Getting To Know Your Developers: Douglas Houserman from S2Games

by GamingBits on March 5, 2014

in General Gaming News Bits, Getting To Know Your Developers [GTKYD]

Who are you and what do you do in the gaming industry?
My name is Doug and I am a Creative Game Designer on Strife; I work on heroes, items, game systems, and more.
What are you working on currently or just released?
Right now I am working on new heroes, but I am also gathering feedback from new players.  It’s very important to us to reduce the burn points as much as possible when a new player comes into the game.

Where did you come from in terms of the gaming industry? Any particular field such as developing console games or was this a first adventure?
Before working at S2 Games, I developed many mods for Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2.  Game design has always been a passion of mine and S2 Games seemed like a perfect fit considering the evolution of HoN coming from DotA.
MOBA’s generally have a steep learning curve, how does Strife aim to make that different for new players wanting to join the arena?
Strife makes the accessibility of MOBAs greater than ever and improves the new player experience.  The first time you load Strife, you will be presented with an introductory campaign.  This campaign is designed to explain all the basics of Strife in a fun and interesting way.  However, we also wanted to tackle the game mechanics themselves.  We focused on removing as many hidden rules as possible such that a player can quickly glance at the game and understand the strategy behind it.
One such example is pushing a lane at the start of the game.  In traditional MOBAs, players are encouraged to play passively and never do more than attack the enemies for the last hit.  In Strife, this is still a viable strategy, but playing aggressively and pushing the lane as hard as possible is also viable.  This is more intuitive because players naturally want to attack their enemies.  This design decision also creates more depth because it provides more options during the laning phase.
In addition, Strife attempts to tackle toxicity, a major barrier of entry for many players.  Toxicity is the act of treating other players in a hostile manner during the game.  By adjusting the information available to players to de-emphasize poor performance and eliminating mechanics that causes allies to compete over resources with each other, Strife has seen substantially less toxicity than other games in the genre.
In Heroes of Newerth, I am sure that there were things that worked and things that didn’t. What has S2 learned from from these experiences?
Heroes of Newerth did a lot of things very well.  The engine is fast and response, the abilities feel impactful to use, and the game has an extremely high skill ceiling, making the game very replayable.  Unfortunately, the game also has a very high learning curve, has a bit of issues with toxicity, and can be difficult to read.
With Strife, we tried to maintain or improve upon the things we did well.  Through reduced toxicity and a less steep learning curve (which can only be done from clean sheet design), we have already seen a tremendous positive response from the community.  In addition, with our simpler ground textures players are able to easily discern individual skills and heroes, allowing them to not lose themselves in the action.
How does Strife plan to appeal to the competitive scene?
We haven’t announced anything specific regarding the competitive scene.  However, we want to be careful not to force competitive play because it can change the atmosphere to be less enjoyable for many players.  We are letting the community craft and develop the competitive scene that they would like to see.
What are some of the new mechanics implemented in Strife that differ from the other MOBAs?
Strife has a ton of differences that make it truly next-generation.  For example, our boss on the map is called “Cindara”.  When Cindara is defeated, she summons Krytos – the Great White Ape – to fight for your team.  Krytos pushes lanes and disables enemy towers, providing an advantageous opportunity to engage the enemy.  This forces engagement between the two teams rather than encouraging passive play.
In addition, because wards are both tedious and penalize support players, we decided to replace them with “Observatories”.  Observatories are used to spot check areas of the map to gain valuable information.
Strife also mixes up the laning phase by adding “Out-of-Combat Regeneration”.  This provides boosted mana and health regeneration when avoiding enemy engagement for a short period of time.  It also rewards roaming between the lanes and introduces additional counterplay between heroes.
What was the main objective when developing Strife?
Strife’s primary objective was to create an action-oriented experience with as few barriers to entry (such as toxicity and learning curve) as possible.
Has Toxicity been an issue in the closed beta so far? 
Strife has been very successful in minimizing toxicity.  While it is impossible to completely eliminate toxicity, we have utilized proactive design to eliminate the majority of situations where the gameplay would prime toxic engagements between players.  Later in the Strife Beta, players will see significant improvements to our reactive measures via the Karma System.
In a world of MOBA’s, how will Strife stand out? What differs from a game like Heroes of Newerth or League of Legends to Strife?
As mentioned earlier, Strife focuses more on action-oriented gameplay, reducing toxicity, lowering the learning curve, and providing lots of customization.  We did this via crafting, pets, removal of wards, gold sharing, Krytos, and reworking information available to the player.  These concepts are all discussed elsewhere in the interview.
Strife has pets?! What was the idea behind this concept?
Pets are designed to compartmentalize progression into a flavorful package!  But more seriously, they are designed to be an openly visible linear form of progression providing passive and active skills to the player.  One of the advantages of hooking together multiple effects into one Pet is that it gives us multiple ways to balance activateable skills.  If we put passive Attack Speed on a Pet in addition to a vanish skill, it lowers the chance that we will see everyone running around with vanish and provides an additional knob we can adjust.
What about item crafting?
In Strife, all items are made of components and a recipe, however, a completed item will never build into another item.  The Crafting System provides us the unique opportunity to allow players to customize the components that are used to make an item.  In addition, crafted items have a chance to be randomly empowered with additional bonuses (unrelated to the components used).
Crafting allows our item system to be lean.  By allowing players to customize the components, every item is opened up to a wider array of heroes.
Where can our readers go if they want to see more about the game and see it in action?
The best place to go would be our website:  In addition, we also have a Twitter account @S2Strife and a Facebook page at StrifeTheGame! You should also check out our community run reddit page!
Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
I just want to thank everyone for supporting Strife thus far.  Your feedback has helped tremendously in making Strife truly a next-generation MOBA!
Big thanks to Kevin Carpenter and Douglas Houserman for making this segment of GTKYD possible!
  • andekev

    Very nice interview, important questions and thoughtful answers. Good job skyler.

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