Riot Games designer says counterplay, teamplay essential to multiplayer experiences

Including counterplay and team-based attack mechanics in player-versus-player combat will help designers build strong multiplayer modes, Riot Games vice president of design Tom Cadwell said in a panel at GDC 2013 last Friday.

Providing players with "satisfying" attacks is key to good game design, and attacks need to be fun, mentally engaging and have a mechanical payoff, according to Cadwell. Counterplay, or a players' response to opponents' attacks, need to be visually clear, and counterplay added to simply get players out of the way cannot be considered gameplay, he said. Counterplay should be "nuanced, skilled and interesting," offering players multiple options to evade or counterattack.

"There needs to be an opportunity to respond, and it's something you need to care about." he said, citing fireballs in Mario games as an example of clear counterplay mechanics that are visually appealing.

Cadwell noted that "satisfaction is not zero sum," saying players that are losing matches can still be satisfied with gameplay if they have access to a solid counterplay system structure. Good attack designs can also enable heroism; such attacks will allow other players to "take one for the team" and absorb damage dealt towards teammates. Heroism in team-based games, he said, is one way to move players towards feelings of having fun.

Teamplay needs to build opportunities for player-driven teamwork, Cadwell said. Abilities that enhance team stats but don't provide strong teamwork opportunities can only be considered buffs, he explained. Teammates should be able to clearly identify teamplay moments, and the game should give players the opportunity to react accordingly to specific situations and team up for more powerful attacks or to protect one another.

"Teamplay occurs when teamplay is possible, when the occasion to respond is there and when gameplay is nuanced," he said. "There are limits to teamwork moments in games right now, and there are a number of noteworthy ones. Whenever players feel they are exhibiting teamwork, the first thing they're going to do is credit their team."

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