HearthPwn Exclusive Interview with Dean Ayala
We had a chance to sit down with Hearthstone Game Designer, Dean Ayala, this weekend in the Bahamas! We primarily talked about the upcoming Journey to Un'Goro expansion including discussion on its mechanics and some history of the set.
You can find our quick recap and full interview below. Thanks to Dean and the Hearthstone team for the interview - you guys are awesome!
Too long, didn't read? Don't worry, we got you covered!
- It is intentional that some older cards don't feature an Elemental tag. This is still undergoing some discussion.
- We're going to see a lot of "cool" common cards. Legendaries won't be the only build-arounds.
- Golakka Crawler's effect changed late in the dev process to hit Pirates.
- Intervening quicker against problematic cards is something Dean feels they're more open to now.
- We won't likely be seeing new daily quests in 8.0 (Un'Goro Patch).
Quote from HearthPwn
- One of the first iterations of Elementals had "Elemental Spells".
- A card like Fireball would become Elemental and trigger Elemental card effects.
- Another Elemental attempt saw "if your last card played was an Elemental" on cards.
- They didn't like having to keep that in your head throughout multiple turns.
- Keeping it "if you played an Elemental last turn" made it simpler.
- They tried to make the "Elemental payoff" cards not always be Elementals so you couldn't chain Elementals every single turn.
- It is intentional that some older cards don't feature an Elemental tag. Some are still up for discussion before the patch hits.
- The Adapt mechanic was originally destined for Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. One of the Gadgetzan factions was supposed to have Mechs and Adapt was supposed to upgrade them.
- Adapt was initially called Evolve, but they changed that to prevent confusion with Evolve.
- We're going to see a lot of "cool" common cards. Legendaries won't be the only build-arounds.
- Dean isn't certain if we're going to see new dailies such as "Play 10 Adapt Minions", at least not for 8.0, Un'Goro's launch patch.
- Intervening quicker against problematic cards is something Dean feels they're more open to now.
- Jade decks currently make up around 8 or 9% of the deck population.
- One of the goals for this year is to figure out what is the best version of ranked and arena.
- Arena isn't likely to move away from the core of "pick a card from three cards".
- No planned changes to card packs which would reduce the chance of you seeing duplicate Epics or Legendaries.
- There won't be a way to see what tokens quests give you in the collection manager, but you can play the quest in-game and look at the tooltip to see the reward once your quest is put into play.
- They're still working on importing decks into the game. Dean thinks its "pretty far along".
Full Interview Transcript
The interview was conducted by our very own, jmxd. Quotes in white are from us, all blue text is from Dean.
Quote from Dean Ayala & HearthPwn
So with Un'Goro, you introduced Elementals, a new mechanic. How did you come up with that mechanic, and were there any versions that you had planned that didn't make it?
Yeah, actually there was. Because Elementals are basically a part of Un'Goro, we knew that we wanted to make a bunch of Elementals. Also, we've done Mechs, and Mechs is more about you playing a bunch of Mechs and they sort of synergize with each other, kind of similar to Murlocs as well. And then Dragons play a little bit differently, they gain power from the ones back in your hand. So we basically did two versions of a minion type that works well with each other in different ways.
For Elementals, basically the idea was, "Let's do something different than both of those." One of the first iterations we had, was that we actually had elemental spells. We would change stuff like Fireball, amd it's was, "Oh, this is an Elemental card." It was like if you play an Elemental card last turn, that was something that we were experimenting with, but we ended up feeling that just the minions was totally fine.
Also, we tried if the last card you played was an Elemental, but that ended up being a little bit weird becuase sometimes you would play a bunch of spells, and then the next turn you might Hero Power and pass, and then you'd play a bunch of spells, and then like three turns later, you would activate your elemental stuff. Keeping that stuff in your head, there's a lot of stuff going on in the game, and having some amount of complexity is not a bad thing by any means, but this just wasn't a fun complexity. It was just having to remember stuff that had happened like three turns ago. We thought it was better if it was just if you played something last turn, so it's like your opponent knows, "Okay, he played an elemental, what I have to keep in my head is what are the elemental cards that he could play now?" Understanding what those elemental payoffs are.
