PAX Prime 2014 – Heroes of the Storm Interview
Blizzplanet correspondents Mark Loftus and Stephanie Loftus interviewed game director Dustin Browder and senior artist Phil Gonzales to discuss details of the three latest heroes: Chen, Anub’arak and Azmodan.
We asked about new battlegrounds and heroes. While not much was learned on that front, there are plans to change battleground maps each season.
Note: The interview was held at the game stations floor, and the background noise is loud at ground zero. A transcript and closed captions are available.
Mark Loftus: This is Mark Loftus reporting for Blizzplanet to learn more about Heroes of the Storm. I am at PAX Prime 2014 to interview game director Dustin Browder and senior artist Phil Gonzales. Alright, I’m gonna start off with; I have two questions here that are for you Phil Gonzales.
Phil Gonzales: Ok
Mark Loftus: Anub’arak and Azmodan are both huge characters in their respective games.
Phil Gonzales: Yeah
Mark Loftus: What challenge did they pose to your team when creating them for Heroes of the Storm while still at going their scale?
Phil Gonzales: OK. That’s a pretty good question, when we made Azmodan — obviously, he is a boss character — the Design and Art team come together and say “what are the most psychotic abilities?,” and they are on a boss scale in Diablo III. Obviously in Heroes of the Storm we can’t replicate that one to one. We have to take some liberties to deliver the experience and how it feels but also make it something that’s more conducive to a player actually controlling it. So that was a challenge but I think we can moved on pretty good. We have a lot of fun stuff in terms of the black pool of Death, we have a lot of minions summoning and stuff. We really grabbed a lot of those key spells and we breath it into Heroes. He’s still a really big character and he’s certainly up on the high end, he might be our biggest. And then Anub’arak is the same thing. He’s an iconic boss. We looked at a lot of his abilities, and hopefully— I think he has less summons than Azmodan does; but he’s still a pretty intense character who gotta do all those psychotic things like the spikes, like the locusts being summoned, the ultimate is also Locust Swarm. We’re able to translate all that into funny enough as a big character Anub’arak’s very nimble. You see him like jumping under lines and evading very very quickly, it’s a lot of fun actually.
Mark Loftus: Ok. And the next one is: Players have talked about the disadvantages and advantages of body blocking with characters. Is it a worry that it might become a grief in tactic, especially when two giants on the enemy team or something not that common in gameplay yet?
Dustin Browder: We haven’t seen a ton of that yet; but it’s something we’re always watching. We do a lot of things we can do to reduce the risk of that kinda thing. Obviously there is somebody blocking, you wanna delude the enemy; like I wanna be able to gain stitches; use my big fat stitches body to block somebody out. We haven’t seen too much of that yet and we are playing, sort of checking with those sizes, doing everything we can to make it seem like it’s the real characters; making it small enough so that you can slip by each other as well. We keep an eye on them for sure to see if it’s a real issue but it hasn’t been a problem yet.
Phil Gonzales: And that’s the key point of what we’re trying to accomplish in the alpha. We’re still very very mindfully testing a lot of that stuff and looking to iterate. It’s not final.
Mark Loftus: Ok. Awesome, thank you very much. Ok, so let’s talk about Chen’s ultimate hero talent; the one where he splits into three pandas. Can players micro-manage each panda or is each controlled by individual AI?
Dustin Browder: Well they also can come together and fight with you right now. And so it’s really designed to be a way to get them a lot more survivability. We’d have to see it when it comes out and see how it plays for you guys cuz I’m not sure that’s the final way we wanna do it or not. But it’s a pretty big twist, good enough for you to try the alpha for sure; we’ll see how it goes.
Mark Loftus: Ok. What are Anub’arak’s strengths and weaknesses?
Dustin Browder: Well, Anub’arak is a much different strategist. Obviously, a very tough tank, and he’s got a lot of high mobility with his Burrow. It gets him where he wants to be. So you should grab it once; don’t make a mistake. Don’t get it wrong, wherever he wants to be. He has a shield that he can pop and he’s got spikes that he can shoot up to stun his enemies in a line in front of him. So he’s kind of a high mobility kind of tank. Go where he wants to be, stun people, and then start (you know), dealing out some damage. You really wanna use him and try to be as other warriors, try to protect your allies, and so one of the things he’s really great for is to root to a position where you’re really threatening enemy DPS characters. We can burrow quickly underneath the line to where Valla or Nova is fighting; and suddenly she’s gotta deal with Anub’arak who’s right in her face. His skills are all gonna be on target now; this is not what she wants him doing and she’s gotta get away. So now you’ve got this big bug in the middle of your battle line, he’s got this sort of ability to stay in there for just a little bit. So you really want to use him to get that burrow, get him where he wants to be; to start breaking up the softies that are hiding back in the interior area.
