Hero Craft: Function, Role, Synergy and Balance

Level 36
Jul 1, 2007
Hero Craft
> Function, Role, Synergy and Balance <

The purpose of this tutorial is to guide new and experienced developers in the right path when designing heroes for their maps. I find the problem with heroes is that, no matter how polished and efficient the map's code, no matter how great the terrain and models look, most mapmakers lack the gaming experience to design a hero that works.

This guide will teach developers how to design a hero that has a particular role in the game, how to create abilities that work together both with the hero's own strategy as well as the strategy of the team, and how to balance abilities with each other so that all of them get picked, and not just the "imba" ones.

The only knowledge required to follow this tutorial is:

  • Knowledge of simple Warcraft 3 mechanics (heroes, spells, gametypes, etc.) This does not mean just melee, it basically means you have to know how a hero works.

Table of Contents:

1.0: Function of a Hero
1.1: Synergy and the Hero's Role
1.2: Balance - What is "OP"?

NOTE: This tutorial is meant to be read all the way through from the beginning. If you are reading this guide; you need to read it all, because just one section is not going to help you. Do not follow this tutorial exactly; this is meant to give you a better understanding of the mechanics of a competitive map, NOT to teach you how to make it... just to teach you how to make it better.

1.0: Function of a Hero

One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of a hero is its function in the game. Most people decide, for example, that they want to make a troll hero, and thus they make a troll hero, and stack a bunch of random "trollish" sounding abilities onto their hero and they're done. That is NOT a good idea. A hero's abilities should be designed based on the type of game the hero is going to be playing.

For example, if you are making a hero defense, you are going to want a hero with abilities that work well for killing creeps or making it easier for your team to kill creeps; i.e. damage spells, damage buff spells, armor debuff spells, healing spells, and lots and lots of AoE.

If you are making an AoS, hero arena, capture the flag, or other team-based, competitive game, you're going to want your hero to have spells that work well for killing other heroes; things such as damage spells and heals are good and all, but you need to keep the gameplay strategies in mind. What if a hero tries to get away? Disables are always nice. If your game is a team game, you should design it like a team game. Games like this are not about running in by yourself and taking out a hero one-on-one; they are about catching a lone hero while he kills creeps in the woods and beating the shit out of him before he can get away.

Contrastingly, if you are making a solo competitive map, your hero should have one-on-one abilities, or even one-on-two abilities; escape mechanisms are also necessary. Nobody wants to play a game where you run into the crossfire, shoot a few people, die, and repeat. We have a name for that kind of game; it's called Halo, and it's a bad example.

With that said, let's talk a little bit about synergy.

1.1: Synergy and the Hero's Role

Most people's idea of hero synergy is when its spells work together. For the most part, that's right, but it doesn't stop there. Making a spell that gives a little debuff and making another spell that does extra damage if the enemy has the debuff on them is not good synergy. If you want that kind of synergy, you may as well throw your chances of ever making a successful map out the window.

A hero's abilities should not necessarily synergize with themselves, but the hero's strategic role. For example, if you want a beefy strength hero whose purpose is to be the focus in a team battle, you are going to need several things:

  • Defenses. This hero is going to be taking a LOT of damage, so you'd better make sure he can do that without getting instagib'd.
  • Threat. Why would anyone want to smack the tank if the tank isn't gonna kill them? The best thing for a tank is raw damage. High attack damage, high attack speed, high movement speed, high everything. Just because he does 50% more damage than the other heroes doesn't make him imbalanced. Keep that in mind for when we talk about carries.
  • Punishment. So you smack the tank, he'll die eventually, yay. But no, what if the tank had spikes coming out of his ass, so that whenever you smack him, you get a fistful of shit-covered spikes. All crude analogies aside, you're going to want some kind of negative effect to happen to your enemies every time they hurt you.
Now the next example: A support caster. These guys are really nasty because you can never seem to kill them, because every time you try, you get beaten senseless by the tank. A support caster is meant to keep the enemies in one place while the other heroes beat on them. So, naturally, the support caster needs several things:

  • Disables. Stuns, slows, ensnares, everything. AoE if possible. The disables allow everyone else to safely beat on your enemies while you sit in the shadows laughing your ass off as your gold and experience increases.
  • Escape mechanism. So, disables don't last forever, when the pissed-off motherfucker who you just hit with a storm bolt puts his brain back together, he's gonna come for you! Since you're a slow, squishy support caster, you're going to want a way to escape. Wind walk, movespeed buffs, and blink are good examples of these. Even disables can be used to escape.
The final basic example is the carry, or the DPSer. This is the little devil that haunts the nightmares of all public gamers and makes the noobs cry OP more than any other hero. Why? Because this is the guy who gets all the kills; the guy who gets the great score, all the nice items, and gets to be 10 levels higher than everyone else. The carry has one real purpose: to make it as painful as possible for any sorry scrub who gets close to them. Thus, a carry needs these qualities:

  • Some way of doing a LOT of damage. A high attack damage, high attack speed, and things like critical strike are very popular. What most people don't realize is that damage spells that can be fired off in rapid succession are almost as good, if not better.
  • Survival mechanism. This is not like the tank's high HP and armor, this is more like Lifesteal or Lifesteal or Lifesteal or Lifesteal or maybe something like bash, divine shield or temporary spell immunity (avatar). Anything that will make sure that the other team has no hope of damaging the carry. If you didn't get it before, lifesteal is overused. Try something else.
  • Chasing mechanism. The carry is the one who is supposed to stay in the fight for the longest because he does the most damage. The other team is supposed to keep him alive. Naturally, if he is the last one alive, he is going to want some way to chase down the remaining enemies. Movement speed buffs and blink-strike type things are always great, but people tend to prefer slows. Possibly the most original chasing mechanisms I have seen are Rupture and Mana Leak (most well-known from the infamous DotA) that don't exactly hinder the enemies' movement, but if you keep moving, bad things happen.
These three hero roles are enough to make a decent competitive team, although they are not all that makes up a team. Most hero roles are hybrids of the above three. Keep it in mind, however, that there are other possibilities, and the categories can get narrowed down a bit; for example a close-range melee carry with lifesteal or a long-range sniper-like carry.

1.2: Balance - What is "OP"?

When developing a map, you have to look at the big picture. If your map focuses on lower-level gameplay, people will play it for a few days and drop it. You will get a lot of popularity for a while until everyone gets sick of it, and then they will go play something else (Examples: Warlock, Green TD, Most tag maps, Most TD maps, Most hero defense maps). If your map focuses on upper-level gameplay, if you're lucky, you might get a small, lasting player base, but chances are, you won't get anyone at all because nobody understands how to play the game (Examples: RP maps, Desert of Exile, Age of Myths, Advent of the Zenith).

With that said, you're going to want to look for something in between, catering to the newbies who will then discover an entirely different way to play the game that prioritizes teamwork a lot higher than individual skill. DotA achieved this by installing easy mode, a way for new players to get familiar with the game, and then they could start playing normal mode more competitively. Element TD achieved this simply by making countless strategies that work better on different difficulty modes; for example the interest strategy on very hard and the mass AoE towers on normal mode. Sheep Tag achieved this by creating a main strategy (mass farms) that is pretty idiot-proof, but when you start playing with people who aren't idiots, you're going to calculate things a little more.

A great way for you to achieve this that is actually relevant to the theme of this tutorial is via hero strategies. It is rather simple; try to make your heroes' abilities as versatile as possible so that they can be used for their basic purpose as well as more advanced purposes. Before I give some examples, I'm going to tell you that the best way to do this is to go simple. The strategy should be what is complicated, not the abilities themselves.

