[Hearthstone Senior Developer] Daniel Emmons: "The development goal is to be able to play a variety of archetypes"

Last December, Daniel Emmons, Senior Game Designer, visited Korea in relation to the ‘Kobolds and Catacombs’ expansion. This time, Emmons returned to Korea in preparation of the upcoming ‘The Boomsday Project’ expansion.

Yesterday (August 6th), Emmons participated in pre-release playtesting events on the upcoming expansion with the fans. Having his hands full, following a press conference on ‘The Boomsday Project’ in the morning (August 6th), Inven Global had gotten the opportunity to interview Emmons on the new expansion content and balancing.

What will the developer think the next expansion will look like? Let’s see what he has to say.


Hearthstone Senior Game Designer Daniel Emmons


¤ This is your second visit to Korea following the Kobolds and Catacombs trip. What have you been in charge and working on for this upcoming expansion?

For this expansion, I helped out a lot with the Puzzle Labs. I am also on the live content team which means I am primarily responsible for Tavern Brawls, in-game events such as Taverns of Time, and Fireside Gatherings. Despite this, I have done a lot on the team for the years I have been on Hearthstone.

¤ There are a lot of similarities with this expansion and Goblin vs Gnomes expansion in regards to all these mechs. How did you differentiate this expansion from GvG?

So one of the biggest differentiation is the Magnetic mechanic. We wanted the mechs in this expansion feel a lot different from the GvG mechs. The Magnetic mechanic is how we did it in that particular case. From an art side of things, we did a completely new concept. We had our in-house style artist create a style guide. We brainstormed on what the different labs were and what the different classes were doing for their each individual type of science. We got new stuff out of it. We got new distinct aspects when it comes to art as well as the mechanical feel.

¤ The Magnetic mechanic operates differently in correspondence with positioning. However, if you have 2 mechs on the board, you cannot put an additional mech in between the other mechs without combining them together. There must have been an option to format this mechanic similar to Druid’s ‘Choose’ mechanic. Why was this format chosen specifically over the Druid mechanic?

The reason why we did the Magnetic mechanic to how it is is that the Druid ‘Choose one’ option is really good when you are making only one choice. We found out when we were testing different implementations for Magnetic that it used up a lot of dead time. You had to pick the choice and then pick the target. We figured out it was a lot easier and basically more fun to drag it out with the visual we have. We made sure you knew what was going on. If you wanted to use Magnetic, it would show the visual. If not, it would just be summoned separately.

I understand it is going to create some interesting situations when you have cards that require specific positioning such as Flametongue Totem. It is an extra layer of thinking that players would have to do. It is not going to be as easy as “Oh, I am going to put down a Flametongue Totem and it is not going to matter.”. You have to put the totem a couple turns ahead in order to best utilize it.

▲ A combine mechanic focused on simplification. Attention to detail on 'positioning' and 'order'.

¤ The concept of merging or combining was first introduced last year in Magic the Gathering’s ‘Unstable’ expansion with the ‘Host-Augment’ mechanic. The merging mechanic of having a (Host) and (Augment) on the left is structurally quite similar. Did you get some inspiration from MTG?

When we were designing the Magnetic mechanic, we had this really cool image of stacking these robots with 3-4 mechs on top of each other. I believe that the implementation we found was kind of the best one for Hearthstone as a whole. We wanted to find an awesome way of executing it, and the design team did a really good job in coming up with the best implementation in Hearthstone.

¤ Alongside the Magnetic mechanic, there are also other keyword mechanics such as ‘Project’. The ‘Project’ mechanic works for both you and your opponent. Previously, cards like Grove Tender has this similar effect but gave too dangerous of a lead to the opponent and hence was not used. The only card that was used with both players gaining an advantage was Coldlight Oracle. This card was used to mill your opponent’s hand. Do you think the ‘Project’ mechanic will be used often?

They definitely do have potential. It is obviously really hard to say which cards are going to be tier 1, 2, and 3. However, in regards to Project cards in this set, the Project cards have symmetrical values that are very powerful. It is going to lead to a lot of differentiation on how players take advantage of them. For example, 2 mana crystals for 1 mana is a super powerful effect. Although both players get it, it is a lot stronger than 1 mana crystal on a 3 mana minion. Since the delta power level of the cards is so great, these cards definitely have a lot more potential. They will be able to create new decks.

