AusGamers Heroes of the Storm Developer Interview with Richard Khoo
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:45pm 18/11/13 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with senior game designer Richard Khoo out at this year's BlizzCon to talk about their long-awaited heroe-battle entry, Heroes of the Storm. Watch or read on for what he had to say...
Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.
Richard Khoo: There was a lot of things in motion back then. We had a lot of games that we were shipping between Diablo III, and we were focusing on finishing up Heart of the Swarm, so we took a year off. But we’re glad to be back, and we’re excited to show what we’ve got.
AusGamers: Now Richard, we talked about this just a second ago: I haven’t had a chance to play Heroes of the Storm yet. I’m also not necessarily a self-professed player of these types of [MOBA/ARTS] games, which have just come in and taken over videogaming. Anything that we write about any of these types of games on our website just gets smashed with traffic straight away.
I wanted to just ask: there’s kind of an idea that this kind of genre began with the Blizzard community, and I want to talk about that sort of heritage for you guys, and what that means moving forward, but also how you plan to differentiate yourself from the more established titles that are out there now?
Richard: Right. So we were inspired by games of this genre, and actually, the origins of Heroes of the Storm was that for the past 20 years we’ve developed a connection with these heroes, and we’ve immersed ourselves in the stories and the environments, so we thought it would be cool to make a game that everybody was excited with. Just have these heroes come together and just duke it out in a team brawler. So we invented this idea of The Nexus, where all the worlds can come together.
One of our big things for Heroes of the Storm was the idea of creative freedom. So if you can think of anything cool, or anything for a hero, that’s going to be in our game. So we think that’s really going to be really exciting for all of our fans.
AusGamers: Was it important to have that cohesion, in terms of bringing all the characters together? Did you really need to have a kind of narrative context to have them all play together?
Richard: Well, actually, that’s why we invented The Nexus. The “of the Storm” is actually referring to the idea that the worlds collide together. You don’t really… when you think about… if you say fight in Stormwind, you start thinking “Are the Warcraft heroes on it? Are they going to be a little more powerful?”
So we had to give ourselves the freedom to create these worlds, and that gives us something exciting to play with. Our artists are the best in the business; they make such awesome art; they really inspire us. They actually drove a lot of the design decisions that we made, including a lot of our battlegrounds.
AusGamers: Do you guys feel at all, that you’re coming too late to the party, or do you feel that this is the right time to strike?
Richard: We took our time to build this game. We’ve changed so much in the game; we’re really excited to show the world what we’ve done. True to Blizzard, it’s a way that we do things at Blizzard; we always get excited about the games that we play, and we’ve done it in the past: if you look at games like World of Warcraft, there was a clear number one MMO back then.
When you look at a game like StarCraft, the RTS space was pretty crowded, and even more recently: if you look at a game like Hearthstone, there’s a lot of collectible card games out there -- both in paper, and online. So really, we’re just doing what we do normally, just playing the games we love, and we just want to make a cool game.
AusGamers: That’s a really good launching point, because I tried to get into Magic: The Gathering once it became digital, and it’s such a heavy and drawn out game to get into, that it was hard to break that barrier. But then, as soon as Hearthstone came [it was] really easy to get into. You’ve got 10-minute rounds, but it’s actually quite deep when you get into it. And I love Hearthstone, I play that all the time now.
So for someone like myself, who doesn’t necessarily play these types of games, can you talk about the entry level for Heroes of the…
Richard: A lot of our games are actually very fast-paced. We’re aiming for a target time between 15 to 20-minutes, so you can get more bang for your no bucks really. You can just get as many games as possible in.
Another thing we’re doing is trying to ease out some of the hard to learn rules that are in other games of this genre. So one of the big things we took out was last hit, and we wanted to encourage players to just go out there and fight the heroes and really focus their attention on the battleground.
So if you’re on Blackheart’s bay, how many doubloons does the enemy Nova have? How many doubloons does our team have? These are the kinds of top-level decisions that we want players to make. In addition to the accessibility, we’re going to be offering a fully-fledged tutorial that talks about how to play the game. It’s going to feature Raynor, who’s one of our simplest heroes, and I’m actually talking about Raynor a bit more in tomorrow’s panels, so you should check that out too.
In addition, we have an out-of-game levelling system. So when you first start, we’re going to let you only play some of the simpler heroes, and we’re going to confine the number of choices you have in your talent tree to be simple ones. But then over time, as you master it a little bit more, we’ll unlock the more advanced heroes, we’ll give you more talents; we’ll just give you a wider variety of tools to play with. So we’re going to try and grow the game with you.
On top of that, we’re going to have these cool out-of-game quests that will help direct some of the gameplay. So if you’re playing a hero like Stitches, one of his quests are to hook a whole bunch of guys. So players will learn that hooking people is actually a good thing, and they can practice it.
AusGamers: Can you talk about the business model behind the game at all?
Richard: It’s still a little early to say, but as I was mentioning just now, what we can say is that you will be earning out-of-game levels to unlock more skins and more heroes, and you can earn that through the levelling system. But yeah, it’s still too early to say.
