Ben Brode talks Journey to Un’Goro


Hearthstone game director Ben Brode talks to Abyssus about upcoming expansion Journey to Un’Goro.

How did the concept of Un’Goro come about?

We have been talking about dinosaurs for a long time, we talked about the troll groups, they have dinosaur raptor mounts, and we knew we wanted to explore the concept of dinosaurs. And eventually we go hey, Un’Goro Crater will be the perfect fit. There’s a cool idea to make it our own, to change the concept of dinosaurs, to fuse them with energy. But it kind of is a long standing thing, where basically anytime anyone who pass a set, we say how about we also have dinosaurs. And we finally said let’s just do the whole thing with dinosaurs.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

The game has recently been centered around minions and board presence. Is Un’Goro going to be different with the whole Quest mechanic? Or is it still going to be minion-based combat?

One of the things that make Hearthstone fun is when you have a lot of decisions to make and you have to figure out a new way to deal with a unique problem. Often the way your opponent sets up problems or puzzles for you to solve, is with minions. They’ll play several minions, or some kind of board set up that they create, and they pass the turn. And then you have to come up with the best course of action to improve your board state. Maybe that is by some of kind AOE sweep or we play Flamestrike and that’s the way you increase your board presence. Or maybe is by doing some tactical trades, by attacking into their minions or playing minions of your own that you think will make a big impact.

If you are not doing that, let’s say you are just on your turn, ok i Sinister Strike, Sinister Strike and I Eviscerate you, go! And your opponent goes ok I Fireball you and I Frostbolt you, go! The gameplay is, you are not making any decisions. You are not interacting in any way. So I think Hearthstone is best when you are creating puzzles for your opponent by playing minions. That doesn’t mean that every deck has to do that exact type thing. But one of the mechanics we made was Spell Power. And that’s because we think it is fun to play with spells, but also it is fun to set up puzzles for your opponent and so, getting even spell-based decks to have some minion component, I think makes the game a bit more fun.

Given that the Quest mechanic is late-game, do you see the average match time for Hearthstone to increase?

Over the history of Hearthstone, the time for the average match time has changed almost none. The game lasts about an average of seven and a half minutes. That has been true throughout history. So I don’t think it will change very much on average in Journey to Un’Goro.

I do think though that one of our goals is to encourage a lot of different types of decks. In general, some people like to play aggro, some people like to play control, some people like to play combos, some people like to have kind of temp-oriented decks. We like to provide options for all those type of players and ideally they all have viable decks to compete in this meta. So I’m hoping that that is the case after Journey to Un’Goro launches.

But honestly it’s up to the players. This is the kind of thing, we are going to make a bunch of cards, hopefully they are pretty balanced. But there’s way more players than there will ever be designers on Hearthstone and we’ll have to see how it goes. In the past, sometimes things are a little bit out of whack, we have to come in and make changes later on. But we are very excited about all the new cards, and can’t wait to see our players use them.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

What’s your favourite card from Journey to Un’Goro, which will have the biggest impact on the meta?

That’s kind of two different questions. So far my favourite card revealed is Sherazin, Corpse Flower. I think it is just super fun. It is really fun to copy with Faceless Manipulator and have multiple Sherazins on the board, and every time you play four cards, you get an army of Corpse Flowers.

But the impact on the meta, I don’t know? It’s the kind of thing that some cards are better or worse depending on other cards in the meta, or other classes in the meta. Freeze Mage, it traditionally has been good but if Control Warrior or Warrior of any kind really becomes popular, then it just kinda has to phase out as it just has a really unfavourable matchup there. So, sometimes, in different metas, different cards can become good. It is hard to say. I don’t know what’s gonna make the biggest impact right away.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

Speaking of Sherazin, when he goes into his dormant form, is he targetable? Like if you mass dispel Sherazin while he is dormant, does this remove his effect?

No, you cannot interact with Sherazin while he is dormant in any way.

But does it count as a trigger for Unleash the Hounds, Mind Control Tech, can you steal a dormant Sherazin?

I have to check on that. Can I get back to you on that one? (Ben later clarifies to say it takes a slot on your board but it doesn’t count as a minion)

Sure, a lot of people were thinking do auras on the board take up a minion space?