Another example is Warrior’s ‘Weapon Project’. This card, for 2 mana, gives both players a 2/3 weapon and 6 armor. Since you can have cards like ‘Acidic Swamp Ooze’ to combo and remove the opponent’s weapon, you can maximize this powerful effect with the ‘Acidic Swamp Ooze’ synergy. Granted, whether or not these factors actually make a difference between deck tiers, we will just have to wait and see after the expansion is released. However, these cards are definitely will be more effective than cards like Grove Tender.


▲ They say it will be different from Grove Tender...will it really...

¤ In the last expansion, many developers pointed to ‘Shudderwock’ being one of the most difficult cards to design. In this expansion, were there any awesome/difficult cards to design like ‘Shudderwock’?

Whizbang was very hard. The design team knew what they wanted. They wanted Whizbang to be this super cool card that a lot of players could play in different decks if you had this card. A lot of the challenges derives from executing the card from a programming standpoint.

¤ From an official post, it was said that Whizbang will be banned from tournament play. There has been a lot of complaints on cards that are banned from tournaments. Was there a specific reason for banning Whizbang for tournaments?

I believe that Whizbang is for a different type of player. It is an extremely good card for ‘that’ type of player. I think the goal for Whizbang as a whole was to provide something for the players who don’t want to spend that much in the game or for ‘free to play’ players. Whizbang is an awesome card which allows these players to experience new decks. Not only just in this set but in future sets as well.

In regards to what the Esports team was thinking when they decided to ban it, they were doing what was best for the competitive players. The card was always meant for those casual ‘free to play’ players.

¤ If you craft a golden Whizbang, will your random deck also be all golden?

Yes, the deck will be all golden.

¤ Because the deck recipes get updated every expansion and stay that way until the next one, will Blizzard ever update these deck recipes mid expansion? Also, if Whizbang receives positive feedback and inevitably rotates out of Standard, will there be a possibility of a similar Whizbang card to appear in the future or Whizbang even moving to the classic set?

We don’t have plans to update the deck recipes in between expansions. I think the unpredictability of Whizbang will help in not getting countered specifically. Even you don’t know what deck you are going to get, and your opponent doesn’t know what deck you are going to get. There will inevitably be times when you get countered, but there will also be times when your deck is perfect against your opponent. I believe those will make for some very exciting moments.

In regards to future cards like Whizbang and Whizbang moving to the classic set, I really don’t know. The card is not even out yet. This is a crazy card that we have never done before. I think a lot of it rests on how the players react to it. Will players like this card being in the game? Will players want this card to be in the game forever? There are lots of options available, but we kind of have to wait and see. Do what is best for the game and for the players.

If Whizbang is awesome, please give us as much feedback as possible!

¤ In the last interview when ‘The Witchwood’ expansion came out, it was announced that a beta for the Tournament mode will be available this summer. Since it is already summer, when do you predict the beta for the Tournament mode will be released?

Tournament mode is a crazy riot in order to make it work. Mostly because there are a lot of things that in-game tournaments mean to different players. We do have an updated message coming out soon. It is going to give an update on the feature and where we are at with it. Look forward to that.

¤ Since the original release of Hearthstone, Druid and Warlock, unlike other classes, have never dipped below tier 2. Because Druid and Warlock have always been successful in a variety of decks such as aggro, control, and combo, some fans joke saying "These classes are favored by the developers". What are your thoughts on this?

There is definitely no class favoritism. I think that each developer is only looking to satisfy what the players want for each and every class. For me personally, I really like Shaman. It is important to get every class to have fun things to do. We want to make sure that we are creating exciting cards, and cards that can create new decks and opportunities.

I do agree that Druid and Warlocks had a lot of powerful decks in general, but we are always keeping an eye out so there are multiple strong decks to play.

▲ But you guys have always favored u-...uh, Druid is weak.

¤ Talking about Rogue and other classes, there has always been a push for certain archetypes every expansion. However, some archetypes do not necessarily favor the class. A prime example would be Freeze Shaman. In this expansion, Blizzard really pushed Deathrattles for Rogue. Because that Rogue deck did not seem that successful on yesterday’s display game, do you predict Deathrattle Rogue to be good in this expansion?

We always want to make sure there are new and exciting things to do in every set. Not every deck can be tier 1 tournament viable. I believe as a whole, a lot of interesting decks to build, play, and have fun with. For me personally, I think that the Deathrattle Rogue is very exciting. I am thrilled to try that deck out and to make it as best as possible. We want to ensure that every class has new decks that they can try out. We want to support older archetypes that players are in love with, but we also want something new every time.

In addition, Shaman has a variety of archetypes such as Murloc, Evolve, Totem, Elemental, etc. Because of this, some archetypes will not get the supporting cards they want while others do. This inevitably leads to an archetype looking weaker than the others. Despite all this, the development team is aiming to release cards with the focus of aiding diverse archetypes while not throwing the weaker ones away.

