Riot is thinking about input/output randomness in League of Legends

For the past five years or so, I’ve been talking about the input/output randomness concepts, and why they’re so important for game design. While I wasn’t the one who coined the terms—that honor goes to the great fellows at the Ludology Podcast—some Googling around shows that no one has talked about the concepts, or developed them, nearly as much as I have.

In short, talking about randomness, especially in these terms, is kind of my thing.

Here’s a quick list of some of the more notable times that I spoke in depth about this subject:

Beyond that, you can (and should) read my books, listen to my podcast and watch the complete 3 Minute Game Design on YouTube.

Between that, and the fact that I recently praised League of Legends and its developer, Riot, for some of the radical things they’ve been doing to their game, you can imagine how pleased I was to see that a Riot designer, Greg Street, made a video talking about input and output randomness in League.

I want to do three things with this article. First, I want to signal to the Riot devs that I would be more than happy to help them out with this project of making the game more input-randomnessy and less output-randomnessy. Let’s chat!

Second, I will talk about the current state of randomness in the game. And finally, I will talk about a few of my recommendations going forward.

The Gist

You should check the links above for more detail, but the very short and rough explanation of input/output randomness is that they are describing the distance between new random information and the user’s ability to react.

Input randomness is stuff like the Tetris “Next” box, or a randomized map—stuff where the user has time to see what the random information is and make decisions based on it. Fog of war is also often used as a mechanism for input randomness: you see stuff usually a turn or two before it can threaten you.

Output randomness is stuff like “roll to hit” in RPGs or games like X-Com. You decide to attack a thing, and then there is random information which comes into the game and determines whether that hit connects or not. In this case, you have zero time to “respond” to the new random information. The course of the game has now been altered by pure randomness, unfiltered by your decision-making.

A quick note is that actually, input and output randomness exist on a spectrum. Randomness which is really close to the user but still technically is input randomness(imagine 1-tile-radius fog of war) may actually be so close as to function similar to output randomness. For more on this, read my article on the Information Horizon.

One more note: as Mr. Street said in the video, output randomness is bad for strategy games. (Actually, he wasn’t that strong with the language, but that is definitely my view.) You also don’t want zero randomness in games. What you want is a carefully placed information horizon.

Randomness in League

There are a number of sources of randomness in League already, but what’s exciting is what they’ve been adding, so let’s talk about that first.

One of the big ones, that they’re talking about in the video, is the new Dragons (or I guess they’re calling them Drakes? I’m going to call them dragons) system. Every game, there is a random elemental dragon. Killing each dragon gives your team a different kind of buff—something like, Air dragons make you move faster, fire dragons make you deal more damage, Earth make you destroy towers faster, and so on. After one of these dragons is killed, a new random one will spawn.

But here’s the cool thing, and when I saw it, I was impressed, because it’s exactly what you should do. The dragon takes awhile to respawn. But on the dragon’s death, the next dragon is selected and a big bright symbol is painted on the dragon’s lair wall for everyone to see. This is a great example of input randomness. Both teams know exactly what random dragon is going to spawn there, and decisions can be made around that.

This system is a really great start. There should be a lot more of this on the League of Legends map (which I guess they call “Summoner’s Rift”? I’m going to call it “the League of Legends map”).

My Suggestions

Category #1: Increasing input randomness. I believe that by making the League of Legends map more dynamic and more different each game, Riot can worry less about perpetually adding content to the system and the sort of “patching just for the sake of keeping things fresh” idea that they arguably do sometimes.

