Good morning, class is in session, so I hope you brought something to take notes with, since this one's important!
Today we're covering flaws, holes and gaps in champion design.
At first, you may think we're aiming to plug these. In reality, we're actually seeking to ensure they exist!
Confused? After this article, hopefully you won't be!
First off, we need to cover why having "holes" in your champion design is an essential part of it.
Second, we'll discuss some major things that don't work all that well as being these "holes" and should be avoided.
Third, we'll then go over roughly what kind of balance of holes you're looking for in relation to filled holes.
Finally, we'll finish up with pre-planning your design to make it easier to set up these errors before you even finalize your ability loadout!
This is possibly one of the most important out of all of the design concepts within this guide, so let's get started quickly!
Part 1: I can do anything you can do better, I can do everything better than you. ~Irving Berlin
It may sound strange, but you actually want to have gaps in your character designs, and especially in a game that needs to be balanced for actual game play.
Consider a champion that has literally everything they require, in their kit, to perform their role. They have no need to buy items, no need to choose between masteries, runes, or summoner spells.
This allows the champion, once inside the game, to do far too much with no real drawback. While this may sound good, it really ends up being boring.
Instead, a healthy character design, whether it's a champion, or a role playing character, or one for a book, it doesn't matter, will have advantages, and disadvantages. They will have limitations, but also shall they have strengths to counteract those.
The old 2nd Edition AD&D player's handbook put it in a rather eloquent way... the worst thing that you could possibly have, is a character who's equally good and bad at everything they do. Ie: Boring.
Consider Superman... gawd I *HATE* Superman. And Star Trek Voyager, for the same reason. In both these situations, they've been given, over time, so many new abilities and powers, tricks and ways out of messes, that they really just... aren't interesting any longer.
In a narrative, such as a TV show, movie, or novel, you need conflict to occur, be it with the character's inner self, their environment, or other characters. The problem is, if you have a character (or ship), which has been provided so much power that they don't fear anything, they can't really have any conflicts with anything *BUT* themselves.
After awhile, this gets pretty boring. Every episode and every issue then becomes explaining why this near-perfect being or crew, or whatever, is unable to do the same thing that got them out of it the last time. You write yourself into a corner, and have no where left to go. This is why Star Trek Enterprise and the new movie were both prequels (all subsequent, new material would be stuck with decades of baggage from previous series), and it's why Superman is stuck with the same kind of situations every time. Oh noes, Kryptonyte. Oh noes, someone kidnapped peoples I care about and put them on opposite sides of the world so I have to choose one or the other.
Actually, I'll stop right there, because that's my point exactly. Superman doesn't have any choices left to make in his life, such as "do I work on making my good qualities even better, or smoothing out some of my rough edges?", because he doesn't have the ability to do either.
As such, he's stuck being forced into situations where he has to make an artificially generated choice, such as picking between two people to save that are too far apart from each other to save otherwise.
Star Trek Voyager, is saddled with a similar problem, where every episode is the same thing, and reads as follows:
It's the day after gaps, holes and flaws, and you know what that means!
That's right, Solaris fans! It's Making Abilities Fun time!
Alright, I'm dropping the Duncan Fisher dealie, and class is in session!
Today we'll be covering ways to make your abilities more interesting than they would be otherwise. Way too often we get champions on here that have maybe a semi interesting ultimate, and abilities that are just blaaaaand. You guys know you love awesome abilities, so let's see about ensuring that the abilities that you yourselves make are just as win!
As stated yesterday, we're getting into some heavy stuff, now. This is going to be less about holding your hand, and more about teaching you to think on your own. I can't make every single ability you have interesting; I've tried it before with continual reviews, and to be honest, most people didn't make any changes at all, or if they did, they either followed suggestions to the letter (tsk, tsk, read page one again if you did this), or they didn't pay attention to the issues that were had... that or they just didn't think their fixes through at all.
Regardless, we've got a lot to cover today!
First off, we need to define what makes an ability "fun", before we can do anything else. There's a lot of ways to do so!
Second, we need to discuss avoiding hidden power. While these abilities are powerful, they're boring as hell. Most people would rather have an underpowered ability that's fun to use than one which is potent but bland as hell.
Third, we'll go into additional depth on the concept of counterplay. This is a key part to what makes abilities really awesome, and it really needs to be stressed.
Finally, we'll cover a few things to avoid, since there's an awful lot of them out there. Hidden power's only one of them, but it's one of the worst since you can't even "buff" it, but rather have to nerf an ability that felt weak to start with, which just pisses your players off.
So, since we have a lot to cover today, let's get started.
Part 1: What's the point of playing a game if it isn't fun?
So... we have a problem. This problem is that many abilities just... suck. They aren't interesting, they aren't fun, and they certainly don't seem to add anything of value to the game.
Sure, they may be powerful, but it doesn't make them enjoyable.
Yes, Sona, I'm glaring harshly at you and your auras. I'd ask you to stand up and defend yourself, but we all know you have no explanation which is why you remain silent on the subject.
Anyway, we're looking for the key things that really make our abilities seem fun and awesome. Those abilities that just stand out as "ZOMG THEY PUT WHAT INTO THE GAME!?" and actually get people excited before they even play the champion. The abilities that someone else casts next to you, from a champion they got on opening day that makes your eyes go wide because you were too lazy to read the patch notes.
This is what we want to capture. That feeling of awe and joy at having gotten to unload Lux's Shoop-da-whoop, or tossing Draven's spinning axe and catching it midair. These add immense enjoyment to the game, despite being relatively simple mechanics. So what's so special about them? What makes them any more fun than Trundle?
Well, there's a few things, really, so let's cover each in turn.
Sometimes you just see the enemy die, and sure it did a lot of damage, but you're left with one, singular, painfully nagging question in the back of your mind...
"Where's the ka-boom? There's supposed to be an earth-shattering ka-boom..."
If you read that in the Marvin the Martian voice... well... yeah, I admit I did too, it's okay, we can get counseling together. I'm sure they have support groups for this kind of thing.
Anyway, the idea is that firing Lux's laser isn't particularly special. Alright, it's a long range skill shot on a low cooldown... but that's not what makes it fun. What makes it fun is the charge up time and then the huge laser which fries everything in it's path. I build CDR on her just for the excuse to be able to unload it on minions so I can see it more often and yell out IMMA FIRIN MAH LAYZUR BEEM on skype.
Don't lie. You know you do that too. It'll be our little secret, though, amongst Lux players.
Anyway, the point of the example is simply that the only thing making Lux's Finales Funkeln all that interesting, is the fact that it's a HUGE ASS LASER.
Seriously, the ability itself is nothing special at all, other than it's range. Sure it'd be nice to hit someone at max range with it, but if it didn't have that flashy graphic? Pft, it'd be unsatisfying.
What about Cho'gath's Feast spell though? It's barely even got a graphic to it!
Ah, but Feast he gets to go OM NOM NOM, and seriously, that sound effect alone takes it from being a high damage nuke that give you a buff, into being something which you'll have an excuse to go on about even out of the game.
Gentleman Cho'gath approves. Rah-thar so, good chap.
Regardless, the point is you really need your abilities to stand out in a visible manner. It's not just ultimates, either!
Graves isn't just enjoyable for his damage, but when he dashes in and unloads his Buckshot on people, it's pretty blatantly obvious, and gives that satisfying sound effect to go with it.
Sound engineers are one of the hardest jobs to do, since there's no real rulebook for anything they have to do. Making sound effects is really awesome stuff, and something that's waaaaay out of my league! Go watch a documentary or something on youtube. Trust me, it's epix win, and confusing as hell how they even come up with some of that stuff!
The point is... the vast majority of the abilities on here (even some of my own, I admit I'm guilty of this! ) do not describe the visual and sound effects to go with the ability. I'd love to include them on my Nemhain design, but simply have no more character space to work with on her, otherwise she'd be doing a growl as she casts Matronage, and a yipping whine when she's normally attacked, but maniacal hyena laughter if it was because of Matronage instead.
The idea is that you really want to stress the abilities as having been cast. Sometimes, this is problematic; if you make an ability's effect "too" obvious that it's going off, then the enemy team will generally want to kill you first, and you can't "hide" effects that easily anymore. If you walk right into the middle of a group of enemies and explosions start flying everywhere, it doesn't matter if you do **** all for damage, you're going down.
Toss in that many players don't have computers that can run on full, top end graphics (no, just because you can afford it doesn't mean they can, and you can't judge that a player is undeserving of fun just because their computer sucks), and that there's also a lot of players who play with their sound turned down, or off entirely... well... it means that flashy effects in both visual and sound, though great ways to draw attention to an ability and make it more interesting, isn't always the best way to make it work.
For that... we need to go deeper! (Oh just shoot me now for that one -_-; )
So, we have an ability that just can't be all that flashy. Boo. Oh well, so what do we do to make it more interesting then?
One of the easiest ways is to actually mess with it's targeting!
Surprised? You shouldn't be! Even the distinction between a skill shot and a regular "click on target unit" ability makes a big difference! So why's it so strange to think that targeting would severely alter the value of a spell?
The thing is, there's "good" changes, and "bad" changes to targeting.
The good changes are ones which spice it up and make it more fun to use. Sivir's Boomerang Blade is a great example; she lobs it in a straight line, and then can actually move herself to reposition the path it returns on for extra hits. It's simple, and fun!
The bad changes... ah, these are ones where it gets needlessly complex. Consider something like the Invoker from DotA. So many people state they love him, but honestly, almost none of these people who claim to enjoy him can use him worth ****. His abilities are a mangled mess and difficult to use. Not only do players have to memorize how to cast his spells, it literally often takes 4-5 buttons to cast a spell! Press QWE in some combination to set it up, so that's 3 spells already, then R to activate it, and click to aim it. That's a lot of work and often highly unresponsive in the heat of battle! Your abilities should be easy to access and target with, not a convoluted mess.
One thing that Final Fantasy XI never caught onto, was the idea that "fighting your interface more than the enemies" isn't all that fun. One thing that the playerbase never clued into, was that it doesn't make a game "hard", either. The actual combat itself was simple, it's just it was a pain to get your character to do what you wanted them to. Having an unresponsive interface and poorly designed abilities isn't "difficulty", it's being lazy as a designer.
Or, in Squaresoft's case, being retarded enough to honestly believe that they should cripple the interface of people who play on the PC, simply because they don't want to give them an advantage over someone playing on the console. This is also a large part of why DC online died horribly... refusal to patch game-breaking bugs unless they could be rolled out simultaneously to both PC and console.
Anyway, the point is, your interface should never be what you're fighting. You shouldn't be cursing and screaming that "if it just did what I told it to, I would've won!". If you ever even say that ONCE, and it wasn't lag related, something's terribly, terribly wrong. (Nidalee pounce and spear glitches HO! At least they fixed those, finally... )
Regardless, your abilities targeting mechanics should really be a lot more interesting, and there's a lot of ways which haven't been even used yet!
Consider two abilities I've had on my previous champions:
One is a straight line dash, but the targeting arrow is broken up into different sections; the farther you go, the longer the cool down. This means you can do several short jumps quickly, or one long jump in an emergency.
Not only is the interface simple, and the ability clean to use, the system allows for more control by the player over their ability without any real confusion. If they jump into the green, closest section of the targeting arrow, they get a short cool down that lets them do another rapid hop very quickly afterward. If they jump up to the orange section in the middle, it takes longer, but they go farther. If they hit the red, it's going to be on cooldown for awhile, but it may be necessary.
A simple, straight horizontal line across the arrow where the mouse cursor is, that glows brightly, and each section highlighting brighter when it's selected, shows the player exactly which jump they're making. It's clear, it's concise, and it changes up how a standard "dash in a straight line" effect would work considerably.
Another example, is an ability I made where the champion's supposed to be a nogitsune (this was months before Ahri was even announced), who emphasizes stealth and trickery. Her dash effect she got had her use vector targeting, similar to Rumble's ultimate, which is an awesome targeting system, and far, far too rarely used!
The idea is you'd hit her dash ability, and then click somewhere within the targetable circle, and drag the cursor out to a new location. Upon releasing the mouse button, she'd teleport to the original click, and dash in a straight line, damaging enemies along the line.
The concept was that you got a highly mobile champion who could strike large groups from any angle, always being in the perfect position to strike with a line attack. This kind of mobility was part of what made her a really interesting design.
Admittedly, the nogitsune character was an older design, and had it's flaws, but she definitely had some good points such as that one, as well =3
Ahri is unlikely to be based upon her, despite that every ability was related (foxfire, dash effect, seduction spell, lifesteal and the kitsune ball), since every ability played off of kitsune/nogitsune/youkai lore in both cases.
In any case, the point is that if you have an ability that's really fun to control, it can make the ability itself more interesting.
Try to keep it as simplified as possible, though! If it takes more than two buttons to cast, you've done something terribly wrong. You want your controls to be tight and responsive, doing what you want, when you want them. Your champion should be an extension of yourself, and your skill should be based upon the choices you make for positioning, timing, and so on, not on whether you were able to wrangle the poor controls into submission better than your enemy.
If you make a champion where you have to enter the equivalent of the Konami code in button presses to cast your spells, then just scrap the whole idea and start over.
In short... you want tight, responsive and easy to use intuitive controls, along with some neat targeting effects which either haven't been done before, or haven't been done in that way, or just aren't that common. These can go a long way to making your champion design feel unique and fun, so long as it doesn't feel like "Just like X other ability, but with different stats..."
[CENTER]INVOLVE BOTH TEAMS
Wait, why should you involve the other team? How is that fun?
Well, as we'll get to eventually in the anti-patterns section, the whole "anti-fun" thing has been horribly mistranslated for ages. So many people claim "anti-fun" without understanding the reasoning behind it.
To put it in short terms here... it's when an ability drains more fun from the game than it adds to it. Darius's ultimate is the anti-fun posterchild because of this. It pisses off his enemies with large sums of true damage they can't build defenses again, his carry hates him for stealing their kills, which makes their job harder, his tank and support are pissed that he starved the carry they were trying to feed up to... you know... carry the game... the point is, literally the only person who likes Darius's ultimate, is Darius himself. It pisses off nine players to see it cast, and makes only one happy in comparison.
So, how does involving the other team mitigate this problem in the slightest?
Well, it's honestly not that complex of a concept. If you feel useless, like you had no way to affect the outcome of a fight, it suuuucks. If, however, you felt like you simply didn't outplay your opponent, it's your opponent that frustrates you, not the ability, and it's generally not so bad.
Skill shots are the most basic example of involving both teams, in that you have a bit of a minigame going on, where you're trying to predict the enemy's movement, and they're trying to avoid your attacks, or hide behind minions, or otherwise attempt to not die.
In some ability designs, such as Nidalee's spear, the harder it is to hit with the ability, the greater the reward. Nid's spear is rather unsatisfying at short range, but if she nails you from behind a wall due to good positioning and your lack of wards, you're going to feel it.
The reason her spear's fun, though, isn't just the high damage, it's the fact that the enemy team can prevent themselves from eating spears to the face. Proper warding allows seeing her hiding in the jungle lining up a shot over the treeline, just as the more damage it does, the easier it is to dodge. If you eat a 1k damage Nidalee spear, you basically had more than enough opportunity to avoid it, and it's your own fault, unless you were rooted in place.
Other examples include things like Fiona's ultimate, where if you bunch up near minions, you're probably going to take barely half damage, or if you're fighting Sivir, where the game boils down to a psychological attack where you're trying to trick her into casting her shield at a bad time, rather than feed her mana.
