Map Objectives feedback and design commentary
I think that map objectives are currently the weakest part of the Atlas experience. Army battles feel very fun, units feel fun, creating interesting compositions with teammates feels fun. I enjoy playing the game a great deal - but I also admit that the objectives on the map feel somewhat restrictive and occasionally stagnant. I want to highlight what I feel the goal of Atlas objectives should be, why I think there are some issues currently, and what I'd suggest to fix it.
Goals of Map Objectives
- Give players a reason to engage the enemy
- Encourage movement around the map and interaction with the map
- Create opportunities to outwit the opponent
- Give tools for mounting comebacks or extending a lead
- Create multiple types of conflicts
- 1v1s, 2v2s, 3v3s, flanking scenarios, late arrivals, poke wars
- Different types of objectives invite different types of battles
- Different rewards invite different levels of commitment
- Encourage armies/teams to split up
- Encourage armies/teams to come together
- Give fun things to do between fights with the opponent
- Create tension
What's wrong with Atlas objectives?
Atlas has figured out how to bring teams together for big, fun 3v3 battles. What it hasn't figured out how to do is encourage armies to split up for lots of interesting 1v1/2v2 battles and flanking opportunities. Most missed opportunities seem to stem from this.
- Movement around the map feels too strictly determined by the current objective set and spawn timers
- Very limited free movement between good teams - take safe objectives solo, dangerous objectives together
- Do things IMMEDIATELY when they spawn - not having to choose between things very often
- Illusion of choice but without too much illusion - take the medium camp, or do nothing? Not a hard decision
- Much harder to outwit the opponent when they know exactly what you want to do since objectives pop at the same time for everyone
- Also since teams are rarely split up for important objectives, how do you outwit a prepared 3-man army?
- Limited opportunities for smart strategic play when knowing what the opponent wants to do doesn't give a clear advantage
- Current objective set almost always encourages 3v3 play, especially by the first titan
- No good reason to be caught alone since a few units can farm low-impact side lanes
- Most objectives can be farmed with a retreat path
- Not enough things to do on the map to encourage team to split up
- Even when splitting up is possible, the rewards aren't high enough to justify possibly eating a 3v1 or 3v2
- Relatively little 2v2 or 1v1 situations past the first Titan - less variety in battles and encourages homogeneity in army comps
- Skirmish/flanking squads less useful
- 1v1 specialty squads less useful
- High-mobility objective-takers deprecated
- Since there are few reasons to be alone in a side lane, less chances to poke at enemy base
- This is an entire and fun avenue of play that isn't explored in the current build because being alone in a side lane seems fairly pointless
- If you aren't travelling with the team you're falling behind on objectives and probably losing important fights
- The side lanes often barely feel like they exist outside of Hard spawns - this feels bad!
- Some of the most fun points of conflict are base fights that don't involve titans - but these happen too rarely because army balls are so big and constant
- There seem to be far too many safe objectives
- Too close to base
- Protected by towers
- Even if towers are knocked down, they are too far from enemy base to safely take
- Even if they were, they are too low-impact to justify
- All this hearkens back to the poor outcome derived from splitting up into smaller squads - splitting army results in LESS high-impact objectives rather than more
- A one-man squad can't really damage the enemy's plans outside of killing a side tower early
- Nothing else that's high-impact to kill or claim
- Sending one dude to clear a camp after a really good titan push doesn't really count - this isn't really an interactive process and doesn't carry any tension/create conflict, it's just cleanup, and you know where the enemy is
How can we fix this?
I think Energy Generators had the right idea to start with. For anyone who wasn't around during closed Alpha, killing creep camps left behind Generators which gave energy over time to the person who claimed them. These could be harassed and killed by enemy troops, giving a legitimate reason to travel into the enemy's backfield and interact with their side of the map.
The implementation of Generators left a lot to be desired - capping enemy generators from camps they killed was kind of dumb, and the lack of tooltips or clear graphical cues made it impossible to tell exactly what the generators were even doing. But the seeds of interaction were planted, and a single person could cause problems running around a backfield.