  1. Randomized geometry. Why is the map geometry—the pattern of the walls and everything—the same exact every match? Is this geometry sacred? Remove this brush, put a pillar here, change the shape of this wall. You can definitely design the parameters in such a way that it’s always fair for every character, yet slightly different every game. If you’re really worried about it causing balance problems, maybe have it change randomly at 10 minutes and at 20 minutes, or something.
  2. Randomize all jungle monsters. Having a fixed jungle means having a fixed jungle route. Instead why not have there be a few more jungle monsters, but what they are and where they are is randomized somewhat. That way you can have a more dynamic and less “memorized Starcraft build-order” automatic pathing to the jungling. Make it mirrored, so it’s fair.
  3. Random plants. I love the new “plants” system, and maybe it’s just the beginning. But why not randomize the positions and the types for these plants? Make it mirrored, so it’s fair.
  4. Push the dragons further. Right now the buffs are cool, but maybe instead of just the four elements, it’s four different kinds of monsters as well. So you could have an Earth Wizard who does lots of magic damage, or a Fire Ogre who has shitloads of health. Maybe Ogres, when killed, change the terrain somewhere else or spawn plants somewhere.
  5. Random (mirrored) cannon minions, and more? I like the idea of there being some more variance in the minion-stream itself. What if randomly, every 5-7 waves or so, a super minion spawned on one of each team’s lanes (probably, it can’t be the same lane). There could be a little map alert telling both teams about this. I spent like two minutes thinking of this idea, I don’t know—but the point is, I do think there’s a lot more that could be done with minions than is being done here.

Category #2: Removals of existing output randomness. These aren’t quite as important in my view, and they’re also less likely to be taken up by Riot for a number of reasons. But ideally, I’d love these to be changed.

  1. Remove Random Critical Hits. This is totally unnecessary for this game. It’s totally a vestigial D&D thing and all it does is unnecessarily loosen up a system which already is very loose. I’m actually surprised that high level players don’t complain about this, because a lucky crit at the wrong time can completely change the course of a match.
  2. Reduce execution across the board. This one is hard, and I don’t expect Riot to act on it for that reason. But, in an ideal world, we should be making the game be less about crazy reaction speed in team fights, and more about strategy. Removing skillshots and having them be target-based is one suggestion here. Getting rid of “burst” (massive amounts of damage in a tiny window of time) as a concept would be a much wider scope change that would really benefit the game. That would mean questioning the roles of burst-mages and assassins, which is a huge job, but personally I think it would be worth it. Because, as I’ve written about before, execution is a form of randomness, and this becomes more and more the case the faster players are asked to execute.

(On a slightly related topic, here are some more League patch notes that I’d love to see.)

Anyway, those ideas are mostly off-the-cuff (but not getting rid of random crits. That seriously needs to go), but the point is just to demonstrate some ways that Riot’s designers—and designers in general—can use the input/output randomness theory in practice to create a better experience. Using input randomness in this way, you can get the “variety” that is so sought after using extremely costly (both in terms of production costs and accessibility costs) asymmetry content, while also providing players with a fair, balanced competitive experience.

I’m really glad to see someone as high profile using these terms. If you know of anyone else talking about randomness in this way, please let me know in the comments!

 

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CGD Podcast Episode 32: Contests of Understanding, and Questioning Gun Worship in Games

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Hello everyone! A new episode, finally. This one is a distinct two-parter, coming in at about 45 minutes. I first talk about how games are better described as contests of understanding rather than contests of decisions. The “decisions” aspect of games tends to actually be a bit over-stated.

The second thing I talk about is a new IGN article that asks the question, “Are Guns In Video Games Holding The Medium Back?”

(Above is a screenshot from a new satirical VR game called The American Dream.)

Thanks for listening, and let me know what you think of the episode below.

Liked the episode? Please consider becoming a patron at Patreon.com. You’ll gain access to previews of new episodes, articles, and even get the first glimpses at my games and prototypes.

Battle Blast, and Satirical Videogames in the Trump Era

For the past year, I’ve been working on an abstract tile-sliding game. At a certain point I realized that I could use some MOBA mechanics, and I decided to use the “Battle Blast” theme, a satirical theme I had already been working with on and off for the past few years.

Battle Blast is truly awful. All of the female characters are super sexualized in the grossest ways possible. An absurd level of violence glorification and outright celebration of things like mass murder and torture. There’s “good guys and bad guys” – “bad guys” are almost like another species of human being. Almost all of the characters are white, and the remainder are ridiculous stereotypes and cultural appropriations.

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The dialogue, action and plot are always totally transparent – you can always detect that there is some ulterior, masturbatory motive behind everything that happens in the books.

Either that, or it’s arbitrary. Why is this character a solid chocolate rooster? Because that’s what the author felt like writing. Which is itself another ulterior, masturbatory motive.

