Valve’s Entry to VR Targets the Standing Experience

Tested has provided a very thorough review of Valve’s entry into the VR space – the Vine. The main takeaway I got from it all is that base-station approach seems to give a tracking ability to their controllers to the same degree as the head tracking you can get for the HMD. If true, if the steam controllers can track to the same accuracy as the headset, Valve has solved the biggest hurdle facing VR at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still several hurdles to jump, but they all pale in comparison to having a standing experience with some way of properly interacting with the environment. We still need:

  • Enough resolution to make out small text and dials (e.g. menus and flight sims)
  • A way of moving around infinite environments without inducing motion sickness. I feel like a controller could solve this, but no game I’ve tried yet has made the movement natural enough to eliminate motion sickness. e.g. Alien Isolation. Redirected Walking is a great idea I’m hanging my hat on, but it may not be practical if research indicates we need a minimum of a 23-metre-radius area.
  • Haptic feedback. I expect for the first 5-10 years of VR a controller that let’s us interact with objects that behave like air will be acceptable, but it really does make it hard to naturally interact with an environment. Can you imagine trying something that requires even a low amount of dexterity (e.g. opening a drawer) when not only are you unable to feel the handle, but your hand passes straight through it.
  • Better optics. I have taken to putting in contacts when I want to VR – glasses are uncomfortable. It’s enough of a pain to make me not bother some times. Self-focusing lens, manual focusing lens, automatic IPD measurements, a more glasses-friendly fit – I expect all of these things to make an appearance sooner or later, but at the moment they are outstanding issues.
  • General simplification of the hardware and software. When I want to use the DK2, I have to put in contacts, grab the headset (maybe plug it in), fire up the OR software, change my monitor configurations (issues with Extended Mode), somehow fire up and navigate demos and games that are often half-in and half-out of VR (e.g. Windows is out of VR, but in the game the menus are in VR… but require the keyboard to navigate which I can’t see.) A lot of these problems will be solved when more software utilises the Rift’s Direct Mode, but due to limitations within Windows this hasn’t been widely adopted yet.
  • 180 degree field of view. At the moment the FOV of the DK2 is pretty good (and the Vine appears to be slightly worse in that regard), but it would really help presence and immersion if the engineers can get that FOV to encompass all of our peripheral vision. It doesn’t really feel like you’re looking down a tube, but you do find you can’t do some of the things you would in the real world – like catching things out of the corner of your eye. You have to move your head a bit more left-and-right than you would realistically to keep your situational awareness high. I feel like I’m a quarterback scanning the field … all the time.

The haptic feedback might be a tough nut to crack (but it is also something I think we can live without for the foreseeable future) and the rest I fully expect to be quickly solved in the next 12-24 months.

The VR news has been a bit quiet of late … this has me excited once again.


HoN vs DotA (sorry no LoL)


Comparing these games is not a new concept. What is probably less common is comparing Heroes of Newerth (HoN) with Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA) rather than LoL. The reason for that is two-fold:

1. HoN was the original “DotA 2” having originally ported across 20, or so, DotA heroes and later a handful more. S2 Games also originally had Icefrog on their pay-roll to help design and balance their game and heroes. So HoN, far more than LoL, is similar to the grand-daddy game. It was designed to bring the original DotA players to new architecture and modern e-Sports standards. Although LoL inarguably won in terms of popularity, HoN is a closer comparison to DotA.

2. I played HoN for 4 years or so, and have never played LoL.

So I can cover this from the perspective of a HoN player who is considering moving to DotA 2. Should you do it? The sad conclusion I have to reach is: Yes.

Compared to the original DotA both HoN and DotA 2 improve on that game’s limitations in must-have ways: Reconnection, match making, all matches saved for replay viewing, spectating, and of course graphics.

After Icefrog left S2 Games (ostensibly to go to Valve’s DotA remake) HoN started to diverge from the original formula. To MOBA outsiders the changes would honestly seem insignificant. To anyone in the know, though, the game was changed in some pretty huge ways.

I admit – the changes were not so huge as to make switching from one to the other a massive learning curve, but enough that if you switch, you’ll miss many of the tweaks.

All in all I have to say: I think HoN is a better game. The changes they made over the years were nearly always (but not entirely always) improvements. It was nice to see some of the annoyances of HoN reverted, when I dropped back into DotA, but I found for the most part I was missing the improvements.

