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Hero Designer Interview

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Our team interviewed Hero Designer Jade Martin at BlizzCon. He talks about Kharazim & Dehaka changes, Braxis Houldout, the MVP system, Varian & more.

Do you have any plans to include Hero trading during drafts?

This is a great questions for Travis, he'd be better to answer that. Unfortunately, I have no time frame. It's a feature that would some people are looking at.

It's definitely a feature that would be really nice to have in the future, if we look at for example clans.

It's one of the things we'd like to get in eventually.

Any plans to add some crazy rules to brawls? With crazy, I mean stuff like no cooldowns, mixed abilities, I don't know if you're familiar with the WTF mode for DOTA?

Brawls are "the sky is the limit for us". We have a ton of things in the pipeline and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a mode with no cooldowns, cooldown resets there's all kind of things. That's the great thing about Brawls that it lets us break the rules and do it on a weekly basis and we only have to worry about it for a week. 

None of the Heroes were altered in the Brawls thus far, except the Sgt. Hammer's permanent Thruster (Z). Nova's Snipe one-shots, there are these type of things we could certainly do. There are gonna be engine limitations when I say sky is the limit .We're assessing all this crazy ideas and doing what we would think is fun, because the mode's supposed to be fun.

Plans to rework existing Heroes?

Absolutely. We're planning to rework Kharazim by adding a Mystic Ally. One gives him Health regen, one gives him vision and another one gives allies block reducing basic attack damage and it allows him to do some cool things. We like where Dehaka's at in terms of seeing more frequent play, but Dehaka is subject to talent reworks to push him more into that solo warrior. He's [E] Burrow can be cancelled early now (generally you had to wait for two seconds). We're constantly looking at improving the classes.

We just saw a preview of Varian, who has very distinct playstyles and there are other Heroes we feel have hybrid playstyles (Tyrande, Tassadar, Kharazim are prime examples). I think he was marketed as a Hero that you could choose what to do, but in the end I think he ended up as a super healer?

So in terms of reworking past Heroes into multi-classers, there's no current plans to do something like that, but I wouldn't say it's off the table. In terms of Kharazim you really bring up a good point, where he is kind of seen as the solo support and you're absolutely right, which is why we try to focus him to play that bruiser role. It's definitely on our radar, he's not gonna be like a multi-class hero, but we're certainly making sure he's played both as a support and a bruiser. We would love for him to be drafted into like a pro game and be purely an assassin. It has different implications from there, because you see different supports being picked, or even enemy team being like, okay, they went Kharazim, but I don't know what are they gonna do. They won't know until the last pick, so basically it allows some really cool drafts.

Why was Varian picked as a multi-class hero? is it because of the stances?

WoW classes really fit that role and we knew we wanted to bring in a warrior and so we knew we wanted a solo tank so that was the direction for one of the roles so we went with the tank and then the DPS roles filled in for that, you have Arms, Fury and Protection in WoW, right? It translated really well into our game. The reason for Varian is "If we're doing a multi-class Hero, what Hero is better to pick than Varian?". He's super iconic, he's the master warrior right?

I see that you've done this actually through talents. Was it ever considered to do it through his trait?

We knew we wanted players to lock in to their choices very early on, we wanted it to be game defining, so we didn't really explore the option of having a trait, we didn't want to go that route, but what we did explore early on was actually what levels are appropriate for making that choice. What we ended up settling on was doing it at Level 10 felt like the appropriate time to do that. The Level 1 / 4 / 7 choices augmented his abilities in a strong enough fashion that it warranted waiting till 10 to make that epic choice, because in some comps you're not entirely sure, especially if you're going DPS, like if he's the only warrior chances are he's probably going to go the warrior spec. But if you have a warrior already, you want hide if you're gonna be the sustained damage annoyance or if you're gonna be that burst damage and Level 10 seemed like a right place for it.

He's the first Hero to get three Heroic choices, which is interesting.

Yeah, that is true. We never try limit ourselves to saying a Hero can only have one or two, Tracer is a good example she only has one Heroic, but she has three choices at 10 right? We never lock ourselves into rule, because as soon as we do that we're gonna break it anyway.

Any plans to rework Murky?

We would love to see Murky played more. I will say we are looking at it, but I have no idea when anything like that would come though.

Because a lot of the most recent Heroes capitalize on Murky's weakness (Li-Ming/Tracer).

That's something we will have to take into consideration when we're doing some chances, he's on our radar. We definitely want to see him in competitive play and in our players' hands too.

PPL tried to make an open player tournament where they control what player gets into the tournament setting. Most of the time these systems are created by the community it tend to be falling apart in a few months, because of people losing interest and management issues. Do you think it's something that Blizzard could handle in game like automated tournaments ?

So, I think anytime that we can help promote community events, we should try to do our best and that's more an eSports community question that I can't help out with, but I think those community events are awesome for us, because it shows how the community cares about our games and wants to see them thrive., but as far as end-game automated gameplay, we have no plans for this but the thought of having like in-game hosted tournaments where anyone could sign up sounds really awesome.

Team League to an extent would be a nice place to start, you have teams of 5 that could go into a tournament.

Something like that would be cool. Another idea I will pass on the team.

Braxis Holdout has a tendency of what we call snowballing. During the Road to BlizzCon we had an eight-minute match, which is half of the duration of a typical map, do you feel that this is okay for the map design specifically or are the other maps too slow?