In each case, the fact that both players are interacting with the ability is what makes it fun. You feel significantly less frustrated if you lost to something that could have been prevented, than if you lost to something you had no realistic control over. If you die from full health to zero, and you realize that there was no way to predict it, no way to prevent it, and no itemization or play you could have done to have saved your skin, you feel frustrated due to the lack of control in the situation. No amount of skill would have saved you, and that's where anti-fun really comes into play.
Try to ensure that your abilities have the option for both players to interact with them. A silence effect, for example, that lasts 4 seconds, but which replaces all of your abilities with "remove silence" which requires standing still for 1.75 seconds, means you can opt to remove the silence early, but if you do, you, as the enemy getting shot, is actually the one choosing which kind of CC you want to endure. It's your choice though, and that's what makes it acceptable.
In any case, there are far, far more ways to make "fun" abilities, but I'm not going through everything. The idea is that you have to think about what makes it fun.
Seriously, take your absolute favourite champion, RIGHT NOW. That's right, go pull up LoLwiki or LoL itself and go look at your champion.
Now, look at their abilities and carefully consider why you actually like each one.
What makes it fun?
Generally speaking, it's normally not the raw power of the ability that's in question, but the way that power is implemented.
Think carefully on each ability you love in the game, and think of them in the way I've just described above here, and you'll learn more things than I can cram into a single article.
Learn to look at the information you already have, and study it. The best source of information, though, is often from the developers. Go watch through a few of the patch previews, and listen to why they do the things they do. There's usually some really remarkable insights in there as to why the abilities are awesome. I don't mean the champion showcases, I mean the actual patches! When they nerf something, they explain why it's nerfed, and they explain why it's buffed. It's not just "it's too weak", it's normally "we want this ability to feel a certain way, or permit a certain play style... and it's just not cutting it".
I can't hold your hand at all times, so make sure you learn to look to other sources of information as well. Once you learn to teach yourself, this will all become so much easier!
Anyway, this forum has a 30,000 character limit per post. We just went through nearly 19,000, so the next bit's going to be a bit quicker paced.
Part 2: Every day I'm Trundle'in! ~Sona's favourite song I'd wager...
RAWR I SAY!
Seriously, hidden power is one of the quickest ways to make a good design turn boring.
I covered it a bit in the previous section, but to put it bluntly, if you have abilities which are technically potent and powerful, but aren't really obvious that they do anything, such as an aura effect which becomes powerful when it's affecting 5 players, but is barely noticeable per person, it just doesn't feel that fun.
A large part of fun comes, not just from saving the day, but from actually feeling like you saved the day in the first place.
This is part of why many people hate support champions... they just don't toss out huge amounts of damage, for the most part. The issue then becomes, primarily, that they may be powerful, but they don't feel it.
Sona, in particular, has an aura effect on every ability she has. Her haste, damage boost, and damage reduction are all insanely powerful, but they don't really seem that great because all their power is spread out over a wide area, which is the problem.
Seriously, her Q gives a +20 AP/AD aura, and no matter how you cut it, having +100 damage dealt across your team adds up pretty bloody fast when wailing on a tower.
Another example on Sona is her -20% damage power chord for her W. Alright, great, you've lowered their damage output by 20%. That can literally be a game changer, and be the difference between whether your carry died, or theirs did, and can swing the entire team fight in your favour. It's such a small amount though that it's hard to honestly tell, much in the same way that Maokai's ultimate does the same thing.
Sure it's "strong", but it honestly doesn't feel it.
If you're going to provide an effect, ensure that it's powerful enough to be noticeable, but still within the sane range of what the level of effectiveness should be. Increasing Sona's Q aura to 50 AD / AP would make it feel far more powerful, but honestly, it'd be overpowered as hell at that point.
Sadly, this means she's impossible to make truly "fun", because at the level when she's balanced for play, she feels weak, even though she's anything but. At the level at which she's visibly fun, she's already way too strong.
This is when you hit things that are unbalancable. It doesn't matter how many tweaks to the numbers you give her, Sona will always be either overpowered or boring. She can't be made fun without completely overhauling her entire kit, and there's literally nothing you can do about it short of that.
This is why when people say "look at ability concepts not numbers!" they want you to think about the idea... the fact of the matter is, in virtually all cases, if you're one of the people who say that above line, you don't understand your abilities well enough, and it's probably just four generic nukes in a row as usual.
There's a few exceptions, but they're pretty rare, honestly.
The concept of an ability is such that it should be entertaining regardless of the numbers in place. An aura, however, is never going to be particularly enjoyable, no matter what you do. Avoid them on champions entirely. You can put them on ITEMS, where the player can decide to get them, but having them built into the champion itself means that you're stuck with a load of dead weight in fun-value that you can't ditch without a heavy redesign.
Avoid abilities which affect multiple people, which do multiple things, or which last for a protracted period of time. This basically nails Trundle's ultimate three different ways, which is why it's a piss poor design in terms of fun. Toss in that it's visual and sound effects suck, it doesn't have a noticeably large shift in either player's health bar, that it's a simple point and click ability, or that there's honestly no defense against it, and it just sucks in pretty much every way imaginable.
Sure it's "strong", it just fails to provide even a single entertaining point that we've covered here today, and actually hit almost every single thing we said not to do.
Hence... it's not fun.
Hidden power sucks, stay away from it.
Part 3: I counterspell your annul which countered my absorb which counters your arcane denial which countered my dismiss which countered your dispel which countered my mana leak which countered your merfolk of the pearl trident. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate control decks?
In a game like LoL, half of the gameplay is in decisions made pertaining to your own self, and the other half is countering the enemy player's own decisions, more or less. Almost everything revolves around this back and forth gameplay.
If they have a team of full AD champions, then you build lots of armour and wreck them. In turn, they build Last Whisper to cut through your massed armour. On and on it goes, but the end is always the same; you counter them, then they counter your counter.
No matter what happens, you're always trading back and forth, and whoever counters the other harder enough, and predicts the enemy's counter one step ahead of them, tends to come out on top, much as it does in chess. Think a few moves in advance, and plan around their actions before they even do them.
In any case, this means your abilities should mimic this sort of game play, in that they provide both a way to use them, and a way to counter them.
This means you can't have magic, physical AND true damage all on one spell. This ensures there's no realistic way to defend against it.
So, too, do you avoid abilities which have no way to stop their effects from occurring. If it's long range, make it able to be dodged (skill shots, or Caitlyn's ulti being able to be blocked). If it's a spell absorption effect, ensure it only lasts a short duration and can't be maintained indefinitely.
The point is actually remarkably simple, so I'm honestly not going into much more detail than this. If you have an ability, you also have to have a way for that ability to be defeated through smart play on the enemy's team.
If there's no method with which to do so, you've probably managed to do something very bad and likely will have to scrap the whole thing and start over, because once something's broken at a fundamental level, tweaks and adjustments generally just don't fix it enough to matter.
Part 4: Dodging the bullet, in both a literal and metaphorical sense!
So there's a lot of problems one can run into, but fortunately, most of them are pretty obvious when you sit down and think about it.
The biggest one we covered was hidden power, but it's only one of many.
Mostly, you want to avoid the following:
Another rough one today, class, so I hope you brought your brains with you, since you're likely to need them!
Class is in session, and today we're covering Synergy. That's right, the key word to winning Bull**** Bingo at any management conference! So what does this mystical word even MEAN!?
Well, that's what we're here today to find out!
First, we'll define synergy. It's a simple term that's typically misused in all manner of terrible ways.
Second on the list, is seeing why synergy is useful to a champion's design, and a few examples of such.
Third, we'll discuss how to actually use synergy in your design as a natural addition, rather than something which feels forced and unwieldy.
Finally, we'll go over the ways to avoid synergy. Just because you want "some", doesn't mean you want "too much". It's easy to get carried away and make your champion OP before you even add numbers!
So, with that set up, let's see about getting into SYNERGY *ominous organ music playing to crashes of thunder*!
Part 1: Synergy; noun - two or more forces which, when operating in tandem, screw up any plans you may have set more completely than had any of them been going at it solo.
Honestly, though I threw the intro quote together pretty hastily, it's probably been said before in a similar manner.
The short form of what synergy is, is that it's when you get two, or more, things working together which work better when combined, than when either works alone.
This doesn't mean like 1+1 = 1.5, with 1.5 being greater than either of the 1's. It means you get literally more out of it, so it'd be like 1+1 = 2.5 or something along those lines.
It's a strange concept, but it does work.
Consider an easier example in game... let's say we have a spell with a long duration snare or stun, and another ability with a long cast time or delay but high damage. That's right, I'm talking about Veigar.
The fact that he can use Event Horizon to actually land a Dark Matter drop is a huge deal, and neither of the two are as effective on their own. His Event Horizon, though still great for stunning people, is pretty much worthless other than defense, if he's unable to make use of the fact that they're stunned. His Dark Matter is worthless if the target simply walks out of the way. Having both together simply makes the pair far more effective than if he cast each separately.
There you have it. Synergy. It's really that simple.
You don't absolutely need to have your abilities work like Sejuani's, where if one ability is active, the other does more damage, or anything like that. All you honestly need are two abilities that work nicely together.
A dash into melee range, and a way to survive in melee range, for example, are synergetic in that you don't have much need for surviving melee range if you can never get there, and you don't have much need for getting into range if you will just die instantly.
Yep, backtrack to page 3 of the guide and you'll notice that list of "things your champion needs to do in order to do their job" that's on each and every role I listed. So long as you fill out abilities to let you do each one, you have achieved synergy.
People make this big deal about how hard it is to make synergetic abilities, or how hard synergy is.
No it's not. Trust me, by the time you're done reading this section, you're going to be actively cutting back on synergy because it'll be so easy to add that you'll accidentally be throwing it at your champions in such staggering amounts they'll be overpowered without intentionally holding back.
Part 2: Too much of anything is never enough, too much of everything is never enough, you need more, you need more, you need more, you need more... ~Love Etc., Pet Shop Boys
So why is synergy really important to a champion design in the first place? Why's it even matter?
The simple answer is that, without synergetic abilities, you may as well not have a champion design in the first place; it's just a pile of random abilities with no cohesion.
A champion design should have an intended function and purpose - you want them to do "something". What that "something" is, is completely up for debate, and honestly, irrelevant at this point. All that matters is that you have decided on what that "something" is that they're supposed to be doing.
Throwing random abilities that make no sense at the problem doesn't help you attain that goal, and mostly just leads to being a mess of a "design", if you can even call it that.
In contrast, if you have abilities which all play off each other to build up to performing that chosen "something" with particular aptitude, then you've probably managed to make a relatively effective champion design.
At least, in terms of in-game mechanics, you have. Keep in mind that a champion design is significantly more than just a random pile of abilities thrown together. You also need things like a personality, appearance, and so on to go with it. You want your player to get emotionally attached to your champion design, not just to play them simply because it's powerful. While people may sometimes buy champions with RP, they usually don't bother because they can also buy them with IP, so you're mainly aiming at people who want to spend RP on skins, and that requires your champion to be fun in areas other than their ability list.
Now, that being said, with a bland or lame ability list, it doesn't matter how good your lore is (well it does, but not that much). If it's painful to play your champion in game, then you're not going to get many skin sales to go with it, since no one will want to play it long term.
Your entire design, oddly enough, should be synergetic, not just the abilities. Let's look at Darius for an example.
Sure, his abilities tend to all line up nicely together, but it's more than that. His personality meshes well with his play style. The fact that he's swinging around a huge two handed axe really gives you that brutalizer feel to him... like he SHOULD run in and beat the **** out of stuff.
Would his ultimate be nearly as awesome if he just swung a whip? Probably not.
If he looked like Zangief from Street Fighter, and punched someone with his fist so hard they exploded? Yeah, that might work, but then you'd be left wondering where all those bleed effects are magically coming from.
The fact of the matter is, this entire guide has actually been leading up to this point of tying everything in together in a truly global synergetic experience. All of your abilities, your weapon choices, your appearance choices, from personality and backstory, through to role played on a team, should all play off of each other in a single, unified design that works well together.
Most of the things that bother players, are disconnects in this continual flow of synergy. When you get something which goes completely against everything else and shuts down your other design points by actively breaking their synergy, such as how Pantheon has everything about him crying out that he's going to be an epic AD carry that can 1v1 any other warrior with ease... and then it turns out he's just an AD caster who doesn't really perform the bruiser or carry role you were expecting all that well after having just watched 300, and suddenly your interest in the champion is somehow just diminished. Even if his play style's fun, he just won't ever really live up to the expectations placed upon him.
As such, synergy is a dangerous thing to toy with. If you make a mistake, or even a tiny break in it, it can backfire in your face pretty hard.
If everything works as a well oiled machine, with every part mechanically working with precision, and no flaws, great! It feels natural that they should be exactly how they are!
In contrast... if you have a champion where almost everything seems to work in perfect order, but there's one nagging thing that just doesn't quite fit right, it's going to call your attention towards it immediately because it's "wrong".
A champion design which has very limited synergy across it's entirety doesn't even have it that bad. If nothing really leans a certain way, then it doesn't really feel out of place if there's no unified whole to feel like you're breaking the flow of. It's only when you have a good head of steam going, and are charging along the rails of synergy at a brisk pace, that you really risk derailing.
This makes things dangerous in that the better your design is, the bigger the emphasis a single, otherwise tiny flaw will appear.
Consider these two pictures: (Apologies to any colourblind people!)
In the first picture, there's no real synergy in the colouration, where everything is just a random mixture, so you don't really notice the red any more than the rest of it.
In the second picture, the colours in the background have been faded almost to the point of being black and white, and they're out of focus, which has a strong synergetic effect of everything fitting nicely together..., but then you have the powerful contrast of a single flower being bright red and in sharp focus.
So powerful is the fact that it's red when everything else is a dull, faded green, that it instantly draws one's attention towards it. This is the problem with synergy... the more synergetic your designs become, the more noticeable anything that doesn't quite fit "just right" will stand out.
This is also the key as to why people tend to nitpick, in general. If the whole concept is a mis-mash of nonsense, then it's not really that important for everything to fit together, and minor things are ignored. If a design is really tightly fitting, then people will pick up that much easier on even the slightest of errors, since they stand out more than on something that's not done as well.
Regardless, the point is that you are playing with a double edged sword. The better you get at synergetic effects, the better your designs will work, but also the greater risk you pose of minor errors ballooning out of control into huge messes despite that it's still just a tiny mistake.
This is also why you'll notice that Riot's champions early on are more basic and used a mixture of stuff with often very little in the way of unified theme, but nowadays, many of the champions which once were considered "cool ideas", would never be made at all, since they're being put under additional scrutiny.
The end point, however, is that if everything flows nicely, and fits well together, each part playing up to a greater whole, it will generally make your champion design that much better quality than it would be otherwise!
Tailor your designs to incorporate strong synergetic concepts, and you'll find that it's a big step towards being a better designer!
Part 3: Don't worry, it's all natural synergy, so that means it's better for you!
As much as I hate this ridiculous tide of "zomg all natural products!", that's a debate for another time, and a different thread. For now, we're stuck on synergy, so let's go with that.
Synergy isn't something you actively create, normally, as odd as that sounds. It's more of something that should naturally just end up happening without much effort.
As I'd suggested earlier in this article, go back and check page 3 of this guide for information on the various generic roles that are covered. If you even so much as attempt to make your abilities meet the criteria for what your champion needs, they're almost 100% guaranteed to end up being synergetic, to the point that you probably won't even need to do anything else.
The risk then becomes making things "too" synergetic, by forgetting to leave the gaps, flaws and holes that were discussed in the post at the top of this page. As such, the last part of this article, after this one, will focus on limiting the whole "too much of a good thing" bit.
For now, simply consider that you don't really need to actively create synergy for the most part. If you go out of your way to force it to fit, it's probably going to be bluntly forced into position, leaving it looking rather awkward to see the square peg crammed into the round hole with a sledgehammer.