Also, we tried to make the elemental payoff cards, the cards that get a bonus from having played an elemental last turn, we tried to make those not always elementals, so you have to choose, "Okay, I'm going to get my bonus this turn, but next turn, I'm not going to be able to get a bonus," and then sort of back and forth, instead of just like getting bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus. It was a whole process.
Is there an indication that you played an Elemental, does it glow yellow?
Yeah, i think maybe, you know I can't say for certain, I think maybe on Twilight Elemental, like that was just one that wasn't listed, because I think it makes sense for Twilight Elemental to be an elemental, that makes sense.
I think because it's a token, it wasn't on the list.
Yeah, I don't know if Mike [Donais] explained it or not, that wasn't something, because I know he wrote the article. Specifically for Djinni of Zephyrs and Mana Geode, like we made the decision not to make those Elementals. I think it's actually still in discussion though, I know Mike and Brode were talking about it a little bit. I think Light Spawn ended up not being an elemental, and that was by choice. I guess I can't really speak to it too much, because that wasn't something that I was super involved in, but I know that we specifically chose, like some of these weren't and some of these were, and based on some feedback, maybe we'll change it. We're still pre-release, so we can still fix a couple things.
Then we've got Adapt, another new mechanic. Did you guys come up with this because Discover is so popular, or was it like an early version of discoveries, or how did it came to be?
There's an article going up about this in a couple days I think [this article is now live], but how Adapt was created was actually in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, one of the mechanics for one of the factions was actually around Mechs, it was Gadgetzan and a bunch of mechanical creations. One of the factions, I think it was the faction that ended up being Jade was you have Mechs, and then you can pick ways to upgrade them. It's was like when you play a Mech, you upgrade it, and then it gets a bonus of some kind.
Actually the first version was, you get a card in your hand that's sort of like a spare part card-ish, and then you can upgrade that card with a lot of the Adapt choices. Then we're like, "Oh, you know it's actually much cooler if you can just play the minion, and then it upgrades itself, and you can choose something."
We ended up going with Jade Golems, because we thought that was pretty cool, instead, but we really liked the mechanic. Then when we were talking about Un'Goro, we wanted all these dinosaurs, and we got a lot of concept art for like these dinosaurs with volcanoes on their back and the giant Murloc villages and stuff living on top of them. They weren't like normal dinosaurs, they were basically upgraded dinosaurs, so we thought, "Oh wow, the mechanic that we had for Mean Streets of Gadgetzan would work perfect for dinosaurs," but the name was a little bit different. We had, "evolve" as the first name, because evolve was a name that made sense, but there was a card involved, and it sort of means a different thing to some players. Eventually we ended up changing that name to Adapt, but that was basically like the whole process of how it ended up happening.
Is there any reason why it's "Battlecry: Adapt", and not just "Adapt"? Because I don't think it's "Battlecry: Discover", right? Or is it?
No, it's just "discover", you're right. There's a lot of cards that like, when we read them, like it just makes more sense to say something a certain way, like "Battlecry: Adapt" means like, "Okay, Battlecry, like this is going to happen." Whereas I think discover is more implied, I suppose, where it's like discover a card, rather than Battlecry. I don't know, just like how you read it and what makes more sense to us, whatever more people are going to understand.
[correction: Discover actually is always a Battlecry: effect]
Will players actually be building Adapt decks, or is it more like something you just put a couple of them in any deck basically?
Yeah, Adapt doesn't necessarily synergize with other Adapt cards, so it's not just going to be a bunch of Adapt cards in a deck, but you might find a deck that needs, like there's a "Battlecry: Adapt, then Adapt" card, and that card might fit in.
Maybe there's certain classes that are more Adapt classes, and others aren't or maybe a little bit less?
Right, I think any class that has a bunch of buffs like paladin, they're going to enjoy having some of the Adapt stuff more, because stuff like stealth is really good for paladin, because they can survive and then buff their creature, and have it crazy or whatever. Some classes will just work better with Adapt than others.
Yesterday, you showed the Volcanosaur, and the card text was a bit confusing for me because it says, "Battlecry: Adapt, then Adapt". Does it mean if you use it in combination with Brann Bronzebeard that it only Adapts one extra time, or it just Adapts four times? What is the reasoning for Adapt, then Adapt, instead of Adapt twice, for example?
