DEV DIARY: CHAMPIONS OF THE CONTEST

BUILDING THE BEST CONTEST

KABAM EIN- LEAD CHAMPION DESIGNER

Hey all, Ein here to chat Champions, with a special guest appearance from Kabam Commish! Champions are a huge part of this game, it’s in the name after all! 

For many of us, these characters are much more than just a collection of stats, or a synergy we need to help beat a stubborn Boss. We grew up with these characters, and getting to see them come to life in The Contest has been an amazing journey. When I look back at 5 years worth of Champions I’m astounded at all we’ve gone through together, and I’m excited to share some of what we’ve got planned ahead!

I’m going to talk a little bit about our Future Vision for the Design of Champions in The Contest and updating our existing Champion Roster (including an old favorite). Then I’ll hand off to the Commish to chat a bit about Crystals, and Sig Stones.

So without any further ado, let’s get into it!

CHAMPION DESIGN VISION

As part of getting ready to write this, I took the opportunity to reflect on the past. I wanted to make sure I had a good grasp on where we’re coming from since a course has at a minimum two points: start and end. I learned three major things: 

  1. We’ve seen improvements in our processes at almost every stage of Champion creation.
  2. New Technology and Tools allow us to build a lot more, a lot faster.
  3. While the requirements for a Champion in 2015 were very different from those in 2020, the core goals that every Champion shares aren’t. 

The way we go about making Champions is very different in 2020 than it was in 2015, but we’re still trying to do the same thing we always have. Make fun, unique, and interesting Champions that feel true to their character.

Here’s some insight on some of the considerations we use to make sure we can release two fun and interesting new characters each month.

Why do I want this Champion?

Making Champions More Desirable

This is a big question in our Champion Design Reviews. It can also be hard to answer completely because every answer is contextual to each individual summoner. Do you need a Champ who can Nullify? Or maybe you’re missing a way to deal with Auto-Block? 

While it’s impossible to come up with one forever right answer, there are always specific “pain points” in the game. 

Whether it’s a specific path Boss in Act 6 or a Champ/Node combo in Alliance War, there are fights that are really only addressed by a few Champions in the current roster. We’re working closer than ever before with the rest of the MCoC teams (especially Quest and Alliances), to identify any fights we expect to be particularly challenging. While we’ve always done this, one area where we’ve grown a lot recently is working with our Community Team and the CCP  to make sure our internal evaluation matches our player’s experience. So as the Quests team looks into adjusting things like Act 6, we’ll also be making sure that there are enough tools in your toolbox so as a cunning summoner you can overcome any challenge with the right team! 

Finally, we’ve also got some cool new tech and toys coming down the pipe. But that’s all I’m going to tease for now, as it will be covered in more detail in the next post about the Future, and I don’t want to steal their thunder here.

  • Every Summoner has different wants and needs for their roster.
  • We’re actively sourcing feedback on what fights/abilities need more/better counters, and targeting Champions to help make them valuable to your roster.
  • New tech is coming, stay tuned for the Future post.

Choice doesn’t have to mean Complexity.

Reducing Champion Complexity

We use the phrase “No Champion can be strong if you can’t understand it” a lot. It can be easy to get carried away and try and include all the cool new toys in every Champion. But we also know it can get overwhelming fast! 

The goal should be maximum depth for minimum complexity, but that’s easier said than done.

We’re looking to move more of the complex decision making between picking your team, and starting a fight. Things like Pre-Fight and Cross-Fight Abilities allow for decisions to be made without the time pressure and extra distraction of being mid-fight. Or for your decisions, success, or mistakes to have influence in later fights. 

This gives you more choice but at a moment when you can handle it. 

It’s also incumbent on us to explain how Champions work, and why you might want them. This is one area where working with the Content Creators in the CCP (Content Creator Program) has been immensely helpful! And we’re still continuing to strive to improve with things like the recent Deep Dives with Dorky Diggedy Dave and Kabam John. But it also leads to our next principle.

  • More stuff in a kit isn’t always better (in fact it’s usually worse). Keep it focused, impactful. and easy to understand.
  • We’re moving more of the decision making outside of fights so it’s less stressful, and doesn’t have to be memorized.

Interactive but Predictable.

Consistent Champion Ability Interactions

So much of the fun of The Contest comes from all of the ways Champions interact with each other. But when you start layering Champion Abilities, Synergies, Quest Buffs, and Boosts, the number of potential interactions quickly grows far beyond anyone’s ability to memorize! 

