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AusGamers Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:44pm 29/08/13 | Comments
AusGamers was given a chance to catch up with producer Hamilton Chu and lead artist Ben Thompson, both of whom have been hard at work on Blizzard's digital CCG entry, Hearthstone. Read on for what they had to say...

AusGamers: Alright guys, so sort of out of nowhere; a splinter cell group [at Blizzard], can you talk about the genesis of Hearthstone?

Hamilton: Sure. You know, a lot of us have been fans of this sort of genre for a long, long time; decades right. And yeah, at some point we were sitting down and thinking “these are great games, you know, but maybe it hasn’t gotten to as many people as it could”; there’s such a great kernel of fun in there [so] what if we can make a game that really unleashed that; made it super accessible, super easy to get into for a large mass of people? And even furthermore, taking that game into the digital space unlocks all these possibilities in terms of art and effects and dialogue and sound, and even game design. So that idea really kind of caught our hearts and we really chased that.

AusGamers: It’s weird and serendipitous at the same time for me, because I only just started getting into Magic: The Gathering because they have digital versions now and I’ve always been really intimidated by the physical game, because, you know, you don’t want to look like an idiot when you’re putting down the wrong Sorcery card or whatever, so you’re right in the sense that the digital side of it is actually, I guess, a lot more inviting -- it breeds context to particular types of moves and just how things work… for you guys was that an uphill battle as far as building digitally without a physical foundation?

Ben: Ultimately we just had to redefine what made it physical in the digital space for us and that’s where the playspaces came into play where you get the boards and what does our collectible look like, and that was a long path, but it was one that was a lot of fun the entire way through because it really was [us] focusing on: what did we like about the games currently and how can we make it better and even more inviting. That comes down to the raw and rare materials the cards are made out of, it’s the… I could say Blizzard sends these ice splinters down and kills your opponent or I could show you with these big crashing shards of ice that shake everything on the board and obviously that one’s a lot more fun to see happen.

So everything that we were doing was all about making it more accessible, making it fun, but doing so in a way that those familiar with World of Warcraft were now being handed it in a new and interesting and inviting way, and those that are new to the license altogether can find out what we’ve all enjoyed for so long.

Hamilton: But you’re right, I think there’s definitely a step you have to take to kind of free your mind of all the stuff you’ve learnt up to now about what that genre means. You know, the way that you can interact with your collection in our Collection Manager is just so different from our past experiences with being able to sort cards or other things you have to do in the physical space. Or the kinds of game mechanics that we can do because things are digital, and we can make copies of something like that, or get rid of them, or get random stuff very easily. There’s just a lot of really cool design space that we can play around with.

AusGamers: Now that you’ve got this far though, is there a part of you wanting to actually make the physical cards?

Hamilton: No I don’t think so. There’s just so much cool stuff that we’ve been able to make and that’s what the game is now, too. It’s this digital game where we have built it to take real advantage of that.

AusGamers: One of my favourite aspects of it is the ambience -- it really feels like you’re in an Inn in the world of World of Warcraft. Obviously it’s releasing on its own, but is there an idea that down the track you might bake it in to World of Warcraft so people can actually just jump in and then while they’re in an Inn just challenge someone at table… like, it seem like a no-brainer, really?

Hamilton: Sure, I think that fantasy is sure floated around from time to time [and] something like that could be cool, but right now we’re really focused on making Hearthstone the best game it can be. Maybe there’ll be cool interactions down the line, but for now we’re really focused on Hearthstone a great stand-alone.

AusGamers: I know the game is out in beta hands now (we’ve just done a giveaway ourselves), but ca you talk about what the feedback so far has been?

Ben: It’s been great. We’ve been really blessed with a great community that’s been supportive of us from day one and has a lot of great things to say about it, and great ideas to share and that’s exactly the kind of feedback we’re looking for when you do release in closed beta and also open beta, and so everyone has been very excited by and supported by exactly the kinds of things we’re after in making the game better. Responding to the simplicity of it, the quickness of the games -- you know, a 10-minute game in-and-out -- [they’ve] really been excited by, and then ultimately been excited by a release to mobile.

Hamilton: It’s been really rewarding seeing all the community pop-up. You know, from the fan sites that’ve already been there for a while to the subReddit to the Twitch community -- that’s really popped up, so it’s great to see all these people getting engaged, let alone sending us feedback directly which we really encourage… so yeah, lots of great feedback and lots of really specific feedback. You know, people like this card, people don’t like this card, this is way, that’s why… [but] you know, this is the beta so we really wanna learn this stuff and the purpose of this is to get all that feedback, so we’ve been getting a lot of good response and we’d love to thank all the people who have been participating that way.