Now, that being said, there are ways to weave in synergy intentionally as well.
Consider having an ability which benefits your other abilities; we'll say... Sejuani's kit. Alright, she has frost, which makes all of her other abilities better in some way, shape, or form. Other than her ultimate, but that's a ranged ultimate and it'd be bad for it to benefit from a melee attack debuff, since it'd remove the vast majority of her truly clutch plays available with it.
Anyway, the point is, we can force synergy to happen by making the abilities each directly be benefited by each other! The downside in doing this, is if they don't make sense in terms of performing a particular role, or don't work as well together as one might expect, it can actually backfire in your face. Again.
Notice that thing about synergetic effects causing the few that don't quite work together all that well stand out more than they would otherwise? Yeaaaah... it creeps up everywhere if you're not careful to keep your synergy on a tight leash.
In Sejuani's case, we have a few oddities, such as how the only method she has to apply her Frost debuff to a large group, is to use her (Q) Arctic Assault, which requires her to dash in a straight line across a group of minions, for example. This applies Frost for 3 seconds. After this, she then has (W) Northern Winds, which is great, except it lasts for 5 seconds, and is centered on herself... meaning she just overshot the middle of the minion group using Arctic Assault. This means that a good portion of her damage is now wasted while she walks back into position, and then, unless she uses her (E) Permafrost to refresh the Frost effect, and risking having her only real defensive ability be down just to farm some minions, she also loses half the bonus damage on her Northern Winds.
Her abilities are "synergetic", but they don't quite play off of each other just enough to matter. They're just barely out of arm's reach in each case, where they don't as well as they should together, and it leads to the whole design feeling even more lackluster than it is.
Sejuani isn't particularly weak, she's just not particularly good at performing the same role as Nautilus, who not only does it better, but his abilities feel like they work together much better than Sejuani's do.
Considering that Sejuani is the one who has the heavily and obviously enforced synergy which is clearly being held at gunpoint, it makes those little cracks turn into gaping chasms of apparent inadequacy.
The point of the matter is, she tries too hard to have her abilities synergize with each other, without the abilities really working together all that well in even a basic form. The only thing that really has them work at all, is the fact that they're duct taped in place with Frost effects, but otherwise, don't really work well in combination without frost.
This is why you have to try to ensure that any synergetic effects you do work from the ground up. If the basic, core foundations for your abilities are good, where they work well together even without a bonus effect, then you've got a good natural synergy going, and adding to it will only make it stronger.
If you do the Sejuani dealie, where her abilities simply aren't that effective at working together without forced synergy, then it's going to feel just like that - that it's forced.
Honestly, it's not hard to do, though, as stated. I'm mostly just going to be going in circles repeating myself here, so I may as well get back to the point, again.
If your champion has the tools they need to do their job, such as the standard example of a melee carry needing a way to get into melee, to stay in melee, to survive in melee, and be effective in melee, and your abilities reflect this, then you've already made synergy happen from the ground up. You didn't even have to think about it, it just happened by default. It's virtually impossible to get a champion who has the four things I just mentioned above, to somehow manage to fail at being synergetic. Theoretically it's possible, if you went out of your way to actively try to accomplish the task by making the abilities specifically unable to interact with each other, such as putting them all on the same cool down, or something equally preposterous, but it's just not going to happen unless you're striving to screw it up on purpose.
As such, it's basically going to come down to planning again. Plan for your champion to do a task, identify the things they'll need to accomplish that task, then give them the tools to do those things. Ta-da, synergy is born. From that point on, you can do stuff like a Sejuani-style additional synergy on top of it. Just don't throw the pieces together at the start like others have made the mistake of in the past (including myself!). It's a rough concept to nail down, but once you get it, it's pretty easy!
Almost... too easy... *shifty eyes* >.> <.<
Yeah, it's possible to go too far in synergy. It's possible to go WAY too far.
Let's have a little chat about that, shall we?
Part 4: All I wanted for Christmas was a throne built from the broken bones of my enemies. Is that really so much to ask for?
Apparently, it is.
As is asking for synergy.
So often do people on the forum here give "reviews", if you can call them that, which demand more synergy! Often they're not even really sure what the word means, and often the champion they're reviewing actually has a fair bit already in place.
What's worse than this, is that sometimes people actually give it to them.
That's not bad, in and of itself, except for when they just pile on the synergy in truckloads of the stuff, until they have a champion design which is so supremely synergetic that it's ungodly powerful, no matter what stats it has!
So, what does a horrible design like this even look like?
To this, I direct you to a boss from World of Warcraft.
In Auchindoun, there likes an instance, known as the Auchenai Crypts, and within the crypts lies Shirrak the Dead Watcher.
This is what you get when synergy goes awry...
Class is in session once more, puny mortals!
No, this doesn't actually mean I'm not mortal, but you'd be amazed how many people assume I'm also stating I'm not. The first lesson of the day is to not make assumptions based on what's implied, as often it's faulty and the implications were all in your head.
The second lesson, is that complex abilities aren't always necessarily better.
So, first off, we're going to go over why complex stuff isn't always better.
Second, we'll touch on how to identify if something is needlessly complex in the first place.
Third, we'll cover when complexity is actually a good thing.
Finally, we'll discuss some light ideas on how to make an ability interesting without resorting to just throwing more stuff onto it.
Part 1: Add ALL the bells and whistles!
Alright, the first thing I want to make clear with everyone, is that "bells and whistles" aren't actually bad on an inherent level. Neat stuff is good! It's just... when the neat stuff actually gets in the way of the stuff that's functionally good.
Consider the idea of a Japanese toilet; there are people who have gone to Japan on vacation and been at a total loss for how they're even supposed to flush those things. For the Japanese, it makes sense; their culture is one that privacy is highly valued, but sorely lacking due to a remarkably high population crammed into a remarkably tiny landmass. They simply don't get "alone time", and being in the washroom is really their only freedom, so having a great deal of comfort is a great idea for them.
For people like Canadians? It's creepy, since the positions are reversed; a low population in a huge landmass tends to mean personal space is just an assumed part of everyday life.
The same kind of concepts go into champion design.
No, no I don't mean the toilets and personal space. I mean, specifically, the concepts behind why you would do anything to make something more complex in the first place. You don't do it simply because you can; you do it because it's a requirement for some reason.
The Japanese toilets are complex because they have to be to fulfill the needs of their owners; if you don't have those same needs, then you simply don't add the extra stuff. I simply don't need a digital pad on my toilet with more buttons on it than the universal remote control I use for my TV, cable box, DVD player and stereo.
So, too, do you not want to add things to a champion design, or even an ability, that simply aren't needed.
The idea is that you want to have your abilities and champion designs as streamlined as possible. Yes, complexity can be good, but only if that complexity actually serves a valid purpose. If it's just mashing more buttons or doing more effects to get the same final outcome, then why bother?
As stated, however, there are times when complex can be good. Many players, myself included among them, like champions which take an overabundance of skill to wrangle into place. The thing is, complexity often doesn't come in the form of "being complex" in and of itself, so much as the complexity of interactions within their abilities.
Nidalee, for example, has some of the most basic abilities in the game. Pounce, in particular, is about as easy as it comes; you leap a short distance, and do damage when you land. Simple as it comes!
The tricky part there, is that pounce also works with jumping over walls, often times in very tight places, and it can become very complex to aim it just right, without her spinning to hit someone else, and pouncing the wrong way, or to get across a tight gap, such as the hole in the wall at baron, due to the method by which you aim it. Toss in that the mobility can be combined with her other abilities, such as lobbing a spear then turning to kittyform and pouncing away to increase the effective range when it hits, as well as comboing between ranged and melee hits, or dipping in and out of combat range, and you'll find that it quickly becomes a very involved process for using such a deceptively simple ability.
What I'm trying to emphasize upon you, is that even a seemingly straightforward ability can quickly become more complex, either by it's interactions with other players (a simple skillshot shows this easily enough), it's interaction with the environment (the wall hop on Pounce was just covered), or it's interaction with other abilities (combo-spells like Brand are a good example).
Even one simple ability can quickly spiral out of control in difficulty to use it when your other abilities affect it or synergize well with it. What was once a simplistic skillshot, can soon become the lead up to a powerful combo to execute with careful precision.
If you start with something that's complex to begin with, then this kind of spiral of complexity will soon become nearly impossible to keep under control. A singular complex ability is fine, no big deal. Having two complex abilities that both interact with each other in a complex manner, suddenly becomes far, far harder to control and get it to do what you want it to do, when you want it to do it. Toss in a few more, and each time it ramps up the difficulty curve remarkably higher than had it just been a single complex ability.
Even with simple spells, such as Cassiopeia's kit, it doesn't take long for their interactions to turn into an intricate web.
As such, even a slight increase in complexity can cause further complications that are unintended across the entire champion.
To make matters worse, an ability that does a lot of stuff is actually remarkably hard to balance. Having more things to tweak can be good, but if there's too many, then you're dealing with the problem that none of those things can be particularly strong, which makes it hard to make the ability itself of value.
Furthermore, if you have abilities that are difficult to aim, or otherwise require setup times and other things which make it difficult to just have them do what you want, when you want them to do it, then you'll soon find yourself frustrating the player with their interface being frustrating, rather than the enemy team.
So, why would we even make something complex in the first place then, if it's this big of a hassle?
Well, admittedly there are times when it simply is beneficial to do so.
Let's say you have the absolute requirement that, in order to make the design you're working on to work properly, that you have to cram three effects into one ability, and there's honestly nothing you can do about it. In this case, being complex isn't bad; it just means that you have additional effects that will play off each other at the same time because they need to in order for the design to work.
In and of itself, no big deal. If every single ability has that problem, however, you quickly run into bigger issues than you first faced.
So what even is "needlessly complex", anyway? I keep talking about it, but I haven't even defined exactly what it is.
The problem with this, is that it's a moving target, and hard to describe. Having something like Vladimir's Sanguine Pool is complex in that it has enough effects crammed into it that you could literally build an entire champion's kit out of it without even using his other abilities as filler. Most of the effects are so weak, however, that they may as well not be present, meaning that the excess is just dead weight that's there for the sake of making it more difficult to know when's a good time to use it and how, without really benefiting the player all that much.
Another example is an ability that interacts with other abilities in multiple ways; let's say you have a champion where, depending on the last spell cast, affects how the current spell will work. Yep, Sona's passive, Power Chord. It's a "simple" ability in terms of "3 casts = 1 big auto-attack hit", but the secondary effects mean you may want to change the order you'd cast spells in, or hold back on casting a spell to a less optimal time so that you get the optimal effect on her passive. Suddenly, a remarkably simple spell became rather unwieldy to use! Fortunately, it's not really "overly" complex on Sona, as she's simple enough to use otherwise that it doesn't really harm her any.
That's the real key, honestly... "too much" complexity is a variable based upon the remainder of the kit the champion has. One complex ability isn't a bad thing. Five is, in most cases. Or you could just use the Invoker from DotA: Allstars / 2 as an example and state bluntly "this is an example of how to cram so much **** into one design that it's simply a bad idea".
So long as your abilities have a useful purpose, then they're not really overly complex. Having an attack speed boost, for example, is fine. Having an attack speed boost that also reduces their armour, increases your critical hit % and AD, while also giving you armour penetration as well as magic damage on your autoattacks for a few seconds, while passively giving you a +X% true damage buff to your attack is just... dumb. There's no purpose behind having all that nonsense crammed into a single ability. The end goal was "more auto-attack damage". The former does that just fine, the latter snowballs into a convoluted mess that isn't even needed to get the desired effect.
Additionally, so long as your total skillset is such that there aren't any wasted points, and everything that your champion does, does so because it's needed at a fundamental level, then it's not really overly complex, either.
It may actually turn out to be rather complex, but it doesn't mean that you've necessarily gone too far with it, either.
To try to put it into an analogy that hopefully the FPS players here will understand, using a grenade against someone in melee range is probably one of the stupidest things you could do if you could have just used a knife instead. Using a grenade against someone who's hiding around a corner, however, is simply more effective than walking around the corner to put yourself at risk in the process.
In short, it's not overkill if you need it to do the given effect. It's just overkill if you have effects that aren't needed for the task at hand.
So... how do we tell if something is overkill in the first place?
I'm glad you asked, self!
Part 2: Why yes, my name is Rube Goldberg... how'd you guess?
Alright, so we meandered about for awhile, and came to the eventual conclusion that something that is pointlessly complex is bad, but something that has value for being complex may not be such a bad thing after all.
So... how do we distinguish between the two?
There's a few ways, but out of the list, there's only really two big ones, namely redundancy and too many roles.
We'll start with the latter first, since it's a bit harder to grasp, so I'd like to get it out of the way before your brains turn to mush ^.~
When you have a champion design that has too many things they're trying to do at once, you often end up with abilities that end up overly complex in the way that they're trying to plug a dozen holes at once that need to be covered for the design to be not only a tank, but also a support, and a DPS, and an assassin all at the same time!
Once you start stretching yourself too thin, and see an ability with four different properties on it, you've probably gone too far, unless you're specifically aiming for a build which has options but can't use all of them at once.
Generally speaking, you want your champion to be able to perform their given purpose well... you just don't want them to perform every purpose there is in the game well while doing it.
In a case like Lulu, she has a lot of really complex abilities! On the other hand, her abilities are mostly complex because of the fact that she has to make a decision on which one to use in which situation; their actual effects are pretty standard. The complexity comes into play when you try to decide which abilities to use in which order in any given situation, as she plays entirely differently depending on whether she's targeting allies or enemies with each cast.
For Lulu's example, she's not really doing "too much" though, because all of her abilities essentially have the same overall point in mind, it's just variations on how she wants to go about performing that task. Consider Whimsey; if she uses it on an ally, she's either having her melee carry able to run into range and kill an enemy, or if she uses it on an enemy, they're unable to flash or run away as effectively. If she uses it on an ally, they can outrun an entire team; if she uses it on an enemy, she only removes one person.
Regardless of how she uses her spells, they essentially are just choices on how to do the same overall task. Yes, they're complex, but not needlessly so in the sense of giving her too much to do. A champion that can perform multiple roles too well, especially at the same time, is overkill. A champion that simply has options on how to go about performing a specific task, however, is not so much overkill, so long as you're careful to restrict them from simply choosing "yes" as the answer, instead of one or the other.
In any case, if you see an ability that does opposing functions, it might be getting a bit crowded. If their entire kit can do anything in the game, you've got a problem.
Fortunately, so long as you have those pre-planned intentional flaws, holes and gaps in your design from a previous chapter, you're pretty much safe, for the most part, so shouldn't run into too many problems here.
On the other hand, you still are at risk for the former option on the previous list, of redundancy.
You know that ability I listed with a thousand ways to increase your damage output? Yeah, that's an example of redundancy.
If you have both an armour shred, and an armour pierce on the same ability, it's already managed to become needlessly complex. There's no reason for both of those abilities to be on the same champion, let alone the same ability. So, too, does a steroid that boosts attack speed not need to also boost attack damage. The goal is to increase overall damage output of an auto-attack. This is great, but when you start splitting it up like this, it gets harder to balance exactly how much of each you need, as well as making it less clear what you need to get with itemization.
Sometimes you want a bit of each, if you're actively trying to force a player into making a decision that isn't very clear, but keep in mind that if the options are so abundant that there's no clear options to chose from, then it fails.
If we give a champion a large attack speed boost, but no raw damage? They'll aim towards additional physical damage, probably! Then again, the player may decide to ramp up that attack speed effect considerably higher, and use on-hit effects to go with it instead. The choice is up to them, and by making it a steady, clear option, they can pick for themselves.
