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  • Interview with Eric Dodds and Jason Chayes, PAX East 2014
 

Interview with Eric Dodds and Jason Chayes, PAX East 2014

by JR Cook on         follow @Eldorian

With Curse of Naxxramas revealed this weekend at PAX East 2014, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk about the game and it’s future with Game Director Eric Dodds and Production Director Jason Chayes. Our very own Hearthstone Site Manager Stephen Stewart was able to field questions clarifying what we should expect with Curse of Naxxramas, what went on during its development, and what else we can expect going forward with Hearthstone such as eSports features like spectator mode, in game tournament features, and even a friendly arena option.

This interview was originally going to be a video interview, but unfortunately our microphone had a malfunction during the interview. Since this was shot on a convention floor without the microphone it was very difficult to hear the conversation. We apologize we’re not able to release a video/audio version but we went through and transcribed the video for you below.

Make sure to catch all of our PAX East coverage regarding Curse of Naxxramas here.

Hey everybody, this is Steve from BlizzPro. I’m here with Game Director Eric Dodds and Production Director Jason Chayes. Thanks for having us guys.

Jason Chayes/Eric Dodds: It’s good to be here

hearthstone-interview-names

So we’re here at PAX East where it all began last year. And now you’re back with another huge unveil with Adventure Mode and more specifically the Curse of Naxxramas. You have officially set the world on fire, my phone has not stopped with notifications from Twitter with questions and expletives, so congrats! We have tons and tons of questions so we’re going to try and get in as many as we can get.

So let’s start with a brief overview of Curse of Naxxramas. How exactly will adventure mode work?

Jason Chayes: So the idea here is you’re basically going to go up against a string of AI boss battles. These are all tough, unique, and interesting encounters. You’ll have to think a little bit differently at how you play the game. In the course of defeating these bosses you’re going to be getting cards that you’ll get to take with you and be able to mix them into your competitive constructed decks so it will mix up the meta a bit.

Eric Dodds: You’re going to play against these bosses in a wing so you’ll start against a boss in a wing and then you’ll play through the wing and the bosses in it until you’re able to clear the wing. At that point you’ll take with you the legendary treasure for clearing that wing.

During this morning’s unveil you noted it will be one week and for each wing to open. So will we be seeing the next 4 wings over the course of a month?

Jason Chayes: Yeah, we’ll be running it over the course of a month. So the idea is week one rolls around and you’ll get access to the Arachnid quarter and dueling the bosses there. Then week 2 rolls around they’ll play through that quarter and then week 3 and week 4 will be the construct quarter. Once you defeat that as a bonus for defeating them you get to open up the final last quarter which will be a little bit different from the previous ones since there will only be 2 bosses.

And you noted that the first one will be free to play. Do you have any idea yet on what the cost will be of the additional wings either in gold or real money cost?

Jason Chayes: We definitely want to make it so it’s still easy to play for free with just buying it with gold. With that said though, we’re still trying to decide that internally so we don’t have the final numbers to release yet.

We noticed there are a lot of death rattle cards in this set. Did that come to be just because of the theme of the Naxxramas or is it because of popularity of some of the death rattle cards like Cairne or Sylvanas?

cairne-curse

Eric Dodds: It’s a combination of a bunch of things. So when we were talking about what we want to do for our first adventure, Naxxramas seemed like a great fit since it’s a dungeon Warcraft players have seen multiple different times and the deathrattle theme works well with that setting. At the same time we wanted to introduce some new abilities and new cards that played off a keyword that has been seen before. We didn’t want to introduce something new. So it seemed like a great fit for deathrattle since we already have some interesting cards that have some deathrattle effects, but we haven’t really delved into the realm of possibilities yet on what we can do with deathrattle. So it just fit very well from both sides.

*laughing* So does that mean that Mass Dispel is going to be the best card in the game now?