We’re coming at this from two angles. First we need a simple set of rules that can be applied in any situation that will produce consistent results, and we’ve got to make sure we teach all you summoners those rules. Second we’ve got to go back and clean up anything we’ve already built that doesn’t follow those rules. While we’ve gotten far better at being intentional with laying down these rules and sticking to them, we know there are still a lot of older Champions and Abilities which were built with a more “How CAN I do this” attitude, and less of a “How SHOULD I do this” attitude, so we’re going to continue to work through updating all of them as well.  

For example: Is that ability Guaranteed? Or does it have a 100% Chance to Trigger?  The description for that Ability should precisely reflect the way it was built so that you can confidently predict how your Champions will interact with it.

  • Consistency in how new Abilities are Worded and Interact across different Champions/Buffs/Etc.
  • Clear reference for and communication of the rules of the game.
  • Investing in cleaning up of older inconsistent abilities that don’t follow the rules.

Balancing

Some Champions are More Equal than Others

“The requirements for a Champion in 2015 were very different from those in 2020…”. Not only do many older Champions have simpler kits, but they’re also what we would consider today as under-tuned. 

We’ve all felt the sting of working for a month, sometimes much more, finally collecting all those shards, the anticipation watching the faces slide past aaaaaaand… it’s Falcon… The roster will never be perfectly balanced, but opening a Crystal should not be a disheartening experience. While you’re not going to get the Champion you want every time, each Champion should have a place in the game, and there should be value in every pull. 

As the roster continues to grow, we want to make sure that every Champion has its place in the meta. Up until now, the Champions team has generally had to decide between either working on new Champions or updating existing ones. This makes it easy for the updates to get bumped in priority. We’re done splitting focus, and we’ve carved out a strike team within the team to dedicate to this.

But balance means both directions, up and down, otherwise, we run a serious risk of just increasing Champion power forever, which in turn creates a situation where it’s very tempting to create content for only the latest and greatest Champions, leaving the rest of the roster on the bench. 

We know that investing in a new Champion is a big deal, and having some Game Designer come along and change it on you can really hurt. So while it will occasionally be necessary, we’re going to try and avoid it where we can, not going to rush anything, and we’ll make sure we account for the effort you’ve put in to chase and rank up your Champions.

  • Looking to Add Value to Underperforming Champions.
  • Champion Update Strike team to focus just on this.
  • Nerfs will occasionally be necessary.
  • Primary goal is to buff Up the bottom end of the roster before any potential nerfs.

Hopefully, that gives you a little glimpse into some of the considerations we put into every Champion, as well as some of the things we feel are important for us to focus on going forwards. This leads us nicely into our next topic!

BUFF ROADMAP

AKA Champion Tune-Ups

As we just mentioned, we’re getting serious about reinvigorating portions of our roster which have been left to atrophy for too long. 

We’ve carved out a strike-team who will focus entirely on Champion Tune-Ups. What this means in English is that we’re going through the whole roster, and we’re putting all the Champs into 4 categories: 

  1. Balanced – Champions that are “Good Enough for Now”, or better.
  2. Tune-Up – No ability changes just tuning up numbers (Torch or Sentry)
  3. Update – Numbers and Minor Ability Changes but largely the same kit (a la Red Hulk, or Carnage)
  4. Overhaul – Whole new kit time. (Think Hulkbuster or Colossus)

This lets us group Champions by the amount of effort it will take to polish them up and turn them around, and send them back out to you! Which in turn will let the team focus on smaller Tune-Ups while the larger ones take their time to work their way through the full release process: design, approvals, betas, testing, etc. Ultimately our goal is to get as many Champions tuned up and back out into the meta in viable interesting states as possible, as quickly as possible. 

We’re starting out with a three build rotation which will be:

  • Build 1 – 1x Overhaul
  • Build 2 – 1x Tune-Up
  • Build 3 – 1x Update
  • Back to 1 and repeat

And we’re kicking this off with a bang with not 1 but 2 Overhauls, coming out the build after next (End of August)! This is also just the beginning. We’re going to expand the strike team with the target being to allow us to double this cadence (2 of each per build), but we started on the smaller side, so we can start right away! We do plan on some of the Overhauls being Community Choice updates, however we’ll need to balance those against the schedule, as they take quite a bit longer before they actually go live!