If you give them 40% attack speed and a 35 AD boost, then it's not really clear what you're supposed to be doing with it. Sure, it means auto-attacking somehow... but how is kind of so vague that the player doesn't have any clear decision to make any longer.
In short, you generally want your abilities to be pretty straightforward in what they do. 80% attack speed or 70 damage is a pretty clear choice to state that you have something in mind. Having half and half just doesn't help the player out so much.
Anyway, avoid redundant features on your abilities! If you have a feature which makes your enemy take more damage, then don't also add one that boosts your damage to go with it! If you have one that gives you an armour aura, don't also give an ability that reduces enemy AD, and definitely not on the same ability. (Exception being if one effect deactivates the other)
List what your goals to each ability are. If you have "damage" listed, then generally just doing damage works fine. If you want your ability to do damage in two separate hits, but have the second hit easier to avoid, but more potent, then that still works, similar to Ahri's Orb of Deception. Yes, it does damage twice, once as magic, once as true, but the concept is that the goals stated are "damage" and "better damage but harder to hit with", not just "damage and damage". Note that she also wants to gain stacks of her passive, so more hits is beneficial to her, up to a maximum of 3 charges, so a second hit isn't a bad thing. Theoretically Riot could have easily just made the second hit deal more magic damage, but perhaps they felt that would be overpowered, and they'd rather have true damage as it'll be more effective against players, but not really affect minions much due to a lack of MR for the most part.
Regardless, specify your goals, and ensure that you're only meeting those goals, and not a bunch of other ones you didn't want to accomplish at the same time, or meeting the same goal repeatedly. If you want damage, then do damage, don't do damage seventeen different ways at the same time.
In the end, if you see your abilities running rampant with redundant features, you've probably got way too much stuff in there that isn't needed. If each one serves the same eventual purpose, then reevaluate the ability; if you can cut back on the things it does, and still get the same effect, you probably should.
Part 3: There's no such thing as overkill. There's simply "dead", and "not quite dead enough". My way simply ensures the latter can't occur.
There are times, of course, where you want complexity. Sometimes, having a complex effect can be really fun!
The trick is mostly in telling when you've got something that's complex for the sake of being interesting, and complex for the sake of being complex.
Where this turns into a problem, is that people tend to assume that their abilities are complex for the former without really checking into them all that carefully.
Still, we've covered that, so let's stick to the good stuff!
If you want your abilities to be interesting, adding a tiny bit of complexity here and there can go a long way towards such. An ability that just does damage and nothing else is kind of boring if it's just a simple "click to hit", whereas one that does damage and stuns can be more interesting, despite that it's more complex.
Clearly, there are situations where you need a minimum of interest generated from complexity. So how complex is good enough?
Generally, there's a few rules:
Welcome class! Today we're looking at How to Simplify Abilities.
After the previous section, it's probably required. Yes, the chances are that you probably have a few abilities that got out of hand, and sure they might be awesome, but I'm sure we can cut a bit of the fat out of them, leave them nice and lean.
So, let's see what we're getting ourselves into, shall we?
First off, we've already covered what makes an ability too cluttered last time, so we're going to start in on what areas are easiest to compress down.
Second, we'll focus on targeting and other issues which can make an ability unwieldy.
Third, we'll go over how to identify which parts are worth keeping, even if they may be a bit cumbersome.
Finally, we'll cover how to plan out a new ability if your current one ends up so badly damaged that it needs to be gutted and start over from scratch. This will help you keep your replacement on the task the previous was meant to do, and avoid the pitfalls that you ran into last time.
So then, let's get down to work!
Part 1: Keep It Simple, Stupid. - The KISS method always works, though I find it's 27% more efficient with facepaint!
Well, we'll assume that after the last section you decided something went terribly wrong, and need to now fix it. No problem!
Well, maybe a little problem. Fortunately it's nothing we can't handle!
There's a few parts which are more common mistakes than others, but fortunately, these are some of the easiest to fix. If we can tie up the loose ends here, we can save ourselves the trouble of tearing apart the ability and trashing it entirely.
So, what are some of the biggest issues that cause overcomplexity?
Hello, hello, and hello! Today we're covering multi-stage abilities, so class is in session!
So, what exactly do I mean by multi-stage? Well, I use it, personally, in a rather broad sense so that it covers a lot of things.
Basically, I'm just going to lump every ability which has more than one part together. This covers everything from abilities which have more than one ability which can be cast in sequence, such as Lee Sin, ones which can be cast on different targets for different effects, such as Lulu, ones which can be different spells entirely based on stance, such as Nidalee, or ones which can have both a passive effect and an active which switch off for each other as you use one or the other, such as Taric.
Lots of stuff, isn't there?
Don't worry, it'll go quick!
First off, we'll describe the reasoning behind why you would even want to use these, such as forcing choices on a player, adding versatility, and so on.
Second, we'll discuss the disadvantages of such; these mostly relate to things becoming too complex or lacking for proper holes in the design.
Third, cover brief overview of each of the main kinds of multi-stage abilities, from abilities that can be triggered for additional effects, to those which can be literally counted as more than one spell in a single slot, and why they're useful.
Finally, we'll end off with a quick run through of generally when you'd want to use these over normal abilities, and when it may not be such a good idea.
So, as per usual, since we're done with the preamble, let's get started!
"Two heads are better than one!"
"That's what she said!"
"I don't... even..."
So why are multi-stage abilities getting their own unique section? Because they're awe-some! Picture that being said in a sing-songy voice with prancing and flowers, as you so desire.
Regardless, they really are quite interesting in that they provide a wealth of options with which to work with on making your champion more interesting and fun to play.
One of the biggest things that makes these so powerful in terms of fun factor, is that which I've been saying since the start of the guide: choices.
Most of the multi-abilities out there have the capacity to provide additional choices, with examples including having to choose between an active and passive, or to have a choice in which target to affect.
Consider an ability which is just a generic passive on hit effect, but that casting it toggles between extra damage or slowing effects. Picking when is the best time to use each one makes the ability more interesting, but it also means you're trading one for the other. In this case, you're forcing a choice upon the player, where they have to decide which of these effects is more important to them at any given time.
Another example of a benefit would be giving players more options to work with to perform the same task, such as in Lulu, where she essentially only has three real normal abilities, but she can choose the manner in which she wants to apply the effects. The purpose for targeting an ally and an enemy are, for the most part, roughly the same, just the implementation in how to do so differs based on who gets targeted by Whimsey and Help, Pix!
Additional reasons are ways to limit a champion's power, while rounding their kit out to be more versatile. If you give a player access to everything they would like to have in their kit at once, but limit them to only having access to part of it at any given time, you permit them the capacity to adapt to various given situations, or to build their champion in different ways, dependent upon the specifics of that particular game.
Regardless of how you look at it, though, abilities which can do "more stuff!" have the potential to be quite fun and interesting.
They also, however, have the potential to turn things very... very bad...
Part 2: The good, the bad, the adorable <3
So it's easy enough to just say "yay more stuff is good!", but in retrospect, that may have been going a bit too far. Sometimes you don't actually want more stuff. Sometimes it's better to have a clean and concise build instead.
The thing is, every time you introduce an ability that does more stuff than normal, you're adding clutter to your design, which can make it more difficult to use. More than even just that, you're also making things more complex, and while that may not necessarily be bad in and of itself, nor make it more difficult to do what you want it to, it can lead to other issues, such as stacking complexity making it progressively harder for players to wrap their heads around an otherwise simple character design, such as in the case of some players having real problems with utilizing Nidalee to her full potential because they don't know when and where to swap between their skill sets.
Each time you add more stuff, you also risk adding too much. As has been stated time and again, there's no desire to have so much stuff present that all your bases are covered, as the saying goes. You actually do still want gaps in your abilities, and if your abilities can do everything you want without issue, then really, it just messes up itemization and so on, while typically leading to an overpowered design.
If you're going to use abilities with multiple parts to them, be forewarned that it's very easy to fall into the habit of just adding more abilities to cover up flaws in your design until you get to the point where you don't have any left.
This is actually a bad thing, as is much more adequately explained in the section on flaws, gaps and holes.
There are other concerns as well. More abilities means more things to balance, and if you pour multiple abilities into a single spell slot, then you're also making it more complex on yourself in that you're giving yourself additional problems with scaling level-wise. Do you really want a champion who gets two or more abilities for a single skill point upon leveling?
Chances are, no, no you really don't.
Still, these are but minor flaws, and ones we can work around. Before we learn when and where to use these abilities, however, first we must learn exactly what they are! I've pretty much lumped in a ton of ability types which I deem to be similar in overall concept and function so let's go over them before we try to figure out when and where to use each!
Part 3: "I got the brain!" "Nuh-uh! I DO!" ~Two-headed ogre-magi, Warcraft 2
Now that we've covered the good and the bad, let's get into the ugly.
Or, well I guess since my UNGODLY DAZZLING BEAUTY makes that impossible, we'll just have to go with the ability types instead.
...Yeah, you might not want to read too much into that previous statement, honestly XD
Anyway, let's see what we have to work with!
[CENTER]Sequence Cast Abilities
These are the kind of abilities you get from Lee Sin, where if he casts the first ability, he can cast it a second time for an additional effect. In some ways, it's similar to having two spells in one, but on the other hand, it's also similar to having one spell split into two separate pieces which have to be cast separately.
Theoretically one could just have a few abilities like this, where you cast one spell, and then you can just cast a second spell afterward. In a way, this is how Ahri and Xerath use their ultimates, though at a much more limited effect since they're not getting a new effect out of it.
Doing completely different spells, however, which have no relation to each other at all, would likely be a bad idea for the most part, because you're honestly just slapping more abilities into the same space at that point, rather than actually having a two part ability.
For each of Lee Sin's abilities, you'll notice that the first cast has to actually hit a target before the second spell can have any effect, so that the two are always intertwined as part of the same ability.
This kind of concept can make your abilities a bit more interesting in that you can limit the cost of an ability by limiting it's power intentionally if the first half misses.
Consider, for example, the idea of a skill shot which is cheap to cast and quick in cool down, but has minimal initial effect. If, however, it lands, then you could cast it again to deal a devastating blow, allowing the caster to more frequently attempt to land the skillshot portion of the skillshot, without the risk associated with a long cooldown and wasting mana.
If the skillshot hits, and you unleash the second shot, which would drain far more mana and greatly extend the cooldown. In this way, you limit the harmful aspects of a skill shot in such a way that it becomes less of a penalized point to the caster to use it.
Consider, also, that I had an older concept for a contest on the forum from before the days of the MCCC(P!) that had an ability where she would grab an opponent, and then could choose which of her other abilities she wanted to attack with, letting her inflict additional effects to what their normal abilities would be.
This two-part combo of sequenced attacks shows how easy it is to combine the abilities on the list, as it includes both the Enhanced Effect and Sequence Cast ability sub-genres.
[CENTER]Stance Swap Abilities
Ever consider a champion where they have more than one list of abilities? I think most of us have, since the days of WoW and the Warrior class in it, who could swap between Berserker, Battle and Defensive stances, with only access to half of their abilities being universal, and the other half being based upon their stance.
Since we have only five abilities in total to work with, however, that makes things a little more difficult for us. The passive, three regular spells and ultimate means that we can't easily use the passive to swap stances, and if we use the other abilities, then it means only one slot left, unless you go the Udyr path, in which case you're not really using "stances" in the way of altering your ability loadout.
As of the writing of this section, Jayce the failure, I mean, the ...no, no I can't even say that title without feeling dirty. Anyway, Jayce is the most recent champion to be released as of the writing of this section of the guide. Paired with Nidalee, these are the only two champions in the game, currently, which use stances as extensively as this.
Regardless, the idea of being able to change between two entirely different sets of abilities is an interesting one, as it does allow for the option to have multiple play styles evident, as well as weaving of those abilities to play off of each other as well into intricate combos.
The downside, is that it's easy to give your champion far too much, even moreso than normal. By having two specialized roles, despite that the roles may be less versatile individually than normal, you also run the risk of going the WoW Druid path, and having them able to do literally any job you can think of, which can become problematic when it comes to balancing your design.
If you're going to toy with stance dancing, then I would highly advise doing the required reading, and go look through a few guides on warriors for World of Warcraft, because they'll give you a good idea on what to look for and what to avoid.
For a more detailed look on what to do and what not to do, I'll go into that more in the next section ^.~
[CENTER]Target Based Context-Sensitive Abilities
Lulu's definitely not the originator of this concept, though she's probably the posterchild for it.
Some abilities simply can be made to have a differing effect depending on who the target is. Target an ally, give them mana; target an enemy, and they're slapped in the face. Nice going, Soraka.
These sorts of abilities are especially useful as they can provide some really interesting gameplay simply from the fact that they flat out enforce that the player make a decision every time they cast the spell. Who you cast your spells on can be as important as when you cast your spells with abilities like these, but it can quickly lead to overkill on versatility if taken too far.
On the other hand, versatility that's kept on a tight leash, where you can only have half of your tools at any one time, due to the other half being impossible to cast at the same time, can lead to some interesting dichotomies to work with from the player's perspective.
As per usual, however, this adds to the complexity of a champion, and depending on how you go about doing it, it may not necessarily actually provide enough value in gameplay to make up for the added confusion on how they work.
There's a few ways to go about implementing this, but these are best left to the next section ^.^
[CENTER]Paired Active / Passive Combo Abilities
Tristana's Explosive Shot used to be like this, in much the same way that Taric's own aura now works. A passive ability is present, and upon casting the active ability, the passive is disabled, so that the player has to choose between which effect to use.
In this situation, it's generally quite a good and effective tool, but sometimes you get situations like Tristana's, where it's deemed better to have the passive always active.
Generally, the active effect can't be particularly powerful, otherwise it'll quickly be too strong to just lump two spells onto one ability, and we're not looking for that. Instead, we're looking for abilities which have a full ability's worth of power in one slot, but spaced across multiple effects.
As such, the passive benefit is mostly something with which to use to reduce a weakness which was deemed to leave the champion more or less weaker than originally intended, such as in the case of Darius, who was a sad joke without his armour penetration. He's still a joke, but not quite as pitiful of one anymore, so that's something.
Now... if you go the route of Taric, who shuts off his passive as soon as he uses the active portion of it, now that's a bit more interesting, as you're then able to make both halves of the ability roughly equivalent in strength to that of a regular ability, as you aren't really gaining any additional power, just extra versatility.
Versatility is powerful, in it's own right, but when you have to trade off one part for another, it does limit the strength considerably. It's still better than not having that option in the first place, but it's worse than having access to both simultaneously, by far.
As such, I'd mostly suggest for a rough power level to keep abilities like this to about 75-90% of the strength of what you would feel to be a good idea normally, as you're essentially still gaining power in the sense of being able to have the right tool for the job, but at the cost of that tool not being 100% specialized towards that job.
Regardless, abilities like this one can turn a simple, bland passive ability into something a bit more unique and interesting to use.
One which I'd like to see someday, but hasn't happened yet, is a toggle ability with two effects, and depending on the state of the toggle, the Innate Passive of the champion changes it's effect.
Such could also be done with stances, but regardless, it'd be nice to see more effects placed into a choice based system.
Remember, your end goal is to provide a fun game to the player, and choices are what makes the game actually a game instead of just spacing out in front of the TV. With abilities such as these, you're sewing the seeds of choice for a player to decide upon, thus generating a degree of fun, dependent upon just how interesting that choice really is.
Which leaves us with one ability type left on our list...
[CENTER]Enhanced Effect Abilities
The last of the abilities I'll be covering, are those which have enhanced effects. These are ones where an ability, in and of itself, may be relatively bland in and of itself, but when paired with certain criteria or other abilities, can gain new effects.
