ENGL 320: Final Project Braindump

So my project is going to be Emily Dickinson’s “Split the Lark” presented in a collapsible menu format. It will be like this: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waddesdon_Bequest except with a few differences:

  • The keywords (in this case, “History”, “Renaissance metalwork” will instead be keywords within the poem itself. Not all of the poem will be keywordable.
  • The menu will expand with a smooth scroll.
  • The menu cannot be collapsed back after it has been expanded.
  • Menus will expand in multiple different directions (360 degrees? Nah… most likely just the four cardinals).

If I were to take the first line “Split the lark and you ’ll find the music”, maybe it would be something like this:

  • “Split” will expand upward (because there are lines below it) into an analysis of what Dickinson means by “split.”
  • “Lark” will expand leftward, which also pushes “Split the” and all of the “Split” analysis leftward as well.
  • “Music” can either expand upward or leftward. Probably upward, to create more space for analyses below it.

Right now, my current idea is that when a keyword is expanded, it will create an invisible “box” behind it. This box has a masking material that reveals a text box behind it which contains the analysis. This text box will move to follow the keyword as it gets pushed around, but it is also invisible until the keyword is activated.

Is it ever going to be possible for a mask box to reveal an analysis box that isn’t its own? Maybe if there are two keywords on the same line which both expand towards each other (if “split” and “lark” both expand leftward, for instance). That’s why the analysis box has to remain inactive, and as an additional measure I should make it so that when you click a keyword, the system “locks” you out of clicking any more for a brief period (very brief, something like 3 seconds). If you’re reading the analysis you wouldn’t notice this anyway, but it should help the UX case of rapidly clicking every keyword at the same time trying to break it.

On one hand, I can plan out the whole “splitted” poem with lorem ipsum. On the other hand, I should have a general idea of how long each analysis box should be. The dream scenario is that I can have a whole map of what the splitted poem will look like before I start programming it.

ENGL 320: “I Am Large I Contain Multitudes” Mural

IAmLargeIContainMultitudes

I pass by this mural every day on my way to school and I never realized that it was a Whitman quote until it was mentioned in class.

At the time, I thought it meant that the kid on the mural was containing the multitudes of his community, thus making him large. He was a combination of everything around him, and they shape who he is today (or at least, at the time of painting). The kid is meant to be a channel through which the zeitgeist of his home comes through.

But in Whitman’s original context, this quote actually kind of goes the other way around. Instead of Whitman being a channel, he is more like a radiator. The largeness and multitudeness are both inherent within him as a person. This is his way of justifying how many different contradictory positions he takes. It’s something much more individualistic than what I initially thought the quote meant.

Speaking from a different perspective… I don’t understand Whitman’s logic behind his original context. “I am large, I contain multitudes, therefore it is okay for me to contradict myself”? That’s not a proper argument. Is there a certain point where your largeness and your multitudeness make it okay to contradict yourself? How would you measure largeness and multitudeness? Obviously, you can’t. So are you supposed to just let anyone contradict themselves as long as they claim themselves to be large and multitudified? Is there a judge who can measure largeness and multitudification? Can I apply for a largeness/multiplicativeness certificate? Get a stamp on my driver’s license proving that I am both large and multitudiplicitous?

Maybe this itself is the contradiction, and Whitman is just being a troll.

ENGL 320: Dickinson and the Great Old Ones

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond —
Invisible, as Music —
But positive, as Sound —
It beckons, and it baffles —
Philosophy — don’t know —
And through a Riddle, at the last —
Sagacity, must go —
To guess it, puzzles scholars —
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown —
Faith slips — and laughs, and rallies —
Blushes, if any see —
Plucks at a twig of Evidence —
And asks a Vane, the way —
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit —
Strong Hallelujahs roll —
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul —

I don’t dare to use this topic for an actual close reading… but the more I think about it, the more I feel that this poem proves that Dickinson has met and interacted with a Great Old One at some point in her life.

“This world is not conclusion” is obvious. The Great Old Ones are eternal and represent so much more than our puny human existence.

“A species stands beyond,” well, the Great Old Ones are a species that is certainly pretty good at standing beyond.

“Invisible, as music” because the Great Old Ones cannot be seen by ordinary humans, and if they could, they would drive them mad.

“But positive, as sound” refers to how Great Old Ones are often represented through otherworldly noises.

“It beckons, and it baffles” is basically the story of every single human who ever tried to pursue a Great Old One, and of course, they all failed.