Blink is an example of a nice, simple, versatile spell. It can be used to jump into battle and initiate with a disable, it can be used to escape battle, it can be used to dodge enemy spells, it can be used to bait enemies, it can even be used to increase the damage of spells (for example DotA's Impetus).

Now I'm going to try to think of a typical, complex spell that just doesn't work too well. Oh, here we go, let's call it "Dark Helix of Q'othq'or"; it is a spell that shoots out a helical pattern of different-colored orbs, and each orb has a different effect. Red orbs damage enemies, green orbs do damage over time, and blue orbs stun them. Well, let's look at how this spell can be used... you can use it to damage enemies, stun them, and do damage over time... all at once. And that's it. Pretty straightforward; fire your laz0r. You may as well just go with Storm Bolt and give it a nice custom model.

Hopefully I have managed to give you a more fine-tuned understanding of hero mechanics, synergy, balance and the mechanics of a team-based competitive game while providing you with a healthy dose of entertainment. I might add more content later.

I apologize to all those who disapprove of DotA; I only made so many DotA analogies because it is what I have played the most and thus have the most experience with.


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Level 9
May 10, 2009
A bad tutorial to me, yet it does tell something true:
Void said:
they want to make a troll hero, and thus they make a troll hero, and stack a bunch of random "trollish" sounding abilities onto their hero and they're done. That is NOT a good idea.
I played a map called "BioShock Recon" today, and for a hero I picked Andrew Ryan. He mostly had auras. You know what I mean (though isn't Frank Fontaine that kind of guy?).
Level 4
Mar 1, 2014
Have this another role...
Nuker:This is the one that is always on the back of every team.This hero should be protected always because its very painful spell is very useful(Mostly AoE).The nuker will just enter team battle to throw all his abilities and then go home safe.The nuker should have this qualities:

1.)High mana capacity:Of course this one mostly have an active abilities.So mana capacity is the only strength of it.
2.)Escape mechanism:So the overpowered team doesn't always consider the nuker.So they will have a fucking scout that tracks the nuker.And then rape it on shadows.The nuker must find a way to escape.Maybe a curse spell or thunder clap.

hope this helps ;')
Level 21
Mar 27, 2012
In this tutorial the carry is generalized. Nukers are just a subtype. Notice how he said "for example a close-range melee carry with lifesteal or a long-range sniper-like carry."

The second one is essentially what you described, because a squishy nuker would try to stay far.
Level 12
May 22, 2015
I feel like a big point in game design that is missed - at least in discussions - is the role of positioning (obviously only applicable to games where you can control where your character stands).

There is definitely something to do with how strong a character is - like a carry hero should be powerful with lots of good items - but I think most of the design of a character should really pay attention to how their abilities define where that particular hero can be (safely), where enemies can be, and where allies can be.

Rhasta in DotA - his channelled stun ability - It is absolutely bonkers when you have allies around, but is not super significant by yourself (unless you have your ult - the mass serpent wards). It also is a terrible move when you are fighting multiple opponents (or running away, for example). This hero's affect on what areas are safe is very different from, say, Earthshaker.

With Earthshaker, enemies must disperse to avoid being killed by echo slam. Keep in mind here how blink dagger affects positioning (so powerfully so, that it is one of the most powerful items in the game - of course there is the surprise element to it as well, since fog of war can allow you to just suddenly be upon the enemy - note, though, how this danger affects positioning as well). Just being forced to disperse can have drastic effects on a team's strategy. Imagine Rhasta moves away from the main damage dealers and his channelled stun becomes useless (except for stalling, I guess - or of course with his ult).

I'll stop here as to avoid writing an essay, but just think about these ideas when you design your heroes.

Balance ability strength based on how it affects positioning (EX: short-range spells should be more powerful most of the time). Targeted, vanilla stuns can even become interesting since disabling one single enemy hero might change the positioning enough to change the outcome of a battle. Positional focus brings about more positional focus.

That is all I wanted to say. Just pay attention to where heroes are allowed to and not allowed to stand.