A Single-Player MOBA?

Tobold has come up with an intriguing, if heretical, idea: Why not a soloable or single-player MOBA (or game mode?)

It’ll catch a hitherto untapped audience, those that prefer PvE or those that can’t commit to the length of a match with other players (without a pause button to periodically go AFK) or those simply too nervous to learn the depth of a MOBA while facing the habitual toxicity of its regular audience (and provide a stepping stone training mode for those who might not mind PvP but want some extended practice by themselves first.)

The imagined protests that immediately cross my mind are those that shriek, “OMG, the very POINT of a MOBA is to group up to defeat challenges! Teamwork and communication are critical! The very feeling we’re craving is in that practiced coordination and super-smooth execution! Go solo somewhere else, like a singleplayer RPG, and not in MY game!”

Amusingly, it seems to be a similar protest to those who oppose soloability in MMOs, or soloable dungeons, or what-have-you.

There appears to be an underlying fear that they won’t have anyone to play with, if a solo option existed.

But frankly, that seems to be a completely off-base assumption, given the example of both solo and group options co-existing in MMOs. The social players still party up and complain bitterly about instances that force them to solo, the solo players still wander off by themselves and complain bitterly about instances that force them to group, and if the devs manage to hit that magic “no-forcing, solo or group as you prefer” option, then everyone seems more or less happy, or at least, content to deal with it.

Creating alternative game modes is great for variety, offering choices for people with different preferences.

The danger seems to be mostly overwhelming a player with options (which basically means they need a linear progression path or some kind of signposting or a “do this activity for more bonuses today!” promotion), plus the issue of having to devote sufficient developer resources to tend to that game mode.

Some people might wonder, “Well, in many MOBAs today, you can already play solo, in a sense. What’s he going on about?”

It’s true. Many many people solo queue into a match that contains other players on both sides.

Still others will solo queue into a co-op game, in which players are all on one side and bots on another, which is the equivalent of GW2-like social engineering – everyone on the same side, incentivized to cooperate against a computer-controlled enemy team, essentially PvE in a MOBA.

Anyone can easily set up a bot game in which all other nine players are bots, where they are completely alone and left in peace to do whatever the hell they want, or a custom game where they can tweak some variant of this player-bot formula to however they like.

But I think Tobold is implying something a little more. That developers can explore this as yet unexperimented-with space or niche further.

An easy analogy is that of dungeons in an MMO.

People expect to group up, to have roles and experience teamwork while defeating a sequence of enemies (with complex mechanics to learn) for rewards at the end.

However, we have the example of Guild Wars 1, which turned the concept of dungeoning on its head a little by letting players solo their way through pretty much all instances with henchmen or heroes (and mind you, some players still grouped to do the harder dungeons faster and more efficiently.) Ditto The Secret World, if I remember correctly, some instances were soloable.

We have Guild Wars 2, which has experimented with the idea of the Queen’s Gauntlet, a solo-only series of challenges (with complex mechanic to learn), as well as inadvertently produced a challenging side activity of soloing dungeons meant for groups (which appeals to another subset of players.)

Why not create MOBA game modes with a little twist to them?

One interesting possibility that comes to mind goes back to a MOBA’s RTS roots. Just like you could have one player control a number of heroes in GW1, why not let a single player control multiple MOBA heroes?  That would probably be a great multi-tasking, micro-taxing, control-group practice singleplayer challenge right there. It’s not as if MOBAs don’t embrace that concept already, with heroes that can summon other mobs or illusions.

Something else players of singleplayer modes do expect is some kind of narrative or progression path to follow. Why not throw in a story mode in chapters bookending MOBA fights, perhaps with preset groups of opposing or allied heroes?

It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Duels of the Planeswalkers is a Magic: The Gathering game that some players buy for its PvP, and some of whom merely buy to play its singleplayer chapters or puzzle challenges, unlocking cards along the way.

One might protest that without other players to show off vanity cosmetics to, that the whole revenue stream of a MOBA might break down.

