At the end of last week alongside a couple of other journalists, I had the good fortune of sitting down with Paragon Creative Director, Steve Superville. He’s a busy man and was kind enough to have an open question and answer session with us for a little over an hour. With myself and others taking it in turns to ask questions, the spread of topics was fairly large. Below the red line further down the page are the series of questions asked by those also participating alongside myself. Steve's answers were particularly interesting across all questions asked, so I've ensured all are included. Enjoy!

Ten Ton Hammer: How happy are you with where Paragon is right now after the release of v29?

Steve: Lewis! That’s such a hard question, I’m a designer and never happy with anything. I think we are making big steps towards making the most competitive MOBA out there. We are doing a lot of work right now on fundamental issues and v29 was a step in the right direction. We had some imbalances with a few of our Heroes and at the same time we worked through groups of Heroes by class to build a foundation. The way we talked about it internally is that we are creating foundations for a building and every new Hero is another storey added to it. The longer we wait, the more design debt we’d incur. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made and players seem happier. They were a little skeptical after we talked about what they’d see in v29 but I’ve seen a couple of posts on Reddit where players feel casters are in a good place. The work we still have in front of us is the well defined work of adding more Heroes, filling out our roster of characters so there’s enough variation within roles and that people have meaningful choices to make. We also want to ensure that each Hero has a defined place inside of a team composition (or role). All in all, I’m happy. However, I’m also never happy!

Ten Ton Hammer: A lot of players are still highly anticipating the removal of Travel Mode. How is that progressing? Is it a bigger task than you realized?

Steve: We’re still trying address Travel Mode. One of the things we’ve found is that Agora the map is very big. We’ve tried introducing elements to make it smaller - even without Travel Mode - and those have also run into issues of their own. It’s very much a case of you pull the thread and other things start to be impacted. We’re still at it and we’re still working on it, but I don’t have a timeline for when we’ll actually do it. We try to be transparent with our community and we chose this type of game because we wanted something to force us to run a game and service in an open and honest way. This is one of those times where I wish there was a quick fix, but there’s not. There’s always going to be things that take things that take more time than you expect in the developer world.      

Ten Ton Hammer: With Open Beta right around the corner, are you conscious of the fact you don’t want to make too many drastic changes (such as removing Travel Mode)?

Steve: We’re very conscious of it. We have made attempts to be as transparent as possible and to us, beta doesn’t mean that no drastic changes will happen. It’s basically a stepping stone where we feel the game is in a position where if players want to come and enjoy this ride, they’re welcome to. They can play for free and join us, but it’s not like what a beta has become in recent years where we call it a beta because we’re scared to say it’s released. It really is going to be a game in development in full view, with participation from the community.

Ten Ton Hammer: Your last Hero was Greystone, that many argued is an easy Hero to play (certainly with the quantity of passive abilities that he has). How do you want to see the skill ceiling of Heroes increasing? Is that something you’re hoping will increase?

Steve: We need a diversity of Heroes for a diversity of skill ceilings. The character that came before him, Riktor, is a very high skill ceiling. He is “just support” but his ability to hook somebody and pull them in, to be in the right position to change a team fight, is a very high mastery thing. As we go on our Heroes will continue to have some variations in terms of types of skill ceilings. There’s a mechanical skill ceiling, strategic skill ceiling, use of card variations and countering against team compositions, and then team-work skill ceiling. Really, when you get five Heroes on a team all with unique abilities there is no skill ceiling for how well they work together: there’s always something to be improved upon.

Ten Ton Hammer: Where your balance is concerned, Tanks and Fighters now share the same scaling. What’s the reasoning behind this when, typically in other MOBA’s, they don’t?

Steve: It is intentional for now. We’re in the foundation building phase of getting our systems setup in a way that allows us to systematically change the game as we need to inject more pieces or change the way the economy works. For a while now we’ve been working on that foundation and as we get more stable and the game changes less - and as you’ve been playing a while - you know we’ve changed the way card power is given out or changed the way the jungle works. As that gets stabilized we’ll have more freedom to address Heroes on an individual basis. Currently we balance by class and then only when a Hero is out of line do we address that individual Hero. It’s a temporary state we’re in.