We talked about the text a lot, we actually just thought "Adapt, then Adapt" sounded cooler, that's literally the reason.
All right, good reason, sounded cooler.
That's just the text that we used for that. I think, you know I don't actually know the answer to this question, I know we have a whole QA team that goes through all of these, and there's some designers on the team that fix a lot of these bugs, like if anything comes back and a lot of the decisions get made. I'm pretty sure it would Adapt -
"Adapt, then Adapt" actually is one Battlecry.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure it would just be four times.
Okay, cool. So Quests, another new mechanic, three new mechanics in Un'Goro. I think Quests are really good for the game to feel different, for classes to feel different from each other. But do you think that it's maybe a bit harder for people to keep up if they.. like previously they could maybe make a strong neutral legendary that fits in multiple decks, and now they have to get nine class quests, and maybe some more legendaries?
Yeah, I was just talking about this earlier, like it's weighted a lot on the legendary for those specific decks, and we think quests are super awesome, and there's a reason why they're legendary just mechanically, just because having only one in your deck just sort of makes sense for their mechanic. I think quests are going to speak to a lot of people, but we made a ton of cards in this set, we made a ton of common cards and rare cards that are also going to be really fun decks, we hope.
Also, when you're making a quest, it is legendary, but it works with a lot of the cards that you already have. Whereas something like mechs in GVG, Maybe you don't need a legendary mech, but you're sort of asked to have all these mechs that are really from this set only, so you kind of have a wider variety of cards, where with a quest, you might be able to just get a quest, and then use a lot of the cards that you already have, if that's something that you really want to do.
If you don't have the quest, and you have kind of all the cards, you can't really play the quest deck without the quest.
Right, I guess my point is you can utilize a lot of your stuff if you actually do get the quest. If having a legendary is a little bit out of your budget range for how much dust you have, we're going to have a ton of commons in the set that are going to be trying to make you build more decks as well.
Those are also cool cards?
Yeah, there'll be more cards that aren't legendary that are asking you to build a new deck, and have a bunch of fun stuff. We didn't just make only the fun stuff legendary, hopefully it's spread out all over.
In the last couple of releases, you went more in the direction of creating packages of cards, like C'Thun, Jade and now Quests, do you have any concerns about the space that is left for actual deck-building?
Yeah, absolutely. There needs to be both, from our perspective, because I mean the C'Thun decks and Jade decks are actually super awesome I think, for some types of players. Because it's really hard to go from, "I just completed the tutorial and I'm playing basic mage to, i'm going to build a deck," like building something like Miracle Rogue or Freeze Mage, it's super complex, and it's not really clear what's going on unless you really understand the game. Whereas C'Thun, there's a bunch of cards that say C'Thun, so I'm going to put all those cards in my deck, and then I'm going to figure out what synergy is, basically, and then figure out like, "Oh, what is a Hearthstone synergy deck even like?"
It's really good for those players, but also for the more hardcore players, it's really important to have decks that aren't like that. We need to have both. Like the Priest quest is more linear, where it says, "Put a bunch of Deathrattle minions in your deck." That sort of speaks to some types of players, and quests like the Rogue quest, which is a lot more open-ended says, "Play four of the same minion," and maybe that's Novice Engineer, maybe it's Wisp, or maybe it's Coldlight Oracle, or Swashburglar or something like that. Figuring out what is the way that you want to complete the quest, even though it's the same general goal, I think the decks will be a lot different.
Then even outside of quests, just having cards that sort of inspire you to just think a little bit differently about what kind of deck you want to build, and it's a lot more open- ended, it's something that we really strive for. Because we hear that feedback a lot, where it's like, "Oh, you build the decks for us, we want to be more creative." I think that going forward, there's always going to be decks that are pretty straightforward, because that's really important to have for some semblance of the audience.
We actually already have quests in the game, Daily quests. Are we getting some new ones, like, "Play 10 Adapt minions." for example?
I don't think so, not for 8.0 specifically. I could be wrong, I don't work specifically on quests, so it's hard for me to say, but I don't think there's anything new going in, but I don't know for certain.
