When we set out to create Adventure Time Battle Party, we had some specific goals in mind. I can proudly say, we achieved every goal we set out to accomplish.
As a team, we all love playing MOBAs, but there are a number of standard systems in MOBAs that don't align with our sensibilities. We wanted to make a MOBA that we would love to play, and by extensions, kids (and kids at heart, like us) would want to play.
We sat down as a team and defined the things that we didn't like about the standard MOBA design. Here were the top issues:
- Games take too long to play
- The shop is too complicated
- Other players are... not very nice
- First 10 minutes of the game are boring
- Power balance can snowball too easily
I think the well-earned reputation that many MOBAs have of a toxic community is, in part, related to lengthy game times. The shorter the game, the less time a "bad player" is wasting of their teammates. Also, in classic MOBAs, people have down time to worry about what other people are doing – they have time to inspect players' actions and critique them. In our game, there are shorter play times and very little down time.
Making the game shorter might sound easy but nearly every single aspect of the game determines the game length: character power, map design, item power, minions, towers, everything! One of the most difficult aspects of the limited game time was fighting the inclination to make everything thing a little tougher or last a little longer. Here is a conversation we had about a million times:
Developer A, "The towers go down too fast, we should make them stronger"
Developer B, "If we do that, a game will never end before time runs out."
Developer A, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that."
We want games to end with a team clearly winning and destroying the other team's base. Thats always best but we made a scoring system for when matches go too long.
Since we had a set gameplay time, we had to have a scoring system. The score system took some time to sort out – how much is everything worth? Shouldn't KOs be worth the most? Are there things players are unfairly farming the most score?
We are really happy with how scoring has affected the game. It has created new metagames where players will play purely for score and snipe points from other players. Jungling becomes twice as valuable since it gives XP and score. It also balances nicely because if players try to get a score lead and then just defend their base, the other team can easily overtake the score lead (and XP lead) by farming jungle monsters.
And nothing is more satisfying than winning by score right at the last second.
In-Game Store & Backpacks
In our research, the #1 difficulty wall for new MOBA players is the in-game shop. However, just removing it seems like a terrible idea – the store is too important. So we asked ourselves, what is a system that accomplishes the same job as the store, but is far simpler?
We set out to make a system to that 1) allows for player choice & play style 2) creates champion depth 3) allows for counter building and 4) can show off Adventure Time items. Adventure Time has a ton of cool magic items and weapons!
The Backpack system was the answer and we are very happy with how it turned out.
Backpacks, Builds & Toxicity
Another goal we had regarding the store was that there would be no "wrong" way to build a champion. While this concept would allow for player exploration and customization, another goal was to reduce toxicity. We don't have chat, so players cannot be toxic to each other, but players can still feel toxic. If a player looks at a teammate's build and thinks, "My teammate is building their champ incorrectly!", they are going to be playing in poor spirits. If there are no right builds, how can a teammate say another teammate is wrong?
One of the big decisions in this system was that all (well, nearly all) powers align with your Power Damage stat. This was players cannot look at a champion and think, "You are dumb if you build PD on this champion."
This has been very successful. We see all kinds of unexpected builds and counter builds.
Champion design is the most fun part of making a MOBA. Before we got started on designs, we set up some rules to reflect our audience and our design sensibilities.
- Everyone is equally overpowered – when reading hero designs, everyone of them should sound “too good.”
- No hard support powers – no hero should have a power that only helps teammates. Any support-type power should be a strong benefit for the player as well.
- No match-up specific skills – no hero should have a skills that only works against certain other skills or heroes. (e.g. “This skills let’s you eat Princess Bubblegum’s traps’)
- No non-counterplay powers – No powers should be 100% unavoidable. (e.g. A skill slows all opponents in the game)
- No clicking directly on opponents – while skill shots are traditionally harder, we have found our audience had more trouble with direct-click powers.
- No mana, cooldown only.
- There should be a "wrong way" to use a power – Powers not should be always good. (e.g. a power is good when an opponent is alone, but not in a group, or it is good when an opponent is CC'd but easy to avoid otherwise, etc.)
No chat. That's about 90% of the problem.
We also avoided powers that made players feel like this teammates were "supposed" to be doing something. Here is a story from development.
At one point a champion had a healing aura. During the first "testing session" (i.e. the team playing as if their lives depended on winning) with this power , people were yelling at each other, "WHY ARE YOU NOT HEALING?!", "OMG HEAL ME!" etc. This power was immediately changed. After this we kept a close eye on player behavior around power designs.
I also think the toxicity of MOBAs is due to worrying about what your teammates are doing. It's easy to look at someone and think they are doing something wrong and then get angry at that player. Clicking on the map to move gives a player down time – down time to worry about what their teammates are doing. The request for clicking on the map to move often comes with "I want to be able to look at my teammates". We talked about this feature many times internally. I feel strongly that clicking the map to move is a slippery slope towards "down time features" and toxic behavior.
However, we did let players press SPACE while KO'd to watch teammates.
