During BlizzCon 2017, we got to sit down with Mike Donais, Hearthstone‘s (Free) Principal Game Designer, and Jomaro Kindred, Senior Concept Artists at Blizzard, and talk about the upcoming Kobolds & Catacombs expansion. We talked about the evolution of the Dungeon Run mode, the way the loot system works in more detail, the various inspirations behind the expansion’s art, and much more. As always, this was a cool opportunity to see the thought process behind a Hearthstone set, and this time it was even more interesting than other times because of the addition of the brand new Dungeon Run mode. And I’ve played enough of Dungeon Run at BlizzCon to know that they really knocked it out of the park with this one.
I first asked about the origins of the Dungeon Run (the new expansion’s single player mode), and Mike Donais said that they recently increased the size of the team that does the mission content, so they were able to experiment with different ideas. They really liked the idea of a single player adventure where you can level up and make your character better. The team enjoyed this mode so much that many would play it after office hours. The expansion’s main themes were treasures, adventuring, dungeon crawls, so the team decided it was the perfect time to do this single player dungeon crawl mode. Donais went on to talk about the influence of World of Warcraft lore in this expansion, and said that the addition of Dave Kosak, who was WoW‘s Lead Narrative Designer, to the Hearthstone team helped better capture the flavor, the voices, and personalities of WoW in a Hearthstone way.
When the team sat down to decide how Dungeon Run should play, they went through various iterations. Initially, you started out with a 30-card deck, but then new cards didn’t make a big impact, so the developers reduced the deck size. Decks were then only 10 strong cards, but, again, when you picked three new cards, it wasn’t obvious that you were upgrading your deck, so they decided to go with some cards that were good and some that were weaker.
When you get to choose loot after you beat a boss, you pick 3 cards that fit a theme. To support that concept, the developers added some cards in the starting decks that support those themes. That way, you have support if you go let’s say the dragon direction or the elemental direction. Each class has about a dozen of possible directions it can go, so plenty of options. And they made sure to put at least one control card in each deck so that if you want to build a control deck, you can, and you’re not forced to always build a tempo deck. Every card in the starting decks is there for a reason. And since you can go different directions with each class, you can have different experiences each time you play the game. Kindred pointed out that this mode can give players the opportunity to play with classes they don’t usually play with, and the different loot options help those players explore the various possibilities of each class.
In a way, Donais pointed out, Dungeon Run is like a customizable version of Arena, but your picks have much more impact. Treasures, for example, will create a very specific theme for your deck and can make for great synergies with other picks. If you pick right, you can make really great and powerful decks that can help you make it through a dungeon run more easily.
To my question on how they went about figuring out the new mode’s difficulty level, Donais said that the difficulty of the dungeons will be something they might have to revisit: did they make it too hard, did they make it too easy? One of the nice things is that a deck might come together nicely and can help players of different skills make it through the dungeon. The team talked about having different difficulty levels, like Adventures do, but they decided to go with just one level for everyone and see how it goes. The dungeon scales up, and even if it’s easy for experienced players, there’s still a lot to explore between the 9 classes and 12 different ways to build your deck for each one.
The Art of Kobolds & Catacombs
We then moved to talking about the art of the set with Jomaro Kindred. He talked about being excited to work on the art of this set because it pays homage to those tabletop roleplaying games we all played as kids, and that was very inspiring. Everyone wants to create crazy creatures that live deep in caverns, trying to figure out what exists in there, what kind of loot and treasure a player would find down there. For the art department, that was inspiring. It’s a sweet spot for artists because there’s so much inspiration to draw from.
Kindred talked about playing a lot of WoW, and there’s a rich world there that he and the other concept artists were excited to draw inspiration from, like Kobolds for example. It was exciting to explore from the lowly Kobold digger all the way to the Kobold King. How do those characters look like? And then there are all the other weird things in the caverns. Of course, gold was a dominant element in the art because Kobolds have a ton of it around since they don’t understand its value. All they want to do is dig.
Speaking of inspirations, WoW was, of course, a huge inspiration as were fantasy novels and movies. Kindred talked about how his older brother would play roleplaying games but, since Kindred wasn’t allowed to join them, he would read those books with all that beautiful art. Those were definitely an inspiration for him as a young artist.
I then asked about the differences between this expansion and the League of Explorers expansion, since they are both primarily underground. Kindred talked about how LoE was more structured, but in Kobolds & Catacombs there’s more messiness. These guys have been digging for millennia, they run into different things, probably lost cities, lava, and what do they do when they find lava? They patch it up with some boards and keep going. There was a lot of randomness in the environments, trying to figure out what would be there after all that time. It sounds basic, Kindred pointed out, but sometimes it’s all about throwing different shapes, different colors, and different ideas together until something works. Like the Kobold King, for example. He’s a different character just because he was smart enough to put his candle in a lantern. Kindred said that he really wishes he could go back and put a lock on that lantern, which would have looked great.
Overall, this was a fun interview with a team that’s obviously excited about the new expansion’s direction and single player mode. There’s never enough time in these events to get into too much depth, but I still hope you enjoyed reading this interview and learned a bit more about where the ideas behind the new expansion came from and how it evolved. Now all we have to do is wait for December.