As action-RTS Heroes of Newerth prepares to introduce new features and a few surprises at Dreamhack , Director of Operations Brad Bower talked to us about how S2 is developing the game by providing more effective teaching tools for new players.
He explained how HoN's mentoring system mimics the way we tend to learn games from friends in real-life, and how HoN's updates will make the client itself a learning resource for new players.
PCG: How's mentoring going to work?
Brad Bower: Right now, HoN is a game that has a very steep learning curve. You'll play the game, and you'll realize the minute you play it that it has some of the most amazing gameplay that you could ask for in a game. But then you realize that the learning curve is so steep that a lot of players are left wondering, "Should I even put up with it? Is it worth it?"
So we're trying to show them, yeah, it's definitely worth it, and make it easier for you to get into it.
PCG: Be honest here: is one of the reasons it's hard for a new guy to get into the game the legendary intolerance for the new guy who needs to be told what to do? Have you run into this problem with HoN?
Bower: I think it's a fact in all of these games. Anything in the ARTS or MOBA genre, you're in a game for upwards of 45 minutes playing with a team, and you want everything to go well when you're playing it. You live for those big moments that happen in the game, and it's rough when someone else is weighting you down.
PCG: So how is the mentor-student matchmaking going to work? What are the logistics?
Bower: Basically, it's encouraging a friend to help another friend learn the game. The best way to describe it is, when we were thinking of it, we realized how you would stand behind someone in the office and be like, "No, no, you should be buying this item instead of this one." Or, "You should go to this lane here instead of where you were going." A lot of helping over the shoulder. I know for me personally, I was taught by everyone in this office as they would watch me play and give me advice. And that's really how the mentoring will work.
It's a live feed, a one-to-one live real-time feed of the student's monitor. You're watching the other person play, and you're tied into their screen. You can see everything is if you were that player. It's very much like the experience of standing behind someone and helping them as they learn and move along in the game.
PCG: If you have friends in the community, friends generally do that already. That's how you get into any RTS. Friends give you pointers, they get on Skype and talk you through it. One reason that communities become inaccessible is that new gamers maybe don't have connections inside the game. What mechanism is going to connect well-meaning veterans with novices?
Bower: That's one of the cool things about our community is that we have members that already do this. We have a clan that is there to help with mentoring and we've already talked to them. They're planning on ramping up as the mentoring/spectating is put in. They're planning on really showing off how good this community can be, and how helpful it can be. And with our newsletter we'll be pointing new people to this clan.
So we're looking to the community to be a big factor here.
PCG: Now ideally, a good deed is its own reward. But is HoN/S2 going to offer anything to gamers who become good mentors?
Bower: Well, with the clan that I'm speaking of in particular, we do have a nice deal set up where we are paying them with in-game currency and exclusive gifts to show them that we appreciate what they are doing in taking new players under their wings.
PCG: When does this feature go live?
Bower: We are planning on a December 9 release date.
Now, another feature we're bringing out is what we're calling the HoN TV feature. We're basically going to be allowing broadcasts to played in-game. Shoutcasts, user streams, YouTube videos that teach players how to play, new characters when they are released... all of that will now be streaming in the HoN client. It'll be out just in time for Dreamhack, so we're looking forward to showing off all the great matches at Dreamhack this year. We'll also be hoping to show off mentoring during that as well.
PCG: So you're moving all the tools that players will need to get up to speed and develop their play in-game?
Bower: That's kind of one of our goals. We would like for players to be able to access everything in-game. We want to make it so players can find all the information they need within the client. And I think the HoN TV feature is going to be a huge push in that direction.
Another part that comes with mentoring is spectating. Right now in HoN, if you are joining a public match before it starts, you are able to observe it. What mentoring will allow is if you sign in, and I think this happens to everyone, your friend is in the middle of a game and you're left deciding if you sit around and wait for him, or do you start a match without him.
Mentoring allows friends to spectate each other. You'll be able to see that player's screen, and watch them play, and entertain yourself. I've been using it, and I've found myself watching as many matches as I've been playing.
PCG: So I understand you are also introducing a new hero soon?
Bower: Yeah, we have a hero coming; I'm not going to say too much about him, but he's a hero that takes many forms. His name has definitely come up in the past, so the community should have fun trying to guess at that.