BlizzCon 2018 was the ultimate culmination of all of Blizzard’s franchises wrapped in just two days. There were many reveals and announcements for each series, one of which was the popular MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, a collection of All-Stars from Blizzards past, present, and future. However, during the Opening Ceremony, the company announced that for the first time, a brand new character that was born from within the Nexus itself, will be the next playable hero in the game. Orphea was introduced to the fans, and just like that, she struck a cord in everyone and made a name for herself. This marks the first time that an original character was added to the game, which begs the question, why did it take so long for them to create such a hero for it? To better understand this, we sat down with the Heroes of the Storm Lead Hero Designer, Matt Villers, and Lead Animator, Careena Kingdom, to discuss Orphea, as well as the process of creating a hero for the Nexus.
mxdwn: How do you come up with new heroes and special events? And how long does the process take before you decide that it’s ready for the game?
Matt Villers: Normally for a new hero we’re looking at somewhere between 6-9 months. Special events are also several months in advance, the planning and figuring out our inspiration and what will our players be most delighted by, so a lot of love goes into both of those. For Orphea we started back in January, almost a 10 month process. So a lot goes into making sure that we’ve made the best hero that we can put out there. Especially in Orphea’s case because it’s so different, because normally we’re taking, for example, Ragnaros or Alexstrasza, and we know what to expect from them. But with Orphea we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do with her, and that presented a really interesting challenge; but it also adds on some extra time to figure it out, but it’s also such a cool process to get to explore that. So it was a little bit different for us versus how we normally do things.
mxdwn: Speaking of Orphea, this is the first original hero that will be in the game, could you elaborate on how she came about, and what her role is in the game? And why have you now decided to make an original hero from Nexus?
Villers: It’s something that we’ve been talking about for a while. We have made some heroes in the past, where we would take another unit from a game, like a Fairy Dragon for instance, or a Fire Bat from StarCraft, and gave them character, so Orphea is kind of an extension of what we’ve been doing already but for her we really wanted to dive into the story of what actually is the Nexus, and who are the characters that are originally from there. Now we have this Nexus born hero, and we have this story behind one of our battlegrounds. We have the Raven Lord who is always talking on the maps and he’s this smug guy, but he sounds like he’s really cool and powerful. So what’s his backstory and what’s his family like? He’s got a daughter, what’s she look like? Our concept artists just went in there and did a concept, which was killer, and we all said ‘we have to make this hero’ and it was such a fun process to do that. We then took from that her creation and worked back and forth with the art team. What do we feel like she’s actually going to do? She’s got this cool relic on her back and she has this ancestral power which looks like a monster, and what kind of abilities are gonna happens from that? We knew she was very graceful and is the daughter of royalty so maybe she’ll have these graceful movements, but there’s a lot of passion and rage there. As a player, once that is in your hands and you can control it, it feels really good to do. So we wanted to capture that experience for her.
Careena Kingdom: After we released Battle for Azeroth, that was officially the moment we realized that we had released a battle event from every single IP that existed from Blizzard Entertainment. That was the moment where we decided that we wanted to go back to our roots, literally where the Nexus started with Raven Court and the Cursed Hollow and that was where we were developing our IP on our own terms. To make the whole round robin was to release a character that existed in the Nexus. From the art perspective it was really exciting because we have this wonderful history here at Blizzard Entertainment. Every time we bring a character to the Nexus, there’s over 20 years of history that we get to go through, and it’s not even just our history, it’s the fans’ history. There’s a huge amount of sentimental value that we have to lean on to take the inspiration from. With Orphea, the sky was the limit, absolute limit. The developer in me, the creative side in me was going ‘Yes! The sky’s the limit, oh my god!’ and then the next day I was like ‘Oh god the sky’s the limit.’ (Laughs)
mxdwn: It’s the high, then somewhat high emotion right?
Kingdom: Exactly! But at the same time, we were saying that this is the time to set the stage for ourselves, and how do you restrict yourself and how do you figure out what that endgame is, and when have you made the right decision? We just relied on every single one of us, cause Orphea isn’t just design and animation, it is the sound design, it is the story. Just picking the voice actress to come in was incredibly exciting for us, because for every character we’ve done, like Zul’jin and Kel’Thuzad, when the voice actor comes in we go ‘Oh I know this person and I know what they sound like.’ But with Orphea there was a range of accents we could go to and that was really fun and it was a unique process that we hadn’t really experienced before. It was an incredibly rewarding time and the most important thing was just playing her all the time and as often as possible because having that satisfaction when you know you’ve done something right is when you play a game and you just look away and say ‘Yes! That was so much fun!’ (To Villers) The Chomp I think was the first ability where we were like ‘This is the one.’
