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Hearthstone Closed Beta Developer Interview – Lead Designer Eric Dodds and Lead Producer Jason Chayes

by - 9 years ago

BlizzPro’s official podcast, TwizzCast, recently got to sit down and talk with Hearthstone Lead Designer Eric Dodds and Lead Producer Jason Chayes regarding the beta of the game and more specifically the patch that went out this week in closed beta. Topics discussed ranged from Blizzard’s vision and support of the competitive gaming scene with Hearthstone, the reasoning behind some of the nerf’s such as the Rogue hero power and spell power Druids, the power behind The Coin, how Blizzard plans to make players more aware of the order of operations in how damage is dealt or when effects go off, where Hearthstone got it’s name from, and lots more!

You can watch the video format, listen to the audio version which should be available also on iTunes and Stitcher Radiom or you can read the transcript we provided for you.

You can watch TwizzCast LIVE every Thursday evening at 9 PM CST at http://twitch.tv/twizzcast and you can also check out Archon’s streaming of Diablo 3 and Hearthstone at http://twitch.tv/archonthewizard




In this very special episode of TwizzCast we get the opportunity to sit down with some of the masterminds behind HearthStone and talk about the past, present, and future of the game. Welcome everyone to BlizzPro’s TwizzCast!

Twizz: Welcome everyone to a very special episode of TwizzCast. This is going to be a shorter episode but for very good reason. I have several extremely important and awesome individuals on the line with me at the moment. First off I’d like to introduce my co-host Archon, welcome back to the show sir!

Archon: Hey, Glad to be here

Twizz: Very good to have you! Now the other two guests that I have with us I am very excited to have and are first timers to TwizzCast so I promised that we will play nice. The first gentleman I’d like to introduce, direct from Blizzard Entertainment, is HearthStone Lead Designer Mr Eric Dodds. Welcome to TwizzCast sir!

Eric Dodds: Hello, hello it’s awesome to be here

Twizz: It’s more than our pleasure to have you. Also with us on the line is HearthStone Lead Producer, Mr Jason Chayes. It’s very good to have you with us as well sir.

Jason Chayes: It’s great to be here, thank you for having us.

Twizz: Absolutely, can’t thank you gentlemen enough for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk with us today.

Well we have a lot to cover and a small amount of time to do it in. So let’s talk a little bit about HearthStone if you guys don’t mind.

The first thing that I’d like to do is congratulate you guys on making a pretty amazing game. One of the things that I noticed shortly after the beta came out is that after I played through the tutorial, the first thing that I wanted to do was show my wife. But the tutorial mode was no where to be found. The tutorial mode does a much better job at explaining this game to my wife than I ever could. I guess what I’d like to know is, is there any plans to make it accessible to come back to that after you complete it.

Eric: It’s certainly something that we have talked about. And it’s certainly something that people have been interested in having. I actually don’t know where we’ll end up on this one specifically. I certainly can say that it’s a significantly larger problem during the beta because of course, when we’re a little farther out you can just say “oh here’s make your own account and you can play through it”. But it’s certainly something we have talked about. No plans at this time though as to whether we’re definitely going to have it. But it’s been on our radar.

Twizz: Okay, very cool

Archon: Very nice. I was wondering if you guys have been keeping an eye on the competitive scene. For example Mana Grind has been putting on community ran tournaments. And if so what kind of support, if any, would you guys like to be able to provide to the independent tournament scene and structure. I’m a streamer and YouTube’er. So I would really like to see some spectator mode or replays kind of like in StarCraft II. Have you guys thought about adding anything like that?

Jason: So yeah we’re definitely keeping an eye on it. We’re really excited with how the players in the beta have been responding to HearthStone in terms of it’s potential to go off as a eSport. We love to watch the streams and you know, everybody on the team really is geeking out to sort of see all the cool reception coming from that. Our philosophy so far has been essentially a kind of wait and see mode. We think it has a lot of potential to grow as an awesome eSport. And we have a slew of features, spectator mode included, that we are considering for the game. We’re a little too early to say right now as to how and when something like that starts to be rolled into our road map. Overall our focus right now is to continue to improve the game throughout the beta. And then as we get a little closer to launch and look at what our plans are for next year, that’s when we’re gonna start looking a little more heavily into where do we start with these eSports features and how do we wanna kind of grow that aspect of the game.