“Philosophy – don’t know” is interesting. Of course philosophy doesn’t know, no field of human knowledge can ever come close to knowing what a Great Old One is. But the poem says “don’t know” instead of “didn’t know” or “doesn’t know,” and if you are talking about knowledge, you can’t really use the present verb because theoretically, knowledge is infinite, someday we will reach a point where we DO know… or will we? Eldritch horror is unknown and unknowable and will be that way for all of human existence, thus the present form of “don’t know.”

“And through a riddle at the last, sagacity must go” tells us how people have tried to puzzle through the mysteries of the Great Old Ones, but in doing so, they lost their sanity, or at the very least their sagacity, because a sage would tell you to never try to understand a Great Old One.

I could go on, but I think that’s enough. The whole poem feels like Dickinson experienced a slight brush with a Great Old One and was somehow sane enough to write about the experience. Maybe that event was what caused her to start staying inside all the time.

ENGL 320: “Song Of Myself” Kindle Version Typo

I bought the Kindle version of Walt Whitman’s complete poems. It doesn’t seem to be very good.

Here’s the first thing I was confused about: in the first edition Song of Myself (pg 675), line 44 reads: “Gear and sweet is my soul… and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.”

Gear and sweet? Where does that come from? At this point, I was doubtful, but I decided to trust the book. Maybe Whitman had some kind of technological revelation and decided to accept mechanics and the future as an important part of progress. That’s something I’m totally on board with, and I’m very critical of how these poets (and other artists) always seem to hate technology with a passion. Still, as hopeful as I was, I still felt that this line was strange coming from Whitman.

Then, in the other edition of Song of Myself (pg 62), line 52 reads: “Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.”

At this point, I was convinced that the word “gear” was an intentional choice from Whitman. Why else would it say “gear” in one place and “clear” in another? Whitman must have definitely written the poem as an acceptance of technology, that gears are a part of his soul and the future is not meant to be feared. I wasn’t quite sure which version of “Song of Myself” came first, but I imagined that the one on pg. 62 was first, showing that Whitman changed his mind about technology and rewrote the line later in his life. This was amazing for me! I was so excited and happy that Whitman was starting to move away from the “technology bad” mentality.

And then I looked at a classmate’s paper copy of the book and saw that my Kindle version just had a typo. No technological revelation, no gears in souls, it was all just a typo. Whitman was still being the same old “technology bad, nature good” hippie that he always was. Can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

ENGL 320: Romanticism vs The Future

I want to start with the first two poems we read: Dickinson’s “Split the Lark” and Whitman’s “I’m-sitting-in-a-lecture-hall-and-I’m-bored.”

The whole idea is “science sucks, poems rule” and I don’t like that, for one specific reason: science enables new art forms for the future, including but not limited to poetry. Here’s what I mean:

Whitman talks about how boring it is to listen to astronomers and their theses about stars and measurements and mathematics. Sure, that sounds pretty boring, and it might not have sounded very useful in the 18th century. But you know what happened? Hundreds of years later, we started looking back out to space. We sent out probes and satellites and expeditions. And with those, we learned more about black holes, time dilation, and physics. And with that, we reached a new avenue of art in science fiction. With no astronomy, there would have been no Ender’s Game. Even if you say that astronomy is boring, artists still have to acknowledge that it has done a lot for our field.

Dickinson is sad that people kill birds. They took so much time and charted out all the muscles and figured out everything they could about anatomy. Again, not something that would sound terribly useful for someone back then. But when humanity started to discover animation, they turned to anatomy. They studied everything they could about physical movement and what makes living organisms lifelike. Animators learned everything they could about anatomy so that they could stretch it and twist the limits. Now, thanks to the anatomy people studied back then, we have Looney Tunes and Zootopia.

These poets just seem to be so short-sighted. Yes, that’s easy for me to say, being from the future. But we’ve seen it so many times: people who believe that progress is meaningless because it doesn’t do anything to enhance their own experience. If you’re an artist in the 18th century, maybe you think that astronomy is pointless, but you have no way of predicting that science fiction would exist in a hundred years.

It makes me think that the poets don’t care about art as a whole. They only care about the small microcosm that is poetry. Science fiction and animation don’t exactly do a whole lot for their field, true, but that is only from what we know now. Maybe these studies will do something crazy for poetry in a few hundred more years. Who knows? Dickinson and Whitman never would have predicted interactive poetry. No one in the 18th century could have, and yet interactive poetry is very much a thing.

Even today, if you are an artist and you look at science, you see plenty of people who are working on things that seem completely meaningless. But that’s because you don’t know what will become meaningful in a hundred years. We may be able to see completely new forms of art that absolutely no one could predict today. So if you are a poet and even if you have a completely selfish perspective (only supporting things that improve the field of poetry), it is still in your best interest to support science and other seemingly-unrelated fields. That’s what it means to move any field forward.

