One of the most fun moments of BlizzCon was getting to interview Yong Yoo, Senior Producer for Hearthstone (Free), and Mike Donais, Hearthstone‘s Principal Game Designer. I read and write a lot about this game, and what I’m often very interested in is what the developers think about the game’s current state, the various issues players always bring up, and where they want to take the game in the future. However, getting that information isn’t always easy since more often than not we have to rely on Twitter or reddit. So, I was glad to sit down and talk Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion as well as how they’re working to improve the game on iOS.
Initially I tried to find out whether there was any other theme that was competing with Mean Streets as the next expansion, but both Yoo and Donais artfully deflected that question since they want to keep any contenders as ideas for a possible expansion in the future. Regarding Mean Streets, as Yoo pointed out, it was difficult to turn down a “Gangster Murlocs" pitch, and I do have to agree with that 100%.
One of the expansion’s goals according to Donais was to try and make some decks that both the developers and the players like go from almost working to being strong, viable decks. For instance, Dragon Priest is a deck that’s getting some love in this expansion. At the same time, they don’t want the expansion (and content in general) to restrict Priest to one specific archetype, so Mean Streets is also promoting a Kazakus Priest Deck, which is all about having one copy of each card, and a Tricky Priest deck, which uses the new Potion of Madness and the Shrinking Potion cards. Kazakus can also give a nice boost to Reno decks that have been pretty good but not yet amazing. At the same time, Donais pointed out that Mean Streets is also bringing new ideas to the table, as we’ll see with the cards yet to be revealed.
To my question whether the expansion will help the game escape the current dominance of play-on-curve decks, Donais did agree that those decks aren’t the most skill-testing, and cards like the AOE Dragonfire Potion and Madness Potion should help deal with decks like these. Yoo pointed out that Hearthstone has a very diverse community, and they are trying to give fun deck-building options to all of those players.
I also wondered whether they had any reservations when deciding to create the Tri-Class cards and mix up the classes. Donais stated that they did worry about losing class identity, but doing so for a short time – since these cards will eventually cycle out – is okay; they wouldn’t want to add cards to the base set that would mess up card identity. And in Mean Streets, we won’t be seeing the classes getting homogenized but mostly see how they are ganging up together. So, don’t expect the developers to let players build 2-class decks in the future; instead, what we’ll be seeing is class identities getting stronger. They like Discover as a design space, with Kazakus as a great example of how fun that mechanic can be, and will probably be adding more complicated Discover ideas in the future now that everyone knows how the mechanic works.
When it comes to class balance, they like to see an ebb and flow in terms of class strength. Standard allows for that kind of ebb and flow and creates a fun, changing environment to play in. Priest will be getting stronger, but no one can know how strong it will actually be. And this ebb and flow allows for underused or even unused cards to become playable, at least for a while. When it comes to having overpowered decks that might make the e-sport side too predictable, Donais said they aren’t worried about that part because of the Conquest mode.
Moving to the Heroic Brawl, Yoo pointed out that it’s a way to reach that part of the community that wants every game to count, a way to satiate the appetite of those who want high intensity matches and also people who like to watch the pros play those high intensity matches. That was part of why the entry fee was so high because it will again signal that this Brawl is for those who really want their next few matches to really matter. As for when it’s coming out, Donais did say that the Mean Streets crowd looks like the kind of crowd who would run a Brawl like the Heroic one, so maybe the release of the Heroic Brawl and Mean Streets will coincide in some way.
As for which Mean Streets card is their favorite, Yoo likes Potion of Madness because he’s really into weird shenanigans with cheap Priest Spells, Wild Pyromancer and the like, so that card will help his early game. As for Donais, the easy answer is Kazakus, but the other card he really likes is the Mage card Manic Soulcaster (3 Mana 3/4 Battlecry: Choose a friendly minion. Shuffle a copy into your own deck), because you could play something like Brann, Kazakus, make two spells, and then use Manic Soulcaster to shuffle two Kazakus back into your deck. And then you can make another potion, and then your opponent concedes.
Finally, I asked about whether they are working on anything specific for the iOS side of the game, and Yoo said that they’ve been tuning the performance of the game in the last two patches, and they are trying to improve the patching process of the game in the near future so it doesn’t use so much bandwidth. And that concluded a very entertaining interview. What do you guys think about all the information? Anything that surprised you or did you pretty much hear the answers you expected to hear?