Chinese Interview with Ben Thompson and Dean “Iksar” Ayala: Part I – Dr. Boom’s Scheme, Lackeys and Archivist Elysiana

hearthstone 5 - Chinese Interview with Ben Thompson and Dean "Iksar" Ayala: Part I - Dr. Boom's Scheme, Lackeys and Archivist Elysiana

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benthompsonart?lang=en - Chinese Interview with Ben Thompson and Dean "Iksar" Ayala: Part I - Dr. Boom's Scheme, Lackeys and Archivist Elysiana

Ben Thompson /u/Ben_Thompson_HS and Lead Final Designer Dean "Iksar" Ayala /u/iksarhs were in Shanghai last week where they sat down with the Chinese media and had a two hour interview session.

There were a number of interesting topics raised and answered, so I've taken up the task of transcribing the interview. It was just too much to transcribe for one post and one sitting though, so I'll break it up into 2 parts. Hopefully some of you find the information relevant and interesting 🙂

Part II (Malygos and Charge, Arena, Wild, Achievements etc) will be posted tomorrow.

Overarching Story

Q: In the past, you’ve said that you always try to make the stories and themes for each set distinct and feel thematically different. This year, you’ve chosen to create an overarching story stretching across all three sets. How did you land on this decision?

Thompson: I agree that previously we felt that the strength of Hearthstone was in telling totally different takes on established World of Warcraft lore. We would take something in WoW and put our spin on it.

What makes the Year of the Dragon story different is that it’s basically based on a bunch of characters that are uniquely Hearthstone. If you look at members of the League of EVIL: Rafaam, Hagatha, Madame Lazul, they’re a response to how there are so many different characters coming out of the Hearthstone universe that we want to build on and tell stories about.

If we’re going to do that in a way that gives everybody the right amount of time to shine, instead of confining it to one set, we feel that there’s a longer story to be told here that’s going to take three full sets.

Thompson: Like any good story, it’s going to take twists and turns to tell. You may think you know where the story’s going, but hopefully there are enough twists and turns that will keep you engaged about what these characters will do next. There are some characters that we haven’t brought to the forefront yet that are going to make their appearances in future sets.

Q: Will there be more villains?

Thompson: We’ll say that the League of EVIL has been completely formed, we have all the villains we need. But for every group of bad guys, there’s going to be something that fights them, right? Where does the good come from? That’s the question.

Dr. Boom's Scheme

Q: During reveal season, streamers and pros review and rate cards. There can be fairly large differing opinions on many of the cards, but sometimes they unanimously rate cards as 1-star cards. For example, Dr. Boom’s Scheme. What went on in the design process for this card?

Iksar: It’s an interesting question. When we’re looking at a set we want some of these cards to be powerful right now and change the game; for some of the cards we’re seeding them for something in the future. Sometimes we find promising ideas, but in gameplay makes us think “What if this card was played in every warrior deck, what experience would that lead to?”

I think there’s a world for scaling armour cards like Dr. Boom’s Scheme to be good; imagine if we made a card that copied cards in your hand, and you were able to get Dr. Boom’s Scheme to 12 Armour and copy it twice. It’s possible that it becomes good with the right support, similar to some Silence Priest stuff in the past. No one on the team is saying “Oh that card is very powerful right now” (laughs), but it’s not the greatest gameplay for warriors to have 60 Armour every game.

Q: Some players noticed that the card art for Dr. Boom’s Scheme was about bombs, and not Armour. Did you make some last minute changes to the card?

Iksar: Most of our cards go through a pretty long experimentation phase. For Dr. Boom’s Scheme, we landed on the Armour concept certainly not at the very end; it came after 2 or 3 iterations. We do try as much as possible to fit the art work with the flavour of the card.. We see Dr. Boom as a crazy, wild character.

We experimented with Boom Bots and dealing a bunch of damage, but we felt like Armour was more in-line with what we wanted to see for Warrior in the future; they were doing enough with exploding things and bomb warrior was already powerful so we didn’t do more to support that right now.

Card Art

Q: The symbol of the Kirin Tor shows up in all the Twinspell artwork. Is that hinting at anything in the future?

Thompson: Not for anything in the future, but it was something we wanted players to associate with Twinspell specifically. The remaining “Good” classes were the Defenders of Dalaran, and Twinspell being the “Good” mechanic needed to be associated with the Kirin Tor, and feeling uniquely Dalaran.

Q: Some players feel like the artwork of Forbidden Words and Lazul’s Scheme seemed to be mixed up! The other villians all appeared on their Schemes, but Lazul turned up in Forbidden Words instead. Was it intentional?

Thompson: It was intentional. Madame Lazul in the artwork going “Shhhhh” feels more like a Forbidden Words, than does a Knight having a purple disarming effect around it. When we swap something like that, it’s because we feel like the art is more conveying of what the card is saying or doing. As Dean said, we try as much as possible to match the artwork with what the card is trying to express.

Cards cut from the set?

Q: There was a card in this set that I think was cut from previous sets? Archivist Elysiana. I was watching Omnistone when Brian Kibler mentioned that he heard about Elysiana’s design way back during the Rastakhan Rumble final reveal stream. He was talking to you, and then last minute he was told that you were not going to talk about the card for Rastakhan.

Iksar: I know the story behind that. Brian came to do the stream with me, and we were talking about the cards that were coming in Rumble. I mentioned Elysiana to him mistakenly, because we’re working on multiple sets at the same time, so I was working on Elysiana and thought it was coming out in Rumble. After that, I was like “Hey can we not talk about the card now”.

