On September 17th, the first two chapters of Tombs of Terror, Savior of Uldum’s single player campaign, were opened for all players to explore!
While using the known Dungeon Run recipe that provides tons of different boss encounters to master, Tombs of Terror also introduces fresh content like the popular dual-class mechanic, unique signature treasures, and the Plague Lords, powerful bosses who will await at the end of every chapter!
Just before the release of Tombs of Terror, we had the chance to sit down with Lead FX Artist Hadidjah Chamberlin and Lead Missions Designer Dave Kosak to ask a couple of in-depth questions about the creation of Savior of Uldum’s single player experience:
With the release of Saviors of Uldum, affiliations between the four explorers and their classes were very clear: May it be through Warcraft lore like Brann and Hunter, Hearthstone-exclusive storytelling like Elise and Druid, or meta game history in the case of Reno and Mage or Finley (the Murloc) and Paladin.
But what about the dual-class system? Will we get some food for thought in terms of “class to explorer” fantasy, or was this mainly a design decision?
Dave: Dual classes are something we wanted to play with for a while. Back in the Witchwood adventure we considered dual classes for the heroes there but we really needed more time, so we wanted to do it in the Tombs of Terror. One of the big reasons to do it was to put focus on our four explorers; we wanted to play around with these four characters which hit eight total classes.
For the most part we did it because you get some great gameplay out of it. Reno decks for example: As a Mage-Rogue, your Mage spells can be used to trigger your Rogue combo cards, so building Reno decks can be tons of fun! Small spells, small spells, small spells, VAN CLEEF! You can do wild things with that.
It was very much driven by gameplay but it also enabled the four explorers to really shine and be special and unique within Hearthstone and the Warcraft universe. So it felt like a perfect time to EXPLORE IT, no pun intended, haha!
We see that Hearthstone seems to shift away from canonical Warcraft lore by creating its own universe and its own story, and that translates into unique Hearthstone art as well. Hadidjah, where do you and the art team get your ideas from? Looking at Tombs of Terror, what general art direction did you try to establish designing the look and effects of the new single player campaign? Were you flying through Uldum in WoW like we were to discover hints about the upcoming expansion?
Hadidjah: WoW is obviously still the core of all of this! So, we’ll run through the areas and deep-dive through a ton of lore. Very early on in the design process for the collectible set, all of our concept artists take a couple of weeks and throw themselves into drawing tons and tons of stuff while running all over the place in WoW while talking a ton with the designers.
The designers then write the actual art description, so there is a lot of collaboration between designers and artists with the aim of creating a visual guide which becomes our true north for card and key art for both the collectible expansion and the single-player adventure!
On the effects side it’s a really fun combination of taking the visuals that are core to each class and key to Hearthstone in general, and take them into that setting provided by the visual guide. If there’s a card that makes a tomb collapse for example, how do you make a tomb collapse on someone while keeping class identity?
Dave: Just like Druid summoning treants, of course they would summon palm tree treants in Uldum!
Hadidjah: The creation process behind new expansion boards is also very fun, just because they are a cool distillation of the expansion theme, put into four corners of the screen. They all need to capture the vibe of Uldum! All in all it’s a highly collaborative process between the design, the art team and even the sound team.
Dave: Speaking on it from a design perspective, we definitely flew around Uldum and asked ourselves: “What are the most memorable things in this zone, and can we incorporate them into the expansion?” Halls of Origination for example has a bunch of unique bosses, so we really wanted to incorporate those into the single player experience while contributing our own Hearthstone ideas.
Since the introduction of the Dungeon Run principle, the single-player campaign always looks to explain the plot of the expansion that has been released a few weeks before. Dave, you were Lead Quest Designer back during World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion on Team 2, right?
Dave: Yes! I was a Quest Designer on Cataclysm, and then I became Lead Quest Designer and Lead Narrative Designer for World of Warcraft during the patches of Cataclysm after its release.
I’m pretty sure you designed several quests for the Uldum zone in World of Warcraft, and now you’re on that quest again to bring lore and adventures to Hearthstone’s story as a whole. How does that work when designing single player content like Tombs of Terror, especially in comparison to WoW? What does the storytelling perspective look like?
Dave: That’s a great question, right in my wheelhouse! That’swhat I think about everyday!
So obviously, in World of Warcraft you had way more opportunities for storytelling, because generally with questing you can tell a linear story, including dialogue, voice-over, and characters talking. The real trick while designing WoW was to make sure that the story was told through questing and the actions of your characters, that you were doing things that helped the story around you.
Hearthstone is a lot trickier, because there’s even less space to tell a story. An individual game of Hearthstone is less about the narrative and more about the gameplay, the player and its opponent fighting on the board. So there’s a little bit of story opportunity in the missions, and the real trick is to figure out: “Where can we tell the story? Where are the little moments between games that can give you a sense of something unfolding?”
And we hat a lot of fun here because we found that space thanks to the explorers! When we originally set out to design the expansion, the plan was that Zephrys was the narrator, a lot like Boom was in the Boomsday Project. He was going to be the host of the adventure. But when we started writing the story and voice-overs, we had so much fun with the explorers, their characters, and the banter between them. So we ended up minimizing Zephrys’ role and focussed on the explorers themselves. Now, every time you start a new chapter with a new character there’s a little banter and storytelling, so you get the story across that way! The other way to tell the story was with the players’ progression through the adventure.
One of ToT’s new features are the signature treasures which are unique to your hero as they unlock over time. And we used that to tell a story! When you start with Reno Jackson in Chapter 1, his first treasures are his hat and his torch, so things you’d expect from a rogue-ish scoundrel that he was in League of Explorers; and gradually he discovers all these artifacts, the gatling wand that allows him do tons of magic, turning him into the mage that he is in the collectible set of Saviors of Uldum!
We were able to use those treasures to tell a story of how the characters evolve and turn into what they are in the collectible set, and that turned out to be a lot of fun for us. There are not a lot of opportunities to tell a story in Hearthstone, but there is a way that you can incorporate story into progression that I think plays out pretty well. Let’s see how people respond to it, but we think that it is a lot of fun!