BlizzCon 2016 Heroes of the Storm Deep Dive Panel Transcript

Game Design

Kent-Erik: Thank you, Phil. What’s up BlizzCon? My name is Kent-Erik, I’m the lead hero designer and I’m going to walk you through how we developed Varian from a gameplay side.



His history, much like Samuro, goes way back when, back when we came up with the talent system. We were looking at this thing, and we realized it has offered so much capability, so much potential we could do with this thing with having this freedom of choice, and for a long time we’ve had in the back of our heads this idea of a build your own hero. I don’t know if you guys remember the Terrortron from StarCraft II? This horrible thing where you mashed all these buildings together, but you were like: “Can we do a hero like that?“… where every tier of talents like “Oh, I want that mechanic, no I want that mechanic this time in this kind of mish-mash?



We were talking about that, and we were thinking about: “What does that mean to build your own hero?, like how does that work? Is it fun? Is it balanced?” and “Is it interesting?

We are realizing this is — we are really talking about high levels of customization. We’ve done hybridization to varying degrees in the past. We have done heroes like Tyrande who dips a little bit in that assassin trait, Kharazim who really tried to push it with his level one trait; but we wanted Varian to be a little bit more than that.



We wanted players to know this is a different kind of hero, he really stands apart, and we realized that we really needed to tackle this problem right at the front in what we label him. So Varian is our first multi-class hero… meaning he’s labeled both a warrior and an assassin.



For all you daily quest lovers, he will complete both quests for you at the same time. We really felt like if players know at the loading screen, or even (and this is where stuff gets funny) in the draft screen they don’t know who Varian is, they’ll understand that he’s very adaptable and that we can get away with a lot more in the game design.



So with that kind of knowledge in mind, we set about designing Varian. Now what’s really interesting about him is we designed him completely backwards from all of our other heroes. We started with the talent trait which doesn’t make any sense at all, because we didn’t even know what he did, yet we knew we wanted to start augmenting whatever it was going to be.

In talking with the art team, we already knew we wanted Varian to do these really epic artistic moments, like maybe splitting his swords in two — like we see him do in Legion, or picking up the shield to become a tank, or going into a two-handed grip with his weapon.



From there we kind of already had, alright… there are three gameplay styles. That’s pretty crazy, right? We have the tank Varian, we got this burst DPS, we got the sustained damage with the split-swords, but … can we do more? Because this is Blizzard, right? We always got to do even more crazy stuff, right? It’s BlizzCon!



So we realized: well, you know, we look at these specs, we look at these gameplay styles, there are two variations of each of these that we could easily pin it to, so what if we do another tier of choices where Varian can spec either more defensively or more aggressively-offensively?



Well sure, that sounds great, that’s just 2 choices. That’s not unreasonable, right?; but when you start combining these things you start to realize you’re actually talking about six different heroes now, and that’s when we start getting scared as a designer team.



That’s a whole lot of hero for one guy, but he’s the High-King of the Alliance, so he can do this right? So we looked at these specs, and we realized that actually we already have heroes in the game that kind of embody each of these choices. When it comes to the tanks we have two types of heroes.

We have heroes like Johanna and Chen who represent this kind of very front-line tanky hero in the form of really defensive (in Johanna), or aggressive (in diving-your-backline like it’s-just-insane-Chen) — sorry I may have lost the game to Chen yesterday — or when it comes to burst damage, we have heroes like Sonya and Zeratul; both of whom bring a ton of burst damage, but Sonya so much more durable. Zeratul very flighty. He’s here, he’s there.

When it comes to rapid attackers we have heroes like Artanis and Illidan, both of whom again are continually piling on sustained damage, but Artanis is basically unkillable if you get to level 20, and Illidan who (he’s I don’t know where… he was there, I don’t know where he’s gone now, right?



So we looked at this and realized: okay, well let’s take a look at each of these heroes and let’s start breaking them down into their core components. What are the mechanics that make these heroes tic? What are the abilities that they have?; and in doing this process we were looking for the patterns, and looking for the things that split these heroes, and made them different from each other.



We started to find the patterns, we started to find the clumps, maybe they’re some AOE damage here, some self-survivability there, some gap closing here and there, and oh look, these guys have this, and these guys have that.



It was in doing this process (this mega Excel sheet of doom) that we started to see all this. This is what Varian’s going to need in order to do all the things we need him to do, and it was from this process we designed his entire base kit which I’m about to walk you through next.



So Varian, first up on his kit we’ve got Lion’s Fang. Varian is going to take his sword, and he’s going to slash it in the air, send out this shockwave.



It’s going to deal damage to all enemies that it goes through, and apply a slow to them (I think I’ve got a video here). This gives him some reach. It’s on a relatively low cooldown, gives him some area control (especially early in the game when you’re doing some laning).


