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Ben Brode Polygon Interview and Reddit Post

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Hearthstone Game Director Ben Brode gave an interview to Polygon, which was published this week and made an impression to the community. Ben proceeded to clarify some things on Reddit.

To have some sort of background, we've summarised the most interesting points from the Polygon interview, which you can read here. When asked about the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan meta, Brode responded that there's a wide variety of decks, but some of them have enough overlap in the cards they are playing, making some players feel that there's not enough diversity. Team 5 has mixed feelings about that, as well as about the variety of cards played in classes themselves.

As far as the hot topic of Pirate decks is concerned, Ben admitted that they are paying close attention to their winrates and that they are starting to think these decks might be a problem. However, if they wanted to change a card, it would be Small-Time Buccaneer and not Patches the Pirate. They don't want to announce any potential changes too soon, though, as they prefer rolling nerfs out along with patches.

Ben moves on to talk about the second rotation of Standard mode. The team hasn't decided yet on exactly what to do with the second year of Standard. If they feel it's necessary, they will nerf or rotate cards to Wild once again. Mechanic-wise, he feels that the tri-class synergy is a mechanic better suited for Mean Streets of Gadgetzan and therefore we won't see it in the near future. In general, they only want to repeat extremely successful mechanics, like Discover, in new expansions.

Lastly, the team has 'cool plans and ideas' about the theme of the second year of Standard, the release schedule for 2017 and the possibility of having smaller drops of new cards spread around the year. They also want to improve on spectator mode.

~

Ben's interview was discussed on Reddit and Hearthstone's Game Director even posted a response to a somewhat disgruntled comment in the relevant thread. Feeling that this needed further clarification, he expanded on this response and made a Reddit thread where he talks about complexity, strategic depth and design space.

Blizzard Logobbrode

Hey all!

I rarely start new threads here, but there was a bit of confusion regarding recent comments I made about complexity in card design, and since my comments had low visibility, and I thought the larger audience would find it interesting, here I am!

Defining Complexity and Depth

Complexity is different than Strategic Depth. For example, 'Whirlwind' is very simple. So is 'Acolyte of Pain'. So is 'Frothing Berserker'. Together, these cards were part of one of the most strategically difficult decks to play in our history. Hearthstone, and its individual cards, are at their best when we have plenty of strategic depth, but low complexity.

You can sometimes get more depth by adding more complexity, but I actually think that cards with the highest ratio of depth to complexity are the best designs. That doesn't mean we won't explore complex designs, but it does mean that they have a burden to add a lot of strategic depth, to help maximize that ratio.

My least favorite card designs are those that are very complex, but not very strategically deep. "Deal damage to a minion equal to it's Attack minus its Health divided by the number of Mana Crystals your opponent has. If an adjacent minion has Divine Shield or Taunt, double the damage. If your opponent controls at least 3 minions with Spell Damage, then you can't deal more damage than that minion has Health." BLECH.

At any rate, making cards more complicated is easy. Making them Strategically Deep is more difficult. Making them simple and deep is the most challenging, and where I think we should be shooting. It's important to note that an individual design doesn't necessarily need to be 'deep' on its own. Hearthstone has a lot of baked in complexity and depth: 'Do I Hero Power or play this card?' 'Do go for board control or pressure their hero?' And often (as in the case of Whirlwind) a card's depth exists because of how it is used in combination with other cards. Creating simple blocks that players can combine for greater strategic depth is one of the ways we try and get that high ratio of depth to complexity.

Defining 'Design Space'

Sometimes we talk about 'design space'. Here's a good way to think of it: Imagine all vanilla (no-text) minions. Like literally, every possible one we could make. Everything from Wisp to Faceless Behemoth. Even accounting for balance variation (i.e. 5-mana 6/6 (good) and 5-mana 4/4 (bad)), there are a limited number of minions in that list. Once we've made every combination of them - that's it! We couldn't make any more without reprinting old ones. That list is the complete list of 'design space' for vanilla minions.

The next level of design space would be minions with just keywords on them (Windfury, Stealth, Divine Shield, etc). There are many cards to be made with just keywords, and some are quite interesting. Wickerflame Burnbristle is fascinating, especially because of how he interacts with the Goons mechanic. But eventually (without adding more keywords), this space will be fully explored as well.

When you plan for a game to exist forever, or even just when it's time to invent new cards, thinking about what 'design space' you have remaining to explore is important.

Some day (far in the future), it's conceivable that all the 'simple but strategically deep' designs have been fully explored, and new Hearthstone cards will need to have 6-10 lines of text to begin exploring new space. I believe that day is very, very far off. I believe we can make very interesting cards and still make them simple enough to grasp without consulting a lawyer.

Some design space is technically explorable, but isn't fun. "Your opponent discards their hand." "When you mouse-over this card, you lose." "Minions can't be played the rest of the game." "Whenever your opponent plays a card, they automatically emote 'I am a big loser.'" "Charge"

Sometimes design space could be really fun, but because other cards exist, we can't explore it. Dreadsteed is an example of a card that couldn't exist in Warrior or Neutral, due to the old Warsong Commander design. (in this case we made Dreadsteed a Warlock card) The Grimy Goons mechanic is an example that couldn't exist in the same world as the Warrior Charge Spell and Enraged Worgen. (in this case we changed the 'Charge' spell)

In a sense, every card both explores and limits 'design space'. The fact that Magma Rager exists means we can't make this: "Give Charge to a minion with 5 Attack and 1 Health, then sixtuple it's Attack." That's not very useful (or fun) design space, and so that tradeoff is acceptable. However, not being able to make neutral minions with game-changing static effects (like Animated Armor or Mal'ganis) because of Master of Disguise... that felt like we were missing out on lots of very fun designs. We ended up changing Master of Disguise for exactly that reason.

Cards that severely limit design space can sometimes be fine in rotating sets, because we only have to design around them while they are in the Standard Format, as long as they aren't broken in Wild. Because Wild will eventually have so many more cards than Standard, the power level there will be much higher. Most of that power level will come from synergies between the huge number of cards available, so sometimes being 'Tier 1' in Standard means that similar strategies are a couple tiers lower in Wild. We're still navigating what Wild balance should be like. It's allowed to be more powerful, but how much more powerful?

I think defining these kinds of terms helps us have more meaningful discussions about where we are doing things right, and where we have room to improve. Looking forward to reading your comments!

-- Brode

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