The past week has had me consumed with lane design. I feel like I'm going to end up writing a longer article about this topic at some point, but hey: why not share the journey in-progress? That's what dev blogs are for!
So let us begin. I attribute a lot of value to lanes. They define the genre, and comprise a large portion of what heroes spend their time doing throughout a match. A well-designed laning experience is crucial; more at the heart of the game than even hero design.
There are many variables to consider:
- What is the width and length of the lane?
- What troops spawn, and in what quantities and frequencies?
- How do players interact with them?
- Do special troops arrive?
- What rewards do we offer?
- Are all lanes identical?
Think about having a blank map in front of you. How would you answer these questions?
Of course, there are plenty of established answers: we are all familiar with last-hits, denies, aggro behaviours, siege troops, etc.
As a mod, RoW had none of the above. The troops were asymmetric and had passive abilities, bonus gold would occasionally drop on the ground, and while troops always prioritised heroes last: their attack damage was substantial.
In the time since, my ideas for the surrounding game systems have evolved a lot, as have standards for lane design. I'm now looking at their purpose from more angles: the second to second, minute to minute, and their overall contribution to strategy. Lanes should be rich.
That said: even if I know the results I want, it's a tough process iterating towards them. So much of what defines modern standards came from emergent behaviours; designing systems of equivalent depth from scratch would be no small feat.
Thankfully there is a great place to seek answers: old lane-pushing games! So much of RoW's design already stands on the shoulders of underappreciated giants. I took a tour through my maps folder, and amongst the games I looked at:
- There could be anything from three to eight troops in each wave.
- Sometimes the ranged troop would meander to the front, other times troops would march in rigid formation.
- Troops occasionally have spells which they use, including ones which summon more troops.
- Wave spawn frequency could be anywhere from 25 to 60 seconds.
- Some games use a tic-toc rhythm with a big wave, small wave, big wave, etc.
- Hiring reinforcements, troop upgrades, and many other features could change troop composition.
Being able to load up and observe a wide variety of empty lanes and how they flow is just great for inspiring the right direction in which to experiment next.
And how nice to be at a point in development where we have all the tools needed for iterating. I can draw and tweak splines which troops will follow; attacks and abilities are easy to adjust, objectives are in, and our 5v5 map is starting to feel a little bit like home.
The tricky part is going to be tuning: ensuring that the second to second meshes with the minute to minute, which meshes with grander strategic agency. And, I am pleased to say in response to some sage advice in our discord, that lanes are definitely going to look different to what you're used to.
European Games Week (which we mentioned last time) was sadly cancelled at the last minute! The Irish gamedev community ended up putting on some smaller, replacement events, which was great to see - especially since several people had booked flights to be able to attend. Alas, no pictures of me babbling about the game this time!