Ten Ton Hammer: A lot of fans want to know about the lore in Paragon. There isn’t much known. How is it coming along and how do you want to deliver it?

Steve: Our goal from the beginning has to build not just lore, but a new IP and universe that can encompass not just Paragon as a game but any other media outlet - comic books, TV shows. It’s an intriguing problem to create something that’s encompassing and gives us a lot of flexibility as a company. One thing we wanted to do was embrace what we believe is a real perception of players. In order to care about the lore for a game, players have to really be enjoying the game first. We’ve spent a lot of our time trying our best to make an enjoyable highly competitive experience. Then what we want to do is use our lore as a way for the community to engage not just with us, but with each other.

Traditionally EPIC have made games where there’s a sprawling universe and you play a particular character during a campaign - that takes you from point A to point B - and characters have a meaningful arch. Paragon as a multiplayer online game is a very different beast. We wanted to do our best to take advantage of that and do something more like Lost the TV show where we present the community with questions and the speculation from the fans of the show have is just as much fun as watching the show. That’s the path we’re taking, releasing tidbits and creating the world in a way that implies questions. Looking at Agora itself, it’s this beautiful lush paradise with beautiful flowers and canopies, waterfalls and fireflies and buried inside is this clockwork ancient technology. It looks advanced but also really old and it’s been fun as a developer watching people post their fan-fiction asking questions like “What is Agora?”, “How did they get here?” and “Why are they fighting?”.

The other part that’s fun about a game that’s centered around Heroes is the relationship between those Heroes - it’s one of the most important and interesting things inside the play space, especially inside a MOBA. You can have one Hero playing with another, during one match and have those Heroes be on opposite sides - how does that happen? Our goal is to release pieces of information as we approach open beta, to drive speculation and have the community work through the puzzle.

Ten Ton Hammer: How are voice-lines coming along for Paragon?

Steve: We are trying our best to be humble and recognize that we have not done this before so the things we focus on tend to be the things we think players will engage with most right off. For Heroes that was kit design first and now that players are really gravitating towards their favorite characters - if you’ve seen on Reddit or our forums - players will let us know very vocally when things get changed and if they love it or hate it. We’re at that point where we’re now actively adding personality to our characters outside of just the visuals. That sort of stuff will be coming online much more and interwoven in that will be some opportunities to expose more lore.

Ten Ton Hammer: On the subject of Mages, Towers are currently (for the most part) killed through basic attacks and yet the one Hero type designed to push minions up a lane has the lowest basic attack damage - their abilities don’t affect Towers. Is this intentional? Should they be pushing and then rotating?

Steve: You’ve highlighted the key points. Mages are meant to be lane controllers and pushers but not necessarily take down objectives. They can, but they have to chip away at it. Their biggest impacts are supposed to be in team fights and are often AOE focused. What sets them apart is the range of their powers - they can project it further into the world than the basic attack of a carry. To have them deal damage with their spells to towers - outside of tower range - before burning through their mana, recalling and then returning back is not the sort gameplay we wanted. Mages are meant to be impactful early game, hit their dominant point in the mid game - which the longest portion of the game where team fights happen more frequently - and then late game they should fall off (which caster players hate hearing as they always want their character to be the best). It’s not that they aren’t good or impactful, it’s the fact that ranged carries have spent the larger part of the game farming up and doing their best not to die. Those rangers come online and start to actually carry (hence their name) and they then start to burn through objectives. With v29 it seems like we’ve taken a large step in that direction where matches that end in the 30-35 minute range are ending largely because mages are doing what they do in team fights. Games that end in the 40-45 minute range are being carried by the rangers who are able to burn down objectives (especially if you get a Steel or Rampage to help).    

Ten Ton Hammer: You’re effectively saying it’s a team's responsibility who have mages to close down a match as quick as possible?

