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hearthstone Hearthstone Developer Interview at gamescom 2015 with Mike Donais

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Icy Veins sat down with Mike Donais at gamescom 2015 to ask some of your burning questions about Hearthstone - TGT design concerns, game features, the new player experience, and more. Some big surprises in this particular interview!

 

We got some phenomenal information from Mike:

 

Many of the cards that have been shown so far seem to slow the game down. Was this a deliberate design decision, or simply a byproduct of the nature of the Inspire and Joust mechanics?

  • We wanted to give people answers to things they were uncomfortable with or complaining about. Joust helps counter cheap Hunter or Warlock decks.

 

For the Joust mechanic, will there be a better animation eventually?

  • There is an animation for the Joust mechanic, but it's not "jousting". For a while, we had a jousting animation, but it wasn't working visually, so we decided to change it.

Joust animation.

 

Why isn't Joust a keyword?

  • You still needed other words. It didn't make sense. It ended up reading like Battlecry; Joust; If you win the Joust, gain +1/+1. We've tried to put Joust in a lot of the names of minions that have Joust to make it obvious.

 

Hearthstone has developed into a big eSport - do you have any plans to improve Spectator Mode for that?

  • We're happy to keep improving on Spectator Mode. We think there's still a lot of room to do that and add new features, but we don't have anything immediately on our schedule for that.

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Spectator Mode preview.

 

Will Hearthstone ever get an in-game tournament mode?

  • Tournament mode is another thing that people have been asking for. We almost did it before Tavern Brawl, but we decided that Tavern Brawl was something more people would enjoy, and let more people have more fun each week.

 

When making balance decisions, do you consider top-level play, newer players, or a combination of both?

  • For each card, we have to make sure it reads simply, has a cool design, matches the flavour, is good for new players, and we also want cards that are good for tournament play and expert players.

 

What do you view as the perfect length of a Hearthstone game? Are you worried about a slow meta affecting the playability on mobile?

  • Complaints about rush decks have driven recent decisions, but rush decks could go away and leave only slow decks. Presumably, the cards that are good against rush decks would get removed, and then rush decks would come back, but it's definitely a concern (e.g. Antique Healbot).

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Hearthstone mobile UI.

 

We've seen a content release pattern of Adventure Mode sets into full card set - will this continue?

  • We don't know that we have one solution that's good forever. Our next update could be a third expansion, or something we've never done before. Maybe we'll do multiple adventures in a row.

 

Is the introduction of free packs from Tavern Brawl and end-of-season rewards to lower the barrier to entry for new players?

  • The new player experience is important to us. Free packs from Tavern Brawl are a nice bonus, but by itself that doesn't solve anything, so we make sure they face similar opponents in every play mode and release powerful common cards, too. We're still looking to see if the problem gets bigger when we get to 1,000 cards, for example. 

 

Several high-level players were recruited to join the team. What effect has this had on your game design?

  • The balance team makes sure cards are clear, well-designed, and well-balanced. We recently hired people from the tournament circuit to make sure things are more balanced, but we also try to make risky cards that push the limits and scare us. Lock and Load is a good example of a card that is risky and could be unbalanced.

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New Lock and Load card in The Grand Tournament.

 

What is your philosophy on making unique cards for specific mana costs? How do you make more viable options for each mana slot without simply introducing power creep?

  • We do a lot of 'sideways' design. If one option were inherently better or worse, that would be a problem, so we try to provide options that fit different styles of decks - dragons vs. murlocs vs. spells, for example. Lots of options.

 

Are there any plans to introduce a 'disable animation' option? The length of animations can become a problem with Patron Warrior, for example.

  • There is no work being put into removing animations. We don't want the game to feel less physical, or to take the sounds/art/effects away. If it's a problem, we'll solve it other ways.

 

Sounds like Tournament Mode is on the way! Any other new details in here you're excited for?

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I'm still excited for Tournament Mode! The rest of the interview was interesting also. I especially find it interesting that the Inspire and Joust mechanics were created deliberately to slow down the meta, to "counter cheap Hunter or Warlock decks." It's neat to me that Blizzard is listening to their fan base and responding to suggestions and complaints. The meta can never be slowed down permanently, however. As Mike alluded to in another answer, the decline of aggressive decks will lead to the removal of aggressive counters, thus opening the door for aggressive decks to return. It's good for the game, though, as the swing of the meta keeps things entertaining. 

 

Great interview!

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