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Quality of Life: Riven and Nidalee

Care Level October 20, 2013 User blog:Care Level

A Brief Introduction

To introduce newcomers to the issue, here, it's that Riven's Broken Wings and Nidalee's Pounce use targeting paradigms unlike any other abilities in the game in that they move you in the direction that the champion is facing rather than in the direction of the cursor (remember: every other movement ability in the game moves your champion exclusively toward the cursor; in Riven's case, this disparity even includes another ability in her kit). The issue with this targeting paradigm is that, in worst-case scenarios, it's inconsistent: your champion does not do what you want them to do, frequently because of the way pathing works (if a minion walks in front of you or you get a bit too close to that wall or you click something that causes your path to change radically, oops, you're suddenly facing in a direction that you didn't intend and now you're jumping that way).

The Schism

The issue divides players into two main factions: those that would rather have the abilities changed to match the targeting paradigm of every other movement ability, and, of course, those who want it to stay the way it is. There are some interesting arguments on both sides, and I'll try to sum up what I've found while researching the topic. Keep in mind that an expression of "this is good" or "this is bad" doesn't necessarily indicate that that is the way I feel about it; rather, that's how those arguments are generally framed when I come across them. With that in mind:


Unique and Beautiful Snowflakes

  • "Having these abilities target in an unusual way makes the abilities and champions unique and interesting."

This is, so far, the best argument I can find for using a worse control scheme. "Using a crappy control scheme because it's unique", though, is hardly a good argument: Riot could easily introduce a champ that randomly re-bound all of your keys at the beginning of every game and every 30 seconds thereafter, and it would be unique and interesting, but would it really add anything meaningful to the game? I'm gonna say "not so much" on that one.


  • "The potential clunkiness of these abilities increases the skill cap of the champions and 'separates the good [champion]s from the great ones'."

This is a classic slippery-slope argument, I think, and ignores some core design axioms. I mean, let's explore the idea that "making it hard to do means we can make it stronger": if we changed Sona's passive to "Bach You: if you play 'Christ lag in Todes Banden' using Q, W, E and R, the enemy teams' inhibitors are all immediately and irrevocably destroyed", at least a few summoners out there will learn how to do this reliably and, when that happens, it's still broken. The same could be said about Riven's and Nidalee's awkward targeting: the only power difference between Nidalee being able to always pounce where her summoner wants and only sometimes being able to is that one is always broken and one is only always broken for some players. If the issue with Nidalee is that "a 3-second cooldown wall jump that she can always make is broken", then she should not have a 3-second cooldown wall jump because someone will be able to make them always, and then it's still broken. The logic that "a QoL buff would make it easier for everyone to do [broken thing]" does not hold up because no one should be able to do that thing. Bach You is not a reasonable passive.

Map Traversal

  • "The abilities going in the direction of the champion's movement means that you can path to a distant area of the map and just spam the ability to get there faster."

But let's ask ourselves: does mashing Q or E to travel around the map really feel good and fulfilling? If Riot implemented a system that allowed every champion to move faster by mashing the spacebar, would it make the game mor fun, or would you ask questions like, "If you wanted champions to be faster, why not just make them faster?"? The same could potentially be said about other champs' movement abilities, except for a very noteworthy difference: neither Broken Wings nor Pounce have any associated cost other than their cooldown. There is (almost) no reason ever not to spam these abilities while traversing the map; this is not the case for champions with real resource pools (I'm looking at you, Kennen). Because they have no cost, they almost literally translate directly into increased movement speed.

Well, that begs the question: if increased movement speed is a design goal of these skills' implementations (and then, presumably, a design goal of other resourceless dashes), (1) could we make the current implementation more accessible and (2) is the current implementation the best one?

For that first question, let's look at, say, Renekton. Renekton's Slice and Dice (well, just Slice, if we're talking about dashing around the map) is almost identical to Pounce or Broken Wings: if Renekton mashes Slice on recharge, he gains artificially increased movement speed at no real cost, but Renekton is not afforded the luxury of being able to mash it without micromanagement; he can't path to a remote part of the map and press the Slice button on cooldown to reliably get there faster. For that matter, Riven can't even use Valor in the same way as her Broken Wings; why not? If, indeed, increased movement speed via button-mashing is a design goal of manaless dashes, why is it not universally accessible? Keep in mind that Renekton can use Slice to increase his movement speed in exactly the same way Nidalee can use Pounce or Riven can use Broken Wings; it's just more irritating. To that end, I suggest the following: If the goal is to enable artifically-inflated movement speeds, add a universal toggle, accessible via one buttonpress, for all champs, that selects between "dash in facing direction" or "dash toward cursor" - this gives all champs with a dash, across the board, access to spam-to-move. As an alternative to the toggle-via-buttonpress, they might be automatically toggled based on whether or not the champion were in combat (or even onscreen?); this even preserves the "I could jump walls on Riven before it was popular" aspect of the abilities.

