Evan Lewis, UI Engineer for Monolith productions, just gave a talk at the 2013 Game Developers Conference. It was an interesting chat on translating the MOBA to a console audience. Moving from a PC-core experience to a console one is no easy task. Here's how the team at Monolith did it from Lewis.
Making the Transition
From a purely hardware approach, shifting from PC to console is incredible. While a keyboard has roughly 107 buttons, a console has a measly 16 buttons. Similarly, PC users, on average, sit very close to their screen, while console players generally sit 6-10 feet from their television. And lastly, of course, with no mouse, hover-over identification was impossible.
On the plus side, the consoles tend to have very good built-in social networks. Console players are also still hardcore players, despite playing less hours in single sessions than the average PC player.
As Lewis describes it, these limitations and benefits honed their experience into 15-20 minute segments. They wanted to allow players to hop in for quick games when they have the time, all without abandoning the MOBA genre completely.
Monolith, Lewis explains, had to find the "core" of the MOBA genre. They isolate several key pieces that they always measured their game against:
- Precise controls for quick action
- Tactical awareness and reaction
- Need skill to succeed
- Different play styles = different results
Some major norms for the MOBA genre had to be cut, which included the in-game store, because, as Lewis states, it tended to "bog down" the play experience. Without a store, the game no longer needed the normal "last-hit" mechanic. Likewise, they removed mana as a game concept entirely to allow players to quickly engage in combat.
The team at Monolith were beset by a variety of necessary problems. These included visibility issues, which they solved with clever interface decisions, such as designing ability images to be legible instantly, as well as replacing "hover-over" images with the quick-view screen and status debuff icons near character portraits. They also added helpful death screens that explain in detail how players were killed.
The team also removed the free camera at first, but later reinserted it into the game based on player feedback, which loved the use of a free camera to see how their teammates were doing in combat.
Targeting proved one of the more difficult features to master. The initial targeting system used a range cursor. They eventually tuned this down to limit the range the cursor could be moved through. Finally, they moved towards a design that favored AOE attacks for all characters, which then evolved into the "targeting wedge" and "targeting line," that shows which section of an area surrounding a character will be damaged by one attack or another.
While the entire experience is tight, the interface in particular resulted in a thoroughly accessible MOBA experience that could be built specifically for the console.