It’s been nearly two months since the release of the latest Hearthstone expansion Ashes of Outland, as well as the new Demon Hunter class, but there’s still more Ashes of Outland content coming our way this month through the expansion’s Solo Adventure.
In anticipation of the upcoming Solo Adventure, I recently took the chance to interview Chadd Nervig of the Hearthstone development team to know more about what went on behind the scenes in preparation for the release of Ashes of Outland.
You can read our interview with Chadd below:
Paolo: Hi, Chadd! I’m Paolo from GG Network. Thanks for this interview opportunity!
Chadd: Hi Paolo, nice to (virtually) meet you. My name is Chadd Nervig, Senior Game Designer on the Initial Design team on Hearthstone.
P: Congratulations on the latest expansion and the launch of the new Demon Hunter class! I’ve enjoyed both playing Demon Hunter decks and playing against them, and I think the addition of a new class has completely revitalized the game, especially when it comes to building decks for Ranked mode and anticipating the decks I’ll be coming up against.
C: Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying it!
P: With the arrival of the Demon Hunter class making such a huge impact on Hearthstone’s gameplay experience, I think it’s only right to start off this interview with questions about the Demon Hunter class.
What were some of the design challenges you faced when creating the Demon Hunter class prior to its release, and how did you address these challenges?
C: Demon Hunter was a huge effort for us, involving tackling countless challenges. Hearthstone has had 9 classes for 5 years now; how do we fit a 10th class in there, and how do we make it fun? We’ve been working up to the point where we can add Demon Hunter for a couple years now. A big part of it is something we call Class Identity; the strengths and weaknesses of each class. We’ve steadily been refining the Class Identity of our existing 9 classes over the past couple years, in order to make them as fun and distinct as possible, and to find where Demon Hunter would fit best.
Beyond finding room for Demon Hunter, there were also huge challenges in designing what Demon Hunter is. What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how do we make them feel unique? We knew that they would be heavy on aggression and attacking, but how should we flesh that out into a full class? We designed and playtested numerous mechanics before settling on Outcast, for example. Their Hero Power got redesigned and iterated upon countless times. We developed new visual and audio special effects for them. We had to solve many UI challenges. And we had to figure out how to deliver Demon Hunter cards to the player. We wanted to tell the story of Illidan, so opted to use that as a prologue and teaching tool, to get you into and excited about Demon Hunter.
All in all, it was a massive undertaking, by a huge number of people from across all disciplines on the Hearthstone team, and we’re so thrilled that it’s finally out there and people are enjoying it.
P: The Demon Hunter class also received a few nerfs since its launch, with some of them even being implemented the day after the launch. Was it your intention to first release the Demon Hunter class at full power so you could do the fine-tuning once you’ve received player feedback? I loved playing Demon Hunter on day one, but I also think it was great to see the nerfs for the class come so quickly.
C: We wanted Demon Hunters to be a fully competitive, viable class, right away, despite starting with fewer cards than the other classes. There’s a long and storied history of cards in the existing 9 classes, and we have a ton of experience with balancing and tuning them and have a high degree of confidence in predicting how their new cards will play out in new expansions.
But with Demon Hunter, we were starting with a blank slate. Our goal was for Demon Hunters to be perfectly tuned from the start, but we were also realistic with ourselves that that was exceedingly difficult. We didn’t have 5 years of built-up knowledge about how valuable various effects are in the context of Demon Hunter, like we do with the other classes. And so, we did all the testing we possibly could internally, but we were also prepared to react extremely quickly when it went live.
Since release, we’ve been steadily dialing in their power level to the right place, making changes much earlier and more frequently than we typically have in the past. We feel that that’s the right move with such a different, brand new class like this.
P: As for the latest expansion, we’ll be getting a new Solo Adventure next month (June), right? I’m a huge fan of Solo Adventures in Hearthstone, and I always have gold saved up for when new ones come out.
