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EXCLUSIVE: Heroes of the Storm 2.0 Improves the Entire Game – Interview with Kent-Erik Hagman

Holy Diablo that's a lot of new stuff...
heroes of the storm 2.0

There are big things coming to Heroes of the Storm in the very near future. At this year’s Heroes of the Storm Spring Summit, I was lucky enough to have some time to sit down with Lead Hero Designer Kent-Erik Hagman to talk about all the exciting new things making their way to the Nexus in the megapatch Blizzard is calling Heroes 2.0.

heroes of the storm 2.0

One of the big goals with Heroes 2.0 is that there’s going to be this massive overhaul of the progression and rewards systems, and to put it succinctly, the new system effectively removes the level cap for individual heroes, makes those level ups come a lot faster, makes your player level the sum of all your hero levels, and rewards you with Overwatch style loot chests every time you level up. To me this feels like a giant leap in the direction of a more sophisticated and addictive content reward structure than we’re used to seeing in MOBAs.

So, to start us off here – what do you guys see as your goals for progression and rewards as we move forward into Heroes 2.0?

So our main goal was exactly what Travis put up. You know, make progression more frequent, more rewarding, and… he had a third adjective that I don’t remember.

We just wanted to make it feel fun, because right now it kind of sucks where you’ll go, let’s say you get your hero to like level ten, or maybe even level eleven, and you’re like man, it takes a long time to get this far, to the point where I kind of stop caring. That was kind of like the thing for a lot of us, because even a lot of us on the design staff, we stopped caring when we get a hero past ten because it’s like, yeah, I guess I get 500 gold when I get to level fifteen, but that’s so far away now, I want to play something else.

And it’s just gold as well, which isn’t that exciting to begin with.

Yeah, it’s nice, but yeah. We had a couple ideas that were brewing one was we level up more often, two we get rid of the player level, because everyone’s just at 40, and who cares. It becomes just another thing you ignore – just detritus floating around in our system. We can clean this all up, and we really loved the idea of using the sum of hero levels, and then the idea of just uncapping everything, and letting players go hog wild, right?

So what loot chests did is they gave us something that we could – because we were like, if we were going to let people level up a lot faster and give them something all the time, then what were we going to give them? We need something, right. So that’s kind of where loot chests as this idea of, well let’s have something that can give out to players relatively frequently, because you can’t hand out a legendary skin every level, because we only have five of them, right? So we needed something so we could do that, and so that’s where the idea of loot chests came from.

heroes of the storm 2.0

And we looked at it also as, we have this entire catalogue of amazing stuff that artists have made over numerous years, and we wanted to get that into the hands of players instead of always being locked behind things. So that’s what’s really cool about loot chests is that you can get anything. Well, almost anything, of course. I think it’s like stimpacks, something else, I’m not…

Promotional stuff.

Promotional stuff, yeah. And art, for obvious reasons. But other than that, you can get a ton of stuff, right? And also our artists would have all this creativity when they’d go to make the skin tints for a hero, and a hero’s skins, and we were always, well, you can only have three. And by doing this we’re now allowed to create more skins tints for heroes and put those in loot chests as something players can unlock.

We also, at the same time, like I said, this is kind of what Travis was talking about during his presentation. It’s so many things all at once. We had ideas for like doing announcers, and now with Starcraft 2 doing emojis, we were like, well shoot, we have all these awesome heroes, it would be so cool if they could all emoji at themselves. And yeah, what else have we been wanting to get into the game for a while. What else could be a cool thing that we could add to the game to allow for more – like we’ve heard this a lot: “bring back the emote wheel” was a common refrain from our fans, and we totally agreed, we wanted to, we just wanted to do it right. So adding in voice lines and sprays allowed a lot more of this playful banter between players. So it was kind of this culmination of things that lead to the loot chest, which can in theory have any of these items.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. It seems like MOBAs have always been… it’s funny because it’s something that you can go in and just play for hours and hours because it’s PvP and it’s always fresh, but the reward structure to support that hasn’t been there. So it’s really cool to see you guys taking these cues from what other genres and your other games have been doing.

