BlizzCon 2018 was the climax of the year long journey for Blizzard Entertainment’s franchises. Each series was given the spotlight, and all of them, to some extent, created some insane hype and anticipation for themselves. The developers and producers behind the scenes work day and night to prepare themselves for moments like these. This includes Hearthstone, Blizzards popular online card-based game, where they announced the newest expansion pack for the Year of the Raven, Rastakhan’s Rumble. Introducing the land of the Trolls for the first time, the company has once again made great leaps and bounds with the ideas they implement into their cards. But how do they come up with ideas for the cards, let alone the cards for the new expansion? To further explore this, we sat down with Hearthstone Senior Game Designer, Peter Whalen, and Lead Server Engineer, Seyil Yoon, to discuss Rastakhans Rumble as well as creating content for the game.
mxdwn: How did you come up with the theme and mechanics for Rastakhan’s Rumble, and how did the process of creating those cards come about?
Peter Whalen: With all of our expansions we want to do something that’s new, exciting, and different. The previous ones we have done this year, like The Witchwood, was a spooky set about things that go bump in the night and in the forest and the worgen, and the other one, The Boomsday Project, was all about science. So we wanted to do something that was different than both of those. We went to World of Warcraft which has these fantastic trolls you’ve seen for over a decade now that have been a huge part of the Warcraft universe so we said ‘Let’s make the trolls part of the expansion, and what are we going to do with all of these different trolls? We’re going to have them fight! They’ll have spells and they’ll beat each other with weapons and whatever they can find. They’re going to bring in some friends, maybe they’re a goblin who’s on fire, and all of these guys are going to fight in an arena.’
So then we got the whole team together, the engineers, the artists, everybody, and said ‘What are the cool things we should have in a troll expansion?’ One of the things that everybody mentioned was the Loa. Loa are these powerful primal gods that the trolls worship, and they’re the heart of their culture, they have these different, big personalities and we wanted to capture that in the Rumble. So each of the Loa have a team of trolls that work with them, and that’s for each of the different classes. For example, Paladins have Shirvallah as their Loa, and Shirvallah the Tiger is the Paladin team. It’s a bunch of gladiators, they’re fighting together, and they all have Shirvallah’s aspect. They’re proud, upright, noble Zandalari trolls with their gleaming gold weapons and yellow magic. Then you have someone like Hir’eek’s Bats, which are the Warlocks, and they’re evil with their blood magic and they sacrifice innocent bystanders, and they’ll throw away anything. So each of these teams derives their fantasy from their respective Loa, and they’re all tied together in that way.
Seyil Yoon: Another one of the things that we have in Rastakhans Rumble like the Loa that Peter mentioned is that we have Spirits. Spirits are kind of the embodiment of the Loas, and the Spirits are actually rare, so you can have two of them in your deck. One example of a spirit would be the Spirit of the Bat, so this is something that we showed off during the Opening Ceremony, and it’s a 0/3 minion that has stealth for one turn, which is a newer mechanic that we have for this set. The way Spirit of the Bat works is that every time one of your minions dies, you get +1 +1 to a random minion in your hand. So you can build around a card like Spirit of the Bat to take advantage of this really interesting power.
mxdwn: Can you give us some further insight on the production of Rastakhan’s Rumble, and what other features are new to it?
Yoon: Generally speaking, the ideas that we come up with for these new sets, they kind of germinate for a long time. The designers have been playing around with these ideas for a while, and they also evolve over time. For example, we have this new mechanic called Overkill, and it fits with the theme of Rastakhan’s Rumble and the idea is that, for instance, if you’re a gladiator in this arena, you want to be styling on your opponent. We want the people watching the show to have a really good time and see exciting, awesome things. So the Overkill mechanic is if you deal more damage than you need to, then you get some special thing that happens. For example we teased the card, Sul’thraze, which is a 6-mana 4/4 weapon, and with its Overkill you get to attack again. The idea here is that hit a minion with 3 health or less, then you get to attack again, and if you attack another minion that has 3 or less health, you can attack again. It’s a really interesting, powerful ability that just feels right in this set and these are the types of ideas that we’ve been playing around with for a while, and this felt like the right place to put it.
mxdwn: Does the Hearthstone Championship Tour or the Hearthstone Global Games have any influence on your creative process?
Whalen: The competitive environment is really important to us. We want a good meta game at the highest level, and we want a good meta game at rank 25, and at rank 50. That’s all very important to us, but it’s not the specific tournament or how conquest works or what the structure of HGG is, as that has almost no impact on how we design cards. The considerations of ‘this the type of player who is incredibly good at the game and thinks about all of the different things’, that’s absolutely the kind of thing we think about. You see a card like Hex Lord Malacrass. He’s a new Mage legendary minion, he’s the troll champion for the Mage’s with an 8 mana 5/5 and BattleCry that adds a copy of your opening hand directly to your hand. So that’s the kind of card where if you’re a very good player, and if you remember what your opening hand was, and as your making those million decisions you know that Malacrass is in your deck, you can decide which cards you want an extra copy of for this matchup. Also it’s your opening hand, so that has a lot of other considerations. It’s a fairly skill testing card and that’s the kind of thing that a competitive player, such as someone on the HGG teams or at the HGT events, might be able to take better advantage of than somebody that is less competitive or less skilled.
Yoon: I personally watch every minute of every Hearthstone esport broadcast, so I love this stuff. I want to see what the players at the highest level are actually doing with the cards. They come up with some pretty amazing things. It’s just really exciting to see the creativity that exists among the highest level players.
mxdwn: (To Yoon) What specific things do you do to ensure that Hearthstone can always handle something such as a new pre-release event or a new expansion like Rastakhan’s Rumble?
Yoon: We’ve done a lot of improvements over the years. One of the things we started doing earlier this year was that we started to have simultaneous launches of U.S., Korea, and Europe for our set releases. That was the culmination of a lot of work that we had done up til that point to make sure that our service could handle the types of loads and all the players that log in and play the game. We’re constantly trying to make improvements along those lines and we’ve been quite happy with the progress that we’ve made. I feel like the sets that we’ve released in the Year of the Raven have gone quite smoothly, but we can always do better. We want that experience to be great for people on Day 1. We don’t want people to have to fight to get into the game, so as long as people can play our game then that’s what we’re striving for.
mxdwn: Is there anything else you can tell us about the future of Hearthstone, going into 2019?
Whalen: We’re really focused on Rastakhan’s Rumble for right now, so I think for 2019, we’ll see what exciting stuff that’s planned for that later. But for now we’re super hyped about Rastakhan’s Rumble that’s coming out December 4 and I couldn’t be more excited.
Yoon: We’re really excited to see what the players think. This is where the rubber meets the road and we’re really excited to see what happens.
Whalen: I’m also just excited to play it, I love a lot of these cards and I just want to have them on live and be able to play lots of games with them against people!
mxdwn: Thank you both so much for your time.
Whalen: Thank you!
Yoon: Thank you very much.
Rastakhan’s Rumble launches on December 4 for PC, and for those who pre order it, you’ll receive the the 17-pack Challenger’s Bundle that includes the Ready to Rumble card back. You can also order the 50-pack Rumble Bundle, which includes the King Rastakhan Shaman Hero and the Ready to Rumble card back. You can check that out here.