When Riot Games first announced that it was adding the ability to play co-operatively against AI bots to League of Legends, it expected it to be used by noobs, says producer Mark Norris. "When we put it out there, we put it out there with sort of the sole intent of having new players get an introduction to League of Legends."
But what the company found was that the game mode, which takes some of the human element out of the MOBA genre's relatively steep learning curve, was actually being used by all sorts of players. "One thing that kept coming up was the majority of the people who play League of Legends will play, every week, at least one co-op vs. AI game. And it's actually the primary game mode for a surprisingly large percentage of players."
With that insight, then, it's probably not surprising to hear that Riot is updating the co-op vs. AI game mode, enabling AI bots for 40 of the game's champion characters, as well as adding play on the Dominion game mode to the mix.
When the Co-op vs. AI mode was first introduced, Riot bragged that these bots would definitely present a challenge to the average player. But these days, the current co-op vs. AI bots are little more than punching bags -- most players can figure out their patterns pretty easily, and the sneakiest players can even bug them out by leashing them around the map through tower lanes (a bug that Riot has finally fixed in this update, by the way).
So Riot has made a real effort not just to make the bots harder, but actually make them play more like real players. "One of the big things was," says Norris, "that we had Ashe as an original bot, but Ashe would use her arrow, which was a skillshot. It wouldn't be at all predicted -- 'there's a point to point target there, I'm going to use the Ashe arrow.' Now they'll actually use predictive targeting."
Bots will also avoid towers more often now, know better when to press forward and attack, and when to back off from battle. If a player tries to jump a pair of bots in the game now, "one may actually slow you trying to allow the other one to get away. It'll give you a much more realistic look at how you can use your own character."
The full list of 40 bots (which you can see below) has a lot of different choices in it, and Norris says that's one of the biggest improvements to the AI system overall. The enemy team now has thousands of combinations for the various roles of AP or AD and support or tanking, which means players will see a much more varied team when they queue. And when you add in that all of these bots now work in Dominion, there's a lot of opportunity for players to do what Riot found they were already doing with the co-op vs. AI mode, which is not just learn the game, but test out new team compositions and new champions and builds.
The new bots are still far from perfect -- a player who's already scoring double-digit kills during co-op vs. AI games will likely still run circles around the computer. Even with the updates, bots still have trouble predicting a gank, and they really only respond to players when they're both close and seen (both stealth and bushes make it pretty easy to trick the computer). There are some surprising moves there, however: Bots will now do things like target support and DPS rather than tanks in teamfights, and work together in Dominion, with one blocking a tower while the other is free to attack.
One thing bots still won't do is jungle. "The interesting thing about jungling is that it's not just jungling," says Norris. "It's actually very easy to have a bot go take ogres, then wolves, and so on." The tough part for Riot is programming a bot that knows when to dive into the opposing jungle, or even set up a gank for the human team. "That's actually a huge advanced area that we do want to look at and get into, that we're in the the real rudimentary stages of trying to figure out right now."
Bot jungling will probably end up in a yet-to-be-created Advanced, or "Skilled," co-op vs. AI mode -- even with the improvements to the current bots, players still only have the option of going against Beginner or Intermediate AIs. "We are looking into what Advanced modes would look like, but there are a lot of questions there," says Norris. "Level 30 is not just level 30 -- level 30 is 2200 ELO, it's 1000 ELO, and what do we really want to be focusing on there? It's difficult to tune this huge range of potential challenge into one Skilled or Advanced mode." Riot will watch and see how players deal with the new Intermediate bots, and follow that information to design a Skilled option.
Riot is making co-op vs. AI slightly more useful, even for players who would rather have a game mode than just slightly improved bots: The IP reward has been increased for each match, and the daily limit on match rewards will be removed. But Norris says Riot wants to make sure it has all of its bases covered on the current game modes before introducing another one. "We're still putting together the retrospective on the Dominion game mode," he says. "And there are things that are constantly coming out now which we're playing and taking a look at what do we want to do there. Star Wars: The Old Republic has things like Huttball, and there are all kinds of things there, so we don't want to rush into making a new game mode."
The advanced AI in this mode will help out designers for the other modes as well -- originally, minions in Summoner's Rift could only walk in one direction, and improvements in AI since then have made modes like Dominion possible. Riot has used other bot work to improve the AI on things like Dragon and Baron, and these changes open up other options across the game going forward.
In other words, these bot improvements, says Norris, are "literally the next step in the evolution of the ability for designers to use AI in our game. And that will lead to greater advances when we start taking a look at other game modes and things like that."
Here's the full list of updated bots, created to work both in Summoner's Rift and Dominion. Riot hasn't given a release date for the update itself, but it should be available on the live servers soon.
- Miss Fortune
- Xin Zhao