It does take up a minion space, yes.

So there’s a cost, kinda right? Because a lot of people were talking about the Warlock Quest (Lakkari Sacrifice), the one which makes a portal. People are saying it is going to fit in Zoo, and Zoo already play a lot of minions.

It will spew many imps on the board and you will run of space quickly.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

For Adapt, isn’t Divine Shield in particular a bit too good compared to the others?

It depends right? I don’t want to talk about cards we haven’t announced yet. But it depends on the stats right? Let’s say we have a 5/1 minion with Adapt, Divine Shield is pretty good there right? Let’s say we have a 1/5 minion with Adapt. Actually Poisonous might be better on that minion, or +3 attack might be better on that one. It also depends on what your opponent has in play.

And this is kinda the most interesting thing about Adapt, is that it gives you flexibility right? Divine Shield is pretty good if you have a 3/4 and your opponent has a 6/6 minion, cause you can trade with it. But if they have a two 4/4s, maybe Poisonous will be a bit better, or +3 attack or Windfury might give you the extra attack to push out the game if you got to change your tactic.

So depending on what your opponent has, what’s your expected part of the play, what you have going on, and the position you are in the game, I think what comes up in the three Adaption choices, you are going to have to make a tough call. And that’s the kind of randomness I think plays really fun, its the kind of randomness we have with Spare Parts where you don’t know what I’m going to get here but whatever I get, I have to use it in the best way possible. And that’s pretty challenging to come up with the exact best way to use these options, I think that’s the way Adapt will work.

We noticed that Charge was left out of Adapt. Is that an intentional design choice?

Yea, a 100 percent, definitely.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

There hasn’t been any released weapons yet. I’m sure Un’Goro has some weapons, right?

Yes it does, yea.

Weapons are kinda polarizing in Hearthstone, they are either really strong, we are talking like Death’s Bite or Spirit Claws or Glaivezooka levels of craziness, we play these in every deck of that class, or they are just too slow. Is this a problem because of things like Acidic Swamp Ooze, where you are punished for playing slow weapons? And weapons have to be exceedingly high power level in order to be played?

I don’t think so. Weapons definitely have a variety of power levels, where we see weapons like Rallying Blade being played even by decks that don’t run Divine Shield minions necessarily because sometimes you just need to deal a bit of damage. We’ve seen Truesilver Champion get a lot of play, even Light’s Justice got played. But then we also see cheap weapon like Light’s Justice that don’t get play. So it kinda depends.

They are a powerful mechanic that essentially turns your hero’s health into direct damage that you can shoot around. The difference in Fiery War Axe and Frostbolt isn’t great on turn one. But then, weapons, because they have multiple uses let you maintain the ability to have some clearing power over multiple turns getting you tempo back. Being able to kill two of your opponent’s minions for two mana, even at the large cost of health, is pretty powerful when you are able to choose your trades, later in the game. And so, that’s the power of weapons. But the vulnerability there is that loss of health.

So certain types of minions are better against those type of strategies or certain deck types are better against those type of strategies. Decks where you are not really relying on your minions tempo at all to win the game, but you are trying to get off some combo or play control game, they are not as vulnerable to two hits from a 3 attack weapon.

So, we have seen some powerful weapons, we have seen some less powerful weapons, I don’t think Ooze is a problem. I think it’s ok in general if your deck is weak to something, to be able to try and tack it to withstand those decks a bit better. So I think it is important to have cards in the game that you say ok, my deck is really bad against Doomhammer and it is really popular right now so I’ll put Ooze in my deck and I’ll feel a bit better about my chances. I think that’s good.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

It does kind of make expensive weapons a lot worse right? Because you can’t really play Piranha Launcher or Brass Knuckles, knowing that Ooze exists.

Well, it depends on what the meta is like. Yea, if everyone is playing lots of expensive weapons with lots of durability, then yea, maybe you shouldn’t. That’s a tough thing to do in general, to anticipate the meta, imagine what other people are playing, and then play something that’s going to be good against it. And ideally, that changes over time.

