BlizzCon 2016 Heroes of the Storm Deep Dive Panel Transcript

This is a full transcript of the BlizzCon 2016 Heroes of the Storm Deep Dive Panel. The event was held by the following panelists:

  • Kent-Erik Hagman (lead hero designer)
  • Jade Martin (game designer)
  • Phill Gonzales (lead character artist)
  • Edward Crane (3D artist)
  • Alex Neyman (game designer)




Phill: Hi, everybody. I am Phill Gonzales, and today I’m joined by my fellow Heroes of the Storm developers: Kent-Erik, Ed, Jade, and Alex. The Heroes of the Storm: Deep Dive panel. This is more or less a look behind-the-scenes of what goes into making almost every hero, and we’ve been going through this process throughout the past year since last BlizzCon.

We’ve released quite a few heroes, obviously very, very distinctly different each and every one. Our latest one being Samuro the Blademaster. As we get behind-the-scenes into how things are made, keep in mind we do this for almost every hero; but what makes Samuro the Blademaster very interesting is the Blademaster is actually the very first hero we ever made when we started this adventure called Heroes of the Storm.

We had just released StarCraft II, the editor was a very, very powerful tool, and for BlizzCon 2010 we wanted to show people what we could do outside of the StarCraft II gameplay, so we started developing a brawler-style game, and one of the very first heroes that we developed was the Blademaster.

This was a very big learning experience, we were experimenting with things like bringing in new abilities, even testing out things like skins. You can tell that the Blademaster has a Dark Templar influence. This obviously took off, and for the next couple of years we were making heroes like crazy.



It was like: “Ok, who’s your favorite?” Diablo, Chen, Arthas… all these heroes were rapidly being implemented into the game. In that 2-year rapid-implementation there was a lot of stuff we learned, there’s a lot of ground we covered, and at a certain point we stopped. We had enough heroes, we had experimented enough, and we realized it was time to kind of shift our focus from new heroes to developing some depth into the game; and that’s when we started undertaking the talent system.

This screenshot right here represents the point in which we stopped making new heroes, and right about now almost every one of these heroes has finally gotten into the game, except Varian over there. Lonely in the bottom right, gray and unfinished.


Varian: Concept Design

Varian was the last hero that we were blazing ahead trying to develop. You can see the date here. That happened in 2012. Varian has been waiting a long time to get his turn in the Nexus, but the talent system and other features needed priority.



This kind of represents a typical implementation cycle for a hero. We will build up the hero and blockout grey model stage, kind of understand the proportions, what we’re going for. Obviously, our art style has gone through quite an evolution as well. Varian has been waiting since 2012, and during that wait something really awesome happened.



When World of Warcraft: Legion was released, the Blizzard cinematics team developed a high-resolution model of Varian. Whenever we develop a hero we want to get as much reference as possible together so we can make the best version of that hero possible.


Having a high-resolution cinematic model is a huge resource. Not only can we reference this model, we also get all their concept sheets, understanding what the armor looks like, how it works, how it layers together, what the shininess of certain metal surfaces are, what his portrait looks like and a very great detail what the weapons are supposed to do… all this stuff helps us tremendously, in addition to doing what we always do: gathering concepts together from all the iconic images of a character.


One that we really gravitated towards was the image that Wei Wang did for the 5-year Anniversary. In addition to finding concepts that kind of supplemented new ideas, our version of Varian uses a shield, and so we thought let’s use that shield that came on the UDON World of Warcraft Tribute book.



So with all those resources we head off to work. This is Varian‘s second iteration and the detail level is incredible.



As you might know, these heroes take a long time to develop. There are several departments involved. Not just art, or animation, or game design; but we are also working with technical artists, FX artists, voiceover, writers. There are so many people, and I’m missing some right now; but a lot of people contribute. You can see here we started Varian in February, but the process is more or less the same as it was back in the day.



We started iterating, we started building the model out, we search for those proportions, we’re looking to see how it all lights, we’re playing with shapes, we’re finding out how old the equipment looks, we put it in-game, we see how it compares to all the other characters, and that it is kind of relative too.



We are always kind of iterating and checking in, making sure things are reading well from game view, that the level of detail works across all these different viewports such as the store, the heroes select screen, the portrait in-game above all is the most important.

We continue to iterate, and once we get locked in, we go to a high-resolution sculpt. This lets us get an even more intricate level of detail. We’re adding in rivets, the scale mail, detailing the fur, making those lion and eagle heads really shine.



We’re doing that same treatment to all the weapons. Its stuff like this– this moment? This is when the heroes really come to life.



At the same time, we are also doing concepts of supplemental models. A lot of characters have supporting models or effects. Varian uses banners, as Kent-Erik will explain later on in the game design aspect; but we concepted the banners, and more or less got to the point where we finalized the art.



This is Varian‘s final art. This is an amalgamation of that cinematic art, the aesthetic of Heroes of the Storm, blending all those universes together so it looks cohesive. It was a real privilege to work on Varian, and finally bring him into the Nexus after a 4-year wait.


In addition to that, you know we do things like color variations, making sure these are unique, that they’re sought after, and we have progression rewards. When you get to level 10, we love to make master skins. We crank the aesthetics of the skins up even more, and for Varian we wanted to get that eagle head, that lion head, we wanted them roaring. We put a little bit more finesse on the weapons and the cape. The helm was really fun. It’s when we get to reference historical landmarks in universes that these characters come from. Something we do with Varian’s helm is when the World of Warcraft movie came out, Varian‘s father King Llane was a very prominently featured character and we wanted that helmet to kind of emulate his father’s helm, almost like a heirloom.


It’s very, very cool to get the opportunity to do things like that, to hearken to a character’s legacy, to amplify their presence and make a really, really great character.


Speaking of the legacy, another thing that was really, really fun with Varian in his launch skin is his Lo’Gosh appearance.



You may or may not know, but when Varian and his sword history before he figured out who he actually was, he had amnesia and he was a pit fighter enslaved by Rehgar the shaman, and he was fighting alongside Valeera and Broll Bearmantle as a gladiator. His gladiator garb was strongly orc-themed, and whenever we get a chance to hearken to that legacy, to acknowledge where these characters came from, it’s a real privilege, and that’s what we do with the launch skin. This is something that was really, really cool to develop, and I hope you all enjoy Varian in the Nexus. With that, I’m going to hand it over to Kent-Erik to talk about the game design.


Next: Varian: Game Design

BlizzCon 2016 Heroes of the Storm Deep Dive Panel Transcript
Varian: Concept DesignVarian: Game DesignRagnaros: Concept DesignRagnaros Abilities
Heroes: Talent UpdatesPanel Q&A

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Tomas Hernandez is owner of since 2003. I post news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

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