Alright so, Balance questions. You can answer those.
I can do that.
Often after new content has been released, it becomes clear quite quickly that maybe a couple of cards are a bit too strong, and people start calling for Blizzard to do something, which takes too long, at least people think that it takes too long. Do you think Blizzard will intervene more quickly in the future?
Yeah, I think that we're getting more and more open to that sort of thing. It's still something that, because I mean it's really our responsibility to try to appeal to everybody, and a lot of the people that are consuming the content very, very quickly, I mean there's players that play 300 games in a couple of days, and they're reading about it and understanding what all the best decks are. They're like, "Okay, I've figured everything out, so I'm ready for things to change."
That's sort of a struggle that I think any game has that has a wide variety of players, but it's not just about appealing to whoever the massive audience is. We understand the super hardcore community, you might be one or 2% of the entire community as a whole, but that's a really important piece. Like the hardcore community are sort of the champions of Hearthstone, they're the ones talking about it on the internet and talking to it about their friends, and trying to get new people to play the game. Understanding what those players want is also super important, so I think finding ways to maybe address those things a little bit quicker is something that we really think about.
Something that I think about a lot though is the player that, you know is like, "Oh, I ran into this very powerful deck, and I don't have a lot of decks right now, so I'm going to start building up towards it." and then is like, "Okay, I finally have all the cards for it, and we're two months into the expansion, and I can't wait. Now I'm going to learn this deck." and then we're like, "Oh, we're changing it now."
They're consuming the content at a much slower rate and those players are super important too, so I don't think that we want to change things super rapidly. I don't think we'll ever get in a space where we're changing things every two weeks, right? Addressing the major core problems maybe a little bit faster, or maybe you know, two months into this expansion, we're going to look at it like we do sort of every expansion, and say, "All right, do we need to make a change here?"
Over time, the audience just changes a lot too. I mean, three years ago, everyone was new, so changing things really rapid-
Yeah, the playerbase as a whole gets better too.
Maybe 10 years from now, a lot of the players will be different, and most players will be players that have been playing the game for 10 years and maybe a little bit more, maybe they'll want change at a slightly higher rate. I mean, you have to adjust your strategy over time, and when I say "your strategy", I mean our strategy. Like we have to continually monitor who are our players, what do they want today? Because it's different than what they wanted three years ago. I think just being able to adapt to what's actually happening and what people want, does that work? It's not just like, "Oh, this is our strategy, and we're not going to change it."
Actually, some people have suggested to do a planned balance update in between expansions, like it's always going to happen, this is when it happens, this is when we'll look at things, so people can know when we can expect some changes.
I think that's something that we would not do. It's something that, we'll address problems as they come up, and you know that might happen faster, or it might happen at the same rate it's going now. I have the feeling that, you know we've been experimenting with more and more changes lately, we've changed Rockbiter Weapon and stuff, and then recently we changed Spirit Claws and Small-Time Buccaneer. Some players might say they happened too slow but those changes actually happened pretty close together in terms of the history of Hearthstone. It's still important for us to address problems when they come up, rather than doing it so it will change all the decks for everybody.
I think that if you're having a lot of problems with a deck, your answer should be, "All right, well how do I go to my collection and solve this problem?", rather than, "I'll just wait until they nerf it, because they're just going to nerf it. There's no reason for me to Adapt to what's going on, and learning these new decks, because they're just going to change it again." I think being able to think, "Okay, this is a problem that I have to solve on my own through my collection," is a much better feeling than just "Oh, I want to build up to this deck because I think it's really powerful, but I don't know if I really want to, because I know they're just going to change it in two weeks."
In tournaments, players actually get to ban one of their opponents classes or decks. Have you guys ever considered implementing that into the game, like on the ladder?
Yeah, I mean we actually certainly considered it, something we've talked about a few times. We've talked about maybe if you've lost against a certain class, you just can't match up against that class again like the next game, or something like that. It's something we've discussed, but not something that we're moving on right now.
One of our biggest focuses over the next year is to not necessarily add new features, but to improve specifically some of our solo adventure stuff, and some of our Arena and ranked mode.