For example, if they are always playing Ooze, you should probably stop playing expensive weapons. But if everyone stops playing expensive weapons, well then people should stop playing Ooze. And if people stop playing Ooze, maybe you should start playing expensive weapons. So this is the kind of thing that helps the meta shift and adjust over time, and I think that’s pretty healthy.

Are there any new features in the pipeline? People have been asking for a tournament mode for a long, long time.

Yea, we have lots of feature in the pipeline all the time. You know Hearthstone has a huge potential for things we have been talking about forever, but we are a huge team. We have 70 people plus on the team. And making card sets, making a 135 cards every few months takes a lot of focus. It takes engineers to make new card effects, and artists to make new come into play animations and all that, but then also, we have feature teams working on things consistently. We have some exciting plans, obviously nothing that we can share over the interview but we are continually working on things we are jazzed about.

Tavern Brawl is quite fun, it’s been out for a while, and it gives you a break from ranked for a while. I’m pretty hyped to see what you guys have. Hopefully it will come sooner than later right?

We have some, let’s see what have we announced recently? We have been talking a little bit about Fireside Gathering stuff that’s something we are pretty excited about and we are looking to increase our support for. But in general, one of the things we have been working on recently is the Hall of Fame. The idea of taking some cards from Classic and creating a new home for them and figuring out how to handle all that. That’s been something we have been working on a little bit. Getting our first actual rotation. Last year we introduced the concept of Formats. This year we have our first ever rotation, where we are going to take cards from Standard and make them exclusive to Wild. Those don’t necessarily feel like new features to the public, because they are kinda like back-end features for us, to make the game work as we move forward. But there’s some more public-facing, exciting stuff that we are working on.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

On the process of moving things out of Classic, what’s the process of selecting which cards you choose to move to classics, which cards you want to nerf? What does Team 5 look at?

They are pretty different discussions. But for Classic, we really just want to hit the goals of Standard. We have two formats for a reason. There’s two different kind of core ways to enjoy constructed Hearthstone. There are players who just want to play with all the cards and love the possibility space of the huge number of cards to choose from, and Wild is really great for that. But it doesn’t, just by its nature, isn’t going to change that much because of so many cards competing for slots in your deck. New sets just don’t make as big an impact in Wild as it do in Standard.

And so, for people who want a format that change all the time and they will have new problems to solve, Standard is very important to that as it actually changes when new sets come out and each year when the rotation happens. And so we are looking at the format and saying how much is the format going to change, or is it going to feel the same a lot of the time each year because so many cards in the evergreen set are being consistently played in the Standard format.

That’s when we start looking at things saying hey, can we make this better for players in Standard, and make it more interesting each year by maybe making some cards exclusive to Wild that are just being played a lot. So Azure Drake got played in basically two copies of it in every single deck in the last big tournament. That’s an opportunity to make the decks a bit different next year because now we have to look somewhere else to fill those two slots in the deck.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard
And there’s a lot of cards of that category that we felt, these are important archetype that will be an archetype forever. Freeze mage is cool, let’s have that be in Wild and not have every single tournament have freeze mage be part of it. Combos cool, let’s do new Combo decks. Let’s do new types of ways to play Mage decks in tournaments from now on, for players who want to feel different each year. So those are the kind of things we are looking at when we are deciding how to make changes to the classic set for rotation.

For nerfs, we look at several different things but we consider how it feels to play against. Sometimes we nerf cards cause it feels just not that great to play against that strategy. Balance is one thing but more than that is how frequently people are playing it right? If all you are seeing is the same class, people sometimes quote, oh it’s 80 percent Warrior or Shaman or something, we have never seen anything get that high. We have seen decks get up to 35 percent or more, we see certain combinations of cards like pirate decks get up to 50ish percent. And that starts to make us wonder and say ok, Hearthstone is more fun when there’s more variety.

When I have seen different things more frequently, we have to make changes or you know, obviously when a new set comes out, there will be a lot more variety. Do we think this will be fun for the last month or two before the set comes out? Could we wait? So these are the kind of things we considering when we are making changes and talking about nerfs.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

Of the recent nerfs, the Small-Time Buccaneer nerf was pretty well received. But when Golakka Crawler was revealed for Un’Goro, people were saying that this should have came together with the previous set, not in the new set. What do you think about releasing more tech to beat the mechanics of the set itself rather than having it be like three months later?