And yet it seems like these 18th century poets aren’t interested in moving forward. They believe that they are searching for a true perfect transcendent perfection, and once they get there they just want to stop. If I lived in an 18th century poet’s perfect vision of a world in 2016, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have Ender’s Game or Looney Tunes or Zootopia. We would just have lots and lots of poems saying the same thing about how poets are gods and they are wonderful flawless beings.

Game Design: A Sense Of Wonder

I’ve been playing a ton of Fallout 4 recently. And surprisingly, it’s not because I love the game. I like it, but it has a problem that pervades the whole experience: a lack of wonder. Here, I want to talk about games that provoke a sense of wonder, what it does for players, and why recent games seem to have been dropping the ball on this.

My first Bethesda game was Morrowind, which I felt was a very wondrous game. You travel to cities made of mushrooms. You ride on giant bugs for taxis. You visit floating rocks in the sky that have been hollowed out and turned into prisons. You get attacked by crazed maniacs in your sleep. You meet talking crabs. You get interrupted by a screaming mage who falls out of the sky and lands to his death right on the road in front of you. There were so many elements in Morrowind that felt so fantastical, so different from reality. Those small bits were what made the game amazing.

Contrast that to Fallout 4, which to be fair has its share of wonder. You meet a cult of people who bathe in molten iron. You meet a mutant who believes that Shakespeare’s Macbeth will teach him how to become stronger. But really… when you sit down and look at it, it’s a little bit harder to be amazed at things in Fallout 4. And that’s sad, because there are so many things in the wasteland that could give you the same kind of otherworldly feeling that Morrowind did. So many people have become jaded by modern games, saying that they’re all the same and how they wish games could go back to the good old days, and I think a large part of that is because they’re missing a sense of wonder.

The nostalgia filter is definitely a large part of this problem. I played Morrowind in middle school, and naturally I was much more impressionable back then. People always look back at old games and remember them as being better than they actually were. But the nostalgia filter is not the only problem. Game design itself has shifted games in a different direction that can truly be felt.

Nowadays, people always talk about how games are becoming too cinematic, and I think it’s a related topic. You can try to simulate a sense of wonder by shoving the player into an unskippable cutscene where they see a brilliant beautiful horizon and the music swells into an epic climax. It sort of works, but at the same time, it sort of doesn’t.

Wonder In Dark Souls vs. Dark Souls 2

Here’s a clip from Dark Souls that I want to analyze. If you don’t feel like watching, it’s just a cutscene where a bunch of winged harpy demons carry the player and fly up to the top of a big wall and then they just drop him off. It’s exactly the kind of cinematic pseudo-wonder that I just described. But if you’ve played Dark Souls, you can probably still remember it as a wondrous moment. I certainly did. Why was that?

It’s because this cutscene represented a major shift in gameplay. You are suddenly in a new place and there is no way back. This goes completely against everything you knew up to that point, because Dark Souls is all about nonlinear levels filled with backtracking and secret paths. No matter what happens, you can always turn back… until this cutscene happens. You can’t just jump back down the wall (big edit: it turns out that there actually IS a way down that I didn’t know about). For the first time in the whole game, you are in a situation where your only option is to move forward (discounting the tutorial, of course).

Your first few steps in the game are the real source of wonder. The cutscene is pretty, but it’s just a cutscene. When it ends, it slowly dawns on you what just happened, and you’re in a situation where you don’t know what to do. Everything feels so new and different, and it gives you a mixture of wonder and fear.

The designers of Dark Souls knew this, so after you walk along your path for a few moments you run into a giant knight. They know that you as the player are struggling to come to grips with your situation, so they drop a new enemy into the mix to throw you off even more. Those moments are so much more wondrous than the cutscene.

Now, let’s look at the equivalent scene in Dark Souls 2:

Same thing. You walk up and you see a beautiful castle. But Dark Souls 2 frames the encounter very, very differently. For one, you still have a way back. You can still return to safety, which you couldn’t do in the first Dark Souls. Next, enemy encounters were placed before the player approached the castle, rather than afterwards the way it was done before.

What this means is that the castle in Dark Souls 2 functions no differently than any other area in the game. It’s a dungeon filled with enemies and loot and secret paths and you can jump around and die a lot. The castle isn’t any different from the forests or the caves that you passed through to get there. Just get through it and check it off your list.

On the other hand, the castle in the first Dark Souls was very dramatically different from the other areas. It’s filled with new game mechanics, new boss mechanics, and new traps to kill the player. But those moments aren’t as important as the first steps you take down the wall, when you get that feeling in your gut that there is no way back.

