In this special League of Legends two-part feature, we talk with Riot Games about the new Twisted Treeline map and more in today's Q&A. Tomorrow, we offer a hands-on preview of Twisted Treeline's gameplay.
Last September, in our original League of Legends closed-beta preview, we praised the MMORTS hybrid as a particularly bright shining star in the burgeoning MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game genre. Influenced by the cult-classic DotA (Defense of the Ancients) gameplay, the free-to-play League of Legends is still maintaining its post-launch momentum, as we explained in our retrospective "Growing Up All On Its Own" feature story. Since then, the developers at Riot Games finally unveiled the long-awaited "Twisted Treeline" map, which introduced 3v3 teaming and facilitates new gameplay strategies.
Lately, players could only access the Twisted Treeline map in "Practice" mode, but as you're about to discover in our following Q&A with Richard Hough, Associate Technical Director at Riot Games, the wait is finally over…the new map, for "Matchmaking" mode, was released just yesterday! In our Q&A, we ask Hough about the new gameplay and Champion strategies that Twisted Treeline brings to the table, and the ongoing "balancing act" to maintain it. We also sneak in a few commonly-asked questions raised by the player community about future maps, additional game modes and extra Rune/Mastery pages. In this special two-part feature, we decided to play a few Twisted Treeline matches to get a first-hand impression of the new 3v3 gameplay. Click past the jump to read our Q&A with Hough, and check back tomorrow for ZAM's Twisted Treeline gameplay preview.
ZAM: What motivated Riot to design the new Twisted Treeline map, as opposed to any other potential ideas? What were the defining characteristics that convinced the developers to choose the style, player size and layout of this map?
Richard Hough: A number of different motivations drove the development of Twisted Treeline, but primarily we wanted to create a shorter, more condensed League of Legends experience. When production began to ramp up on Twisted Treeline, a typical game of 5v5 on Summoner's Rift would last roughly 40 to 45 minutes. While 45 minutes felt like a good pace for that map, for many it was too much of a time commitment to really play more than one game a night. Furthermore, many of our players who play with premade groups of friends would not play if they could only find two friends as opposed to a full group. Creating a smaller 3v3 map balanced for 20- to 25-minute games seemed like a natural way to cater to those players' needs and effectively kill two birds with one stone.
Beyond the desire to create a faster, more concise League of Legends experience, a number of other ancillary influences fed into the design of Twisted Treeline. For instance, given the success of the jungle remake in Summoner's Rift, we wanted to try and create a map with a much larger focus on the non-laning experience. We also wanted to toy with having a map that was symmetric across only one axis as opposed to two; something that is relatively rare in the MOBA genre.
ZAM: So far, do you think you accomplished that goal (providing a faster-paced, action-oriented map with less downtime)?
Hough: Yes! The new map was received particularly well by the players I mentioned earlier, and in general we do see games on Twisted Treeline averaging around the goal of 25 minutes of game time. Games are tight, fast and intense, and we think more of our gamers will notice the improvements and be very happy with the pacing.
ZAM: When it comes to everything "under the hood" like balance and gameplay mechanics, what are a few of the most challenging issues the developers faced (or are still facing) with this 3v3 map, as opposed to the original 5v5?
Hough: Hmm…Off hand I can think of three different map-specific issues that we've run into in transitioning from a longer 5v5 experience to a more condensed 3v3 on a smaller map. The first issue, and one we're still struggling with today, is the balance of towers on Twisted Treeline. Tower balance in general is something that's proved quite the challenge for us even on Summoner's Rift. While we've finally been able to settle on a balance that is close to what we want for that map, that balance really was struck only after almost half a year of very map specific tweaks and timings. Some of the lessons we learned were still applicable when we created the towers in Twisted Treeline (passive backdoor defense bonuses, defenses that grow and then fade with time, scaling damage, etc.), but finding the right numbers to plug into those systems has actually been quite challenging.
A second difficult issue was properly adjusting the death timers for the shorter game length and smaller map size. In Summoner's Rift the death timers are handled via a combination of your Champion's level and the total game time. This same approach was applied to Twisted Treeline, but after a few games it was readily apparent that more was necessary than simple number tweaks. As an example, the original formula too heavily weighted Champion level given the faster leveling curve of Twisted Treeline, and as a result players could find their death timers increasing by 500 percent from one death to the next. Another tricky death timer issue was the relative impact a single person has defensively in a 3v1 versus a 5v1 scenario. Since we want Aces (full team kills) to be generally game-swinging events, and pushing with two or three players is slower than with four or five, it was necessary to keep the death timer scaling high so that a quick single player respawn would not halt an entire push. However, being dead is pretty boring (and frequently infuriating), so it was a struggle to find the smallest times we could use that still allowed for solid pushes.
A third issue that we faced in development, but were later able to solve, is the timing and size of creep waves. At first blush this sounds like a small variable to focus on, but one would be amazed how much of a difference even slight changes can have. Even a single second shaved off of the wave timer drastically affects the overall gold rate, experience rate and pushability of the lane. I specifically remember two playtests where a three-second difference in spawn rate swung the pendulum from Champions being completely unable to push towers to minions grouping together and forming super push waves. It was a pretty eye-opening experience for me as a designer, honestly.
ZAM: Despite the fact that Champions often fill different roles depending on things like map layout and team composition, should every Champion be able to compete equally in each map? Or is the game "working as intended" if certain Champions always perform better in a specific map (as illustrated by "tier rankings" forum threads like this one for Twisted Treeline, for example)?
Hough: This is perhaps the trickiest issue that the design team faces as new maps are developed. How does one balance Champions across multiple maps, especially ones as divergent as Twisted Treeline and Summoner's Rift? Is it even possible? For instance, take any character with a built-in short range teleport—say Kassadin, as an example. On Summoner's Rift these enemies can often escape encounters by teleporting over walls, but due to the large number of entrances into the forest opponents still have a chance to cut them off. In Twisted Treeline the entrances to the forest are fewer and further apart, so if a player is capable of jumping over a wall it's usually nigh impossible to catch them. As another example, Warwick has an ability that allows him to reveal nearby players if they are below a certain life percentage. On Summoner's Rift the area of that effect is large enough to allow Warwick to control one of the four jungles, but on Twisted Treeline the same skill effectively provides vision of all the major chokepoints on the map at once.
As a design team I think we've generally decided that yes, it's okay for Champions to perform much better on one map than another, but we also want to make sure that no Champion completely runs amuck. If a Champion reveals themselves to be overpowered on Twisted Treeline it's entirely possible that those same Champions are also overpowered in specific situations on Summoner's Rift, even though that situation might occur less often. Those types of problems fortunately can be solved on a point by point basis as they occur.
ZAM: Speaking of balance, is it the reason why Twisted Treeline still isn't offered in "matchmaking" mode?
Hough: The delays to Twisted Treeline in getting into matchmaking generally come from two main concerns. One issue is map balance; [questions like] "are we happy with the game length, are certain Champions too OP, what do we think about death timers," etc. The second issue relates to the platform and matchmaking system itself. Supporting divergent matchmaking queues in a distributed system is no easy task, particularly if you want a feature-rich and robust implementation. Our engineers did a great job getting the system ready for Twisted Treeline, and we think our fans will be very happy with the changes once they get in and start playing.
ZAM: And when might that be, as many players are wondering?
Hough: When can they start playing, you ask? Well, how about right now! We are very proud to say that Twisted Treeline is now available in matchmaking!