Interlude: Starcraft 2, League of Legends, and Counter Play

League of Legends

There’s an interesting discussion on the state of Starcraft 2 on the Teamliquid.net site.  It gets into a long and hyper-specific discussion of Starcraft 2 mechanics, but I really appreciated their jumping-off points.  I appreciated them so much, in fact, that let me just quote their source here (and the source’s source is well worth a watch):

The Design Director of League of Legends, Tom Cadwell, writes:

http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/showthread.php?p=31708792#post31708792

I would direct people to the video of course:

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/counter-play

However, one area in which dota and LoL differ a lot, and an area we’ve spent a lot of effort trying to evolve the genre, is on the idea of hard counters and on the richness of said counters.  Put simply, we think that soft counters are good, hard counters are bad, and the execution of a counter should be nuanced and skill differentiated — simply choosing to use a counter in our view should only be a small fraction of skill.

People often make the mistake that all counters are created equal, and indeed, that all counters are POSITIVE. Many types of counters, especially hard counters, can make the game less competitive and strategic despite being ‘strategic’ in their initial use.

The type of counter we like the least of all is a hard counter. Hard counters, by their definition, allow for very limited counterplay. In some sense, they are a pre-planned rock-paper-scissors scenario — I am now playing rock, you have scissors, so you lose.

When you have a hard counter, and by extension, a rock-paper-scissors scenario, you’ve eliminated the potential for further skill differentiate, nuance, etc to occur in the response. In short, while it feels satisfying to have a hard counter, there’s not a challenging, interesting game to be played on the receiving end at that point. Soft counters are better because they confer advantage and reward skill on the aggressor side also, but depend heavily upon execution, and thus, are more competitive and more vulnerable to defender interference via skill.

To be fair, we have a few [bad hard counter mechanics] ourselves, but we want to get rid of them.

To bring the discussion in the direction of my pet genre, the MMO, this is an excellent insight into Crowd Control’s limitations as a pvp mechanic.  CC is largely binary, often requires little skill to use (though this may be a factor of the lock-on targeting system of modern mmo’s), and has a very limited range of possible responses from the affected player.

Relating to my current game-of-play, Skyward Sword, I just fought the boss of the first temple.  When I held my sword to the left, he held a glowing hand to the left.  If I attacked his guarded side, he would counter me by grabbing my sword.  From there, I could thrash my controller vigorously in an attempt to wrench my sword away, but if I failed, he would throw my sword across the room.  I then had to avoid him, weaponless, and dash over to pick up my fallen sword.

This is a great example of a soft counter.  It’s strongly telegraphed, so a clever player can avoid it.  It’s punishing, but the player has an immediate opportunity to respond.  If the player doesn’t respond, then they’re punished, but in a way that’s tense, exciting, and supports a wide range of degrees of success.

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