Is there anything you can tease or reveal about the upcoming Solo Adventure? If not, can you give us an idea of what we can expect from it? Is it gonna be like the Dungeon Run-type solo adventures, Boss encounter-type solo adventures, or something entirely new?
C: I’m super hyped for the upcoming Solo Adventure, coming in a few weeks! I can tell you that it’s a linear single-player adventure, not a dungeon run, and it’s free. Beyond that, you’ll want to stay tuned for more announcements coming soon. 😊
P: Lastly, for questions about the latest expansion, I simply have to ask: What are your favorite decks for climbing the ladder right now? Are there any sleeper decks or underrated decks that you think deserve some more attention?
C: Good question! I think Control Demon Hunter, utilizing big demons, has been sort of hiding in the shadow of Aggro Demon Hunter, and deserves some attention. I’d also call out Ramp Dragon Druid as having a lot of unexplored potential.
P: Aside from Ranked Mode, I’ve also been playing a lot of Hearthstone Battlegrounds, and I think it’s one of the best things to happen to Hearthstone since the release of the Dungeon Run-type Solo Adventures.
C: Battlegrounds has been huge for us, and we’re so glad to see how much people are loving it!
P: Having been a Hearthstone player for over five years now, I think it’s great whenever you guys come up with new ways that the game can be played, and Battlegrounds is a great example of that, so I’d like to ask a few questions about Battlegrounds.
When Auto Chess-type games became all the rage last year, when did you come up with the idea of creating its Hearthstone version, Battlegrounds? How much time did it take to create and release the first playable beta of the game?
C: Yeah, it made us wonder what a Hearthstone autobattler would look like. Battlegrounds was one of the quickest-developed projects in Hearthstone’s history, starting initial development back in February 2019, and first releasing in November 2019. The team went wild for it, and I think the passion has really showed through in the result.
P: I saw in your Year of the Phoenix announcements that there are new gameplay modes planned for Hearthstone this year. Will Hearthstone Battlegrounds be here to stay? Or will it “rotate” out over time as new gameplay modes are introduced?
C: Battlegrounds is here to stay, and we plan to continue updating it with new content and features! We also see Hearthstone as a game platform that has room for many ways to play. We are indeed working on other new gameplay modes, but don’t have anything ready to share about any of them quite yet. Stay tuned!
P: I previously got to interview our PH Grandmasters representative Staz and Asia-Pacific Caster Jia prior to the launch of Hearthstone Grandmasters Season 1, and we discussed briefly about the impact of the current pandemic on Hearthstone Esports, so I’d like to ask you guys about it, too.
How has the Hearthstone dev team adjusted to the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there any new challenges or difficulties in working on the game, now that most people are having to work from home?
C: Blizzard’s first priority is the health and safety of our employees and players. Working from home has been a major change for us, but our IT team has been absolute rock stars in how quickly and reliably they got us switched over to working from home. The Hearthstone team is very collaborative, so we’ve been heavily using communication tools to stay connected and able to keep working through all of this. Blizzard’s been a huge support to all of us, with lots of flexibility, in order to ease this process as much as possible.
P: Lastly, please make use of this question for any thoughts you’d like to share. You can tease some new Hearthstone content, or even just share with us how you’re doing right now. You can even recommend any other games you’re playing, or shows you’re binge-watching. I’m sure the readers would love to check up on the dev team.
C: I’m really excited for the upcoming Solo Adventure and can’t wait for everyone to get their hands on it. Outside of Hearthstone, I’ve personally been spending my copious free time at home playing a ton of games (Apex Legends, Destiny 2, Griftlands), and am eagerly awaiting some other upcoming games (Last of Us 2, Cyberpunk 2077, Disintegration), and hoping for announcements of a couple more new games (whatever’s next from Sony Santa Monica Studio and Guerilla Games). I’ve also been binging Breaking Bad with my girlfriend, while we stay at home with our cute pupper, and order way too many delivery dumplings. I’m missing seeing all my friends and activities, but am holding up well, all things considered. Thanks for the interest!
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