Beyond anything else, the primary message of Battle Blast was a rejection of the self indulgence of action/fantasy media.

And that’s what I always liked about it. I always wanted Battle Blast to be this thing people could point to, if they’re watching some terrible action movie and some character makes some transparent, God-awful one liner, they could say “Jesus, it’s like Battle Blast.

So I have been excited about the prospect of bringing people into that world via videogames. Until recently.

Battle Blast: Lanes of Death

chocadilly-doo-and-urchid-scrawleyI posted earlier this evening about a Steam Greenlight that I put up for Battle Blast: Lanes of Death – the abstract game that I had long since applied the Battle Blast theme to. I pretty quickly got this comment:

“I’m sorry. I had to vote no on the greenlight due to how uncomfortable the trailer for this game made me. The three female characters depicted in the promotional video are sexualized to a degree that is extremely off-putting. Maybe people around here appreciate seeing thongs and cleavage, but as a female gamer it makes me very uncomfortable. I like MOBAs and Roguelikes, but the theme of this game really turns me off of playing it.”

I was – and still am – mortified to have gotten this response. Because some part of my brain already knew that people would react this way, but I think I kind of wrote it off in a “well of course, it won’t be for everyone” sort of way. I really don’t mind if my games aren’t for everyone, but that isn’t the problem here.

The problem is that because of the way things are right now in videogames, in media, in our culture, in our politics—it is exceedingly difficult to make it clear to people that your thing is satire. (I mean, how exactly are you going to satirize this, for example?)

Actually, some things might be easy to satirize. I think it could be pretty easy to satirize the monetization schemes of modern F2P games. I think Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker did a decently clear job of satirizing the ridiculous monotony of idle/clicker games of the time.

But you can do satire of those things, because most people know that those things are problematic. The things that Battle Blast is commenting on—violence glorification, the sexual objectification of women, unbridled self-indulgence—these things are such a part of the tapestry of videogames and videogame culture right now that attempts to do satire on that axis just doesn’t read.

The Onion was able to do a successful satire for two reasons: one, it already has an iron-clad reputation as a source of satire, and two, it laser-focused on violence glorification with this piece.

By contrast, Battle Blast is trying to hit a much wider array of problems, while I don’t have the reputation that The Onion does.

Just a Joke

The funny thing is, even if I were to have the phase “THIS IS SATIRE” printed on the screen at all times, even that wouldn’t do the trick. That’s largely because the pattern of saying or doing something harmful and then following it up with “God, I’m just kidding, can’t you take a joke” or something similar has been identified.

In other words, even if I tell people that I mean this purely as a criticism of these ideas, that defense doesn’t really work anymore. Especially not now, in the era of alt-right Donald Trump 4-chan dominance.

There is some question about how many people on the internet are “just joking” and “just trying to get a rise out of people” and don’t really believe the awful things they say on social media. I liked this video’s take on the matter.

Essentially, his point is that it doesn’t much matter what internet trolls’ true motivations are. The effects are the same: you have people on the internet yelling horrible things, hurting people and perpetuating bad ideas, whether they mean to or not.

As ridiculous as I tried to make Battle Blast, I know that people are going to see it and just think I’m some gross misogynistic macho dude-bro. It doesn’t help that I’m a young white gamer guy and that I totally do come out of that kind of toxic-masculinity landscape. (If you saw me at 15 years old, you’d have to guess odds of me becoming a GamerGater later in life would have been high.)

Going Forward

I don’t want to contribute to the cacophony of horribleness coming out of videogames, even inadvertently. And if I feel like most people won’t get that what I’m doing is satire, then I by extension know that I’ll be doing more harm than good

And so, it pains me to say this, but I just shouldn’t do it. No more Battle Blast. It pains me because I’m quite attached to it. I’ve done a ton of artwork and other work with this world. And I love doing satire.

But it feels like not a good time for satire right now. People are too raw and too vulnerable. I haven’t mentioned Donald Trump really yet, but I didn’t know how else to short-hand refer to the time and place we seem to be in right now. The distance between the socially ridiculous and those social progressives who would be doing the ridicule is just too vast right now. It feels like society has diverged dramatically apart, with the alt-right anti-PC types going way off in their direction, and social progressives going way off in their direction. Let me be clear in stating that I don’t consider these equivalent; I think more social progress is always good, and people going the other way are out and out wrong. But ultimately, the outcome is the same.