An ability such as Akali's Mark of the Assassin is a good demo piece in that it's self contained in it's effects. By casting it, it has an effect; it deals damage at range. By striking the target in melee, it gives her a portion of the energy spent back, as well as dealing even more damage.
This essentially means that she has a requirement which is needed to be fulfilled in order to get the other half of her ability to work. My personal favourite among my own champions (yes, I'm talking about Nemhain again, I know, it's tiring, but she's such a good demo piece! Yes I have others, but they don't prance about in public nearly as well ^.~ ) just so happens to be built heavily around this concept.
The idea with Nemhain, is that she uses her abilities in such a way that she can only benefit from them fully in odd, sometimes conflicting circumstances. For example, a dash at an enemy which only slows them if she has already attacked them in melee range, but also has a greater effect the farther away she is from them, so she can't just hit them in melee then charge from melee range.
Where this becomes effective, is that she's intended to be pinballing around a battlefield, constantly changing targets, and she's supposed to leap into range with one target, swing a few times at anyone nearby, then leap across the battlefield again, then return once more, always on the move.
By simply charging in at a target first thing, sure she gets into range quickly, but now she's no longer gaining the benefit of the slow, which would be useful in it's own right as an ability. As such, the two halves are only combined under certain circumstances.
These kinds of abilities are tricky to set up in that it's easy to make them too complex to trigger them for minimal benefit. On the other hand, it also makes them a bit easier in another way, in that they tend to be relatively self contained, and therefore are easier to directly control their effectiveness by adjusting how capable their kit is of triggering their full effectiveness.
Combo abilities of almost any kind apply here, such as Brand's passive, in that his abilities change effectiveness depending on which one he cast first.
In any case, these Enhanced Effects that apply to the abilities can be used to great effect in giving a player a few more tools to work with, if they're able to set up the prerequisites to trigger such. How you go about setting up such effects is up to you, but I'd suggest looking back at the Tertiary Resources back in a few of the sections related to resources, since I covered various aspects of it a few times.
We now know, however, what these abilities are. So when and where do we use them? Ah, now that's the question, is it not?
Part 4: I have no idea what I'm doing, but that's never stopped me before! ~ I suspected I didn't come up with this alone, but that thousands of others had the same independent thought. Turns out I was right, but I wasn't surprised. After all, it's a common trait, I've found ^.~
Alright, so we have an idea of what these abilities are and what they do, but... when is it safe to use them?
Tricky question, isn't it?
Fortunately, the answer's not so hard if you use your noggin! Still, I'll go through each in turn and give you a heads up ^.^
[LEFT][LEFT]Sequence Cast Abilities: Generally you want to save these for situations where you'll have a way for the second spell to be affected by the first, or use the first for targeting purposes, or when you have a reason to stagger your casts out.
In the case of Lee Sin, he just so happens to cover all of these situations perfectly, so it's pretty natural feeling for his spells to be cast sequentially one after the other.
Hit a target with a skill shot and you can choose to fly over and punch them in the nose. After all, everyone loves getting punched in the nose, right?
Maybe that's just me then... I'm not in an abusive relationship! I swear!
Actually I'm not, nor do I like getting punched in the nose, just in case anyone can't take a joke... if you are in one though, seriously, get help. And yes, women can still be abusive, it's not always the guy that's at fault, and a lot of men don't know when to accept that it's bad for them to be with someone either, or are called a wimp for backing out of a relationship that's abusive.
Anyway, that's kind of off topic, but I figured while the joke was fresh, it was as good a time as any to cover it =3
Getting back on track, let's just say that you typically want a reason for your abilities to cast one after another. If you have no real reason for one to logically follow the other, then it's not going to feel all that natural. You want your sequential spells to have some sort of benefit for using them in the sense that they make sense to the player.
There was going to be a witty example involving eye lasers here, and I got carried away with it for a few paragraphs, so it's been removed XD
Still, the point is, you do want to have your abilities follow logically one after another so that pressing the same ability several times in a row has an effect which makes sense. If it doesn't, it'll just seem jarring, and far more difficult to remember.
For example, if all of Lee Sin's abilities had their second effect shift positions, it'd be really wonky, and some of them just wouldn't work that well.
Always ensure that if you're going to do a secondary cast, that it has a reason to happen, and that the reason makes sense. I can't drill that home hard enough. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann could, but I can't.
[LEFT]Stance Swap Abilities: For when to use a stance swapper, the decision's pretty simple and clear: only when their entire kit revolves around such, and only if their two stances have distinctive purposes for each.
If you try to make a stance swapping champion which doesn't do much in their other stance, it's probably a waste to bother having them change over in the first place.
Now, how far you want to take it, that's up to you. Some champions completely change their ability loadout, other designs are a bit more conservative in their approach.
I recall one design I saw on the champion concepts forum awhile back, which had a gnoll with an iron chain. He could swing it as a medium ranged weapon, or wrap it around his fist as a melee boost, and his abilities shifted based on such.
The idea mostly was similar in both stances, but after a few revisions it was able to have a good, distinctive reason for both. One was good at harassing and leading the other into melee, and the other was good at smacking people around once they got sick of being poked at range, or were forcibly pulled into melee.
There were a lot of problems with the design, but it was a good concept!
The thing to keep in mind here, is that both stances had a very specific purpose, just as Jayce and Nidalee do.
Now, when putting abilities on more than one stance, you also have to keep in mind that since you're essentially gaining more abilities than normal, that you're going to have to sacrifice something at some point, since you can't just have 6 to 8 abilities with no drawback for having such.
In Jayce and Nidalee's cases, their ultimates are basically non-existent. Sure, they do stuff, but not much more than swap between the two forms and add minor buffs for their melee form to survive a little better to make up for hybrid itemization failing badly at providing defensive stats.
Regardless, the biggest problems you'll run into are ones in which you try too hard to have your abilities do the same thing in both stances, try to cover too many roles at once, or try to plug all your holes.
The key idea here is that you're trading off versatility in a singular role for versatility in having multiple roles. Nidalee and Jayce are able to swap back and forth as needed, and a good player can make full use of both ability sets at different times in a fight. Ideally, you want to have each be distinct and with it's own set of flaws and problems.
In Nidalee's case, she gets high mobility and strong poking power from range, with good finishing power at melee. She lacks, however, for any kind of CC, which is one of the biggest flaws a champion in LoL can have.
Target Based Context-Sensitive Abilities: These are generally pretty simple, in that there's not too many times where it's a bad idea to have one of these. For the most part, however, you're best off going through two distinctive routes.
Route 1: Similarities. If you look over Lulu's Whimsey, you'll notice that it has the same functions, whether it's cast on an enemy, or an ally. It's either going to make yourself or an ally able to escape better, or let yourself or an ally kill an enemy easier. Either way, it doesn't matter who you cast it on, one of those two effects will occur. The difference lies in the implementation of how such occurs.
As such, you're presenting the player with a choice wherein they have to decide, given the circumstances, which of the two methods is more appropriate. This gives the player the same rough overall power, but allows them to pick the way they want to implement that power, which can be a great way to add some versatility to a champion without overpowering them.
The second choice, is a bit less optimal, but can still work nicely at times.
Route 2: Opposites. This is what happens when you have two effects which are practically unrelated, or actually are so unrelated that they may as well be opposites on a spectrum.
Soraka's Infuse either gives mana to an ally, providing long term sustained benefit, or it damages and silences and enemy, providing short term burst and CC capacity. The two are night and day to each other, and it's through that dichotomy that they work, because you tend to not use the same spell at the same time for the different effects.
This means that you're almost always going to be spamming mana on allies that need it, unless you're specifically setting up for a kill. The idea here, is that you have two options, but that the choices are pretty blatantly obvious and you normally won't see much overlap between the two.
Normally you use something in this route for when you have abilities that simply may not be that effective all the time. If Soraka's paired with an allied champion that doesn't have mana... well... there's no real value to her having points in Infuse at all, except for silencing the enemy.
The idea here is you want to have a reason for an ability which may otherwise be useless in some situations, to still have value despite that, instead of just being dead weight.
If Soraka joined a game and all of her allies went non-mana users, she'd have literally no capacity to even cast Infuse on her allies, and if that's all it did, it'd be 100% worthless to her, so... in a situation like that, she actually can use it to benefit as an offensive ability, or a defensive one by removing an enemy's ability to cast spells on herself or another squishy target.
Regardless, you generally want one path or the other. If there's some middle ground between them, but not a lot, it's probably a bad idea to use an ability of this nature in your design.
Paired Active / Passive Combo Abilities: I'm rapidly running out of space, so let's cut to the chase on these last two. Adding a passive to an ability that's always active is kind of silly, in my personal opinion, as you may as well roll it into their Innate Passive generally. There are some exceptions for when you want them to put points into it, but for the most part, I advise against just flat out tacking a passive onto an ability that already has an active effect.
For decision based ones, where you get the passive but only for so long as the active isn't in use, these I like to see. They're great in almost all situations in that you're making the player pick between two beneficial effects.
For when to use abilities like this, the previous listing of target based context-sensitive abilities pretty much matches this almost exactly. The methods of implementation vary between the two, but they pretty much have the same generalized rules between them.
Enhanced Effect Abilities: I looove these. Does it show? Hrm. Well I do. Often it's nice to have an ability which has a second effect, but personally, I find I like giving players something to work towards setting up that added benefit and rewarding them for it.
Generally, these are best used on abilities that you want to have more power to them than normal, but that you don't want to just hand it freely to the player. For this kind of power, they need to earn it, or choose to implement it at a certain time. This helps limit the strength of an ability, while still allowing it to be potent in the right hands.
For the most part, just stick to no more than 10-20% stronger, basing it upon how difficult it is to pull off the combo.
Regardless, this one's mostly up to yourself to figure out, since it's such a broad swathe of stuff to cover, that there's no realistic way I can get all of it in one go. All I can tell you, is that if you follow the rest of the guide, and make sure you leave gaps in your design still, you'll probably be okay.
In any case, we're out of time and space, so class is dismissed. Now go make me an army of abilities worthy of Mordor!
Good day; class is in session so I suggest breaking out a calculator because you're probably going to need it.
Today, we'll be going over balancing champions and abilities, and there's going to be an awful lot of math involved, even if it's pretty low end stuff, it could scare a few of you.
So, let's get into it, and break down the bits that scare people so much!
First off, we're going to cover the basic concepts of balance, this is the core concepts which cause things to fall apart due to a poor foundation, before you even get to number tweaks.
Second, we'll be going over the concept of balancing anything but the obvious fix. This may sound odd, but it's pretty common to get things actually working properly.
Third, we'll discuss fine balance, and what the important parts are to tiny tweaks and adjustments.
Finally, we'll delve into the math behind it. Honestly, it's less about numbers and more about concepts, which we'll cover more in the next section anyway, so don't worry about it too much.
Anyway, let's get started!
Part 1: The new Alliance would waver, and crack, but in the end, it would hold. Because what is built endures, and what is loved endures. ~ Babylon 5, "Rising Star"
While the statement for the header to this part of the post is a bit sentimental, it has a good point to it as well. Your designs will waver and crack as well, they'll be beaten down, and weather hardships. Any design does, no matter how good it is from the start. It'll be chipped, splintered, and broken.
However, that's alright. So long as you strive to continue to fill the cracks, sturdy the construction, and continue to pour time, effort and love into your creations, they will remain standing, no matter what hits them.
Still, a strong foundation is a good place to start, so let's get that out of the way.
There are a few things that can kill a concept very early on, before you even get to balance tweaks, which will wreck it so completely that if it's even possible to fix it, it may as well be an entirely new champion. These are almost invariably unbalancable problems.
There's not many of them, but they share one key trait universal to all: binary execution of mechanics.
What's that even mean? In short, it means if you break something down to just being "on" or "off", with no middle ground, then if "on" is overpowered, and "off" is underpowered, then it doesn't matter what you do to try to try to limit things, it's going to be perpetually broken one way or the other.
Things like "instant kill" effects are especially bad for this, as can be seen strewn all throughout the Final Fantasy series. Every game, they add another instant kill ability, and every game they're forced to make it useless against anything you'd actually want to cast it on. Anything it can even affect at all would be simply easier to kill using different means. Anything that is strong enough you'd actually be willing to try to insta-kill it, is immune, or has like a 5% chance to get hit, in which case it'd just be faster to attack it normally anyway.
The same problem bleeds into LoL just as easily; instant kill attacks, regardless of what you do, are simply too powerful. If you kill someone who's low on life? No big deal, because you may as well just be doing true damage at that point, so it's not really that different. The problem lies moreso if you have the ability to instantly kill a target that's at full life, and it doesn't matter what you do, it can't be made fair.
If it works, it was overpowered, and putting it on a 1% chance on melee hit still doesn't fix the problem that it's still a 1% chance for it to be overpowered, where that one hit automatically makes the enemy player die no matter how good they were, how fed, or how well itemized they were to prevent such from happening.
The further problem, is that at a 1% chance, it happens so rarely that it may as well not happen at all, and you can't balance the champion around that concept.
I've seen lots of attempts to make this kind of concept work, from killing the casting player as well, to ridiculously long charge times and so on and so forth. The end result is always invariably the same though: if it hits, it's overpowered, and no amount of limitations in the world will fix it.
This goes for virtually any ability which is binary in nature. Damage isn't binary in that you can tweak and adjust just exactly how much damage a spell does. Generally, the more things you have to tweak and adjust, the better, when it comes to the effectiveness of an ability.
When you have no capacity to adjust the effectiveness of the actual effect caused, then you're just setting yourself up to fail.
The main thing to ask yourself, when setting up an ability, or even a design for a champion as a whole, is whether it would even be possible to balance the effectiveness of their abilities if they were all active 100% of the time. If not, you probably have problems.
And yes, before you ask, that does include stuns and other hard CC effects to a degree. These are very dangerous tools to work with, and things that many people just toss around haphazardly, despite their immense threat of being too powerful. The only control you have over a stun, is it's duration, and it's cooldown generally. While a stun is active, the enemy player can't do anything, to the point that they may as well not be playing the game, unless they have a quicksilver sash or cleanse available.
Unfortunately, much of the game is centered around stuns. Some champions are designed in such a way that their only real ideal counter is to stunlock them. This kind of situation is very tricky to pull off, but can be done, as a stun isn't as "instant death" as a full health kill, and a short duration stun is little more than an interrupt.
Despite this, having stuns on your design is a risky proposition, in that a stun is very finicky as to how powerful it is. A slow? No big deal, move a slow around from weak to strong or even have it ramp up effectiveness over time. Regardless of how you do it, a slow is simply more easily balanced than a stun. On the other hand, there are times when a stun simply is effective.
In the end, use your personal judgement, but be very cautious about anything with binary effectiveness. If it's not possible to be balanced so long as it's active, then you probably have a problem.
Isolate what you need to do, as per usual. If you don't need a full on stun to get the effect you want, then don't use one. If a root or a silence would work just as well, then go with a lesser effect, even if they're also a binary effect. Regardless of what you do, try to give yourself as much leeway on tweaking the power of an ability as possible, and if you have to take a wild guess, do so on the side of caution and pick a weaker effect.
It's a lot easier to upgrade an ability into a stronger effect, than it is to start swinging the nerfbat around after the fact.
Part 2: What's black and white and red all over? A penguin rolling down a hill.
Sometimes the obvious answer is the correct choice, but when it comes to balancing options, it usually isn't.
I was going to put this story into a later section, but it's simply more appropriate here.
Gather 'round kiddies, 'cause it's story time!