Most of my suggestions below are rooted in this early experience. I'm not suggesting they all be implemented, just that each is a thing to consider!
- Add some sort of generator mechanic at a few camps scattered across the map
- Generators are guarded by a medium-strength creep camp - early on should require a little coordination to kill, later can be soloed
- Capping them requires clearing the camp and maybe a capture zone/timer
- Once capped, a new group of FRIENDLY creeps spawns to guard the camp from the other team
- Taking control/killing a generator is not instantaneous and thus invites risk, but successfully taking one demands a tangible response or concession
- Can't be taken with just 2-3 random units - requires a small army or specialty units to capture and thus a real commitment
- Taking the enemy's generator doesn't destroy it - it CAPTURES it. Now they have to respond to your aggression by taking it back! It's easier for them, since it's closer to their base than yours, but it's still a distraction and can lead to traps/flanks/fights
- Generators need to be VERY CLEAR what they are giving - big popup text on gain, tooltips, etc. Was way too hard before to understand the mechanic
- Creep wave spawns from timed objectives
- This is a simple mechanic that I think HotS got right
- Creep wave spawns encourage people to interact with the side lanes
- Give you the ability to time waves to distract from other objectives
- Allow split pushing and encourage smaller skirmishes
- Rewards a team for clearing side-lane critters, which might otherwise slow down creep waves
- Rewards a team for having squads that can split off and help support a creep wave push <== less homogeneity in armies
- Can punish a team for going all-in center <==== Very little in place to do this currently
- Suggestion: Creep wave spawns for side lanes akin to Juggernauts or (maybe more interesting) high-dps but weak waves that you can tank for and are great at tower-busting - this especially encourages teams to split up and gives you something risky but powerful to do if you can't win Titan
- This also gives cool ways to push a base outside of Titan spawns. One player sets up siege while another grabs a creep wave? Awesome, risky, interactive!
- "Red/Blue Buff"-styled spawns that make you better at killing Titans/towers
- These wouldn't give an advantage in direct combat but could make you better at either split pushing or claiming a Titan
- Not sure how this could be implemented but seems promising to explore
These are some early ideas I have been juggling. I'd love to see more from everyone else!
Challenges to Implementing New Objectives
Good news: the two most important obstacles to adding new objectives not only help cancel each other out, they actually help address a fairly frequent gripe of a subset of testers!
I approve this thread!
I agree with pretty much all the issues here. Having multiple ways to end the game is a staple of RTS games, and that is also something HotS (MOBA) got right and I love (mentioned by tedster earlier). Making the map bigger, adding more objectives (minor to the main objective, but still something worthy to take none the less if ignored by the enemy team), and arranging the map to allow team splits would help this game improve a lot.
There are some aspects of the game in which I don't agree with @tedster but I think he's onto something in this case. In particular I've been mulling over whether a larger map is needed for a while now. One of the reasons is that it doesn't feel like you have many options out there while playing. There aren't that many avenues for an attack where you have to think "oh man that came out of NOWHERE I wasn't paying attention!". Generally you can kind of tell where everyone on the opposing team is based on where they're not (that is, you don't have to see them directly to get a good guess as to where they are or what they're doing).
It's nice from a defender's shoes, in a way, because it's harder to be out of position and really get punished for it. But from the attacker's shoes it doesn't ever feel like "hey, they're tied up with X, because they're not paying attention I'll do THIS to screw with them!". The pacing of the games feels like it's dictated to me by what's going on in the map - for the record, this is one reason I dislike HotS as compared with Dota 2, and right now GoA feels even more "on rails". I don't tend to get that forced-paced feeling in War3 or SC2 either - even when games play out similarly, it's because of the player's choosing, not because of the game itself.
Ironically enough, this is something I miss from the old map (circa TW2'ish). I liked the 2v2 and 1v1 dynamics that came about, and I felt like I could get an advantage fighting in one area enough to jump elsewhere and do the SURPRISE MUTHAPLUCKA WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT FLANKIN' SCUTTLEBROS move and such. Now, not so much.