Our first full rotation through will be:

  • Build 1: (September, v28.1) – 2x Overhauls: See the next section
  • Build 2: (October, v28.2) – 1x Tune-Up: Punisher 2099
  • Build 3: (November, v29.0) – 2x Updates: Gambit and Falcon

On top of this initial roster of 5 Champions, we’re already laying down early buff designs for the next round of updates! Buffs are coming and our goal is to get to at least 2 Champions per month throughout 2021.

MAGNETO

As we mentioned in the initial prologue the Master of Magnetism is finally getting the Overhaul treatment you’ve been asking for, and he deserves (and needs)! 

We can’t answer any questions on kit specifics yet because we’re still working out the exact details, but we can give you an idea of the general directions. We can, however, answer the question on many people’s minds; “Which Magneto”? Both.

There will not be time to fit in a Beta for them as we’re moving on a pretty aggressive timeline. We are going for a complete ability Overhaul for both Magnetos at the end of August with Magneto focusing his rework on his more villainous side, hunting down both Metal and Heroic Champions, and Magneto (Marvel Now!) embracing his redemptive side using his powers to enhance Heroic and Metal Champions on his team. 

  • We’re giving BOTH Magnetos a full kit overhaul
    • Magneto: Will focus on his villainous side hunting enemy Metal Champions
    • Magneto (Marvel Now!): Will focus his redemptive side enhancing Metal teammates.
  • They’re BOTH coming out with the build at the end of August

CHAMPION TEASE

I do have one last thing before I hand off to Kabam Commish. 

There’s a reason that we’re working aggressively to have Magneto ready for the end of August. While Magneto and Magneto (Marvel Now!) already represent two polar opposites, there is an even more iconic duo that Magneto is part of.

And which Mutant can pose a threat to these two Icons?

COMPLETING THE ROSTER

KABAM COMMISH – LIVE OPERATIONS MANAGER

Hey all, Commish here to talk a bit about rounding out your Roster. 

We’ve come a long way in The Contest since the beginning – especially in the area of adding Champions to the game. We started with 40ish and have over 150 now in many of our base Champion pools. We recognize there are a few areas of improvement we need to tackle in the shorter term, as well as some bigger improvements that will take some time to develop and implement.

One thing to keep in mind is that randomness is a part of the ever-changing nature of The Battlerealm and that isn’t going to change. The amount of randomness, the amount of agency or choice a player has can change, but we’re never going to completely remove randomness from the game. But when it comes to the randomness around Champions, there is definitely room for improvement, some of which we will describe in the CRYSTAL UPDATE and SIG STONES details below.

The changes described above in the Champions section (specifically the reworks) as well as further details below outlining more limited pool type Crystals should help address the issue with trying to go after the Champions you want. Giving better odds (ie. pools of 50 rather than 150) along with Champion reworks both will help with Summoner pulls in the future. 

One other question that came up is “Where is 5-Star Wolverine and Scarlet Witch?”. Well, wonder no more – Wolverine is coming in July as part of our Canadian themed month. 

For Scarlet Witch, we had an idea to tie it to the release of Wandavision, but I think we might have to look for another plan. Right now we’re looking at this Summer for a release date! 

  • Looking for ways to reduce randomness in Champions over next few months + one long term feature
  • 5-Star Wolverine in July (not just the limited offer you saw June 29th)
  • 5-Star Scarlet Witch soon after (Summer)
  • Aiming to get all Regular 5-Stars into base pool after we address some base pool challenges. (See Basepool Tuning) 

CRYSTAL UPDATE

Short term – Basepool Tuning

We’re going to reduce overall inflation of hero pools with more selective Crystals. 

This is not an easy thing to do as we have a lot of existing Crystals, and we need to build solutions that do not dramatically impact the economy. But in a Contest with around 150 Champions in the 5-Star Basic Pool we need to give players more options to acquire the Champions they need. 

As there are many possible solutions we’re looking at, we’re hesitant to go into too many details – we’re still narrowing down our options.  However, we want to make it clear that the player outcome we’re aiming for is that players will have an easier time going after the Champions they want – specifically in the 4-Star and 5-Star range. We’ll also be looking at 6-Star as well, but expect it to be more limited than the 4-Star and 5-Star options.