Jason Chayes: *laughs* um, that’s a better question for this guy *points at Eric Dodds*

Eric Dodds: Um, I have no idea yet. One of the things that has actually been really exciting for us in working on the set is we created a bunch of cards and put a bunch of cards out there and do a lot of balancing so that we feel like they’re going to be in a pretty good place against each other. However, we don’t really know which of these cards are actually going to rise to the top. Will there be a whole bunch of death rattle decks? Will there be a small number and it will just get mixed in with all the other decks? And of course if there’s a whole bunch of them then mass dispel would tend to be really powerful. It’s just so hard for us to say and I have to say it’s very exciting to have no idea what is going to happen because week to week the players keep discovering new combinations and new decks that keep us guessing.

Jason Chayes: Just to add to that, one of the intentions here is to mix up the meta a bit. So part of the goal of these particular designs was to change how the game was being run and take some different strategies out there right now and push them into a different direction. So if other cards do crop up that are now more powerful than they were before I think that’s a good thing for the game as well.

Eric Dodds: And actually back to that point specifically there are 2 types of cards we’re planning on putting in Naxxramas. One of the types of cards is a “hey this is a card that might inspire a whole new type of deck or might be a powerful deck in the meta game” and the other type of card is one that is more of a tool that let’s the players deal with types of decks that are looking powerful in the meta game right now. We don’t feel we have enough tools for players to deal with that specific kind of threat.

So will Adventure Mode be the way that you introduce new cards going forward or are you considering other methods?

Jason Chayes: Adventure is the main one we’re focused on right now. It is different. It’s a whole different way to play Hearthstone. This is a chance for you to not only acquire cards but have a fun new experience in trying to take out these new bosses.

Beyond that we have actually talked about having a more traditional sense of expansions and is something we’re considering. None of our focus is on that right now as it’s really just about making Adventure mode as solid as we can and in the future we’ll have other types of releases you can expect to come from us.

Do you expect 30 cards to be about the size of the expansions going forward? Is that a good number or would you have liked to add more and it was just a time crunch type of deal?

Eric Dodds: For Naxxramas, for this adventure, it’s the perfect number of cards because this set is going to be coming out right on the heels of the iPad release. So there are going to be tons of new players coming into the environment. What we want to try and provide is a bunch of exciting changes to the meta game, but at the same time not overwhelming a player who is just starting to figure out what the basic cards are. So for right now it’s the perfect number of cards, but in the future we have certainly talked about larger number of cards, but for right now we feel 30 is the best number to serve all of our audiences.

We wanted a quick clarification on the revealed hero power. Will it target the minion on the left based on the player’s perspective or the opponent’s perspective?

heigan-hero

Eric Dodds: It targets the minion on the left based on your (the player’s) perspective. So I’m only ever going to be playing against Heigan, I can’t play as Heigan myself. So as a player’s perspective you’ll read it and go “oh, my left”. So it would definitely be a more interesting hero power to write if it was a multiplayer character. But as a single player boss it’s just from your perspective.

Jason Chayes: Good question

Eric Dodds: Yeah

It was a user submitted one so we figured we’d get it clarified for them.

Will we see any other features released in tandem to Adventure Mode or is that the only thing you have planned for release this summer?

Jason Chayes: There are a few things we are also working on. We’ve had a lot of feedback during the beta in regards to social features and there’s some smaller incremental changes we’d like to bring into the game. Nothing that I can really go into detail today, but our goal here is to not necessarily wait for Adventure Mode to release or an expansion to release to bring new features. We intend to release things as we go and release things in between some of these larger releases.

So Adventure Mode is primarily PVE content, are you focused on any other features that might help eSports and more PVP style of content?

spectatormode-quote

Jason Chayes: Probably the biggest request that has come up from time to time is spectator mode. It is something we have talked about a little bit as part of our external communications with the community. We don’t have an update to give yet on it other than we totally hear that you all would think it’s awesome, we think it would be awesome, and it’s something we think would make the overall experience in Hearthstone better. So definitely stay tuned on some information for that one. It’s coming.

How would we unlock golden adventure mode cards?

Eric Dodds: *laughs* That is an excellent question and as soon as we have an exact answer for you we’ll get back to you. That is actually something we have been discussing very recently so we don’t have an answer today, but soon.

Jason Chayes: Yeah, to go with Eric’s point with the golden cards, that’s something we’re actively debating right now. There’s a few cool ideas we have on how to do that and how we roll out the golden cards. I will say we do intend for there to be golden cards – so that’s a good question for those to be there. But it’s really a question of how you’re going to get them. As we get in alignment on how we’re going to do that internally we’ll have some more information on how to attain them.

