Super MNC - Game Design that bugs me...

Super Monday Night Combat Invitational (hereafter referred to as Super MNC) is the open Beta for Uberents follow-up to the XBox Live (followed by a PC port) Monday Night Combat. The original was a game I really enjoyed, and it went down pretty well at Decembers Fishcon. It steals shamelessly from Team Fortress 2's graphic styling and humour, while also borrowing from the Unreal combat sports flavours.

The basic premise of the game is to progress through an arena along one of 2 main routes between enemy bases, and escort your stream of robots, who can remove the shields from the enemy base. Once that is done you can attack it directly. There was a tower-defense element too, with a number of points around the map where gun turrets could be built. Players could level up throughout the game, and typically it was a game where one side would slowly gain advantage, until a certain tipping point was reached, their base was invaded, and the mocking began. Teams were built from a number of classes, with each having a distinct and useful role in the game (I tended to play Support, as it required less aiming, and gave you a bit of time to set up strong defenses with turrets and towers).

This style of game is referred to normally by referencing DOTA (Defense of the Ancients), a Warcraft III mod where players would escort monsters from base to base, destroying towers en route. There are a few of these games out there at the mo, and notably many of them use the "Free to Play" model which is so popular with middle-sized developers, as it quickly develops revenue. League of Legends is one of the bigger ones, as is Dungeon Defenders. I've tried both, and quickly decided that they were fairly awful...League of Legends in particular is entirely encased in the need to spend money in order to play...there are (literally) hundreds of characters you can use, however every week oly 2 are unlocked for free play, the rest must be bought. You can also purchase boosts, costumes, items etc. In theory much of this can be unlocked with playtime, however in reality it would take hours of play to unlock even one character permanantly.

For Super MNC, while the basic flavour of the game remains the same, there is a heavy borrowing from League of Legends. There are now more characters, with 5 per week on free-rotation (1 from each of the main 5 classes...Heavy, Assault, Assassin, Sniper and Defender). You can only play online, and the vast majority of games are random allocation of players, who must then pick a character, with no duplicates in the if you want to play (for example) a Heavy, but the free one has already been grabbed, you are either stuck with playing another class, or paying up for a locked one. If you get good with a character that is currently free, chances are next week that it will be locked to you. I would far rather pay out once, and have the game available (for example, Demigod is a DOTA-style game it the very classic sense, however you can play and experiment once you've bought, rather than guess...

It also now has one of my least favourite features in game design...persistant unlocks. Your character levels up between games, and as you progress you earn "Endorsements", which are basically stat-boosts. They are (admittedly) fairly small (typically 1-2% benefit on a stat), however you can stack, and also get extra slots to have them as you increase. There are some which hae a big benefit, however (for example, there is one called Money Magnet, which hovers in all money from kills in a fairly big radius....given this money is how you level this can be a big experience denier...I reckon for an average player this would take 20+ games to earn). I know exactly why they are encourage the "one more game" mentality, and to give some benefit to prolonged play...however what it also does is make the game harder for new players, and put experienced players at an increased benefit. As I always say...Experience should be it's own reward. Levels/Endorsements etc are mainly invisible (if a player stops their endorsements spin round them in a quasi-advertising sort of way...pretty rare to see the enemy doing that though...), so you will never know if the guy who just whupped you was a better player, or simply out-math'ed you.

So 2 really major gripes with a game I otherwise enjoy... I've had about 30 games, lost more than I won (I still play Support, and have unlocked the character to save hassles). The game flows well, and has a lot of character. There is less of the tower-defense element now (towers are fixed, and cannot be bought/upgraded), but you can buy additional robots, and there is an Eliminator in the middle of the pitch that once every 5 minutes can be used to kill all the opponents robots currently in the game, which can provide big swings, and control of this is a pretty major part of the game. Team balancing is often an issue with PUG-teams, and a dropped player on one side is pretty much always a pre-cursor to a loss (these are not issues specific to this game though...I think all online games will suffer this. That said the "no duplicates" has caused a few drop-outs, after a brief argument between players as to who gets to play the free class).

If anyone wants to try it I seem to get 2 invites a week, and you can also pick one up from the website (normally takes a week or so to come through). I'd rate it good, but it is I would not spend any more on it than the fiver I have put into points to unlock the Support, and it would really benefit (as all games would) from bot-support for offline games. Going straight online is the fast-track to getting whupped, and at least learning level layout and basic team strategies is vital.


How upsetting! I suppose that the new model that we (as gamers) need to follow is to set a budget to what we would have played for the full game (if it had been released under a normal funding model) and then spend only that much on unlocking the game in a way we want to play. That's a bit annoying because you don't really know if that's going to be enough to make the game enjoyable.

It's a shame that it's Super MNC that this has happened to because I love/hate MNC in equal parts. If you go up against and organised three/four team online in MNC, you're fucked. There's no way you'll win. That's a bit annoying. If you manage to team up with a few randoms long enough to do some good plays, you'll never match an organised side. This is a facet of all online games I play these days but I think it's particularly obvious in MNC DOTA games.

On the other hand, I've got so much fun out of Minecraft that I'd happily pay for another account or help fund some more development. The hours of fun I've had chipping away at our map have been brilliant, not to mention the 8 single play maps I have. I still want my updates for free but at the same time, I'm tempted to put more cash into it.

These annoying funding models are here to stay and I imagine we are going to have to change to accomodate them, in the same way that Steam has ultimate made our lives better.

Finally, thanks for describing DOTA, I've seen it on RPG a lot but had no idea what they were talking about.

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Brainwipe said:
Finally, thanks for describing DOTA, I've seen it on RPG a lot but had no idea what they were talking about.

I had exactly the same issue, so spent a bit of time trying to get to the bottom of it. End result is that's it's a little bit like multi-player Tower Defense, with added independant players.

I've gotten a lot of mileage out of Demigod (done by the same people who did Supreme Commander and Dungeon Siege), it supports single and multiplayer. The learning curve is, to put it bluntly, fucking insane, as there is no tutorial, and the book laughs at you, and tells you to learn by playing (and then suggests that no-one really likes playing tutorials), but Simpson and myself battled through it and now have a pretty good handle on tactics.

I agree with you that DOTA games favour well organised teams, and especially the punishment for's not so much the time out of the game, but rather the experience/cash boost you give the opposition, and it's typically this that ends up allowing one team to push further forward. Apparently in game-lingo this is called "feeding", and if you have a player on your side who dies a lot (I've seen this a lot in Super MNC, with the more finesse-based classes especially, like Assassin) you end up with the opposition 1-2 levels higher across the board, and it's that pretty much game over. A good team will know when to run away, and deny the kill to the opposition.

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