How Game Mechanics Can Change A Game: Awesomenauts

For those who don’t know, Awesomenauts is a 2D MOBA(aRTS/DotA Clone/whatever you wish to call it) that took the main concepts of laning, PvP, and tower destuction but implemented it into a 2D platformer style of gameplay. On top of that the art direction was influenced by 80’s era Saturday morning cartoons. Seriously though, watch this intro video and tell me you wouldn’t want this as a real cartoon with a Hasbro toy line.

 

 

I originally played the console version and did pretty good for the month or so that I played. Not too long ago I bought it on PC and it was almost an entirely different game. The strategies and gameplay concepts were familiar yet completely new and I couldn’t understand why. I stopped playing because the game didn’t feel like what I had come to understand it to be. 2 weeks ago I booted it back up to check out the characters I hadn’t played yet when everything clicked. I am attempting to convey the differences between the two and how 1 simple design choice completely altered the balance of the game.

 

Awesomenauts was created for consoles first with a PC launch 3 months later. The console version launched with 6 characters, eventually increased the roster to 8 through DLC, and 3 maps. The PC has had continued support and features 6 more characters and 1 additional map. The original 6 characters were based on standard MOBA archetypes: Tank, Healer, Assassin, Pusher, DPS, Utility. This is broken up between 5 ranged characters and 1 melee. Each character has a primary attack, 2 skills, and a vertical ability(jump, jetpack, hoverpack, etc). It is important to mention that there is ZERO mana management in this game as all skills are only limited to their cooldown timers. The controls for consoles are as follows:

 

Left Joystick – Movement and Aiming

Face buttons – Attack, 2 Skills, Vertical Ability

Triggers – Taunts, Teleport back to base.

 

Pretty simple control style that meshes well with the platformer nature. One glaring issue I had with the PS3 version is the lack of a dual stick setup. While these controls work for games in the vain of Contra, I prefer to Move with the left stick and aim/fire with the right. This gives me increased control over my character. Recently Demiurge went through this with the release of Shoot Many Robots where fans rejected the single joystick idea and wanted the devs to implement controls for twin stick. Since Awesomenauts never added a twin stick style you are forced to shoot whichever direction you are looking. This creates issues with vertical combat. The only way to fire above your character is to aim the joystick up and left/right which will cause you to walk and aim. There is no way to stand still and shoot something above your character. There is also no way to walk one way and fire the opposite. These two obstacles hindered ranged characters and gave melee characters just the boost they needed to be considered unbalanced. Unfortunately the only melee character was also the Assassin archetype and had bonus damage from backstabbing.

 

Leon the Chameleon is the melee character I am referring to. His primary attack is a laser sword. Of his two skills, one allows him to turn invisible and the other uses his tongue to pull enemies closer to him. Finally, one of the abilities of his primary attack is extra damage when attack an enemies back. While the other 5 characters can aim in 8 directions, Leon’s sword only attacks in front of him. He cannot aim it up or down and thus does not have to deal with the shortcomings of single stick aiming. His second strength lies in his backstab. Assuming Leon is not in stealth mode there are usually two options to deal with Leon: run away or attempt to deal damage while keeping your distance. When Leon gets close enough to hit you you only have one option: trade blows until one person dies. If, at any point in time, you decide its time to break away from combat and run then Leon will pursue and get constant double damage backstabs. Needless to say he can drop life bars pretty rapidly. Also, don’t forget that even if you do run towards a friendly turret for protection he can use his tongue to ensure he gets a couple more hits in. The only real defense towards Leon is vertical combat but due to the single stick controls it only gives a slight advantage to ranged characters since aiming is strictly relegated to 45 degree intervals and requires you character to change their horizontal positioning as well. Yuri is a monkey with a jetpack that allows him to suspend himself in air and fire a laser in 360 degrees. He is the only character that has this ability but the cost is that he must remain stationary. He can also drop mines and I feel that he was designed as the hard counter to Leon but the turtling style of being stationary for this basic attack wasn’t received well causing him to be one of the least played characters on console. This is completely anecdotal. I have no idea what the statistics were but I rarely saw anyone play Yuri and even less often a Yuri that actually aided their team. Leon’s dominance ended during the transition to PC though.

 

Switching from controller to keyboard and mouse created an issue at Ronimo. They could have stuck with the standard controls and made it a keyboard only game(arrow keys for movement and left hand keys for actions) but they knew that gamers would want the precision of the mouse. The default keys became:

 

Mouse – Aim

WASD – Movement

Mouse 1/2/Middle – Attack/Skill 1 and 2

Space Bar – Vertical Ability

 

The introduction of the mouse brought about 360 degree attacking for all characters, both ranged and melee. It also brought with it aiming and moving in different directions. These two simple changes completely revamped the balance of melee vs ranged play. Leon became a “High Risk, High Reward” player that he should have been from day one. Enemy players can run away while still attacking you, although with the typical speed penalty of firing and moving, and can try to time their attacks so they don’t get backstabbed. Aerial combat is also a lot more precise for ranged characters now so moving up or down is actually a pretty viable defense against Leon now. While these changes don’t gimp Leon they do bring him in line with the rest of the characters and keeps him in his class archetype, an assassin.

 

There you have it. Just the simple act of introducing a dual stick combat mechanics, and subsequently 360 degree aiming vs 8-way, completely changed the balance and strategies around melee vs ranged. While there are other great examples of strategies being adapted to the new mechanics this topic is the one that struck me the most as Leon was my main on consoles and he seemed less powerful on the PC, when actually it was just new mechanics. It always intrigues me to see how simple changes in the game systems can effect entire gameplay styles and this was no different.

 

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