Will there be any test realms so that players can test these new changes before they go live?

Jason Chayes: Currently we don’t have plans. I know for WoW they have a PTR and we don’t intend to do quite the same thing for Hearthstone. The idea is to do internal development within context of the company and within context of the team. That’s something we might end up moving toward in the future. But right now we’re just going to focus on what we can test internally.

Are there any new cosmetic changes planned, such as new boards (perhaps from the adventures) alternative heroes, alternate hero abilities, etc.?

Jason Chayes: There is definitely a new board. And that’s something you can definitely check out online here very shortly if not right now on our new blog.

*Editors Note: This interview happened before the blog post was revealed

How about Legendary cards outside of minions? Legendary weapons? Spells? Neutral weapons that can be equipped by any class?

Eric Dodds: As far as legendaries outside of minons. Not right now. It’s certainly something we’ve talked about but not something we’re doing for Naxxramas. As far as neutral weapons that’s not something we’re planning on doing anytime soon. One of our rules is to make sure that each of the classes feels very strongly like it’s World of Warcraft class. So if you’re playing a Warrior he’s going to be busting out some weapons and crushing me with them. So we want them to be very themed and weapons and we want Warriors and Rogues to feel like they’re using weapons and mages to feel like they’re blasting you with spells. So I guess it could be possible in the future, but not right now.

Can you talk about any cards that you envisioned or developed that didn’t make the cut for the 30?

Eric Dodds: I’m having a hard time thinking of some and there are tons of them but if I could look at my spreadsheet right now I could give you some but I don’t know any of them off the top of my head.

Jason Chayes: *laughs* We’ll save that as an extra special surprise that we’ll update you based on this question so that you can post it on the website.

*laughs* That would be great

In a similar vein, how long does it take to make a card, from conception to art to stat balancing and release?

Eric Dodds: It’s a hugely varied process. I mean there are some cards where someone had an idea and was like “hey, I got an idea for a card and it’s going to work like this!” and we already have the art for the character and it takes very little time on it. There’s other cards we will spend a very long time, we’ll have an idea for a card, we’ll put it into play, and we’ll play with it for a while and then decide “no, that just doesn’t work at all” and we’ll change it and then change it again so it’s so varied. There’s no real normal pathway for that.

How do you view RNG in the game? It seems to be largely frowned upon by the up-and-coming pro scene.

Eric Dodds: I think it’s important for there to be some kind of randomness in the game. I think it creates great stories and I don’t think you want a game that is entirely no RNG. Heck, I guess I can say a card game in it’s very nature is an RNG game. So it’s really important to create great stories and letting players play against each other and have a variety of experiences.

Jason Chayes: For us this is a very important part of the game and I think it’s very important for the health of the game as well. With that said, we are paying attention to cases where there are certain cards that may run into issues with this philosophy. But at the same time I feel like it’s the nature of the game to make interesting and involving stories as Eric said on a day to day basis. We don’t want to lose RNG, it’s part of what makes Hearthstone, Hearthstone.

Eric Dodds: Yeah, and I just wanted to say, like you talked about with Nat Pagle or Tinkmaster, those are cards that a lot of players felt like they had to have in all their decks. If you feel like you’re obligated to run cards that have a heavy element of that then that’s something we definitely talk about a lot. And that’s a significant reason why those cards changed.

And I’ve heard you guys talk about in other interviews that you didn’t want to do too many card changes. So is it that you’re watching the scene as it develops and then target specific cards that seem to be problems? And as something to add to that, too, have you ever considered increasing the power on some more underpowered cards as a way to bring more of everything in line?

Jason Chayes: Now that we’re out of beta and in release we’re going to be a lot more judicious about which cards we do want to make adjustments to. I mean, we look at this as players who have spent the time to collect all of this dust to craft a card they’re really excited about. Players have put a lot of time in that and we don’t want to just be changing things on them more times than we really have to. Generally our philosophy here is, as Eric mentioned earlier, giving players future tools to deal with certain cards rather than adjusting existing cards unless it reaches a state where everyone feels like they have to have the card to compete.

