting to play him. Probably due to videos like this one, Gladiator remains a hot topic in lower level games and will often be picked over that Support character your team actually needs.

Gladiator's Achilles' heel is, of course, the fact that Pitfall, his main source of damage and crowd control, is a skillshot. Despite the fact that Gladiator has a skill (Showdown) which actually remedies this skill into a guaranteed-stun is little comfort to people who believe that this only makes it even harder to land because you have to press more buttons. Mix these faults together with an ultimate that is possibly even easier to miss, and it's not difficult to see why most 1600 games with Gladiator are loosely defined as a 4v5.

#2 Magebane

Second place, of course, has to be awarded to Magebane, or SDBane as I like to call him, for it seems his irresistibility knows no bounds. Magebane is a hero that sees little use in competitive play as is often regarded as an underpowered hero as is. Regardless of what you think of Magebane however, what can be established is that in the hands of incompetent player he is better suited as a paperweight.

What draws players to Magebane is relatively clear: his escape mechanism is almost unparalleled. The only thing more appealing to pub players than huge long range nukes is an easy to use escape mechanism which ensures longevity. This longevity, however, is often cut short when players realize that any competent disabler hero will easily shut them down without a Shrunken Head. Magebane also comes with an inherent inability to farm, automatically crippling any chances a typical pub player will have for accumulating core items.

#1 Flint Beastwood

The winner of this contest, however, has to go to our good pal Flint Beastwood. Since the dawn of Scout, people have been wishing and praying for a hero that could provide the same kill stealing potency coupled with a longer range. Their prayers were answered, unfortunately, in the form of a hero almost designed for overcompensating novice players. Flint is basically a pub player's dream- long range (the longest range in the game, to be exact), only two activated abilities (both of which require little to no aiming skills) and, of course, the ability to steal kills. Flint Beastwood deserves a pat on the back for not only replacing Scout, but officially making him obsolete.

Looking at the hero statistics page, it seems like it would take a lot to dethrone Flint. Of course, there's nothing wrong with Flint, and he's actually one of the most handy and all purpose ranged semi-carries in the game. So how to pubs manage to fail so hard? Well, with Flint, there aren't as many striking faults as there are subtle ones. Firstly, players will always pick Flint and demand mid, regardless of their team's proposed lineup. Secondly, most Flint Beastwood players that arrive fresh into the 1600-1700 bracket will have unrealistic expectations of how their lane will work. Somewhere deep down in MMR hell, Flint Beastwood players must be allowed to farm mid undisturbed for the better portion of 50 minutes, because the Flint Beastwood players I have encountered in my solo Matchmaking games seem to be completely overwhelmed with the idea of an enemy hero who will actually attack them in the lane (a special thank you and pat on the back to all Devourer players out there). Indeed, Flint has become the new staple of low MMR games everywhere, and I don't see this changing in the near future, unless S2 creates a hero with 2000 range and free level 5 Codex.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Carrots, Sticks, and How To Move Horses

When I first signed up for S2, they asked me to write a paper on things I wanted to see. At the top of my list was an in-game currency for players to earn and exchange for skins and other in-game cosmetic items. Today, this system is in-place and working very much the way I imagined it would.

Then when HoN 2.0 was first announced, and players heard about the prospect of earning coins, vivid irrational images of money flashed before their eyes and outrage was generated. As someone who specializes in gaging community reactions this shouldn't have come to any surprise to me, but honestly, at that point I was knee deep in HoN 2.0 anticipation that I would be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat disappointed at the initial community reaction. Even the most rational and constructive communities had initial backlashes, labeling the store as "gimmicks for money".

As someone who plays a lot of PC games, it's no surprise that micro-transactions are becoming more frequent in games- but this article isn't about the fact that the shop has been a financial success- I don't get paid to make money, I get paid to interact with and improve the community. When I first wrote my article about giving players a currency based system, the very last thing on my mind was a way to profit from a currency system- I knew it was going to happen but it didn't interest me as a player.

An aspect of in-game currency that people love to underestimate is it's ability for developers to have leverage on players. As somebody who is beginning to study Economics, I love the concept of incentives. Incentives are exactly what they sound like- a reason for a person to do something. Before HoN 2.0 came out, S2 had no incentives to haggle with- besides maybe a few forum icons.

What you see here is the beginning of something beautiful- a way for S2 to give players incentives to do things. Yes, one of the things S2 can do with this is to incite you to give them your money- and yes, that has obviously happened, but again, that isn't why we're here. The ability to create incentives for players in HoN is a unique opportunity to get the community to do virtually anything- to play more, to play better, to behave nicer.

Arguably counter-productive

While community based initiatives have good intentions to better the community, their rate of return is horrendously bad. With goblin coins, behavior can be directly affected and changed for the better.

A lot of people attribute the increase of players post HoN 2.0 to the new and improved Matchmaking system. While the new Matchmaking system is indeed fantastic, an aspect that people often don't take into account are coin bonuses. It's absolutely no coincidence that there are coins bonuses for consecutive games or for first games of the day- these bonuses are set in place to give players an incentive to begin playing and to keep playing.

So, while players love to oversimplify goblin coins as a quick way for S2 to turn a buck, the truth is that goblin coins are much more than that. Giving players something to work forward to, giving them incentives to change their behavior and to contribute information (in the forms of surveys, guides and videos), goblin coins are going to be the driving force behind a lot of things you will hopefully see soon.

Bringing Sexy Back

Hello guys,

It's been a long time since I last wrote anything here, mostly because once I got hired by S2Games I thought this Blog would essentially become obsoloete (after all, why complain about things on a blog when I can complain directly to the developers now?), but after some thought, and long months of making videos and longer posts on Reddit, I feel as though my input could be helpful.

So, with this prospect, I intend to begin writing articles into this Blog again. As a disclaimer, the opinions posted on this Blog are that of me, not of S2Games. As a concequence, you may often find propositions here for features and ideas that may never see the light of day, and opinions which might not even be shared else at S2Games.

With that, I hope you enjoy my rambling as I know I will.

Markus 'Nigma' Steiner