That’s an essay(?), which I didn’t mind to edit, but which contains my thoughts on gameplay and what many devs fail to understand about gameplay from the perspective of some seirous player. Don’t mind the first sentences – I was writing it a bit drunk on inspiration or smth.
One day I will edit It. I promise.
There must be a hero, who summons an army of angry midgets in borderlands. Also, can u like heal with Goliath piss or smth? Cuz it would be great to heal my teammates with piss throws.
Star should be a space gay viking with a giant beard!
I have never played league or hots, because of various reasons, but I used to be a decent support player in dota 2 back in 2015. Unfortunately, but most developers don’t understand how to create a decent support character, so they are either mindless heal batteries or just another core hero, who can deal damage, so the lines between the support and the core are not that distinct to be considered; not speaking about dota, because it achieved it’s support/core definitions with complex power levels+hero objective specialisations(won’t be explained here); also, it’s an objective based game(not combat based as many people think, though combat is important in dota) with vision and information based plays, which make a huge difference between players, who know how to play around those things.
As a support player I want to discuss a Perfect Support!
Before we discuss hero classes and archetypes we should establish general concepts within my vision of any video game design surrounding cooperative combat.
First, let’s decide what is fun, cuz games are about fun.
What is Fun in life in general?
Rules of 3 senses or people have fun, when people have:
Sense of Control
Sense of Power
Sense of New
Why sports and games are so addictive is that they are among those few activities, which provide a modern person with those senses; those senses that for most people are under-utilised in real life, but which were vital for our development as a specie of aggression and cooperative hunting, ergo which are in spite of their low actuality in current state of the world are important for a man/woman/helicopter to feel like a primal blond beast of prey. Or a human being or something, which is an animal nonetheless.
Sense of control in game manifests in ability of a player to impact the results or the pace of the game. In a sense it is the sensation that MY ACTIONS MATTER; the feeling that this universe isn’t indifferent. My inaction matters. My action matters. The way I press the buttons matters. In most cases, when the gameplay(not story!) screams sense of control players say that this gameplay is skill based. Football is pretty skill based, by the way.
Then there is sense of power or an extent to which a game allows a player to feel superior to the world. That is the sensation of every conquerer, whenever he conquers and expands the territories of its nation. It’s not really about the actual impact, but about the sense that I am better, than the rest; that objectively speaking I am good and I have good chances to transfer the copy of my genes to the next generation, because I won the peer tournament and ■■■■ sapiens historically is more of a tournament specie, rather than pair bonding.
This sensation is extremely easy to find in sports, but extremely rare in videogames.
The rule to remember in this case, though, is that the bigger adversity leads to the bigger sense of power in case of victory. That’s why ranked competitive games against real people are so addictive and that’s why many prominent players of games of sports tend to show more aggressive and pro social behaviour; testosterone feels good and more victories means more testosterone, baby.
The most important sense among those 3 most important senses is the sense of new. There are some exceptions to this rule, who lack imagination and therefore spend most of their lives playing Skyrim, but in general we can all agree that people love new things. New as a concept excites us. Mystery is based on discovering something new. Mystery is the basis of romance; the unknown, which entices us to discover new frontiers, makes us move. Change is always something new, therefore in most cases changes are exciting; though sometimes scary, but we are talking about games, so let’s not talk about fear, which in the end is not that bad. Change is a romance. Good game is a setup of good challenging changes.
How new things apply to games? Fairly obvious answer would revolve around content, audiofiles, texture, stories, but there is something, which is completely different from all that. Something, which hyenas do better than chimpanzees, which is cooperative problem solving.(If, we are talking about coops, then it is pretty natural for us to talk about simple things such as problem solving from the perspective of cooperativeness, team play and communication. )
Really good games force players to solve problems better/faster/cooler, so they force us to think, to wonder, to discover, to adapt, and they never repeat themselves in their problems to solve.
That’s why MOBAs or Counter-Strike are so addictive, because they are dynamic and force players to face new problems and take them with new problem-solving decisions in each game session.
Dynamic, though, doesn’t always mean fast, but we will talk about it later.
