Heroes of the Storm Design AMA focuses on the future and on fun
Thanks to the most recent AMA from the Heroes of the Storm Design team, we have a look into what their focus is going to be for the rest of the year. The biggest hurdle seems to be finding the balance between what they’re passionate about and what they can deliver on. There’s no shortage of ideas on what skins to make or new heroes they want to put in the game, but the smaller team means having to prioritize. There was a three-month gap between Imperius and Anduin coming out, which could be the new normal going forward. There are new heroes being worked on, but we’re still a little ways away from seeing exactly who they’re working on. Although the use of “bear with us” could be a hint to the next. Maybe we’re going to see Broll Bearmantle or Hamuul Runetotem join the Nexus.
Part of our journey right now is figuring out the balance between what the team wants to do, and what the team can do. That said, I don’t want to commit to a standard timeline if such a thing ever existed. I will say that we love making new heroes and will continue to dedicate our time and passion to them. At the same time, we are also enjoying a world where significant balance changes and hero reworks are meaningfully helping close the gap between new heroes while letting each new hero have room to breathe and shine.
Our next new hero is coming along great and is only a few releases away, so please bear with us and keep letting us know how things are feeling along the way.
It’s unlikely that we’ll be getting any new maps for the foreseeable future. They feel that the energy required to make an entirely new map is better spent on other facets of the game. They’ll be focusing on making more tweaks to the existing maps — similar to the recent changes made to the Protector on Volskaya Foundry. Blackheart’s Bay was mentioned as a map that might get a little attention soon. Haunted Mines, on the other hand, is going to stay buried.
Haunted Mines has gotten numerous reworks, changing everything from the shape of the titular mine, location that the Grave Golems spawn, and even the mercenary camps present. It’s proven to be too hard to balance properly — while still keeping it fun.
If you’ve been playing the Brawls recently you may have noticed that they’ve all been variations on the all random all mid (ARAM) style of map. Where you only have a single lane to play in and don’t get to choose your hero. The wilder and wackier Brawls were fun but so inconsistent. I loved the Stitches Pool Party game, but the Lunar Rocket Ride never delivered on the promise of Heroes of the Storm Kart. If they spin the Brawl mode off into just ARAM games, I hope that they don’t completely abandon the idea of neat mini-games.
Our current plan is to keep rotating through ARAM maps for the time being. We are still discussing what the mode looks like in the future, but we have broken ground on a true ARAM mode that could potentially replace the current BRAWL mode sometime in the future.
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D.VA joins the ranks of heroes who are on the slate for a rework. She’s had a hard time fitting into the Nexus, and never quite found her niche as a tank. Her abilities don’t allow for the control that heroes like Anub’arak or Garrosh provide, or global presence that you can get from Dehaka.
Speaking personally I have the same problem with her in Overwatch as I do in Heroes. On the enemy team, she feels oppressive and impossible to stop — her guns feel like they’re shooting razorblades made out of lava. When I try and play her I swear I’m firing confetti and kitten farts. Chen and Tassadar are also still on the rework list. Chen sounds like he’ll be ready pretty quickly, maybe Tassadar will come out alongside him.
Finding the fun in a character is a big part of their design process. Early on in his development cycle Kel’thuzad had the ability to direct Mr. Bigglesworth around the map or use him to make his own spells more powerful. Having Mr. Bigglesworth as a scout — similar to Lunara’s Wisp — with the added drawback of buffing Kel’thuzad if you killed him sounds amazing. But I can see how he wouldn’t have fit in with the direction they took with the overall kit. Still, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see him as a talent. I’ve always loved the thought of the big bad necromancer who still loves his cute little cat.
Something we haven’t seen in a while is one of their more unique heroes added to the game. Including characters like Murky, Abathur, and the Lost Vikings helped to set Heroes apart from their competitors. Balancing them has been an issue though. Especially with all of the other changes that have come into the game. Abathur’s Locusts were designed around helping to drain ammunition from the Towers and Forts in the lane, letting him keep the pressure up and forcing someone to deal with them or risk losing structures. Changing the buildings to no longer have ammo meant that the Locusts had to change too, but dealing with split lane pressure isn’t very fun.
