Hearthstone interview + card reveal: “We want to push boundaries and try new things.”
Last week Blizzard announced Voyage to the Sunken City, the next Hearthstone expansion and the first one of a new in-game year. The expansion sees the Naga as a new minion type and introduces two new keywords: Colossal and Dredge. Minions with the Colossal tag summon multiple cards when played or summoned, while Dredge looks at the bottom three cards of your deck and puts one on top. To talk more about what the expansion has to offer, TechPulse was invited to a group interview with Hearthstone’s Game Director Ben Lee and Executive Producer Nathan Lyons-Smith. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
We also have the honor of announcing a brand new Sunken City card: Radar Detector.
Questions on gameplay
Q: The last new minion type was Quillboars, but we haven’t seen any new ones added since Forged in the Barrens. Can we expect to see Naga supported in future expansions?
A: Quillboar was quite light on mechanics, while Naga are a bit more impactful and already have cards in the game that will be updated with the minion type. Any of these are tools in our toolbox and over time we want them to feel like Dragons or Elementals, where you can really build decks around them. Elemental Spell types like Fire and Arcane are another great example of this. It is a great tool for deck building and in general we expect to see more of this in the future.
Q: With the effect of the Naga being spell based, do you think it’s time to change the Coin into another type of card? Coin Spellcoiler on turn 1 seems like good value.
A: No. The coin fits in the game really well and creating a weird outlier of a card that looks and plays like a spell but isn’t really, would involve teaching players that when they start the game. The coin has served the game very well and it would be very unlikely, impossible frankly, to change it at this point. Those scenarios where the coin was maximized in an exploitative way have been more about the card design itself, like in Druid for example. In those situations it’s unlikely we’ll design cards in the same way going forward.
“The coin would be impossible to change at this point.”
Q: Do you think there is room in Hearthstone for more deck manipulation keywords like Dredge?
A: Totally. There’s a few things we’ve done over the years with one-off cards. Consistency of draw is something we are quite careful with, but players also like it a lot. The mechanics can’t be too disruptive. We’ve been doing more of this compared to the early days of Hearthstone, because we want to make sure that games don’t feel too linear and always play out the same. It makes for a balanced experience, but not a fun one. Variation and differences in every game is what has managed to keep Hearthstone so big and popular for eight years and more.
Q: Do you think mechanics like Dredge where you have to keep track of the card could be a bit overwhelming?
A: Our players have learned a great deal over the years and a lot of them have been playing for a very long time. It’s hard to overwhelm them with complexity. As a new player you probably start by playing with the core set and more basic decks. We don’t expect new players to pick up a pre-purchase right away or buy a lot of packs. Expansions are aimed at existing players who get things really easily. When the game was new, complexity was more of a concern because everything was new, but that’s not where Hearthstone is at anymore. We try to keep things simple where we can, but also want some depth and Dredge is a good example of that.
Q: Will we be seeing new totems?
A: At some point, absolutely. Totems are part of the integral Shaman identity and there will be more of them in the future.
Questions on the meta
Q: How do you think the meta will change in Voyage to the Sunken City?
A: Massively. The first expansion of the year is always the biggest shake-up. It’s hard to predict how things will turn out, but there’s a lot of powerful cards that will be rotating and a lot of change is going to happen.
Q: Speaking of the meta, will we see more Control themed decks in Sunken City? If not, do you think Control still has a place in Hearthstone?
A: We try to cater to different player types as much as we can, that can be challenging depending on if it’s a faster or slower meta. With the rotation we’ve added a lot of big cards with the Colossal minions, so we want the game to slow down a little bit and see how that goes. We want players to have fun and a great experience.
The reason aggro decks rise to the top is because a lot of our players want short games, especially if they’re on mobile. A 30 minute control game during a commute or a break at work is just not the experience many players are looking for. Not to say those experiences are invalid, because we obviously want them available as well.
Questions on expansion design
Q: What have been some of the challenges in designing Sunken City?
A: Voyage to the Sunken City has been a great expansion to work on and also the simplest of the year. Colossal is a super cool mechanic because however a card gets summoned, it brings its other pieces with it. There’s some new, more experimental card types coming later in the year that were a big challenge. For those we’ve had to go through multiple iterations of it and find the right version. We want to push the boundaries and try new things. These different things don’t always work out, but the ideas get added to our catalog and we might try them again later.
“We want to push the boundaries and try new things”
Q: How did you incorporate the underwater theme into the card effects of the new expansion?
A: We take a lot of cues from nature, but also need to make sure things don’t look too much the same because that could be boring. Shimmering Sunfish is a great example of a different card. It’s bright yellow and gigantic which fills the card art. Mechs are another example of visual diversity. We like simple themes like this expansion or Journey to Un’Goro, because they make it easy for us to have fun and create awesome content.
Q: Will Hearthstone continue to draw inspiration from World of Warcraft?
A: We do take inspiration from the Warcraft license in terms of characters, names, visuals and many other things. As for this Hearthstone year: the first expansion is very Hearthstone with some inspiration from Nazjatar and the second one will be heavily influenced by something from World of Warcraft. The third expansion is more based in general Warcraft history and goes beyond WoW to be a broader, larger part of the Warcraft license.
Looking for more? Check out this Sunken City roundtable