I am a quick person. I think fast. Most Americans are pretty quick. So, I love fast games, and from my perspective any fun game must include the following:
It must be Simple and Easy, but hard to master, so there would be larger player pool to play against, but plenty of room for skilled players to flex. That’s why football is so great. It is easy to play, simple to understand, but almost impossible to master, unless your name is Lionel Messi. That’s why Counter-Strike works and Artifact fails.
High Risk/High Reward. I love risk and I enjoy, when it pays off – that’s the nature of most highlights, so I love, when games reward taking high risks.
Dynamic/Challenging. Dynamic is fun, because dynamic means that the games throws at you new challenges and problems to solve again and again. To understand the concept easier let’s say that the most dynamic game is the one, which never repeats it’s challenges and problems.
Skill Based. Let me be OP and steam roll, but only if I press my buttons right and make right decisions. Because, my skill reaffirms my senses of power and control!
Fast. I hate slow things, but it’s more a matter of preference. Just let’s repeat that fast paced games are not dynamic games. They are just fast.
Teamplay. Forget chimps – coop players are spotted hyenas. Make the game reward team play. Just a personal preference.
Balanced Roles. Balanced roles are important in the context that every player must reaffirm it’s senses of New, Power and Control, but at the same time staying true to it’s role within archetypes of Support/Core(we will talk about roles in games later)
Exploration. Exploration is about the sense of new, but I included it just for an example. Exploration is important for coops, but from the perspective of ways of dominating your opponents; having different, unexplored builds, which work and discovering them in contrast to what is mainstream is a really good feel.
Ok, now we know what is fun. Let’s talk combat, because then we will talk about archetypes.
First, in any battle there is aggression and counter aggression. Defensive and aggressive play styles.
So, we can divide any competitive game into two activities, which teams undertake to achieve victory.
They either Initiate(Attack) or take defence in order to Counter-Initiate(Counter-Attack), because any eventual victory can be achieved only through means of initiation and both sides want to win; as to killing an enemy is the tool of initiation.
It means that in most cases you always want to attack by default, when we are not taking any in-game context into account; there could be different game designs, which favour either attack or defence in various ways, but what you would like to have in a game is a situation, when attacking requires more skill, less risk taking, but when executed perfectly can’t be counter initiated; in this case the defence is easier, less skill dependent, but more risky option, which leaves the outcome of the game not from how well you play, but how poor your enemies execute attack; so, you force players to attack each other and take initiative to maximise their win condition and at the same time maximise the affirmation of their Power and Control duo; games balanced defensively tend to be unexciting, because smart players tend to ignore aggression without payoffs, and despite them ruining your LoL/Dota 2 games, but players are smart; when players ignore aggression they just don’t challenge their opponent as often and as intensively and vice versa.
In the context of let’s say PVE coop shooter you wish your players to do both, because it’s not that hard to initiate against AI, which is predictable, which means it looses it’s power and control aspects. Instead, you want them to discover right tactics, and having both defensive and offensive options are good from the perspective of sense of new, exploration and making players to think and choose what tactics to employ to maximise their win condition.
AI unless it is some sort of UberOpenAI bot wouldn’t be able to punish for every tiny mistake a player does attacking like in real engagement with a real person, so attack looses it’s execution difficulty and becomes less satisfying, less challenging and in cases of most bots less dynamic.
The perfect scenario would be having well designed detailed engagements, where AI has different setups of tactics and reactions based on what players are trying to do and balance a game offensively; which can be done with extensive testing, but I assume will be pretty exhausting on resources.
But what is Initiation? What is counter-initiation?
Let’s talk about their objectives, predispositions, signs for transition and tools to establish their definitions.
Relative Effective Combat Resources – the theoretical representation of squad’s strength relative to it’s opponent; implies relationships between Effective Health vs Effective Damage.
Objectives, Predispositions, Windows for Transition won’t be explained here, because I don’t have enough time. May be I will try to explain it later.
