Ayala and Abel reflect on Hallow's End and talk about potential changes to Arena drafts.

Yesterday we published the first part of our interview with Game Designer Dean Ayala and Senior Technical Artist Becca Abel from BlizzCon 2017. We talked about visual clarity, balancing Recruit, and much more. In the second part of our interview, published below, we discuss Hallow's End, the possibility of Dungeon Run-like Arena drafts, how having two class legendaries per set affects balance, and which class the two are most excited for some Kobolds & Catacombs.

Back to TopHighlights

  • Blizzard is a lot freer to making changes to Arena where it doesn't affect the progress of months of efforts players may have been making towards building a deck - like in Constructed.

  • Dungeon Run has players select bundles of three cards. Shadowverse Arena drafts require you to pick two. Could this come to Hearthstone?

    • The short answer is no, it's not.

    • It seems like Blizzard would be more likely to change the weights or grouping of cards rather than fundamentally changing how Arena drafts work.

    • That said, now that the team can terminate Arena runs, they've really been freed up to try crazy new things.

  • Ayala says "from a card balance standpoint it's great" when a set has two class legendaries.

    • It allows them to make stronger cards so they won't end up in every single deck.

    • It also helps from a flavor perspective.

  • Dean is most excited about Warlock with Kobolds & Catacombs.

  • Abel is most excited about Druid.

Back to TopInterview

Just shifting a bit, Dean's the Arena guy and you said you worked on Hallow's End. So how happy are you with that event?

Ayala: I'm pretty happy with it... *smiles*

Being able to shake up Arena and doing something different is an opportunity that we have. I can speak to this. Doing events is really, really cool to us.

Abel: It's fun.

Ayala: In Constructed, there are so many challenges with making changes to cards. When you're investing your time or gold into making a deck for a month and a half and then the rug gets pulled out from underneath you it's a pretty bad experience. So we have to stay respectful of people's investment.

We've shown that we can go in and make balance changes if necessary, but the kind of person that's engaging with the content for five or six hours per day is a totally different experience to the person who engages an hour a week.

Changing cards in Constructed when people are building decks all the time at totally different rates...it affects people in different ways.

So getting to the actual question. With Arena, I think that we can actually make changes at a faster cadence and I think it doesn't negatively impact the player that's jumping in once a week as much. So doing the events is a really good idea. It's just finding what the cool ideas are and spinning up a team to work on that stuff full time is the super important piece.

Abel: *laughs*

What about you? From a design perspective, how happy are you with how all that turned out?

Abel: I love holidays so I'm incredibly excited that people are excited about them and that we're doing something. I feel like these are things that we'll continue to build upon, you know?

I think the costumes were a really fun way to kick that off and it felt right for that. I worked mostly on the effects side of things for this, so the board dressings, the clickable pumpkins, and things like that. All that feels like - gosh, it was a while ago that I actually worked on this - I found myself in mid-August or something thinking about my Halloween costume or something and didn't actually realize that Halloween wasn't impending because I had been working on it and entrenched in it so much that I actually felt like Halloween was right around the corner. So for the first time ever, I had my costume prepared for Halloween. *laughs*

So I hope that's the feeling that it gives the player. They're probably out doing their own trick-or-treating and if they duck into Hearthstone and it feels like that vibe hopefully, it draws them in and makes them excited about seeing what's new.

I hope they feel like everytime they log in there's going to be something new for them to see and experience.

You probably can't comment on this all that much Dean, but one of the things I found interesting about the Dungeon Run - obviously it's heavily inspired by deck building games and Roguelike games - I found it very interesting that at the end you get to choose a bundle of cards. I have had friends who play Shadowverse and in their Arena, you pick two cards at a time. So you have to weigh them. Do I want this one that's bad or do I want to average ones?

How entrenched is the Arena drafting experience? Will it ever shift so you're not picking one of three? Could there ever be a world where you pick three cards at a time?

Ayala: Yeah, I talked about this in depth with a lot of different people. The general answer is no.

"Are you entrenched in doing this forever?"

"Will you do a tenth class?"

Well, no, not today. But obviously, it's a cool idea, maybe someday.

