MOBA Learning Curves

Over the past few years games such as League of Legends , Dota 2, and Heroes of the Storm have captured the gaming community the genre known as MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena).
In this particular genre, newcomers are not only challenged mechanically, but strategically as they are confronted with a giant roster of heroes.

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In these MOBAs you are pit in a 5v5 showdown where you work together with your team to defeat the enemy and destroy their base. It’s a simple but effective setup. Controls are most similar to RTS (real-time strategy) games such as StarCraft 2. Once they get a feel for the controls though, they face a very large uphill battle as they take on the task to learn EVERY hero in the game.

To get better and ultimately win matches, players must learn each hero’s abilities, strengths, weaknesses, builds, counters, and more! This roster of heroes can range from 22 to League of Legend’s current 123 champions!

This leads to MOBAs having a notorious reputation about their learning curve and is something that draws so many players to the game. People like a challenge, and if the learning curve is steep enough players will find higher value in mastering the MOBA genre.

As a result of player’s investing so much time in mastering their certain game, they acquire a certain loyalty that can only be forged after hundreds of hours of late night ranked matches and killing sprees. Be wary of stepping into this genre of gaming, for I guarantee you’ll be sucked into hours of challenging gameplay.

-CoCo

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A Fight Between You and the Gimmick

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Gimmicks aren’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to video games. In fact gimmicks are often integral and can provide a very much needed change of pace for the player by providing a much different and interesting approach to things that normally come out of the game. Simply enough gimmicks have to be chosen wisely and implemented even more skillfully, otherwise they can break the pace of a game or at worse be an agitating annoyance for players.

Most cases gimmicks are roundabout ways that break away from the status quo the game establishes. For example the Yhorm The Giant boss fight in Dark Souls is a gimmick fight. While ordinarily, Dark Souls requires the player to carefully choose when to strike darting in and out of combat, perfectly timing switching from offense to defense. The Yhorm boss fight is an entirely different approach which casts aside pretty much all the difficulty of combat away. After the player successfully realizes that standard weapons have little to no effect on the boss, and they figure out that a conveniently placed weapon at the back of the room is the only real way to deal damage, the fight becomes trivial, so much so that its quite easy to beat the boss without taking damage, or even letting him getting an attack in at all.

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This behavior isn’t just limited to bosses, but can be found in several games where entire levels are dedicated to a gimmick. These are quite finicky as most platformers often employ gimmick levels that are a fun and engaging change of pace. Alternatively one can be stuck with a gimmick level which is amusing at first, but quickly takes a turn for the tedious. For example Dragon Age: Origins has a section in the middle of escalating a mage tower, where the player and his party is transported to a dream world known as the Fade. The Fade section of Dragon Age: Origins has gained a reputation among its fanbase as being an extremely tedious and annoying level, so annoying, that a user created a mod for the game which allowed players to skip the section entirely.

The section is entirely based around solving puzzles and navigating combat by using different unique forms for different situations. Its interesting and fun for the first few minutes, but as the exploration continues and combat continues, the player just wishes they could go back to normal gameplay and be rid of the shapeshifting gimmick.

While gimmicks can often be used for fun, they are just as commonly overused and just not put into effect in a fun and enjoyable way for the user. More often than not gimmicks are tedious and a headache for the player that breaks the flow of a game, where a break is not even necessary.

-Michael

A Lesson in Early Game Difficulty

This post isn’t really going to be me pointing out a general trend in Video Game Difficulty, but an interesting difficulty spike that I recently ran into. Games start off easy and simple, and then gradually become difficult, right? Well that’s not necessarily true, especially if your resources are more limited than you expect.

I lost to the first Pokemon Gym in Pokemon White Version a couple of days ago. Not only did I lose to the first real obstacle in the game, but I lost more than once and tried multiple strategies before I won.

“But how?” you ask. “The first gym is built to get players used to gyms, so how can the very first one be that hard?” Sure, I was stubborn and only wanted to use a couple of Pokemon at the very beginning to cut down on grinding, but my main Pokemon was of equal level to the Gym Leader’s strongest one. The answer is a combination of a lack of plentiful EXP and the power of boosting stats at the right time.

Starting with Pokemon Black and White, EXP, or Experience Points, are no longer gained based on the level and species of the Pokemon defeated. Instead, the points gained are now altered based on how higher in level your own Pokemon is. For example, defeating a Pokemon at the same level might give you 500 EXP, but defeating one 5 levels below yourself will cause you to gain less. This drop continues until the gap grows large enough to make battles pointless. In theory, this is an anti grinding technique to try and get players to not just steamroll everything with one Pokemon. But before you defeat the first Gym in Pokemon Black and White, you are stuck in an area with finite encounters that are actually worth fighting.

Once you’ve defeated all the trainers available, your Pokemon will be stuck with fighting low level random encounters, which take far too long to realistically level up with. As an example, my main Pokemon at the time was pretty much stuck at Level 14 when I went to the Gym.

