Blizzard Says Heroes of the Storm Is "Much Closer to a World of Warcraft Experience"

Director Dustin Browder discusses how Heroes of the Storm will set itself apart from other games in the genre.

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Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm may share traits with real-time strategy game Starcraft II, but director Dustin Browder has described the game's experience as more closely aligned with that of World of Warcraft.

While most multiplayer online battle arena games follow a single similar layout for their maps, Browder, in an interview with GameSpot, explained that Blizzard was taking a different approach in Heroes of the Storm. He described each battleground as "its own unique experience, much closer to a World of Warcraft experience as opposed to a Starcraft experience. We're really trying to do something that is different enough that helps us draw our own audience."

Like other games of the genre, smaller one-on-one encounters can precede larger team-wide clashes.
Like other games of the genre, smaller one-on-one encounters can precede larger team-wide clashes.

Browder went on to explain why Blizzard decided to label Heroes of the Storm a brawler game as opposed to a MOBA, saying "one of the things we wanted to emphasise in the game was a lot of action. We felt like it captured the essence of what we're trying to create, a game where you jump in with your friends and battle it out with enemy heroes."

Browder revealed that the action real-time strategy name was also considered, which is how Valve labels its free-to-play game Dota 2. "We were going to modify it and call it a fast action real-time strategy," he said.

Heroes of the Storm is currently in limited technical alpha with no release date confirmed. The game features characters from the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo universes. Check out the rest of the interview with Dustin Browder below.

Zorine Te: Why did you choose to call Heroes of the Storm a brawler?

DB: One of the things we wanted to emphasise in the game was a lot of action, especially in the experience. We're doing things a little differently, where we're unlocking multiple abilities at once at the beginning of the game.

We're fairly generous with healing, cooldowns, and mana regeneration. We felt like it captured the essence of what we're trying to create, a game where you jump in with your friends and battle it out with enemy heroes.

ZT: Do you feel because of that there are key traits that define this as a brawler rather than a MOBA game?

DB: It was more of a tonal issue for us. We were trying to capture a tone for what we were trying to create. For us it was about action and combat and getting in there and mixing it very quickly. If you play our game, it's a little different from similar games in the genre where you have a long laning phase at the beginning of the game, and you're sort of one-versus-one. A lot of our games start off with a team fight, where you're all rushing for a watchtower at the beginning of the game, and it's just a bloodbath for the first 30 seconds, and then everything settles down.

Then a tribute spawns or some chest spawns out there, and you're suddenly running across the map to gather these dubloons. The game falls very quickly from one-versus-ones to five-versus-fives and back to one-versus-ones again. We were trying to get that feeling of it being a constant battle against the enemy team. You never know what you're going to run into; you're constantly battling against not just one or two opponents.

The terms we chose, I don't know if they're perfect. But we're trying to capture the essence of the Heroes of the Storm experience.

The roster features characters from the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo universes.
The roster features characters from the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo universes.

ZT: Why did you decide to make Heroes of the Storm a stand-alone game, as opposed to bringing it out as a custom map for Starcraft II?

DB: This was back in 2010. We did not necessarily have a big vibrant mod community inside Starcraft yet. The more we worked on the game, the more positive feedback we got from multiple BlizzCon trips. The more feedback we got from people inside the studio on what a great game this was, we became convinced that we should try to make it its own title. Sort of buried inside Starcraft wasn't doing it justice. We were talking about it for a long time, making it as a small game and putting it out as a mod. We started this in 2010. We were going to make this little game, and put it out with our tools so that it conveyed to our community how powerful our tools were.

You can choose which abilities to unlock over others.
You can choose which abilities to unlock over others.

So we had this suggestion--I remember it was in this meeting with a bunch of the game directors here at Blizzard--and they were like, "Dude you've got to make this its own game. Stop hiding it inside Starcraft. It's amazing. It should stand on its own two legs."

Like a noob, I was like, "Oh OK, that'd be cool. I'll do that," without really thinking through the consequences of what that would mean for us and how much more work we were getting ourselves into.

So we decided that sometime in 2012 we would do that. And then in 2013 we finally shipped Heart of the Swarm, and a lot of us got rolled over to focus exclusively on Heroes of the Storm, and that's when we saw how much work we were getting ourselves into. That's when we got really, really going on it, trying to flesh out all the additional systems this game would need for it to stand on its own two legs.

So we had this suggestion--I remember it was in this meeting with a bunch of the game directors here at Blizzard--and they were like, "Dude you've got to make this its own game, stop hiding it inside Starcraft."

ZT: You briefly mentioned community support for mods. Is that something you will include in Heroes of the Storm?

DB: It's definitely something we're passionate about. It's been a successful part of all of our games here on the strategy team for many years. We still have a lot of the tools to make that possible. There are a few challenges on how to make that work in a free-to-play environment, but it's something we'd like to do and something the team is very passionate about. I can't promise when we'll get to it, but I think you can look forward to it down the road.