Mark Loftus: Ok, awesome. It is crystal-clear how Chen and Azmodan are meant to be played, but Anub’arak is a real question-mark. What makes Anub’arak different than the other warriors, playstyle-wise?
Dustin Browder: Well, there’s a bunch of different things you can do with him, I would say it also depends on how you can spend his talents. So Anub’arak also spawns a beetle every time he uses his ability and you can talent those beetles up quite a bit. I was playing the other day and I was like how much of that beetle in that talent. I was like: “Beetle, beetle, beetle, beetle.” It’s the beetle build, right? And that actually spawn a lot of little beetles, which makes you a very effective siege character. Now you can really be absorbing tower ammo and really push against enemy bases. You could just trash them; but that’s one way to play him. Otherwise, you play with a lot more tankie. Use a lot of cover, using, choosing things with a shield, choosing things that allow him to really– to really absorb a lot of damage. Again, it’s a lot about that tunnel and it’s about his ability to assist you in these battles. So you may wanna spike up, stun a bunch of enemies, tunnel underneath them and get to a really difficult position. You’ve got characters like Muradin, sure, who can jump because they have the same range and the same ability as Anub’arak can have with that– with that move. So it’s more about finding the right position; flanking, getting behind where they wanna be, trap enemies trying to run away. It plays very different from a lot of other warriors because of that ability.
Mark Loftus: Do you have an approximate ETA for the patch release containing these three heroes?
Dustin Browder: I don’t know when they’re coming out. I think we do as Blizzard do; but I don’t know how accurate.
Phil Gonzales: Yeah, it’s soon. They’re pretty high up there. So, I think inevitably the next patch I think is somewhere along the line, one or the other soon.
Dustin Browder: One of the things in the next patch they’re gonna, we’re doing about a patch about every month, as soon as every five weeks and so we’ll see a hero in each one of those which will be coming out over the next three months.
Mark Loftus: So you’re still not gonna tell me?
Dustin Browder: I don’t know. I don’t really know. If you want she could get you that information and pass it on to you. I think it is known, it’s just we, we’re still in the trenches trying to make the game, I just don’t know.
Mark Loftus: Oh no, I was, I was just kidding.
Mark Loftus: Well that’s, that’s fine. Have you guys discussed plans for more game modes such as free-for-all arena?
Dustin Browder: We have not. We’ve talked about — pretty much free-for-all was not one on the table. We talked, those are probably next year at the most. We’ve still gotta get Standard mode up and running, we’ve still gotta get Ranked play up and running. What you’re playing now is the most simple pick up group style of gameplay. We really wanna get to a place where a lot more competitive modes, a lot more competitive play than we are today. And we’ve got more battlegrounds that need go in as well. We have five right now and we think we wanna go to six to eight; and rotation at once, but even then we’ll make more battlegrounds and then rotate some of the old ones out. So it’s always changing. It’s always new maps. It’s always new battlegrounds to play.
Mark Loftus: How many heroes and battlegrounds are in production right now and do you have an ideal number for launch?
Dustin Browder: I don’t know we have an ideal number for launch. We’ve got five in the game now and we’re working on more battlegrounds back at the office. We’ll see which ones are going to make it, which ones are cool, which ones are not. I get about six to eight battlegrounds at the moment; but we will do more. So at the end of the day, there may be –I don’t know– twenty-eight or fifty heroes in the game. Probably up to 60, after the ones in a match game.
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In terms of hero count, we have got 28 today. Plus we’re adding about one a month or every five weeks in between. We’re trying to increase that pace to see how fast we can. We don’t want to sacrifice the quality at all. Quality is the most important thing to us. We will stop making heroes then we get repetitive; we feel like I don’t know, it feels the same like what are we doing here? Like we get to that point then you know what? I think we’re good on heroes a little bit; we slow the pace or stop altogether. But it’s gonna be a feel thing, it’s what makes sense to us, what feels good, it’s gonna be what feels right.
Mark Loftus: Could you mention some of the mercenary variations you might add soon in Technical Alpha?
Dustin Browder: I don’t know if we know yet. We’re still working on these. So we’re gonna be trying to get that in front of players, absolutely, but we’re not sure what all the mechanics we’ll have in a future match.
Mark Loftus: Ok. What about modding tools or WorldEdit Tools for players to create their own maps? Have this begun development yet or has this been discussed recently?
Dustin Browder: It has been discussed. We’re very passionate about Team 1. We’ve been doing this for years; we could go all the way back to Warcraft I and Warcraft II. In many ways the mod making tools built by Team 1 have been the tools for all of our RTS games. Create the genre of games right? Back in War II and Warcraft III, so it’s something we’re very passionate about. We don’t know when we’re gonna do it yet. We have a few challenges with technically the freedom to play games. So StarCraft, if you put up something, you know, offensive in our game we can kill the map; ban your account, right? So players are generally nice, they don’t break a bunch of copyright laws, the don’t put a bunch of pornography in our game because they know we have got rules. You’re free to play a game, might have that control, but it is solvable. We just need to get on to it and solve it. But it’s something that we are looking forward to have in the game for months and years to come, it’s gonna be exciting.
