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CowboyNeal On Dota 2, Modern Games, and Software Development 148

Posted by samzenpus
from the listen-up dept.
CowboyNeal writes "Unless you don't care about PC gaming at all, by now you're aware of Valve's entry into the MOBA/ARTS genre, Dota 2. Despite still being in a closed beta, it's currently the number one game on Valve's Steam gaming service, and judging from Valve's earlier declaration regarding Steam on Linux, it's only a matter of time, even if that time be a year or more, before we see Dota 2 come to Linux as well as Mac. Valve has big plans for Dota 2, no less big than what happened with Team Fortress 2, even if it took them a few years to get to where Team Fortress 2 is today. What makes the current state of Dota 2 noteworthy, however, is that it has managed to displace Team Fortress 2 as Steam's most popular game, while still being tested in a closed beta." Read on for the rest of CowboyNeal's thoughts on games, and what it's like being a Slashdot poll option.
The term "closed beta" here doesn't really directly apply, either. Starting already last summer, Valve invited sixteen Dota teams from around the world to compete in a Dota 2 tournament, which naturally, featured the then-current state of Dota 2. What's interesting to note is that while Dota 2 at that time didn't sport all of the available heroes from its Dota All-Stars ancestor, everyone involved felt comfortable enough with the game to stage a tournament. Even if the game was lacking dozens of heroes at the time, players from the professional Dota scene were able to adjust to Dota 2 quickly, given that Valve had successfully recreated the nuances of the original mod within the Source engine. Following The International 2011, Valve resolved to open up the beta to more people, and sent out several waves of invites last fall, over the winter, and this spring. They gave out beta access as prizes during their Christmas Sale event. And now, for $39.99, or whatever that equates to in your local currency, you can buy an invite to the beta, directly from the Dota 2 store in-game. In this way, it's not very closed anymore, save for in name.

All of this is a long way from how games, and software in general, were handled in days of yore. In the before-time, the long-long-ago, one would go to the store or mail order some disks with the software on it, install it, and that was that. Patches were next to unheard of. After the advent of the internet, one would still likely go to the store and buy a game on discs, and then begin the process of downloading patches off of the internet, if one was so lucky to have their product see post-launch support. Today, it's not uncommon to see a game be patched once or twice in a week's time, especially so if it's a game with an online component to it.

With games like Dota 2, and recently-released Tribes Ascend, and the wildly successful Minecraft before that, the entire software development cycle gets hazy at best. PC Gamer recently asked its readers whether or not they should review Dota 2. There's still a list of things to come for Dota 2. There's also already a selection of purely cosmetic items available for purchase for your heroes, tying in closely to Valve's hat-based strategy for revenue. It's no wonder that reviewers are left wondering. Buyers are wondering too. There are plenty of people playing Dota 2, and presumably some of those players are having fun doing it. I think it could also be successfully argued that Minecraft was "done" long before Mojang slapped a 1.0 version number on it. On the flip side of the coin, it's been five years since Valve released Team Fortress 2, and the TF2 that players play today is very little like the one that was bundled with the Orange Box on release. Games developed, or even merely published by Bethesda are notorious for launch-day bugs, some of which are so egregious that they come perilously close to breaking the "sacred bond of trust between gamer and gaming mega-corporation." Sometimes Bethesda fixed up their games with a post-game patch, other times we have to just wait and bear it, and eventually at some point, like the days of yore, post-launch support just ends, and bugfixes are left to the community to handle.

I think that in the end, the "release early, patch often" approach is beneficial to consumers. It allows developers to get player feedback in an early and ongoing fashion, and adjust their product accordingly. In the long run, it makes it easier to decide whether or not it's worth plunking down our cash for a game. It does, however, make it much more difficult to decide to do so on launch day. It's difficult to see the future and know if and how a given title will be supported post-launch, which is now a reasonable issue to consider before purchasing a AAA title that can cost between $50 and $60. The hard part, of course, is waiting for our old ideas about game reviews to catch up, since a review doesn't get patched, unlike the games they cover. The best a review can hope for is to be revised during an expansion pack.

*

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CowboyNeal On Dota 2, Modern Games, and Software Development

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  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @02:04PM (#40617407)

    I thought he was a punchline on the surveys. He's actually a real person?

    • He's real [wikipedia.org]. If he wasn't, what was the joke?
    • by spads (1095039)
      According to Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, from whom he borrowed the reference Cowboy Neal (ie. Cassady) was "at the wheel of a trip to never-ever land."
    • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @02:24PM (#40617681)

      Dear Editor--I am eight years old.
      Some of my little friends say there is no Cowboy Neal.
      Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."
      Please tell me the truth, is there a Cowboy Neal?

      • Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."

        Who you gonna believe, papa or your blind eyes? Go look and see if Papa is lying.

  • Online Multiplayer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Moheeheeko (1682914) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @02:10PM (#40617485)
    Is the cancer killing videogames.

    Nobody gives a shit about an enthralling story or character development anymore. Developers have to give players multiplayer rewards for anyone to want to go play their 6-9 hour poorly written story now.

    Im sure I am not alone in yerning again for the days where you got a real story that took a damn long time to finish it, 40-50 hours was considered to be short once now Its an "epic".

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      OTOH, I personally have probably played DotA for over 1000+ hours, and unlike most of those super-long "real story", that wasn't 70% grinding to level-up (which a lot of them had a lot of). Anyone can do a long single-played game. Hell, I've played an RPG that was developed by one guy that was probably 50+ hours long. But a near-perfectly balanced multiplayer game refined over the course of approaching a decade? No offense, but that is better than pretty much any of those old-school stories.

      Now, COD? Yeah,

      • Im not saying all of the mare bad and yes "a few" of them are great. The problem is that the market is saturated with bad ones, because the current focus of the industry is trying to make the next Team fortress 2 or DotA.
        • by Baloroth (2370816)
          I know. But the market has always been saturated by bad games, multiplayer or not. The companies making bad multiplayers games were never going to make good single-player games, so it ends up not really mattering much, in the long run.
          • Bioware would like a word with you.
            • by Baloroth (2370816)

              Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 would like to have a word with you (I never played them, but apparently they weren't very good). Yes, I'd rather they made a single-player sequel to KOTOR also instead of SWTOR, but ever since they got bought out by EA, they've been rather unreliable anyways, and frankly I've lost most of my faith in them. Which is sad, because they used to be amazing (KOTOR is still one of my favorite games of all time, and I keep meaning to find and play a copy of the Baldur's Gate series, w

    • Online Multiplayer Is the cancer killing videogames.

      I strongly disagree. Online multiplayer is the best thing that's happened to gaming. Instead of fighting Stupid AI or solving puzzles, you're up against human intelligence (or lack thereof). After I started playing online multi-player games single-player lots it's appeal. Is it because they stopped trying or is it because playing with people is more fun? I bet the latter.

    • I don't think so. Deus Ex:HR was shit, and it was singleplayer. Prototype was shit, and it was single player. FEAR was shit and it was single player.

      I think it's actually the opposite of the phenomenom you describe: People flock to online multiplayer because they EXPECT the singleplayer to be such shit that they want to make sure they have a game with some redeeming worth. I know that's what I do. I also want games I can play with my friends. I think the cancer killing videogames is the lack of stor
      • Ooh, or System Shock 2 (assuming you could keep it from crashing). Multiplayer actually got harder by virtue of needing to spread out the finite resources between more players.
      • I see it more as a cause and effect. Halo 2 multiplayer hit the consoles and was VERY popular, and a lightbulb went on at the publishing departments that they could make more money if every game had good multiplayer. I say Halo becauase thats when the storyline in most videogames started to degrade and more multiplayer functions showed up. So to the detriment of the story, multiplayer was shoehorned into every game possible.
      • FEAR was actually pretty damn good. It picked up some good bits from Max Payne , The Ring and Firestarter and ran with it.
        • Okay, I'll admit that maybe the first one wasn't actually TERRIBLE. The second one was just god-awful though.
          • by lgw (121541)

            The first one was a really fun shooter with a lame a predictable plot, but a plot filled with humorous bits - it's usually the clever bits thrown in, not th story per se, that make a single player gam good. The first expansion was OK. The second expansion was worse. The FEAR2 was just bad - a bad console port, mostly missing those "good bits" of writing to liven up the bad plot.

      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        Deus EX: HR was a massively stripped down version of original DE with a story that you forgot ten minutes after clearing the game. But it had sunglasses implants, so I guess all the cool kids have to rave about that one. Peer pressure and all. Original was awesome, it was a true "in spirit" sequel to system shock with interesting setting and story to boot.