Steve: Yeah. If you follow any of the Paragon tournaments, a match that played recently had Triangle Formation. They’re known for a triple ranged composition and in the first match Mayhem chose two casters and two fights - if I remember correctly) and they wrecked. Triangle Formation have been untouchable as they’ve been the de facto winner of every competition. I think they dropped one tournament. Mayhem made it look really convincing and because of their early aggression they didn’t allow those three rangers to make it into the late game with any meaningful farm. They were always dead or couldn’t last hit due to being pushed out their lane. It was impressive. It showed our recent changes allowed mages to shine early game. We’re learning about our economy through our players and the data is showing promising results.

What kind of player numbers are you hoping to attract?

Steve: We haven’t talked about player numbers at all. We want to focus on retention. We want to keep players playing and for us, it’s less important in regards to the drastic number of players and more a case of keeping a small number of players happy. With PS+ we saw a large multiple times increase in our playerbase - which is fantastic - and we hope we get the same with open beta. As a group trying to figure out how to do a game that’s long-term, multi-year project - which is different for EPIC - we prioritized retention above anything else. Finding our players, making them happy, asking them questions, improving the game every patch and then asking again how we’re doing, has been the model. We’ve not talked about numbers as they aren’t what we find to be most important.

Can you describe the game for those unfamiliar with Paragon for those who want to get into it, or don’t know enough about it (for people who understand MOBAs)

Paragon is a new spin on MOBAs where we wanted to the player into the fight. We looked at a lot of different games as we set off to do this project. We had no idea it was going to be a MOBA when we started, and what we did was spend months investigating different types of games. What we found was that as we played games at night, we’d come back in and tell everyone stories about the MOBA matches we’d had. One of the things we discovered was a lot of cinematic trailers for MOBAs offer a heroic fantasy and then the gameplay for those games is vastly different. We thought that having never made this type of game before, one of the things we can add is the EPIC style action pedigree to the game.

For Paragon we are a traditional MOBA, it is all the MOBA mechanics and strategy that you would expect: three lanes, AI, in match progression. We then wanted to expand and innovate where we thought there was opportunity. So, we added verticality to the map, you control your character with a third person perspective which means every time you impact another player or the world you get to feel it. You’re no longer the puppet master clicking yourself around: you have full control of your character. Then we thought we could add, what we hope turns out to be strategic depth through our card system. One of the things we found was a turn-off to players who had tried MOBAs was the complexity of the number of items that you have to process early on.

Our solution was to have a card system where players come in, pick a Hero and the cards available to that player are limited at the beginning. We give you a deck of cards, there are 40 in the deck and that’s a reasonable number of items to get your head around. As you go you’ll acquire card packs as you play the game and your opportunity to inject strategic choice through playing a particular Hero grows along with your experience with the game. One of the challenges for new MOBA players is that you typically get some gold and then there’s 280 items. If you don’t buy the right one your teammates blame you for it. We wanted to remove some of that. On the other hand, our card system gives us the opportunity to inject some strategic choice into the game. You’re limiting the number of items you bring into the match. In other MOBAs where everything is always available, you make a novel clever choice. For Paragon, when you make a novel choice I have to anticipate it and bring in a card that mitigates that choice otherwise the enemy gets an advantage. You get into this battle of wills where I’m trying to force you into a place where I’m strong and you’re trying to force me into a place where you’re strong.

On the last part we wanted to do a game that we needed to interact with the community. We wanted to get out of our old school developer ivory tower where we make a bunch of guesses for three years and then cross our fingers and hope we made enough good guesses for our players. We wanted to do it in full view of our community. MOBAs are the type of game that is such a large matrix that we can’t do it without our players. It keeps everyone honest and engaged. I know that was a lot of words and I’m not sure if that’s the type of answer you’re looking for.

As the game is getting into more hands, are you seeing more disparity between console and PC players?

