Hey everyone, [S2]Buro here, and I'd like to give some insight into the design iterations Rift Wars went through before being released to you!
The original idea for Rift Wars came from the beloved [S2]Kros, who programmed the base functionality of the mode all by himself in his spare time! The idea wasto create a 5v5 match of HoN where every hero has a set of random abilities, and gets a new set of random abilities every time they die. After running a few test games of this first edition, the HoN team fell in love with the mode and we began working on ways to improve the experience of playing it so that it would eventually be ready to be enjoyed by all of Newerth.
Our testing began in the Forests of Caldavar. Our goal was to create an experience as similar to Normal Mode Caldavar as possible, just with the stipulation of having random abilities. We introduced the mode into our SBT (Super Beta Tester client) for further testing and, while this mode was great fun, we noticed that we were not achieving the experience that we hoped to get from the mode. A typical test game would have a very short laning phase but, after that phase, players would almost always group up and fight constantly; without having any care to end the game. Despite the fact that all the testers were enjoying themselves, our intent was not to create an hour long skirmish of random abilities but, moreso, a twenty minute experience of pure fun and chaos. So we went back to the drawing board to find a way in which we could incorporate an end goal into the game.
With this new direction in mind, the idea to try different maps with this new mode was thrown around and we felt that it was worth a try to test out. After testing all the maps, we found that Grimm's Crossing was the best suited to handle the job. Not regular 3v3 Grimm's Crossing, but a chaotic 5v5 rendition of Grimm's Crossing. It provided us with quite a few things that Caldavar couldn't; a slight ramp up before the massive combat, the ability to have smaller skirmishes with plenty of room to move around, and the capability for interesting strategy.
Early into development we ran into a problem with the win-condition of the mode. Because we chose to go for a fast paced game with a quick re-spawn timer, players would constantly fight each other and never push to end the game. We solved this problem with a point system that took into account different objectives that happened throughout the game. The first team to 5000 points wins, where points are allotted through hero and building kills. Once a team reaches 5000 points, the other team will no longer re-spawn, and killing all of them will end the game (this on top of the regular win condition of killing the enemy's base structure). The point system also allowed us to have the quick games we were looking for. (~15 minutes)
When analyzing the mode, one of the most frustrating things we found was when games were very one-sided. Since the mode relies so much around abilities, one team having a level advantage was often crippling for the other team. In order to remedy this, we introduced a comeback mechanic where the losing team gained experience over time based on how far they were down. This made the losing team feel like they had a chance much more often and contributed to a lot more close, fun games.
One more frustrating feeling that we focused on in development was when you randomed a very poor set of abilities. To remedy this, we added the ability to earn/purchase Ability Re-roll Tokens (Amulets of Rebirth), allowing a players to re-random their abilities. This was very important because getting a poor set of abilities caused some players to get themselves killed in order to get a new set, bringing their team down in the process.
All in all, Rift Wars has turned out to be one of the most fun experiences we have had while playing HoN and we are very excited to be releasing it to the public! Rift Wars will be released to Newerth as a Beta product. This is being done for two reasons; one being that due to the enormous number of different possible combinations of abilities, heroes and alt avatars that can be achieved, there is no way we can fully test this mode for bugs. Two being that we are pursuing a different type of agile development process with Rift Wars. While we are very happy with the state of the mode we are releasing, this means that we are not fully finished with its development. We plan on gathering plenty of feedback from the community, and based on the reception of the mode, we will continue to add polish and tweak the mode to make it the best it can be!