        Prototype was a boring on levelling, but had a story you remembered a few weeks after finishing it, and was actually fun to roam around. Not to mention th

        • Hey man, I don't hate single player. I enjoyed the Ultima series, Planescape Torment, Fallout 1 & 2, Penumbra, Deus Ex (the first), Zork, Exile, Nosforatu: Wrath of Malakai, and Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, just to name a few. I enjoyed GOOD singleplayer games with GOOD story. I just haven't seen one of those for about 10 years (save for Penumbra). You should reread my post and see the part where I say that I say that a lack of good story is the problem, but that multiplayer isn't what I beli
          • by Luckyo (1726890)

            Story is just one aspect of the game. Many games you list had severe gameplay and other gaming-related problems which detract from enjoyment quite strongly even if the story was good. If you consider good story to the be the only worthwhile aspect of the game, you should consider shifting medium from games to books. They can do storytelling much better then games ever will.

    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @02:25PM (#40617691)

      http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-ways-to-tell-youre-getting-too-old-video-games/ [cracked.com]

      It's a pretty thoughtful article written by someone who enjoys video games.

      As for my personal preference, I don't have a lot of time for games so I don't find beating my head against a wall to get past a boss to be all that rewarding. This coming from someone who used to do just that on platformers.

      I think it's just a process of changing tastes. I remember when I didn't like to read books without pictures. I remember when black and white movies didn't have enough going on to sustain my attention. Would any teenager appreciate a reflective story about the loss of youth the way someone in their 40's regretting past mistakes would?

      I think there's room for games aimed at adults, it's just that the market isn't yet willing to go there. It's sort of like people thinking women don't like porn. Hello? Romance novels? They love porn. You're just doing it wrong.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Doom (not 2, not 3, just Doom) had multiplayer. It wasn't like the current version because it was multiplayer by modem, so pretty much just two-person somewhat cooperative of the normal maps.

      There are games that are like mildly interactive novels, there are games where your choices actually make the outcome different, and there are online brawls. Some people prefer one, some people want different ones at different times. SWToR is an interesting hybrid of KoToR and an MMO, but that doesn't make it the per

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It also worked over network, with up to four people. (Novell's IPX, not IP networks -- the modular network drivers came later.)

        Additionally, in the early IPX-only versions, you could set up three PCs on the network, with the second and third slaved to provide left and right views (with -left and -right options) -- AFAIK making DooM the first game with panoramic multi-monitor support.

    • There's plenty of solid stories available, and your selective memory is showing. While games like the FF series did take around 50 hours to complete, these still exist in forms such as Skyrim, Mass Effect, Mount and Blade, and of course the other. The 40-50 hour games were never considered short and were always considered epic, its just their also-rans have been forgotten. What you're forgetting about is that parallel to the releases of FFVII-X were the 5-10 hour capcom shorts like Devil May Cry, Onimush

      • Mass Effect 1 was a refreshing change in the market, and still is a great game. Mass Effect 3 was poorly written, and took maybe 15 hours to finish if you did every tiny detail. The difference? Mass Effect 3 has an online competetive multiplayer mode.
    • by jxander (2605655) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @02:45PM (#40617975)

      Disagree in theory, sadly agree in practice.

      I fully believe that both can exist. You can still have your sprawling story- and character-driven games, full of intrigue and lore, lasting hundreds of hours, and you can also have online multiplayer arenas.... but they should be kept separate. Games like DotA, League of Legends, Team Fortress 2 etc make no pretence about story, characterization(*), plot, immersion or anything like that. They don't try to be anything other than a way to play tag with your friends over the internet.

      The problem comes from lazy studios, which is why I agree strongly with your original point. In the real world, there are just too many lazy people; production companies that want to pad out their games, sell a few more copies (or perhaps sell some online widgets) by cramming multiplayer into a game where it doesn't belong ... looking at you ME3. Or trying to sell you a character driven story mode, that ends up lasting all of 3 hours: your generic Call of Modern Bad Company Field 37 is probably the biggest offenders I can think of in that category. Either way, a studio diverts resources from what the fans really want, into a line of programming they're not very good at, and the end result is always to the detriment of the player. We can also dive into the issue of MMO style games being "ruined forever" by the advent of PvP and the balancing issues inherent therein ... but that's a can of worms I'll leave closed.

      (*) for the record, despite being in the non-story, just-here-to-shoot-our-friends category... hats off to the TF2 guys for actually building enough characterization through their "Meet The Team" videos to make the classes feel fun and unique. *doff*

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I will note that in not a single part of your rant did you mention gameplay in any sort of positive light, if at all. Yes, you can have storytelling in a game, but it sounds as if you're focusing on that at the expense of what makes a game a game, which is actual gameplay. This focus is what I consider to be a malignant cancer in the world of GAMES .

