While attending BlizzCon 2013, a few of us had the unique opportunity to talk with Richard Khoo, Senior Game Designer (hero, battlegrounds, and talents), and Bob Colayco, of Heroes of the Storm. Below you'll find the transcript of the interview led by myself Raylan13 and Miguel (Wikia staff).
Raylan13 (R): A lot of people are going to be comparing this to League of Legends. What's the takeaway you want an LoL player to know who is also a fan of Wracraft, StarCraft, or Diablo?
- Richard Khoo (RK): If they're a fan of Warcraft, Starcraft, or Diablo, the great thing is that we're drawing from lore that Blizzard has been working with for the past 22 years. I can play as Arthas and fight against Kerrigan, and to mix and match the fights like that is so amazing. The other thing we're also doing in Heroes that's different from other games in the genre are the battlegrounds. So instead of having just one map, we have multiple, and they all take place in the concept of the Nexus - that's actually what the "of the Storm" refers to. It's the universes colliding into this flash of light and now you're in Blackheart's Bay or now you're in Dragon Shire – and the map objectives change from battleground to battleground. In Blackheart's Bay you're collecting treasure to sway the favor of Blackheart for a short period of time; in Dragon Shire you can become a dragon and just overpower the enemy.
R: The panel mentioned that you'd be switching the maps out every now and then to keep things fresh. How often would that be happening?
- RK: We'll learn a lot more when we go into the beta. The beta is actually scheduled to be in the first half of 2014. It's going to be a sort of "feeling out" process; we're going to see which battlegrounds work. It's going to be sort of similar to StarCraft II at the start – we'll have some concept of seasons and mix and match certain maps. We'll figure out which battlegrounds people like and don't like.
Miguel (M): Do you think that MOBA players are going to want a straight-up map with just lanes and nothing else going on?
- RK: We feel that having battlegrounds with their own distinct mechanics is very important. I think when you talk about those players who want that serious competition they actually want esports – touching upon that, our focus is to make the most fun game possible first; it's going to come down to the community to help us build esports. (Brings up Brood War example) Certain battlegrounds are going to be better for competition than others and that will help determine if/when it becomes possible.
- Bob Colayco (B): By the way, you could just push down the lane and ignore stuff.
- RK: Right, that's a legitimate strategy right now.
R: What about the 20-minute time limit that's imposed?
- RK: That's just for BlizzCon, because we want players to get in and out. We want the game to resolve organically, and it was something that was brought up. Our target goal is to have 15 to 20-minute games, and it's always been suggested (time limit), but we want the games to end naturally.
R: In terms of Hero roles, some of them were mentioned, but one of them I tend to play is the Jungler. Is there a comparable role?
- RK: There's no comparable role. With the concept of Team Levels, a Jungler would be very useful; if you've got a strong hero who can fight players really well, you don't have to be in the lane to help your team. You can go into the enemy team and start stealing all their merc camps. The Jungler role evolved over time as players learned how to maximize their damage – we are seeing in our internal alpha that there are people who will play that type of role.
- RK: Our battlegrounds are constantly shifting; our goal is to make them exciting and the mechanics to really sing. And then we have a lot of common battleground mechanics such as the merc camps, siege giants, and ogres, that players can solo.
M: By spreading those out the way you have on these maps, it makes it so that any character that can conceivably solo them can play the role of the Jungler.
- RK: Right. It's not just about getting experience for the Jungler and ganking; some of it is, but you don't have to be a Jungler to do that. The mercenary camps, the common ones in our battlegrounds, all have specific roles. So you have ogres that are more like melee brutes, and they'll go into a lane and just knock stuff down. When you take that and time it with your team, it's key.
- B: Looking at this game using the lens of other games, is probably not going to work, because we've done a lot to challenge the conventions you're used to. Maybe there's some other crazy role players will think of doing.
M: There's the hero that does the possession.
- RK: We have whole new hero roles because we've changed a lot of the rules. We've taken out last hit, we've added in team levels, and that enables us to create really specialized heroes. So you have dedicated support heroes who don't need to last hit and they can just stay behind the battlefield and support their team; and then you have a hero who's even behind that.
- Abathor, as you were saying. He's hiding behind the forts and he's got his "jazz hands" because he can't actually fight, but he can actually support anybody across the entire map. So he's watching all the lanes, and I think that's similar to the gameplay that you're talking about, where you're watching all the lanes and seeing who needs help. You're basically this terror – you don't know when the tide's going to turn – but when you see this claw come up and Abathor starts infesting somebody and his little drone is watching over him, you know he's there and he's going to help you.
- He's an example of an "expert expert level" hero. Blizzard's model is "easy to learn, difficult to master"; well, Abathor's actually very difficult to learn, very, very difficult to master. We were trying to give players something completely different.
M: Have you guys brought in any of the pro gamers you're familiar with to put the game through its paces?
- RK: Not yet. This is the first time we've had a build of Heroes that someone can actually play.
R: Is there going to be equal representation across the universes?
- RK: When we draw inspiration from the universes, Warcraft is the biggest one. They've got a lot of names to it. When we look at the spreadsheet of the heroes, they definitely have the lion's share of it. Any hero that we think is awesome from StarCraft or Diablo, we're going to try to get them in there. You'll have Nova, you'll have Tychus, Jim Raynor; from Diablo you'll have Malthael, the Crusader. The three universes, we're not limited to just those. You might see Kyle Blackthorne show up, a Lost Viking, Rock and Roll Racer – I don't know (laughs).
R: I haven't seen a MOBA with mounts in it.
- RK: We designed mounts because the artists – we collaborate often – and we were saying there are certain heroes that, when we look at the inspiration for them. I mean, Thrall. He's riding on a wolf when he was in the Farseer role in WCIII. "Guys, we can't do it. People are going to think he moves faster. We should put him on the ground. Why don't we actually give him a mount?"
- B: Arthas looks great on his Deathcharger.
- RK: Yeah. When you finish a game you get experience to raise your player level. You'll unlock new skins, new mounts, new heroes, more talents.
M: This is another way to get over having to upgrade your run speed, too, right?
- RK: We wanted to give players the ability to move around the map quickly, and it addressed some of that, too. The mounts get faster and faster as the game progresses; back in 2011 when we had mounts, when you got hit you fell off your mount and were stunned. But we found it's more fun to charge your mount into battle. So you're really trying to go as deep as possible. We took out things like last hit so players could focus on other things, like killing the minions or pushing the lane as hard as possible.
M: One of the most impenetrable parts of these games is trying to figure out what items to buy.
- RK: When you look at the game, you have to ask yourself "what's right for it?" We felt that, given our 15 to 20-minute a game goal, that things like last hit and farming gold, and going back and buying items really didn't fit into what we were trying to do. So we designed this talent system where you could choose your talents out in the field to let players focus on fighting while giving them the choices we feel are very important for building and customizing your hero on the fly. You can customize which talents you choose from in the game, and as you raise your player level, you'll have access to more talents.