Once, long ago, back in the days when Warcraft 3 was new, there were two main player bases who hated each other; the night elf players, and the undead players. Now, this was all good and fine while they slapped each other around normally, but one day, one of the undead players realized they could get their death knight hero strong enough to kill the night elves' archers in one shot, and run away before they could do anything about it.
This kind of hit and run capacity was simply overpowered in the sense that it was risk free, and for the mere cost of 75 mana, they could rob the enemy player of actual gold and wood, as well as whittle down their entire army.
The night elf players cried NERF THE DEATHKNIGHT! NERF NERF NERF!
Alas, nerfing the death knight would weaken it's effectiveness against every single unit in the game considerably, which just wouldn't do.
As such, with much deliberation and consideration, a decision was made.
Wait? WTF? Morello, get out of my post!
Anyway, what they actually ended up doing was giving the archers +5 maximum life.
The key here, was that the archers would now survive with 2 life left, and if they're right next to a moon well, would simply heal back to full instantly, trading mana for mana, which was deemed to be a fair trade.
If the death knight wanted a kill, he'd have to run into melee range and take a swing at the enemy archer to get it, putting himself at risk of getting chewed on by a large number of attacks for doing so.
And so, the night elf and undead players could go back to hating each other with a fury unknown before or since on this world, other than republicans and democrats.
The moral of the story is, just because you're doing too much damage, it doesn't mean the best way to fix it is necessarily going to be to reduce the damage being done.
Your goal, when balancing, is to figure out exactly what that specific problem entails. In the case of the archers and death knights, it basically was such that the archers simply had a little bit too low health to survive one hit. The death knight was doing perfectly acceptable damage in 99% of situations, and there was only that one, singular exception where it was too much.
The archers, conversely, by gaining 5 life, didn't really get any stronger or weaker in terms of any other fight, considering they had such remarkably low health to begin with. Even weak attacks do closer to 10 damage in that game, so 5 health didn't really make any noticeable effect.
So, too, will you want to figure out what the real problem is. When it comes to game design, there's so many factors in place at any given time, that the chances are the "obvious" solution is almost guaranteed to be the wrong one.
As an example, Irelia didn't do "too much damage", she just had too much base damage, with weak scaling on a ton of different stats, and damage was mixed between magic, physical and true in such a combination that there was no reason for Irelia players to build anything other than tanky, since they got no benefit out of building for damage, and there was no real way to counter their damage output since 2/3rds of it would always go through, no matter how defensive you built against one side or the other.
As such, the key was to shift her to doing almost pure physical damage and removing the magical, then giving her a bit lower base damage, but much better scaling based off her AD, making her much more reasonable to build damage items on.
In this scenario, her damage got a buff (for awhile, until the "Nerf Irelia!" cries showed up again, oh well), but the overall effectiveness went down because it was now possible to build to counter her, and she had to build a little less tanky to be as strong on the offensive side of things.
There are thousands of other examples but the concept is almost always the same, so I shall bother you no further with this point.
Part 3: Fine tuning and you - how to get your champion's motor purring like an ostrich.
Some days I wonder if people even read the header titles at all.
Still, the point is that fine tuning is a minor aspect of champion design on the forums here, and not really as big of a deal as people may first think.
Strange to hear? Perhaps, but not really. The concept of fine tuning is when you get all the major problems out of the way and are mostly just doing tiny tweaks here and there to make it just perfect in set up to be played competitively.
To be honest though, there's no real way to fine tune balance at this level without play testing. Theorycrafting is fine for the most part, but when it comes to the very fine tuned balancing of numbers like plus or minus 5 damage, or a tweak of 0.8 AP ratio being dropped to 0.75, or raised to 0.85, the differences are often so minor that it's very difficult to tell if there'll be much true difference in terms of gameplay.
Now, that isn't to say it's a bad thing to get as close as possible, but it means that you shouldn't panic and worry too much if you're off by a tiny smidgen here or there.
And no, the definition of "a tiny smidgen" is not 50% damage difference. If you put a 5 second stun on your champion with no limitations on it, you're getting a slap in the face to knock the stupid out.
You still want to try to get your abilities as close to realistic values that would work in the game as possible with theorycrafting, and while it's not possible to get as accurate of an answer as you can with play testing, as theory and practice don't always line up perfectly, it's still much better than nothing.
The long and short of it is simply that you shouldn't worry about that last little bit. Being 90-95% accurate is about as good as you can realistically get in most situations, so strive for perfection, but be willing to accept "close enough" in matters such as these.
As such, we're actually not going to cover fine tuning, but instead we're going to head on to the next section and cover how to get the numbers to that 90-95% range in the first place.
Part 4: "Math is hard." ~ All the reason anyone needs to hate barbie.
You thought you'd get off easy didn't you? You thought I'd forgotten?
Please review the concept, not the numbers, kthnx! <3
Oh how often have I heard these words, only to know full well that the person saying them obviously doesn't understand how the two are intertwined together inextricably.
The numbers are, to an extent, part of the design. Double the damage on one ability and cut another in half, and the champion plays very differently, just as if you were to swap from high base and low scaling, to low base but high scaling damage.
Numbers aren't everything, but they are stand ins for concept.
As such, we'll be discussing today about exactly what numbers actually are, and what they mean.
Class is in session, so let's see about getting this started!
First, we're going to have to define what numbers really are, before we do much of anything else.
Second, we'll then have to discuss how numbers are used to specify a concept more completely.
Third on the list, is what various values, such as scaling, damage, and so on, can mean in terms of concept.
Finally, we top it all off with why you have to be so vigilant over your numbers, and not just go "meh, he has no name, no numbers, no appearance and no personality, but I want you to review a concept that doesn't exist!".
Now then, pay extra attention to this lesson, as it's an important one which most of you probably need!
Part 1: 01010011011011110010110000100000011101110110100001 10000101110100001001110111001100100000011010010110 11100010000001100001001000000110111001100001011011 01011001010010110000100000011000010110111001111001 01110111011000010111100100111111
RAWRFor those of you too lazy to check, it's a bad joke that essentially says "So, what's in a name, anyway?" by putting it into binary. The point of this entire section is just that, actually. What is in a number, anyway?
Honestly, a lot of the same stuff that's in a name.
The thing is, numbers, in and of themselves, don't mean anything.
Is 5 balanced? I don't know. 5 isn't inherently powerful or weak in and of itself. Is it 5 damage or 5 seconds of stun? Is it a 5.0 AP scaling ratio, or 5 armour?
To be perfectly blunt, a number means nothing, other than a stand in for a concept. This is more or less the same thing that the short version said, but the point still stands true. Numbers do not inherently mean anything other than an implication of what you want to say.
By saying... I want my spell to do 300 damage on an 8 second cooldown, you're essentially saying "generalized average damage and cooldown". 290 damage and 9 seconds cooldown, though important from a fine tuning aspect of the game, is honestly not really different enough to matter at this stage in the game.
To be blunt, the difference between 290/9, or 32.22, and 300/8, or 37.5, is a descent chunk of change, in that the former is only 85.92% of the overall damage over time that the latter has.
The difference, however, is that their burst is virtually identical. The 290 still does 290 in one hit. The 300 still does 300 in one hit, and that's a minor enough change, that it's mostly negligible. What this says, is that you can lower the champion's overall damage output over time, without truly harming their burst capacity.
The point here, is that you honestly didn't need those numbers. You could just have easily have said "average damage, average cooldown", or "average damage with slightly above average cooldown", and you'd have roughly the same overall effect.
Before worrying about whether your numbers are balanced, break them down into the concepts the represent. Consider what you're trying to accomplish, and then see if you're making a mess of things by overdoing it.
As you could technically replace any number in the game with simply a generic representation of "high" or "low" or some other descriptive statement to provide a concept, why are numbers even important to have in the first place, then?
Well, as you saw in the above example, there's a big difference between 290 damage on 8 seconds of cooldown, and 300 damage on 9 seconds of cooldown. Just trying to describe your concepts in a vague sense isn't very effective, because "Average damage and average cooldown" would cover anything from like 8 seconds cooldown to 10 seconds, and 280 to 320 damage. If we look at these extremes, you could be saying you want 28 DPS or you could be saying you want 40 DPS, and that's literally a 42% increase in damage over time. It's the difference between doing 280 damage or 400 damage if it were burst, and suddenly you start to see the problem, or at least, I should hope you do.
By using numbers, we can define more accurately what we're trying to say. You don't have to be the perfect balance tweaker, adjusting damage by 5 and 10 increments and figuring out the damage in theorycrafting down to a fraction of a percentage under ideal conditions with lag being factored in and so on.
What you do need, however, is to be clear and descriptive of what it is you're trying to say. That means there are no "TL: DR" posts on this forum. If you can't describe what you're doing clearly, then I don't care how short it is, nor does anyone else here. If your post only took half a page, then it wasn't worth reading in the first place.
So, too, does this apply to numbers. Just throwing down "just anything" and assuming it's good enough is equally worthless. Put some thought into the numbers you give your champion so that we can understand what it is you're trying to say.
If you just give an ability 500 damage on a 3 second cooldown, then what you're telling us, is you have absolutely no clue on how the game works, and you want your champion to be flat out overpowered for no real reason other than you haven't thought it through at all.
Saying, then, to ignore the fact that you have a 500 damage ability on a 3 second cooldown, and to focus on the "concept", when the only thing you have written down at all is "Fires a blast of damage at the target which does 500 damage. Has 3 seconds cooldown. Not sure how much mana." then there really isn't a concept to work with other than the numbers you've given us, because there certainly isn't some interesting method of applying the damage, some neat form of targeting, nor any kind of descriptive idea of how it all looks.
The numbers you present are not just simple descriptions of damage or other effects, but they stand in place of saying what you want your abilities to do. They're an extension of what you say an ability should do, into narrowly defining exactly how you want to go about doing something.
As such, they are the concept itself. If you don't provide extensive notes of what you intend for an ability to do, and it's purpose, and just list an ability with numbers, then all we have to go on is the numbers as the only indication of the concept itself.
In literary terms, the statement is "show me don't tell me", and while, as a writer myself, I have some personal reservations about the use of the term since it's often mangled, and even more often actually wrong, the point of the matter is that you can either tell me what you want your ability to accomplish, or you can show me. The numbers show me exactly how you plan on implementing your design.
Which one holds more weight? For most people, if the implementation is a failure, the entire concept is. Personally, I'd like to think that the implementation, even if mangled, can be salvaged so long as the core concept is sound. Regardless of this point, however, you still are pretty much required to tell us what you feel the concept is. If you show one thing, and say another, then we, and by we I mean whoever your critics are, be they friends, family, forumgoers, or a supervisor as examples, can then help you match the two together.
As such, the more information we get, the better. A concept that's in your head is fine, but if you're going to post it on the forum here, or intending to implement it into the game, then your audience, regardless of whether it's others on the forum, or the players in the game, will need to have the information of what they're supposed to do, and that's seen through their abilities.
Your entire design, as I've said all along, needs to line up. This includes the implication of what you want your champion to do, and how they actually act.
So... yeah. I can keep beating this over your head in a thousand different flavours, but the end result is going to be the same. You can't just throw any random number you feel like onto a design and claim that it's "good enough". The numbers don't mean anything in and of themselves, except that they are your concepts made manifest. You can't ignore the numbers to review a champion's concepts, because the numbers are the concepts themselves.
Now that we have that cleared away, let's see what we can do about putting this to work for us.
"You need to be more specific when explaining things about your champions! I don't even know how you came to the conclusion this was a good idea or where it came from!"
"Alright, I came up with this particular idea while I was on the toilet."
"And thus we learn the definition of the term 'Too specific'. "
Alright, alright, so numbers just convey a concept, and nothing more. Got it. Now what do we do with our numbers to convey the concept we want to present?
That's a bit more tricky, as each ability is different, and the numbers can be difficult to herd, much akin to cats at times. Ever tried to be a cat herder? It's not easy work.
The point here is that your abilities are going to be greatly varied, and the numbers you put into them are a representation of your thoughts on the matter.
The easiest way to work with numbers, honestly, is to not work with them at all.
Strange? Yep, it sure is, but it works. At least, to a degree, at first.
Consider that you can save yourself a lot of headache with numbers, by temporarily removing them, and trying to balance the concepts and ideas they represent first, then worry about the numbers after the fact.
This goes back to the planning phase again. Remember that thing about pre-planning a layout of what you want your champion to do? Yeah, we've covered that a few times now, and it's still going strong as a concept that you need to learn.
Pick out the things that you want your champion to do, such as what kind of CC they should have, or damage output, and determine, in advance, if your abilities will be able to work regardless of the numbers.
If you have abilities that literally can't be balanced, no matter what, such as an ability that instantly kills a targeted champion for a % of the time on auto-attack, then it doesn't matter what the % is, it's never going to work. At this point you can just stop worrying about blowing hours on attempting, in vain, to fix the numbers which weren't even able to be fixed in the first place.
Once you have your numbers removed from the equation entirely, you can then look and see if the basic idea would even work. If it could, then great, now the issue is getting a set of numbers which will actually define what you want your champion to do as accurately as possible.
Ah, back to pre-planning again, aren't we? Yep. You first need to know what you want your ability to do in terms of strength, before you set it. How strong do you want various effects of the ability to be? Is your ability intended to be primarily used for it's CC with minor damage attached, such as Ahri's Charm, or are you looking for something that's got a good kick to it with some mild CC on the side just for the sake of being able to interrupt channeled abilities, such as Riven's Ki Burst?
Regardless of your ability in question, you need to know what it's intended function is supposed to be before you can start attaching numbers to it. If we made Ki Burst, for example, a 1.5 second stun but only do 100 +0.35AD at max level, the ability would be massively different in purpose and function, as would the champion it's attached to.
The key is as I've been saying all along. Think about what it is you want to do before you do it. Plot out the specific idea of just what exactly the key strengths your ability should have are, before you even attach numbers to it.
Yes, I've practically said the same thing three times in a row in different ways. It's really that important of a concept to understand, and I don't dare leave a misunderstanding to chance on it.
Your abilities are what your champion does, but the numbers define how effective those abilities are at each particular task. By adjusting the strength of an ability, you're adjusting what it's supposed to do, so saying "only review the concept" is irrelevant if the numbers are the stand in for the concept itself.
Regardless, the only real thing you need to do in order to wrangle the numbers into place, is to determine what you want to do before you attempt to do it.
With that, you can easily move onto the next step.
Part 3: The values of a philosopher are unto those of a physicist. One thinks in concepts, the other in numbers, but in truth, they are one and the same and only the language differs. ~Me. I couldn't find a good quote for this chapter so I had to make one up. It sounds witty though, doesn't it?
So we'll assume you know what you want to do... so how do you now do it?
I'll cover a few of the most common numbers in the game, to give you a rough idea of what I mean by them being stand-ins for concepts, and hopefully it should be enough to get you acquainted with the idea to work with it on your own.
Let's start with some basic stuff then, shall we?
Damage: This is your generic basic damage an ability does. Reaaaally. Why thank you, wielder of statements of a blatantly obvious nature! But no, really, the damage value is basically your burst value; this is how much damage you want to be done when you use your ability. Even DoT's are bursty in the sense that, once they're cast, they still do this much damage, unless it's a channeled ability. The idea behind damage is that when you cast an ability, this is how much firepower you want behind it upfront. 300 damage is pretty average, but 400 is a big deal in most cases, for normal abilities anyway.
Cooldown: This is how often you want your ability to be useful, and directly affects it's damage over time. Is 50 damage OP? Not really, if it's fired once per 8 seconds. If it's fired 8 times per second, however, that may be a slightly different story. For abilities with durations, such as CC, you have to also assume that, if a player were to have 40% cooldown reduction, how much of the time could they keep it on for? A 1.5 second stun is pretty normal... if, however, your ability has a 5 second cooldown, and even that's cut down to 3 seconds with 40% CDR, then suddenly you're looking at a 1.5 second stun every 3 seconds, for 50% of the time your enemy is stunlocked off one ability. Consider carefully how often an effect should be up for, and don't just dump on extra cooldown to even out something that's overly powerful. If it's burst is high enough that the target isn't going to be alive for a second shot, it doesn't matter how high the cooldown is.