Alternatively, what if artificially inflating movement speed via spamming wasn't a design goal, but rather a natural, unavoidable consequence of giving champions free dash abilities, a consequence that must then be balanced around? What if the devs think that spamming a button to go faster is, in fact, silly, but it's just something that they tolerate for lack of a better solution? Well, if that's the case, I recommend the following: increase these champs' actual movement speeds to match their artificially-inflated "spam on recharge" movement speeds; additionally, reduce their movement speed whenever their dash is used (until it comes back off of cooldown), such that there is no net reward for spamming the abilities, but all of the current movement perks are essentially retained. A Nidalee or Riven or Renekton that just clicks the minimap will get there equally as fast as they do now, but they get neat perks like "being able to use chat while they move". It might take a bit of effort to crunch the numbers and compensate for things like cooldown reduction, but, in the end, it has the ability to be a huge QoL improvement across the board... and we don't have to deal with silly things like having to replace our Q key after every few Riven games.


Needlessly Clunky; Artificial Balance

  • Having inconsistent targeting on these abilities makes them unintuitive and, in the worst cases, unreliable.

This, I think, is by-far the strongest argument in favor of a QoL change, since this philosophy has stood behind every single other QoL change made to any champion ever. An ability not doing what you want it to do does not make the game more fun or interesting. I'll quote someone else, here, because I think they said it well enough: "Balance based around mechanical skill requirements is bad design in a competitive game that is not built around mechanical mastery. Let me put it a different way: is there any place where the game is actually made better by having your character simply not do what you want? Is the game ever more fun because the Nidalee you were controlling accidentally jumped in the wrong direction and got you killed?"

Some people, here, are tempted to say "Well, by that logic, skillshots shouldn't exist", but that's simply not the case: in a perfect world, the opponent can still dodge skillshots, no matter how good you are at throwing them. Skillshots add counterplay to the game, and that does make the game more interesting for both sides. Targeting awkwardness, on the other hand, is fully out of your opponents' hands; in the best case for them, you miss a Pounce jump (through no heroism on their part, mind you) and you die because of it; all they can say is "I got lucky"; how fulfilling is that? To quote the same person, again:

"Skillshots are an interesting case. Although it's probably worth pointing out that the whole point of this conversation is that people wish Nidalee's jump was as easy to use as skillshots. :P
"Here's the thing though - the game assumes a certain baseline. You need to be able to handle a mouse to play champions. You need to be able to click things. You need to be able to aim skills by clicking with the mouse. There are a TON of powers in the game that assume that you are able to aim skillshots. You may not be able to HIT with them, but you can aim them where you want. (This is a way different problem btw. Aiming where you want and missing is much less frustrating than missing because it fired somewhere random.)
"The issue most people take with Nidalee is that her jump is far more awkward than the baseline. It is far easier to have her jump the wrong way than it is to, say, fire a skillshot in the wrong direction.
"If making Nidalee's jump easy to control makes her too powerful, then she is too powerful already. Because if it generates an advantage, people can and will learn to compensate. High end players will just practice until they can do it reliably. Making it harder to do doesn't balance the game at all - it just makes her worse at lower level play.
"Remember Orianna? She was supposed to be "balanced because while she's actually really good, she's hard to use, with all that positioning and stuff." Remember how that turned out? People will learn to compensate.
"So yeah. I don't buy it. If making her powers as easy to input as every other power in the game makes her too powerful, then she's too powerful already. All that adding mechanical difficulty does is slow down how long it takes people to notice."