Twizz: Sure! And you know the whole point of the beta, the beta is out right now, is to tweak it and make sure that it’s where, the game is where it needs to be. And it’s very tough, like you said, to put it into your battle plan, how do you try to plan for this to be an eSport when right now, you have to take that into account that it’s a possibility. Gosh what a logistical nightmare that must be.

Jason: Exactly, so I think our focus right now is how can we leave that open as a possibility and continue to support that aspect of the game. Without taking our eye of the ball of just making sure this is the best, most awesome launch we can make it.

Archon: That would be really cool. I can say I’d definitely be casting a lot of matches if spectator mode became an option. We also saw, it looks like you guys have the ability to track rankings. Zeriyah had posted the top 50 for North America and European regions as they stood before the account wipe. Is this something you guys think you might post somewhere? The rankings of the top players?

Jason: So we have an awesome business intelligence team here that we work with to capture a whole bunch of data throughout the beta in terms of the overall results we’re seeing. What are the dominate classes? What are some of the trends we’re seeing? And I can definitely see us looking at adapting that data and publishing that out to the community so people can see how we’re doing. But again that sort of falls into the bucket of turning that into part of our overall eSports strategy. So far, don’t have specifics to kind of go through yet. But what I can tell everybody who’s listening is that that’s absolutely something we’re interested in and are excited to roll into the months to come.

Eric: I was just going to add to that. On top of that, I think that it’s, or it’s very important for us to make ranked play super compelling place. And that’s just one of the pieces of that puzzle to make rank play awesome.

Archon: Nice! I had more of a game play related question. The coin has been a controversial topic on the forums. Some players think it gives too big of an advantage. But as you guys have shown, the win ratio is the same whether you play first or play second with the coin. However, I still find there are issues with allowing the coin to count as a spell, because the coin triggers effect such as rogue combos, the Mana Wyrm, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, etc. The value of the coin is inconstant. Some games it’s worth a lot, other games it’s worth a little. So although the coins advantage evens out over a large number of games, it seems to create inconsistency from game to game. Is this seen as an issue?

Eric: So the coin has been a topic we talked about a lot over the last number of months. And there’s a lot of great things about the coin. And there’s certainly some issues like you have brought up about the coin. But, how we have chosen to adjust the coin at this point is to try to make the cards that are the most problematic, like the Defias Ringleader, or the, dang it, I’m forgetting the name of my own card, how awesome is that? The Twilight Drake. Taking cards like that and making it so they’re not quite as swingy. But it’s actually pretty interesting to have decks that you build around, “Hey if I go second I’m going to have sort of a different tempo” or “My opponent’s playing this kind of deck and they’re going second, I’m in fact even going to be changing my mulligan because I can expect certain sorts of things to be happening.” So it actually just in some ways increases the amount of delightful surprise that’s there. And that you just are going to be playing differently depending on not only what cards you’ve got. But whether you’re going first or second.

Another reason I want to say that we have been keeping the coin as it is, is because we’ve just been trying to keep it as simple as possible. Because it’s one of those mechanics that even brand new players are going to have to deal with. We certainly could add more text on it, or build it into the board and we talked about a lot of those different options. It just felt like it was going to take away from the simplicity and the elegance, especially for new players. So, what you can expect from us in the future is to be tactically looking at situations that the coin is causing too much trouble in.And then talking about how to resolve that. Probably from the card side. And we just made some changes, we actually don’t know for sure how it’s gonna play out. It’s going to be interesting to see in the next few weeks how the changes like to the drake and to the ring leader and some other changes are going to play out in regards to the coin.

Twizz: Excellent, that’s one of the things that I like about it, is exactly what you said. The coin makes it dynamic. It changes the game dynamically on all aspects, you know, just from the starting point. You have to change your strategy depending on how you get that 50/50 toss. And that’s, I think it’s a very cool thing. Yeah, it can be a game changer.

So, one of the things I’d like to talk about is, obviously we just had a big patch and everything. When the beta first came out, here’s what I heard, “I am unstoppable with a priest deck”. And then I heard the other side of the spectrum where, “I can’t win with a priest deck to save my life”. Now, and that was all across the board with warriors, shaman, druids, etc. When I hear that kind of a thing, it makes me say to myself, “This is a pretty balanced game for the most part”. There’s not one class right out of the hole, maybe a little bit of a rogue exception, that is a guaranteed win, it’s the go to deck. If you’re not playing this you don’t stand a chance type thing. So, with the patch that just rolled out, what were some of the things that you guys had to try and overcome, when it comes to updating the game and changing some of the cards.

