A few of us Hearthstone fans at Razer were given the opportunity to have a quick chat with Peter Whalen, Game Designer on Hearthstone at Blizzard. We asked a few questions we’re genuinely interested in as fans of the game, and here are the major takeaways that we got from speaking with Peter.
Hearthstone is all about fun
Our very first question skewed towards the competitive side of Hearthstone regarding archetypes and whether balancing classes was the end goal. Coming from a company that focuses on giving gamers the unfair advantage, we wanted to know how the game designers felt about this direction.
The end goal is to create the most fun environment. We just want the players to login and to have fun playing decks and enjoying ladder, enjoying casual, enjoying whatever mode they want to enjoy. On the way there, diversity is really important. It’s important that when you queue up, you encounter different classes and different decks than you did the last game, or the game before that.
Peter’s answer was spot on – a lot of us players think about climbing the ladder, thinking of which decks would bring them to Legend, that we forget the very main goal of Hearthstone (and gaming in general) – to enable us to have fun.
I think it’s more important that at the end of the day, you enjoy your Hearthstone experience, that you enjoy the deck that you’re playing, than to see every single class is equally competitive or viable. So we have to make that trade-off, and I’m happy that we are on the side of making the game more fun.
Balancing all 9 classes and their archetypes across expansions and adventures is definitely something that doesn’t seem very plausible. While class diversity is definitely a key goal, we can expect certain classes to be stronger or weaker as new expansions and adventures come along, and as long as the game remains fun, it’s definitely a win for Hearthstone players.
We wanted to tell a story
The latest expansion, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, has brought about great cards and mechanics, from tri-class cards, to Kazakus, to Jade Druids, and of course our favorite, Patches. We wondered whether the goals of MSOG were achieved.
We wanted to tell a story. We wanted to say there are 3 factions on the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, and they’re fighting for power, we want to tie them together. That’s what the tri-class cards do, they say these three factions are working together. They get some of the same cards, they get some of the same mechanics…
We wanted each of the classes to feel different, but we wanted to say these classes are working together for a common goal. That’s gone really well – those classes feel like they’re a unit.
And indeed they do. MSOG was able to tie in these classes into factions very well, and we feel that tri-class cards add a dimension to both the gameplay aspect and storytelling aspect of Hearthstone.
New classes in Hearthstone
We don’t seem to be satisfied with just 9!
It’s one of the most commonly asked questions that we get, so it’s definitely something we talk about with the team a lot. Should we make Monk? Should we make Demon Hunter, Death Knight, or should we make something totally different that World of Warcraft hasn’t even done before, like Bards, or Innkeepers, or something totally insane. Right now I’m really happy with what we have for the nine classes. Each of them has their own space mechanically, they have their own flavour, they do their own thing. So if we introduce a new class, we need to find a new space for them that feels different than the other 9. That’s one of the biggest challenges we would ever have.
On Tribal Cards
We’ve seen Beasts, Murlocs, Mechs, Dragons, Pirates. With Pirates being very strong right now and Dragons seeing a resurgence, we asked about plans and thoughts regarding tribal cards.
So we saw with GvG that we added a new minion type (Mech) to the game. And that was pretty cool. We’ve got a bunch of these minion types and players really like being able to say “I’m playing a Pirate deck” or “I’m playing a Murloc deck”. That’s definitely something we can consider in the future – having more minion-type-matters tech cards, things that care about Dragons, Murlocs, Pirates.
We’re really excited to see more tribal decks as well – the card synergy when playing these just feel great. And it is very fun to be able to say you’re playing, say, Dragon Priest. It gives a connection to what you play, and it makes it fun.
Will old sets or cards be rotated back into standard?
We’re sad to see some of our favorites go. Reno will be rotated out soon, and it was the core of many viable decks in recent metas.
Those are all things that are possible. One of the things that’s really important with Standard is keeping Hearthstone fresh year after year, so there aren’t any plans right now add cards into the classic set to make old sets new again.
It’s really important that we can keep introducing new things for you to love while also giving old things – old things have had their time, and now they’re going to be cool in Wild.
Wild, and balancing
Wild can be very fun, especially being able to use a combination of cards that Standard has never seen before. However, this can also cause some overpowered combinations to inadvertently happen if left unchecked.
Wild’s definitely something we think about when we’re balancing cards. We talk about it like “this card will be totally insane in this combination” and we’re careful about that. We don’t want to break Wild. That’s some of the fun of Wild – that it’s going to become a crazy space. Unfair things are going to happen – you’re both going to bring these unfair decks and they’re gonna fight, and you’re gonna do crazy things. And that’s the identity of Wild.
We also asked if we could possibly see pro level Wild matches or tournaments even.
There’ve been a bunch of these various things that people have done in the past that have been awesome. I really liked a lot of that, so I’d like to see some Wild formats. I think that’s great.
Hearthstone vs. Traditional Card Games
Hearthstone, being a video game, has the ability to implement mechanics and features not normally found in traditional card games. We asked how that affected their design process, given that ability and freedom.
Discover is a great example, Unstable Portal from GvG is a great example. Even things like Mysterious Challenger are pretty inconvenient in a paper game. Planning ways to explore that digital space I think is awesome. There’s lots of different ways to do it, and I think it’s very interesting.
Crazy Cards and Ideas
We were very curious about mechanics and cards that have been pitched but didn’t make it out, and Peter shared with us an early iteration of Yogg-Saron and Herald Volazj, much different from how they are now.
There was an old version of Yogg-Saron where you start with some number of mana, I think like 4. You start with 4 mana crystals, but you can never get more. Your max mana crystals was 4, and you just pack your deck with 4 drops, and it was truly not that fun.
Herald Volazj at one point summoned a copy of your opponent, like a shadow version of them, like shadow Anduin or shadow Garrosh, and it would do crazy things.
These were quite interesting, and we do hope these somehow crop up in a Tavern Brawl in the future.
Fanmade Cards and r/CustomHearthstone
The community has had a lot of cards, and Peter has said that they actually do look at these fanmade cards for ideas and inspiration.
We read a lot of the community channels. When people say things on Reddit, on Hearthstone, on Twitter, our forums, and all sorts different places. We definitely take a look of them. A lot of times that exact card won’t go into a set, but something in that same direction or it will inspire a cool idea. I think it’s awesome that the community makes all these cards, and that they’re so passionate about Hearthstone.
I think it’s awesome, I think it shows we’re on the right track. If someone else is having these ideas and is really excited about it, I think it means we’re doing something right.
We hope you enjoyed Peter’s answers to some of the questions we’ve asked! Our biggest takeaway here is that the game designers are focused on making Hearthstone a fun and healthy game where different gamers can play to enjoy. It’s great to have the Hearthstone team focus on this, as it really is the most important aspect of any game. With that, we’d like to end with a powerful phrase from Peter (quoted from Ben Brode)
One of the phrases that I really like that Ben Brode likes to say is that World of Warcraft is a serious epic game with a dose of funny, and Hearthstone is a funny game with a dose of epic.