Exclusive: Interview with Heroes of the Storm live game designer Adam Jackson

Heroes of the Storm has a lot of moving parts, and live game designer Adam Jackson is right in the thick of it. Besides balancing Heroes before release, he works on tweaking current game balance by changing existing Heroes. This includes changes to talents all the way through to full Hero reworks.

Jackson was design lead on many substantial Hero reworks, including Zeratul, the Butcher, Arthas, Alarak, Lunara, Kael’Thas and Muradin. With Qhira just announced and live on the PTR, as well as many changes to how ranked play works, we got to chat with Jackson about the new Hero, the changes and more.

First, we asked about the changes to ranked play which reduced the number of games required for placement, did away with stressful promotion and demotion matches and more.

Why the reduction in placement matches?

AJ: We’ve gotten consistent feedback that 10 placement matches feels like too many, and that players want to get into the action of moving through the ranks faster. We saw an opportunity to give our players what they have been asking for here, which is primarily why we’re making the change.

Can you give more detail on the rank point penalty for leaving games, and how you regain the points?

AJ: After leaving a game, players will lose a large number of ranked points as an initial penalty for leaving. However, they can overcome this penalty as they play future matches (while hopefully not leaving), as they will slowly regain those lost points over time, which should be a motivation for them to not leave those games continuously.

Removing promotion and demotion matches has been mentioned before, can you explain the thinking around this change?

AJ: A lot of players have ladder anxiety before playing a Ranked game, and this is especially true when they are on a promotion or demotion match. While we liked that players had a more significant moment when moving between one league to another, we’ve come to learn that overall the Promotion and Demotion system caused too many players to be motivated to stop playing Storm League when on these matches. In order to reduce this and to better have their MMR be mapped to their current rank at all times, we are no longer going to have these breakpoints.

“While we liked that players had a more significant moment when moving between one league to another, we’ve come to learn that overall the Promotion and Demotion system caused too many players to be motivated to stop playing Storm League when on these matches.”

What do you think or hope the net result of your changes will be, with rank decay changes and a ranked questline?

AJ: We hope to increase the competitiveness of Storm League, particularly at the higher ranks, with the rank decay changes, and the ranked questline is intended to be a simple and fun way for players to have a sense of progression when playing Storm League that is unrelated to the Rank that they achieve during the season.

We then got onto the newest Hero to join the roster, another original character created by the team, and how Heroes has evolved from a grand melee to having its own stories and lore.

What was the idea behind Iresia?

AJ: Iresia is the homeworld of Qhira. It was the most technologically advanced realm in the Nexus, but due to internal conflict, was eventually destroyed. Qhira is the only known survivor, and when it was destroyed, she was able to obtain a piece of its singularity, which she wears around her neck. She’s currently looking for other survivors from her realm, but has not found anyone.

As to why Qhira is from this new world, we wanted to have a Nexus born hero who was not directly related to Orphea and her story. While they may meet someday and may have thoughts about one another, Qhira is a completely unique character with her own stories to tell. We also spoke about high-mobility characters, meta busters and the joys of South African pings.

There is a definite drive to make Heroes have its own story, how did that change come about?

AJ: We love creating new and exciting content for our players, and during the time that we were concepting Orphea, we saw a great opportunity to flex our own creative muscles and add our own unique heroes and stories to the Blizzard universe. While we love and will continue to create Heroes from Blizzard’s other games, as people who are in a creative medium, we saw the Nexus as a place where we could tell our own stories as well, which is something that we greatly enjoy doing.

Do you hope to one day reverse things and have another game based on Nexus chars/ plots /worlds?

AJ: That would be awesome! However, at this time we don’t have anything to announce in this regard.

What is the difference in designing an existing hero versus designing an original character? How does the design process change?

AJ: When designing an existing hero, from the outset we already have a lot of the design, both from an artistic and gameplay standpoint, already done for us. While this can make them easier to make in some cases, it also limits us greatly in what we can do. When designing a completely original character, we are much more open to basically do whatever we want with them. We can make ability and talent interactions that would normally not be acceptable, as well as go wild with how to make their effects and silhouettes look.

Will we see skins for other heroes that have Iresian designs?

AJ: That’s a great question! While we can’t guarantee anything at this time, this is definitely a possibility in the future.

Qhira seems to be a very mobile character in an already mobile heavy roster. Is there a reason for so many fast, evasive heroes?

AJ: We do not believe that mobility in every aspect is a bad thing for the game, however the kind of mobility is incredibly important when considering how much to give a Hero. We’re much more cautious of giving unrestricted mobility, for example things like Zeratul’s Blink or Muradin’s Dwarf Toss, where the player can go in any direction with no limitations. Mobility that is restricted to certain conditions is something that we find much more acceptable, as it’s more engaging for both players and offers the opportunity for counter-play. Both of Qhira’s mobility options fall into this category, as they require an enemy Hero or terrain to move to in order for her to move.

“We’re much more cautious of giving unrestricted mobility, for example things like Zeratul’s Blink or Muradin’s Dwarf Toss, where the player can go in any direction with no limitations.”

Qhira’s abilities, such as the grappling hook, involve quick timing and reflexes. When designing characters with skillshots and high mobility, do you consider players with 200ms ping?

AJ: We don’t design our abilities around players who have an extremely high amount of ping. We do design our abilities in such a way that have a reasonable speed and chance to hit, but we don’t make any special concessions based on a player’s ping.

Was Qhira built with a specific meta in mind, as a counter to prevalent playstyles? How does that factor in while designing new heroes?

AJ: Qhira was not designed with a specific meta in mind. She can do reasonably well in pretty much any situation, though she does have a unique playstyle of being strong at ganking and being able to both initiate and finish fights.

Sometimes we do design or rework heroes with a specific meta in mind. One example is when we reworked Arthas, it was during a time when Illidan was extremely powerful and prevalent in games. Arthas fit the fantasy of being the slow, lumbering approach of death, and the attack speed slow that he now has was a great way to add a mechanic that could change the meta while also fitting that hero’s fantasy.

There are now two original character assassins. Will other classes see some love soon?

AJ: While we have nothing to announce at this time, it is definitely possible!

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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