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While successful in its own right, Heroes of Newerth has long subsided in the shadow of Riot Games’ League of Legends. The two have battled it out for the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) crown almost entirely unopposed (although Valve Software’s Dota 2 and Monolith’s Guardians of Middle-Earth are looking to diversify the competition). Now, developer S2 games is looking to inject a deluge of new features into its free-to-play MOBA.
Deemed Heroes of Newerth 3.0, the sizable update goes live at 9 p.m. PST today. Shiny new visuals, the implementation of bots, and an improved system for policing abusive players round out the highlights.
GamesBeat met up with S2 Games content manager Ryan McDaniel and Nathan Garcia and Laura Baker from the marketing team to discuss each of the new features and what it means for the future of Heroes of Newerth.
Up until now, Newerth has not included bots (A.I.-controlled allies and enemies). Though Newerth’s rivals all include bots, they do everything in their power to encourage players to avoid them and stick to non-bot matches. S2 Games is looking to rectify both of these issues in 3.0.
“[Players will still] earn rewards from playing the bot matches,” says McDaniel. “They’re not going to be punished for playing bots instead of people. We even have some special match rewards that are designed only for people playing bot matches. There’s some extra incentive to go try the mode out and see how you like it.”
Although the implementation of bots is aimed at giving new players a chance to learn the game at their own pace and avoid the notoriously aggressive MOBA community, should they want to, S2 Games is adding a deeper layer to ensure that the bots stay interesting and competitive for any level of player — modding.
“Our bot community is going to be a little bit unique in the genre,” says McDaniel, “in that we’re going to open our bot code up to the community and let them mod and create their own A.I. for bots. We already have a small group working behind the scenes on that, community members that are really interested. They’re going to be our ambassadors to the rest of the community, to bring that to them.”
I brought up the custom A.I. that has been featured in recent fighting games like the Tekken and Virtua Fighter series, wherein the development studios modeled computer-controlled opponents after the playstyle of professional gamers or staff members. S2 Games confirmed that something akin to that is completely within the scope of what’s possible with the new custom bots. “We’ve had A.I. guys on our team who have been working on this for well over a year,” says Garcia. “Originally we didn’t know quite how far we could go. For this initial offering, we wanted to start with, ‘OK, this is an entry-level tool to help people get accustomed to the game.’ But we want to create this community outside of that tool, where people can get into the code and change the behaviors of these bots so that they can make it into whatever they can focus on the most. The end goal would be to see bot versus bot matches, or to see someone create a MoonMeander bot or another high-profile competitive player bot that you could play against and test your skills that way.”
2. The Learnatorium
As a supplement to the bots, S2 Games is focusing on a new feature called The Learnatorium to help players seamlessly learn the intricacies of the game. Although the basics of a MOBA are easy to grasp, its many additional layers and advanced techniques can be a bit overwhelming. While The Learnatorium sounds like you’ll be spending a lot of time reading giant walls of text, S2 Games designed it to be far more accessible.
“No, it’s all video,” McDaniel says. “It’s streaming in-game videos [that will] allow you to click on Learnatorium, click on the particular profile you want to take a look at, view that, and then you can go into a practice game and try out those techniques if you want. They’re not just the basic techniques. There’s more advanced techniques, like jungling, creep-stacking, things like that. Because of the nature of it, it gives us infinite expandability. If there’s a demand from the community for X-Y-Z as a tutorial-style piece, we can put that in, too. In addition, the Learnatorium will include all the normal pieces we have in our Herodex and our Itemdex now, to give you the ability to jump in and learn about all the different abilities that the heroes have, or their stats or their progression. You can see that. You’re not losing anything in there. We’re just putting it all underneath the one Learnatorium banner. It’s pretty exciting.”
3. Improved visuals
This one’s probably best illustrated rather than explained. Luckily, S2 Games has put together three videos detailing the revamped heroes, all-new tower designs, and reimagined map:
Similar to World of Warcraft’s Recruit A Friend system, S2 Games is pushing an enhanced referral feature so players can benefit from either bringing old players back or introducing new friends to Newerth — but with one notable twist. “You’ll be able to earn things like gold coins and exclusive avatars,” McDaniel explains. “But what’s even more exciting, if you bring a lot of friends in, we’ll actually send you gift cards and things in the mail that you can use, hopefully to purchase some HoN merchandise if you want. [Laughs] But you can go ahead and use it for whatever you want. It’s real-world Visa gift cards that will be going out to our player base.”
As mentioned previously, MOBA players can be notoriously unforgiving and abusive toward new players. With two million monthly active users and over 100,000 concurrent players online during peak hours, that’s a lot of potential assholes to deal with. Now any truly heinous players who can’t behave themselves are looking at a very likely banhammer.
“We recognize that not every experience that you have online is going to be the best experience,” says Garcia. “We want to give players simple, easy-to-use tools to be able to police themselves a little better. Say you’re in a game and someone is acting out of line. Someone isn’t playing with the team. This being a team-based game in the first place, you need someone to have your back. We’re offering a two-click system, straight from the U.I., so you’ll be able to click on the person’s avatar icon and put in a report that way. Now, we have a backend system that’s monitoring all of that, and an algorithm that’s sending reports to our GMs. If someone is one-reporting too many people, we’re going to keep monitoring that, and their actual reports won’t mean as much in the end if they’re doing it too often. As well, once an account passes a certain threshold in a certain amount of time, that’s when a GM steps in and bans the account, essentially, or puts a suspension on the account or a mute on the account.”
“Unfortunately, too many players don’t understand how to play casually,” adds McDaniel. “That’s another big focus we actually have in this. Over the last year, we’ve focused a lot on casual modes in any case. We’ve added in a Mid Wars map, which is an extremely popular way to play. It’s just a fun, casual thing. There’s only one lane. Everybody meets in the middle and you bash on each other until you can finally crunch the well.”