Steve: The answer is yes, but not in the way you’ve said. What we’ve found and particularly when we started and launched this project, we wanted to make it available wherever there are competitive gamers. So we chose a genre and set the pace of the game to mean that no matter what your input device, you can still be competitive. We don’t have no-scope headshots. As it’s a MOBA it’s much more about positioning, timing of your abilities, coordinating with your team and using the right cards. So what we found from online tests and then seeing again with what has happened with PS+ is that players who play on PlayStation start with a lack of MOBA knowledge. As they play and stick to the game, they acquire that knowledge and the gap between PC players and PS4 players actually starts to close rapidly. That is a testament to two things: one, to the team and how hard they’ve worked to get the control scheme on the controller functional. Two, to the genre in general that basically says you’re competitive in multiple ways. You can be competitive in mechanics, in strategy and in team work. If you’re the well rounded person our Mom has always hoped you were, you can get better in all of those areas and that’s where you really start to shine for your team.

Why would none MOBA players be excited about Paragon?

Steve: When we decided to take this action route and not do a traditional top-down control we had the belief that players who hadn’t played MOBAs before, would reject MOBAs for some reason. Either they couldn’t get past the clicking or top-down interaction or they didn’t appreciate the feel and impact of their character. There’s also the possibility they felt overwhelmed with the amount of strategic choices that’s available. A lot of MOBAs have been out for many years so the number of Heroes and items available can be daunting. For Paragon, our goal was to allow people who play MOBAs and people who have rejected them - up to this point - to find a spot where their skills transfer. If you are a MOBA initiate and you’ve played them before, all of your knowledge transfers. You understand leveling up, team composition, itemization, positioning, towers, last hitting - all those traditional mechanics.

If you’re an “action” gamer, all of your mechanical input of movement and cross-hair on target including positioning and timing also transfer. We saw internally a lot of people who hadn’t jumped on the MOBA excitement train early on had a really hard time getting over that hurdle of it not being that action based. Then they’d try a MOBA game that was MOBA centric that offered Heroes and direct control, with some itemization and they’d go “Oh, I really get this!”. They’d then go back and try one of the mainstream MOBAs and go “Oh, now it really clicks.” That was encouraging because we tend to use ourselves as a test bed and we tend to see a lot of people make that transition. Watching that happen multiple times across the studio gave us more confidence that there’s an opportunity to reach a large part of the market who hadn’t opted into MOBAs. Basically, we split the MOBA players around our game into three groups: people who play MOBAs and believe the MOBA they play is the best ever. Those die hard fans aren’t capturable at this current moment.

Then there’s another group who are looking for something fresh because they’ve played their particular MOBA of preference for many years and they’re OK trying something new. Finally, there’s a group of players who have rejected MOBAs - like I was talking about previously - and we’ve seen a lot of those. You can go to any of our videos, especially our announcement trailer and a lot of the comments are “Fine, EPIC, I’ll try a MOBA!” or “I’ve never played a MOBA before but Paragon will be my first.” Those people then come in and enjoy themselves and let us know on the forums.  

Would you say Paragon is an entry level MOBA but one that provides a fresh feel and deep strategic choice?

Steve: We are a hardcore game. There’s a lot of depth and strategy that you need to grasp once you come in, but I feel we’re more approachable for somebody who hasn’t played MOBAs before. The input control scheme just feels familiar and all the things you’ve previously done well with in other games allows you to start doing well right out of the game. Secondly because we’re still in early access so the amount of Heroes and items available for you to understand, in order to get your feet wet, is currently limited. That’s different from saying we’ve designed the game for a casual audience - that’s not something we’ve done.

Currently most of the maps are built around a three lane architecture. Have you started experimenting with other map styles?

Steve: We’re always looking at the future! Our goal has always been to include more Heroes, more maps and more game modes. One of the challenges of adding new maps and game modes is how much we try to balance the Heroes for that and so we decided early on that we were going to stick to the traditional three lane 5 v 5 MOBA experience. Working on this type of game is hard and there’s a lot of moving pieces. We’re learning as we go, adjusting and getting better at it and right now, adding an additional map would be challenging. That’s more the design side but from a technical perspective the moment you add a new map you split your playerbase and until recently we were in early access and so going into open beta, we’ll have more opportunity because the match-making pool will be larger. This’ll allow for opportunities to get players into different experiences.

