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.


  1. Actually I like S2games recently because their heroes is not overly complicated, probably because they want to welcome new F2Pers. Ra for example, is a easy to understand hero, especially if compare to hero like Visage in Dota.

  2. Nigma, you still fail to understand why people are bitching, it's liek your thickheaded or something.

    When you give a hero aoe farming ability with an escape PLUS a stun, that defeats thje whole paper/scissors/rock balancing and takes out hero picking out of eqation. I remember the days when getting simply outpicked at selection screen was still happening. these days that word is hardly mentioned. Now it';s a race of picking s2 carry and ganker.

  3. Posted by Markus at 5:04 AM wow. Nice article, pretty much the truth, but most heroes designed recently have stun+ slow+ speed. I would like to be some more "thunderbringers " (full nukers), healers, lifestealers, etc. But I'm tired of not being able to move in the entire match :/

  4. @AAA This post isn't really about balance, like I have already stated. Say what you want but I have observed plenty of people complaining about complexity, unrelated to balance.

  5. I think that it's hilarious that there is still this conspiracy that S2 just tries to make the best heroes. By funny I mean: how can you still make that stupid argument. "race to pick the S2 heroes"????? Actually if a team is good they are racing to pick DotA heroes bud. Warlock and Plague Rider are the two most first picked (IF NOT BANNED FOR BEING TOO GOOD) heroes. Guess who made em? (hint: not S2)

  6. Nick are you retarded? i said s2 carries. plague rider is not a carry. learn to read you puberless hack

  7. Nick, Warlock and Hellbringer are so far from each other at this point that they are completely different heroes. Warlock isn't OP in DotA, where Hellbringer is considered OP by most.

    Lich has always been strong, but he's not broken in either game, except perhaps in suicide lane, where he's twice as good as anyone else.

  8. I still have to see skills like:
    random blinking
    building towers
    stealing gold or XP
    the hero which builds an arena and fights
    with just 1 enemy for 4-5 seconds
    (old dota forums idea)
    modifying terrain temporarily / permanently
    cloaking sight on AOE instead of heroes
    single target fear effect
    confusion(like D&D spell)
    death curse on own death (purgable)
    coordination skills
    you must do your spell while
    your mate is doing his, and you
    can double the effect
    skills cloned from other players

    And what about a spectator-like hero, much like empath ulti, has no model, no items, can not die, just coordinates action like a captain and uses his skills on allies.

    That's mainly because S2 developers are not in touch with hero designers / have other things to fix. Also, it's LOTTA easier to recycle old ideas than to invent and code.

    I have so many ideas about this genre, and I see flat-lined brains on dev. teams with no will to risk.

  9. @AAA, ooooooooh you said S2 CARRIES and GANKERS. So you mean like Flint and CD and Hag and Polly........................ oh wait S2 didn't make razor, sniper, QoP or shadow shaman.

    Stop acting like S2 is secretly making heroes that are better than dota heroes to stroke their ego or something. I am sorry that you got killed by an emerald warden but don't call me a "puberless hack".

  10. You can make abilities unique without having to make them complex. Example of skills that don't exist in the game yet are fairly simple:
    Spawning trees permanently
    Exploding minions
    a wave of damage or buffs or whatever that travels down each lane from the barracks
    Teleporters(as in you can teleport between points, not nymphoras ultimate)
    a wall that blocks/reflects projectiles
    channel to project a invurnerable ghost of yourself that can use your abilities, but leaves your body stunned for the duration
    building artillery(think trebuchets from age of empires)
    mass flight aka mass cliffwalk
    hiding health/mana/identity of allied heroes
    toggle that hastily rewinds your movement(at the cost of mana every second)
    stopping time for a few seconds but letting your team move, this makes your enemies invulnerable and freezes their vision

    S2 just seems to grab a bunch of common effects(stun, blink, slow, heal, -armor, silence, etc), slap them onto a slightly convoluted delivery method(line+bowling with creeps, aoe only working when standing still, in an aoe x units in the targeted direction, forked lightning, silhouettes first skill, etc) and call it a day. Now I'm not saying that all skills are like this, but it happens a lot.

    It's both complex and boring, funnily enough.

  11. What you guys don't get is that no matter what heroes S2 design, no matter what ability they create, they will ALWAYS manage to pull it back to another hero/skill...

    You guys suggest things like "Permanently create trees"... Firstly, this will be so easily abused... Did you even think about that? Blocking off your whole base, let the creeps build up and then unleash a mass creep wave? Also people will comment "Ah just copied if from Furion in DotA"...

    "a wave of damage or buffs or whatever that travels down each lane from the barracks" - And when there's a big team fight at Kongor this skill will be useless?

    Good article Nigma, don't mind these fools. Everyone always has something to bitch about, yet they all go back and still play the game. You don't like something, you don't play it, it's that simple. But the thing is, through all your bitching and moaning about "S2 ruined it for me" you all still actually like the game. You just want something to complain about to use as an excuse for your losses

  12. The main problem I have with S2 heroes and complexity is that you NEED to play them to be competent against them. Obviously at higher levels this is not a problem because people play the game a lot, but it's frustrating that the skill descriptions (which are usually lacking for the uninitiated) don't give you a very helpful picture about what the hero's capabilities are. You kind of have to just play them and figure them out. That's fine, and maybe it's even what S2 is going for, but when I come back to the game after a couple weeks off and there are two new heroes (and therefore 4 new blinkish mobility skills) it's hard to tell what the hell is going on. I think a lot of this would be fixed if there was an ai mode to practice new heroes against because I don't want to let 4 other people down by learning a new hero and probably failing. That said, I'm not upset about there being new heroes, S2 has made the game way better with all the heroes they've added. It's the complexity of understanding they're original heroes that bothers me, not the number of different kinds of familiar effects they can inflict. I agree with nigma that more complex does not mean stronger (and don't see any trend in S2 heroes toward being overpowered). I just wish it required less time playing because I don't have a lot. Not everybody plays this game like the QA team does:)