However, one could also offer hero unlocks a la League of Legends or Marvel Heroes, or even content unlocks where each hero has a ‘story mode’ that you could pay for in microtransactions. PvP players who don’t give a damn wouldn’t be nickle and dimed at all, while PvE players who like that sort of thing might be convinced to pay $2-5 for several more hours of unique gameplay/maps/puzzle/story DLC.

Unlocking special achievements or increasing levels are another easy way to keep a singleplayer gamer solo farming or engaging in speed runs or mastering Dark Souls-difficulty challenges to their heart’s content. Get X number of last hits or creep or hero kills, win Y as hero or other, defeat Z mob with some kind of mechanic or finish the match in a set amount of time or whatever.

You could have leaderboards for this version of asynchronous competition too, again akin to certain competitive mode challenges in Guild Wars 1, or even in games like Batman: Arkham _Whatever_, where you have combat and predator challenges for a single player to test themselves against, improve their score versus other players’ scores and so on.

In my opinion, the singleplayer MOBA (or variant game modes thereof) is certainly worth a company’s time to experiment and tinker with. It’ll be interesting to see which MOBA decides to eventually branch or innovate in this direction, or if they think grabbing their handfuls of the competitive PvP / eSports pie is more than sufficient to focus on.

Dota 2: Noob Learning Journal #1

It’s hard to know where to begin with this post.

I’m slowly realizing that it’s difficult for me to blog about a subject that:

a) is very big and overwhelming

and b) that I know very little about and distinctly not an expert about

The only thing I do know is that perseverance is one of the key factors of success, so one may as well keep going and chip away at the big problem with small bites, ie. figuring out how to blog about learning Dota 2, and figuring out how to even -play- Dota 2.

The first thing that immediately became clear to me after an experimental game or two was the importance of customizing controls and keybinds.

Controls are probably the first obstacle any newbie to a game encounters, and that regular players often take for granted.

My camera and character control was awful and I knew it. (The perils of not-entirely-newbie-to-games-hood.)

I initially tried the MMO default keybind and was more than a little disoriented using WASD to move the camera, nor was I entirely keen on losing some important keys in that region for skills and so on.

So I ended up using edge pan to move the screen around like most RTSes and trying to adjust to the Dota 2 default, minus one or two keybinds that seemed more convenient. I’m sure there’s still a lot of tweaking to be done on this front.

A week or two later, I’m still struggling with basic controls about 30% of the time. I lose track of my character after having shifted the camera around to look at other stuff and so on.

There’s not much for it but more regular practice and being patient with myself and just actively remembering to try and keep track of where I am moving all the time, but yeah, just thought it worth mentioning for those who interact with newbies – be patient and aware of the fact that they’re probably fighting an uphill battle with unfamiliar controls.

The other thing that I’ve been trying to utilize in my learning is the principle of spaced repetition.

Now technically speaking, this requires increasing intervals of review to be considered “spaced” but since Dota 2 games take so long to play out anyway, I try to get just one game in every day or skip a day or two and then play again.

Presumably I am still learning from this irregularly spaced play, as opposed to “cramming” it all in by trying to play 10 games on the weekends or something.

Anyhow, I find that one game is a reasonably sized concept in my mind that I don’t end up procrastinating over it too much.

So what have I learned from just jumping in and doing it?

One, your imagined fears are sometimes a lot worse than the real thing. I had this image in my head of a hostile, toxic community that would spout abuse by the bucketload.

To get over the initial hesitance, the first thing I decided to learn was to read up how to mute another player (turned out to be pretty easy, bring up the score screen and click on a certain icon.)

Through most of my tutorial games with limited heroes, I found that the matchmaking mostly put me in with similar noobs at my level (or worse, which sounds incredible, but hey, take heart, no matter how noob or expert you are, there’s always someone better or worse off than you at any time.)

This created mostly silent games for a sizeable majority of them, especially if I played in the SEA timezone (it seems we just don’t talk much), with a few notable exceptions.