I mean, those are conversations that happen when we're thinking about improving ranked mode specifically, but we don't have anything to really announce right now, it's still pretty early on.
We actually saw some awesome stuff already to counter Pirates, did you guys put some extra stuff in there at a late stage to deal with the Pirate problem?
Yeah, I think Golakka Crawler changed, I mean it wasn't super late, but it was like one of the last 10 or 15 cards to change. The thing that's most important to us when any new expansion comes out is that things are changing. I mean, it's a really big risk when something like Pirate Warrior is not losing a lot of cards in rotation, whereas classes like shaman are losing like Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem, and that's a huge deal.
A huge risk is when a new expansion comes out, and everyone's just still playing their same deck, and that's sort of a problem. Cards like Golakka Crawler and Gluttonous Ooze, I think it's good to have some of those, but we don't want games to turn into Pirate Warriors versus Golakka Crawler, we don't that to actually be showing up a ton. Just the existence of those cards will hopefully keep the population down, because we don't want games to turn into like, "Oh, I'm playing Pirate Warior," if you drew this card, you win, if you didn't, you lose. We don't want it to feel coin-flippy, we just want there to be more options.
Really, I think the true answers are cards like Tar Creeper, the 1/5 that turns into a 3/5 taunt.
There's a lot of taunt minions.
Those cards are more the true answer, the ones that are more flexible, the ones that are like a little bit less swingy, that you'll just put in any deck, rather than the super-spiky ones. Like we don't picture Golakka Crawler and Gluttonous Ooze to go in every deck, but if you're frustrated by pirates and you're losing to them a lot, that should be an option that you have. It wasn't specifically our answer to pirates, it's more that those are cards that are in the set for if you're losing to a lot of pirates, then maybe you put them in there, but there's a lot more subtle options like Tar Creeper and some other cards that have yet to be released that are going to be good options for just dealing with aggressive decks.
I'm not worried at all about pirates anymore, but I am a little bit worried about Jade Idol, right? Are you confident that there are enough tools in the new set to deal with Jade Idol, and you can actually play control decks again?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, if we weren't confident about that, we would have changed something with Jade, right? I think we're relatively confident, but it's certainly a concern. We don't want people to only be playing Jade decks, especially because there's a lot of control decks that are super fun. I mean, it would be unfortunate if one archetype was just oppressing all of those decks.
I feel like that's what happened in Gadgetzan a bit? Like pirates became so good because Jade Idol exists and you couldn't really play control.
Yeah, I mean jade decks I think are something like 8 or 9% of the population, so it's not super out of control.
Yeah, but like what you just said earlier, just because it exists, right?
Well, I mean decks like Renolock and Reno Mage, those decks exist in a super-high population, and those are control decks, and they don't just automatically lose to jade decks. It's actually a pretty close. When people talk about decks that are like the old control priest, if your strategy is, "I'm going to remove all of your stuff, and eventually you're going to have no more stuff," jade's going to be pretty good against that. I think that's okay, if your strategy is just kill all of your stuff forever, you're probably going to lose to jade decks, so you should probably have something that turns the corner a bit.
I think if we made all control decks have removing all the stuff as a goal, then I think that would be the core issue, and not necessarily jade. I think we need more stuff like Grom Hellscream in Warrior, stuff that that actually finishes the game, and actually turns a corner. I think a lot of the quests do a good job of that, where you complete your quest and then you get this thing, and it's extremely powerful, and maybe it's a little bit too fast for jade to deal with. Or like a lot of combo decks do the same thing, like rogue doesn't have a huge problem with jade decks. If they can get going early, and then like turn the corner and combo.
Really the only counter to Jade Druid is just kill them as fast as possible, right?
Right, I mean Jade, they're ramping very very slow, and the thing that Jade does is they get to a point where they're so powerful, they might be more powerful than every other deck, but it's not just hyper-aggressive decks that can beat Jade. Dragon Priest beats jade all the time by killing them before it gets too out of control, and I don't think anyone really considered Dragon Priest an aggro deck.
You're going to have to kill jade before it gets out of control, but I don't think it has to be an aggro deck. As long as you're making decks that are trying to win, rather than remove all your stuff, then I think it's going to be fine.