Yeah, we’re super inspired by what the guys at the Hearthstone team and the Overwatch team and the WoW team and the Starcraft team – did I name all of our games? [laughs] I can’t hold them all in my head at once. And the Diablo team, there we are. And part of the inspiration for banners was of course D3.

I noticed that, yeah.

Yeah, we love our own games. We are our own biggest fans to some regard, so we’re so inspired by what those guys are doing that it definitely fuels a lot of this creativity about, well, could we do more, right?

It’s nice that it’s going to look familiar to people who play all of the Blizzard games, which I think is most people.

[laughs] Yeah, if you’re playing Heroes of the Storm, you’re probably playing some of our other games.

But like, sprays are something you’ve seen – it’s fun like when you’re able to get like, I don’t if you saw it, but the Lucio frog with the headphones on his head? That’s from Overwatch – I’m like 90% sure. I know we have this Lucio cereal box spray that’s from Overwatch as well.

I was going to ask about this later, but since we’re doing it now – what exactly is a spray? You guys said it was “b stepping with style”, so I know I’m on board with it.

It puts this decal on the terrain in front of your hero, and you hear this spray can sound. And the decal will be there for a few seconds.

So the spray is something from Overwatch then. That’s the one Blizzard game I haven’t played, just because I’m completely awful at shooters.

Ohhh, yeah yeah. It’s very inspired by Overwatch, and the just the idea that you can mark, and place this little decal on the ground.

heroes of the storm 2.0

Ok cool, so everyone knows what they are but me. Got it. So just back to the basics of the system here, every time a player levels up, they’re going to get a loot chest, and some of them are hero specific?

So the way it works is you always get a loot chest, every time you level up. Every tenth hero level you get a hero specific loot chest that guarantees at least one item that is related to that hero.

So if you’re like, man, I only play Sonya, and I play Sonya all day every day, and I was a level 20 Sonya now so I’m a level 55 Sonya [after the patch], great. When you hit level 60 Sonya, you’ll get a Sonya loot chest that guarantees something related to Sonya. This is in addition to your normal loot chest as well, these are all additive.

So the hero specific items can also come out of normal loot chests that you’re getting every level, as well.

Yes, so the normal loot chest can have anything.

So this is just because you’re dedicating so much time to one character, to make sure you’re getting something for your main.

Yes, we wanted to get you an extra bonus. I’m a huge Lost Viking player, so I want my Lost Vikings emoji pack, or voice lines.

Actually that was going to be another question later. I’m really curious about the emoji packs, since you have them for every character. So they are unlocked separately then. You’ll get a Lost Vikings pack separately and a Sonya pack separately.

Yes, there’s two packs per hero, there’s five emoji in each one. And if you have that emoji unlocked and you’re playing that hero, I believe if you just type in a normal smiley face, if you have that one unlocked, it’s replaced with that character’s emoji pack. You can also just manually enter in any emoji that you have unlocked. You can manually just enter it in. We tried to cover it so that immediately your expressions become your hero.

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That’s a nice touch, I like it.

So one of the new things coming is gems, which are a new currency coming to the game that’s going to be replacing real money transactions while gold seems to pretty much be doing what it’s already doing, basically. So how are gems going to be acquired and what will players be using them for? Are they just premium currency, or are they obtainable in game as well?

We do reward you with gems occasionally, but they’re mostly just a premium currency, like you said. You purchase the gems with money and then, sometimes, especially if you’re a new player, I think we give you a bundle of gems when you hit like level ten or fifteen – at some point early on we’ll give you some and it’s like periodic. At every X levels we’ll give you some as well.

And that’s what we like about gems, because before, we couldn’t be like, here, have fifty cents, because that’s got some legal issues.

That’s what I was getting out of it, yeah.

So here we can go, here, have X gems.

So basically the big change is that you can reward them to players now.

Exactly. And that’s what’s really cool – it allows us to do a lot of fun things like that.

Well I don’t think anyone is going to complain about that. That’s probably going to go over just fine.