Mark Loftus: Hero rotation happens once a week at the moment. At some point there might be too many battlegrounds and maps. Any plans to rotate the available battlegrounds each week?
Dustin Browder: That wasn’t what we’re thinking. We were thinking more like seasonally. So we’re thinking more like once every three to four months we’d swap them out and then you’ll have a new set. But that’s, that’s an interesting feedback I have never heard that feedback before, I worry that weekly rotation would be even more confusing, right? Cuz you wouldn’t know what battlegrounds you’re on then you change battlegrounds again. So we think three to four months would feel right; but that’s from our Starcraft experience, we’ve done that with seasons in Starcraft, we’ve changed the maps every three or four months, but we’ll see; we’ll see how it goes.
Mark Loftus: Considering the awkwardness of giant heroes like Azmodan and Deathwing, in the future, what is the likelihood that your next heroes might–
Dustin Browder: I don’t think I’m doing Deathwing, I don’t think???
Phil Gonzales: That would be very difficult.
Mark Loftus: No Deathwing?
Dustin Browder: Azmodan is just fine so he’s small enough. Right?
Mark Loftus: Deathwing was hopeful.
Dustin Browder: But Deathwing is not real, That’s too big.
Mark Loftus: Ok.
Dustin Browder: He could be a boss in the map. We can do any number of things. We could do little Dethling.
Mark Loftus: Ok.
Dustin Browder: We could do cute little Dethling, right?
Mark Loftus: Ok.
Dustin Browder: But a giant Deathwing doesn’t seem likely.
Mark Loftus: So wishful thinking.
Dustin Browder: Yeah. Yeah.
Mark Loftus: That’s not gonna happen.
Dustin Browder: No, no.
Mark Loftus: Ok.
Dustin Browder: For the reasons you described. Right?
Mark Loftus: What is the likelihood that your next heroes might be based on Lost Vikings, Blackthorne or Rock’n Roll Racing heroes and villains?
Dustin Browder: Well, we’re working really hard on it. I don’t know when those guys are coming, but we’ve heard that many many times. It’s something that we’re really passionate about and excited to work on.
Mark Loftus: There are three buttons in the game mode lobby: Standard, Custom Games and Ranked. We don’t know much about the last two. Are you able to talk about these, or when we might get a preview?
Dustin Browder: We’re not really ??? custom games ??? map of your choice, you fight players however you want, you play against your ??? Play the rest of the game wherever you want. It’s out of rank but we’re still working on it. We’re doing designs meetings on ??? basis with changes frequently, so I don’t know the details on that yet but we do wanna create something that allows you to show off your skill to progress through rank ladder system ??? a sense of we’re you’re at in the ??? community. We also gonna do a draft so that you can see the map and then you can choose your heroes with your allies versus the enemy. You can see their ??? and choose a lot more strategies ???
Mark Loftus: Some heroes like Reghar, Zagara and Brightwing don’t have a mount option. Any thoughts on adding alternate effects instead of mounts? For example, Rehgar transforming into a cheetah or a boar or Brightwing leaving a ghostly trail with leaf-like sparks.
Dustin Browder: We can totally do that but we do have a value on this, is that not all heroes are the same, they’re not. So if you got a mount for Valla, and you don’t get one for Brightwing, then that’s ok. We’re not trying to give a mount to everyone. I certainly think we can use equal amounts of stuff but it wouldn’t have infinite level amount of ??? like you would give the other heroes and certainly even a character like Sergeant Hammer, yeah like you could do sound effects, or trails as she goes but she’s not really a ??? right? So we’re very comfortable with the fact that not all heroes are crazy doing always. But that’s ok, right? So you know we’re playing on ??? we’re on the ??? for the most part, maybe one day we’ll do a skin ??? but it’s not like ??? right?
Mark Loftus: Alright, one last question for you fine gentlemen. All Heroes share the same talents — like Berserker, Battle Momentum and Stoneskin. Any chance to give heroes more personalized abilities based on their abilities in StarCraft II, Diablo III, Warcraft III or WoW?
Dustin Browder: Thanks putting it that way. At first it was about fifty fifty ??? between some of the heroes and their archtypes. I think we’re more about the seventy five twenty five, eighty twenty ??? and we’re slowly making progress. There are a few abilities like first names, some people want that so we’re comfortable I think, with that being a talent design on a couple of different heroes; it’s ok. But we’re definitely moving to a place where you get lots more talents for your hero. A ???
Mark Loftus: Ok. So I wanna thank you gentlemen very much for taking the time to discuss this with me today and I’ll let you guys get back to what it is that you do.