Author Topic: The twisted tale of Auto Chess  (Read 195 times)

Offline idolminds

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The twisted tale of Auto Chess
« on: Monday, June 10, 2019, 02:59:08 PM »
I have a weird interest in this game despite having never played it. That will probably change at some point which I will get to, but first we need a history lesson that makes this whole thing just crazy.
This all kind of starts back with Warcraft 3. WC3 had a very popular mod called Defense of the Ancients also known as DOTA. DOTA itself had several versions but one eventually became "the" DOTA. Many expected Blizzard to capitalize on the popularity of the mod and make it official but they never did, so the creator took the game to Valve to make a sequel, Dota 2. "Dota" in Dota 2 doesn't actually stand for anything because Valve had to rebrand and recreate everything because the original DOTA used the default WC3 art assets. So heroes got remade and renamed and Dota 2 has been quite popular. Blizzard then went on to make Heroes of the Storm.

Now comes Auto Chess which seems to have history repeating itself. Auto Chess (or more specifically Dota Auto Chess) is a mod for Dota 2 that has exploded in popularity. It is an interesting game where you have rounds where you buy units, merge units to make stronger versions, and then place those units on an 8x8 grid. They will then automatically fight against the teams made up by the opponents on the server who are all doing the same thing. If your units win the fight you earn gold so you can buy more units, if they lose then you take a hit to your HP based on how badly you lost. Last player alive wins. Its got an interesting mix of making decisions on which units to focus on and combo together, which ones will be better against what your opponents are building, but the auto attacking nature of the battles make it feel sort of casual, the kind of thing you can play while sipping tea.

Anyway, back to the crazy. Dota Auto Chess got extremely popular and even has people installing Dota 2 just to play it. Obviously when a new game type blows up like this we start getting the stand alones and clones. First the creators of Auto Chess partnered with a mobile company to make a mobile standalone version. Much like Dota 2 before it this requires them to remake and rename all the various heroes and units in the game. It also dropped the Dota name because now it has nothing to do with Dota. Then a couple months later Valve revealedthey are working on their own stand alone Dota Auto Chess. Interestingly the Auto Chess creators gave their blessings for Valve to do that, but they would not be working on it themselves.

Now we know why. That mobile game is coming *back* to PC as a stand alone game on the Epic Game Store. I wonder how quickly Valve will get theirs out because the mobile game is done so it should be pretty quick to see than PC release. To complicate matters, the creators of League of Legends (itself a spinoff of the original DOTA mod) have also announced their own Auto Chess gametype to become part of LoL.

Not gonna lie, I love this crazy saga. As for why I haven't tried it myself...Dota 2 is a huge download so I'm waiting for a stand alone version to try.

Offline gpw11

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Re: The twisted tale of Auto Chess
« Reply #1 on: Wednesday, June 12, 2019, 11:36:40 PM »
That's pretty interesting.

Fun story - when Defense of the Ancients first came out I was on the cusp.  I can't remember if it was OG WC3 or Frozen Throne but I was looking for mods, found it pretty much the week it started to get really popular and jumped in.  "Oh, wow - you control one hero - pretty cool!"

This was 2003 or 2005 or something.  On maybe my third day I went down the wrong lane or something. I have never seen blowback like that in a game.  Man, they said shit to me I wouldn't say to my worst enemy....who ironically is still those guys.

I'LL GET YOU ONE DAY BALLSTOMP69

Offline idolminds

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Re: The twisted tale of Auto Chess
« Reply #2 on: Thursday, June 13, 2019, 05:32:50 PM »
haha yeah those communities have some....reputations.

Valve has a "closed" beta for their standalone version called Dota Underlords. "Closed" because its actually available to anyone that buys the current Dota battle pass. Open beta opens next week.

There are two things that are interesting to me. First, its going to be on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android...so what engine are they using? I don't think they would have ported Source to mobile platforms right? And then that ties into the second interesting thing which is how quickly this materialized. Valve is not known for their speedy development. Granted they can just reuse all the art assets and sounds from Dota 2, plus the game was already designed which simplifies things significantly. But its Valve and apparently working on some kind of non-Source engine. Maybe they have some Unity experience and tried to make a mobile version of Artifact before it bombed?

Offline gpw11

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Re: The twisted tale of Auto Chess
« Reply #3 on: Thursday, June 13, 2019, 09:44:58 PM »
Hear me out here - Valve has totally ported Source to mobile.  I mean, they have all these employees, right? They can't JUST have been working on Steam for the last ten years.   It totally would not have surprised me if they were sitting on a Source mobile port.

Offline idolminds

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Re: The twisted tale of Auto Chess
« Reply #4 on: Saturday, June 15, 2019, 10:43:06 PM »
I mean...maybe? There has been rumors of Source 2 or whatever and they could have built it for multiplatform.

Offline idolminds

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Re: The twisted tale of Auto Chess
« Reply #5 on: Tuesday, July 02, 2019, 08:23:22 AM »
Sorry this got kind of long. A lot of stream of consciousness plus I got interrupted a few times while typing it up so it might be kind of disjointed.

I've had a chance to play all 3 games now and figured I'd give my thoughts.