Villers: Yeah it’s the big monster jaw that just feels so powerful to land it.
Kingdom: So you know how when you see someone walking down the street and you don’t know who it is but you know from the way that they’re walking who it is? That was also something that we looked at heavily with animation because we need every character to not only seem like a default one, but also their skin. So you put her in a school uniform and we still need to recognize that as Orphea. So to separate her from all the other characters types, she has this wonderful relic on her back and she uses it to imbue this enormous amount of energy in the middle of a battle. Then she just pirouettes away and that was really unique and fun, and she has that noble grace that is such a unique space that doesn’t exist in our game.
mxdwn: The Heroes Global Championship is one of the most popular esport competitions in the world. Has working with the team behind HGC had any influence on your creative process?
Villers: We have our Hero Design Team, and our Live Design Team. The Hero team is very focused on creating these new heroes, and the Live team is very focused on making sure that they’re appropriately balanced and everything feels good. Those guys are super plugged into competitive play. We watch it and we enjoy it as fans, but for those guys it’s a big part of their life. We work closely with them and they have an insight and they help us with specific mechanics on heroes that will feel good in these cases that are cognizant of whats going in the meta. For example, when we were doing Stukov, our Live Design Team came to us and said ‘Hey it would be really cool to see more supports that have displacement abilities’ and that was a direct influence on his Heroics, Massive Shove and Flailing Swipe. That kind of thing is very much a back and forth thing between our two teams of trying to come up with things that are not only fun to play, but things that are cool, have an impact, and are fun to watch. We very much try to chase those moments; it’s super cool seeing Massive Shove go all the way across the map, things that casters get really excited about. For example, when we’re naming talents we think, ‘A caster has to say that so we should make sure it’s not too hard to say.”’ So thinking about stuff like that is part of the experience and trying to do as much as we can to make that enjoyable for the players and the fans watching.
Kingdom: Our community team is really good at giving us feedback from the pro players, Twitch streamers, and everyone that we can actively react to. So it’s really good information that we can use.
mxdwn: Is there a chance that any of the original heroes, or some of the current heroes, will be getting a rework or rebalance in the future as well as some new skins like Janitor Leoric?
Villers: I can’t get into specifics on what’s in the immediate future, but it’s a continuous process for us. Especially this past year, we’ve had a good mix of new heroes and reworks. The reworks have been great, they’ve been well received. Obviously we’ve been doing fun skin packs. We did the Nexomania event and we had our the Fall of the Kings Crest event for Halloween, these really cool events that our players have enjoyed a lot. The reception’s been great and we want to keep doing things that will surprise and delight our players. We also talked a bit about our reworks about Stiches and Sylvanas, and hopefully we’ll have more information on that in the not too distant future, but there are a lot of exciting things coming. As for the Janitor Leoric skin that we showed earlier, that was one of our ways to show come love to the community. It’s just a really fun skin that fits the theme that we did with Orphea. We just got together and said ‘Ok, Janitor Leoric, where is he a janitor at? How about a high school right?’ It just worked because we already have the Cheerleader Kerrigan and the Vollyball Li-Ming, and we wanted to include Orphea because that range fits her character and she’s rebellious. So it just fits in that whole theme and that community.
Kingdom: Janitor Leoric was born from concept competition in Taiwan where the artist was responsible for it. So we were able to react to that and bring it into the game because the fans have been wanting that for ages and the reaction was huge. When we had to make it work for the game, the existing Leoric character, we put an employee of the month shield and we put the artist’s name on it. So the fan’s name is on the shield in the game.
mxdwn: Are there any other school uniforms for other heroes you want to bring out in the future?
Villers: There isn’t anything I can really talk about; I don’t want to spoil any surprises. It’s something that we’re thinking about. We’ve done the fun little universes like MechaStorm, the Nexomania event, and there’s so many of those that are fun to do, like the enforcers pack that we did recently. We can visit each of those universes and any hero could show up there if it makes sense.
Kingdom: Anything’s possible in the Nexus, and we always react to what the fans want, so just let us know.
Villers: Also stay tuned, we’re going to have cool stuff to share.
mxdwn: Thank you both so much for your time.
Villers: Of course.
Kingdom: Thank you!
Orphea will be available when the next major update arrives for Heroes of the Storm. If you attended BlizzCon 2018, or purchased the Virtual Ticket, then Orphea will be free for you to play once she’s released. We had the chance to play as her during BlizzCon 2018, and gave our initial thoughts on her play style.