And so, Dean “Iksar” Ayala’s Q&A session on Twitter became a thing. He started them on January 13 and promised to do them every Wednesday (afternoon pacific time). (Update: He delayed this one by 2 days, most likely due to expansion’s launch). People have been asking lots of questions about the game’s balance, design, specific cards, mechanics and so on. Sadly, Twitter is kind of a mess when it comes to such things. Messages are short, you have to create long threads if you want to talk about something in detail, lots of comments get hidden, and it just doesn’t flow right. To make it a bit easier for all of you, just like during the previous weeks, I went through all of his replies and decided to make a quick summary of the most important talking points.
That said, if you want to read the full Q&A – all the questions and answers – here’s the Tweet you should go to:
Ask me a question about Hearthstone and I will try my best to answer. More likely I can answer your question if it relates to game design in some way, but can give other questions a shot.
7:00PM – 8:00PST pic.twitter.com/baqTMQdcjg
— August Dean Ayala (@IksarHS) April 3, 2021
Just like always, my summary is pretty long for a “summary”, but Dean always answers a lot of questions in details. I try to ignore “fluff” answers and not repeat points that have been already discussed in his recent Q&A’s, so if you want to learn more, go back to them. And if you want to read his full replies on all topics, check out the Tweet above. Stuff in parentheses are my own notes/comments and not Dean’s words. Let’s start:
- Patch cycles this year should be as aggressive or even more aggressive than last year (so balance patches will be common). They want players to feel like the game is actively cared for and curated experience.
- Design team is meeting early next week to discuss any balance changes and make a decision on that. They’ll also look into Arena balance (e.g. Mor'shan Watch Post being too strong).
- The biggest worry when it comes to new releases is that the meta will be the same as a month earlier. Right now it’s different – you still see some of the same cards appearing (like Pen Flinger or Tickatus), but he doesn’t think that the meta looks too similar.
- Design team knew that the power level of randomly generated cards/minions will increase with rotation, but they didn’t think that nerfing cards like Jandice Barov or Deck of Lunacy pre-emptively is necessary. Dean feels like the current power level of Paladin & Mage is a little bit too high, and Lunacy is not a card he wants to see in a meta defining deck. Devs will see how the weekend data looks like before making any changes.
- “More social features” is probably the next big project after Mercenaries game mode, but they haven’t looked into that yet.
- Dean has been pushing for “vs AI” ladder and Arena, where players who like Hearthstone but not necessarily like PvP can play their decks and have fun. He feels like their current AI is good enough to pilot multiple decks. However, the idea is not very popular among the rest of dev team.
- The team has theorized about changing some of the core mechanics of the game (mana system, number of starting cards or health), but it’s never taken seriously, they don’t feel it’s necessary and would hurt the knowledge of the playerbase. They, however, like to “temporary” break those rules with cards or provide new game modes that will break them.
- This year’s Core Set was them playing it safe – they wanted to focus on some core class fantasies. But the next ones should be a little crazier. In the future, he could see adding Highlander synergies to Core Set, weapons to all classes, bringing back Death Knights or maybe even doing a full dual-class Core Set. Time will tell.
- High cost cards are more difficult to design, because if they don’t push them enough, they will be completely useless, but if they push them just a little too much they might break the game.
- Dean said that they should focus on designing more cards with “weird” statlines (like 8/3 or 4/1) and making that up in power level. Seeing the same stat-line all the time is less interesting.
- They thought about adding “Physical” spell school for classes like Warrior or Hunter, but they decided against it, since they wanted to focus on the “spell fantasy”. It’s not likely we’ll get more spell schools. However, they might utilize already existing spell schools in those classes and e.g. give them a Frost set of cards / synergies down the road.
- Design philosophy behind Hunter class is “forward-motion” – little to no Taunts, healing, big AoE clears, lots of good minions, tempo and damage. Most of the things Hunter does should push the game forward into its conclusion.
- Battlefield effects are something they’ve tried, but didn’t come up with the right design yet, as there are many issues (like how you interact with them or how they look UI-wise). Adding new card types has a huge cost in terms of long-term complexity of the game, so when they do it, they want to have all the problems solved first.
- He’ll “look into” Arena boards changing with the rotation to reflect it instead of showing the current Standard boards, but he doesn’t really want to pull engineers from something else just to do it now.
- Battlegrounds team wanted to explore design space and had some ideas for “extra” things like weapons, second Hero Power, maybe “sidekicks” that would have some effects, but none of them were playtested yet. It’s likely they will try something soon.
- Dean wants to do some Battlegrounds Tavern Brawls, and Heroic BG would be a good start (remember, Heroic Brawls are those with Arena-like win structure and paid entry, but much bigger rewards).
- The first few sets Dean was a lead designer on were Kobolds, Witchwood, Boomsday and Rastakhan’s. At first he wanted to push the design boundaries, but it turned out that this approach produced too many broken cards. So after realizing that, he cut on the power level, but he did it too much, which resulted in underpowered expansion (Rastakhan’s Rumble). He said that he started to understand how to balance the overall expansion power level better starting in Rise of Shadows.
- Original Mimiron's Head combination animation had V-07-TR-0N flying off the board, off the game, into the sky, and then slamming back to the board. They collectively decided that even though it’s amazing, they just can’t put it into the game.