In Dark Souls 2, they actually did try to insert a fancy new game mechanic: you have to kill enemies near some cups, and their dead soul essence will fill the cup and something will happen. That definitely works as a shift in gameplay, but it’s not enough to really feel like anything new. You’re still killing enemies, you’re just trying to do it in a different way. The little burst of excitement from figuring it out is nowhere near as powerful as the first few steps you take towards the castle in the first Dark Souls.

Even though the two castles both looked very pretty and had appropriate soundtracks, one is much more wondrous than the other. In games, the sense of wonder doesn’t come from visuals or audio cues. It comes from a dramatic shift in gameplay. The sense of wonder must be felt by the player’s own hands. They must engage with the setting in order to be amazed by it. A game developer cannot directly try to build a sense of wonder: they must build a unique situation to present it in, and the player feels amazement themselves.

Wonder In Morrowind vs. Fallout 4

Let’s go back to Morrowind vs. Fallout 4. What do they do differently? I’ll pick out two examples from each game: mushroom cities and bug taxis from Morrowind, and the lava cult and Shakespeare mutant from Fallout 4.

Mushroom city? Some of the larger “buildings” don’t even have stairs, and you have to use levitation to get up. They do that intentionally to keep peasants out.

Bug taxis? They’re one of the only forms of fast travel in Morrowind. You can’t fast travel by yourself.

Lava cult? You just go and kill them all like you would with any other group of bandits.

Shakespeare mutant? He just becomes a companion that you can bring along with you, joining ten other companions that you can choose from.

The elements in Fallout 4 certainly sound wondrous and otherworldly, but when it comes to gameplay, they don’t actually do anything different. On the other hand, the mushroom cities and bug taxis in Morrowind look absolutely horrible with their 2000s-era rendering technology, but they represent major new avenues of gameplay.

There were probably all sorts of pretty things in Morrowind that I don’t even remember because they didn’t present any new gameplay mechanics. And some of the most wondrous things in Fallout 4 had pretty low art production standards.

Weapons are a great example that Fallout 4 did much better than Morrowind. In Morrowind, weapons were almost all practically the same, except for statistical differences. But in Fallout 4, different weapons can have so many different uses. You can pick up a new gun that you’ve never seen before, and feel excited to try it out. Of course, even that sense of wonder pales in comparison to something like Borderlands‘s procedural weapon generation system.

As it turns out, Fallout 4 has very little variation in its quest system. Everything that you do boils down to a form of either “kill these people” or “talk to these people.” When a random person on the street asks you to find his missing friend, you just roll your eyes and ask if he knows which bandit gang took him so you can know who to kill. It becomes very difficult to be amazed at any of the events in the quests because they all follow such a rigid formula. Go there, kill those people, pick up these things, come back, get experience and money. Wanna join a faction in Fallout 4, just go kill their enemies until the faction likes you. In Morrowind, you literally cannot progress in the mage’s guild unless you can levitate up their mushroom houses.

Nothing in Fallout 4 really amazes you. A big scary enemy jumps out at you, you just shoot it until it’s dead. A city is struggling to identify synthetic humans from real ones, you just wait for someone to tell you who to kill and then you go kill them. In the main storyline or in any of the other side quests, there was only one real part where I actually felt amazed, and that was when they revealed one of the game’s major climactic twists. Dark Souls didn’t need a story twist to make players feel amazed.

But, when an alien crash lands in the countryside or when a radiation storm hits you for the first time, you can feel amazed. Fallout 4 isn’t just completely devoid of anything new or interesting, it has its moments. But by and large, Fallout 4 and many other modern AAA games fail to deliver a sense of wonder on a scale that compares to older games.

What Does Wonder Do?

In keeping with the principle of charity, one has to ask why modern games have been moving away from these senses of wonder. The immediate obvious answer is because they want to make sure that their games are consistent. They don’t want any large variations in the core gameplay. If you’re playing for the first time or if you’re picking up from the middle, you still get pretty similar experiences. You can play for a short session, then come back later for more of the same.

But at that point, we have to ask ourselves why are players asking for this. The game studios wouldn’t be doing it if players didn’t want it. Aren’t players always talking about how they want more new content? And yet we’re stuck in a world filled with sequels and DLC packs that really aren’t that much different from what they were originally building off of.

