Just one more day until Hearthstone's largest change ever goes live. Aside from the usual set rotation, a whole new class will be added to Blizzard's collectible card game: Demon Hunter. We spoke to Hearthstone's Lead VFX Artist Hadidjah Chamberlin and Game Designer Stephen Chang about the creation of the new class, and the Ashes of Outland set it's being introduced with.
When you want to add a whole new hero to a game like Hearthstone, where do you even start?
Chamberlin: It's been really fun because, well, so far you only get to do it once every six years. There were a couple of needles that we really wanted to thread. One is: there already is a lot of cool Demon Hunter stuff in WoW, so we needed to figure out what is absolutely key to Demon Hunters in terms of visual identity. How do we bring it over to Hearthstone, make it Hearthstone-y, but still keep the important bits? The other part is that Demon Hunters overlap quite a bit with some other classes' visual identity, like Warlock, with their fel energy. But they've also got a bunch of glowing green weapons, which you see in Rogue.
So for Demon Hunter we've been playing with the cool black, teal, and yellow palette. They've got their warglaives, which we're using in a lot of places as well. There is some overlap with other classes—fel energy is ultimately fel energy. But they channel it differently. We did a lot to make Demon Hunters feel unique. When you play it, we want you to feel aggressive, agile, like you're barely containing the chaos.
When you're tasked with making an aggressive class, what are the building blocks you start with?
Chang: When we were looking at Demon Hunter, the blank slate was really exciting to us. We had been working on the various class identities for each of the original classes, but we had never introduced a new class to the game. We realized that there was space for a new class and the team was very excited to explore Demon Hunter.
As we were developing the class, we knew it had to be fast and aggressive. When you think about iconic Demon Hunter in Warcraft lore, they're fast, agile, quick-striking, jumping to the backlines. We wanted to capture that, and it all started with developing the hero power. We went through a lot of variations, but ultimately we went with the one mana hero power that gives you one attack. Mechanically, we wanted Demon Hunters to care a lot about attacking. We wanted them to have access to that in a reliable way.
And with this hero power they can attack very quickly, even faster than Rogues can.
Chang: Exactly. There are a lot of Demon Hunter cards that lean into that speed. It was also important to us that Demon Hunters have more than just that archetype. So they're really big into soul magic and sacrificing minions to get a bonus. They've also aligned themselves with powerful giant demons. The means justify the end for Demon Hunters.
When you're creating cards for Demon Hunter, do you have a particular direction you can 'lead' the development team to?
Chang: A lot of it was collaborative discussions. We wanted to identify the different thematics, the playstyle and how it would fit into Hearthstone, and how we could translate the Demon Hunter fantasy to Hearthstone cards. One of the ways we did that was by giving them a unique keyword: Outcast. Thematically, Demon Hunters are outcasts of society. You're not sure if they're good, if they're bad, or maybe if they're both. Mechanically we translated that to Hearthstone by caring about the two sides of your hand. As you're playing the cards, you're making a lot of decisions. You want to get cards to the sides of your hand so you can activate the Outcast bonus.
"That's what we wanted to do for Demon Hunters: make it a class that gives you a lot of choices."
There's probably going to be some crazy combination where you take a hit one turn to set up, but have a huge burst next turn when you can pull a combo with various Outcast cards. You must've had some crazy scenarios during gameplay testing.
Chang: Absolutely. Even on the demo floor where players could preview the content, we saw some heavy analysis going on. There are so many small decisions to make that could impact everything. That's what we wanted to do for Demon Hunters: make it a class that gives you a lot of choices. Your decisions really impact how the game will flow. It's an aggressive class, but there are a lot of decisions to be made at every single point.
Demon Hunters strike me as the class that takes itself the most seriously. Hearthstone has always been fun, lighthearted of the Warcraft universe. It must've been a challenge to make Demon Hunters fit in that silly world.
Chamberlin: I think on the art side, Demon Hunters have indeed leaned more on the serious side. There are still some silly creatures, like the murloc, who are there to lighten it up. But so far, a lot of it has been more serious. It has mostly been about making sure that they fit artistically. We need the stylized shape, the bright colors, the exaggerated poses and stuff like that in all of the art. I think it's important to get that right from the get-go. We've got forever to make goofy cards, and I have absolute confidence that we'll make them for Demon Hunters.
It's cool getting to create a bunch of different characters for Demon Hunter to play with right out of the gate. It was great to figure out what makes each Demon Hunter character special. Then, in addition to art, there is also the VO, and that's always super fun.
Chang: The VO, the card flavor text...a lot of the humor of Illidan is reminiscent of when we did Arthas in the Knights of the Frozen Throne. It's dead pan humor. It's funny, but it's delivered in a serious tone. It translates to the art, the flavor text, the VO lines et cetera. We try to find the spaces to imbue that whimsy feeling Hearthstone has.
Speaking of finding 'spaces', the next expansion is set in outer space: the Outlands. Outcast and Prime legendary cards are the two standout new mechanics and I just have to ask: were the big and powerful Prime legendaries inspired by Optimus Prime?
Chamberlin: *laughs* So, we've done a legendary like this before. We did The Storm Guardian way back in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. But the thing we really wanted to capture with the Primes was that they're such a key part of the Legion's story. You have all these iconic characters like Lady Vashj, and when she falls in battle the Legion will come, gather her up, and augment to become this really powerful version. All of the primes fit nicely into this one-two cadence. By and large, they're all tuned to be very good early game cards. The Prime versions can then be tuned to be really powerful, because there are a fair number of steps included to get them. It has been a really fun way to bring all these characters that people want to see to this expansion and put a cool Hearthstone twist on it.
Chang: It was also super fun to design the Prime versions of the cards. We know the range of what we can make for the first half of them: they're all good value minions. But with the Prime versions, we can go all out. We can't make these cards as collectible cards, because they'd simply be too powerful. But because there's a delay, we could add more power behind them and have these cool effects.
To round up the interview: can you both share your most memorable story of creating Demon Hunter and the new Ashes of Outland expansion?
Chamberlin: When I was working on the Demon Hunter FX and basic kit, one of the things I wanted was to have those big Illidari runes. Something evocative of the tattoos. I talk a lot with the FX team on WoW and I asked one of them, Sarah: "Hey, do you have any Demon Hunter stuff that isn't super emo and associated with something terribly nasty?" The response was: "Oh man, that's a tough order, I'll see what I can do for you." Sarah, bless her heart, came back with a pile of images. Banners, props, you name it. Apparently at Blizzard there even is a Demon Hunter couch that has runes on it, for some reason, and Sarah said: "This is everything I could find, I hope it helps!" *laughs*
Chang: I have a really silly one. We wanted to do a simple design for Outcast to showcase it for the team. So we made a simple minion that cost one mana and with Outcast it drew you a card. But we didn't have art for it. One of our other designers said: "Oh, I have the perfect piece of art!" It was this elf with his hands up running, and every time you'd play it you'd hear this super silly running noise like *woosh woosh woosh*. It was so silly, that anytime someone would play that card we'd do that stupid motion and make the sound. We talked about how to imbue humor in a class like Demon Hunter, right? And that card is still in the game.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.