      In fact, it's sounding a lot like what you're looking for are these heretofore little-known inventions called "movies" or "books". Don't worry, if you want

    • No, the problem is that somewhere along the line, video games became "a story" instead of, you know, playing the game. That's the cancer, and it killed video games a long time ago.
      • by Raenex (947668)

        There is no cancer. Video games aren't dead. Your nostalgic view of the world, however, is.

    • Completely agree. Occasionally when I see a new game mentioned like this one, I get excited for a moment or two thinking that maybe I'll find something I want to play again. Almost always ends the same though; some online multiplayer game that I have no interest in.

      Thankfully GOG is around, as well as the old Steam games I bought many years ago that are fun to occasionally replay because few have any interest in putting the time into making great single player games anymore.

    • by P-niiice (1703362)
      40-50 hours was never short.
    • by Nyder (754090)

      Is the cancer killing videogames.

      Nobody gives a shit about an enthralling story or character development anymore. Developers have to give players multiplayer rewards for anyone to want to go play their 6-9 hour poorly written story now.

      Im sure I am not alone in yerning again for the days where you got a real story that took a damn long time to finish it, 40-50 hours was considered to be short once now Its an "epic".

      My opinion is the "hollywoodizing" of the Game industries is the problem. Game Studios think they need to spend 100's of millions of dollar to make games, which they then have to sell 20 million copies to break even. And the games of course, are short because they don't have the time to make a nice long game and debug it, they need to get it shipped out as soon as possible, so they can get some money back. Bugs? they just issue updates later.

      Now, since every sale matters to make a profit, they are r

    • by grumbel (592662)

      Nobody gives a shit about an enthralling story or character development anymore.

      That's actually a good thing, as it means developer are focusing on one thing instead of trying to cram multiplayer and singleplayer into one game. I much prefer to have my singleplayer games to be free of multiplayer and vice versa.

      where you got a real story that took a damn long time to finish it, 40-50 hours was considered to be short once now

      That's nostalgia speaking. Game times haven't changed much at all. You can still sink 100h into Skyrim or Fallout if you want, or 30h into a Mass Effect or Deus Ex: HR, meanwhile classics like Doom, Duke Nukem or Monkey Island weren't even 10h long, see for yourself [howlongtobeat.com].

  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @02:10PM (#40617489)

    Because it's not a real RTS unless at least one has.

  • by MachDelta (704883) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @02:28PM (#40617747)

    This style of development is not a panacea for gaming. Some of us don't like MOBA's (A game with one map and the second coming of the CS crowd are not selling points), some of us hate what TF2 became (grind to unlock gear! buy stupid crap! deal with screaming 12 year olds! fun!), and from the looks of things Tribes:Ascend is hemorrhaging players like it was shot in the head (which is what you get when you ignore the playerbase and try and bait-and-switch the game into a gear grind).

    There's still a place for a well developed game with a reasonable price point and attentive developers. Sadly, there's more money to be made in catering to the masses and begging for their pennies.

    • by Bevilr (1258638)
      Strange that it has come to this isn't it? Gaming has always been an investment, and early game consoles and games were relatively more expensive that they are today (see: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2010/10/an-inconvenient-truth-game-prices-have-come-down-with-time/ [arstechnica.com] or http://www.1up.com/news/90s-game-price-comparison-charticle [1up.com]) and the truth is well developed games at reasonable prices simply aren't as safe an investment as a develop as you go/DLC-centric product. If you spend three years developing a t
    • some of us hate what TF2 became (grind to unlock gear! buy stupid crap! deal with screaming 12 year olds! fun!)

      Er... grind to unlock gear? There are a grand total of 27 weapons (3 per class) you can grind to get out of the 200ish weapons in the game. The rest are gained about 6-8 per week at random, or if you don't want to wait, you can grind up the unwanted weapons you have and craft it.

      Also, the screaming 12 year olds is why there's a Mute button on the main menu (which appears if you hit Esc).

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      some of us hate what TF2 became (grind to unlock gear! buy stupid crap! deal with screaming 12 year olds! fun!)

      TF2 hasn't really changed. The only reason to grind or buy things is if you really want to. I never buy anything, and if I want one of the unlockable weapons, I just wait for two random weapons to drop, craft them into a scrap, and trade the scrap for the weapon of my choice. There are enough people out there who do participate in the hat-grind that you can always find a buyer.