Auto Chess proper hasn't released on PC yet but it ran ok on my phone so I played it there. It doesn't say it has bots but I somehow managed to win all 3 games I've played so far so I assume thats how they ease you in without stating as such. Buy units, place them on the board, upgrade them, give them items, etc. I'll get into the items stuff in a minute. The game looks good and even though my phone is pretty low end (Moto E4) it ran fine. I havent spent a ton of time playing because each match is like a half hour long and chews through the battery.

Teamfight Tactics is part of League of Legends. Same basic idea but with League heroes and a few twists. The "board" is made of hexes instead of a square grid, there is a group "carousel" round that lets you pick a free hero with an item, but its a little competitive because everyone is picking from the same circle of heroes. Its also a little catch-up mechanic because the player with the least health gets to pick first which is neat.

Then I played some Dota Underlords. I would say if you want to check out the genre, this would be a good place to start. Main reason being it has bots to practice against, with different levels of AI, and you can turn off the timers allowing you to read everything. This is so great because most of my time in TFT and Auto Chess has been spent feeling confused, forced to make decisions before I have enough information. It is something that would ease up over time but at least Underlords lets me get past that feeling right away by giving me the option to read everything I want before the game continues. Again, thats only vs bots. In all real games there are timers that force the game along....which thank god because all these games take 30-45 minutes to complete if you're doing well. Underlords also has a mobile version but it ran like shit on my phone. It does let you stop and continue a game on mobile or PC if you're into doing that kind of thing.

Ok so items. Auto Chess and TFT are very similar to each other and are...kind of bad. You will fight rounds where you face AI, it usually has a theme. These rounds serve as an indicator of how strong your team is. If you lose these rounds then you are probably falling behind. As the enemies are defeated they *might* drop an item for you. This is random which can often make it feel unfair when you go through these rounds and get nothing out of them. Anyway, there are a selection of items, like 8 or so. Give a bonus to attack damage, attack speed, magic resist, armor, etc. You give these to your units and they gain the buffs. Simple. But then if you give a second item to the same unit the items will combine into stronger items. While its neat its actually terrible for learning the game. You dont have enough time to read over everything so you'll probably want a cheat sheet on your second monitor or phone at least until you memorize what every item is and how to make it. Coupled with the randomness in how you even get items you can never really plan for anything. Plus you can't just swap items off your units, you have to sell the unit to take an item back from them. Better make damn sure the items you put on your 3 star units are definitely what you want them to have.

Underlords handles items differently in a way that I like. At the end of the AI rounds you will be given the choice of 3 items. They have descriptions on the screen for what they do. Some are not items but just kind of game-wide buffs like gaining an extra gold per round or something. There is no item combining so what you see is what you get, and you can swap items onto other units freely. I much prefer this system so far.

I suppose I should explain this aspect of auto chess first before I complain about something related to it. Each unit in these games has 2 (and sometimes 3) properties. Think of them as a race and class combination. So you might have a Troll Warrior, or a Troll Assassin, or a Primordial Assassin, etc. Each of these properties will grant bonuses the more of them you have on the board. 3 Warriors will grant all your warriors with bonus armor. 2 Trolls will grant your trolls an attack speed bonus. But these only apply for each unique unit, so you cant buy 2 of the same piece to throw on the board to get the Troll bonus, you need 2 different Trolls. It is these bonuses that really help you win the game.

So now the complaint. Auto Chess is based off a mod of Dota. They worked with what they had in terms of models and now their stand alone is kind of those models but legally distinct. Underlords just runs with the Dota models, and TFT uses the League models for units. This is good for people that play Dota or League because you'll already know what kinds of attacks the units do. For someone like me that played neither its just a confusing mess. I feel like someone could come along and design their units from scratch for this genre and make them so much easier to distinguish at a glance, with color coding and specific model attributes. I keep thinking about Pokemon and how its fairly easy to tell what you're up against even if its the first time you've seen a particular one. Grass type ones are green and look like plants, electric ones are yellow and have lighting style patterns, fire type are red/orange and have flames, blue pokemon are usually water based. In these auto chess games looking at a unit doesn't really tell you which race/class they belong to. This is especially a problem with the TFT carousel rounds. You have a bunch of units running in a circle with no way to hover over or click on them to see what the fuck they are. As a newbie those rounds are just me guessing or getting lucky and finding a unit I have bought this game so I know what it looks like. It is a lot to memorize otherwise.

Do I like these games? Yeah, I think I do. Kind of boardgamey where I'm making decisions in a sort of turn-based nature. I would like the units to be more easily recognizable and for games to not take quite so long to play but it appears at least that second one is being worked on. While I was typing this up I saw that Tencent is releasing a mobile game called Chess Rush in a few days with one of the selling points being a Turbo mode where matches only take 10 minutes. I'd like to try that out and seems great for mobile.

TLDR: Games are neat, I would suggest playing Underlords since you can turn timers off and play against bots for learning.

Offline idolminds

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Re: The twisted tale of Auto Chess
« Reply #6 on: Tuesday, July 02, 2019, 10:11:40 PM »
A small update to that huge post, heh. I played some Auto Chess mobile again and there is a "Novice" mode that is kind of neat. Same basic gameplay but the hero pool is smaller, items are disabled, and its only 4 players per game instead of 8. It cuts down on the complexity and time investment which makes it rather enjoyable. I managed to win a game, too!

PC version comes out in like 2 days so that will be nice. So far I'm prefering Auto Chess and Underlords over TFT. TFT just leaves me feeling confused half the time.