AusGamers: Is it too early to say whether or not you guys are even considering other platforms for this? Because, like Diablo, it seems pretty much like a no-brainer.
Richard: Well yeah. Boy, that would be really awesome. Yeah, it’s too early in development to say.
AusGamers: So let’s talk about the heroes; let’s talk about balancing the heroes, because they all have very different powers; they all come from very different Universes. How much have you guys explored of these characters, and how much have you had to kind of, I guess shed from their powers from other games? Or is it kind of a liberating thing, where you’ve actually managed to really supe them up?
Richard: It actually depends on hero to hero. If you look at Nova, she was recently in Heart of the Swarm and Wings of Liberty, and you could see her… she actually had a couple of missions that were designed around her. So when we think about designing Nova, we look at her kit, we see what makes her fun; we think about: what is the fantasy for Nova, and what do players think when they’re playing as Nova? If you’re a Dominion assassin, what kind of style do you play? So she’s kind of well-set in terms of what you would expect, so we try to match that fantasy of the play-style that we’ve given her.
You take a different hero though, maybe a hero that players have not played with too often, like Chen Stormstout. He’s an NPC in WoW: Mists of Pandaria, and so his slate is a little bit open, so we can actually have some fun with things that he can do. Currently in our internal build, one of his heroic abilities is actually to jump into his barrel and roll around in that. That’s not something that you’ve ever seen of him before, but you’ve always seen Chen walking around with that big barrel in [World of] Warcraft, and we thought we would have some fun with it.
So it’s kind of all over the place. As I was saying earlier, Heroes of the Storm gives us the creative freedom to do a lot of things that we want. So Dominion assassin, drunken master, banshee queen.
AusGamers: In different iterations it’s had different names, and as was said during the opening ceremony, it was always kind of really only shown on one map. Do you guys have and idea of what you’re going to be launching with in terms of play-space for the players?
Richard: Right. So actually, two years ago, we had the concept of multiple maps, and the four battlegrounds that you see right now: Blackheart’s Bay, Cursed Hollow, Dragonshire, and Haunted Mines, they’ll be available when we go to beta. So you’ll be playing on multiple battlegrounds.
Our battlegrounds are a key feature for us, because we enjoy the variety of gameplay that it provides.
AusGamers: But there’s no idea of what the final number of battlegrounds will be once it hits retail?
Richard: No, we’re not quite sure just yet. But once we get more feedback from the beta and from the fans here at Blizzcon, we’ll make adjustments as necessary.
AusGamers: Ok, so fans is a really good segue, because one of the main factors about this type of game, and this game in particular, is that it was community built, basically. And so much of what Blizzard does is community built, that was kind of the resonating force out there this morning [at the BlizzCon keynote].
It seems like a really good opportunity to launch this with a level editor or something, so that players can really go back to the roots of what it actually means to be in this type of game. Is that something that you guys are thinking about? Is it something that you’ve heard a lot of?
Richard: Yeah. So we’ve talked a bit about allowing players to create their own battlegrounds and stuff, but we haven’t written anything in stone. The engine is actually using the powerful editor we use to make StarCraft II, and as you could see in StarCraft II with the eSports scene, we allow the community to create the maps that those games play on.
If something like that happens for Heroes of the Storm… we’re really focused on making a great game right now, but we do want… we are talking about giving the community a lot more power.
AusGamers: In terms of that power as well: each of the Blizzard games have kind of their own social aspect, and I’m curious to know what you guys are doing in terms of, I guess bragging rights, and what players can present to other players, in terms of how much time they put in, and pushing that social element of themselves out.
Richard: Right. Well, as I mentioned before, players actually level themselves up by playing the game. They’ll unlock skins, they’ll get to some hard-to-get effort-based skins. So you’ll see some of the skins if you actually play the build right now. We have Nova in her normal Dominion assassin outfit, and you also have roller derby Nova. So those kind of things, players have to put a lot of time in to show off to other players. We also want players to unlock mounts, and chose the ones that they can. Whether it’s effort-based or currency-based, we’re not quite sure yet.
As far as bragging to your friends: first and foremost we’re just trying to make a fun game. We’re trying to centre it around teamwork. Everything that we can do to make players feel like they’re a part of the team is our number one priority, but those are some things that we’ll discuss later.
AusGamers: So you’ve got mounts. Any idea if you might get some pets?
Richard: I think the last time I talked to Dustin [Browder, Game Director], the idea of having little pets was on the table. The issue was that if the pets were following you around in the game, it would cause a lot of clutter. There’s a lot of things going on in our game -- between all of the effects, and battlegrounds, and heroes, and their mounts. So there are some ideas; I don’t think I’m at liberty to say the kinds of things that I think we are doing, but just know that it’s something that’s on the table and we’re discussing.
AusGamers: Alright, awesome. Well Richard, I’m just going to get down there and play it so I know where the game is going. But thank you so much for your time today and enjoy the rest of BlizzCon.
Richard: Thank you very much. You too.