For those unfamiliar with snowballing, snowballing is when a team gets a small advantage, and that small advantage leads to another advantage, which leads to a huge advantage. Repeat until winning.
The opposite of snowballing is a stalemate, where teams are kept too even and no clear winer can be determined. Balancing snowballing is a careful balance between snowballing and stalemates.
Step one was to remove idea of gold and buying items. While our XP/level system somewhat replicates the cycle of "winning objectives = gold = overall power", we took getting a KO bonus against higher level opponents to an extreme level. This way if a team gets huge lead but does does not have the skill to keep it, the other team can easily catch up.
We also flatten out the power level at 10. We tuned a lot to ensure players can hit max level in a 15 minute games unless they get crushed by a much higher skilled team.
We had a number of other successful goals, like a solid development pipeline and champion balance, but those are core development goals, not changes to the game genre. We set out to make a MOBA that we wanted to play, and we certainly accomplished that.
Oh my Glob, you guys! The Adventure Time Battle Party MOBA is in closed beta. You can get in on that sweet gaming action!
Join the party now!
You can play all day Thursdays, or throw down with the devs during our scheduled play tests, Thursday nights from 8-10 EST!
Join our discussion on Reddit - http://www.reddit.com/r/battleparty/
While going through some old files, I found some sketches I did for Marceline in FusionFall Heroes. These were attack animation concepts. Some of them made into the game, some didn't.
I am currently working on an iOS game in my "free time" (haha, I don't really have any), mostly to learn what it takes to make a mobile game. My day job is making PC games but I feel it's my duty as a developer to stay informed of the current trends, and mobile games are surely the trend right now.
My goal was to learn the ins and out of the iOS platform, and what sort of unseen challenges mobile development can bring. In my experience I have discovered developing certain types of games, or developing certain platforms, can have large unseen challenges which must be taken into account when designing or managing a project. While I certainly learned many things about iOS development, I also have learned a very important design & development lesson. A lesson I am hoping I don't forget about when I start my next project.
That lesson is this, when you first start on your game, you are at your weakest. You don't have the hang of the development pipeline quite yet, maybe your art style or technique is 100% refined or maybe you don't have a full roadmap for the game. However, when developing a game, you often start at the beginning. You start at level 1, and then develop to the end. This means your later game content will be of greater quality than your early game content.
The problem is,of course, more people interact with your early game content than your late game content. If you early game content isn't the best it can be, players won't ever make it to your late game content!
In my current project I have definitely fallen into this trap. My first boss fight is pretty terrible. It's confusing and doesn't build properly on the skills players have built up to that point. The other boss fights are pretty nice! Especially the last boss but who is ever going to get there when the first real payoff moment for players is so weak?
So my new rule is – do your first boss last. This is when you will be at your best and you can give your best to players.
What is FusionFall Heroes?
FusionFall Heroes is online multiplayer 4-player co-op beat 'em up featuring heroes from the Cartoon Network universe. Players can choose their favorite hero, run missions with their friends, beat up baddies and earn coins. Players can use their cash to buy "blind boxes" which will reward them with new heroes or rank up their existing collection.
You can play Finn, Dexter, Four Arms, Mordecai and Gumball. Not only that, but we have tons of hero variations. What about Dexter with the Null Void Projector, that can send enemies to the Null Void? Finn with Generator Rex's sword? What about Mordecai taking down enemies with his guitar?
Loads more heroes coming soon 😉
Why Co-op Multiplayer?
Cartoon Network Games Studio focuses on multiplayer, multi-property games. While we love to make competitive games (e.g. TKO and Exonaut), we heard a lot of feedback that many players don't want to compete. So we wanted to make a cooperative games for player who wanted to play together, not against each other. We also included solo modes for players who want to get the hang of the game by themselves before teaming up with other CN fans.
Why in the FusionFall Universe?
FusionFall is an awesome game and a great brand. It's still popular and has a very loyal following. We wanted to give fans of FusionFall, and new players who are unfamiliar with the brand, way to have a quick, bite-sized play sessions of FusionFall. FusionFall
One major goal was to make sure everyone could experience FusionFall Heroes. That means no login or registration is required to play. Another things we are responding to, players wishes to play as the Cartoon Network heroes.
We are all super excited about FusionFall Heroes. I hope to see you all in the game!
Cartoon Network Games Studio's new game, FusionFall Heroes has been announced! Watch the teaser here: http://blog.cartoonnetwork.com/2013/03/19/coming-soon-fusionfall-heroes/
Stay tuned for loads more info about our new game.
I got a Team Umizumi math game for my 4 year old daughter. She loved it! Some of the games were a little over her head but she still played them because it was fun to just pop bubbles and such.
But then I noticed her behavior change, she stopped playing the newer, more challenging games and started playing the same game over and over. One that was easy, and she knew very well. Why?
"If I get 5 trophies Team Umizumi does a dance!", she told me.
Yes, achievements. If she got 5 trophies, she got a super trophy and a little cut-scene. So instead of just playing the game, she quickly figured out the easiest way to get the goodies.