Having said that, though, there is just no arguing with DotA’s popularity. S2 Games made some unfortunate (but understandable) business decisions over the years and the population has suffered. Conversely the combined brand-power of Valve, Steam, and DotA has been a massive boon for DotA. The end result, for me and my crew, is this: Queue times for a HoN match were regularly timing out after 30 minutes. In DotA, we start to complain if it creeps over 5. It’s a huge difference and wipes anyway any niceties that HoN might have had.

So my reasons for rating HoN as a better game is as follows. However, keep in mind that we’ve now left HoN for DotA and are having a fun time:

HoN’s improvements
  • Rune spawns later in the game, also HoN introduced a second “minor” rune (the equivalent to a sip from a bottle) at the other end of the river which was a nice addition
  • Range indicators are troublesome in DotA, compared to HoN’s clear and precise targeting system. You can argue “skill” but I personally don’t think so. It’s just less frustrating.
  • Dota’s removal of hero level and mana from floating above their head. Significant and easily identifiable information … just gone. Once again – is it skill to regularly click on your opponents to track their levels and mana, or is it just frustrating to be nailed with an ulti because you miscounted a level 5 for a level 6?
  • Mods. Most significantly auto buy and last-hit assist. DotA’s item-queuing system has a lot going for it, but at the end of the day autobuy was just better. Last hitting does have a high skill ceiling, but I’d argue the last hit assist mod simply made it less frustrating without lowering the ceiling.
  • Several item changes – the loss of the striders with no DotA equivalent is a shame
  • Able to buy every item from the main shop. Although I disagreed with the strategic implications of essentially-removing the secret shop, it WAS a nice usability improvement to by able to buy anything from that main shop at any time.
  • The most annoying heroes were remade into far better versions. It’s a shame to see Axe’s battle hunger return, and the original Spirit Breaker. Unless otherwise stated, the heroes on this list simply have a better concept, but I describe the mechanical changes as appropriate:
    • Devo/Pudge: I play him a lot. HoN has buffed him to hell. He’s their most played character now – but he IS incredibly fun. Devo gets max length hook from lvl 1, and his ulti gives temporary size and strength increases (with the scepter making it heal and do scaling damage.) Pudge is still fun, and because he’s more challenging with weaker mechanics I was missing the challenge. The annoying thing is, though, several of the mechanics aren’t more challenging, they’re just annoying. Because DotA is slower-paced, ppl tend to dodge his hooks with blinks and similar moves. Devo is dodgeable, but not that easily! Pudge’s animation to use his ulti is way too long. You can’t easily queue up Pudge’s rot and ulti while your victim is in transit. With Devo I would simply hook, and while the hook was in transit click the ulti and switch rot on. Pudge doesn’t seem to be able to do anything until the hooking animation is over, so you have mash like a mad-man to ulti after hooking (or, annoyingly, shift-queue it.) Also smoke of deception is the standard Pudge build, so between more easily dodging hooks and the smoke, the default Pudge tactic seems to be to “noob-ulti” rather than use skillful hooks
    • Pestilence > Slardar
    • Torturer > Leshrac
    • Legionnaire’s/Axe’s second skill was remade in HoN because battlefury is just dumb. Terrifying charge is much better – as is the tweaks to taunt (causing enemies to attack twice as often but do half damage.) DotA recently reduced the cooldown on counter helix because they knew it was too weak. HoN’s is a cleverer buff.
    • Hammerstorm > Sven
    • Gladiator (and all his alts) >>>>> Kunkka
    • Pharaoh (especially some of his alts) > Clockwerk
    • Andromeda >> Vengeful Spirit
    • Sand Wraith > Spectre
    • Flint Beastwood > Sniper
    • Soulstealer > Shadow Fiend
    • Doctor Repulsor > Storm Spirit
    • Soul Reaper > Necrolyte (or at least, SR’s map-wide YOUR SOUL IS MINE when he kills someone with his ulti is far more awesome)
    • Witch Slayer > Lion
    • Demented Shame > Dazzle
    • Bubbles > Puck
    • Succubus > Bane
    • Rampage >>>>>>>>>>>>>> Spirit Breaker. HoN struggled for a really long time to get Rampage right. Everyone agreed Spirit Breaker was a terrible character – annoying to play against, and useless in team fights. No respectable line up would take him, but he was very popular in pubs. HoN adjusted practically every character that fell into this category, of which Spirit Breaker was the poster child… and now, by switching to DotA, he is back. It just breaks my heart. Rampage is also, conceptually, a thousand times cooler
