Heroes of the Storm Holiday Updates

Heroes Q&ARecently, Blizzard put out a neat Q&A video that gave us a ton of new info regarding the development for Heroes of the Storm, just in time for the holiday season. The video is pretty long, but it’s well worth the watch for anyone writhing in anticipation for this game…

Speaking were community manager Kevin Johnson (@kmicj), game director Dustin Browder (@DustinBrowder), and senior artist Phill Gonzales.

To start off, while there was a ton of new information, there was also a ton of non-information. These are “work in progress” things, such as new heroes, skins, map varieties, talent trees, social systems, game lobbies, replays and spectator modes, and so much more that… we know nothing about. Of course, that’s a given for a game that’s still in Alpha mode. That’s right, no Beta yet. Maybe it’ll be Soon™, or not. It’s ready when it’s ready.

One thing I’d like to point out is that I’m glad the playable characters, the heroes themselves, are taking center stage in development. As I wrote in my last blog entry, it’s all about the connection players have with the characters they play. In the Q&A, Gonzales said, “People kind of know the characters and they really gravitate towards them.” And that’s exactly it. Or we can talk about the fantasy that the characters are designed to fulfill. Blizzard likes to use that line a lot for all its games.

Anyway, so what exactly are the developers working on for Heroes of the Storm? Other than saying “everything,” let’s just go through a list of some of the big items that most players are concerned about.

Talent Trees
Like the rest of the game’s content, talent trees for each and every playable character in Heroes of the Storm are still works in progress. Because each individual character will get his or her own unique set of skills, there’s a lot of fine tuning and balancing to be done. In a MOBA game, balance is paramount. Heroes of the Storm is designed to offer a different play experience each time you run a character. “Every time you sit down to play, you can have a very different Uther experience than you had five minutes ago, or a very different Arthas experience,” said Browder. That’s exciting. Depending on whom you’re playing against, or whom you’re playing with, you may want to run a different set of skills to adapt to the scenario.

Since items are not part of the equation in Heroes of the Storm, this means there’s no farming for resources. No gold is involved. As a result, the skills players choose and use will be even more important.

New Heroes

via StarCraft Wiki

Abathur with Ghost Kerrigan StarCraft Wiki

The example of a new “type” of hero players are not accustomed to seeing is Abathur, the very peculiar and oddly entertaining zerg character introduced in StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. First of all, Abathur is not a controllable character in StarCraft. He’s a NPC that handles zerg evolution in the campaign. That’s all he does. So why the heck is he on the battlefield in Heroes? Well, that’s exactly the reaction Blizzard wants. I didn’t get the opportunity to try out Abathur at BlizzCon 2013, but if there will be other characters like him in the future, I can only imagine characters that have zero offensive capabilities, but have a wide range of skills that can drastically affect the way team battles go. The ultimate support characters.

User Experience
Not everyone who jumps into Heroes of the Storm will be a seasoned MOBA player, a RTS player, or even a gamer at all. Overwhelming? The developers are trying to implement a new user experience for MOBA beginners. In the Q&A, it’s said that internal testing plunks newbies on computers and the developers then monitor them to see how they fare. Unlike existing MOBA games, Heroes will have features that include team experience share (as long as a teammate is within range of experience somewhere on the map, everyone on the team will gain that experience). It’ll be team first. Do whatever you want to take down any enemy. No need to share kills because everyone on the team will pick up on the experience. Of course, for the beginners, there will be a training mode with AI.

But even with all this talk about catering to the casual player or the newbie, there will still be “end game” experience for the veterans. The developers are planning on creating a polished matchmaking system that will make it fair for both teams. Not one should have an advantage over the other in terms of player experience. Only strategy and teamwork can lead one team to victory.

That actually brings me to some good questions in the Q&A. One question (tweaked for grammar) was:

“With shared levels and experience, are [the developers] worried that the team that hits level 10 and gets the ultimates first has a big advantage?”
It’s already happening so there’s really no use for the developers to worry about it. There are pros and cons to controlling how a game may or may not become one-sided. That’s just part of the RTS experience. A team getting the ultimates first may have the advantage for a few seconds before the other team also reaches level 10 (the developers call this a “breakpoint” in time advantage). By the way, another set of ultimates, named “Storm Power,” unlocks at level 20.  Really, the only downside is if the level gap is too big. If a team hits level 10 and unlocks the ultimates, it’ll only be truly one-sided if the other team is at, for example, level 6 or 7 and the members are a long way away from also getting their ultimates. However, if it’s level 10 vs. level 9, then the lower level team can still overcome with strategy and wit. This is where a fair matchmaking process will shine. If the matches are even, the team that works together the best and plays its best can still overcome disadvantages like level gaps.

So now you may ask, well, this sounds just like any MOBA. Players deal with the same thing in League of Legends and DotA.

“How does Heroes of the Storm differ from your standard MOBA?”
According to the developers—and from my own experience at BlizzCon 2013—the biggest difference is in the use of maps. Different maps change how you play (which hero to choose, what talent tree to run, what team plan to execute, etc.). For players experienced in StarCraft, think of how SC maps affect players. Depending on your position on the map, your team position, enemy positions, etc. you will adjust your play accordingly. There isn’t just one or two maps for Heroes of the Storm. If it just so happens that every match results in a random map (or at least in competitive games), then players will have to adapt quickly. That could be very, very interesting.

The developers are also trying to make the standard game duration somewhere around 15 to 20 minutes. The “sweet spot.” It’s not too long and not too short. Players can get a quality game so they feel good about winning. For the defeated ones, they may not feel as terrible considering they didn’t invest an hour into the match. How this can be achieved is unknown, but it’s being worked on.

This latest Q&A is potentially the first of many to come before Heroes of the Storm goes to Beta. If you haven’t watched the video yet, do consider it. Happy holidays!

Questions? Comments? Just want to chat? Reach out on Twitter (@Jaetch), YouTube or you can look for me on the official Diablo III forum.

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