Over lunch, Turbine’s Adam Mersky, director of communications, puts it this way, “We have a little experience of going into markets with 800-pound gorillas.”
He’s making the case for why Turbine are ready to to succeed in a MOBA market dominated by Valve’s Dota 2 and Riot’s League of Legends. Turbine have historically been an MMO studio, never the team behind the genre-defining smash hit of the day, but surviving several booms and busts with highly-regarded games that speak to a passionate fan base.
“Everyone called characters in Lord of the Rings Online ‘toons’ [old WoW slang for player-characters] for like, the first eight months. But then once they play, they understand and ...start forming their own culture around it. But at this point, you need a point of reference, right?”
Infinite Crisis’ point of reference, for both its potential audience and often for its own developers, is League of Legends. But its guiding inspiration is the the DC Comics universe. It should be a match made in heaven, but first Turbine need to find a way to reconcile their two major influences. Infinite Crisis’ first battle is being waged daily by the development team, as they attempt to define it on its own terms.
The day starts with a battle.
On one side of the large testing room, the five members of the Infinite Crisis Quality team are arrayed at their PCs, ready for a battle. They are led by Infinite Crisis design lead Ryan Bednar.
These are not bug testers like a Quality Assurance team, but more like wine-tasters for the rest of the development team at Turbine. Their job is twofold: to be very, very good at playing Infinite Crisis, and to use their expertise to identify the kind of make-or-break qualitative issues that determine success in the MOBA genre.
Like a fighting a game, a MOBA is all about responsiveness and feedback. Get those things even a little bit wrong, and nobody will stick around to get past them. There are too many other options, and the standards are too high. It’s got to be crisp, fast, and clear at the fundamental level. And then it has to be satisfying for the very best players. All of this — how Infinite Crisis feels, the dynamics of team play at the highest level, the way the layout of the map promotes tactical variety — is down to the Quality team.
But today they’ve got more pressing concerns. Across the room are the five members of compLexity’s League of Legends team, who have been consulting with the Infinite Crisis developers throughout the year. They are doing this in their spare time outside of practicing for the LCS Spring Promotion tournament, where they stand a strong chance of breaking back into the North American LCS division after they lost their slot earlier this year.
In a week or so they will release one of their star players and basically give up on their chances to re-enter LCS, but for now they’re all smiles. Maybe it’s because this is a respite from the “work” of preparing to play professional League. Work that’s increasingly put them at odds with one another.
Their relationship to Infinite Crisis is partially about promotion. They have been playing the game at MLG events and trade shows throughout the year, showcasing it for an audience that is at once curious and skeptical of yet another MOBA, albeit one that boasts the characters from the DC Comics’ “multiverse”.
But they are also here to put the game through its paces. As pro-gamers they have reflexes, abilities, and insight that nobody at Turbine can really match. One of the Turbine developers tells me a story about how one of compLexity’s players noticed an issue with the “feel” of one character and commented, offhanded, that one of his powers caused a three or four frame hesitation in the animation. It made the action feel a bit unnatural. It was true, but nobody on the development could see it or define the problem. That’s the kind of precision and insight Turbine want to put to use.
Today, compLexity and the Turbine devs are playing on Gotham Divided, Infinite Crisis’ tri-lane map. It’s the newest addition to the game, and perhaps the most important. The tri-lane map configuration, for better or worse, is the standard for competitive MOBA play. It promotes the classic tactics and class interactions that define the genre.
This is a test run, but there’s also an element of competition to this session. The Quality team feel like they can win this. They play every day, they practice, and they know the map intimately. CompLexity don’t have those advantages, and while they’ll probably be untouchable by day’s end, the Turbine developers feel like they have a decent chance to take the first day of the game.
The teams make their picks. Here compLexity’s inexperience shows as they forego an AD carry — the high-damage DPS class that is crucial for doing sustained damage in team fights and for taking down fortifications. It’s a slip-up that gives the Quality team another advantage. In the meantime, a growing crowd of Infinite Crisis developers filter into the room bearing early-morning coffee and notepads. These kind of high-level play events are a rare event for the team, and they want to soak up as much information as possible. Everything is under a microscope.