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Dev Talk: Ben Brode talks about how Elementals, Adapt mechanic will change Hearthstone

by theScore Staff Mar 23 2017
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard

With Hearthstone's newest expansion, Journey to Un'Goro, set to come out in April, theScore esports spoke with Hearthstone Game Director Ben Brode about how Quests are similar to Reno decks, the strengths and weaknesses of Elementals, and just what's making the dinosaurs in Un'Goro Crater Adapt so quickly.

RELATED: Journey to Un'Goro card tracker

Why base an expansion on Un'Goro crater?

Well, we had been pitching several ideas for previous expansions and every time we pitched something, couple of the guys on the team would say "Hey, what about we add dinosaurs to that?" It became kind of a meme on our team even. "Wouldn't that be better with dinosaurs? Come on!" And eventually we felt like, y'know, what if we just lean into that? What if we just do a set all about dinosaurs? Un'Goro Crater, obviously known for this in World of Warcraft, we felt like we could bring a Hearthstone spin to a zone that we loved. And that's where it all started.

How did the Quest mechanic come about?

There were some interesting points in that process. One of the early things we tried was Quests that you could make progress on even when they weren't in play or didn't go into play, they were just in your hand. They were just a card that was in your hand that could you could make progress on this Quest and when you drew the Quest "Oh good, I've done the thing. I play this crazy Amara, Warden of Hope, because I played seven Deathrattle minions this game. And the opponent was like "What the heck is going on! Why is it fair that you can play a 5 mana 8/8 that heals your hero to 40." And so we wanted to make them a lot more visible and we also wanted to make it clear that this is kind of what this game was about for this player. And so we had them enter the battlefield like Secrets, but when we did that, obviously not being able to rely on drawing your Quest was a really big deal, so we said "Look, let's just make them start in your opening hand, you'll always have the option to play a Quest Turn 1 if you want." You may not be able to complete the Quest every game because some of them are a little harder to complete, but at least you'll be able to make sure you're making progress whenever you're doing your strategy.

Were Quests at all inspired by the popularity of Reno decks?

I think in general we're trying to do several different things basically with every set. We want to let players be creative in ways that maybe we didn't expect or certainly don't feel [were] very obvious. We also want to provide with hooks for players who want us to nudge them in a direction. So with the very first set we did that with Murlocs, right? Like, hey, "These Murlocs, if you put them all in a deck together, they're better." It's obvious and for some players that's exactly what they need. Also, it's a fun way to make sure your deck has a lot of cool synergy and plays really fun. So we tried to put up a variety of hooks for deck building in these. Some of the Quests are a little more obvious, right? Play Deathrattle minions and you'll get a reward. Some of them are a little bit less obvious, but I think all of them will end up giving you a cool goal to try and achieve throughout the game in a similar way to Reno.

How did you guys come up with Adapt?

So Adapt actually came from our experiments with crime families in the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. One of the original ideas we had was a mech group, a mechanical crime family. And we didn't end up doing that, but we experimented what it might mean to be mechs in a new world like this and one of the things we thought was like hey, what if it's kind of like Spare Parts but you can chose your Spare Part when you play the minion. We liked the gameplay of that, and so we explored it again with Journey to Un'Goro and in this case originally, they had probably even a little bit more like Spare Parts. You could play an Adapt minion and then choose Fiery Breath and it would deal damage to all enemy minions or something. So they had kind of one-shot affects. And eventually we felt like the flavor of the mechanic and the fun of the mechanic were more focused on actually adapting the minion itself, making the minion feel like it had changed somehow throughout the process. And so we ended up narrowing down our options to essentially buffs. And we loved it.

Will players be able to build an Adapt deck or are they more cards that can be integrated into other archetypes?

Yeah, I think the latter, right? Like you don't make a Spare Parts deck with maybe the exception of Gazlowe or something, but they were very interesting mechanics depending on whatever cards were available. So I think we'll see this as a fun mechanic that emphasizes decision making and trying to adapt to what your opponent is doing on the fly. Give you a little flexibility. But I'm not sure that well see "Oh, this is an Adapt deck, this is what I'm doing is adapting my guys."

Which classes will gain the most from Adapt cards?

Well, we're trying to pitch Adapt kind of as the thing that is happening to the dinosaurs in Un'Goro Crater. These aren't just normal dinosaurs already in World of Warcraft. So, we wanted it to be kind of a story of these aren't your normal dinosaurs. Even in Un'Goro Crater, the dinosaurs are not like obviously real world dinosaurs, they're Devilsaurs and Pterrordaxes and some other things and then for Hearthstone we wanted to adapt them even further and now they're kind of bursting with Elemental power and changing a little bit. So in general, the Adapt keyword appears most frequently on dinosaurs and there are some classes that have more dinosaurs than others. So I think Druid and Hunter, for example, have some more dinosaurs and so you might see more Adapt in those types of places, but it's just kind of a flavor thing for the most part.

Why was now the time to add a new tribe, Elementals, to the game?

Well, we actually had Elementals as a tribe in Hearthstone before ship, before we announced. it was a Shaman thing we were messing with way, way back in the day. So it was always something we kind of had considered, we didn't have an idea that we felt like "Oh we've got the perfect Elemental mechanic." I think we have some really cool cards and Elementals play really differently now. So I'm super-excited about the way the Elementals are shaping up, but flavor-wise, Un'Goro Crater being a land of primordial energy, having dinosaurs infused with Elemental power and then also focusing on the Elementals of the crater. We felt like this was flavor-wise just a slam-dunk and we had cool ideas for mechanics.

In the Elementals blog post, Mike Donais listed several discarded concepts for Elementals. Did any of them make it pretty far into development?

Well, we definitely thought they were potential ideas. We tested them a lot. But we have two phases of design: we call it initial design and final design and initial design, the goal there is to come up with the mechanics that we're planning on using, come up with the flavor for the set and the setting and names and VO and flavor and all that. And final design's role is to focus on balance, on fun, on clarity, trying to get it into that polish, that shipping state, and in this case the mechanic was locked down maybe halfway through initial design. So about halfway through the process of coming up with "What are we actually doing for this set, what mechanics are gonna chase." You know, we tried a lot of things that didn't make it. Obviously, we mentioned some of the Elemental ones that didn't make it. But the way this works is actually we try an idea, we try it out, and we think "Okay, is this it? Is this it?" And then as soon as we do enough play-testing where we're like "I don't think this is good, I think we need to try something else" then we move on to the next thing. So we're never really sure "Do we have it yet, do we have it yet" until we try things out. It's kind of that process of iteration until we say "I think this is it, I think we got the right thing here." We change minor things, sometimes massive things till we get to the right spot.

In terms of balancing Elementals, what weaknesses do they have to balance out their powerful effects?

Well, this particular mechanic rewards you for planning very far ahead, right? You might have one-drop Elemental that does something, but that's actually quite a powerful effect when you need to weave in an Elemental later in the game to make sure that you power up your expensive Elemental bonus'd minions later on. So, looking forward multiple turns I think is one of the more traditionally challenging things that Elementals are gonna be focusing on.

This is the first part of a two-part interview. Check in tomorrow for the second half!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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