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The Evolutionary Stagnation of Game Design

Thoughts on DotA 2's lack of change in its new 'iteration' and a quick exploration of the concept of Design Evolution.

Tejas Oza, Blogger

August 20, 2011

5 Min Read

In one of my previous articles, I had mentioned or rather, alluded to the notion of Darwinian Design Theory. At the time, I assumed that the term was self explanatory but currently feel the need to elaborate for the sake of this article and seeing as how it describes my outlook on game development, worth exploring.

Forging onwards, as the term suggests, Darwinian Design Theory is what I call the need of game design to evolve. Yeah, that’s it. Really. Think Darwinian Theory and replace the word ‘species’ with ‘Game Design’. The way I see it, Game Design ought to evolve and when it fails to, the mechanic in question will either die or eventually be forced to evolve by a legion of disgruntled fans that, in our case, takes on the role of Nature. A chill slides down my spine as that last sentence visualizes in my mind. Imagine the planet’s collective nerd rage, personified and prancing about calling developers ‘noobs’ while tea bagging them.

I might want to reiterate this Theory later on. For the moment, I’ll suffer the mental imagery and push on.

So, DotA 2, huh?

I’ve been a long standing fan of the MoBA genre. I’ve written about its influence on the Indian Gaming scene often and find myself following the genre’s progress.

Allow me to recap events till date before I continue.

To make this as brief as possible – Valve had bought the rights to make DotA 2 some time back. They’ve been working on the revamp for an uncertain amount of time and apart from clues and rumors regarding their acquisition of the elusive IceFrog, they finally announced the game late last year.

Skipping over the news starved interim, we arrive at the present day. The game is being premiered for the first time at GamesCon, Cologne, Germany. If you weren’t already salivating for news, the knowledge that a 1 million dollar prize pool was being offered in the tournament used to premiere the game would have surely garnered your attention.

Curiosity being my greatest flaw that I am proud of, I kept an eye out for any news I could find regarding the game. The trailer they released a few days ago was admittedly badass. Badassery aside, it was a preview of the disappointment I felt after a glance at the gameplay.

Honestly, the game is nothing more than DotA + Graphics. In fact, they could have just called it DotA Plus for all the difference it made. Aren’t sequels meant to carry forward a story or premise? True, DotA never had a story to begin with but maybe I hoped for something to be carried forward. Obviously, hoping was wrong. Maybe they’re going the Call of Duty way? But then, that’s harsh. At least each new installment/replica of Call of Duty has a new story and levels apart from just better graphics. Hey, they get to keep the ‘sequel’ status for carrying the story forward if nothing else.

Heroes of Newerth did the same. I could, were leniency an aspect of my persona, cut them some slack for having at least implemented a better interface and a matching making system but alas, no dice. DotA 2 is just another HoN.

This is where I have a problem.

Valve and IceFrog had an opportunity of doing what League of Legends and Blood Lines Champions are doing – evolving the game. Both are moving in different directions. Both are great games and have their merits and faults. The important thing here, however, is that both attempt to push the genre forward in terms of mechanics and game play. They evolve the gameplay.

DotA2 is design stagnation.

“Don’t fix it, if it ain’t broken,” you say? That’s true, but who’s to say that the game isn’t broken? It’s a bold claim, sure. DotA has a fan following to be reckoned with, it’s a game that has spawned spin offs based off the same idea and its survived years of play. A broken game couldn’t have lasted so long, right?

What if one adapted to difficulty? The Allegory of the Cave might be a little high brow for this discussion, but it’s the first thing to come to mind. The player base has played nothing else and therefore they know of no other possibilities. Presenting a new argument is met with the same resistance that any form of change is met with. That last statement seems to hold true for a lot of things, actually but that’s an entirely different article. The point being, gamers don’t always know what they want. Change may be resisted at first but it manages to win the best of us over if it is indeed good.

So, what do we currently have? We have a game that failed to evolve because of a fan base that could have been lost had the game changed.

Is it not the responsibility of the designers, the game makers to push gameplay forward? To constantly innovate in the hopes of creating that one perfect game? Or am I just being an idealist... or perhaps just getting worked up over nothing?

DotA 2 took the easy way out. In my eyes, it took the safest route to making a game while ensuring that profits could be had. Valve bought a name and revamped a classic and attempts to market it as a new release. It pains me that the developers for the game had been presented with an opportunity to make the game better than it already was but chose to forgo it. Perhaps the decision wasn’t entirely theirs… either way, someone in the chain of command chose a financial opportunity over a design based one. If this is what our industry is coming to, I fear for Game Design as a whole.

When a game isn’t allowed to evolve, it will eventually die. There will be no farewell party, no sweet goodbyes. Just a collective sigh as a disgruntled ‘Nature’ watches a failed mutation wither and die.

[You can find more opinion pieces that masquerade around as proper articles (and other random finds!) on my blog - www.cantgame.blogspot.com]

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