But Commish! That is too vague! Yeah, sorry, I know – here is one change we’re ready to announce, along with one in progress:

  • Dual Class Basic Hero Crystals – 10,000 Shard 5-Star Hero Crystal.
    • For Uncollected and Cavalier Summoners
    • One Crystal with two classes – [Mutant/Skill] – [Science/Mystic] – [Cosmic/Tech]
    • One Crystal will appear for 24 hours, replaced by the second the next day, then the third, then back to the first. So [Mutant/Skill] will appear day 1, day 4, day 7, etc
    • Targeted Late July/Early August
  • Improve 5-Star and 6-Star Featured Hero Crystals – Improved selection of Champions within the Crystal, so a “miss” does not sting as much. (the most recent 5-Star Featured being one example)

Longer-Term – “Wish Crystal”

We’re looking at a way to give players more control over their fate with something we’re calling a “Wish Crystal”. 

The current plan for this, and I’ll make it clear that this is an early look (and plans can change), is to work on building a Crystal into the game where players can control what is in it. 

One example of how this might look –  A Cavalier Crystal but you choose 5 Champions from each Class (30 total) to make up the Crystal. This is farther off as the tech and development needed in-game to let players choose from a pool of Champions, then the tech to have the Crystal contain the specific Champions chosen by players is not a small amount of work. While we are certain on wanting to build this Crystal tech – the timeline on when it will arrive in The Contest is less clear. We’re aiming for a late 2020/early 2021 timeline for now. Still a ways away, we know, but it’s one way we can improve a player’s agency on what Champions they could get. That is why we want to try to move more quickly on some shorter-term improvements before we can get the bigger solutions in play. 

  • Unique Wish Crystals that are customizable to you
  • Ability to more closely meet the wants of individual players
  • Targeted at late 2020, early 2021 timeline

An important thing to note is that one Crystal by itself isn’t going to be game-changing – we’re not looking to make one single type of Crystal the only one you care about in The Contest. Our goal is to gradually and intentionally improve many Crystals all over The Contest, so the overall result is a bit more agency and a little less randomness when it comes to your Roster. 

SIGNATURE STONES

Signature stones, specifically 5-Star versions, are an area we need to improve in the game. They are a pain point that is exacerbated by the above issue where dupes of the Champion you want are also harder to get. (If you were more easily able to dupe a Champion, you wouldn’t need as many sig stones.) The availability of 5-star Sig Stones needs to increase, there are many ways in which we can do this. 

The first step is with an update to Solo Events. This is planned for sometime in late-August or early-September. In our update, we’ll be adding more variation in events, more appropriate progression tiers, a new tier of Solo Crystal (goodbye XP Boosts!), and a bigger reward update than just the addition of Sig Stones. Our goal is that Uncollected players will be able to get 1x 5-Star Sig Stone Crystal per 22h event from milestones, and Cavalier players will be able to get 1x 5-Star Sig Stone Crystal and 1x 5-Star Sig Stone (generic) per 22h event from milestones.

We’re also looking at other modes where additional Sig Stones would fit. We haven’t locked down anything after Solo Events yet, but we are committed to increasing the amount and availability of 5-Star Sig Stones in rewards. Solo Events are just the first step.

As for 6-Star Stones – We’re not ready to make any comments just yet. Our plan is to take the feedback from the 5-Star version and work on building a plan that prevents us from ending up in the same situation with 5-Star Sig Stones. 

  • Committed to increasing the number of 5-Star and 6-Star sig stones available to players
  • The first step is updated Solo Events – with updated events, progression tiers, a new Solo Crystal and rewards
    • Uncollected – 1x 5-Star Sig Stone Crystal per 22h event
    • Cavalier – 1x 5-Star Sig Stone Crystal and 1x 5-Star Sig Stone (generic) per 22h event
  • Additional places to get stones will be added as well

Outro

Aaaaaaand Ein’s back! Whew! That was quite a bit to chew on! If you’re still reading all the way down here at the bottom, thank you for sticking with us! We hope we managed to address many of your most pressing questions. We know it’s not possible for us to have touched on everything you want to hear about. But that’s why we’re going to work hard to continue to improve our ability to listen and hear your questions and concerns, as well as our communications back to you. So expect to hear more on these topics and more in the coming weeks and months.

On a personal note I’d like to call out my special thanks to a couple of groups that were integral to making this series happen: 1) Our Community team for herding all the cats to get this whole series out to you, 2) The CCP program for helping us find focus on the right topics while providing invaluable player’s perspectives, and 3) Last but most importantly, all of you! The Summoners of The Contest! Without you none of this would be possible! So thank you all for giving some much of your time and passion to this game that we all love! That’s it for today! See you all in The Contest!

– Kabam Ein – Lead Champion Designer