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One Month Out, we Chat with Blizzard's Hamilton Chu about Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:36pm 25/11/13 | Comments
AusGamers sat down with Blizzard's Hamilton Chu to talk more Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Read on for what he had to say...

AusGamers: I guess a jumping off point is the Blizzard tenet of balance, so I’m interest in where you guys are at now. How iterative has that balancing been, and how many tweaks and changes have you made to particular values of particular cards, and where are you at now, and where do you perceive yourselves being after you leave beta?

Hamilton Chu: Sure. So balance is obviously something that we pay really close attention to, and one of the great things with the beta is getting it out to this many people, and the time really sees the meta develop. That’s something that we’ve been watching with great interest as the community kind of learns the game and learns about the classes and reacts to each other.

So it’s actually been very dynamic balance-wise. Something we showed in the panel yesterday was where we just took three consecutive days out of last month, and each of those days, the top two or three classes were different. So it’s very dynamic on that class level, and on the card level there’s similar things: something gains favour and then the counters come out. Something interesting is seeing the balance between the top-rated players and the more beginner players, because it’s not always the same. So really trying to make sure that we have the game balanced -- not only for fair play, but also keeping it interesting -- so taking that all into account.

We’ve had a couple of waves of changes to the cards. We have three that we announced yesterday where we’re changing mind control, and unleash the hounds and starving buzzard. So we want to be really judicious with our changes, because we don’t just want to change up the game on everybody too much. We’re really interested to see how the meta develops as we go forward.

AusGamers: Going on to the UI for the phones: how much of a challenge has that been, because obviously the screen is so much smaller, and one of the great things about this game is that awesome arena, and it just seems like that wouldn’t necessarily work there. Can you run me through how that has been approached?

Hamilton: It is a challenge. We’re still working on it, but you’re right, so much of the game is not just about the mechanics of the card game, but just the overall experience -- with the sound and the art being beautiful, and the special effects and even the little parts of the board that you can play with. So making sure that that all feels super tactile and great as we move to tablets and then phone devices down the line, is just really important. So we’re making sure that we spend a lot of time and effort to make sure that’s super-polished.

AusGamers: At this stage, are you trying to trying to create a kind of visual parity between the tablet and the phone, so that they basically look the same? Or are you basically dealing with the fact that this is a smaller device, so it’s not necessarily going to look the same.

Hamilton The most important thing is how the overall experience is. That may not be one to one, because they are significantly different challenges.

AusGamers: At this stage, you’ve announced tablet, you’ve got PC, and now you’ve got phones. What’s stopping you guys from hitting PSN and XBLA? Because it seems like it should obviously just be there too.

Hamilton: [laughs] Well that’s good that you think so. The most important thing is making sure that whatever platforms we do go to, that it’s, once again, that really great experience. I think it’s working well on the PC and it’s a very natural fit on these touch devices, so those are what our focuses are on right now, and we’ll see, after that what makes sense.

AusGamers: When I spoke to you at Gamescom, there was this kind of idea of crossplatform play between the tablets and PC, which was really exciting. At that time, I also brought up with you guys, whether or not you had thought about baking the product into World of Warcraft proper, so that if you stopped off at an inn, you could actually sit down at a table and play a mini-game -- which would make a really interesting experience, because it would create that second-screen experience for some, as you could hopefully play against someone that might be on their mobile device on the other side of the world. Is that something that’s even remotely on the cards?

Hamilton: It’s something that has been tossed around. Right now we’re focusing on these platforms we’ve talked about in front of us, because we really want to get those out to all of those people and have those really great experiences. But yes, something like playing it inside of WoW could be really fun.

AusGamers: You guys talked about how in five weeks it was like 50,000 hours or something played in the office?

Hamilton: I forget the number they said. I think it was 5,000.

AusGamers: Did you find different amounts of feedback internally versus externally, because everyone at the office is part of a game development process and I think developer expectations probably don’t always necessarily gel together. Can you talk about the differences there -- if there were any?

Hamilton: Sure. It’s a really big step for us when we go and do that company-wide alpha. Because as a dev team, you kind of live and breathe it every day and you get really close to it. So you don’t get that fresh take on it anymore. So when we go out to the company, there’s a lot of people who haven’t had their hands on it really very much, and so that wave of feedback is really important to us.

It’s a little bit different, because they are mostly pretty hardcore players,and they’re inherently Blizzard fans, and it’s their job to give us really good feedback. So that is qualitatively different from getting it really out to the true public -- people who don’t have any vested interests in telling us if it’s good or not. So it’s really great and different feedback when we get out to the public.

AusGamers: One of the big things with World of Warcraft is player customisation, and obviously decks are a way for people to project themselves in this game, but have you thought about allowing people to kind of customise the avatars for their chosen class? Because I know a lot of people probably stick to a few; I like playing with the paladin a lot -- I don’t know why, I just do -- and it would be just great if I could dress him up in different garbs or something like that. Or do you think that’s just too much?

Hamilton: Something we’ve really tried to do is, we’ve been really focused on this core game, and as we put it out, we’re really listening to what people are excited about, and we’ve gotten a lot of ideas and interest along these lines. So I think it would be great to let people really customise their experience and give them different ways to express their personality -- it could be messing with the avatar, it could be other things. One of the things we’re putting out is this card-back idea, where if you play ranked play, we’ll give you this special card-back for this season, which are monthly seasons.