And, from elsewhere:

"I'm implying that the game should be about making good decisions and being rewarded for them, and making bad decisions and being punished for them, and making interesting risky decisions and seeing how they come out.
"The gameplay is (nearly everywhere else in their game, and in most competitive games) balanced around the assumption that the user can at least get their character to do what they want. If a player picks Nidalee and has to decide 'should I use my jump now to get out of range of Garen's ult, or can I afford to wait an extra 2 seconds to reach that wall to try to jump over it', then this is an interesting choice for the player. If they escape, they will feel cool. If they don't escape, they will wonder if they should have done it differently, but either way, the outcome feels like it was because of a choice they made. If they fail and die, they'll think either 'maybe I should have tried the other way' or, at worst, 'nothing I could have done there, I guess'.
"If, on the other hand, the player makes a choice, and then... instead of either jumping away or jumping over a wall, they accidentally jump back into the waiting arms of the enemy team, in the opposite direction they want to go, then all they feel is annoyed at the crappy control scheme. They don't feel like 'oh man, I might have escaped if I'd made better choices'. They feel like 'oh man, what is up with this BS control scheme, that's not where I wanted to go at all, and I might have gotten away if the devs had actually made the controls work'.
"Making the controls harder to use is not good design. Particularly not for a competitive game. All it does is require more practice with the mechanical task of getting the character to do what you want. The pros will still do this if it gives an advantage. So at the high level (which everyone always says they should balance around), it's no different from if they just made the champ with easy-to-use controls. And at lower levels it just means the champion is substandard and requires more time to learn, for uninteresting reasons.
"How is that a good thing?"

Possible Solutions:

So, I think we can safely say that there is a real issue, but how do we go about fixing it? I'll recap some of the solutions discussed earlier (I'm just going to copy them down here for the benefits of people who skipped to this section, so no need to re-read the ones you already have), and add a couple of others that didn't fit into any of the above subsections.

From Spam-Based to Anti-Spam-Based

Mashing a button isn't a fun or rewarding gaming experience. I'm sorry, it's just not. If the goal is to eliminate the spam-to-sprint mechanic altogether, I recommend the following:

  • Increase these champs' actual movement speeds to match their artificially-inflated "spam on recharge" movement speeds; additionally, reduce their movement speed whenever their dash is used (until it comes back off of cooldown), such that there is no net reward for spamming the abilities, but all of the current movement perks are essentially retained.

This does require some fine-tuning (for example, a Q-spam Riven arrives on-scene with full passive stacks; a Pounce-spam Nidalee charges her Tear), but, overall, I think that it's the best way to address free movement via abilities: convert it into free movement, period.

I also feel I should mention that this doesn't necessarily work for champs that have resource-based dashes: it doesn't make sense to adjust their movement speed based on a spam-on-recharge paradigm when they don't, in fact, spam their movement abilities on recharge.

Spam-2-Sprint for All

I could be wrong, though, and Riot could legitimately be interested in champions mashing dashes to get where they're going; however, I find that hard to believe because, as it stands, this only applies to one and a half champions (remember Valor doesn't use the same targeting as Broken Wings). If the goal is to enable artifically-inflated movement speeds, though, we can even do that better than the current implementation:

  • Add a universal toggle, accessible via one buttonpress, for all champs, that selects between "dash/jump in facing direction" or "dash/jump toward cursor" - this gives all champs with a dash, across the board, access to spam-to-move.

As an alternative to the toggle-via-buttonpress, the targeting method might be automatically toggled based on whether or not the champion were in combat (or even onscreen), though I think that the buttonpress gives the most control to the user and is, therefore, the best solution of these.

Nimble Fighters

The most basic, half-assed, band-aid solution to this that I see involves getting rid of one of the primary cases where the skill "glitches" altogether:

  • Riven and [cougar] Nidalee ignore unit collision with minions.

This outright stops them from pathing into minions and derping in random directions. They don't even have to ignore minion collision all the time: Nidalee can ignore it only, say, when in cougar form and while Pounce is off cooldown; Riven, perhaps, only with (multiple?) stacks of her passive up (meaning that she's already dashing all over the place, let's be honest). This solution is, as stated, the least-complete of the bunch, but it changes the game from what it currently is in the smallest way of the proposed solutions.

For those that care, though, this solution is thematically-fitting: Nid and Riven are both extremely agile champs, as it stands, arguably as much so as Fizz; sharing this aspect of his passive makes sense, at the very least.

In Closing

Overall, I just don't think that there's any real justification for having your champ sometimes flat-out not do what you're trying to tell them to. Giving a champ a crappy QoL because "they'd be too strong, otherwise" isn't good balance, and I'd even go so far as to say that Riot knows it: have they ever QoL-nerfed a champ? I've never seen "this skill was too powerful, so we made it sometimes shoot in a random direction in order to balance it" in the patch notes. There are better ways to preserve the high points of these abilities while making them feel good to use.

What do you think? Have you got another solution or, rather, a reason why you don't believe it should be "solved" at all?

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