  • HoN also worked to change the meta to a more gank-oriented, less farming/pushing meta. This is most obvious in two ways:
    • Pushing heroes like Nature’s Prophet and Phantom Lancer who make a living just jumping from lane to lane pushing up creep waves. It’s a powerful strategy, but very annoying and not much fun. That style of hero is not nearly as effective in HoN and it’s incredibly frustrating to have to play against Nature’s Prophet every damn game as a result of the strategy being not only viable, but very strong
    • Durable heroes are gone. It’s been a mantra since HoN’s beta that there are no “tanks”, only initiators. Some heroes, like Legionnaire and Amadon, CAN become extremely durable, but it’s rare and not a role the meta is designed to include. DotA, however, has a large number of durable heroes designed, entirely, to be unkillable.
  • Most of the really annoying heroes, as well as the heroes that were practically just “right-clickers” were never ported (or remade when ported.) It’s sad to see the return of Drow’s +AGI ulti, Centaur’s 1 active skill (oh he was remade. Well he WAS boring. Still plenty of “right-clickers” though), and so many passives in general. I admit HoN had gone a bit far, practically banning passives or using strange and convoluted effects sometimes to make abilities stand out – but they were closer to being fun-without-silly than DotA is, IMHO.
  • I feel like Kongor is a lot harder to kill or solo at early levels. It is practically a given strategy for Ursa Warrior solo Roshan at level 8, and thereafter every time he respawns. This seems silly to me, and HoN made many tweaks and modifications to Kongor to make sure it was a big risk vs reward. Roshan seems to be, under certain fairly attainable scenarios (i.e. pick Ursa) to be reward with practically no risk.
  • Can automatically mute everyone in chat easily. Ugh. I have said for years now: Just turn the chat off, and ignore it (unless you’re playing with friends, of course.) Productive, useful things are only said on chat 5% of the time. Sacrifice that small percentage to increase enjoyment 10-fold.
  • Micro transactions. HoN’s downfall; not getting in on this from the get-go that is. Once they did, though, they did it right. Well, actually, it took a little while for them to find their feet. However, by the time I stopped playing I had a good collection of avatars and it was one of my favourite things to run through the store and check out the latest additions. DotA’s drop system is cool and fun… but for them to just be wearable items (and I think I’m going to need a LOT more experience to realise that people are even equipping alternative outfits) is pretty lame. Let me put it this way: Flint Beastwood might be a dual-wielding orc, or a dwarf with a big gun. I see an enemy or ally with that alt and I think “heh. That’s pretty cool” (or, if it’s a lame one: Eww. That’s terrible.) When someone has new equipment in DotA, I can’t tell until I’ve been killed by them and the kill screen pops up to let me know.
HoN’s Mistakes
  • The pathfinding around creeps and heroes has always been atrocious in HoN. You could argue it adds an element of skill – hero blocking – but it is more frustrating than skillful. It still happens in DotA but it is far more natural, and less frustrating.
  • HoN played around with the pull timers which sucked big time. It’s nice to go back to DotA’s simpler timings. (Note that DotA has come to the same conclusion about pulling being too powerful and their solution was to swap the small and medium creep camps… HoN came to the same conclusion 6 months earlier.)
  • DotA allows you to pick and choose add-on packs. Such as new announcers. I dread new announcers arriving in HoN, it means I have to mod the announcer files by hand to remove them because there has not been a single worthwhile one. Not even the latest, vaunted, Samuel L. Jackson one. The original is still the best.
  • Speaking of which, HoN’s voice acting and Hero’s lines in general are far below Blizzard’s original offering and DotA’s in terms of quality and writing.
  • Although it works to stop Devo and Andromeda from swapping people into un-escapable locations, sometimes the “free pathfinding” kicks off at the wrong times and people slide away over cliffs and the like

So, that’s all I could think of for now. Every time I play DotA 2 I come across another little thing that I’m glad to see back (or has been improved on from DotA days) or disappoints me, because HoN had fixed it already.

All-in-all I have to say HoN is just a better game. Better balanced, less annoying, better meta and works at all skill levels. DotA seems to still carry much of its old baggage that it should really abandon (pub-stomp heroes are still a valid category of hero in DotA.) However, DotA is far, far, more popular. I’ll take DotA and all its failing with a 2-5 minute queue over HoN’s 15-30minute queues any day.