The key is that novelty isn’t a question of black and white. It’s a spectrum where we can say that this thing is sort of new, but it’s still similar, or we can look at something else and say that it’s almost completely new but still retains some previous elements. In Dark Souls, removing backtracking was very new, whereas the soul-collecting cups were only sort of new. In Morrowind, giant mushroom houses were very new, whereas in Fallout 4 lava cults are only sort of new.

A pessimist would come to the conclusion that players simply do not want to experience a sense of wonder. When you introduce new elements, you invariably introduce something that the player has to learn and wrap their heads around, and that takes effort. No one wants to spend effort. If you could have a game that is filled with wonder and amazement versus a game that is consistently brainless, the pessimist says that people would pick the latter. People only want things that are new enough that they seem different, but nothing more than that. They say that they want new things, but in reality, they don’t. Even the greatest indie blockbusters will never make as much as the next Grand Theft Auto.

And there’s a lot of truth to that. When you start playing a new game for the very first time, you feel a little sense of wonder. You’re amazed as you explore through the world and try to figure out its mechanics. As it turns out, that sense of wonder ends up being very fleeting, especially if you’re playing a sequel or a clone game. Every time you try something new, you feel that sense of wonder. The pessimist says that people don’t actually want to try new things, and we game developers have to force them to.

But I want to be more optimistic. After all, if all of this were true, then Dark Souls 2 would be universally praised as a superior successor to the original (hint: it’s not). If people are rejecting new gameplay elements, maybe there’s an argument that they’re just being lazy, but on the other hand, there’s also the very real possibility that something is going wrong with the game design. One of the main purposes of good game design is to help ease players into new game mechanics, and the joy that they feel from doing so is manifested in the form of wonder.

I think that a game needs to prepare the player to expect dramatic shifts in difficulty. The player needs to be taught to expect challenges. They do not know what challenges to expect, but they know that whatever comes their way, they will need to struggle in order to overcome it. A game that sets players up with these expectations will later be able to spring unique moments on them, and the players will be able to take those moments in stride, moving forward through the new gameplay mechanics while still appreciating the sense of wonder.

People often talk about difficulty curves as the game’s difficulty over time, but I think it’s time to take the derivative: the rate of difficulty increase over time. If a difficulty curve is likened to velocity, then the rate of difficulty increase over time would be acceleration. It is subtle, but if done right, the player should be able to fall into a rhythm where they are receptive to radically new challenges and mechanics.

Dark Souls has a pretty consistent rate of difficulty increase over time. Every new area is approximately as difficult to conquer as the previous area, even after adjusting for the player’s increased skill. Whether you’re going into the second area of the game or the seventh one, you’re still going to die about the same number of times, even though you’ve gotten much better by the time you reach the seventh area. If I were to put this on a graph, it would look like this:

I use the term “adjusted difficulty” to refer to how difficult something is based on how skilled the player is at the time of confrontation. If something becomes more difficult but you became equally more skilled, it has the same adjusted difficulty as an easy challenge at the beginning of the game when you knew nothing.

On the other hand, Fallout 4‘s difficulty increase over time drops off sharply. There’s the starting hurdle that players need to jump over, but after that, it goes straight down. That’s not to say that the difficulty stays the same: it still gets harder as you go on. But the rate that it gets harder increases much more slowly than it would in Dark Souls. Eventually, there will be a point where the player’s skill (or the character’s skill) outscales the difficulty, and it just becomes a walk in the park. Of course, the designers tried to make sure that this will not happen before the game ends, but it will still inevitably happen. If I were to put this on a graph, it would look like this:

There’s a clear difference in design philosophies. In Dark Souls, the seventh area is exponentially more difficult than the second. However, in Fallout 4, the seventh area is only linearly more difficult than the second. This means that once you account for player skill scaling, Dark Souls still gets more difficult, whereas Fallout 4 wobbles around and drops off (don’t take these graphs too literally, Fallout 4‘s velocity graph is more like a slowly descending plateau, not to mention the position fluctuations). Finally, Dark Souls constantly throws unknown challenges at the player, whereas Fallout 4 stops presenting new information very quickly.

Morrowind works a little bit like the Dark Souls graph. Even though it’s not actually introducing new mechanics as the game goes on, Morrowind‘s systems are so obscure and complicated that it takes you a long time until you figure them out, which basically means you find those new mechanics over time. It’s a lot like when you hear people talking about games where they can keep finding new things to do even after multiple playthroughs.

The “constant rate of difficulty acceleration” approach works well for Dark Souls and I think it should be generalized for more games. However, it does come with the obvious fault that the developers would then have to create more content, which isn’t always possible. Fallout 4 just reuses the same mechanics and scales the numbers around, which is clearly much easier from a development perspective. But that gets into the “quantity vs. quality” discussion, and maybe that can come at some other time.

