Howdy! Tahalden here with the final installment of The 6 Design Values.
With League here to stay for years, the game has to modernize. In order for this to happen certain things need to improve, such as the graphics of the game, as well as making League accessible to as broad a player base as possible. This need for improvement links to one of the most important design values – Clarity.
Do abilities clearly communicate their purpose to players? Can the graphics provide the needed distinction between clutter and essentials for both players and spectators?
One of the champions that suffered from hidden power and poorly telegraphed abilities is Trundle. We’ll talk about his rework and how Clarity as a design value influenced it.
Let’s dive in. Welcome to Design 101!
(Artwork by kkako)
“Clarity means we want distinct, transparent mechanics in everything we design. When the outcome of a game hinges on a player’s ability to quickly assess the situation, information needs to be clear and accessible. This doesn’t mean we tell players the best play to make, but we should make sure they have the right info to make calls as best they can.”
- Transparency: If information is available in the game, it must be clearly visibly and easily accessible. Jungle timers are an excellent example of this aspect, as we discussed in a previous article. At the end of the day, bookkeeping jungle timers was a rather shallow skill dimension. Modernizing the game by adding UI support for jungle timers ended up the best way forward in terms of game Clarity.
- PvP is the name of the game: Closely related to the first point, not all information should be displayed blatantly. Riot Nome alluded to the absence of turret range indicators, which requires clear aggro indicators so that players can react appropriately. This strengthens the player-player interaction while toning down player-game interaction. And you don’t need a pencil or a chat box to write down the aggro range of a turret.
- Readability: A lot is going on on the Rift. Spell effects have to be readable and easily distinguishable from other spell effects, champions, and the environment. Most importantly, players should be able to interpret quickly what abilities do without having to pull up Google. Especially for older champions, this proves to be an issue. For Clarity purposes, the Summoner’s Rift VU aims to prioritize spell effects over champion and environment graphics, as discussed in this Dev Blog.
These points apply directly to gameplay concerns. Clarity can also apply to the thematic cohesion of a champion’s kit, as well as lore.
A Quick Aside: Clarity Applied To Sion
As an example, Sion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at all. Lore-wise, he is a big hulking undead zombie with a big axe that is looking to smash your head in. However, his kit is a jumbled up combination of AP and AD-based abilities that don’t really mesh well. As a result, the player has to choose between an AP build path or an AD build path, and essentially have the game revolve around 2-3 out of his abilities. To new players this makes no sense whatsoever.
His most viable build is AP-based. The play pattern consists of charging the shield, Death’s Caress, and having it explode in the face of your opponent. Cryptic Gaze helps to lock down a target as a point-and-click stun. In other words, Sion plays like a mage…with an axe? Right.
Especially, the shield is counterintuitive. A shield conveys that a character has additional, temporary protection. Hence, you want to hold back attacking the target until the shield wears off. However, in Sion’s case, you have to destroy the shield to avoid taking damage. Topping that off with an unavoidable stun makes the kit rather obnoxious without clearly telegraphing how to deal with it.
The mess that is Sion is going to be resolved in the upcoming gameplay and visual overhaul, supposedly before the end of the year.
Contrary to the previous articles, this one is focused on a champion that actually did not see a lot of changes throughout the history of the game, except for one major update. Even so, the gameplay changes were limited for Trundle. In fact, most of the changes were focused on in-game clarity and quality-of-life changes to increase Trundle’s viability.
Let’s first consider Trundle’s original kit.
- P — Decompose: A small heal every time a minion near Trundle dies
- Q — Rabid Bite: An on-hit auto-attack enhancement. After triggering, Trundle has increased AD while his target has decreased AD by half the amount
- W — Contaminate: Trundle has increased attack speed, movement speed and tenacity in a large area
- E — Pillar of Filth: Places a temporary impassable beacon that displaces enemies and slows nearby enemies
- R — Agony: Steals stats from a target. A percentage of resistances for a short period of time, and a flat amount of health permanently
Unlike Sion, the kit made sense thematically and was coherent. Trundle was all about stealing stats from his opponents and sustaining off of the death of enemies alike. The issues in terms of Clarity, in this case, concerned the hidden power of stealing stats, as well as how the abilities were telegraphed to the players. Let’s go over some of the abilities in depth.
Rabid Bite – Not just a self-buff
Trundle’s Q not only buffs his AD, but also debuffs the target of the ability. The only way a player could figure this out is by checking his (de-)buffs bar. In addition, Trundle’s buff was conveyed by a glowing club, which was not obvious before the rework, depending on the skin you picked. Trundle steals AD, but this is not clearly communicated in-game graphically, therefore presenting a big Clarity issue.
Rabid Bite also functions as an auto-attack timer reset. When you activate the ability, Trundle will immediately follow up with an auto-attack albeit with a very different animation. The animation did not synergize well with increased attack speed, because at some threshold, Rabid Bite would actually react more slowly than if you were to just continue auto-attacking.
If you knew about this odd ability and auto-attack interaction as a player, you would greatly improve Trundle’s effectiveness, but this was in no way communicated in the game.
Trundle’s W is an area-of-effect self-buff. But, as an enemy player, should I get off that area? Does it affect me at all? It doesn’t, but this was not communicated clearly.
Moreover, the affected area was barely visible before the rework. Check out the video below where Trundle heads into a team fight on top of contaminated ground that is barely visible. Granted, the environment graphics used to be not nearly as crisp as they are today, even before the visual upgrade of Summoner’s Rift.
Agony – How do I counter this?