I have a long commute to work. During my drive time I listen to audiobooks. I listen to many different things - comedy, fantasy (a lot of fantasy), science fiction, non-fiction, lectures - a varied mixture of genres. This past year I tried something different, I decided to catch up on all the classic sci-fi books I had heard of but never read. Here is the list and what I gained from each title and how it inspired me.
- Ender's Game - This was a big one on my list and it did not disappoint. It's difficult to glean much game design inspiration from a book that't about a kid caught in a game that is being manipulated to be as difficult as possible to impossible. We game designers are supposed to be making winnable games for players! However, there is a lesson here, if someone always believes that someone will help them, they will be less likely to stand on their own. Perhaps game can stand to be a little more stingy with help bubbles and such.
- Speaker for the Dead
- Stranger in a Strange Land - seems like an attempt to start a cult.
- Neuromancer - Interesting read of the 'birth' of cyberpunk.
- The Forever War
- Foundation and Empire
- A Canticle for Lebowitz
- Cat's Cradle
- Slaughterhouse Five - Hands down, one of the best books I have ever read.
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Unbelievably disappointing. What a jumbled mess of a book with MASSIVE plot holes. Movie much better than the book. Who knew?
- Fahrenheit 451
- The Mote in God's Eye
- The Difference Engine
- Brave New World
- I, Robot
- Starship Troopers - It's amazing to me how many of these classic, famous sci-fi books are barely sci-fi. You could easily replace 'bugs' with any enemy on Earth and have a mundane boot camp & war story. That being said, this book was an well-told tale of a man's time in boot camp and first contact with the enemy.
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Heinlein has some weird about about society. A place where somehow the constant threat of death for the smallest infraction from a mob creates some sort of psudo-utopia? Lots of fun ballistics though!
- The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
- Gateway - Wow, just wow. This book's plot is a perfect template for an MMO. An high risk/reward MMO full of permadeath
- Fall of Hyperion
I can't go into too much detail about all these books. I have been trying to wrap up this blog entry for 2 months! There were many inspirations and insights in this books. While I did get a bit sick of "space travel is boring" theme, which many of the books touched on, this was a great year of reading.
There is a good deal of debate on the value to randomness in game design. Many designers have a snooty idea that randomness is a crutch. Other designers, especially board game designers, will tell you randomness is a key component of a successful, long lasting design.
It's easy to see randomness everywhere in games. Most board games rely on dice to generate random behaviors. Heck, it's hard to think of a board game that doesn't use dice. Video games' grandaddy, D&D, even made up all kind of new dice to create even more tables of randomness.
Clearly, randomness works. It's sometimes good and sometimes bad, but why?
I believe that the need of randomness is inversely proportional to the complexity of a system. If the system being simulated is complex enough in itself, it does not need randomness. If the system is not that complex, or perhaps more importantly, if the players inputs to that system are not widely varied, randomness is not only a good idea, but required.
You can take a measure of your game for what I call "situational randomness." Are there enough inputs and systems in your game that create a hugely wide variety of situations? Will a player's interactions with these systems have plenty (but not too many) opportunities to create magic moments where all the game elements align just right to create a moment worthy of telling their friends about? And will their interactions with these systems be somewhat unpredictable?
Lots look at some examples. Imagine you have a simple "apple drop" style games. Apples drop, the player catches them. Maybe you do something clever like color the apples and if you catch so many of the same color in a row you get a bonus. In this scenario, the system is not very complex. More importantly, the player has literally no input into the system, just reaction. This game is going to create the opportunity for magic moments (say catching the same color of an apple 5x in a row) through randomness. There really is no other options.
Now imagine another game, lets call it apple battle. It's a dual sticker shooter where apples attack you from all sides. Your bullets will continue through targets like a laser. If you can shoot 5 red apples in one shot, you get a huge bonus. Here the player has more say on their opportunities. They can move around attacking the apples from many different angles. The apple generation is still random. What could we do to remove the arbitrary randomness?
What if the apples, instead of just disappearing when shot, moved back and exploded with physics, affecting other apples around it, bouncing them around all physics-like? Now this is something the player could interact with many times, and get the different outcomes. You could make the generation of the apples the same patterns, and the outcome of interaction would be different nearly every time. When something really special happened, the player would feel accomplishment. Under this scenario, randomness is probably not needed at all.
Now imagine exploding apple drop was multiplayer. Now you have an unpredictable system with multiple inputs. Now, randomness could be flat out bad. Randomness could greatly benefit one player and punish another. If players have influence over the randomness through, controlling stats that random rolls use, that works.
Board games simply cannot create widely unpredictable systems like this. They need randomness to create the feeling of an unpredictable system. However, video games can easily create simulations of complexity without ever needing random dice rolls.
Situational randomness is relying on players making the right choice, at the right time, in the right situations, perhaps with the right amount of resources, to make magic moments happen. In your game, can players predict the chaos enough, and react quickly and correctly to influence the system as they wish?
Randomness certainly has a place, but recognize when your game does not need it.