You bring up a wonderful point: "If ignored by the enemy team".
Right now there is nothing I am aware of to punish an enemy team if for example they never, ever set foot in the top lane. They can just claim the bottom lane to get equivalent resources and defend their production buildings near their main base cluster while contesting titans. Sure, you can plant an engineer or whatever there but there's plenty of time to chase those down as a team and eventually they have to push into the enemy base (or middle of the map) to hit high-impact buildings, so the gains are limited. They can also just make 1 engineer to repair buildings and ignore this stuff entirely.
This is a big part of why small skirmishes past the early game are so rare - why risk going alone to do something in top lane when A.) the rewards aren't particularly good and B.) sticking with your team gets you about the same result?
I would absolutely love to have objectives that punished people for this kind of tunnel vision rather than rewarding (or at least supporting) it!
+1 to all the discussion in this thread.
Updated with a quick set of thoughts about "safe" objectives
hey tedster (and everyone else)!
as always, quality feedback - i love to see how much you guys are digging into the mechanics and dissecting what's working for you and what could use some love.
your analysis of what the map objectives are intended to do is spot on, and i completely agree that the current objectives (and their timings) currently create too much rigidity and forced grouping. most of our high level players opt for fairly strict circuits for their games, which is satisfying to execute to a point, but can quickly stale.
totally on the same page that we'd like to encourage more splitting, make the side lanes more important, and make decision making a little messier.
as for solutions, we've already been talking about some short/long term solutions internally. per usual, you're completely on point here - everything you've suggested has been discussed and/or outright tested! i'll give some quick notes on the things you suggested, and we'll keep them in the discussion as we move forward.
energy generators were certainly interesting, but we ultimately didn't like how indirect the reward felt to secure. they felt fun to pick off, but in the couple weeks we were testing with it, we never saw anyone actually make an interesting defense of their generators (in large part due to other issues in the game). and so the main impact was that most people just sort of randomly would get HUGE chunks of energy if their opponents weren't active about harassing, which seemed a bit odd. with that said, they might be interesting to explore in a more minimized setting - if there could only be a couple of generators on the map at once, instead of literally one at every camp.
creep waves are interesting - and maybe unsurprisingly, we've tested several forms of this in the past. i think it has potential, but we'd want to be very careful about the particulars of the push reward. it should be meaningfully different from the titan, not happening too frequently (remember our constant titan pushfests?), and the reward should be low unit count (minion waves with multiple armies felt awkward in the past). this could be something like a camp in the side that grants you a slow moving siege cannon.
army buffs are another thing we've discussed - it's absolutely an interesting avenue to explore, since it offers a different flavor than the titan. we'd have to be careful to make sure the buffs affect army-on-army battles in a meaningful, intuitive, and fair manner.
beyond that, we're also interested in leveraging mercenaries here. if players can create meaningful threats with juggernauts/engineers/etc., then this could open up more opportunities to split. i think there are a number of values we'll need to tweak to try to get more out of this.
so completely agreed across the board - we've got a lot of other things to tackle, but we're hoping to start making changes in this direction!
My biggest issue with mercs is that this still doesn't really encourage armies to be doing risky, rewarding things in the side lanes. I like mercs a lot! But they're very frequently "fire and forget" and while they encourage the enemy team to go deal with them they don't necessarily create new and exciting situations to do so. They also can be countered by having an engineer to repair, or often by a few skirmish/long range units.
They also do a set, predictable thing, which means less interesting/unexpected army movement than regular objectives might encourage. I don't know - I think they're good, but I don't think they solve or address this specific problem.
I agree with some of the generator issues you mentioned - I think in part this could be aided by having less generators, in part by having the gain be more continuous rather than bursty - but still significant. Enough that holding an enemy generator for 1-2+ minutes feels really good, and creates an uncomfortable itch of "man, we really need to go get that back" in the team that is down a generator. I don't think that avenue has been explored yet, but it could be interesting.
