Video Games Interview: Heroes of the Storm Lead PvP Battleground Designer John DeShazer talks Brawl Mode, custom games and Reddit pitches

At Blizzcon 2015, Blizzard announced Heroes of the Storm‘s Arena mode, which has now been revamped under the new title Heroes Brawl

Heroes Brawl will launch on the week of October 17. We sat down with lead battleground designer John DeShazer to talk about  it.

The Iris: In 2015 the arena mode was announced, can you tell me why Arena was rebranded and expanded into Heroes Brawl?

John DeShazer: We originally had Arena pretty playable at Blizzcon, but we really wanted to finish up the back end stuff, develop a good reward structure and match-making, so that’s why we didn’t ship right after Blizzcon, and during that we had some new ideas we wanted to try, and we were playing around a bit.

One of the things we found out is we really like this mode to create unique and crazy ideas and a lot of the things we were testing ending up working out. It didn’t really fit the formula of Hero’s Arena which was a ‘best of three’. The experience was very controlled because players got to pick between one of three heroes, starting on level ten. While we love that mechanic and that experience we wanted to try other things as well. We so harshly branded that ‘this was Heroes Arena’ that we wanted to definitely expand it.

Heroes Arena is still a major mode of Heroes Brawl but we wanted to allow ourselves a lot more freedom in design and to try a lot of crazy ideas. As you know whenever a game has too many different modes it will dilute the player pool because it will make it harder for match-making to bring players together.

Heroes Brawl is probably one of the last Modes that we will add to Heroes of the Storm, and we wanted to make it a very strong experience and have a lot of depth so that we can try a lot of fun ideas and not limit ourselves.

TI: It has been announced that Heroes Brawl will change every week. Can you tell me a little bit about why Blizzard came to this decision and will fans be able to come back to games they love?

JDS: We really like the idea of rotating the experience where you get to try new experiences every week. We feel like if it was daily, every other day, or even within the same day, that the experience would be over too quickly and if some players don’t play during that window of time they might not have the opportunity. So we felt that it hit the goal really well in making sure that everyone has an opportunity.

We will be repeating brawls on occasion so they will get the opportunity to play it again, I just don’t know the frequency of repeating brawls, because we want to be constantly injecting new and fun content into it. As we develop more and more you might see a few repeats from the beginning, but then as we give more and more diversity it will be a little more rare to see repeats.

The other thing is we are also going to allow the brawl that is currently available for the week to be playable in custom mode, so if you want to have a more controlled experience you can get friends together, or if you are hosting a local LAN, it will allow players to hop in together and control that experience a little. But that custom mode will be whatever is of the week. So if we change it the next week the previous will be locked.

TI: Players who complete three Brawls a week will earn portraits and 1,000 gold, will heroes also be able to earn experience points and complete quests?

JDS: The current idea around the award structure is no, that’s one of the reasons why we are giving such a hefty amount of gold with the weekly awards. We know the commitment of time and you won’t be able to actively do your other quests during this moment. It’s hard if we say: ‘oh it’s a best of three event, one round you play Rehgar, one round you play Li-Ming and another round you play Dehaka” you will soon get three small amounts of XP, that doesn’t really feel good or rewarding. So instead we try and give them a really cool reward that has a really good plus to it. 1,000 gold will help to fill out their hero profiles really well.

TI: Can you explain some of the mayhem being introduced, in terms of brawl variations and rules changes ?

JDS: Absolutely!

One of the major modes that you talked about a little bit was the Arena Mode, so in the Arena we are going to have a new one that you haven’t even seen yet, which is called the Punisher Arena. This uses a little bit of our standard Arena formula, starting out with what we call ‘shuffle pick’ internally, which is a pretty good term. You get to pick a hero between three options. When you pick a hero you go into one of the rounds of the experience, which is the best of three, so you will have three opportunities to pick different heroes.

Punisher Arena is kind of like a real weird twist on team death match, where your objective is to kill enemy heroes but also kill enemy punishers. When you kill an enemy hero we award you four-points, when you kill an enemy punisher we award you ten points. The first team to 100 points wins. We have really fast re-spawn drivers, and if you can get away from the mayhem, fast heal time. You start at level 10, you don’t worry about talents you just pick your heroic and jump right into it. It’s really just a fast, furious, quick mayhem experience, and it’s a good counter for Hammer Time.