There were one or two garbled microphone users that either produced high-pitched noises or just were saying something I could barely make out – eventually muted for peace of mind. There was an amusing game where I was fairly sure a great deal of abuse was probably being thrown around… except it was either in Indonesian or Tagalog, so it was a moot point since I understood neither language.

And even when I finally encountered a perfect English-speaking specimen who decided to take a specific and distinct dislike to my display of noob-level lack-of-skill and seemed to enjoy calling it out at every opportunity, I found it pretty much water off a duck’s back. I could have muted him for peace of mind, but didn’t really see the need. I mostly ended up finding it pretty funny that his expectations were set so high in a PUG who had already picked a lousy complement of heroes to begin with.

The only sad thing was that I generally find it rather difficult to cooperate as a team with someone who evidently has a problem with another team member. Plus it’s a morale drain for everyone else, so a loss is almost guaranteed at that point and there’s nothing for it but to work on personal improvement for the rest of the match. 

(Note to self: Playing in the EU timezone is probably not a good idea. From prior observations in GW2, EU culture seems to be more elitist. Also, I was probably playing with NA schoolkids who are not working in the afternoons.)

The other thing that really helps is realizing that the MOBA playing audience is SO huge, one is likely to never see any of the same names again. Ever.

So all the other players can essentially be treated as more unpredictable (and more characterful) bot AI, especially at my particular stage of learning where I have no investment in becoming part of a community around this game.

One will worry about communicating for teamwork purposes -after- mastering individual basic principles and concepts first.

Two, there’s really a LOT to learn that vets probably take for granted.

I realized I barely recognized any hero from their portraits, let alone what they looked like in-game, even while playing Limited Heroes mode, which only has 20 or so.

As suggested by a guide I skimmed, it was something I found that needed to be addressed by focused attention and intentional review. I ended up “testing” my recall every match, intentionally asking myself “Ok, look at that picture. Which hero is that?” then mousing over to check after answering.

I’m not perfect yet, but definitely a little better with this now.

Even the map paths and where all the shops are or what mobs are in which part of the jungle are unfamiliar concepts that I’m still working on, let alone all the items that can be bought or built.

Three, it’s easy to fall into comfortable ruts that produce an illusion of competence.

Since there was so much to take in at once, I ended up picking a hero recommended for beginners, Lich, who functions as ranged support and played it over several matches to get comfortable with other aspects of the game.

At first, there was the expected struggle with learning his skills, learning what items needed to be bought and what they even did, and later, over several games, I started to get just that bit better with the hero and began enjoying the ability to pull back the creeps to a point of advantage for my lane with his sacrifice skill, conveniently getting mana off it to boot, and how to wield the other spells at my disposal.

Then I realized all I wanted to do was play Lich all the time because he was now familiar and everything else was so unknown and threatening.

However, that’s not exactly going to help me learn what all the other heroes do, which is probably a requisite concept in my overall goal of understanding Dota 2 enough to appreciate an International game.

Hence my new goal, after having managed to struggle through the extremely lengthy tutorial and complete that, is to give all 20 of the Limited Heroes a try at least, before picking a couple of favorites to get better at and possibly move on to All-Pick mode.

I expect there to be a fair amount of carnage and name-calling in the attempt, and a bunch of lost games, but hey, failure is a part of learning.

P.S. I apologize for those easily enraged by semantical misuse of the words “newb” vs “noob.”

I am well aware that in certain circles, some people find it important enough to distinguish the two, one who is still learning as opposed to one who plainly has no interest in getting better while playing badly.

Except that it’s really all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Who decides? It’s a little judgmental on someone’s part if they’ve decided so-and-so has no capability to learn further and thus deserves the ‘noob’ moniker in an abusive sense.

So anyhow, I like the word ‘noob,’ and will quite fondly reclaim it. Friends (or at least, a group that I run with) call each other that all the time and it’s not expressed in a hateful way, more in a joking manner.

Noob, and happy to be one, until one gets enough practice and learning in.