Eric: Well certainly as you said, the percentages were actually pretty good, even all the way up to three star master level. With some notable exceptions like the rogue and at that level the priest was a bit on the short side. So what we were looking at is trying to bring those outliers and bring them closer to the center and all. So take any card that felt like they were very frustrating to play against. So for instance Head Crack for the rogue, we increased the cost. It wasn’t necessarily so much because of a power imbalance there, that was actually more from a stepping on the hunter’s power being a little frustrating to play against. So when we’re changing and balancing the game, we’re making changes both based on what’s the uber class at the top levels, but also how do people feel when they are playing the game. Sort of, what’s the emotional balance of the game is how I refer to it.

Twizz: Interesting, very cool. Very good. Well, last week BlizzPro took a video of what happens when the warlock spell, Sacrificial Pact, is used against another warlock that has Lord Jaraxxus activated. Basically you can use Sacrificial Pact, target their hero and win the game, because it destroys Lord Jaraxxus. We asked Ben Brode on Twitter if this is a bug or intended and he said it was definitely intended. This is just another example of the game adding some flavor that players may not have expected. We were wondering how that conversation went to make Sacrificial Pact to work against Lord Jaraxxus. And if there’s any others flavorful card combinations like that that you guys specifically intended to work the way that they do.

Eric: How that conversation went is actually when it first went in, it was not intended. So it first went in and somebody used Sacrificial Pact to destroy Lord Jaraxxus and we laughed our heads off. Thought that was very funny. And then we looked at the card combination and with Sacrificial Pact we’re not seeing as probably being the very top players using that card. I mean you might. I’m sure there’s going to be some edge cases. But it’s not going to be, I don’t think, the super power card. And so, it’s this sort of interesting situation where once in a blue moon you’re going to see that and you’re going to get a story out of it. And for me one of the things that’s critical about our card design, whether it be designing a specific card or designing a set of interactions, is that we can get a great story.

That after the game happens, for instance, someone does a short video on how funny it is when a specific thing happens. Or in the real world, more importantly, you play a game and you immediately go running over to talk to your buddy, or go “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that just happened!”. And so that’s why we have cards like Brawl that when you play Brawl often there’s going to be a story that comes out of it. Or, this isn’t something so much a story, but it’s a card that creates an entirely different environment. Like Nozdormu, that when it’s played it’s like, “You just turned over, the, what the heck is going on, I don’t even understand! This is crazy!”. And we want to make sure that while the game is balanced, at the same time we have both those story moments and those moments that you go, “I can’t believe that just happened, that was nuts!”. We don’t want to balance those away, because you could do that, but it’s important for us to keep the crazy fun in there as well.

Archon: Yeah I had a story like that when I played Repentance as a Paladin and then they brought out Lord Jaraxxus and it just immediately killed them. We were cracking up for awhile.

Twizz: Good game.

Archon: Yeah, but with this patch you brought out the rogues got nerfed pretty bad. And I think most of us would agree they needed to be nerfed. They were pretty powerful. But some of us were kind of surprised that the hero power got nerfed. Although it seems that maybe it was a little overpowered because of spells like Deadly Poison and Blade Flurry. You can no longer use the hero power to buff the weapon you already have out. So a lot of times now, after the patch, you can’t use your hero power on certain turns. This seemed like a pretty big nerf. Is this something you guys are happy with? Or is this something you’re still looking at? Can you explain the reasoning behind the nerf?

Eric: Sure, there’s a couple of reasons behind the nerf. One of them is when we’re creating hero powers we’d like to have the hero powers be as simple and readable as possible. I mean it’s one of our high level philosophies of whenever I read a card or a power I should instantly just get it. And then the depth of it comes from the crazy interactions it has with other cards. And the hero powers have to be even more so. So the rogue hero power was actually the most complicated in a lot of ways. It does one thing, except if there’s this other case it does this other thing, and in this other case it only does it for a turn. So, it was always a little on the complicated side. We weren’t in love with that, but if it needed to be that way it needed to be that way.