That’s reasonable feedback. We came up with Hungry Crab when we launched Hearthstone in the same place where we had Murlocs. And it’s sometimes the right thing to do, and sometimes I think we want to make sure that a deck has time to breathe and an opportunity to be very successful. I’m not sure what the exact right answer is in every situation but I don’t think that’s crazy. I think that’s something we will potentially do, if the situation demands it.

Is there any chance nerfs can be reverted? Golakka Crawler is something which could control Buccaneer in its 1/2 state.

I don’t think we are likely to revert Buccaneer, I think it’s fine if strategies come in and come out. We are still seeing healthy levels of pirates on the ladder, it’s not like it has gone away. And so I don’t think we are necessarily relying on everyone playing Golakka Crawler as the answer there. We felt like it was the right call to nerf Buccaneer. Either way, we knew Golakka Crawler was going to come in Journey to Un’Goro but we still felt like it was the right thing to change Buccaneer.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

Does Questing Adventurer get a special interaction when Quests are active?

It doesn’t necessarily, unless you play a Quest while it’s out, then it gets +1/+1. He’s doing his more mundane quest that play a card, gets +1/+1. These are epic, legendary level Quests that the players going on. That’s a good idea, we should totally do something.

The Un’Goro Pack which Elise the Trailblazer gets from her battlecry, it can open up another Elise?

I think it can.

Some legendary characters like Elise have appeared twice in the game so far. Is this going to be a trend, where we see the same legendary character but in a changed form? One of the characters that people are hyped about is Illidan. Illidan is very popular character but he is kind of underpowered in Hearthstone and people were wondering if we will see Illidan in a more epic way?

I certainly having nothing against bring Illidan back, but we don’t have current plans for that.

Some people say Volcano is comparable to Lightning Storm in terms of power, is it intentional  design that you are giving Shaman more AOE which isn’t encroaching on design space like Lightning Storm and Elemental Destruction?

The term design space, we use a bit differently. Design space is the total possibility space for all cards we can ever create. Certain cards cut off design space for us, for example Warsong Commander made it so that we could not make it Dreadsteed a neutral minion because you play them together and you just instantly wipes your opponent’s board and they could never play a minion ever again. That’s not an acceptable combo. Master of Disguise, in its old design where it made a guy stealth permanently and Mal’Ganis together, make it so you cannot lose. And so we couldn’t make those two the same class or neutral. And that cuts off potential design space for us, we just can’t do those things.

But in the case of Volcano, this is what Shamans do. This is their class identity. People ask what does it mean to be a Shaman. There needs to be a clear answer to that question. They use Totems. They pay a lower cost for a very powerful effect but it Overloads them for the next turn, so that players can plan out their next turn carefully. They use elementals. One thing they do is they have powerful AOE effects that are a bit harder to control. They may not do exactly what you think they should do. And so they have some kind of random component to them. And Volcano is just another example of reinforcing their identity, what it means to be a Shaman in Hearthstone.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Blizzard

How long did you take to compose your rap?

I wasn’t sure I was going to even do it but I was lying in bed and well, I wonder if I have any good lines that I can write and so I started writing and woo, I need a beat so I got my iPad and composed a beat. Probably take me five minutes to write the beat then took about 90 minutes to write the rap. And then when i’m writing, I have certain meters I’m trying to hit, to make sure I hit the syllables in the right parts, to rhyme the right parts with the right words. So I wanted to get it all recorded so I would remember how I was intending the words to sound. So I recorded it at night downstairs at my computer and I brought it in the next day to play it for some of the folks at work and I kinda thought it would be a fun joke for internal, just to show to the team. But they said, eh, you should put it out there, it’s not bad. I was like I don’t know. I did put it out there and people seem to think it’s funny.

Ben Brode talks Journey to Un'Goro
courtesy Ben Brode Youtube

Did you expect it to be such a hit?

Definitely not.

Are you considering making the transition to being a professional rapper in the future?

Definitely not.




edited by Yata