With Arena, I think the benefit of pick two vs pick two is you have a harder decision to make more often which can be seen as a good thing. I think when you have some picks that are auto, snap picks. I know this card is better. I'm going to pick that one. As long as it's not every pick, I don't think that's necessarily a bad experience. To have some picks where you're like, 'I play Hearthstone a lot. I understand that that card is the best card. I'm going to pick it.' There's some amount of skill there too in just having the knowledge to know that.

We've talked about doing something where we take pools of cards essentially - where we go, what are the top ten percent of all cards unrestricted by rarity? And only putting those in the same bucket. Maybe you only choose from those [together]. We would still do pick one of three cards individually, but I think it would better capture the experience of each pick is difficult because there are only top tier cards in this bucket. And it also would accomplish the thing when you're picking from the bottom bucket. No one really picks Lorewalker Cho in the Arena, but maybe under that system, they would because he would be compared to whatever the other bad cards are.

It's something we've talked a lot about now that we've opened up the Arena. For dual classes are one of the crazier things that we would do in terms of totally changing the experience.

Now that we've done that and we have the infrastructure for retiring [active] runs - because the experience of doing dual class versus not dual class is a pretty bad experience - but in order for us to do that technically was a huge challenge. It took a lot of time and effort to do that.

So I think now that we have some of the pieces in place we can experiment with some things like what you're talking about.

So in your example, you're essentially talking about all the top tier cards only showing alongside other top-tier cards, therefore, making the choices a little harder to make. Just as an example, not as something you're going to do for sure.

Ayala: Yeah, sometimes I talk about stuff like, 'Hey, we're working on this thing.' That is more of a conversation that was had. The general idea being - I do think the idea of each pick being super interesting, I don't know what to pick - it's an interesting thought, but I'm just not sure that it's strictly better than having some picks that are obvious to some people. I'm not sure that's the correct route to go, but it is interesting, and something we've talked about so maybe we'll do it.

Abel: To a certain extent as a player, I like feeling like I made the right choice.

Ayala: If [for] all 30 picks you have no idea then you start to feel like, 'Do I even belong here? I don't know any of these cards..."

Abel: Do you even Hearthstone, dude?

Ayala: There's a lot of different things to think about. I think a lot of people, especially the higher tier players that have been playing since beta or whatever, gravitate towards, 'Well, obviously it would be much better if with each pick you didn't know which one was best.'

But I'm not sure that that's true.

I'm not sure if this is true for Old Gods, but lately, Hearthstone has had two class Legendaries instead of one. How does that change things from a balance perspective rather than having all of those extra Legendaries be Neutral?

Ayala: From a card balance standpoint it's great. Some of the challenges...it's a bit harder to get into the game if you want to collect all the cards or want to play every class, Neutrals can contribute to all of your decks whereas class cards are obviously restrictive.

We try to do things like removing duplicate Legendaries and giving away free Legendary weapons and Death Knight cards. We try to counteract that by doing a lot of those things.

But from a balance perspective, I think it's a lot better. I also think from a flavor perspective it's a lot better to do the double class Legendary.

You have cards like Bonemare now that are extremely powerful and they're showing up in a wide range of decks. I think it's fine when there are a few of those cards, but when there starts to be a lot it's a problem because it makes things feel more the same.

We had that problem with Azure Drake, Ragnaros the Firelord, and Sylvanas Windrunner where every deck had these cards. We had that problem with Innervate within a class for some perspective. Every [Druid] deck ran Innervate.

So I think when you have two Legendaries per class it contributes towards that class' flavor and theme. It's okay if all Paladin's run Sunkeeper Tarim, or most of them do, but it's not okay if Sunkeeper Tarim is Neutral and every deck ever is running him. All the games [would] start to feel the same.

Having the double class Legendary, that's the most important piece. We get to do stuff that's cool and powerful that isn't going to show up absolutely everywhere and make games feel the same.

It might be too early to answer this, but what class are you most looking forward to with Kobolds & Catacombs?

Ayala: I mean I can say. I think Warlock? We haven't announced...Yeah, Warlock's pretty cool. I like Rin, the First Disciple a lot too. Rin's super interesting

Abel: I'm always really excited about Druid.


If you missed Part 1 of our BlizzCon interview, you can find it here.