As you go on, there’s a special card-back for each of those, so people can really express “oh, I was playing during this time, and I played a lot of ranked”. So that’s kind of one step towards being able to express who you are or how you’ve been playing, and so I can totally see more ideas along those lines.

AusGamers: With the resource side of stuff, was that always how it is now, and is it going to remain iterative each turn, everybody is gaining mana until you use it all up?

Hamilton: So the mana resource?

AusGamers: Yeah.

Hamilton: No. Actually, they talked a little bit about it in the talk yesterday, but there was definitely this big leap. A lot of other card games have a very different resource model: you have it in your hand and you play it, and there’s decision-making along those lines. So it was really, as we thought about it through our lense of “ok, how do we simplify this game as much as possible, without losing the depth?” and we gave something like this a try, and it seemed like it… we think it worked great, because it made the game faster.

It took out some of the decision making that we didn’t think was really fun decision making, and let the game focus on other decisions about what kind of minions and spells you want to cast, and make those the focus on the game. And when we tried it, it was a revelation, and we really loved it, and we stuck with it, all the way through to today obviously.

AusGamers: Before you got there, were games much longer?

Hamilton: Yeah, definitely. We did a lot of experimenting with this; we experimented with various response mechanisms, so we had something called combat tricks, where there was a phase of the game where on your turn, I could do some stuff, to have a little bit of that response mechanic. But similarly, we tried that, and it turns out that in the games where nobody drew any combat tricks, those were actually more fun, because it made the games go faster, and it didn’t put this weird interruption into your turn where I could disrupt what you were trying to do.

So that among a lot of other things were ideas along the way, with the iteration to get it as streamlined as we could be.

AusGamers: Now you guys [have] given the option to communicate via a number of predetermined responses, have you thought about VOIP at all? Just being able to mic up and speak with the other player?

Hamilton Yeah. Right now we have the emote system, which we think brings a lot of fun to the game. it’s obviously in the hero’s voice and there’s a lot of good lines. It enables kind of a friendly back and forth between you and your opponent. Then you can chat with your friends and people you’re playing in friendly battles with. Those are the things we think are the most important modes of communication and really enables people to enjoy playing the game against their opponents in this kind of very friendly environment, then talk more in-depth with their friends.

AusGamers: Has much changed, in terms of the overall outlook now that this is a real contender for a real eSports experience? Because I imagine that you guys must have had that in the back of your minds right from the outset: if this is really successful, surely it will be picked up by the community and the community really loves to compete.

But now it’s already being streamed everywhere in beta. I can’t perceive this not being a big success in that respect.

Hamilton: That’s good to hear, and yeah, definitely all the enthusiasm around that has been really great. It was in the back of our minds, but kind of a lot of things were in the back of our minds. We really wanted to focus and make sure this was that really fun experience for that whole range of players, including very new and inexperienced players -- more casual players -- as well as the hardcore.

So we weren’t exactly sure what path it would lead down once it got out there, but yeah, a lot of people seem to be really enjoying not only the competing, but watching the game, which is really gratifying. We put in so much stuff to really make it this all encompassing fun experience for you to play, with the sound effects and the board being fun, and it turns out that it seems like that makes it really fun for people to watch.

We have the innkeeper’s invitational today that seems like a pretty packed crowd -- people are really enjoying watching that on the screens too. So yeah, that’s definitely a path that we could start heading down, but it wasn’t this kind of big strategy for us. It was first; let’s make a really fun game, so we’ll see.

AusGamers: Can you see yourselves adding any other classes at this stage?

Hamilton: It’s definitely a possibility. Right now we have the nine core classes and we’re really focused on making sure each of those is interesting in its own right and balanced in the overall pantheon of classes. So maybe that’s something down the line, but right now we’re trying to make the core set great.

AusGamers: Are there any classes that you had initially, before the nine, that just didn’t make it or didn’t really sort of fit?

Hamilton: No, we more or less started out with these in mind and just designed the game to fulfill all of these different roles.

AusGamers: Did you consider having hero characters, like Illidin or something like that, playable? As in being able to select sort of bigger name characters for each class, from Warcraft, like Arthus.

Hamilton: We had a lot of ideas about how to treat the heroes and they talked about that some in the panel as well, where we tried a lot of different mechanics. In the end we decided that something really important is to make sure that each of the classes had a really distinct and interesting personality.

Sticking with one character per class really let us imbue it with a lot of flavour; get their voice out there, and get some interesting reactions between the characters.

So for right now, we’re really focusing on making the current characters in there super-interesting, as well as important.

AusGamers: So you’re going into open beta next month: when can we expect to be able to jump into the tablet version?

Hamilton: As soon as we can. First there’s a lot to work on with the PC and Mac version, and we’re trying our hardest to get that open beta out as quick as we can. Then as soon as we can after that with getting the iPad out.

AusGamers: Ok, well thank you very much. Cheers.

Hamilton: Yeah, thank you. Good to see you again.
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Latest Comments
Posted 04:06pm 25/11/13

have you thought about VOIP at all? Just being able to mic up and speak with the other player?

I can't see how that would be a bad idea......
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