And this is where the Striaton City Gym’s strategy comes into play.

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There are three potential fights in the Striaton City Gym: Chili, Cress, and Cilan. The one you will fight is based on who you chose as your Starter Pokemon. The game always makes you face the one with a type advantage.

This gym already puts you at a disadvantage, since their strongest Pokemon will have the elemental advantage against your starter Pokemon. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but because of the EXP problems you have before this gym, it’s difficult to raise more than one Pokemon and have them at a high level. You either get a diverse team and split the EXP, or stick with a smaller party and have less options. The game does give you a Pokemon with a type advantage against the gym for free, but it’s at Level 10, meaning it won’t do a huge amount of damage unless you train it. But the thing that really adds to the difficulty is one move the gym tends to use quite a bit: Work Up.

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Both of the Gym leader’s Pokemon know Work Up, which boosts their Attack and Special Attack stats every time it’s used. Stat boosting and lowering techniques are powerful in the early game, because the player doesn’t have many attacking options, and once Work Up is used a few times, it’s very easy to get one or two hit KOed. The longer the battle goes on, the more dangerous it becomes. And since it’s nearly impossible to quickly defeat them without a lucky critical hit, the AI is nearly guaranteed enough turns to set up their stats.

And that is how I lost 5 times to the first Gym. What would be a fair fight becomes far more difficult just by restricting a few resources and giving the opponent something you don’t have access to. Later on, Gym Battles aren’t nearly this hard simply because you have more options to consider, making this very first gym one of the tougher fights. An unexpected Difficulty Spike.

-Alyssa

Quick Time Events

Let me describe a potential game scenario. You’re walking though a dark cave, exploring it slowly, a torch in one hand and your other hand trailing along the walls. Just as you’re reading some ancient text carved into the stones, a big pop up prompt appears on your screen, demanding that you press a button before some random boulders collapse on you.

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I’m looking at you, Tomb Raider reboot. What does that circle around the Y button even mean? What’s the timing? It’s a mystery.

Welcome to Quick Time Events, or to give an abbreviation, QTEs. A lot of them are completely unnecessary, yet some of otherwise fair, player controlled, games toss them in for the excitement. And then the player dies because they had zero idea they had to mash a button before an invisible timer ran out (and sometimes what exactly needs to be done isn’t even clear). This annoying variant has earned the name Press X to Not Die.

To make matters worse, many of these instant death QTEs occur in the middle of what seem to be cut-scenes, a time where the player is not expecting to have to do anything. Bayonetta games have a habit of doing these during action sequences, where one moment you’re watching her dodge attacks effortlessly, and the next moment, you have to mash your controller in less than a second or watch her get killed by a chunk of flying concrete. This kind of cheap difficulty doesn’t reward skill. Instead, it forces people to replay sections until they memorize the exact moment where they need to press a button, and that’s just repetitive and frustrating. Ironically, Bayonetta uses QTEs to increase damage on finisher moves, and they’re really fun to execute, yet still decides to do the Press X to Not Die variant within the same game. I’m honestly not sure why.

On the flip side, there are good ways to insert QTEs, like not killing the player if they fail it. Sometimes, they are used to unlock cool cut-scene visuals, extra story paths, or more score points. This way, all it does is reward players for getting it, and positively encourages them to replay a section at their own leisure if they don’t get it. A really fun example of good QTEs that benefit the storytelling are the ones you get in the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm fighting games.

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The Ultimate Ninja Storm series uses QTEs within story-line fights to add depth, scope, and choices to battles, making the player seem more involved with what’s happening on screen.

Playing story mode in these games lets you replay many of the high energy fight scenes in the Anime and Manga series, but instead of just making a ton of cutscenes that the player just watches, they insert controller commands to integrate the player into the moments. They have to power up the attacks, dodge, and parry. And the better the player performs, the more interesting the fight scene becomes in response. Stars gained during QTEs unlock secret battle cutscenes, and sometimes the player can choose objectives mid fight to perform to get certain endings or a better score.

Overall, I don’t really like QTEs. I feel like they drag you out of your game experience to punish you for some arbitrary reflex check. Unless more games make more effort to make them feel more integrated and fun, I don’t see much of a point to them beyond shoving in unnecessary game-play elements.

-Alyssa

By the Skin of Your Rotten Teeth

Chances are high that before the invention of toothbrushes the mass majority of the human population had teeth like swiss cheese and breath like moldy cheese. I can not even begin the imagine rancid hell that is the breath of every boss monster that resides in the dungeons that have been around since the dawn of time. Now imagine dying then reviving from your grave countless times but each time you lose a little more of your humanity/sanity, and your teeth comes just a little bit more rotten. God, the Dark Souls’ universe must just smell like the worst parts of the collective butt sweats of every living being in the entire universe combined. But I digress.