ZT: Who are your main competitors in the space?

DB: I don't know. We're trying to make something a bit different that can attract an audience of our own. There are obviously lots of guys that are making really great games that we are all fans of and that we all play. It's a really exciting time to be a gamer.

But we're trying to make something with our little hero brawler that stands out. We're doing different things with the heroes; we're trying to make all our heroes really distinct from one another. We're doing different things with the map mechanics, where each of these battlegrounds is its own unique experience much closer to a World of Warcraft experience as opposed to a Starcraft experience. So we're really trying to do something that is different enough that it helps us draw our own audience. We think the are people who enjoy the games that are already out there, they will still enjoy ours. We're trying to create something that is unique enough that we can bring in our own people.


You can enter practice mode before jumping into versus, which helps to ease newcomers into the game.
You can enter practice mode before jumping into versus, which helps to ease newcomers into the game.

ZT: What are some lessons you learnt during the development of Starcraft II which you are implementing in developing Heroes of the Storm?

DB: We have had this value here at Blizzard for a long time, or sort of an idea, that multiplayer games want to be about 15 to 25 minutes long, maybe 18 to 20 minutes being the sweet spot. That feels like the amount of time in which the game feels really real and you feel really engaged with it, and you're not really that mad if you lose because you've got time for another game. We really wanted to do that in Heroes, and we sort of brought that over and have been working on that, and it's been doing really well for us.

Multiple maps are something Starcraft II has done for many years, as well as Warcraft 3 and the original Starcraft. We really liked that idea; we think it adds a lot of variation to the gameplay experience. What we're bringing over from Starcraft and from World of Warcraft are a lot of the core ideas of trying to keep a lot of really intense strategies in the game.

Abathur features in Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm.
Abathur features in Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm.

Starcraft is a strategy game, but it's also an action game, as anybody with a high APM will tell you. That mix of action and strategy is key to what makes Starcraft a compelling experience. For Heroes, we want that same mix, where there's a lot of strategy--how to fight along the map, how to use the resources. But at the same time, you want action with your heroes. For a lot of similarities in the core values in these games we felt like Starcraft taught us quite a bit about what we could do to make something special and unique.

ZT: There is a lot of Blizzard lore you can draw upon to bring into Heroes of the Storm. What's the process you go through to choose who makes it onto the roster?

DB: There are a number of things that happen. I'd like to say there is a really finely tuned, intelligent process, but it's a little all over the place. When you see a hero in a cinematic, that's a hero who is probably going to get billed in our game.

Then there are heroes that have inspired us from a gameplay perspective. A hero like Abathur, who is a hero who does not have his own cinematic, but gave us an idea for a really unique design that we really wanted to do. Then there are heroes that are inspired by art. A hero like Stitches, which is an abomination from World of Warcraft. This is neither a character that has radically strange gameplay, nor is it a character that is a big name from our lore. But it's a character that the artist wanted to do because he's a big bloated fat guy, and he stands out in the game.

Sometimes it comes from lore, sometimes it comes from game design, sometimes it comes from art. All three of these teams come together to decide what the roster will be.

Zagara was part of a group of new hero additions announced at PAX East.
Zagara was part of a group of new hero additions announced at PAX East.


ZT: Is there a ratio you follow in choosing heroes? Do you make sure there are equal numbers of heroes from the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo universes?

DB: It's not a set amount. We do our best to service all three areas as much as possible. If we ever do a Lost Vikings hero, there would not be 15 Lost Vikings heroes in the game; there would probably be one, maybe two.

In terms of the rules and ratios, I think you'll see over time, maybe even a little bit now, a few more Warcraft characters than the other games that we do. This is because the lore for World of Warcraft is so insanely developed and Warcraft was our first big game that went through multiple versions, and a massive MMO. We do our best to split it around for sure.

ZT: How much of a role does the community have in shaping the development of the game in the alpha and beta phases?

DB: It's going to be pretty significant. I don't know what shape it will take, but it had a big impact on us in Starcraft. We made a lot of changes to that game based on community feedback. A lot of the mechanics put into the game were based around concerns the community had about skill cap and making sure the game was challenging enough for esports.

Different maps can feature different objectives.
Different maps can feature different objectives.

One of the things I was really big on in the original Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty was making sure that map sizes were small enough that the game wasn't about hiding expansions on the map, and the community would disagree with us on that. And in the end they were right. We ended up going with much larger maps by the time we got to Heart of the Swarm. They were entirely correct.

We've made some changes already in the game based on feedback. One of the most important things we can do in Heroes of the Storm was realising these Blizzard characters to the best of our ability. We had some negative feedback on Tyrael; we were making some changes here and in future builds to better match the fantasy players had. And of course tons of balance feedback, tons of feedback for how the metagame works, tons of feedback on how the map mechanics work. So that's all tactical. I think you'll see changes based on community feedback.



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