It’s actually kind of amazing to me that this doesn’t happen more often (laughs). The set I’m working on now is going to be released a long time from now. Hopefully it doesn’t happen today. (laughter all round)


Q: I remember you guys said that you were going to put more Lackeys into the pool in the other sets for this year. It’s interesting since most players feel like the Lackeys are pretty powerful already right now. Is this to increase the EVILness and power of Lackeys, or is it maybe a chance to tone them down? How do you feel about the Lackeys’ overall performance at the moment?


Iksar: When people are talking about Lackeys, I assume they’re mostly talking about Rogue since that’s the popular one right now. There’s some amount in Warlock as well but I think it’s generally Rogue. It’s something that we thought was really fun, we really enjoyed playing it and everyone was having a good time and smiling; those are the kinds of things we want to make powerful because we want people to have fun playing Hearthstone!

Iksar: The Lackeys were intentionally powerful. Adding Lackeys to the pool doesn’t necessarily make them more powerful right? Even if the Lackeys we added were the same power level, having a wider band of them makes it less consistent, so in a way it makes them less powerful. We’ll keep monitoring the data and perception. Maybe we won’t add to Lackey Rogue, but some of the other classes I can see adding more to.


Q: It feels like this set brought a fair amount of controlled RNG to the game. The Lackey pool, the Schemes (draw RNG), the Burgle package, the Mage Conjuring package; it feels like there’s a lot of power in the random cards compared to the past. Is it intentional that you’re bringing more amounts of RNG at the start of the year?

Iksar: I don’t think it has anything to do with the start of the Standard year. Some randomness is really fun, Discover seems to be universally liked and it has a lot of randomness. I don’t know if you remember Flame Juggler; it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll make cards like that in future, the kind of very high impact, early game randomness.

I think some amount of controlled randomness is generally good. We’ve learned a lot about what kind of randomness is fun, and what kind leads to negativity. We’ll certainly keep including it, but hopefully it’s the randomness that’s fun.

Game Length

Q: In Standard currently, we're lacking big finishers, resulting in players increasingly adding tools that help generate more value. This leads to much longer games, especially for control mirrors. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Iksar: It’s something that we look at quite a bit, the length of time it takes to play a game. In general, average game length has been sitting around 7-8 minutes basically since the dawn of Hearthstone. Even though that hasn’t changed, the extremes have changed quite a bit.

It’s intentional that there are no small packages of cards that basically say “I win”; In Mecha’thun, there were situations where you go “Ok I was holding these 4 cards in my hand, now I win”. It’s intentional that that exists less now, but part of that means we’re moving into more of a resource battle. I think that can be fun, but pushing the game to a conclusion is also something we want to do, so we’re just trying to balance right now between those things.

AOE, Draw in Standard

Q: Due to the powerful Mammoth cards getting rotated, there is a severe lack of options for draw and AOE for some classes, and we have to resort to some long-unused options in Classic/Basic. What’s your take on this?

Iksar: It’s intentional that classes are weaker or stronger at different things when rotation hits, it’s seldom that a class is always very good at AOE or card draw; if so, classes start to feel the same. One of the ways classes feel the same is that they’re always playing the same archetype; Another way is that, say, the class always has Psychic Scream. If we just keep making a version of that, it starts to feel very much the same. The fact that this changes during rotation we feel actually makes the game more fun.

Genn and Baku

Q: I have a question about Genn and Baku. We know that Hearthstone expansions are usually designed a year ahead and I would assume the decision to Hall-of-Fame Genn and Baku was made pretty recently. I was wondering if they had any influence on this set. Did they make the design work more challenging?

Iksar: The decision for Genn and Baku was actually made pretty early, but we felt like the right time to announce it was at rotation. But yes, we worked on a little of Shadows with odd/even decks in mind. We constantly evaluate what’s right for the game and sometimes that means re-doing some of the work that was already done. We had to change some of the archetypes we were working on, so yes, it made things a little more difficult. But it was the right thing to do, so we ended up doing it.


Q: Another question I have about balancing is regarding the new competitive format. Compared to the previous multi-class formats (which also have a ban), if one class was too powerful we could ban it. Now we don’t have a ban, and judging from the Masters Qualifiers meta right now, it seems more homogenous than before. Does that put extra pressure on the balancing work?

Iksar: We can talk about this in two parts. For Specialist, we talked a lot with the esports team regarding what format we think is the most watchable, as well as the best for players. They ran a bunch of tournaments in this mode and they never really felt like in past metas there was a super dominant class for a very long time, so we gained some amount of confidence from that.

It clearly is something that could happen, so it’s something we have to keep an eye on and see if that’s a negative experience.

Iksar: Does it change how we design cards? I think the answer to that question is no. The way we design counter cards, previously, we tried making counter cards like Golakka Crawler. We call it a very sharp counter; if you were playing a pirate deck against a Crawler you were probably going to lose if they played it on turn 2. We’re trying to make counter cards more like, say, Tar Creeper now. Tar Creeper doesn’t say it’s a counter to anything but it’s pretty good against most aggressive decks.

It’s pretty unlikely that you can put 5 cards in your Specialist deck and automatically win against some decks. We design it this way because we feel it’s better for Hearthstone players in general, but also because it’s better for the Specialist format.

Archivist Elysiana

Q: Speaking of tech cards, one of the most popular tech packages now is Elysiana with Baleful Bankers/Youthful Brewmasters. It’s definitely been a heated topic in the community. What’s your take on that?

Iksar: It’s an interesting one. I think few of the games are actually drawn out, but I think the way Swiss tournaments work, when one game takes longer then everyone has to wait.

It’s something that I’m actually talking to the esports team about recently. If we keep finding that this is something that draws out tournament length and is a negative experience, maybe this is potentially something that we would change.

Iksar: It’s unique that, it’s affecting the tournament players but it’s not really something that affects players playing on the ladder. But the tournament scene is important to us, esports is important to us, so if it turns out that it’s a really negative experience, of course we’ll step in and change it.

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