No fatigue decks.
Yeah, i mean, there still can be fatigue decks but they're probably not going to be good against jade. If the meta-game says there's a bunch of decks that turn the corner and that beat jade, maybe jade is at a super-low population, and then maybe fatigue decks start coming out. It's just a matter of what happens in the meta-game.
Recently you made some changes to Arena, changing the card offering chance and making it Standard. I think it was received really well, are you happy with how it turned out, or do you think it still needs some more changes?
I think that we're still experimenting for sure. We're finding whatever the exact correct thing is. We say this a lot, but this is sort of the first swing at making a change and getting feedback. I also just mentioned this, but one of our biggest goals for this year is figuring out what the best version of ranked and arena is. I think that we'll make more changes in the future. We're not going to make changes as frequently as in something like tavern brawl. I think just the general concept of pick three cards, and pick of those three cards, choose the best one and build a good deck that you think is fun, that experience I think is less likely to change.
I mean, that's Arena, right?
Yeah, right? I mean, that's the core experience of Arena. Some feedback is like, "Oh, Arena should be open 50 packs, and then build the best deck." You know those ideas are cool, but I think Arena is cool now, it's just a matter of layering systems on top of that. Maybe there's a more competitive version of arena, or maybe there's progression, or maybe there's stat tracking, or maybe we just change the sets that are available every so often. I think stuff like that is much more likely than changing Arena altogether, because there's an Arena community that's pretty passionate that likes Arena a lot.
Yeah, I've actually never considered any change like that.
We consider everything where we're like "Maybe we should change it completely." We talk about all of these things, but I think something that we landed on is we like arena sort of the way it is, but maybe we can change things a little bit to make the experience a little bit different. I think that we'll continue to experiment with more stuff, we've got a lot of feedback, and it's changed a bunch.
The rewards for Arena, those haven't really changed a lot throughout the years. Something that people really want is to be able to choose what packs they get, instead of just get a random one. Do you think some vouchers or a token that you can use to buy any pack would ever be a possibility?
Honestly, I'm not the best person to talk to for that stuff. We have a system designer, Chris, that's super awesome that works on a lot of whatever new stuff might come to the store or basically any matchmaking and systematic and rewards and stuff like that, whereas I'm not really as involved in that kind of stuff.
About card packs, one of the best feelings in Hearthstone is opening a card pack and getting a legendary card, and one of the worst feelings is if you already have that legendary. Do you think there is a chance that maybe, the possibility of getting a duplicate legendary or epic, you guys would reduce that chance?
I don't think so. I think that packs are, some of the spirit of packs is that anything can happen. I think that we'll probably keep packs the way they are for now.
Okay, no hope for that.
I mean, there's always hope for everything, but that's not something I've ever heard, in terms of something that we would do.
So the Quests, they give tokens, for example the priest Quest gives a cool Legendary, but we can't see those tokens in our collection anywhere. Do you think we'll in the future be able to see tokens from cards [in our collection]?
That's something that we talked a lot about. I think when you open the pack, you're just going to see what the quest condition is, and hopefully that excites you enough to build that deck, but the only place you can see it currently is when you're mousing over the quest in-game. Hopefully when you open a legendary quest, it excites you enough to actually try to play it or figure out what it is.
If you mouse over the quest in-game, you can see what you get?
Yeah, when you play the quest, there's a little, it looks sort of like the secret icon, and then you mouse over it and you can see the reward, but right now we don't have any in-client stuff to show you exactly what that reward is.
Importing and exporting decks is kind of a tedious process right now. Will it be easier to import decks in and out of the game?
I don't know how far along we are in that stuff, but I know that we're working on ways to make that process a little bit easier, so it's not just looking at a picture, and then trying to put everything in. I've seen some text format stuff, where you can copy/paste in some decks, but I don't know how far along that is, but it's something that we're working on, yeah.
Yeah, Yong Woo also mentioned it a a couple of times throughout the last year.
Yeah, we want to make the format as clean as possible, so you can copy in and you can actually read it and understand it. I know that we're working on it, but I don't know how far along it is. I think it's pretty far along, though.