AusGamers: What’s the balance like at the moment, because I know that’s a Blizzard tenant: balance, balance, balance so that the game feels like it can be owned by anyone and won by anyone, and obviously this is a direct competitive game -- one vs one -- can you talk about some of the hurdles you came across initially or was it more a case of “we know what CCG is so we can just build from that” and not really have to worry too much about it?

Hamilton: No it’s a challenge for sure. Because you don’t start with battles, right, where you start with is making the game interesting and fun and we have nine classes that we all want to make that they feel very distinct. We have a bunch of characters and spells and minions that we want to make sure all feel really like what they are, right… Frostbolt should feel like a Frostbolt and not just from the awesome art, but from what it does too. So we really wanna put in a lot of work to make all of that feel good, and then you start trying to balance. And then even what balance means is complicated too; balance between two players of a certain level is not the same as balance of two players of a different level. So how all those interact with one another… and then there’s kind of overarching meta where just the mood and the strategies and thoughts of the communities -- at this point in time -- will be different from a little bit later when people figure this out or how to counter that, so what balance means in all those contexts is not clear cut problem, but definitely something we’re attacking.

AusGamers: So are you tackling cross-platform play between the mobile devices and PC and Mac at all?

Hamilton: That’s something we’re really looking hard at. We’d love to be able to have that. Just recently [we] had a PC playing an iPad successfully, but we’re not sure if it’s going to be a launch feature or not.

AusGamers: Is Android on the cards as well?

Hamilton: It’s obviously a really intriguing platform -- there’re so many devices out there [that support it]. So yeah, definitely we are thinking about it along with other platform opportunities down the road.

AusGamers: So you mentioned the product as it is now, is not going to be the same as it will in six-months time and it’s been out in the wild, do you have a projection though, internally, of where you’d like to see it in, say, a year’s time? Obviously with something like this collectability is a major factor… I guess, can you talk about the milestones you have set in place being that Blizzard is a relatively forward-thinking company where marketing and development are both concerned?

Hamilton: Sure. I think we approached this one a little bit differently. We’ve talked some about how this is a new thing for Blizzard; it’s a smaller team, much more agile, much more fully focused, and so to get to this point we’ve really been focusing on that one vs one real-time experience, and wanting to get that out of the door and into the hands of people as quickly as we could. And then I think we want to see what’s catching with people -- what are people really into: Are they interested in the eSports side of things, or in single-player content, or new game modes? I think we want to get that feedback so we’re totally committed to supporting this for a long period of time and interacting with the community and then figuring out what Hearthstone should be moving forward.

AusGamers: Okay, I know what the answer to this question is going to be, and that’s “we’re really only focusing on Hearthstone right now”, but, based on the success of this (being strong and positive), is there a chance we might other Blizzard franchises being tapped into in the same way? I mean obviously Diablo would be a decent fit… there’s just so much lore across all the different franchises and, I like the idea that Hearthstone sort of lightens the mood a bit, and in those darker games like Diablo and even StarCraft having that lightness could be a nice counter balance.

Hamilton: That does sound super-fun to play, but as you mentioned right now we’re only focusing on Hearthstone.

Ben: And Warcraft was the natural choice for the first one with this -- the game -- for the team to make, and there are so many facets to Warcraft to build off of, right. And you mentioned the darkness of Diablo and StarCraft but built into WoW is the art, the charming, the funny, the serious -- the spectacular. It just felt like the right game to fulfill the team’s needs.

AusGamers: Does the game board change locations in the ‘world’ at all?

Ben: There’s four at the moment. Right now it’s Stranglethorn, Pandaria, Stormwind and Oppenheimer. So you start in the Stranglethorn Vale largely because, for WoW players, that place has a lot of serendipity. Everybody’s played through there, everybody’s been stabbed there, everyone has stabbed someone there -- there’s a lot of fun to be had in that region. And ultimately we’ve got Alliance, we’ve got Horde and and the new Pandarens which everyone is having fun exploring currently.

AusGamers: Okay great, well I have enough and a beta key waiting for me at home guys, so thanks for your time.

Both: Oh, go home and play it!
Read more about Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Joshua David Lloyd
Posted 03:44pm 29/8/13
Hearing about this and seeing some gameplay actually got me into Magic again since I haven't been able to get a beta key. Really looking forward to it.
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