With the dust barely settled on the numerous sticks of dynamite which the new Goblins vs Gnomes set has tossed into the Hearthstone metagame, we caught up with senior game designer Ben Brode and art director Ben Thompson to ask, among other things, about card balance, deck slots (again), and what the hell is up with Flame Leviathan anyway?
PC Gamer: Were you surprised by the number of streamers who managed to buy large quantities of the old packs by accident? Did you refund them or do you plan to change the UI of how you buy packs?
Ben Thompson: We’re working with the art team to provide, we’ll call it a visual or aesthetic speed bump to the store area to make players pause a moment as they consider which pack they’re selecting. We’re adjusting the default pack slightly by doing this and closing off some visuals in the store until they’ve physically selected on pack or the other. It should open open up more opportunities for players to make the intended choice.
Makes sense. Even I, having watched the videos, managed to buy one pack wrong.
Ben Brode: [Laughs]
BT: Was it a really good pack though?
No it was not, although my girlfriend pulled one with two legendaries, two goldens, and a wisp.
Do you guys have any stats on which of the new cards has been the most and least crafted so far? Which are the ones people were most eager to get their hands on?
BB: We do have those stats but I haven’t looked at them since we launched Goblins vs Gnomes. I’d have to go check; I don’t have it on-hand. I know there’s a poll on Reddit and people were most excited about Vol’Jin. I don’t think all the legendaries were in the poll, so I don’t remember what the other end of the spectrum was.
I saved up 5000 dust since Curse of Naxxramas and I vowed to use it very carefully and see how the meta shifted, but on day one I just blew the lot, then immediately regretted that I hadn’t crafted Dr. Boom when I saw all the pros were using him. So my question is, how much of an idiot am I?
BB: [Laughs] Well, things definitely change. It’s Dr. Boom today, it could be something else tomorrow. It’s tough to tell, things change so fast especially at the beginning of an expansion like this.
BT: And it’s not 'idiot', it’s 'passionate'.
I think it’s definitely idiot. It’s early days, but in constructed there seems to be a mixture of wild new experimental decks—already some of them seem pretty viable, actually—but then also a lot of people still playing the exact same lists; Control Warrior, Handlock, Undertaker Hunter, and Zoo, with almost no changes at all. Do you think there is a risk that some of those old decks are just so powerful that people who are winning will just keep using them and dominating?
BB: I think what’s probably happening is that those decks have had a very long time to be perfectly tuned, and people right now are experimenting with decks that have not had the benefit of months of tuning. Eventually, once we see some of these newer decks shake out and start being tuned, people who are not as comfortable with deck building and just want to play a really great deck will have a wider variety of choices of which decks to try on the ladder. Also, people are still collecting the new cards. They might not have all the Goblins vs Gnomes cards to build some of the more exciting decks from the expansion. I think as time goes on, and people earn more of the new cards, we’ll see a mix of both old and new decks, and people will try and experiment with some of the new cards in the old decks. I think it should work out great.
I read a quite long post on the Competitive Hearthstone subreddit where a guy was ranting about Siltfin Spiritwalker being the worst epic in the game. I actually quite like Neptulon, the other murloc-based new Shaman card, but what’s the deal with trying to encourage Shaman players towards murlocs? Why would you try and guide a class towards a tribe, because that’s how it feels.
BB: In general, allowing classes to have a lot of different styles of play is cool, and this was an easy way to add another flavor to a potential murloc deck. So you can play a Shaman deck with Overload mechanics and the Unbound Elemental to try and capitalize on that, you could play just a value deck with Doomhammers and Fire Elementals, but now you have the option to play a murloc Shaman deck. It just gives Shaman a couple more facets which I think is cool.
Will you follow that through with other classes? I guess you are pushing Rogues a bit towards pirates, but is that going to be a trend that continues? You’re going to pair classes with tribes?
BB: Really we just wanted to add more flavors and even, less obviously, did this with Hunter with things like Gahz’rilla and Steamwheedle Sniper. We’re just trying to enable different types of decks. Warlock actually had the best version of this going into Goblins vs Gnomes; You could play the murloc Warlock, you could play Handlock, you could play Zoo, you could play demon Warlock. There’s a lot of ways to play that class, so if you’re a Warlock fan you have a lot of options. We just wanted to add more options to all the classes so they felt like they could build a few different deck styles now with Goblins vs Gnomes.
This isn’t a question but I need you to know I pulled a golden Mal’ganis.
BT: Oh, very nice.
Can you give me a sense of how many lapsed players have come back for Goblins vs Gnomes? I know you probably can’t give out exact numbers, but did the number of concurrent players double, triple, or more on launch day?
BT: I think that has a lot to do with the same numbers Brode was referring to earlier. We will have more information the longer this set is up, right? We haven’t really looked at those numbers as of yet, certainly on the team it was about maintaining everything that was going on and looking at how people are playing, watching some of the Twitch streams ourselves and getting excited about play there. I’m sure that there will be some passing around of those numbers but we don’t have any of that right now.
There was obviously a high volume of people trying to get in to buy packs and to play, because we saw some authentication and server load issues on day one, and then the EU launch was late. Did something happen that caught you off-guard, or was it just sheer weight of numbers?
BB: Launching new stuff is very challenging. We have a lot of really smart people working on the back end here trying to make sure it all goes smoothly. Often there’s stuff that you don’t anticipate that messes things up a little bit, but we were able to respond very quickly and get things up and running within just the day or two. But yeah
, it’s always tough to make sure. There’s a lot of moving parts, there are a lot of different methods of payment, a lot of different platforms and it’s tough to get it all working just right. We do focus really hard on getting it right and we’re going to try and do a lot better in the future, but we responded pretty quickly here and the team worked really hard to get it right.
Next page: Balancing Unstable Portal and Bolvar Fordragon