How exactly do you plan to keep Paragon balanced for players who spend money on the game over those who don’t?

Steve: The first thing we committed to early on. Back in January/February we had a community event onsite here at headquarters and under NDA laid out our entire business model. This was seen by community members as we headed into early access to get their input. It was just to say “If you like this, this is the direction we’re heading. If you don’t, we’re entirely willing to change it and discuss how.” One of the things they reiterated was not to sell cards. It stays fair because gameplay impacting things such as cards and Heroes are always available or only earned through playing the game. There is no “insert dollar, get shockwave”. That’s our metric and mantra that we use: if it impacts gameplay, you can only get it by playing the game and spending reputation (which is our time currency). One of the things we recognize as a hole in our feature set is not having a crafting system for cards so the normal process for a player - when they don’t have much of anything by design - at some point those card packs become less meaningful because they’re giving you things they already have. So you graduate towards the affinity based card packs that give you a more focused set of cards to choose from. Then what we need as you get almost all the cards you need for a particular affinity like Fury (red) you need a way of going after the few that are left. That’s what we’re working on right now. Oh and before I forget, all Heroes are free all of the time. Other MOBAs you might need to buy your Heroes - once ours are released they’re playable for everyone.

Why do you think this genre has exploded so much? What is about MOBA style games that are so attractive?

Steve: You ask a question that’s very near and dear to my heart. I’m hoping to do a GDC talk on this in the coming years. I think one of the core reasons is that it hits a fundamental human need. Just like in part of my desire and job description as a game designer, is to identify a core human need and then design a game around it. If you look at a game such as Minecraft, humans have a need to be creative. That game taps into that. For MOBAs it straddles two human needs. One is to be special and impactful and find meaningfulness and competence in interacting with other people. It hits the special spot of “I am Twinblast and there is only one of me and I’m the only one who can do this thing, but I can’t do it well unless another Hero is next to me.” it encompasses that unity and shared experience in a group. MOBAs in particular you layer on top of that the progression - humans have a need to grow. You start feeling good at the beginning of a match but you end feeling amazing: a super hero fantasy. When we first started the project the analogy we used was the feeling we got as kids when we strapped on a red cape or blanket, stood on the back of the sofa and jumped off. It has that sort of feeling at the end of a match, where you’re empowered fulfilling this heroic fantasy. You pull all those things together and place people in an environment where there's so much variation - where they create this story.

The memories that stick with us most as gamers are the “you had to be there!” stories. Those are such lasting sticky memories that when you show up and see someone at GDC or E3 and you haven’t seen them for ten years, those are the stories that you go back to. MOBAs provide an environment for those to show up naturally. One of the things we tried to do for Paragon - because we’re a game about the player - is to make those stories immediately available to the players through things like our replay system. Easy export from the replay system, where you can take this fantastic moment that came out of the game with you and your friend and post it online for others to see, otherwise you’ll tell the story and others cry bullshit - because that would never happen - but when you can pull the replay it becomes even more meaningful. I want to push and challenge a little bit and say that MOBAs are a very specific thing that, in our opinion, simply adding Heroes doesn’t make a MOBA. There’s a difference between the MOBA experience which has all these moving pieces: the strategy, the Heroes, the in game progression, itemization and all those different things, versus having a team death-match game that also has Heroes. I think MOBAs as a genre, rather than just Hero based games, are so sticky and dominant because of all those things. Sorry to give such an academic answer but I’m a nerd!

Ten Ton Hammer would like to thank Steve Superville for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Paragon is available for early access now and we're currently giving away 5 Founders Packs!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Paragon Game Page.

Last Updated: Aug 03, 2016

About The Author

Lewis is a long standing journalist, who freelances to a variety of outlets.