Eric Dodds: Yeah. So even for cards like that we certainly look at those cards if we feel like a card is a problem is there a way to address this card without actually changing the card itself. We feel it’s important that the cards feel solid. So we might look and see a card is a problem and we ask ourselves can we introduce new cards that will allow players to counter that card. Our goal going forward is to change – well, hopefully we won’t change anything but I won’t say that’s absolutely the case – I’ll just say that that is our lofty goal and hopefully we’ll hit it and we’ll just have to see how things play out going forward.

Do you have any plans to further incorporate themes within the cards, such as we see with Pirates or Murlocs currently?

more-murlocs

Eric Dodds: There’s definitely a number of ideas of groupings in the back of our head we would like to pursue in the future and while we’re not pursuing them right now in Naxxramas, I’m absolutely sure you will see additional groups of creatures coming forward. Players will also see some of their current favorites getting more members added to their groupings, more murlocs and pirates, etc.

Is there any chance we might see future tournaments for Arenas or friendly drafts?

Jason Chayes: That is definitely feedback we got over the course of the beta. We got a lot of requests from people saying they would love to play arena with or against their buddies in a closed environment where they can put together an arena deck and challenge each other. I think we agree, we think it would be super cool and a fun way to play. Right now we’re focusing on some other things, but we still think this would be cool. So hopefully it’s something we can fit in and get to players at some point in the near future.

In order or priority you just have other things to take care of first basically?

Jason Chayes: Exactly

Do you have any plans to add detailed stat tracking in-client or through an API so we don’t have to manually track or screenscrape? Do you have any plan to incorporate a generator of tournaments in-game? Something native to Hearthstone versus having to use 3rd party sites like Challonge?

automatedtourney-quote

Jason Chayes: Yeah, the idea of having an automated tournament where you just have to hit a button and it generates a tournament is a really cool idea. Again, we don’t really have any specific designs or anything to announce today, but I think it would be awesome. Would you agree, Eric?

Eric Dodds: That’s definitely stuff we talk about and we would love to do. I think it’s just a time question and it’s definitely on our minds.

So let’s close things out by coming full circle. Again, we’re here one year later and the team has done so much from then to now. Has anything in development or feedback particularly surprised either of you? Do you feel like you are succeeding on the goals the team set out originally and have you had to redefine these goals as development has progressed?

Jason Chayes: Yeah, I do feel like we’ve hit our goals in that we really wanted to bring Hearthstone out in a worldwide release and the last piece is getting it worldwide with the iPad and within the next week or so we should be able to do that. We wanted to make sure the game is out there and everyone who wants to play it has a chance to do it.

I think looking in the future one thing we’re still working on is how to get all these great ideas from the feedback of the community and things we’d like to do and not only sustain our game, but continue to grow and continue to make it bigger and better. So that’s kind of where we’re headed next. How do we continue to grow the team to support all those things. And we’re literally in the middle of that process right now and we’re really feeling good about where that’s headed and where we’ll be at in the next several weeks.

Has there been anything that has surprised you during the development? Such as any outcries from the community that you weren’t expecting?

Eric Dodds: I think probably one of our biggest surprises was when we first started working on the game we thought “hey, this game is a lot of fun to watch” and didn’t think a lot more of it other than it might be cool to support that some day. And then the Twitch community happened and the eSports scene started really embracing it and I think we were totally blown away by how excited everyone was. We of course excited to see going forward on how we can support that. For me that was the biggest surprise was how much this game that we had so much passion for that we thought was fun to watch, turns out everyone else also thought it was fun to watch.

Jason Chayes: To add to that I think another one is how much the meta game continues to shift. I don’t think we anticipated at first that we could come back on a week to week basis and see that this week warrior is at top but the following week Druid is at top and the next week Hunter is at top. It continues to change and continues to evolve. We keep monitoring it and we keep coming back to it daily and that’s something Eric is always going back and doing. The fact that we’re still seeing that change is a really great sign for the health of the game.

Well thank you guys for the time, it’s been a great pleasure sitting down and talking to you.

Jason Chayes: Our pleasure, thank you!

Eric Dodds: Thank you very much!