MOBA items are a relic of the past. No one enjoys opening up a brand new shop and churning through tooltips of various components and recipes just trying to figure out what they should be building. Circuits takes this non-intuitive, high learning curve system and flips it on its head, introducing a slew of new mechanics and perfecting the old ones, resulting in a take on items so simple and flexible that you’ll wonder why no one else thought of it.
Fair warning, this will be a fairly text heavy post as we don’t have much art done specifically for items, but I encourage you to read on as we think our item system is a much smarter way to handle the age-old MOBA items/components/recipes. If you’d like to skip the commentary and learn directly about how our items work, head to https://circuits.gamepedia.com/Items
The number one question we asked when considering how we wanted to handle items in Circuits was “How do we prevent a new player from being overwhelmed when opening up the item shot in-game for the first time?” At this stage, most of us are familiar with traditional MOBA item design, you have base items that serve as components which eventually build into final items via recipes. Every new MOBA is essentially a re-skin on this system, meaning, you now have to learn all new item names and recipes. Being an indie game, we feel we have to immediately capture player’s interest and therefore want to avoid the feeling of opening the shop and thinking to yourself, “Oh boy, I have to learn what all these do now.”
On top making the initial open of the shop less overwhelming, the second question we asked was “How do increase clarity to reduce the learning curve and to help players quickly identify what items they should buy and what items their opponent has?” These questions go hand in hand, but both present interesting dilemmas when it comes to overall item design.
One of the keys to increasing clarity and reducing learning curves is to make play patterns. It’s much easier to think of items in groups rather than individual recipes and components. To do this, we first divided items into 3 main categories, ‘Core items’, ‘Implants’, and ‘Consumables’.
Players have 8 total slots, which sounds like a lot, but when broken down into each category, it’s much simpler than a traditional system. Players have 4 core item slots, 2 implant slots, and 2 consumable slots. The big difference here is granted consumables individual slots so you no longer have to worry about selling an item just to buy a ward. On top of this, consumables are denoted by a round icon, helping players quickly identify what is an item vs what is a consumable. We’ve also now created a pattern. Each sub-class of items fulfills a purpose so it’s much easier to see an item slot and quickly form an expectation around what that slot does. You don’t have to wonder, “Well I see in item in my enemies’ sixth item slot, but that could be a ward, boots, potion, HP item, Armor item, etc.”
The next task is to consider what patterns already exist and from those patterns, determine what can be broken down into simpler forms. The first that comes to mind here are boots. Nearly every MOBA has a boots item and while each one has variable components and stat allocations, all of them essentially serve the same purpose, increase your movement speed. Something like this is a huge opportunity for us to take boots and say, “everyone is going to buy these anyway, what can we do to remove complexity?”
Solution Part 1: Implants
In our boots example, we’ve established that an item slot nearly always serves the same purpose, regardless of what components or upgrades you throw at it. To this effect, we’ve dedicated two item slots to what we call “Implants”. Implants are items that cannot be bought or sold, or in other words, your character will always have your ‘boots’ item without having to purchase it. Implants are divided into two types ‘Body’ and ‘Mind’, both of which have individual upgrade trees.
The ‘Body’ implant fills the role of boots, providing movement speed and ancillary stats. Players start with an empty Body implant and upon selecting it in their inventory, they are presented with the ‘body’ implant upgrade tree. This upgrade tree is extremely straightforward, essentially allowing players to upgrade their implant (for gold) to increase movement speed or provide utility movement effects (such as increased out of combat movement speed). On top of this, at a deep enough point into the upgrade tree, the ‘body’ implant can be made into an activatable item, featuring spells like Blink, Sprint, and Teleport. This has two purposes. 1. Players no longer have access to a Blink type spell at early levels, theoretically increasing early action and 2. Allowing players to make a choice between a utility movement spell, or spending that gold on more stat-heavy items.
The ‘Mind’ implant works similarly to the ‘Body’ implant, featuring a tree with upgrades purchasable via gold. The core different is that the ‘mind’ implant focuses more on utility and role selection. Initial upgrades here would include things like “Gold on enemy champion hit” or “increased damage to jungle monsters”, essentially helping players establish their role inside the match. Further upgrades increase the effects of these ‘role selection’ upgrades, as well as provide additional utility. The ‘Mind’ implant also varies per map, allowing us to customize roles per map. For example, a jungler type effect would be useless on an ARAM style map, so we replace that effect with an engage tool (i.e. a hook that pulls players towards enemies) on our ARAM map.
Solution Part 2: Core Items
Getting down to the bread and butter, Core Items are your 4 main slots in Circuits and can generally be compared to your standard MOBA items: a large stat increase and a powerful effect. The difference is that in Circuits, we’ve completely removed the idea of recipes and building towards a final item. Instead, core items work in Tiers, starting at Tier 1 and being upgraded to Tier 3. Players can immediately see what effects an item and purchase it, rather than having to worry about buying smaller items to work toward that final effect.
This is easiest to understand when put into an example. Let’s say our player wants an Immolation Cloak, an item that burns enemies nearby the player’s champion. The player locates the Immolation Cloak in the shop and sees that the total cost of the item is 3,000 gold, with the Tier 1 cost being 500. The player purchases the Tier 1 version of the Immolation Cloak for 500 gold, which grants Health+, Armor+, but no burning effect. After saving up 1,000 gold, the player decides to upgrade their Immolation Cloak to Tier 2, which now grants Health+++, Armor++, and a burning effect that deals 10 damage every second to surrounding enemies. Finally, the player saves up 1,500 gold and purchases the Tier 3 version, granting Health+++++, Armor +++, and a burning effect that deals 25 damage every second to surrounding enemies.
Players have the choice to fill all 4 slots with Tier 1 items before ever upgrading to a Tier 2, or they can choose to upgrade one item all the way to Tier 3 before ever purchasing another. On top of the flexibility this provides, it’s much simpler for a new player to open a shop and only see final items. Players no longer need to learn components and recipes, only the major effects and stats on each item
The Little Things
On top of the base design for implants and core items, we’re also doing some little things to increase clarity. We use a ‘+’ system on items to denote stat values (no more memorizing X item has 75 AD while Y item has 70) that helps players quickly identify the main stat purpose of an item. We also color co-ordinate icons based on their main stat values, i.e. high health items will generally have a green tint to their icon. Eventually, players will be able to see an enemy’s item icons and instantly know what stats they are focusing on solely by colors.
We’ll be working to get some mockups of our in-game shop system to help you visualize exactly what all of this looks like as we really believe this is the future of MOBA item design. Again, you can find even more details on these systems at http://circuits.gamepedia.com/items. We’ll also be available and happy to answer any questions/feedback on our Discord: https://discord.gg/caUt2RX