Thursday, October 24, 2013

Game is harder: Part two

Item changes

6. Wards are cheaper. No they're not, you're probably thinking. Well yes, they aren't directly cheaper, but they will work out to be cheaper given that they last longer and given that you will now sometimes get returns on your [sentry] wards.

Observer Ward
- Duration increased from 6 to 7 minutes
- Killing Observer Wards now grants a 50 gold bounty
Sentry Ward

- Duration increased from 3 to 4 minutes
- No longer gives permanent vision around it
- Gives ground vision in a 150 area around it for 12 seconds when placed

So lasting longer puts less pressure on supports in terms of gold but where it may seem like this might make Observer wards do more to prevent gangs from being successful, Sentry Wards save the day. This is because discovering enemy Observer Wards now rewards you with some of your money back. That said, Sentry Wards are also nerfed in that they only grant vision temporarily after placed. This is also an expertly designed change as they still provide enough vision to be used on their own to kill an observer ward they were placed sufficiently near to. However, they no longer have the strange property of sometimes being able to scout an enemy gank on the way in - a property I call strange because it's totally separate from their purpose. 

7. Smoke of Deceit is buffed. Related to the above but taken even further, Smoke of Deceit is now an even stronger ganking tool.

Smoke Of Deceit
- Smoked units are now always hidden until the buff is removed (rather than being hidden only from minimap and partially from world)

This means that judging when another team is Smoke ganking is now purely a matter of skill. The only way the game will directly tell you that they are Smoked is at the point at which it's too late and the Smoke has already broken. Again, this reduces the extent to which a team with a gold advantage can passively control the game as nobody is ever completely safe while enemies are missing from the map. 

8. Urn of Shadows improved as a ganking tool. While Urn of Shadows has never stopped being relevant, it has lately become more of a healing item than a killing item.

Urn of Shadows- Soul Release cooldown reduced from 10 to 7

By reducing the cooldown of Soul Release, Urn becomes a much more aggressive item, extremely well suited to regular early game ganks or skirmishes. 

9. Bottle-couriering is even further nerfed. Again, this is something that was attempted in the previous big patch but seems to have more or less failed. At the time, I was hoping that the loss of speed on couriers when carrying empty bottles would result in mid lanes becoming more interesting again. It turns out the nerf was not enough and Icefrog is back for more here. 

- Gold cost increased from 600 to 650
Flying Courier

- Cannot be purchased until 3 minutes after creeps spawn

The slight increase in the cost of bottle together with the fact that couriers have to walk for 3 minutes should hopefully do significant work to reduce the status of mid lanes as being largely defined by bottle-couriering. Meanwhile, supports now have a much bigger incentive to try snipe courier in the first 3 minutes, especially in cases where the enemy mid laner is unlikely to have a good time without sending in items before the 3 minute mark. This not only creates a more interesting mid lane - one which can actually be won or lost - but it gives supports yet another active thing to do in the early game.

10. Regen items for carries are nerfed. This comes in two forms. Firstly, the main boots of choice for carry heroes, Tranquil Boots, are no longer likely to be popular for carry heroes, given the fact that they will almost always be broken in lane and thus won't provide any regen at all. That said, I did see Burning going Tranquils on Luna immediately after the patch and there definitely is some argument to be made for why it's still a good choice - being cheap and efficient and still providing plenty of movespeed even when broken.

New Tranquil Boots
Active Boots:
+ 85 Movement speed
+ 4 Armor
+ 10 HP Regeneration

Broken Boots:
+ 60 Movement speed
+ 4 Armor
Restores when you haven't attacked or been attacked in the last 13 seconds.
Cannot be disassembled

The fact that Tranquil Boots can no longer be disassembled is again a nerf targeted at core heroes who had intended to use some of the components later for a Force Staff or a VladsSupports, on the other hand, will be more than happy to keep Tranquils as their boots for the entire game usually. And of course they will thrilled to have such insanely high move speed and will not need to attack nearly as much as cores and thus be able to make use of the regen very well.

Lastly, Tangos and Salves [and clarities] have also been changed to make it harder to pool heroes with early consumables. While it is not impossible to pool cores with Tangos - and the scene has adapted to do this very quickly - it is impossible to pool Salves. This might not always be relevant, but given that Tranquils are less desirable a choice for carries now, not being able to have extra salves seems to drill the point home - that staying in lane after almost dying or incurring serious harassment is significantly harder if you're on your own.

So why is a less passive Dota a better Dota?

In reality my major aim in these two posts has not be evaluative - rather, I've aimed to make a case for interpreting the recent changelog as representative of a certain broad agenda for the game among Icefrog and co. That said, I happen to support this agenda myself and I did promise to defend my position that making Dota less passive is better for the game and will thus briefly outline an argument for this position and consider a counter-argument to it, explaining where I think the counter-argument goes wrong.

My argument here is really quite simple. I think that a game which is more competitive is equivalent to a more competitive game. While this might sound like a tautology, it isn't one. The former refers to instances of the game having high levels of competition in them while the latter refers to the game as a whole being more competitive. In other words, I think that the Dota 2 industry is a more competitive industry if more games involve fierce competition. I take for granted that it's a good thing for Dota 2 to be more competitive over all, given the nature of the industry. Thus, unless there is a case to be made against my initial claim here, it follows naturally that what we want is for the game to be such that it makes each instance of itself more competitive.