Range: This is a common one for people to have problems with. If you're really having issues, think of an ability in the game that goes roughly as far as you'd want your own spell to go, and compare it's range on LoLwiki which will state the actual length in game units. The range of a spell is mostly about how "safe" it is to use. Consider a spell which has a range of only 400 units. Many ranged attackers have a range of 600 on their physical attacks, so it'd require walking closer to hit them. This directly impacts the positioning of where your champion stands, and if you really want to learn how frustrating poorly set spell ranges can be, try playing Tristana and realizing she has to give up her auto-attack ranged bonus to use explosive shot due to the shorter range of the spell than her own attacks.
Shields: These are interesting in that they absorb effects over a short duration. Some are good for one hit, others are good for up to X damage. Notably, however, a shield is normally fairly potent for the reason that it's a temporary effect and goes away after a few short seconds.
Scaling: The numbers on scaling are incredibly important, and sadly they're some of the numbers that most of the people on here are least interested in thinking about. The nature of scaling is such that strong scaling makes itemization towards the scaling stat very useful, whereas poor scaling implies it's not worth the effort. In many cases, a champion may have weak base damage output, but high scaling, making them that much better late game, but weaker early game. The concept is that of what kind of itemization a player should build, and at what point in the game their champion will be most effective.
Mana: This is covered more in depth in other chapters, but it's a big one so I'll cover it there, too. Low mana isn't just low mana, and doubling the mana cost of an ability doesn't just double it's cost. You also need to factor in the regeneration rate which takes place. If you regen 100 mana per 10 seconds, and you drain 100 from casting spells in that time, then you've broken even and can spam all day long. If you regen 100 and drain 200, you're going to run out of mana at a set pace based on your maximum. If you drain 400, you'll run out three times faster, rather than twice as fast as 200. Your mana costs on abilities directly reflect how often you want your champion to be able to cast long term, and it's a tricky concept with a great deal of minor things which affect it.
Regardless, I could go on about every stat and number in the game, but by now you should be seeing a trend. Specifically, it's that these numbers are specifically affecting how that statistic has an impact on the game and how the champion's design works. By having weaker damage but much weaker cooldown, you're essentially saying you want high DPS but weak burst capacity.
For each and every number you write in on your champion design, every ability, every vital statistic, every detail, it all comes down to describing how much you think a particular concept should be stressed.
The vast majority of this guide centers around the idea of picking which numbers should even be there in the first place; you can't list the duration of a stun if you don't even know if your ability stuns or not, obviously. The point I've been trying to stress in this section, however, is that the numbers can often be just as important as which numbers are present.
Fine, minute tweaks like shaving 10% off the duration of a stun, or increasing damage by 5%, are things you do for balance. They determine how powerful a champion is by tiny increments, but rarely adjust the overall properties of how the champion plays.
Larger changes, such as dropping the scaling on an ability from 0.8 to 0.4 can make a large enough difference that it will completely kill off some play styles, or remove certain options that had been possible previously. Sure, you could still play AP Alistar, but he's really not that impressive at it anymore after having all of his AP ratios reduced severely.
Overall, your goal is to carefully consider what each number you write down means. Fortunately, this is more or less a one time process in many cases, as once you've figured it out once, it generally applies to each subsequent case as well, modified only by the other numbers that are present.
Cooldown is always cooldown, and it generally has a pretty consistent effect on the game. It changes resource drain over time, such as mana, and it changes damage over time as well as the overall percentage of uptime of extended duration effects, and how much distance can be traveled in a set amount of time due to mobility effects.
No matter what ability it is you have, it tends to always have the same effects. Once you've seen it's incarnations and figured them out, each will tend to be as easy to deal with from thereon out each subsequent time.
As such, the same old thing applies yet again. Think about what you want to do before you do it. Think about what your numbers mean before you try to fill them in, and it'll simply be that much easier to work with.
Part 4: You, sir, should be a politician. You've spoken to us for over half an hour straight and yet haven't said a single thing in all that time.
Yes, it's possible to say nothing while speaking, just as it's possible to say a great deal with few words. Personally, I used to opt for the clean and concise version of things, saying much in little, but I've since discovered that, when you leave so much up to implications and suggestive concepts, there's so much possibility for ambiguity and confusion to creep in.
So I, like many before me, have grown to increase my vocabulary to be able to state precisely what I mean in a variety of ways. One of those ways, however, is in numbers.
When you speak to us on the forum here of an awesome idea you had for a champion concept, you speak mostly within the lines of ambiguity, wherein anything you say could be interpreted in a wealth of ways.
Sometimes ambiguity's nice when you're trying to elicit thoughtful discussion, but in the case of attempting to describe a specific idea, it's particularly of little to no value.
This is where numbers come in. Numbers are the final say in specific details. They tell us exactly where you think an ability should be and how much it should do.
If I were to say "I think my ability should do high damage on a low cooldown, but cost more each cast", does that really tell us all that much about the ability?
Alright, it's "high" damage, but how much is "high"? Do you want high damage per second, or high burst capacity? 200 damage every 2 seconds is pretty high damage output, but it's not especially massive in terms of burst.
How low is low cooldown? Do you mean 2 seconds, or was I exaggerating what you meant by "low"? Maybe you meant 4 seconds. Maybe you mean 0.5 seconds. I honestly don't know, because herein lies the problem: each individual has a different definition of how much is "high" or "low".
By stating your ideas in vague concepts via subjective terms, you essentially tell us very little about what you really want your champion and their abilities to do. We learn little, and are left guessing at what you think it's supposed to mean.
When you use numbers to speak for you, you're stating specific, solid facts. There's no arguing and no debate over what a 300 damage nuke means for damage. It means it does 300 damage. It's funny how simply stating what you mean makes it easier to understand.
You'll notice that in all of my recent designs, I put a section under my abilities which states what the purpose of each ability is. This both reminds me, and expresses my intents to the reader so that they can understand the purpose behind why it has the numbers it does. If those numbers don't line up with the intent, then it can be changed to fit the desired effect.
If, however, I were not to list what the desired effect was, then people reading such would have only my numbers to go on to guess at what I meant. If I have a typo, they wouldn't even know it wasn't intentional, and could think of the design as being inherently flawed.
As such, we need both; a description that tells others the intent behind the numbers, and the numbers to define the intent in a solidified manner.
To steal an analogy from Straczynski, numbers and concepts are the shoes on your feet; you can travel farther with both than you can with just one or the other.
Admittedly, it worked better for him, since he was describing religion and science at the time, and it had a more profound metaphysical concept going for it, but the point still stands: concepts without numbers are vague and undefined, lacking any cohesive qualities, while numbers without the author's personal interpretation of what they're supposed to mean can be easily misinterpreted and misunderstood.
Both are required, in the end, and as such, from this point onward, I expect each and every one of you to provide both of these in your champion designs.
After all, if you're not interested in telling us about what your champion does, why are you even posting here in the first place?
Think on that one between classes, because for now, class is dismissed!
Rawr. Good evening class... after the fiasco of losing not just the work I'd done earlier, but the backup copies as well, both of them, I'm not quite interested in doing more of these guides today...
Unfortunately for me, I made a promise to get this done by the end of the month, and I hold to my promises, so let's get on with it.
Tonight we'll be covering Scaling.
First off, we'll touch on the idea of what scaling essentially is. This won't take too long probably, which is good, since some of the other sections may.
Second, we'll discuss the value of scaling in relation to the base values of abilities, as this can completely change how a champion plays.
Third, we'll go over the idea of scaling off a multitude of stats, such as Malphite or Volibear have.
Finally, we'll wrap things up with comparing a few of the most common scaling types, such as bonus AD, total AD, and AP ratios.
Anyway, since we've got the game plan laid out, let's get rolling.
Part 1: A scale model does not normally mean 1:1 ratio.
The idea of scaling, in terms of LoL, was originally solely limited to Ability Power, and nothing else. The original 40 champions had no other options available to them, mostly, with a few minor cases such as Malphite and Rammus, which didn't even show up as actual scaling values at the time.
Since that time, we've added everything from health scaling, to mana scaling, to armour scaling, to bonus attack damage scaling, to even total attack damage scaling.
There's an awful lot in there!
So what does it all mean? Why do we even have scaling in the first place?
The main issue, back in the days of DotA: Allstars, was that abilities never got any stronger. Sure, you could get an Aghnim's Scepter, which would strengthen your ultimate, but it wouldn't affect anything else. For most of the mage classes, it meant that relying on spells would make you very powerful in the first 10 levels or so, and practically useless beyond that once enemies were able to simply stack enough health to ignore you.
To help combat that problem, Ability Power was added to LoL to allow abilities to gradually grow stronger over the course of the game. The idea, was that champions who relied heavily on their spells to be effective, wouldn't become obsolete halfway through the game.
The other concept was that even auto-attack champions, such as Tristana, would have all of their abilities scaled off of AP, so that they could choose to build AP items to make their abilities stronger, instead of their weapons.
The downside with that was... well... most of the AD champions had really terrible scaling values, to the point that they may as well not have existed. The few who had respectable ones just ended up having a different path with which they could build, but it was never really as effective as the main one. Master Yi and Tristana can both be played AP, for example, but they're also both simply more useful as actual AD champions.
After awhile, someone decided, hey, wouldn't it be a cool idea if you had a mage... who did physical damage? And who built physical damage items!?
And so, we got Pantheon, and with him, came the origins of AD scaling.
The idea was that it didn't make much sense for a warrior who's supposed to rely on brute strength to use magic to throw a spear, so he was given abilities which were made stronger with AD items.
The problem was... his itemization was fail, because there wasn't really all that much of value in the game for +AD items, and honestly, there still isn't a great selection for the AD casters.
In Pantheon's case, he fixed this issue by having high base damage, but very poor scaling. This made him very potent early game, but quite weak late game. The downside, was he was "too" good early game... seriously, at level 2 he could tower dive anyone in the game and be guaranteed a kill, even if they had 900+ life, and would almost be guaranteed to get out of it alive. Yeah. Minor problem, there.
So, to ease the situation, he was given a bit better scaling but his damage output originally was scaled way back so that he wouldn't be nearly as powerful early on in the game.
Downside now, is that there's still not many good AD items for AD mages, and the one attempt they were trying to make for them, being an equivalent to the Rabadon's Deathcap for AP c asters, ended up being way, way, way too strong in the hands of auto-attack champions, and still underpowered in the hands of an AD caster, so it had to be ditched before it was even released due to massive balance issues.
To fix that problem, "total AD" was added, which allowed a champion to not just scale off AD from items, but also off of the AD they got from leveling and their base attack. This made it possible to reduce the initial damage a bit, but let it scale a little better over levels, for closer to the original intent.
Regardless, the end point, is that scaling was added to the game originally to make abilities more effective later on in the game, where they wouldn't just drift off into obscurity and uselessness. Overall, it's worked fairly well, though the amount of stats that amplify each other for auto-attacking is still greater, so auto-attack champions are still almost universally stronger endgame, but that doesn't mean it has to stay that way forever, as Cassiopeia's shown.
Still, that thing about scaling in relation to the base damage... it's kind of a useful bit of information, so how's about we go over that next?
Part 2: Nothing screams "OP" quite like a guy in a rubber suit demolishing a miniature of Tokyo city.
So, let's say you have a champion that has some abilities! YAY!
Now let's say you're done making those abilities, and you want to set up their scaling. Hrm... sounds difficult, just slap any number on there and you're done, right?
Seriously, do I need to slap you? DO I!? I better not.
No, you're going to sit down and ask yourself when in the game you want your abilities to be the most valuable and potent.
See, scaling means that, with lots of items or bonuses to your scaling values, you get stronger. You tend to only get a bunch of items later in the game, so typically, if you have a high scaling value, but low base effectiveness on your abilities, it means your abilities will be less potent early on, but more potent later in the game. For some champions, this is ideal, and can help you make a champion who's a juggernaut of firepower endgame... then again, maybe that's not actually what you want.
Perhaps you want an assassin, someone who's excellent at killing people off early in the game, before you really have much in the way of weapons to work with. This would imply you need really high damage output before you even get any AP or other scaling stats... alright, well perhaps a high base damage would help in this case. Would it be a good idea to have good scaling to go with it?
Well, as an assassin... yes. Yes, it would.
Your job would be to kill people all game, and if you aren't capable of that role, you're going to run into problems.
On the other hand, having both high base damage, and high scaling would mean you'd be insanely strong. As such, most of the assassin have high base and medium scaling, such as Ahri or LeBlanc, who have good enough scaling to make it worthwhile for them to build some AP, but not so much that they'd be willing to go glass cannon.
In other cases, you may have someone like Malzahar, who focuses on damage over time. His damage is more easily cleansed off or healed through later in the game, once people start playing together as a group, and as such, he has to be much more powerful more quickly, and so you'll find his AP ratios are above average by a considerable amount, especially when they're all combined together in total.
So why would you have high base damage but low scaling? Ah, now that's when we tend to get into tanks. They tend to build no damage at all, or if they do, it's typically just a tiny bit of AP. They need defensive stats to do their job of survival! Of course... they also need damage to draw fire. If they're not a threat, who would bother shooting at them? As such, the tanks tend to have fairly high raw damage output over time, at least in comparison to just their raw abilities without modifiers. The downside is, if they also scaled well, they'd be overpowered, as Alistar showed us awhile back, there, with his overly high AP scaling and immense utility. By the time they were done with him, his AP scaling had been cut nearly in half, but his base damage was still left untouched.
For your own champion design, you're going to have to consider carefully what your champion's role is in the game, and when they need the greatest power. No one champion design is at their peak throughout the entire game, as they always have to have a strong point, and a weak point, which is to be exploited.
Most carries tend to have very high scaling off their auto-attacks, due to many indirect benefits such as steroids and other buffs. This means they're generally quite lame early in the game, but, like a snowball rolling down a hill, they pick up steam pretty fast, hence leading to the term "Snowballing".
If you haven't seen a giant snowball rolling down a hill before, you need to drop this guide right now, and either watch the original animated grinch, or some looney tunes. I can't have people reading my guide when they're so unrefined and clearly not patrons of the classics!
Seriously though, there's certain stuff you're just "expected" to have seen when doing design. Things like looney tunes are a basic foundation to build up references, styles of humour, and so on and so forth, so you're not getting out of this!
Anyway, I'll assume that the rest of you have seen a giant snowball rolling down a hill and smashing into someone or something, so... good.
The point is, a carry is weak early game, but a force to be reckoned with late game. In contrast, a mage tends to be strongest mid-game, when they have the right mixture of spells to instantly kill someone from full life by unloading their firepower all at once. Later on, people can itemize to avoid such easier, and it's just not as great a threat any longer.
Assassins are brutally strong early game, but typically fall off in power end game. Ahri and Poppy are kind of exceptions to that rule, in that they're really... weird.
Ahri does consistent, continual damage to multiple targets, generally, while Poppy just does the opposite of most assassins and scales like a carry. Go figure!
Still, for each individual there is a play style and a purpose.
For yourself, knowing what you want your champion to do is a big part of finding that purpose, and once you have that, you can determine when you need them to be at their peak performance.
The basic rule of thumb, however, is that high scaling makes you stronger later on in the game. High base power makes you stronger early game. You never really want both to coincide fully, but you never want to really have a complete lack of either, as well.