This is definitely a bit controversial, but I would say that the most interesting philosophy that we have been very cautious of over-doing is creating more ‘weird Heroes – Abathur, Murky, Cho’Gall, Vikings’.
We see a lot of feedback and pleas to make more of these Heroes, but we have been resistant to do so for a lot of reasons; one, however, stands above the rest:
Why is it okay for a single Hero to force up to 9 other players to change the way they play the game?
Our team loves these Heroes, but we have to be cognizant of the frustration (and mayhem) that they can bring to both their team and the enemy. The vast majority of players want a standard game, with a standard composition of Heroes. Is it fair that one player can single-handedly decide to warp the match around them?
While I can positively state that we are exploring other Heroes that could cause similar feelings, we want to make sure that we are being thoughtful and critical with the designs in order to make each match feel fun for everyone involved.
If you’ve ever wondered the criteria that they check off while they’re taking established heroes from other games and fitting them into Heroes they covered that too. For some, it can be just nailing the silhouette just right. Anduin had to be different enough from all the other Humans in plate armor but still uniquely Anduin.
We’ve seen the artists talk about this before when they’re designing skins — how tough it can be to make sure that you still realize who it is, even if they’re suddenly a robot. It’s tough to keep the hero true to the material it came from while still making a character unique to Heroes.
This is a great question — and definitely an interesting balance to strike! I think it’s something that was a little trickier at first, but over time has come more and more naturally. There are a few things that we have to take into consideration:
1 — The character history. As in: How much of an actual, written history does the character have. The more tangibly recorded history a character has changes our approach. A long character arc definitely gives us options to play with, but also gives us more ways in which we can explicitly get things wrong. Take Kael’thas for example. Do we go with early, chillin’, blood elf Kael’thas, or late, crazed, mana-addict Kael’thas? Both are technically RIGHT, but the era we choose to pull from would change our approach to designing both the abilities and visuals of the character.
2– The character fantasy. I think to many people this blends right into point number 1, but for me, this encompasses so much more. This is the baseline do’s and don’ts for the character (which is, again, often dependent on the era of the character) that need to be upheld across everything — even BEYOND the ability sets. i.e. Ragnaros is the Firelord. He’s gonna have fire-related abilities, duh. BUT he’s also an intense guy; He speaks in all caps! He’s never going to have, like… a tender moment admiring Sulfuras’ beauty. He’s never going to have voicelines that are admiring the foliage. This is what makes you FEEL like you are playing the character you selected. What is their personality? What do they do when they aren’t fighting? Answering these questions helps us to live within the known fantasy of the characters while delivering new moments, pieces of the character that have yet to be seen, but fit seamlessly in with what our players already know and love.
3– Developing trust and communication with the other teams. There have been several times our team has felt passionate about an idea we wanted to do for a character, only to be told we’re out of bounds. It can feel disheartening to be told no, but learning the boundaries of the characters, walking through the reference material with the devs who originally made it is such a gift! Plus, we can expedite our own development, because our focus is refined down the right pathways. When we can create something new, and something true, that excites and delights the teams onsite, we know we’ve done it right.
While this was the last scheduled AMA for the Heroes development team it sounds like we’ll be getting more of them down the line. I love getting all these behind the scenes tidbits and history. I especially love finding out about major bugs like Lt. Morales dropship just flying off the edge of the map with the whole team onboard.
As for BlizzCon, that’s still 6 months away but there’ll definitely be a Heroes of the Storm presence at the convention. I can’t wait to see what they show off.
We’re still in the process of planning BlizzCon, but at this point there are no plans for organized Heroes esports. I would love to see some games played – exhibition or otherwise – but no promises there.
And I obviously can’t go into any details, but the team and game will be there with new stuff to talk about and play!
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