Hammer Time is a mode which is 5v5 with Sargent Hammer on Towers of Doom. We tried to come up with a really simple rule which makes a small adjustment to the game experience, but will also change how the players play the game dramatically. You can out-siege all the towers and all the buildings. We also wanted to spice it up a little bit, so what we did was turn the booster mode for Sargent Hammer on all the time. So that she doesn’t ever have to click Z to gain that effect, the only time they don’t have it is when the are in Siege mode.

This mode has a couple of different layers where, if you haven’t played Sargent Hammer, it’s a little bit of a slow start and allows players to get accustomed to the hero, enjoy it and have some fun strategies you can play around with. We actually picked Towers of Doom specifically for that map because otherwise the BFG will be too powerful at finishing up the core. So in Towers of Doom you can’t just directly push the core, so it changes the dynamic a little bit and puts a weird amount of pressure on the game that’s fun and unique. We call that type of mode a mutator.

One-Lane-Experience‘s are new layouts typically using existing tile-sets, the first one is the Lost Cavern, which will leverage the Tomb of the Spider Queen tile set. The fun part about this one is that it has this sort of weird snake-like field to the middle of the lane, so it really has a sharp turn to it.

Then there is regen globes. There are locations where regen globes will constantly re-spawn, so even though it’s an online lane experience, it will have these pulls to go out of lane for a short amount of time. This is just kind of a standard experience that is unique and fun because all players are constantly fighting 5v5.

Having it as a constant team play is a really interesting experience for me, I see a lot of players enjoy it, and they enjoy the chaos. To make this more enjoyable we added a unique hero selection to this as well where we randomly select a hero for you. So you don’t really have any options to choose from.

In the back end we made sure that if one side has support, the other side also has support so that the games won’t go wildly lopsided. But we wanted a weird combination of hero’s that players wouldn’t usually want to pick. We wanted to really pull players out of their comfort zone with their hero selection, and throw them into the battle, to see if they can learn to fall in love with a new hero that they have never played.

TI: So there are a tonne of new and exciting changes for existing players, do you think the new mode will improve gameplay for new players as well?

JDS: I absolutely believe it’s a good way for new players to play the game, in a couple of different ways. One, if they have a really skilled friend that has been playing heroes for a long time, it is a really comfortable way for them to queue up with their buddy and play a game. It’s a very casual experience, it’s not going to affect your MMR. If they don’t have a big hero catalogue they aren’t going to be judged for it. They also don’t have to worry about hero selection. Most of the hero’s that we pull from are from the whole pool of the game, not the player’s collection. So they get a chance to try out different heroes and different hero kits.

It is also really good from a reward perspective because the amount of time you spend playing three games of Brawl is probably the fastest way you can increase your in-game currency and grab some of those favourite heroes that you love.

TI: Can you tell me about how the match-making process will work in the new mode?

JDS: With heroes of Brawl the most important aspect is time. You are not in the queue for three-five minutes at a time. We are trying to get you into the games quickly because some of these games only go for four or five minutes anyway. So the idea is that they are quick so you can hop in and enjoy yourself and have a good goofy time, and then queue again if you wanted to try something new. We do have systems in place that are dependent on the modes to make sure the game is balanced.

TI: What are you most excited about when fans get their hands on the new Mode?

JDS: As a designer one of the things I’m most excited for is hearing all the crazy pitches. I think it’s really fun to hear the community come back with tonnes and tonnes of crazy ideas. When we announced the mode on Tuesday a Reddit thread popped up saying, ‘Everyone pitch your crazy ideas!’ and a lot of those are great. So I’m just writing those down, and adding them to my database of ideas. It is really fun to see how much they are interacting with this mode before it has even come out, so that is really exciting for me! I hope they will see that we are listening and ready to react. Maybe we can get some new stuff into these brawls, and constantly add new ones so we can challenge them in unique and fun ways.

TI: Is there anything else you want to add that you think fans should know?

JDS: The thing I really want people to realise with this Mode is that we are trying to go over the top, trying to be crazy, trying to be fun, so take it light hearted have a good time. Don’t worry about winning or losing because the reward is based off participating. Hop in have a great time and give your feedback, we are going to be listening!

TI: Thank you for taking the time out to chat, it has been lots of fun discussing the new Brawl mode! 🙂

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