Heroes of the Storm's upcoming Machines of War update may look heavily StarCraft themed, but it brings with it more than just the visuals of Blizzard's classic real-time strategy game. We chat to lead battleground designer John DeShazer about how the update brings in elements of traditional StarCraft mechanics, and how Heroes of the Storm has evolved since launch.
GameSpot: How would you describe the Machines of War update to players who have played Heroes of the Storm, but haven't launched the game in a while? How will this update draw those players back in?
DeShazer: The Machines of War update is pretty spectacular because we're introducing the StarCraft universe into Heroes of the Storm. A lot of the artists and designers on the HOTS team started on the StarCraft team, so a lot of us have a lot of love for the StarCraft universe. And you can definitely see that in the art and design of the heroes for this update. You can feel that we have a lot of passion for this update in general.
From the battleground aspect, both Braxis Holdout and Warhead Junction… we definitely have themes to them. For Braxis Holdout we were trying to create the sense of a StarCraft mission. That really creates a unique spin to the way which we approach the design.
We have a lot of Zerg units--Zerglings, Banelings, Hydralisks. We even have Guardians as a homage back to [the original] StarCraft. We tried to make it feel like a StarCraft hold-out mission as a Terran player, because both your buildings and minions are Terran-based.
For the map mechanic, you try and hold and control these different beacons that power up Biolabs that are being used to gain control of different Zerg units. And the Zerg units will then attack both sides once a team has reached full power.
So it sends this huge wave of Zerg, and this kind of recreates those moments in those StarCraft missions where you're starting to get attacked by so many Zerglings that you don't know if you're going to hold, and you make a last-ditch effort to stay alive. That's really our mission statement for [Braxis Holdout].
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For Warhead Junction, we took a different approach. This one is a really, really large battleground. It's the largest battleground we've made so far, and we're really excited about that because it challenges the meta in a bunch of different ways. We wanted you to feel like a Ghost in the StarCraft universe. The map mechanic itself is you capturing nuclear warheads and using them on enemy bases and destroying them. It's a bit of play on the fantasy of casting nukes on the enemy base.
That all synergises into making the game feel like StarCraft. So if you're a big StarCraft fan this update will really reach out to you.
The Warhead Junction map is going to be the biggest-sized battleground to date. When you're designing a new map like that, what are the sort of limitations do you have to account for?
For this one, we actually designed for it. It's the intent. We wanted to find a way to make a battleground so big that the objectives were hard to always be grouped for, and that team fighting would be more of a rarity. We wanted to emphasise strong 1v1 and 2v2 skirmishes in your lane to be the emphasis of the map, and therefore the meta for this battleground would be different to other battlegrounds. That you'd pick heroes depending on whether they'd be good dueling in your lane. That was one of our design goals for this battleground.
It's also why the map event itself isn't really a team event. A lot of these battlegrounds requires the whole team to synergise. This one is more…individualistic compared to a lot of our other battleground map objectives. Hopefully Warhead Junction will have a pretty heavy impact on the meta. It's such a different experience. We're saying, hey you don't need to necessarily group up for the first 15 minutes of this battleground... maybe different heroes will come to the forefront.
Alarak and Kerrigan have been shown, which makes sense. But why did you choose to include Zarya in this theme?
Zarya fits in because she kind of matches the whole sci-fi theme of the [update] drop. We all know that StarCraft is a very sci-fi themed world, and we knew we were going to find strong sci-fi heroes to add to the event.
You've been on the HOTS team since early beta. How has the evolution of the competitive HOTS scene influenced how you design new content or tweak updates for the game?
We had four to five battlegrounds when we first launched, and we were trying to figure out the formula that made battlegrounds fun. The initial mission statement was just to make a diverse player experience for the user, and make sure that every game experience was different.
As we watched the esports scene and the player base interact with the different battlegrounds, we got to see how the meta evolved from a two-lane battleground to a three-lane battleground, how different battleground sizes would impact different hero choices.
As we create new battlegrounds, and feel more comfortable with our formula, we want to come up with ways we can impact the meta. So that they have to think of new hero compositions and how it impacts the draft in esports.
We've also had some interesting user experiences. When we first launched Infernal Shrines, that was kind of a rocky start. We learned pretty quickly that we need to be very careful with the balance numbers when we first launch them. Because the [new battlegrounds] are a little different, we kind of need to ease players into it.
The funny part about Infernal Shrines is the balance of that battleground is now the same as it was at launch. At the start players hated it so we brought it down, and then we slowly tweaked the numbers back up to be equal to the balance at launch. It was an interesting thing, like maybe we should do that at the start to begin with now.
Looking into the future, what are your plans from here? Should we expect HOTS to stick to the StarCraft theme for an extended period, or will this give way to something new soon?
Well I definitely think we have intention to hopefully at some point bring all of the Blizzard universes into the Nexus. That's definitely one of our goals. We want to bring World of Warcraft in, we want to bring Overwatch in at some point. I think this is one of our major StarCraft releases for a while, and we might switch gears after this.