Because games are about more than headshots

Player focus, how League of Legend’s player-centric design makes DOTA accessible

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Since the NDA regarding League of Legends has recently been ‘loosened’ , I figure that I’d focus my first ever mutliplayer analysis upon this seminal DOTA clone (which is what it is, despite being developed by the DOTA team). The ‘loosening’ of the NDA means that I can talk about the game, but not post any screenshots or video, so I’ll have to use all old pictures and splice in a little bit of DOTA where appropriate.

Being totally derived from Defense of the Ancients, it would be silly of my to launch into an explanation of this game without first explaining at least the basics of DOTA. Simply put, it’s a map for Warcraft 3 which places the player in control of a single hero, of which there are five on each team. The map is divided up into three ‘lanes’ along which regularly spawned AI critters march and do battle in an attempt to destroy each others base, which reside at the culmination of the three lanes, much like the delta of a river. The player’s kill these critters (Creeps) of the opposing side for EXP and gold, gaining abilities and power with the EXP and purchasing items with the gold. Later on the players become powerful enough such that the creeps and the base defenses are no longer a threat, and the game becomes more of an 5v5 attack/defense type affair between the players. Destroying the opposing base allows players to win and killing enemy heroes forces them to go through about 40 seconds of inactivity, as well as providing the killer with gold and EXP. That’s the basics of DOTA, in appx. 160 words, however in reality it’s a far more complex game than most, with itemisation, teamwork and the interplay of the different heroes abilities taking the fore.

Now LOL is essentially the same game as DOTA and even made by the same guys by and large. However the fact that the game is built from the ground up instead of being a mod, has afforded the team huge advantages in terms of redesigning the UI and altering the core mechanics to suit new players more than DOTA ever could. Through these means the game has become far more accessible to new players, while still maintaining pretty the majority of DOTA’s strategy and gameplay, which is notoriously inaccessible. A recurring theme behind the usability changes is ‘making the player the focus’ which extends from the UI to most aspects of the gameplay. Where in DOTA players had to focus as much on their opponents actions as their own, while LOL leaves the new player far more able to focus on their own character.

Probably the most important change in this regard is the removal of one of DOTA’s core gameplay tenants, called ‘denying’. This is the practice of players attacking their own creeps when they’re on low health in order to prevent the opponents from gaining EXP and gold from them. The ability to kill one’s own creeps and towers is gone in LOL, meaning that players can focus less on which creeps opponents are going for and more emphasis on killing their own creeps. With the abolition of denying a player’s ability to level and keep themselves in the game is now determined more by their own skill in killing creeps and staying alive, rather than their opponents ability to stop them. While having a skilled player in the same lane as a new player will still lead to the newer player getting killed and gradually falling behind on the leveling curve, it is now very easy for the player to identify what he’s doing wrong and to avoid that mistake, rather than the almost passive disadvantage of having an opponent who can deny effectively. This leads to a far more natural learning curve for new players, who can instead point to their own mistakes as a method of improvement, rather than merely having to hope for an opponent who isn’t quite so skilled.

The abilities in the game have also been designed in such a way as to allow the player (at least the new one) to focus more on what he is doing, rather than his opponent. More of LOL’s powers have been changed from automatic hits to actual missiles that fly through the world, allowing the player to focus on dodging them rather than having to be acutely aware of their opponents available mana, cooldown and range. On the same note there are less abilities that stun in the game, a mechanic which often catches new players off guard, as they find it difficult to take into account the idea that they may not have control of their character for part of an engagement,leading to a death that seems unfair. Lastly the game has a large addition over DOTA in that players can choose two spells out of about 16 which are available regardless of which character the player has chosen. The vast majority of these abilities are skewed towards allowing the player to escape and function as a sort of ‘oh shit’ button for new players who may have unknowingly overextended themselves. In this vein the game also includes more escape methods than DOTA did, by having large areas of tall grass where players can hide themselves from their pursuers (although a player who didn’t know the grasses function might find himself being ambushed from it, which might seem both unfair and arbitrary)

The most obvious change towards accessibility in the game however is in the streamlined UI. Instead of player’s having to select their hero in the heat of battle to issue commands, the hero is always selected, placing a larger emphasis on the players decisions rather than his ability to carry them out. Also, the extremely confusing item system from DOTA has been extremely streamlined. Where in DOTA there was about 6 different vendors for items scattered around the map and at the players base, all of whom sold particular goods, in LOL there’s only one shop in the players base, which not only lays out which items can be combined with which for he player, but even offers a premade selection of items for the player to slowly buy, one that has been deigned by the design team as being effective for that particular character. Finally all the items have been separated into clear categories which denote their function, making it a lot easier for the new player to browse.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, is the metagame elements that’s been implemented within LOL. Through playing games, the player’s level up their profile which unlocks new heroes for them to use, meaning that the designers can start the player with just one, easy to learn hero and slowly build them up to the games full complement of 30 or so, which is a tad overwhelming for the new player. Also by maintaining this profile the designers can have a pretty good idea of how experienced the player is, matching them with people of similar experience and win/loss ratio in order to try and keep matches competitive, unlike in DOTA where many of the ‘NEW PLAYERS ONLY’ rooms within the game are in fact run by quite experienced players looking for an easy match, god knows why.

One area where the developers could improve the experiences of new players however, is the amount of information offered about the characters the player can play. When selecting a character, it would be nice for the player to be able to garner some sort of information about what sort of hero he’s lining up to play, whether it’s a ranged hero or a tank, which abilities are important to playing the hero, etc. This should also be extended into the game, where the tooltip for any enemy or allied hero runs along the lines of ‘this is a hero that will help you/kill you for gold’, where a far more useful tooltip to the player would be ‘Armadillo is a high defense hero who excels at chasing players down. Watch out for when he curls up into a ball, as he gains speed and will slow on impact. ‘ etc, depending on the size available in the box.

Now I’m going to cut the post short as a major update for the game has been released and there might be something related to this topic, so I might have my first ever ‘mini blog vignette’ regarding the changes, if they exist. I’m not sure what my next post is going to be, I’d like to do my FFXII Star Wars reveal, but that might involve rushing through a long game that wasn’t meant to be rushed. So who knows.


Written by Aonshix

September 3, 2009 at 10:51 pm

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