A thought that I want to float out there is that I believe players are encouraged to spend too long in the center lane - side lane rewards notwithstanding. The ratio of "must-be-center" time feels quite high, and that's ok right now because there's not a lot to do elsewhere, but also probably restrictive on what CAN be implemented.
If anything, I think you want to encourage people to be in the side lanes as much as possible, because going side lane is a lot more work than going center. Here's a few points as to why I feel this way:
Implications! Roaming objective density limiting side lane opportunity!
If the side lane isn't at least as attractive as the center lane, people just aren't going to go there alone, or even at all unless a really good objective has just spawned. So we are left with a set of features that encourage team deathballing:
Points 3 and 4 are big deals! In a MOBA, you can have 1 dude jungling and realistically clear all your camps while also farming resources in lane. The jungler is gaining resources at a somewhat slower rate, but you're maximizing your gains while the people in lane get the big money. In Atlas, however, it's completely the opposite - most resource games come from safe camps that dominate the map, enough so that it can keep a whole team busy. I don't know if this dynamic makes sense.
Imagine if there were enough camps for 1 player to clear while the other two were mostly encouraged to participate in the side lanes, with everyone taking occasional jaunts to the middle (and sometimes gathering for the titan). This would be much closer to a standard 5v5 MOBA experience with regards to positioning (though the center lane might feel somewhat barren) and involve much more small battles, flanks, and jumps.
I don't know how you might achieve this sort of goal - honestly, with the side lanes as long as they are compared to the center, this could be pretty tough to balance. But it represents a slightly more compelling vision of game flow, to me, so it's interesting to consider what it might look like.
I think the current state of the map is somewhat a symptom of the identity crisis that the game is having. Don't get me wrong, I really don't like the "it feels more like a MOBA than an RTS" statements as this game is trying to be its own FUN thing without getting shoe-horned into a particular game type. However, the underlying principle is that there is no significant disadvantage to not knowing what your enemy is up to.
In a MOBA, not knowing what your enemy is doing may provide them uncontested jungling time or you may unwittingly walk into their trap if they're setting up an ambush (ala the classic calling "missing" in lanes).
In an RTS, not knowing what your enemy is doing may let them bring up an army composition that you're ill equipped to fight, either due to the number or nature of the units. It may also allow them to farm resources from an expansion that goes unchallenged.
These things are important, not only because it forces better players to be more active on the map in order to use the awareness properly, but because it offers alternate means of victory. In Dota 2, you can be ahead in kills 25-5 and foolishly thinking "we're ahead, just have to stay ahead"...and then because you weren't aggressive enough, the enemy Anti-mage became your worst nightmare and started one-shotting everyone, allowing them back into the game. In an RTS, you might be fighting to keep someone pinned in but suddenly, a ling run-by does huge damage because you failed to spot another base (or alternately, they tech up to something that's a threat to you).
I've stated previously that I'm not a fan of the side-lane critter spawns because conceptually, they're virtually identical to the camps already in the game. I'd love to be able to, say, fight and hold an area and have it continually grant me some kind of resource bonus as a reward for holding it. That would create an interesting choice - well the titans are up, do we spend time fighting there? Or do we take over the resource-generating area from the opponent? Is the short-term gain enough to help us overcome the long-term loss?
It would also create interesting "oh shit, while we were tied up there, they split off some units and took that resource-generating area for themselves!" scenario. However, these types of theoretical situations only work if the map is big enough and there are enough tactical points of interest to where it's not just the 1-2 important areas to watch/be in. It also offers more opportunities to come from behind, IMO.
Too be quite honest I miss the old triple lane titan system, map control was so important and even if you were behind you could take favorable fights by getting 3v2's or 3v1's. In the current iteration if is far harder to gain positioning advantages as it is usually best to stay together as a 3 man team for fights, only splitting up for safe farming.
I just came up with a titan mechanic that could help solve some problems with titanfight and dps race.
Give your titan an armor\resistance buff when you have units nearby. This should be working while the titan is both in active and passive state.