We have a horribly divided society, and on top of the fact that I may be confused for one of them, it’s also worth noting that I’m not going to reach the other side on issues like these by mocking those people.

So, going forward, I will strive to not only make things which are daring and original, but also positive. Things that maybe bring people together, that everyone (or almost everyone) is likely to enjoy. I think we need more of that.

This has been a really costly learning process for me. As to Battle Blast: Lanes of Death, it’s still happening and on course.

If it feels like this article ends abruptly, that’s because I have a shitload of new art to make.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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Improving Go (Not Really)

My official position is that you can’t really “improve” Go. There might be something in there worth salvaging, but you can’t just tweak some rules and make Go better. That’s not because Go is so great, but because tweaking rules on an existing system like that tends to create vastly horrible results.
With that said, it might be an interesting intellectual exercise to sort of try to graft on the Clockwork Game Design concepts onto Go and see what you get.
Every day I throw down failed game design ideas. Today I thought I’d share one with you guys just to get a little game design conversation going. (With the election and everything, things have been a little slow on that front recently.)
Here’s as far as I got, just to get you guys started.
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Some basic ideas for it:
  • 13×13 board, as a starting place. Would scale up or down as necessary. Maybe the board shouldn’t even be square, not sure.
  • Fog of war. Basically my idea was that you get a vision range of 2, but this doesn’t actually make any sense in practice for a few reasons. One is that you shouldn’t be able to place pieces on the perimeter (random), let alone across the board in some random fogged spot. And the second is that at some point (possibly 10-12 moves in) you’re going to just see the whole board – bye bye, hidden information. There may be solutions to these problems, but I don’t know. (I’ll come back to this at the end.)
  • At least 1 piece down already, probably more like 3-4 in a random, non-mirrored configuration (this is to avoid guessing what the opponent is doing in the fog).
  • Grey pieces are down in a mirrored configuration. Grey pieces turn your color when you put a piece next to them. Or maybe they do something different?

A few thoughts I had as I was giving up on this:

– Maybe this could be single player somehow? Like having to do with the grey pieces? Probably not.

Back to the fog of war and the problems with it: funny thing about this is, it doesn’t really work, and one of the reasons it doesn’t work is the “I can just lay down pieces willy-nilly whereever I want with no restrictions” element of Go to begin with.

Anyway, like I said, I make these kinds of failed little concepts all the time and since things have been slow around these parts recently, I thought I’d share this one totally non-working, bad idea with you.

How would you apply the Clockwork Game Design design methodology to Go? Just to review, here are some of the demands:
– No memorized openings/closings
– Some source of hidden information
– Ideally, something that looks like a core mechanism
– The game should be no longer than it needs to be (Go’s pretty long)
I’d love to hear your thoughts.

CGD Podcast Ep. 31 – permadeath, structure, the death of game design writing, and more

Hello everyone. Today I’m talking about a new article I read about permadeath/grinding, as well as what I perceive as the death, or at least curving off of, the world of game design writing.

I also read and responded to a Frank Lantz quote (now on the Dinofarm Forums!) on the topic of structure in games and win rates.

You should also check out the game design subreddit if you haven’t already: http://www.reddit.com/r/gamedesign

(By the way… beware the term “beautiful”.)

As always, you can support the show by visiting my Patreon page.

CGD Podcast Episode 30 – Deepities, a new Frank Lantz article, and updates

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In this episode I discuss the concept of deepities and how it applies to game design writing. I also discuss a new Frank Lantz article on Ian Bogost‘s new book—an article that, it seems to me, pushes against progress in game design in some ways.

(Don’t forget to check out episodes 23 and 24 where I talked with Frank on the show, if you haven’t already.)

Finally, I talk a little bit about some personal updates with me, my 2-3 upcoming games, and Codex (which I’m still playing).

Thanks for listening! If you like the show, show your support by making a pledge on my Patreon page.