Archive for September 3rd, 2010

September 3, 2010

DotA Hero Suggestions, a fun introduction to game design

When I first joined my current company (around this time last year), I first heard about a mod for Warcraft III called Defence of the Ancients. One of my colleagues used to play it and I noticed other people in the company playing a Warcraft III (but not Warcraft III) style game during lunch. My intrigue took hold of me and I found out what it was.

For those who don’t know, Defence of the Ancients (DotA) is a modification for Warcraft III. Unlike the original game, which is a pretty standard RTS with RPG style heroes, DotA takes the heroes and removes the RTS part. DotA is a 5v5 team based combat RPG. You choose a hero from the selection of almost 100 and fight alongside your teammates in an attempt to get to the opposite side of the map and kill the enemy Ancient. It’s wonderfully simple mechanic wise, but it’s also well known as one of the most user unfriendly games on the planet. It’s got a lot of clutter, but once you get through it you will find one of the best gaming experiences around.

In order to get through the clutter, you’ve got to do some reading. Much like fighting games, there are barriers to entry. You must remember skill builds, item builds, all the opposition and nuances to the metagame which greatly effect the overall effectiveness of your team. It was during this reading that I discovered the Hero Ideas forum.

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The PlayDota.com Hero Ideas Forum

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One of the great things about DotA is that it’s built by a community. While there is an official map maker (currently IceFrog), I like to think that all the masses of feedback and new content is driven by community suggestions. Indeed, if you look at patch notes IceFrog often links changes to the original forum ideas. It’s very admirable and it’s motivated the community to do more than just complain about balance. The Hero Ideas forum is one such result. Currently there are 2058 seperate topics (95% individual hero ideas) and 50,000 posts. Keep in mind that the PlayDota.com website has not been around since the beginning of DotA. In addition to hero ideas, the forum also runs Complete The Hero contests… in which a group of users take part in a contest to design a certain type of hero. I recently took part in a couple of these and was rather successful in the last one. After creating about 5 hero suggestions, I can safely say that I enjoy the practice and that the challenge of creating something which isn’t already covered by 97+ heroes already is definitely appealing.

You see, DotA hero suggesting is a form of game design. I never really thought of it as such, but it is. You must come up with a concept, both thematically and gameplay wise. You must design how it fits in the current system, how it would impact all the variables of the game and what strategies and new initiatives your hero opens up at both public and competitive levels. You must be original, but accessible. People don’t like reading horribly complex hero ideas, less is more in this case (as it is with a lot of design). And finally, your ideas are restricted to the dated Warcraft III engine and the ever-declining amount of available models for your characters to use.

Unfortunately, not many hero ideas get into the game. Puck was selected from a Complete The Hero style contest. Io, one of the newest heroes, had concepts borrowed from a suggestion in the Hero Ideas forum… however it resulted in something completely different.

So give it a try some time. If you play DotA, make a hero suggestion. It’s a lot of fun and very satisfying when you get some good feedback. I’ll probably be posting the suggestions I’ve made so far at some point in the future. If you make any, leave a comment and I’ll give you a review!

T-Up and all that nonsense!

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Sam

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