Next up, I had Parry (W). This is Varian’s self-survivability tool. It helps him stay alive. Varian is going to bring up his swords and he’s going to deflect all incoming basic attacks for a very short window of time, allowing him to take zero damage from all of them. This is a multi-charge ability and you’re going to get a really good timing to go and mastering this one.



You are going to see Tracer is going to come up to here, and Varian’s going to wait until the right moment to profit here, and deflect that entire magazine from Tracer.


Finally, we have Charge because what’s a World of Warcraft warrior without charge? Varian is going to dash to his opponent, and apply a hefty slow to them, allowing him and his allies to follow up with some mean damage. Pretty straightforward, kind of what you’d expect of a warrior.



Now at level 4, we have these two options; these allow you to really become super defensive, or super aggressive. First up, we have Shield Wall: this will cause your Parry to give you the protected status. All you Medivh players out there just went “oh my God! You’re insane!” and you’re right, we are insane.

This will cause you to become immune to all damage, but maybe that’s not what your team needs. Maybe what you guys need is something more aggressive. You need to get to that backline to serve 1 and 3 squishes.

You should definitely be taking Warbringer instead. This is going to cause your Charge to cooldown to go from 16 seconds to 6. Tt’s kind of insane. We don’t usually do this on talents, but this is Varian, and it’s going to cause that slow you saw to be a stun, which if you’re hardcore and you’re doing the math, you’re like: “Insane!!!” … and yes, that’s exactly right.



Now let’s talk about these level 10 choices. Real gravy here. First up: we have Taunt. This will make Varian into a warrior. when you select Taunt two things are going to happen. Varian is going to pick up his shield, and passively his maximum health is going to be increased by about 50% making him way tankier.



Second: With a low cooldown ability, he gains Taunt, where he can force enemy heroes to attack him. This allows him to peer for his allies or lock down an opponent so that you guys can blow them up. Our animators had a lot of fun with Varian by way.


Next up, for that burst damage role we have Colossus Smash. Varian is going on a two-handed grip on his sword almost doubling his attack damage (giving up a little bit of health to compensate), and he’ll be able to leap to his opponents and slash them for a ton of damage and make them vulnerable to take bonus damage.



We got Arthas here our favorite punching bag, going to take a hit from Varian. Very good at blowing up squishies. I think we got another clip against Zul who is going to mistakenly stand still and eat all that extra damage. Oh no, you don’t want to see him leap again, don’t you?



Finally, we have Twin Blades of Fury. Varian is going to split his swords in two, doubling his attack speed and this is a passive heroic. With every attack, Varian is going to gain a huge boost to his movement speed and every third attack, he’s going to do a bunch of extra damage.



Watch him here against Zeratul. This is super fun by the way. The numbers are just flying everywhere when you’re playing him. Then he dashes on to a Jaina to finish her off.



Now what I just walked you through is a ton of mechanics, and don’t get me wrong. It’s super important especially when we’re talking about a multi-class hero, but that’s just one side of the coin when it comes to hero design.



The other is fantasy. We really want you to feel like you’re playing not just a wild warrior, but you’re playing Varian Wrynn, High-King of the Alliance; and while making his kit we’re like “Well, this is really cool, we love it, it’s awesome splitting swords. Super Varian. Can we do more? Can we do more?

We are looking at the art, we’re looking at pieces like this where he’s got this giant banner behind him, and we’re like… whoa! He is kind of like this front-line leader king, he leads his armies from the front (very heroic of him). What if he threw down banners to inspire his allies? Okay, that’s kind of cool, but can we work it more?

Well, we have this idea of customization, and lots of it, so what if we had Varian… he is the High-King of the Alliance, right? It’s not of just Stormwind, there’s other nations he represents. So at level 13, you’ll be presented with three different banners (each representing a different nation), and you’ll get to choose one to bring this buff to you and your teammates.

First up, I’d like to show you the banner of Iron Forge. Maybe you’re looking at your team, and realize you guys need a little bit extra armor in order to survive your fights against your enemies.



You throw down this banner, and you and surrounding allies will be given a big boost to your armor.



The sound team had fun with this one, and they have actually included each city’s music with the banners when you throw these down. Maybe you’re running a double mage comp, and you really wanted to see just how much damage your teammates can deal. With the banner of Dalaran, you throw this down, you and your allies will get a big boost to your ability power. I’m sure it’s pretty insane. It also always gives me that nostalgic feel for Wrath of the Lich King every time I throw this down.



Finally, Varian’s own home kingdom: Stormwind. This banner is going to give you and your allies a movement speed.



This is great for catching an enemy who is out of position, or disengaging from a fight that has gone bad. I believe we have got a short clip of this in action for all you Hearthstone players.



You can very soon behold the armies of Stormwind, and it’s Tracer and Zarya, very strange.



Yes, the shrine did just pop, did anybody else get triggered? Like “oh, I got to go to mid lane” … this is Varian, and he’s playable here on the showfloor; but next, I’d like to invite up Ed Crane to talk to you guys about the art of our next hero.



Next: Ragnaros: Concept 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.

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