Perfect timing. It is a measure of how long a player should wait before executing the right movements/actions to gain the best outcome for a dire situation. When your mother screams at you for not cleaning your room, the perfect timing would be to wait until your father comes home so that your mother’s mood alleviates before you start mouthing off. Chances are lower that your mother would lay the smack down on you for speaking out with your father around. Dark Souls is similar in that sense but with fewer uncountable variables that might change the situation. When a boss does a move set then a player, after experiencing it, should understand where it will move, swing, or grab next. These actions are premade therefore should not deviate from their original patterns. Grab. Dodge. Swing. Parry. Move. Attack. Simple, right?


The secret behind a well-crafted challenge in a game oriented around close encounter combat, like Dark Souls, is timing or more accurately the amount of room for error that is allowed for each player’s actions. Dark Souls takes these concepts to the max. Every action requires a nearly perfect reaction. Otherwise, the player would soon find themselves face first in the dirt. While the boss made cream cheese out of the player’s health bar. Creating these perfect scenarios requires the game to have hitboxes, areas where the game acknowledges the entity has been struck or not, where executing the perfect action grants the perfect reaction. These might leave little to no room for player error but Dark Souls is a game that wants its player base to learn. To breakthrough from their current skill level. Some interpret this as heartless or difficulty for the sake of hardship, but true satisfaction only peaks its glorious face from overcoming trials once thought impossible.


Timing is everything in Dark Souls. Unforgiving but fair. (Sometimes the game screws up but that is simply another story to tell your friends about) No other game does this better than Dark Souls. It dares to push the boundaries of how much a player seeks overwhelming challenges for a taste of that rush reserved solely for heroin addicts. Excuse me, I will not go attempt to experience the cheap thrills of Dark Souls once again.

Signing off,

John

Nameless, Pantless, Soulless


From the clue given last week, it should be no surprise at this point that my primary game for the following weeks will be about Dark Souls, the pinnacle of balancing difficulty with gameplay, and the dissection of where the game does right or wrong.

If you had the courtesy to watch the video linked about, it might have dawned on you that it does not represent Dark Souls the game at all. It barely resembles it. So, then what is Dark Souls?

In a nutshell, Dark Souls is the journey of a chosen individual call upon to slay powerful god-like entities for their delicious, delicious souls. Developed by the sadistic studio, FromSoftware, the game features a multitude of weapons ranging from kitchen knives to huge broadswords the size of Dwayne the Rock Johnson himself.  Each weapon type has its own stance, move sets, and secondary ability that help define the weapons’ individuality. If this blog wasn’t dedicated to the discussion of game mechanics, I could literally write about the Dark Soul’s lore for hours on end. However, this doesn’t mean the game itself does not offer a massive amount of perspective on how a good challenge can birth a whole new genre of games all by itself.

I will not digress any longer in this post so I can save the majority of the content in the next post. Before I stop, I do want to clarify that the singleplayer and multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls will be exclusive to their respective areas, so the problems I find in balance in Singleplayer does not necessarily transfer over to the multiplayer.

Signing off,

John

Trial of Hope and Despair

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Difficulty in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair doesn’t become a factor in the game’s run until you reach the trial phase of each murder mystery. Before that the game plays out entirely same regardless of the difficulty the player selects. The calm before the storm plays out exactly the same, the murder discovery, and the search for clues all play out the same regardless of your selected difficulty.

But when all the clues have been investigated and the player funnels in with the rest of the characters to begin the trial, is when the difficulty begins to shape the adventure for you. While not entirely present in the game’s first chapter, as it plays out roughly the same regardless of difficulty because of its role as introduction to trial mechanics, there are still some nuanced variation based on difficulty selected.

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Using “Kind” difficulty as a baseline, Danganronpa’s normal mode, the game’s logic takes the front seat of difficulty as trying to figure out how clues play into each other and attempting to make leaps of judgement take front and center. The game gives you limited options to choose from in debates, narrowing down your choices, and gives a pretty decent amount of time to think things through before committing to a decision. Additionally mistakes are punished with damage to the player’s life points, but quite a few mistakes can be made before the player completely fails.

“Gentle,” the game’s easy mode, really eases up on the player, reducing the debate options even more, nearly making time a non-factor, and stripping most mini-games of their difficulty in the trials. On the other hand “Mean,” the hard difficulty, takes it in the other direction by giving the player a lot more options to choose from in debates, requiring the player to apply logic to the matter at hand and really find out what the answer is instead of firing blindly. The difficulty also cuts time by a lot for the player, requiring them to be quick with their decisions. Many of the various mini games also spike in difficulty, within the realm of reason, requiring the player to be more active and play closer attention.

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Overall difficulty modes in Danganronpa 2, dont affect much of the player’s experience, but instead give the player slightly more nuanced control over how they want to affect the logic of the trials. Do they want to proceed smoothly within the trial, or want to have to think hard about proceeding from topic to topic within the trial.