In the video above, Trundle rushes into the team fight and activates his Ultimate on Warwick. You can tell by the green glow on Trundle that he gains defenses from the Ultimate. Warwick also shows a greenish spell effect that tells he is debuffed. Did you see it among all the green environment pixels?
Again, the environment nowadays is not as cluttered as it used to be, so the spell effect might have been more visible today. To me, though, the greenish spell effect on Trundle’s enemy does not convey that his defenses are lowered.
The Ultimate used to steal a flat amount of health permanently and a percentage of resistances temporarily. You could not derive this difference between health and resistances from in-game spell effects, nor from the debuff icon. How should a player figure out how to counter Trundle?
Building health instead of resistances was the most efficient way to do so, creating an unsatisfying experience for both sides. If the enemy knew about this, Trundle’s effectiveness plummeted. If the Trundle player did not, he would not be able to figure out from which target he would benefit the most.
Trundle 2.0 – Marked Improvement, But…
In came the gameplay and visual update for Trundle with Patch 3.6. The most important changes included improved visual effects and some of the hidden quirks of Trundle’s kit being ironed out. Trundle’s lore was also changed to fit better in the world of Runeterra, resulting in every ability being renamed.
- P — King’s Tribute: No change
- Q — Chomp: Number’s change and animation speed scales with Trundle’s attack speed. Slows by 75% for a very short time
- W — Frozen Domain: Tenacity buff removed. Added increased healing and increased attack-speed buff
- E — Pillar of Ice: Interrupts channels. Unchanged otherwise
- R — Subjugate: Now drains a percentage of the target’s maximum health instead of a flat amount
Let’s go over Trundle’s troublesome abilities again, one by one.
Chomp – Still not just a self-buff
The animation for Trundle’s AD buff is more clearly visible through the glow of his club. Moreover, when Q is activated, Trundle has a new breathing animation to warn players. However, the target of the enhanced auto-attack still has no way to tell he is de-buffed, other than an icon.
A notable change to the ability is the addition of the short-lived, but significant slow. This does communicate that you’ve been hit by Chomp. If you don’t know about these details though, it’s still hard to tell from in-game animations. Abilities that add or take away stats of any kind have always been hard to communicate in the game – Hi, Sona!
Frozen Domain – This is troll town!
The affected area is now shown more clearly, in addition to a range indicator. A nice little addition is Trundle’s voice-over lines that are played only upon casting the ability: “This is troll town!” or “You’re in my kingdom now!” It’s a creative way of telling the enemy that Trundle is at home in Frozen Domain, and as a result, receives a buff – While it doesn’t affect the enemy.
In addition, there is no more bonus tenacity. Previously, players would be punished for using crowd control on Trundle when on contaminated ground, while using crowd control on a fast-moving and high attack-speed Trundle would have been the intuitive reaction.
Subjugate – Size Matters
When Trundle ults an enemy, he now grows in size, while the enemy becomes smaller. This actually visually conveys to players that defenses are being stolen away by Trundle. The stolen health is now also percent-based, doing away with the binary effectiveness of the ability.
All-in-all, the rework did a decent job of improving the in-game readability of Trundle’s abilities. It’s also more obvious how to play against Trundle. But the nature of Trundle’s kit — stealing stats from your enemy — remains troublesome in terms of Clarity. Perhaps Trundle will be reworked one day to do away with this stats juggling, for the same reason Sona was.
The When and How Of Trundle
Trundle will always be a niche pick. He is often played as a counter to tanks, and is renowned for scaling amazingly well into the late game, thanks to simply stealing away defenses and AD from the opposing team. When you consider picking Trundle, think about what kind of tanks the opposing team has.
Trundle thrives against AD-based tanks like Renekton and Shyvana in lane, owing to Chomp and Subjugate. Trundle has more trouble with the currently popular Maokai and Alistar, though, because both champions bring tankiness to a team in the form of percent-based damage reduction rather than health or resistances.
When building Trundle, here’s a bit of advice to keep in mind:
- Trundle’s role is primarily that of a tank, so focus on tanky items. Don’t just build blindly, though, and adapt your build according to who’s doing well on the opposing team!
- Because you will be able to use your Ultimate on the opposing team’s tank, check what he’s building. If their tank is prioritizing health, go for resistances first, and vice versa to be the most effective in team fights.
- A single offensive item works well with Trundle, especially on-hit attack-speed items, such as Blade of the Ruined King. Remember the synergy with the attack-speed buff from Frozen Domain and the AD buff from Chomp!
- Cooldown reduction is interesting — but not a priority — for Trundle, because at the maximum of 40%, you can almost continuously have Frozen Domain up.
Moving forward, Clarity is one of the most influential design values when modernizing League of Legends. In order to make the game more accessible to new players, as well as spectators, transparency of game rules and readability of abilities are the priority.
The original Trundle suffered a lot from not clearly conveying what his abilities do to other players.
- The spell effects were not easily visible in the game
- Trundle’s abilities buff him and debuff opponents in unclear ways
- Special quirks with how Trundle worked that made playing as him and against him difficult
With Clarity as the driving force, many of these issues were cleaned up with Trundle’s rework. His kit as a whole has become more consistent and does not require you to know attack-speed thresholds. But because of the stats-oriented nature of Trundle’s kit, I wonder if the champion will remain as we know him in years to come.
Which champion or gameplay element do you think suffers from a lack of Clarity in game? Drop a comment below!
This was the last installment of the article series, The 6 Design Values. If you’d like to go back and check out the previous articles in this series, here’s an overview:
- Mastery & Lee Sin
- Meaningful Choice & Kha’Zix
- Counterplay & Skarner
- Teamplay & Sona
- Evolution & Lucian
- Clarity & Trundle
Music Discovery of The Day: