When the Heroes of the Storm development team first designed Gazlowe (or Tinker, as he was initially called), the game was completely different than it is now. What heroes could do, how maps were designed, and how the game was "meant" to be played has changed dramatically over the years.
So when Gazlowe was introduced back in 2014, his kit worked well for that time period. He could split push lanes, clear mercenary camps efficiently, and even his team-fighting ability wasn't that bad. Fast forward to the year 2020 (and two reworks later), the development team felt it was time to give his kit another look after his most recent overhaul in 2017.
The developer in charge of bringing the goblin's kit into 2020 was Senior Game Designer Kevin Gu. But as Gu was on paternity leave, Senior Game Designer Adam Jackson (who was heavily involved in the process) stepped up and spoke with Inven Global recently about how the team tackled the project.
A playstyle that matches the times
When Gazlowe was first created, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was a role he slid into called "Specialist." Specialists were heroes who could act as lane bullies, clear mercenary camps effectively, control key objective points, and had unique playstyles compared to the more "traditional" roles. They couldn't team-fight well but their impact was felt in other areas of the map.
Once the role was removed in the spring of 2019 and replaced with more defined playstyles (Ranged Assassin, Healer, etc.), the development team knew they had to find a spot for the goblin.
"I think we've learned a lot since we were designing him way back in the day about how our game works and about the role that we want him to play in our game," said Jackson. "Our players have learned a lot about how our game works. And as designers, we've learned a lot about both how our game is played and how kind of we want it to be played."
As for what the development team wanted to him to be, they went off what he did well and how that could translate into one of the six new roles going forward. In 2020, that role was Bruiser. Gazlowe could hold his own in lane, use his turrets for zoning purposes, and threaten stunning or slowing enemies with his abilities — a perfect fit.
But once the development team settled on a Bruiser as the new role for Gazlowe, how were they going to turn him into one?
A bully to a Bruiser
When Gu and the team began work on making Gazlowe feel like a more complete hero, they ran into a fundamental issue that they needed to address: What to do with his turrets?
"One thing with Gazlowe specifically that always made him difficult to design around is that (and, not only is it true for him, but for any turret hero) in any game, turret heroes tend to be very difficult to design in a healthy way because they tend to be fairly polarizing. When you have a lot of power that's in another unit that's not the hero and that is automatically doing damage, it tends to be very, very powerful or not at all," said Jackson.
By taking power out of his turrets early in the game so the opposing laner has more things to do other than worry about constantly killing his stationary cannons and dodging his skill shots, the development team was able to put more power into this other abilities.
Enabling the element of counterplay not only helps provide a healthier game experience for the opposing laner but for the player piloting Gazlowe. Jackson compares going up against and playing as Gazlowe to a traditional fighting game where: "I have a goal, he has a goal. I'm trying to prevent my opponent from doing what they want and they're trying to prevent me from doing what I want."
With Gazlowe having a more defined role in a team composition going forward, the development team believes that he'll be a lot more embraced by those who want to play as him or around him.
Despite his role changing, long-time Gazlowe players shouldn't have too much of an issue picking up their bomb-wielding friend as, at his core, he's still the same guy they know and love.
"I think there will be a little bit of a learning curve, but I think that his abilities work in a similar kind of way. It's just that we've really taken delays off and given a lot more of the agency to the Gazlowe player to make the abilities hit in the way that you would think they would," said Jackson.
Tim Rizzo is the editor and a reporter for Inven Global. He joined the company back in 2017.