Conclusion

There’s always the counter-culture movement that says modern gamers are stupid and need instant gratification to do anything, and the good old games from the past were so much better. I don’t exactly agree, because I don’t think it’s necessarily the gamer’s fault. Game developers should be trying harder to ease players into games that introduce more new mechanics over time. Once that happens, we can finally get games that capture the sense of wonder again, the feeling that you’re actually in a place other than the boring world we live in.

At the same time, gamers do need to be more willing to push their own boundaries. I’m guilty of this too, I bought the Master Chief collection on launch and I’m planning to do the same for the next Mirror’s Edge. But if we want to see games with those little magical sparkles of amazement again, something has to be done. Otherwise, we just get a whole heap of generic reskinned FPS clones. Hopefully, the desire for wonder can overcome the desire for habits.

Case Study: Ezreal in League of Legends

So this isn’t so much of a case study as it is a fantasy changelist, but oh well. Ezreal is my favorite champion by far, but if I had a chance to rework him, there are plenty of things I would want to try.

He’s one of those weird cases where he can become OP simply by existing. Look at Ezreal’s history and you’ll see that he has been buffed relatively few times compared to the number of times he has completely changed the meta. Remember when people started maxing W first for the attack speed debuff? Or remember how Ezreal pretty much single-handedly nerfed the Iceborn Gauntlet and the Runeglaive for ranged champions? In all of these cases, nothing happened to Ezreal to make him stronger, people just found new ways to use him. Who’s to say that there won’t be even more new ways to use him popping up as the game evolves? It’s not sustainable to just reach for the nerf hammer every time something new comes up. Out of all the champions, this phenomenon seems to happen most often with Ezreal.

Then there’s the whole issue with AD vs. AP Ezreal. If you go AD, your W is almost useless, and if you go AP, your passive is almost useless. Both versions of Ezreal are essentially balanced around the fact that they only have 4.5 abilities rather than 5. Right now, Riot is trying to encourage more aggressive Arcane Shifts by adding an AD ratio, but I feel that Arcane Shift is really powerful as an offensive AP spell if you build Ezreal as a mage. What if the next Ezreal meta becomes full AP and max E first in mid? It sounds silly, but remember that it also sounded silly to max W first before the Koreans started doing it.

But putting balance and game health aside, Ezreal has a lot of untapped potential to fill a unique role in the League: an explorer. There isn’t really an explorer character in the champion roster. I’m talking about a pathfinder, a scout, a ranger who clears the way head first. Teemo is kind of like an explorer, but he is what I would call a passive explorer: he places traps and watches them like wards. I think Ezreal could be an active explorer, someone who gets his hands dirty and puts himself in risky situations because he can.

The Core Theme: Ezreal’s Identity

In keeping with my three-part system of game design, we start by identifying the theme. So who exactly is Ezreal? What’s he like? How can his personality translate into his mechanics?

Ezreal is cocky and arrogant, and he likes having situations under control. He’s most comfortable when he’s setting his own pace, and when he’s in his element he thinks he’s invincible. But if something unexpected throws his rhythm off balance, he panics and retreats, looking for an opportunity to try again.

Ezreal is a loner. Other people slow him down, and he sees cooperation as babysitting. He’ll work together with other people if he really has to, but he’s more comfortable launching a small precision strike by himself rather than joining a coordinated siege. When other people help him, he takes it grudgingly: he thinks he would have been just fine by himself.

Ezreal is selective and picky about his targets. When he fights, he loves intense duels and skirmishes. Nothing makes him happier than a true display of skill. Enemies who rely on their teammates, towers, or minion waves just seem cowardly. Summoner spells, monster buffs, and level/gold advantages are all external factors, and Ezreal hates external factors.

Ezreal likes to think of himself as omniscient. He is aware of everything that happens around him. If something hostile is nearby, he’s forming a plan to deal with them before they even reach him. When he’s being suspicious and careful, it’s difficult to surprise him, and it’s nigh impossible to hide from him. But he has tunnel vision, and when he focuses too strongly on his target, he loses sight of other things he should be paying attention to.

The Unified Elements: Ezreal’s Skills

Again, I’m not a god of game design, so I’m going to try to avoid numbers wherever possible. I can’t come up with balance off the top of my head. But hopefully, these reworked skill suggestions point towards a direction that helps support what I think Ezreal should become.

