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Tuning A Champion, Part 1: Design Philosophy

March 13th, 2013

tuning

The user Postal Twinkie brought up a suggested change to Akali on the forums, which lead to a good dialogue between Riot’s FeralPony and the community. Through this post a design philosophy surfaced that has some awesome implications and thoughts behind it. This will be a two-part article going over what the design philosophy is and then showing some examples, flaws and perks to this system.

This back-and-forth conversation brings up the three-talon strike of champion balancing: thematics, kit and numbers. These three are present in any champion and balancing requires multiple iterations until things are right. A flaw in character theme can be overlooked with a strong enough kit, but numbers cannot fix a bad kit. So what exactly are these three things?

Thematics

The first thing to consider is a character’s theme and how their abilities relate to it. The theme ties directly into how a champion feels and should feel, given their appearance and background. In theory this makes sense. You would expect Vi, a champion based around punching with her gauntlets, to have moves focused on being a beat ’em up style punchasizer. You would not expect her to be summoning flaming space creatures at enemy champions.

punchasize

Punchasize your face, for free.

A lot of the reworks on characters have been to address oversights in their thematics, as the only way to alter it is a rework. Thematics can be problematic, but not always. Nobody would see a spiked turtle (Rammus) and expect him to taunt things while creating an earthquake (Prehistoric Turtlesaurus didn’t), but this character miscommunication works because it ties into his other, predictable abilities.

Kit

The next stop on the way to balance-town is the character’s kit. There are reworks focused on kits, whether it is a small change such as removing armor from Lee Sin’s Safeguard or a full blown rework such as the Karma changes. A champion’s kit usually determines how hard they are to balance. Someone such as Lee Sin or Elise would be extremely hard to balance. You can’t simply look at numbers and adjust them; you have to see what impact each of those abilities has and isolate the instances where it is too strong or weak.

dualability

A lot of the double ability characters (Lee Sin, Elise, Nidalee, Jayce, etc.) are constantly played and fluctuate from “OP” to “playable”. Their kits are strong and offer a variety of options in play patterns while maintaining theme. Characters that drop off the face of the planet almost always have a kit that can be rendered useless by linear play and numbers. This can be seen in someone such as Volibear who’s play style is “run in and maul things.” This is very linear and he’s either able to maul things or gets exploded; there isn’t too much in between.

Numbers

Numbers are the final stop. They’re the fine dials you can play with in order to tune a solid kit up or down without making sweeping changes. After enough number changes with no real improvement in perception, a champion will typically see a kit or thematic rework. This was the case with Katarina and Shen where the changes made didn’t really fix their core problems. Number changes are also what creates flavor-of-the-month style characters, as a buff or nerf in a cooldown, base damage, health, etc. can swing a character back in line.

dianachart

Numbers matter too

While numbers can always make a character stronger or weaker, an inherent flaw in a kit cannot be fixed with numbers. Think of someone such as Sejuani in this instance. Her early game and tankiness could be changed by raising her base health, sustain and/or damage, but this creates the problem of her now being too strong in a best case scenario. Her kit either presses too much advantage with slows, AoE damage and stuns or falls flat on its face because she can’t take any damage in order to accomplish that.

Putting it together

We can see that problems in either thematics or kit can render number changes useless. There are constant complaints about champions going up and down in power level because simply tweaking numbers doesn’t work. The next part of this article will go over some problematic examples, the flaws and the perks of using this approach.

Until then, what examples can you find of a patch aiming at the wrong fix for a champion? What champions, like Akali, would be a lot more balanced with a simple (0.5 second cloaking removal) change? What champions would get better with a small kit change (minion pass through on Udyr’s Bear Stance) without a number alteration?