Last week Blizzard revealed its two latest playable characters for Heroes of the Storm and announced some major upcoming changes to their ranking system. We had a chance to sit down with Production Director, Kaeo Milker to find out more about the process that goes into selecting new heroes and what inspired the major overhaul to their ranking system.
MMORPG: You have so many different characters with so many interesting and unique abilities. Are you ever afraid you’re going to break your game? How difficult is it to find the balance between doing these high-concept things with the heroes and still making it fun?
Kaeo Milker: I like to think that one of our goals is to push as far as we can to get that kind of stuff without breaking the game. I think we set ourselves up to have some opportunities to do that from very early on with some of the decisions we made with things like the team leveling, going with our talent system instead of the item shop… I think those things, they gave us a lot of dials to turn and places to play around. And it’s led us to crazy things like the early days and making Abathur, which was a nutty hero for us in the beginning and really created a unique play experience.
And then now we just announced Chromie and Medivh and I think Medivh has a lot of really wacky things. I heard the group here shout immediately, crying foul of how crazy he was. I think with all of them we’re always trying to walk that tightrope of having really cool, compelling and interesting abilities and strategic choices that they have but they have their trade-offs. They have weaknesses, they’re counterable. So we’re trying to balance that out and I think what’s cool about this game is we’re going to do everything we can to get it to that point, but if we make a mistake or someone shows us the error of our ways we’re going to have a lot of options to fix it too.
MMO: Yeah, what were the internal conversations like when you said you were going to have a character that can be invincible and fly anywhere around the map?
KM: Those are the fun conversations I think. Because I think he started as someone where we knew we wanted to do Medivh -Our team actually worked on Warcraft III. It was the first game I ever worked on at Blizzard. So going back to that era, he obviously pre-dates Warcraft III but I think he was very prominent in that game and someone that we all thought about a lot. So, we came into it like “Medivh! Let’s have some fun with him! He’s gotta be a raven!” like right away. And very quickly his raven mode was he can go all over the map, sees everything. And guess what? You can’t touch him.
Then the reality sinks in and you’re all “What does that mean?” It’s offering a lot of interesting choices. I already saw them (the players and press at the reveal event) doing some very intriguing combinations of Medivh and other heroes that I haven’t seen yet.
MMO: Does it ever get to the point where you have to go back and tweak older heroes to balance out the new characters?
KM: There are times we have to do that, of course. We try to be careful. We have this legacy now, we’re over 50 heroes in the game. We’re actually revisiting our older heroes pretty regularly anyway and a lot of that is to just level them up. We’ve learned a lot. We’re a lot better at this than we were at this just three years ago when we started. And we’re constantly trying to make every hero as awesome as they possibly can be. That includes everything from little number tweaks to massive overhauls of their abilities, talent trees, and their heroics.
I haven’t seen too many cases so far where did something and actually had to change a bunch of other people in reaction to this. We’re actually trying to play it a little safer than that. But it’s an option. We have the option to do that if we need to or want to.
MMO: What about balancing the iconography of characters? Obviously fans are going to want their favorite characters to be brought into the game. Do you ever feel like you have to wait on releasing certain characters so you have somewhere to go later?
KM: I haven’t ever been part of a conversation where we were all like, “Oh, let’s not release that because it would be too much coolness at once.” Most of the decisions we make about the next hero coming in are really about trying to create unique gameplay experiences and fill a space that we haven’t touched yet. It’s about trying to give players options. The game is all about choice. You pick your hero, you got your battlegrounds, you pick your talents, comps and heroics. All these things are like, “What do you want to do today?”
We’re trying to give a lot of variability to it. So, I think most of that is really driven by a desire to give the next best option. A lot of time there’s an afterthought of, “Who fills that role?” Because we’ve got this massive pantheon of amazing characters to pull from of 25 years of Blizzard games. So inevitably there’s multiples that would scratch that itch. So, we’re trying to balance that out. You’ll see us do everything from introduce the Sgt. Hammers of the world. Which is a siege tank, there’s not some cannon about who this person is currently, but it’s a really unique role. It fills a really cool space in the game. We made a persona around it. We like her, she’s a cool person now. Originally that was Horace Warfield. Ultimately we might have Warfield come up in the game.
We knew we wanted to do Medivh. And part of the timing with him is around the Warcraft movie. He has a prominent role in the movie. And it’s a cool nod, even though we’re doing Warcraft III Medivh and the movie is doing its own thing with him. But I think it was a fun space to play in. Other times it’s wide open. It’s where do we want to go now? What sounds like a fun thing in the game that we’re not doing now that would be a fun opportunity?
MMO: Your ranking system is getting a huge overhaul as well. What are the key influences behind your upcoming features?
KM: First I want to say that everything in this game is very iterative. And I think Blizzard is about iteration, it’s what we’re known for. But this game especially is never done, we’re always evolving it. We’re patching it every week now. We’re really embracing that notion with this game. Like, is there something we can do to make it better? When’s the next opportunity to make it better? Let’s do it.
With the ranking system we kind of deviated from the system we had in Starcraft II. Which was a league system that was very structured. And with Heroes we went with this numerical ranking. It was a little more progression leaning. And I think what happened is a lot of people said, “This is a really competitive game and you’ve given us a rank system that we don’t trust. We don’t believe these numbers that you’ve given us. We don’t think rank means anything.” And so part of what we wanted when we went back to the drawing board on this we wanted to make a system that you trust. That your rank is going to be representative of your skill and that people can really stand behind this.
And ultimately we’ve kind of gone back to where we came from. You know, league’s worked really well for us and served us very well in Starcraft II and games before that. And I think we want to go back in that direction. So, we’ve started rebuilding a lot around the notion of staying true to making your skill and your rank match each other.