Friday, December 19, 2014

Dividing Primes in AoS

One of the first things anyone will notice about AoS games (or as they're now idiotically called MOBAs) is the limited number of players per team. The most popular one, DotA, used five-player teams with three main lanes of combat, and in the spirit of murdering creativity wherever it's found, almost every game since then has copycatted that exact setup. Pixel for goddamn pixel. Demigod broke that pattern as it did many others, to its credit, and other games offer "alternate game modes" but this has amounted to even smaller teams.

Now, DotA was not an independent project. It was a mod. It depended heavily on Warcraft 3's existing mechanics. The Strength/Agi/Intel split, the number of players in a match, the six-item inventory, the size of a game map, all reflected that dependence. Almost every custom map was made for five players on a team. This was not a design choice, but a limitation imposed by WC3's multiplayer mode. Five  plus one AI per team equals six vs. six, the maximum number of participants. There is absolutely no excuse for how every AoS since then has copycatted these limitations, especially the map layout and team size.

Three combat lanes plus room to roam made sense given the five player limitation. Stalemates are among the most reviled downfalls of any multiplayer game. People do not want to be waltzing back and forth taking potshots at the same other player over and over again. It's boring. So is jumping together pell-mell and letting the AoE numbers rack up. The game setup must ensure that players do not distribute themselves evenly across the map in stagnant trench warfare. Dividing five by three or four suits this purpose.

So would many other divisions. The 5/3 setup is only another idiotic self-imposed limitation of developers who despise their customers too much to try giving them anything unfamiliar. It's a symptom. The disease is the mentality of slavishly copycatting DotA in an effort to copy its supposed success. However, DotA's success, like that of any "first" which the public at large encounters, is that of mob mentality, success riding its own coat-tails, being the only game in town (that leet-kiddies in Brazil and Russia know of at any rate.) That, and free. Are you offering a completely free product? If not, if you expect people to actually pay you, you might actually need to offer something more, and you may as well start with the basics. How about more players per team or a more complex map? It would make the game more complicated... and regardless of what you've been told we customers want in some power-pointed board-room pitch, I the customer am here to tell you complexity is good.
Fewer buttons to mash: good. More things to keep track of: also good. Twitch: bad. Awareness: good. Fingers: bad. Brain: good. You see where I'm going with this? Larger games need not devolve into zergfests so long as you keep the central idea of dividing players unevenly across the game board. Yes, by all means keep the notion of lanes and tower pushing. Just divide by larger primes.

It doesn't have to be primes, of course, but hey, if you're looking for something which won't devolve to a lowest-common-denominator, you may as well admit you'll wind up using an indivisible number of players. Seven players in three lanes? Not good, that's just a damage/support split in three lanes, plus one roamer. The same goes for 9/4. Seven divided by four? Much better. How about eleven players per team? Not quite FPS size, still small enough to allow for personal influence to skew the odds but large enough to complicate matters. It would allow for the development of more interesting RPG hybrid classes to outgrow the tired old nuker/tank/healer holy trinity.

So. Eleven. 11/4 might actually work: 3+3+3+2 or 3+3+2+2+1. I envision roaming supports. I'm more fond of the vision of an 11/5 or 9/5 map, which would still slightly increase player density to rise above the 1.6 ratio which prompts too many 1v1 fights. Five lanes would also create ample enough interstices to allow for more than one roamer or "jungler" and with players being spread more thinly it might result in more empty lanes, which would encourage more strategic options in the way of manipulating AI soldier waves. 11/6 might be a bit of a stretch, though. Too much 1v1 dick-measuring, not enough teamwork.

And of course there are more ways to split players than simply horizontally. So far AoS games have limited themselves to flat maps in order to imitate their RTS roots but nothing's saying lanes full of AI soldiers couldn't be featured in other game mechanics. See the Half-Life 2 mod Iron Grip: The Oppression. Tunnels, overpasses, waterways, etc. become much more relevant with FPS mechanics. Barring that, even in Warcraft 3, better AoS maps like Eve of the Apocalypse weren't afraid to experiment with flying units and even a flying hero.

Seriously, though, allow yourselves to think a bit bigger than ohemmgee 1v1 me mid!!!1
There's no reason why AoS games should be marketed only to 1v1 epeen-measuring brainless twitch-gamers.

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