This, I believe, is least the case when the game enables or the metagame encourages passive play. A lot of what people have come to call 'Rat Dota' is related to this - though I do not have a particular objection to a style of play which involves, say, split-pushing. That said, for the longest time, Dota 2 has moved in a direction which rewards teams for taking early advantages and then consolidating those advantages, clinically and incrementally gaining more advantages until finally they have so much advantage so as to essentially 'automatically' win the game. The problem I have with this situation is that it weights a lot of decisions as far more important than other decisions when, on the face of it, they shouldn't be. Of course it is sensible in any strategy game that making good decisions early on puts one in a better position later on - but I dislike the idea that making good decisions early on could put one in such an advantageous position that the other team can make significantly better decisions than you later on and still lose the game. I think that ideally we want the team that wins a game to be making better decisions than their opponents throughout [at least most of] the game and not just at the beginning of the game. And this is exactly what the 6.79 changes encourage. Supports now have to actually do things to be relevant early on instead of being able to default to safely zoning enemies and pulling creeps to slowly gain passive advantage. Killing Roshan each time he spawns is harder to count on, players are more rewarded for making big kills on heroes which are dominant and it's harder to rely on securities such as buyback to use your finances in a direct way to passively stay ahead.

A counter-argument that I've already encountered on this subject suggests that many of the things I'm referring to as 'making the game less passive' are, in fact, just making the game 'more random'. But surely randomness is bad in a strategy game? Isn't the entire premise of strategy games that good decisions be what is rewarded and not luck of the draw?

Absolutely, too much randomness is a problem for a strategy game - there is simply no denying it. However, a more nuanced approach to this particular case would recognize that the 6.79 patch has actually reduced all sorts of bad randomness - look, for example, at all the changes to neutral camps. Now you are more or less guaranteed to get the creep you need in a short space of time on Chen, Enchantress, or Doom. Meanwhile, farming the jungle has become a lot more consistent in terms of how hard each camp is to kill and how much each camp rewards you. This is an excellent change as we don't want the random fact of which camps spawn at which times to have too much effect on a game. So which things which I praise are actually being accused of being random [presumably in a bad way]? To give some examples, one might suggest that the fact that couriers can now get sniped more easily or the fact that Roshan's spawn time is uncertain means a net increase in randomness in the game. The problem with the latter complaint is that Roshan's spawn time is not completely random but random within a known window and thus players still have more than enough control to make good decisions about how to deal with it - these decisions need only be more complex now. This is a good thing. Meanwhile, the former complaint just gives players no credit at all. Sure, couriers are more susceptible to being sniped now. But whether or not a support succeeds in doing this is not a matter of chance - there is a calculated decision involved in deciding how long to linger waiting for a courier and whether or not it's worth the risk. This is no different to any decision made by supports to do any other kind of rotation for any other kind of purpose during the game. 

One final point I should briefly address which was alluded to in part 1 and has now been alluded to again is the notion of randomness which is not bad. Here I simply bite the bullet. Yes, the strategic element of the game is probably going to be somewhat undermined by any and all forms of randomness. But there's a reason we play Dota and not Chess. And as someone who grew up playing Chess, I honestly think it would be a lot more interesting and exciting game if it did allow for some small degree of chance. Look at most successful strategy games - computer games, card games, board games - and you will see very easily that they tend to contain at least some degree of chance. This is no mistake. While it might reduce the strategic control somewhat, the control you do have becomes a lot more complex and interesting. And it sure as hell makes for more fun.

As always, thanks for reading - and any feedback is greatly appreciated!


  1. Solid article. Cannot agree more on the positive outcome this patch intends to bring. There is one thing I would like to ask. With the buffs to necrobook viability from HoTD and HoM changes coupled with the increased passive gold income, is it entirely possible that we will see a higher frequency of pocket push strats? I recall watching a professional game in the last week where a team built 3 necrobooks.

  2. Thanks!

    A lot of the post-patch pro matches have actually been as much [if not more] about pushing as they have been about ganking. Buffs to things like Pugna, Shadow Shaman and Necro Book have made pushing a much stronger option again.

    That said, firstly, there are also counter-pushing mechanisms that have been buffed in this patch - for example, the increase to melee rax regen. But secondly, and more importantly, the main reason I didn't want to discuss the effects of this patch on push strats is in order to retain conceptual clarity. It's actually possible we end up with a push-based meta [not just pocket strats] rather than a gank-based one. Only time will tell that. But it's a really healthy sign that cases can be made for both - it shows really good design work.

  3. Having already read and listened to quite a bit on the patch I still found your take interesting.
    I completely agree with your stance on the randomness in the game.
    I think the distinction between completely random outcomes and randomness within known parameters is an important one.
    Decisions become far more interesting when one has to account for multiple variables, i.e. "Is it advantages for us to try and gain control of the Rosh pit from 8 minutes regardless of the time at which he spawns within the 3 minute window? Are we safer forgoing the venture all together?"

    I think the break from the formulaic approach to one that works on more interesting (and potentially riskier) choices is far better.

  4. Thanks for the feedback. And you've actually made some of the points I was trying to make a bit more succinctly than I did.

    I actually think that teams should be rewarded for succeeding with very clinical approaches - I just think that that kind of success should be extremely difficult to achieve as opposed to, you know, the default method of winning the game. If being clinical just amounts to pulling creeps at X time, stacking camps at Y time, writing down Rosh timers, and managing gold well, then why not throw a spanner in the works and add some new complexity to the game.