One thing I greatly respect about Riot Games, makers of League of Legends, is that they design according to rules. I don’t think they structure their analysis quite like I am on this blog, but the fundamental approach of logic-ing out problems through comparison to established principles is very similar.
Below is a list, originally posted in 2010, of some of the rules Riot’s VP of Game Design uses. I’m reposting them here because I like to keep them handy, and as food for thought. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with LoL, DotA, or the other games referenced–the rules are stated in a way that doesn’t rely on the examples.
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I’ve been asked a few times, “Why don’t you do stuff like Rupture (from DOTA Bloodseeker) in LoL?”
I usually respond — Rupture contains several basic design ‘anti-patterns’. I thought I’d post for the benefit of those who are interested what strong anti-patterns I am aware of.
So… Here are a few that come to mind…. Note that you can find an example of each of these somewhere in our game at some intensity level. Sometimes this is just bad design. Sometimes this is because we got something else in exchange. Design is an optimization — but these anti-patterns are of negative design value, so you should only do them if you get something good in return.
To be clear, LoL has a number of abilities that use these anti-patterns. Sometimes it’s because we got something good in return. Sometimes it’s because we made design errors. However, we generally avoid them nonetheless, and certainly use them a lot less than other games in our genre.
Note: All WoW examples refer to original and BC WoW, not cataclsym.
Power Without Gameplay
This is when we give a big benefit in a way that players don’t find satisfying or don’t notice. The classic example of this is team benefit Auras. In general, other players don’t value the aura you give them very much, and you don’t value it much either — even though auras can win games. As a REALLY general example, I would say that players value a +50 armor aura only about twice as much as a +10 armor aura… Even though +50 is 5x better. Another example would be comparing a +10 damage aura to a skill that every 10 seconds gives flaming weapons that make +30 damage to all teammates next attack (with fire and explosions!). I am pretty sure that most players are WAY more excited about the fiery weapons buff, even though the strength is lower overall.
The problem with using a “power without gameplay” mechanic is that you tend to have to ‘over-buff’ the mechanic and create a game balance problem before people appreciate it. As a result, we tend to keep Auras weak, and/or avoid them altogether, and/or pair them on an active/passive where the active is very strong and satisfying, so that the passive is more strategic around character choice. For example, Sona’s auras are all quite weak — because at weak values they ARE appreciated properly.
Burden of Knowledge
This is a VERY common pattern amongst hardcore novice game designers. This pattern is when you do a complex mechanic that creates gameplay — ONLY IF the victim understands what is going on. Rupture is a great example — with Rupture in DOTA, you receive a DOT that triggers if you, the victim, choose to move. However, you have no way of knowing this is happening unless someone tells you or unless you read up on it online… So the initial response is extreme frustration. We believe that giving the victim counter gameplay is VERY fun — but that we should not place a ‘burden of knowledge’ on them figuring out what that gameplay might be. That’s why we like Dark Binding and Black Shield (both of which have bait and/or ‘dodge’ counter gameplay that is VERY obvious), but not Rupture, which is not obvious.
In a sense, ALL abilities have some burden of knowledge, but some have _a lot more_ — the ones that force the opponent to know about a specific interaction to ‘enjoy’ the gameplay have it worst.
Good particle work and sound — good ‘salesmanship’ — will reduce burden of knowledge (but not eliminate it). We still would not do Rupture as is in LoL ever, but I would say that the HON version of Rupture, with it’s really distinct sound effect when you move, greatly reduces the burden of knowledge on it.
In summary, all mechanics have some burden of knowledge, and as game designers, we seek to design skills in a way that gives us a lot of gameplay, for not too much burden of knowledge. If we get a lot more gameplay from something, we are willing to take on more burden of knowledge — but for a given mechanic, we want to have as little burden of knowledge as possible.
This is a more subtle one. when players KNOW they’ve used a spell optimally, they feel really good. An example is disintegrate on Annie. When you kill a target and get the mana back, you know that you used it optimally, and this makes the game more fun. On the other hand, some mechanics are so convoluted, or have so many contrary effects, that it is not possible to ‘off the cuff’ analyze if you played optimally, so you tend not to be satisfied. A good example of this is Proudmoore’s ult in DOTA where he drops a ship. The ship hits the target a bit in the future, dealing a bunch of damage and some stun to enemies. Allies on the other hand get damage resistance and bonus move speed, but damage mitigated comes up later. Very complicated! And almost impossible to know if you have used it optimally — do you really want your squishies getting into the AOE? Maybe! Maybe not… It’s really hard to know that you’ve used this skill optimally and feel that you made a ‘clutch’ play, because it’s so hard to tell, and there are so many considerations you have to make. On the other hand, with Ashe’s skill shot, if you hit the guy who was weak and running, you know you did it right… You also know you did it right if you slowed their entire team… Ditto on Ezreal’s skill shot.