The lack of both sides of the equation was previously attempted with the support champions... it ended up failing pretty miserably, and we've been stuck with the 0CS meta ever since. They've since improved the scaling of the support champion's damage, trying to encourage them to build AP and such to be some additional firepower, but with their basic abilities that they want to scale being so weak these days, it's not really worth the effort.
Not strong enough to be a burst mage, not sustained enough to be a carry, too low money to spend on upgrades anyway. Seems kind of a bad combination, doesn't it?
Still, I have faith they'll get it right eventually, though it may take another year or two of gradual tweaks over time.
For your own champion, try to avoid this pitfall, especially if you're making a support champion. At the same time, be cautious not to make them overpowered by feeding them too much potential power.
Part 3: The Renaissance Man - Jack of all Trades, and master of none.
Do you ever get the feeling that maybe it's not such a good idea to have things so spread out that you may as well not have any of it?
See, this is what happened way back with what got Irelia chain nerfed into oblivion a few dozen times. Her scaling was set up in such a way that every ability scaled poorly, and most of them off of different stats. Her damage, to compensate, was abnormally high for base values to make up for this, and spread between physical, magical and true damage.
In the end, Irelia players would never build damage items, because if they did, they'd get almost nothing out of it, so instead they just built a sheen, and then worked on building tanky so they couldn't be killed so easily. They already had a ton of damage, so why build more if it wasn't going to increase past a negligible level anyway?
You can see similar issues crop up in other champions such as Malphite, where it seems like every ability just scales differently again. His passive is boosted off health, his Q off of AP, his W off of AD, and his E off of armour, with a negligible amount of AP again.
Being spread out like this basically says "it doesn't matter what you build, it'll be useful", but on the other hand, it also says "it doesn't matter what you build, it'll also be pretty much useless, too".
Notice how I said that thing about scaling makes you powerful later in the game? If you don't have a universal stat to strengthen, such as AP, and it's all over the place, you may as well not have any stat to scale, or just have one single stat that scales but very poorly.
For the most part, you typically want to limit yourself to about one primary stat, and one secondary stat. The champions that scale off AD almost exclusively, and are also supposed to do physical attacks, such as Graves, tend to be overly strong in that they only need one stat to amplify everything they do to an immense value. This makes it near impossible to balance them properly, as even a minor tweak directly affects more than just that one stat, but their entire design.
As a general rule, you'll typically want to have at least two stats; supports tend to be CDR as primary, and AP as secondary, while burst mages are more of the reverse of that. An AD caster is kind of fail in that all they have to work with is AD and not much else, while tanks have AP, armour, MR, health and health regeneration all going for them, leading to the tanks often being the easiest to itemize, and the most versatile. Your carries generally get critical hit, AD and some attack speed to go with it, with lifesteal on the side due to being more likely to get hit, and less likely to have tools in their own kit to fix it.
More stats means it's possible to itemize in different ways to deal with different situations. If you don't have anything to work with, such as the AD casters, you're kind of limited on what you can do.
This also means being careful to think about the itemization of your champion; if you built an AP caster when LoL was first released, that didn't have any mana... they'd be kind of fail, since they simply wouldn't have any items that were good for them. Katarina was about the only one, and the only real reason she was any good back then, was most people were new to the game and genre, so there wasn't much opposition that could fight her. That and there were fewer champions with CC, and almost everyone went glass cannon, so it was easy to kill people with less damage at the time.
Regardless, the point is that you don't want to get carried away by making every ability you have scale differently. You do want a mixture of choices, to give the player some options when it comes to itemization, but you don't want to give them so much that they may as well not bother.
Take a look through the items themselves, and see which combinations show up more frequently. Health and AP do quite often, whereas Health and AD almost never coincide in meaningful amounts, so take this into account!
Part 4: If I were to set you in front of a lineup, could you pick out which of the items did you in? Was it the Mejai's, or do you think it was the Randuin's? Gimme their number, and their days will be just as numbered before the nerfbat breaks their kneecaps.
There's an awful lot of scaling methods to be used, so let's go over a few of the most common ones!
Ability Power: This is your typical "bread and butter" growth / scaling statistic. No champion in the game, currently, starts with AP, since it'd be pointless... why not just make their base damage that much higher instead? Same effect, really. Generally, AP items have mana, or health, and typically make your champion pretty bulky, and often provide some nice CDR. They don't, however, provide much for other attack stats. This is a good all around place to start for most champions, but check the itemization choices out before you settle in on it.
Bonus Attack Damage: This is for when you want itemization to be the only thing that increases your ability damage at all, but you don't see your champion ever building AP, and you don't really want to make an AP build viable for them. As such, you typically load them out with Bonus AD instead, which lets you have direct, exacting control over how strong they get and how quickly.
Total Attack Damage: Very similar to the previous choice, but problematic... total attack damage also includes your raw base attack damage on your champion from leveling and being level 1. This often adds a good 50 to 120 extra damage to the value, and as such, you want to be careful with how much of this you add. Even a tiny adjustment can have a much larger effect than Bonus AD does, due to that extra damage total being added on. In general, Total AD is typically far, far weaker than Bonus AD.
Health: I hate health scaling. I really, really do. I also hate armour scaling, and MR scaling. Let's be blunt here, and admit that giving defensive boosts that also boost your offensive power is almost universally a bad idea. No matter what you do, it's going to be too strong or too weak; if it's strong enough to be valuable, it's almost guaranteed to be overpowered. To mirror that, if you have enough to make it balanced, it's going to be so pitiful of an amount that you may as well not have bothered. In short, avoid using defensive stats to boost offensive power. It has never worked out well, and it's probably never going to. In theory, it's possible, but it's not honestly realistically plausible.
Mana: This first started with Singed, but Ryze's remake decided to use the same idea. Bad idea, at that, once it turned out that the damage AP items had their mana stripped from most of them, and the ones which were left with large sums of mana, were things which also touted large sums of armour or health to go with them. This leads into the problem, as well, that you'll never run out of mana, so you may as well not bother having mana as a stat. Increasing mana should be a choice by the player, and enforcing it in this manner is a bad decision, especially when it tacks on the problems of defensive scaling on top of that, which we already covered was also a bad idea.
Movement Speed: This is a really rotten idea, but it keeps popping up on the forum, so I guess it has to be addressed... let's be serious here; movement speed is hard to get in LoL, not in small amounts, no that's easy, but in any kind of decent value? Due to the soft caps on movement speed, it gets worth proportionately much, much less, and there's remarkably few items in the game that benefit from it. Making it scale well enough to find boots useful, but not overpowered, but still finding 500 move speed to be noticeable of a difference from 400, is practically impossible without using exponential formulas, which aren't a good idea for scaling either. In short... you're better off just not having the ability scale at all, or having it scale off the champion's level instead.
Enemy Stats: BAD. BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD. Don't make me break out the ruler, because if I have to, I'll be breaking it over your open palm! Seriously, this is a horrible idea in that you're actively restricting the enemy player's ability to build their own champion. Veigar's the master of this, and he shows us how he basically makes it so that an enemy player is forced to build in such a way that they can't build their own champion properly. Do you really want to see a Cassiopeia who has like 0 AP? It's a "counter-pick", sure but done in the worst possible way, which is namely by harming the enemy player for doing their job right. There's no "right choice" to build when playing AP when Veigar's around, just as building tanky is honestly kind of a bad idea when Trundle's around as well. These kinds of scaling are some of the worst kind, in that they directly harm an enemy for playing right. This shouldn't exist in any game, and even more so not in a PvP one.
Anyway, those are most of the biggest ones, though there are other choices as well. For the most part, however, your main ones are just AP, Total AD and Bonus AD. If you're using the rest on the list, you're probably doing something wrong. Doing something unique for the sake of being unique is a bad idea, and you need to have strong reasons for doing what you do, and to be frank, scaling off of defensive stats doesn't have a strong reason possible.
Regardless, that's pretty much it for scaling, so take care and have a good night! Class is dismissed!
Good morning class... good for some of us anyway. This is my second time writing this due to an accidental deletion of everything I just did a few seconds ago, instead of making a backup copy. Rawr, I swear it's out to drive me insane. I have news for it, though. It's too late. I'm already quite mad.
Anyway, class is in session and today we'll be covering the whole package.
First, we'll need to describe why the entire package deal is such a big deal in the first place, and why you can't just take individual abilities without comparing the whole alongside them.
Second, we'll also need to go over why it's just as bad to only consider the whole while ignoring the individual parts.
Third, we'll cover the idea of comparing your ideas against how they'll be used in the actual game as well, though not nearly to the extent as will be covered on page five.
Finally, we'll also discuss the issue of how it's easy for a small problem to be overlooked, but that multiple small problems quickly pile up in a design, so it's best to iron them out quickly before it turns into a real mess.
Regardless, I've got three articles to finish up today, and I've already accidentally deleted part of this one, so let's get down to work before I go even more mad than I already am.
Part 1: Seeing the forest through the trees.
In the world of champion design, we have a forest, and this forest is the champion itself. Everything, from the personality, through to the individual abilities, the appearance, from the skins to the sound effects and the voice acting, each of these are trees within the forest.
Many individuals get lost, so used to only being able to see the trees that they lose sight of the bigger picture; that the whole of the trees is a forest.
Sounds all metaphorical and fancy, doesn't it?
Mostly it just means that it's easy to be so preoccupied and focused on a single ability that you forget that said ability has to play nicely with the other abilities in the champion's design. Would it really be a good idea to make a champion that had Fiora's double dash, Master Yi's alpha strike, Katarina's Shunpo and Akali's triple dash? Probably not.
Sure, in and of themselves, the abilities are balanced, but when you have that many combined together, it gets more than a little excessive on the mobility and damage output.
The term "too much of a good thing" comes to mind, but so, too, does the thought that it's possible to simply not fully consider just how the entire package deal, once wrapped up, requires a mixture of things from it.
Sure, your "new" champion with four mobility moves would be highly mobile, but what do they have for defensive capability? What do they have for effectiveness other than spell damage? What can they do other than just jump into a target's face over and over and over again?
Honestly... nothing. You essentially just made the same spell four times with minor variations on a theme.
Despite having high damage output and offensive mobility, they're not that dangerous. They're easy to lock down and kill due to a lack of defensive prowess, due to constantly running into melee range, but then not being all that effective in it once they're there. The only trick they have is to get into melee range. Alright, yay, you teleported into melee range and... and... and... yeah, that's pretty much the limitation of your usefulness. "Boom", mass AoE and you die. Well, that was short lived, wasn't it?
The point is exactly what I've been saying all along... plan out what you want your champion to do before you attempt to do it. What are their goals? What do they need to do in order to actually fulfill those goals? After you have that, then you can worry about trying to make the individual abilities that provide the tools necessary to meet those goals.
Making a cool ability is nice and all, but what good is it if the champion it's attached to has no use for it? Why would you even put Annie's disintegrate on Graves? What possible use would he have for it over his buckshot?
A champion design is the entire champion, not just one spell. Every once in awhile I'll see someone on the champion concepts forum come up with an ability, and somehow think that the ability stands on it's own, with no connection to a full package deal. Is the ability overpowered or underpowered? Probably neither, in most cases anyway. There have been exceptions, such as the 10 second duration spell shield with 5 shield charges on a 5 second cooldown. I think we can all agree that was just "WTF" material, right there. But other than that exception, for the most part, the abilities aren't really overly strong nor overly weak, without the ability to play off of the other abilities a champion has to go with it.
When you give a champion too many things which work too well together, then you get nightmares, such as Ahri's ultimate with Skarner's AoE slow, Karthus's defile and Sivir's spell shield. It just leaves a ridiculous amount of staying power and damage output where it's not realistically plausible to escape. Even outnumbered, that combination would likely be remarkably strong, especially with some of the itemization choices I can think for it.
See... if you give a champion all of the tools they need to do their job at all times, they're flat out overpowered. The abilities themselves may be fine, but when combined in such a certain way that they have no drawbacks... literally the only thing that keeps Olaf from being a star player in the game, is the fact that he has no gap closer. Swap his lame excuse for an axe throw in undertow, with that of Maokai's twisted advance, which would both put him in melee range and root the target for 2 seconds? Yeah, suddenly he went from a bad joke to "Oh god, oh god, we're all gonna die" off that one tiny change.
Why? How could he have suddenly gotten so strong so quickly? The simple answer is he lacked a way to get into melee and a way to stay there once he was in it. We just gave him both instantly and replaced an ability that had no real value to him to do so.
What if we replaced vicious strikes with Sion's enrage? Now just how ridiculous of an idea are we looking at?
The abilities themselves are all balanced in and of themselves, but only because of the rest of the kit they're attached to.
Whenever you think about your champion, consider all of it as one large design that needs to work together. If it works too well together, it might not even be the abilities that need to be nerfed, so much as they're simply the wrong abilities to have.
Then again... it's also possible to go too far in that, and think only of the whole, while missing the individual parts that make up that whole...
Part 2: Seeing the trees through the forest.
Alright, so we'll say that you have a nice design, it does everything it needs to, and it's balanced as a whole. So why... why is it so bloody boring?
The reverse of the first part of this article is also possible. It's fully possible to have a well toned "full" design that simply doesn't have any real interest on an individual level. Sure, the abilities may be effective together, but they might also be excessively bland and boring to use.
It's the idea of having a full sculpture supposedly "done", and sure it looks like a human, but none of the features are added. There's no eyelashes, no eyes, no defining features of any kind. You might be able to make out the rough shape of the head, but it doesn't make it a finished piece.
First and foremost, your design has to work at a large scale; without that, it doesn't matter how interesting your abilities are if they aren't fun to use together.
After that, however, you still have to ensure that your individual abilities are entertaining as well. If you don't have any real personal attraction to your champion, then what's it matter? A list of abilities without a personality is boring, just as a powerful build that involves every spell being a passive is also boring.
One thing I learned back when doing life drawing classes (yes, nude models and all; strangely enough there's actually nothing sexual about it, go figure, you'd think it'd be weird, but it's not O.o; I don't get it either, but it's pretty normal stuff), was that you had to build up the entire design equally; it would be just strange to have like one leg standing out there, in near perfect detail, and the rest of the body just being a flimsy sketch. It just doesn't... work right.
Having each and every piece detailed in the same way, even if the overall detail is lessened, is generally better to have, than one piece detailed and the rest just a mess.
Take time and effort, put care into every little part of your design, and this is where greatness comes from.
The "great" games that are out there aren't great because they're perfect, but moreso because they have detail in all areas of their design. The music's awesome and pulls you into the game, the story's wonderful, the characters interesting, the gameplay fun. Each and every little piece fits together, and there aren't any really huge gaping holes that just stand out like a sore thumb in there.
Often, the difference between a "good" game and a "great" game, is simply the minor annoyances. A great game has almost none, while a good game may be good overall, but simply just lacks the level of care and attention that a great one has.
So, too, will your designs wind up like this. If you pour all your time and effort into the lore of your character design, but just shrug and go "whatever" when it comes to the abilities, it's going to be harmful as a whole. Even if the overall design is "good", you still require careful attention on a smaller scale to go with it.
Regardless, there's not much else to say on this matter, other than to provide attention to everything; even if the whole is acceptable, you still can't ignore the individual parts that comprise it.
Part 3: Shock and Awe; for when you want your enemies shaken, not stirred into action.
Alright, so you have some abilities, an appearance, some stuff like that, and (hopefully) when they're all combined, they turn into CAPTAIN PLANET!
...No? Hrm. My audience may be younger than I first thought...
Anyway, the idea is that you hopefully will combine all the elements of your design together and it'll turn out to be something enjoyable and playable as a whole!
Of course, there's an awful lot of stuff in there that has to line up, so here's a little checklist:
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