      As for screaming twelve year olds, I have 300 hours logged in the game, and I can count the number of obnoxious twelve year olds

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In the summary and article, the name Dota appears about 15 times, but not once is it explained what it is. With all those words, why do I still have to follow a link to find out what it is? I'm an avid gamer (far far more than I should be), and play mostly RPG, RTS, TBS, Adventure, and similar games. So what is Dota?

    • by gknoy (899301)

      DOTA started out as the "Defense of the Ancients" mod for Warcraft III ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defense_of_the_Ancients [wikipedia.org] ). It basically had you control a hero, working in a team with some other players versus others. Just like CounterStrike started as a Half Life mod and grew, so did DOTA -- League of Legends is another game (spiritual successor?) that is basically similar. Past that I have no idea, other than that it appears to be very popular.

      I'm certain that anyone who plays DOTA or League of Legen

      • by Tukz (664339)

        Actually DotA is older than that.
        DotA is based on "Aeon of Strife" for Starcraft.
        I believe it mentioned in your link.

        Oh and never call LoL for the "spiritual successor" for DotA.
        That would be Heroes of Newerth taking that title.

  • "Valve has big plans for Dota 2, no less big than what happened with Team Fortress 2, even if it took them a few years to get to where Team Fortress 2 is today."

    They will never match the amount of hats TF2 has, their only chance is to add farm-able trousers.

  • DotA is: (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @04:28PM (#40619635)

    DotA - Defense of the Ancients
    This is a 10 player (5 per side), team game that pits the Sentinel (Now the Radiant) against the Scourge (Now the Dire).

    It is based off of Aeon of Strife, originally a game mod for Starcraft.
    There are 3 "lanes" in which creeps (low power mobiles) spawn every 30 seconds and march towards the enemy base at a set pace.
    Each lane is guarded by 3 Towers of increasing power.
    The team territories are split in haf diagonally by a river of more or less nuetrality.

    The point of the game is to destroy the other teams source of power (World Tree vs Frozen Throne, Nexus if you're playing LoL) which is located approximately in the center of the base.
    Your character gains levels similar to an RPG, by defeating enemies. You become more mowerful by purchasing in game items with gold earned by killing enemies and enemy creeps. Gold is also earned at a set rate of 1g/sec.

    DotA has a long and sordid history with many people attributed credit for creation, modification, and stewardship. Icefrog, who currently works for Valve on DOTA2, is the one responsible for the updates and modifications that made it a worldwide popular E-Sport.

    I've been beta testing for Icefrog for somewhere around 6-7 years (I should really make a /. account) and can tell you that this "Update often" strategy works very well for a game like DotA.
    Because the metagame shifts often depending on player skill, playstyle, and strategy; a constant cycle of buffs/nerfs is esential to keeping it from becoming stale and one sided.
    It also helps as new content is added periodically, most often this content is pulled directly from the fanbase's suggestions. This keeps the fanbase avid and active, as there is always a chance one of their ideas makes it into the game.

  • I've played the DotA Allstars, Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends (briefly and for good reason), and currently play DotA2.

    • Frequent updates to better gameplay/balance mechanics - Thank you
    • New material that adds new dynamics to the game - Thank you
    • Pretty solid integrity with regards to original DotA - Thank you
    • A game that rarely if ever takes more than 75 mins to play a game - Thank you
    • Such diversity that no two games are ever the same - Thank you
    • Servers for different regions around the world - Thank y....
  • The essence of these MOBA games is that they're a top down version of Doom-with-towers. 2 teams of 5 players each play a different hero, typically in 3 lanes. The heroes scale dramatically with XP and gold, both of which come from killing.

    They are much more of a team-dependent game than BF 3 or similar. Teams typically have:
    1. An initiator. Somebody who jumps in and hopefully temporarily disables the opposing team.
    2. A carry. This is the guy who farms all game so he can one shot everybody by the end.
    3.

  • by thelexx (237096) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @01:58AM (#40625045)

    "Unless you don't care about PC gaming at all, by now you're aware of Valve's entry into the MOBA/ARTS genre, Dota 2."

    Unless you're a total douche-bag, you wouldn't even think of penning something like that.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      "Unless you don't care about PC gaming at all, by now you're aware of Valve's entry into the MOBA/ARTS genre, Dota 2."

      Unless you're a total douche-bag, you wouldn't even think of penning something like that.

      Wow, take that personally did you?

    • I think these new acronyms were coined by LoL and co. because they obviously couldn't use the genre-name everyone else is using: Dota-like.

Cobol programmers are down in the dumps.

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