Rising Spell Force: Reworked. Ezreal gains a stack of Rising Spell Force whenever he hits an enemy champion with a basic ability (max 1 stack per spell). When he reaches three stacks, he enters Rising Spell Force mode, where he gains 50% attack speed, his basic abilities refund half of their mana cost when they hit an enemy champion, and his basic abilities gain new bonuses. Rising Spell Force mode lasts as long as he has three stacks, and its duration is refreshed if Ezreal gains another stack while it’s active.

Mystic Shot: Basic mechanics remain unchanged. Mystic Shot no longer applies on-hit effects, but has higher AD and AP ratios. It has a higher base cooldown, but if Ezreal lands a Mystic Shot on an enemy champion while in Rising Spell Force mode, it reduces its own cooldown by an additional amount (important: only its own cooldown).

Essence Flux: Completely reworked. No more attack speed buff, lower cooldown, higher mana cost. It now acts as an instant ground line cast. Ezreal goes into a short casting animation, the line indicator is drawn in front of him, then after a brief delay he zaps everything along the line. Hitbox and behavior is about the same as a fully-charged Arcanopulse from Xerath. Damage is lowered drastically, I’m thinking something like 20/50/80/110/150 (0.5 AP). When Ezreal casts this, he gains vision along the line during the casting animation, and if he hits an enemy, they are revealed for a brief period of time (even if invisible). If Ezreal is in Rising Spell Force mode, Essence Flux does a large chunk of additional damage, I’m thinking something like 100/150/200/250/300 (1 AP).

Arcane Shift: Basic mechanics remain unchanged. If Ezreal is in Rising Spell Force mode, the arrow from Arcane Shift slows its target by 20% for 2 seconds.

Trueshot Barrage: Basic mechanics remain unchanged. Mystic Shot no longer reduces Trueshot Barrage’s cooldown. No longer generates Rising Spell Force stacks.

So what does this do? First of all, it decentralizes Ezreal’s power in Mystic Shot. Too much of Ezreal’s strength lies in Mystic Shot, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a cool spell and it’s fun to use, but there’s a point where you’re going too far. Removing the on-hit effects on Mystic Shot is a really big nerf, and it’s alleviated a little bit by slight buffs to AD/AP ratios, but his power level is still lowered. Next, increasing Mystic Shot’s cooldown propagates a cooldown nerf on all his other abilities, because of how it reduces cooldowns when it lands.

In exchange, a lot of power is stuffed into Rising Spell Force mode. He is very weak outside of Rising Spell Force mode, but very strong when it’s active. This represents how Ezreal needs to build up his power through a prolonged display of skill (landing successive shots on the enemy). The three-hit mechanic generates a lot of interesting play: do you use three Mystic Shots over a long period of time, or do you unload all of your basic abilities at once to trigger RSF mode immediately? Note that Rising Spell Force stacks are much harder to gain now, since you only get them when you hit an enemy champion (and there’s an added limit of one stack per spell). Also, there’s no spectrum anymore, his passive is all or nothing.

RSF-enhanced Mystic Shot brings back the URF feeling of machine gun shots, but only if you can keep hitting your target. Even though it only reduces its own cooldown by a greater amount, that still means you can reduce the cooldowns of your other basic abilities faster by using more Mystic Shots. On the other hand, RSF-enhanced Essence Flux goes in the opposite direction that incentivizes players to be more accurate and deliberate in order to cash in on a more damaging payout. Finally, RSF-enhanced Arcane Shift is just a small buff to help Ezreal when he’s in the zone.

Trueshot Barrage is nerfed by no longer having its cooldown reduced by Mystic Shot. The enhanced Essence Flux is meant to act as Ezreal’s primary finisher, replacing Trueshot Barrage’s purpose in duels. With this, Trueshot Barrage is almost completely decentralized from the rest of his kit, which encourages him to save it for situations that are outside of Essence Flux’s reach.

The Ensured Delivery: Ezreal’s Dynamics

This rework would demand a lot of skills that people don’t usually associate with Ezreal. People are used to just forgetting about his passive and his Essence Flux, but now they are the most important parts of his kit. He will feel very weak, especially without the on-hits on his Mystic Shot. Ezreal is known for chopping out chunks of health with Mystic Shot, but a lot of that damage comes from Triforce or Lich Bane.

But under this system, Ezreal takes out larger chunks of health with RSF-enhanced Essence Fluxes. The Mystic Shots do some damage, but mostly they act as indicators to show how Ezreal is building up his power. He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee depending on whether he’s in RSF mode or not.