And then when we looked at the advantages the rogue had and specifically where they had those advantages. Like in Blade Flurry, or the ability to kill a two cost card just with your hero power and gain a lot of card advantage that way. Both of those were pretty powerful and that combined with the rogue being head and shoulders above the other classes, we felt it was time to try that change out.

I’m pretty confident it will work. That it will bring all of the classes back into place. I don’t feel like the rogue’s going to suddenly be a bad class or anything. In a lot of ways his hero power is still better than other classes hero powers, at least in specific situations. You can compare it to the mage and say, “Well I’m going to take damage back when I use my blade, but I get to do it for two turns for the cost of two mana. And I can save it for later” which is a common thing. So there’s a lot of factors that went into that change. But we’re pretty happy with how it’s going. Really we’re going to learn the next few weeks, very quickly, how it plays out in the real world. So that’s pretty exciting too.

Twizz: That is awesome. That is truly awesome. Did you have something you wanted to say about that Archon?

Archon: That makes complete sense. When you put it that way, it makes a lot more sense.

Twizz: Well gentlemen, hats off to the social aspect of the game. I’m a big fan of the chat bubbles, and no real direct contact from the person on the other end of the Internet. However, there’s a lot of players that are wondering if maybe there will be an option to either be stealth and not display your Battle Tag, or perhaps offer a Battle Tag friend request option during the match. Is that anything you guys might be willing to kick around?

Jason: So we’re talking a lot about how we can continue to expand the social experience of HearthStone. Those particular ideas have been brought up and are being discussed within the team. There’s a lot of things that we’d like to do. So this is one area where we’ve got a lot of feedback from the beta so far. Saying “You know it’s awesome, but I really want it to feel a little bit more like I’m playing against a real person”. So there are some things that we just released in the patch that I think everybody will get a chance to see over the course of the next few weeks. You’re going to now see toasts when your buddy opens up a legendary. You see better sense of what your friends doing if you look at them in your friends list. But that’s really the beginning. So I think we have some other kind of cool ideas that are going to be coming in the future. But so far that’s really where we’re started for including the overall social experience.

Twizz: Very cool, I can’t wait to see them. You know what, that is becoming a huge thing more and more with all the Blizzard games that are coming out. Obviously the social aspect and tweaking it and adding cool little things like that. And it sounds to me like you guys are on the right track. That’s very cool. I can’t wait to see what you guys do with that.

Getting back to more specific things. Spell power Druids. They took a significant nerf. I was told their significant nerf was Starfall and Wrath. Okay Wrath is you choose one, three damage to one minion or one damage to one minion and draw a card. But you no longer are able to target or hit heroes. What were the main reasons behind that change if you don’t mind me asking.

Eric: Sure, absolutely. So there’s a couple of factors behind that change. One is that we wanted mages to be the masters of direct damage. You can see that in another change that we made, we made frost bolt a little bit cheaper. It felt like druids were in a lot of ways the masters of AOE and direct damage. We wanted to focus a little bit more on the mage. But another reason is behind the scenes when we were looking at the numbers, the druid was actually a close second to the rogue as far as a very powerful class. So while it wasn’t being talked about as much in the streams and channels and that sort of thing, we needed to bring it back down a little bit. While we weren’t as heavy handed I guess as we were with the rogue in reducing the druid, there’s definitely some places that we felt like we needed to bring it back down. That was one of those places.

Twizz: Okay

Archon: Do we have time for one more question?

Twizz: Yeah, you know what, we do. We have time for one and then one more short one I’ve got.

Archon: Great, great. Sometimes the rules of the order of operations can be a little confusing. For example before the patch Frostwolf Warlord’s attack and health would change depending on how many minions you control. But his base stats were 4-4. So if you had three 1-1 minions to play along with him he’d be a 7-7. If a warlock were to cast Hellfire which deals four damage to all the characters, it would kill the 1-1’s and one would assume would have killed the Warlord since it dealt four damage to him and he was originally 4-4. However what would happen is he would live and have no damage done to him. This is one of those situations in which the order of operations caused that to happen, yet players don’t have access to what those rules of operations would be. Are there any plans to release some kind of guide that would fully explain these types of situations and why they happen?