Initiation: Counter Initiation:
Get Into Position 1. Get Into Position
Reach Target 2. Prevent Reach
Break Position 3. Keep Position
Burst Down 5. Prevent Damage
Escape/Chase/Stomp 6. Transition
Reposition for Initiation 7. Reposition for Initiation
Mobility Advantage 1. Better Position Control
Reach Option 2. Strong Passive/Area Damage
Superior Kill Options 3. Lack of Mobility
Sustained Initiative After Kill 4. Lack of Reach
Short Cooldowns 5. Long Cooldowns
Windows for Transition:
Initiation Lost Positioning
Initiation Failed to break enemy position
Initiation Failed to burst down the chosen target before Transit reaction.
Initiation lost it’s momentum by loosing it’s relative effective combat resources during the engagement due to successful Counter-Initiation or failing to properly perform initiation.
Survivability – how successful or unsuccessful the initiation will be is often the matter of how easy/fast you can kill down a chosen target as well as the extent of your mistakes during initiation, which wouldn’t give any windows for transition(how much damage you can soak before loosing your initiative). Important for both offence and defence.
Transition Skills – those are big usually relative long-cooldown spells/skills, which allow quick transition from defence to attack. Those are the skills, which are the mix of initiation and counter-initiation, which usually do the following:
Reposition for Initiation
They achieve it by different means, usually by enabling your team to reposition by disabling entire enemy team or by bursting down an enemy initiator with high burst damage, or even both.
They are usually strong Crowd Control tools, but in theory they can be anything.
Transition skills are usually the bread and butter of any strong defence.
Crowd Control – those are your AOE disables or zoning skills with strong punish like wall of fire. They can be used both offensively and defensively, but in most cases they are best used in defence, because it is much harder to sustain spread positions for the offence due to the fact that they need to focus on a single target, thus breaking their positioning. For offensive purposes may be used as a tool to isolate a target from it’s team, breaking enemy positioning; works if the primary initiator is mobile enough to do so. For balancing purposes usually have longer cooldowns or are more costly resource-wise.
Target Control – target disables, which are usually low cooldown, low duration, low cost, and allow to focus down the most important target to prevent any undesirable reaction. They are more useful in offence, since it is the main tool to break enemy positioning and the fastest, simplest way to attain quick(though temporary) advantage in Relative Effective Combat Resources. May be compensated in duration for cooldown or ability to prevent enemy saves, etc.
Burst Target Damage – quick instant damage, which is easy to calculate, but hard to follow.
Sustain Target Damage – sustain damage is that kind of damage, which is high intensity, not instant, but which keeps ups or even prevails in terms of DPS with target burst damage.
Uncontrolled Target Damage – those are dots, which usually deal a lot of overall damage in exchange for having mediocre DPS.
Burst Area Damage – the same as the target, but AOE. The best thing to have for initiation with AOE disables or transition.
Sustain Area Damage – the same as the target, but AOE. The best thing you can have for huge aoe transition disables.
Uncontrolled Area Damage – Passive Uncontrolled Area Damage is the best damage for defence, since it is usually hard to calculate and doesn’t need active actions from the defence, which allows to focus on defensive actions, whereas slowly gaining advantage in Relative Effective Combat Resources.
Passive/Active Damage – Passive damage is that damage, which doesn’t require any actions from the player. You either press 1 button or just exist, and by doing so you deal damage. Active damage is the damage, which requires player’s focus in order to be done.
Passive Mobility – mobility of predictable over time movement. Sprinting really fast or riding a car is a passive mobility. Good for kiting and extremely good for both defence and offence, but looses to active mobility tools in terms of positioning game and reach.
Active Mobility – mobility of jumps, blinks, teleportations, etc. Burst like movement. Bread and butter of any offence, since it allows to reach the chosen target and begin initiation. Can also be used in defence like teleporting a focused target to a save location.
Passive Saves – saves that don’t require player’s focus. Superior type of save, but usually self-target for balance purposes. Effective in both offence and defence, since it may disallow the effective use of transit tools for defence, and disallow the best possible initiation for the attack, since the inability to burst down the most important target. Usually invuls, which are activated under certain conditions.