¤ During internal testing, which decks seemed to be extremely overpowered and strong?

As far as powerful decks go, we had ‘Meteorologist’ (6 mana 3-3, Deal 1 damage for every card in hand.) used to cost 5 mana. There was this insane mage deck when players would play 2 on the same turn. People would shoot 15-16 missiles in one turn. Therefore, we bumped the mana cost up to 6 because that deck was something that we did not want to have around (laughs).

In regards to fun decks, I really wanted to make ‘Pogo Hopper’ Rogue work. Because I always loved the decks that wanted to mill with ‘Coldlight Oracle’ and ‘Shadowstep’ something a bunch of times. ‘Pogo Hopper’ Rogue is one of those decks that I have no idea how good it will be, but it will definitely be the first deck I am going to try on day 1.


▲ Meteorologist nerfed to 6 mana because it was too strong and the highly anticipated Pogo Hopper.

¤ Was there any card that you wish you wouldn’t have printed because “it is too powerful”?

I hope not (laughs). It is too late to change them now. Oh jeez...I hope not. I mean, we will find out in a couple months. If there is something that we missed, which creates a very un-fun meta, we will change it. When we launch the set, we launch it believing that it is the best for gameplay. Hopefully, we won’t see anything broken in there. We’ll see.

¤ You have said that you were also responsible for creating content for Tavern Brawl and Events such as the most recent Taverns of Time or the Mid-Summer Fire Festival. There have good responses from these events. Are there any future events and/or contents that we can anticipate for after this expansion?

Yeah. We announced the ‘Days of the Frozen Throne’ event which will allow players to receive some free content. We definitely like what the events are doing. It is one of my favorite contents to design; Taverns of Time specifically was extremely fun. It is something that the players really like and what we really like. I believe it is safe to expect more of these types of content in the future.

¤ Tavern Brawl changes every week, and it is very work demanding. When the team does create content for Tavern Brawls, where do you guys gain inspiration from?

We have a lot of different ways we do Brawl. Sometimes, someone comes up with an idea that is a mechanical one. An example would be ‘Shadow Reflection’ from the Rogue’s death knight. I made a Tavern Brawl with that mechanic because I thought “Oh, this could be a very cool and fun gameplay.”. Other times, it is as simple as “What are the craziest things you can do ‘if’?”.

Sometimes, we get inspiration from other games such as World of Warcraft. I love the boss fights. I grew up on video games, so I have memories of these epic boss fights. When we made co-op Brawls, such as the Nefarian co-op Brawl, he has multiple phases. Nefarian enrages, just like the bosses from one of these games. I designed that Brawl with the moment I just mentioned in mind.  

▲ A Brawl where Nefarian had phases depending on how much remaining health he had.

¤ In this WoW expansion, Battle for Azeroth, ‘Skycap’n Kragg’, who appeared in Hearthstone, is one of the bosses for Freehold. Even ‘Sir Finley Mrrgglton’ showed up as an NPC after his debut on Hearthstone as a card. Will more Hearthstone NPCs make their way onto WoW? In addition, are there any cards that you personally want to be included in WoW?

I don't know if we have any planned as of yet. Us and the WoW team take inspiration from each other. We do have meetings to make sure that we are all aligned, but I didn’t even know Finley was going to be in the game until he was. When I did see Finley, I was like “Oh, wow. That is really cool!”.

In terms of what I like to see, I believe the League of Explorers are just a bunch of really interesting and cool group of people. It would be fantastic to get all of them in there. They have a nice fit with the whole WoW archeology type of mechanic. I would like to see Elise and Reno in WoW.

¤ A lot of players, in order to choose the best deck, go on third party win rate sites or meta sites to help them decide. Does the development team for Hearthstone have any plans to implement in-game deck type win rates, the percentage of the use of a specific card, etc?

We don’t have any plans to do a feature like that right now. As a whole, that kind of feature fits a very specific type of player. We are definitely listening to the feedback, and we know those types of players like these specific data features. If there is a growing demand for it, we can absolutely talk about it. However, in the current time, I don’t have a plan for it.

¤ Lastly, anything you want to say to the Korean Inven fans?

This is awesome. It is the 2nd time I have been interviewed by Inven, and I have heard of Inven. Inven is famous in North America too. Thank you guys for playing and really giving us the feedback. It has made the game so much better. I feel like the game is extremely good right now, and it is thanks to you guys.

▲ Make Dr. Boom great again!


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