Eric: So I can talk about the broader scheme is, well let me talk about the Frostwolf Warlord really quickly first. We actually did just change him and we changed him because he was an outlier as far as players not understanding what the heck was going on when he took damage. We changed him so he now has a battle cry effect that gets him an amount that isn’t going to be varying over the course of the game. That’s because of exactly what you were saying. There was confusion about when a minion was removed that removed a bonus effect, we changed it fairly recently to be consistent with all of our other effects. So that it only lost potential health, not total health. You know what I could spend an entire podcast talking about that specific topic, so I’m not going to go too far down that route. But we changed it because it was very confusing.

There are of course other specific cases where the order of operations is not as clear as it could be. I expect that to come from two sources. I certainly expect us in the future to start putting out more information about that. Although I have no idea when. Realistically I expect a lot of that information to appear on sites such as yours and everyone else as everybody starts saying, “If you’re a master level player, here’s the stuff you need to understand.” At a high level it’s actually pretty important to me that when you’re playing the game and you’re first getting into it you can read the cards and sort of understand the basics. But there’s this master level of understanding that you actually have to go deeper into the game; “Oh yeah, I need to know exactly how this interaction between these two edge case cards were” and find that information and you’re awesome because you know that information and other people don’t. So I expect that information to be both on fan sites and I expect us to be releasing additional information about that as well. But again, I can’t say when.

Twizz: No problem, looking forward to it.

Archon: That would be really cool. I can think of a few times where I thought something would die and it didn’t because of the order. Yeah it seems like some good changes underway.

Twizz: The very last question I have is a very easy one. But it’s just one of those things that’s kind of been in the back of my head a little bit. As we know, and if you play World of Warcraft you know what the hearthstone does. It obviously, you use it it takes you to the inn and everything. With the CCG feel and everything like that, how did you guys come up with the name HearthStone? What does the actual HearthStone have to do with the CCG itself? How do you guys, how does it work?

Jason: That is a great question and to be honest with all of the different decisions we’ve had to make, the most grueling things we’ve had deal with on the team, the process of naming this game was the thing that took the longest. It caused the most amount of strife on the team. There were holy wars. Much aggression and rage over the name of the game. Ultimately what it came down to is, we really wanted to come up with a name that kind of captured the vibe and the feel of the game. It’s been very important to us that HearthStone is a game that’s accessible to anybody. We wanted to kind of capture warm feelings, so when the idea came up of sitting around the fire and having a fun duel on a Friday night with your buddies. Actually Ben Brode was the guy who originated the name, he was kind of looking back to the feelings you have from World of Warcraft and the idea of this hearthstone taking you back to the inn and the tavern and kind of coming back to hang with your buddies just felt like a really great fit. So based off of that is actually how it started to get some momentum and as we rolled it out to the rest of the team in the studio, everybody really dug it. So that was the history of the name.

Twizz: Awesome

Archon: Seems pretty nice. Can I ask, I’ve heard it called HearthStone and HearthStone. Is there an official pronunciation?

Jason: At the risk alienating half of our players, we actually refer to it as HearthStone.

Archon: Cool

Twizz: We’ll leave it at that. Well gentlemen, I’d like to thank you again for taking time out of your schedules to come hang out with us. We can’t wait for the game to release as well as find out what else you guys have in store for us in the future HearthStone. You are certainly welcome back to the show anytime.

Jason: Thank you very much.

Twizz: Absolutely. That’s going to take us out of here for today so on behalf of BlizzPro and TwizzCast crew we encourage you guys to game safe, love one another, and please everyone within the sound of my voice, take care.

JR Cook

JR has been writing for fan sites since 2000 and has been doing Blizzard Exclusive fansites since 2003. He helped co-found BlizzPro in 2013. You can hear JR every week talk about Hearthstone on the Well Met Podcast published on iTunes.

2 responses to “Hearthstone Closed Beta Developer Interview – Lead Designer Eric Dodds and Lead Producer Jason Chayes”

  1. Lockheart says:

    Talk about competitive scene, give closed beta participants a huge headstart. Seems legit.

    • Eldorian says:

      With that kind of logic anyone that decides to enter the Magic: The Gathering scene right now must have like no chance what so ever in the game.

  2. Lockheart says:

    Talk about competitive scene, give closed beta participants a huge headstart. Seems legit.

    • Eldorian says:

      With that kind of logic anyone that decides to enter the Magic: The Gathering scene right now must have like no chance what so ever in the game.