Yeah, free money!

With cosmetic rewards moving into the loot chest, what’s going to happen with the current store? Will direct purchases be gone?

No, there’s still going to be direct purchases. For instance, gems will still be able to purchase featured items which we have. Though I don’t know exactly what that means, sorry.

heroes of the storm 2.0

So maybe the catalogue will be reduced to sort of a rotation?

Yeah, but everything else you can forge with shards. So let’s say you want that specific skin tint, you can then forge just that one.

And shards are what you get whenever you get a duplicate item out of a loot chest.

Whenever you get a duplicate item and they also just drop sometimes.

I’d say if you played Overwatch, you’ve experienced something similar with their coin system. It was heavily inspired.

But yeah, you can still buy new heroes with gems. And I believe release bundles will probably be available that way as well.

One of the other rewards that we saw talked about a lot was the new voice lines for heroes. Are those going to be automatic event triggers, or –

No actually, you manually trigger them. I think the default hotkey is I. We’ve also brought back the emote wheel.

That’s what I was going to say; it sounds a lot like the emote wheel.

Yeah, and it plays locally, so any heroes that are near the hero that did their voice line will get to hear that voice line.

Cool.

And there’s some really fun lines. You know our writers would write all these clever lines for our heroes, but a lot of them are buried. I don’t know if you remember the pissed lines, like in Warcraft 3, or Starcraft 1 or even Starcraft 2 or Warcraft 2. Where you’d click on the hero a lot and you’d hear “me not that kind of orc” from the peon.

So we write all these great lines, and one of my favorites is Varian, he says “Andiun tried to show me Hearthstone the other day. It’s a ridiculous game. What kind of game allows Garrosh to control me around!” And you know, it’s really funny if you’re a hardcore Hearthstone player.

heroes of the storm 2.0

But like, we’ll have – that one’s too long to be a voice line – but we’ll have shorter ones that are really funny, but they only appear for that player if they click a lot. Which is all, oh great, we recorded this hilarious line, it’s a great piece of content, but no one really gets to experience it a ton. So now we can bring this in as voice lines and have more opportunities for players to customize how they want to express themselves.

It’s like bringing the emote wheel back plus another step beyond that.

Yeah! Everyone was like “bring the back the emote wheel” and yeah, we really want to, but we want to do it right.

Cassia looks awesome, for anyone who played Diablo 2. I know the Javazon was something that people have wanted for a long time, and I think people are going to be really excited that because we’ve already got the Javazon Nova skin, to see that those types of skins don’t preclude a character from that same source making it into the game down the line.

Amazon Nova was a concern, but we thought, you know, if we go full Javazon, her silhouette will look differently, and the animation team can work to make sure she isn’t stepping on what Nova’s skin did. We even did internal playtests to make sure that there isn’t any confusion, like what skillshot just hit me. So we ironed all that out so there wouldn’t be any overlap there.

Does that mean there’s hope for Widowmaker making her way into the game?

No comment.

Fair enough.

What was your favorite part of the Javazon from Diablo (Link goes to MMORPG.com) that you really wanted to make sure Cassia had?

Lightning everywhere! Lightning, lightning, lightning everywhere. Now we can’t do it to the same extent. What’s great about the Diablo games is that their heroes can just spam spell effects all across the game because it’s a PvE game.

heroes of the storm 2.0

Our game though, it’s like, oh man, as soon as you have five spell effects, you have to start pulling back the opacity, and tuck in the particles… So we tried to get in as much as we could, and that’s why her skillshot is what is. And we put it at a pretty low cooldown, and it pierces into those two bolts, and we really wanted to capture that fantasy of like, you know, I’m just hurling javelines left and right, because that’s really what, at least for me as a Javazon player, I remember playing.

And the A-Move – encouraging the stutter step. It really looks just like it.

Yeah, it’s like – oh man, back in its 16 bit glory.

We also wanted to get some of that melee flavor that some Javazon builds would go with. With that melee spear. I don’t know if you remember the Fend talent in the D2 tree. You basically would only use it for bosses, because you could like, five shot Diablo when you were doing your farming runs. So that’s sort of where we kinda got fend, as well.

