Last week, we managed to score an exclusive interview with Hearthstone game designer Peter Whalen. Peter is best known for his rogue-like RPG Dream Quest, available on iTunes and Steam, before joining Blizzard. He is also responsible for Renounce Darkness as well as the implementation of Mean Street of Gadgetzan (MSoG) legendary Kazakus. He shared with us some of the thought processes before each new adventure and expansion.
On the new Standard year:
Each new adventure and expansion brings new mechanics to the game. Even though the card pool will definitely shrink, Peter thinks that having different card pool sizes for Standard at different times makes the game more interesting. Hearthstone Standard has the biggest card pool it has ever had right now – which means Reno Jackson decks are more powerful because they do not need to stretch as much for their other 29 cards, and decks feel more powerful now than they did six months ago.
So when rotation happens, decks will feel lower-powered and weaker cards will see more play in Standard. He thinks that it is good for Hearthstone to have a different feel to the game as time goes on.
Previously, there were limited ways of obtaining cards from other classes. MSoG changed all that with factions and tri-class cards. These cards were designed to tie the different classes together and the mechanics has been very well received. For example, Kazakus feels different when played by each of the 3 different classes. It is a mechanic they may revisit for future expansions.
High legend match-making:
Peter says that they are still trying to find the best ways to match players fairly, while providing diverse matches and quick matchmaking at the same time. Currently, when high legend players match against low legend players, it is high risk, low reward, as they stand to lose a lot more points compared to what they can potentially earn by winning.
Even though it is still in the exploratory phase, Peter highlighted the possibility that when matched against low legend players, the win/lose effect will be less significant, making the risk more comfortable. This is an important issue for the design team and they are constantly in talks with legend and competitive players to try to find the best way forward.
It is critically important to Peter to get new players in. To that end, Blizzard has been focusing on the casual experience – by matching players with compatible collections. So right now, they are trying to funnel new players into casual after the tutorial. Casual has been drastically improved compared to when Hearthstone started.
However, it is much more difficult in ranked mode where collection size is ignored. Also, Peter states the need to be careful while balancing ranked tweaks, to avoid experienced players creating new accounts to easily hit legend.
Currently, there is a pretty good mix of aggro and control decks, with a few mid-range decks like Jade Druid as well. This has not always been the case, and Peter seems to be pretty content with the deck diversity right now on Standard ladder. Though aggro decks are more efficient time-wise, the best way to climb ladder is to maintain a good win-rate. Control decks are more and more powerful, and though they are hard to pilot, they are very rewarding.
Design process – new cards:
Some cards are pretty much the same from their original ideas. Renounce Darkness is one such example. Whispers of the Old Gods (WotOG) is a rather gloomy set with some cute and fun cards thrown in like Spawn of N’Zoth. So there are some cards that give a sense of hope, especially for Paladin. Meanwhile, Warlock is possibly the darkest class in Hearthstone. The whole idea behind Renounce Darkness is based on what if one day Warlock says he’s done being the bad guy.
On the other hand, there are cards that see numerous changes to the card text to get them right for release.
And there are some others that are introduced late, to introduce some mechanics to push certain types of decks. Manic Soulcaster was designed specifically to give synergy to Reno Jackson and Kazakus.
We will be looking forward to the next Hearthstone expansion!
*edited by Yata