I don't think our design team aims at designing maps saying "hey, this map will be snowbally". It's always something we're trying to address. If we look at Haunted Mines, it also saw 8 minutes of gameplay and it's being reworked. One of the great thing about our game is that there's always a chance to come back and it makes the game exciting. If Braxis Holdout isn't hitting that right now, we should do something to address that and I think the team would look into it. Like the zerg wave are too strong, maybe the loser zerg waves are too weak, maybe this contributes to the snowbally effect of it, but we're definitely looking at it, we're constantly monitoring and if we see those eight-minute matches it will be on our radar.

Would you consider implementing a thumb down system for maps you don't want to play?

I don't know we've ever considered that honestly, we'd like to stick more to map rotations and stuff like that rather than doing a thumb down system. I think a lot of concern with the thumb down systems is as soon as you implement something like that only a very specific few maps ever get played  that the community might perceive as the best or whatever and so rather than doing something like that, personally, I'd rather address those maps, we want everyone to play all maps. Make each map interesting. That's part of the really cool thing about Heroes of the Storm, we do have so many maps and it really changes like who are you drafting. Like Sylvanas is great on Battlefield of Eternity or Infernal Shrines where she's pushing with a Punisher and so it really changed our game. Even Ragnaros, I'm so excited to see him on maps like Braxis Holdout where he can take over the forts and defend a little bit better than other Heroes will be able to or even encounter a Sylvanas on Battlefield of Eternity trying to take down the tower. I like what maps do and I like the Hero draft implications they have so I want to stay focused on that. Variety is what makes the game interesting. We look back at last year's BlizzCon where we saw Leoric and a Murky and an Abathur on the same team right? Like you get all these cool Heroes together you'd never expect and that's what's fun and we want to continue on that.

Are there any visual reworks planned?

I don't know that we have any planned right now.

Would you like to see a crowdfunded price pools using mounts, skins and so on?

Honestly, I'll just default the question to eSports to answer. You know, other games in the genre do it and it's really interesting. We have some changes planned for eSports that will help pro players and keep it running.

In a lots of games you can access the scoreboard, everything you've done, your damage, siege damage and so on, in Heroes you can't do that from the in-game scoreboard you can watch a replay and look at it. is that planned?

It's another thing we have on the list. No priority right now. It's something we'd like to see, we just don't have resources for at the moment. We're allocating those resources on higher priorities.

Are you happy with the current MVP system?

I like what it's doing for the game, I think it's always fun when you're playing the game for me personally, I always tend to play the best I can, but you know, I'm even more focused on not dying, trying to get kills and trying to do everything I can for my team. And so in that regard I really like it, because I feel like it's really cool at the end of the game when you see you got MVP. There are certain flaws in it. Is our algorithm perfect? No. Certainly not, but it's something that we're looking at with every update try to improve on. We're constantly looking at how we can tune it better.

Any plans to introduce positive reinforcement rewards?

In terms of in-game currency, I don't know what's planned for that. it's a systems questions. We always want to reward players. We have an event "play 15 games in 15 daysand you get Zarya, you play 30 games you get a mount. We're constantly looking in ways to reward players. We want people to have fun and be rewarded for it. 

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      What differentiates a highly skilled player on a given Hero isn’t always obvious, though.
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      Queen literally takes Rook during a Tribute fight. Siege damage is important to Zagara, says data.
      As you can tell probably tell by now, I’m very skeptical about how such a system is supposed to evaluate what differentiates a highly skilled player, period, regardless of what hero it is they’re playing. Here’s a concrete example of what I mean by that: Although I don’t consider myself to be a particularly strong mechanical player, I have always managed to maintain a rather high win/loss ratios, for a team game, back in my active days anyway. Why? I’d be lying if I didn’t say that many of these victories weren’t simply due to outdrafting opponents, clear non-confrontational shotcalling, encouraging teammates, defusing infighting, taking every match seriously, knowing when and why to engage, going over mistakes, and generally making powerful macro decisions. On top of being that one weird guy that says “can play anything*, prefer assassin or specialist, let’s try to ban x and pick y.” Doesn’t reading that first thing in any given lobby instill confidence in the rest of your teammates? I bet this translates into wins every once in a while, so why not do it?
      I tend to thrive on waveclear tanks with strong engaging power because they let me decide exactly when a minion wave needs to push or when an enemy hero needs to die despite low mechanical ceilings.

      And now you know how to ban me out.
      *…whereas I couldn’t outplay most of my opponents to save my life. I accept my fate as one of the worst Illidan players in existence, and I’m fine with it.

      I have nothing to add, your honor.
      The great irony here is that none of the aforementioned elements that I feel make me, and probably many other players, reasonably strong are – nor can be – taken into account by any automated system because they’re simply too subjective. Why exactly am I being punished for not mindlessly using my abilities on-cooldown and padding my numbers? We get it; dealing damage is important. But what about useful damage? How can that ever be taken into account by a machine? This might sound like an argument from incredulity but, as I see it, we have plenty of evidence to conclude that the system isn’t quite working as intended.
      Of course, within this system, winning is still what matters most, and by far. Fortunately for me, my skillset does tend to translate into wins. But obfuscating one’s point gains and losses behind questionable variables is going to, at best, confuse players, and at worst, breed harmful behaviour. These two consequences have already been observed.
      TL;DR:
      A solid performance-based matchmaking system can have positive effects on matchmaking by allowing players to find their appropriate MMR faster. However, what defines a good player in a complex, team-oriented game goes well beyond what any data collection system can collect, interpret, and use. In its current state, the performance-based matchmaking system is at best unnecessary and at worst obfuscating, and ultimately risks breeding harmful player behaviour.
      I’ll allow myself to end on a bit of wisdom: If you play to improve, you’ll never lose a game in your life. And the sooner you quit worrying about your rank, the sooner you’ll be able to focus on what really matters.