Use Pattern Mis-matches Surrounding Gameplay
I won’t go into too much detail on this, but the simple example is giving a melee DPS ability to a ranged DPS character — the use pattern on that is to force move to melee, then use. This does not feel good, and should be avoided. I’m sure you are all thinking — but WoW mages are ranged, and they have all these melee abilities! Well… Frost Nova is an escape, and the various AEs are fit around a _comprehensive_ different mage playstyle that no longer is truly ‘ranged’ and is mechanically supported across the board by Blizzard — so the rules don’t apply there ;p
Fun Fails to Exceed Anti-Fun
Anti-fun is the negative experience your opponents feel when you do something that prevents them from ‘playing their game’ or doing activities they consider fun. While everything useful you can do as a player is likely to cause SOME anti-fun in your opponents, it only becomes a design issue when the ‘anti-fun’ created on your use of a mechanic is greater than your fun in using the mechanic. Dark Binding is VERY favorable on this measurement, because opponents get clutch dodges just like you get clutch hits, so it might actually create fun on both sides, instead of fun on one and weak anti-fun on another. On the other hand, a strong mana burn is NOT desirable — if you drain someone to 0 you feel kinda good, and they feel TERRIBLE — so the anti-fun is exceeded by the fun. This is important because the goal of the game is for players to have fun, so designers should seek abilities that result in a net increase of fun in the game. Basic design theory, yes?
This one is not a super strong anti-pattern, but sometimes it’s there. A good example of this would be a 500 damage nuke that slows enemy attack speed by 50% for 10 seconds (as opposed to say, 20%), on a 20 second cooldown. At 50%, this is a strong combat initiation disable… but at 500 damage it’s a great finisher on someone who is running… but you also want to use it early to get the disable — even though you won’t have it avail by the end of combat usually to finish. This makes players queasy about using the ability much like in the optimization case, but it’s a slightly different problem. If the ability exists for too many different purposes on an explicit basis, it becomes confusing. this is different from something like blink which can be used for many purposes, but has a clear basic purpose — in that place, players tend to just feel creative instead.
This one is bad. This is essentially when one ability you have diminishes the effectiveness of another in a frustrating manner. Some examples:
– Giving a character a ‘break-on-damage’ CC with a DOT (yes, warlocks have this, but they tuned it to make it not anti-combo much at all)
– With Warriors in WoW — they need to get rage by taking damage so that they can use abilities and gain threat — but parry and dodge, which are key to staying alive, make them lose out on critical early fight rage. So, by gearing as a better tank, you become a worse tank in another dimension — anti combo!
– With old warrior talent trees in WoW, revenge would give you a stun — but stunned enemies cannot hit you and cause rage gain… So this talent actually reduced your tanking capability a lot in some sense! Anti-combo!
False Choice — Deceptive Wrong Choice
This is when you present the player with one or more choices that appear to be valid, but one of the choices is just flat wrong. An example of this is an ability we had in early stages recently. It was a wall like Karthus’ wall, but if you ran into it, it did damage to you, and then knocked you towards the caster. In almost every case, this is a false choice — because you just shoudln’t go there ever. If it was possible for the character to do a knockback to send you into the wall, it wouldn’t be as bad. Anyhow, there’s no reason to give players a choice that is just plain bad — the Tomb of Horrors (original module) is defined by false choices — like the room with three treasure chests, all of which have no treasure and lethal traps.
False Choice — Ineffective Choice
Similar to above, except when you give what appears to be an interesting choice that is then completely unrewarding, or ineffective at the promised action. An older version of Swain’s lazer bird had this failing… Because the slow was so large, you could never run away in time to de-leash and break the spell and reduce damage, and in cases you did, you’d just dodge 20% of the damage at a big cost of movement and DPS — so running was just an ineffective choice.
Or We Could **** the Player!!1111oneoneone
This is where you straight up screw over the player, usually with dramatic flair, or maybe just try to make the player feel crappy in a way that isn’t contributing to the fun of the game. These range in severity, but examples usually are spawned because the designer is a pretentious wanker who likes to show what a smart dude he is and how stupid the player is. I do not respect designers who engage in this pattern intentionally, and encourage any design lead out there to immediately fire any of your staff that does. I do understand that it can happen inadvertently, and that you might cause some of this stress on purpose in an RPG for character development.. And of course, I love you WoW team despite the ‘playing vs’ experience of Rogue and Warlock, as you DO have the best classes of any MMO, and they look even better in Cataclysm…. But, on Bayonetta, did the developers really think the stone award was a good idea? But I digress…
Very Severe: The original tomb of horrors D&D module is the worst in existence. Good examples are the orb of annihilation that doesnt look like one and instakills you and all your gear if you touch it, and the three treasure chests where each has no loot and deadly traps and no clues that this is the case.
Severe: There’s a popular wc3 map in China where you enter a bonus round, and have a 2% chance of just straight up dying rather than getting cool loot.
Situationally Moderate:Horrify + fear kiting from a competent warlock who outgears you in WoW. Guess what? You die before getting to react, while watching it in slow motion!
Mild: Stone award in Bayonetta. So… you barely get through the level for the first time, then get laughed at by the game with a lame statue of the comic relief character, and a mocking laugh. Please — maybe a bronze award and a 500 pt bonus might be more appropriate? The player might have worked VERY hard to get through the level, espec on normal and higher difficulties.
Skills are tools. Players count on them to do a job. When a skill is highly unreliable, we have to overpower it to make it ‘satisfying enough’. Let me give you an example: Let’s say Kayle’s targeted invulnerability ult had a 95% chance of working, and a 5% chance of doing nothing when cast. We’d have to make it a LOT stronger to make it ‘good enough’ because you could not rely upon it… and it would be a lot less fun. Random abilities have this problem on reliability — they tend to be a lot less satisfying, so you have to overpower them a lot more. Small amounts of randomness can add excitement and drama, but it has a lot of downsides. There are other examples of non-reliability, but randomness is the most obvious one. Abilities that require peculiar situations to do their jobs tend to run into the same problems, such as Tryndamere’s shout that only slows when targets are facing away from him.