Mystic Shot and Essence Flux serve two different purposes: damage and utility. Outside of RSF mode, Mystic Shot is for damage and Essence Flux is for utility. But when RSF mode becomes active, it suddenly switches. Mystic Shot gains greater utility as a tool for maintaining RSF mode because of its self-cooldown reduction, and Essence Flux gains a massive damage boost. Ezreal tracks enemies down with Essence Flux and whittles away at them with Mystic Shots until he enters RSF mode, at which point he uses Essence Fluxes for nukes and Mystic Shots to keep track of his prey. This creates an interesting dynamic because Mystic Shot is nowhere near as good at tracking targets as Essence Flux is, but you have to get good at predicting enemy movement with Mystic Shots in order to keep Essence Flux ready for a nuke, because if you use Essence Flux for tracking you will lose its potential for damage. Skilled Ezreal players already use Mystic Shot to check brushes.

Ezreal’s AP and AD builds are also separated distinctly. AD Ezreal is the safer build, the one with consistent damage. If you can’t enter RSF mode, it’s still okay because Mystic Shot’s damage doesn’t depend on it. Essence Flux and Arcane Shift are used primarily for utility and scouting, and autoattacks still become his primary source of damage. AP Ezreal is the risky build that relies heavily on RSF-enhanced Essence Fluxes for damage, and Mystic Shot just becomes a tool to enter RSF mode and reduce Essence Flux’s cooldown.

He’s not comfortable with direct confrontations, but he’s strongest in jungle skirmishes where neither combatant knows where the other is. In those situations, he probes with Mystic Shots and Essence Fluxes until he enters RSF mode, at which point he starts using Arcane Shift more aggressively to line up an enhanced Essence Flux finisher. If the battle doesn’t go his way, he probably doesn’t achieve RSF mode, and instead Arcane Shifts to safety while using the vision from Essence Flux to make sure his escape route is clear.

In teamfights, Ezreal either tries to focus down a single target with Mystic Shots and autoattacks, or he lines up enemies for Essence Fluxes and Trueshot Barrages. He’s not a focused killer like Vayne, nor is he a widespread damage dealer like Miss Fortune, but he’s flexible enough to switch between them on the fly. But rather than being in the heat of teamfights, this Ezreal is much, much better during the start or end of one. Before a teamfight starts, he can scout ahead so he and his allies knows where the enemies are with consistent Essence Flux vision, making sure that they are never surprised. After a teamfight ends, he takes a pursuit role and hunts stragglers down with precise Essence Fluxes enhanced by RSF.

Principle of Charity

In keeping with the principle of charity, I have to ask why this hasn’t actually happened. This is the part where I tear my own suggestions to shreds, so I might not be the best person for this, but that’s the nature of criticism.

It’s really confusing and difficult to keep track of abilities that change uses. Abilities in League don’t usually change so dynamically between vision tools and damage nukes the way that my proposed Essence Flux does. Usually, abilities are straightforward and clear, and always do the same thing no matter what the context is. If you want to have an ability that does multiple different things, you split it up into two separate abilities and use some kind of transformation (Nidalee, Gnar, Jayce). However, my proposed changes are a lot more subtle than full-on transformations, so they force players to reevaluate their abilities in the heat of battle. Not a very easy thing to do.

Small bursts of vision have historically not been very well received. Just look at how the Warding Totem is so much more popular than the Scrying Orb. My proposed changes to Ezreal revolve around those small lines of vision from Essence Flux, but practically, they’re kind of difficult to work with. Vision in general is a source of power that isn’t very easily grokkable, in that it’s hard to know when you played your vision right. Long-lasting stationary vision just feels better than long-ranged temporary vision, and I don’t think balance can change that. Branching off of that train of thought, precisely aimed vision is even more troublesome. The new Essence Flux is basically like Ashe’s Hawkshot with a much shorter range, much shorter vision duration, and a much shorter cooldown.

Two long-ranged skillshots are kind of overkill and give too much zone control, especially when one of them (Essence Flux) doesn’t stop on collision. Currently, this is balanced by the fact that Essence Flux is useless on AD Ezreal, and it’s one of the reasons why AP Ezreal is so strong in the late game. Right now, my proposed changes mean that non-RSF Ezreal still gets a little bit of utility from Essence Flux, and RSF-mode Ezreal is basically as strong as late game AP Ezreal.

Finally, it’s very difficult for this Ezreal to fit inside a team composition. He’s not a strong sieger, he’s not a strong assassin, he’s not a strong split pusher. He is a strong explorer, and I’m not entirely sure when a team would want an explorer, at least in the current meta. In fact, I would see this Ezreal as a strong counter jungler, and he could possibly be pushed in the direction of an ADC jungler like Kindred (maybe he can charge Rising Spell Force on monster hits?). When you think about it, he’s not the type of guy to stay put in bottom lane anyway.