And the risk / reward component of that with her trait is really interesting as well.

Yeah, when you’re going for the kill, it’s a little Greymane-esque, where you have to really pick your moment to do the damage.

Yeah, I’m definitely going to get myself killed a lot with that.

Let me ask a couple of general questions. How do you guys feel about giving the players the ability to ban maps at some point in the future. Is it something you should see coming, that you’ve thought about – I’m sure it’s something that’s requested a lot.

Yeah, we hear that from time to time. We look at our map pool, and it is pretty big. So we are having discussions because we want to bring in more battlegrounds. Because we love them and they’re cool the way they change the shape of the game.

So we’re definitely having discussions on like what’s a more optimal play experience for a player just because of the amount of maps. Do we do a map rotation or what. We don’t have anything solid that I can really speak to, but it is something that we’re aware of and we have discussions about on a weekly basis.

I personally really like the idea behind multiclass heroes like Varian, who, at least in theory, can adapt their talent choices within the game to fill different roles. In practice a lot of that is decided at the draft stage, of course. Are you happy with how that’s worked out so far and are there going to be more heroes like this in the future?

We would like to do more multiclass heroes. They’re a little tricky, because they eat up a lot of design space. A lot of mechanics that Varian has now can’t – it’s not that they can’t exist in other heroes, but we try not to duplicate a gameplay experience, because then it’s like, you just gave me a better or worse version of another hero.

heroes of the storm 2.0

So we’re a bit careful with multiclass but it’s something we’re very interested in. We think it’s been relatively successful. Varian is one of my favorite heroes to play right now, just because I get in there, and every talent tier feels so impactful. You know, like especially at level four – like ooh, Shield Wall or Warbringer. Especially when Warbringer was a stun. Or we get to ten or get to thirteen, ooh, Mortal Strike or Shattering Throw – those will really change my gameplay.

And it doesn’t feel like there are ‘wrong’ choices there, as well.

Yeah, these are all good choices. It’s just how do I want to adapt my gameplay to the choices that I’m making. We don’t know that that’s something that has to be restricted to the multiclass. For the newer heroes in development and with our remakes, we’re looking at how we can make our talent trees compelling like that.

But yeah, multiclass is not off the table. Varian’s not like a one-off thing.

Being with MMORPG.com, I do want to ask at least one question for the WoW players. Are you guys going to give Jaina a dreadlord skin?

[Laughing] I still laugh every time I go to the WoW subreddit and it’s like: “Well Jaina must be a dreadlord, cause that’s the only way to describe it.” That’s great, I’ll… what’s the term? That’s rich.

While we’re talking about WoW, I don’t have the numbers, but it seemed like the For Azeroth promotion that rewarded players in both Warcraft and HotS for playing Warcraft Heroes with friends was a pretty big success. Can we expect more themed cross-promotions like this?

We first did it with the Nexus Challenge and now we did it again with For Azeroth – we think they’re really cool. Typically if you’re a Heroes player you’re probably a Blizzard player in some other way, and we think you’ll love our other games as well. We think they’re cool, and it’s something we’ll continue to explore where it seems correct to do it.

heroes of the storm 2.0

The real problem is that we have to coordinate schedules with another development team as well. It’s got to work for us. And it’s tough for us, because we are so regimented time wise. But the other development team, their artists need to carve out the time, so it’s a pretty big collaboration within Blizzard. I wish I could say that it’s something that’s really simple to do.

Do you think you’ll ever add a permanent ARAM mode, or are you guys happy with it tied to the Brawl cycle like it is now?

I don’t have news for you on that. I’ll say that we’re definitely keeping an eye on community feedback, especially with brawls in general. We’re very open to the feedback that the community gives, and what’s great about brawls is that since they cycle every week, we can always try something new. So we can definitely look at engagement in there and see what makes sense for the game.

An errant penman on a journey through sparkling galaxies, gloomful dungeons, and virtual worlds.

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