Active Saves – heals, astrals, bubles, purges, cleanses, shields, active damage reductions etc. Whatever that increases effective health of a target, when used. Can be divided into groups like Damage Tools, but I didn’t do it, since damage differences are more important; offence>defence in terms of fun, so it is much better to play the game of damages, rather than the game of heals. Also, forget that no risk paladin like healing exists – the laziest and the most overused mechanic in games, which in most cases just slows down games, punishes aggression and favours defence; damage reductions and “astrals" are better as saves, which still punish defence if used incorrectly; heal doesn’t punish, and if there is an option to heal a target, then there must be a consequence or some risk involved in doing so.
Micro and Macro levels of gameplay. Reaction theory.
Good games require both decision making and physical abilities from a particular player. In video games physical abilities may be represented through ability of a player to control its in game character with available input control devices(I am putting it like a moron afraid of beaver and his men).
Such skills of in-game character control are usually referred to as mechanics or micro-skills and allows a player to gain advantage over an opponent by simply pressing buttons better than him. There may be different mechanical aspects in gameplay of a particular game with some having more importance than the others(and impact on the game itself), but that’s for another time, perhaps.
In some games tactical decision making is also included in mechanics, because skirmishes happen too fast and are mostly based on players game sense and instinct; or because an impact of a skirmish outside of strategic(macro gameplay) context theoretically has no strategic outcome.
Then we have decision making skills, which revolve around an ability of a player to asses the current state of the game and make the most rational decision in order to win in the long or short run. Decisions such as choosing which skill to level up, or what weapon I am supposed to use now, or what are my gameplay objectives(disabling this healer or farming my items to do so) are all parts of macro level gameplay. Macro level decisions are not about reflexes and ability of a player to press right buttons, but about his ability to understand the principles of this particular game.
All in all every game is designed to provoke a player for an external reaction, which manifests on either micro, macro or both levels of gameplay; well designed games expect a particular reaction from a player and punishing him in case if his reaction wasn’t the most rational one(!no the most appropriate, but the most rational!) and expects reactions made on both levels.
Since games are all about players’ reactions, then games can be dynamic and static, active and passive, fast and slow.
Dynamic Domain. Or How much does it change?
Dynamic games like dota, counter strike or fortnite are about changes in environment, which dictate a player the most rational ways of playing this current game and punishes in case if a player didn’t follow. They change completely from one game to another, which makes them dynamic. They give players completely new issues to solve every game, and which are solvable from the perspective of in-game skill and knowledge. The most competitive games are dynamic.
How often does it change?
How often do I face challenges, which may be almost the same if the game is static and completely different if the game is dynamic? Active games are the ones, which force you to make a lot of decisions, which are important for the outcome of the game. Most addictive games are active.
How much physical time does a player has to answer for this change? This is all about requirements for your general reflexes. Games can be slow or can be fast, which depends on vision of the game. Though, in general best shooters are fast, best rpgs are slow, best MOBAs are fast, but not as fast as shooters.
Best Macro games are slow – best Micro games are fast.
So, we are over with definitions. Let’s talk about in game roles.
Support. The job of a support is to enable core to do it’s job of increasing squad’s real effective damage. Supports can attain it by various means. There are countless possible ways of how you can create a support, but they will always could be put in 2 categories, which are:
Defensive Supports increase team’s Effective Health, making them more tanky and more likely to survive initiation; keep in mind that survivability is good for both types of gameplay, which makes defensive supports useful in both type of engagements, if initiation predispositions are still met. For example defensive support may enable your core to act more aggressively, which will lead to more real effective damage.
Offensive Supports are the guys, who increase team’s Effective Damage by either dealing more damage, which your core lacks(usually burst) or by enabling your core to deal more damage by making the chosen target stay steal or by controlling enemy reaction by disabling them. Offensive support usually may be not as effective in defence, but they tend to provide more damage/control, which is always good, since any counter-initiation is supposed to go and attack eventually.
Core. (Not talking about cores today, they are more interesting and they deserve better analysis.)
In the next issue of my web magazine.
The Perfect Support.
Who the hell are cores?
Evasion Tank vs Primary Tank or Theory of EHP and EDMG.
Level Based Damage Scaling vs Skill Walls or why you have to refuse the concept of levelling in your PVE games.
The laziest thing to balance your game and force a player to follow a particular path is level based damage scaling.
How you can change it?