Interview with Valerie Chu, Hearthstone narrative designer about Book of Heroes

Hearthstone, like a tavern, has many different tastes and pleasures to peruse. Whether you are playing Standard or Wild, hopping into the Arena for glory and testing your clout with limited decks, enjoying a tavern brawl, playing a single-player adventure or hopping into Battlegrounds for some fun, there is something to please just about anyone. After the success of the introduction of the Demon Hunter class, the team wants to give that same attention to the other heroes of the tavern, the old salts that have been around since the early beta days.

A new free single-player adventure system is on the way, called Book of Heroes. In it, we will play through the biggest moments of each hero, seeing their story from their perspective and watching them grow into the mighty heroes they are now. This will allow fans of Hearthstone that aren’t necessarily World of Warcraft buffs to get to know the heroes they join in fierce battle, while lore buffs can see events laid out in Hearthstone style.

We spoke to Valerie Chu about the first Book of Heroes, which features the powerful Mage and Daughter of the Sea, Jaina Proudmoore.

When making an adventure with Jaina, how much do you look ahead at what’s happening in the storyline for inspiration and themes and concepts for players?

When I was working on the book of heroes for Jaina, I really just dove into the research to look at everything we’ve ever put out about her life and what’s happened and from that high-level view, it’s easy to see sort of the patterns and the moments that are interesting. There’s a lot of content in Wow that is dealing with her family and her Kul Tiran heritage and the seeds of some of those conflicts were really important.

Even as far back as Warcraft 3, where the confrontation happens between the Horde and her father. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff there, we’re mostly focused in Hearthstone on bringing the earlier part of Jaina’s life to the forefront to bring her up to the point where Hearthstone players met her, which is her portrait in Hearthstone that happens shortly after the fall of Theramore. But there’s just so much rich storytelling to dive in there. It’s really great and I hope some players will be motivated to check out what’s going on in WoW after playing Hearthstone.

There’s a lot of players of Hearthstone who are not very familiar with the lore and where Jaina comes from. So how did you go about expressing Jaina and her story without them knowing this whole backstory?

I really enjoyed getting to tell the story for both of those audiences. I think it’s really important to introduce people to Jaina in terms of how she started off as a mage training in Dalaran. So that works well with the things you know from Hearthstone because we know about Dalaran and we spent some time there we know about her mentor Archmage Antonidas so there are moments of familiarity, I think, for both sides.

And mostly, I really enjoyed getting to put the little Easter eggs in there for people who do enjoy the lore or reading the wikis because there’s so much to draw from that you can just make really subtle in the decks. And we also have some new cards that are exclusive to the single-player mode. So, in making those new cards, I was excited to introduce things from other games, or the novels that relate to Jaina’s life.

I found it interesting that we now have two adventures that go with someone going from a student to a master. Is this a theme we might see going ahead?

I think that is a theme that is specific to certain heroes lives right? Like the classic hero’s journey: we see someone start from humble beginnings and rise to be a powerful and iconic representative of their class. So really, it just depends on the hero and what their background lore is. For Jaina, it ended up working quite nicely with Scholomance Academy and some of the new cards are featured in some of her earlier decks, which helps capture that moment and makes you really feel like you are Jaina going through those lessons and learning to increase your magic power.

But for other heroes, the journey is pretty different like, even when we were doing the prologue for Illidan, which is different from Book of Heroes, but very much inspired it, he was already a capable mage when he decided to try and take the gamble to conquer demonic power as well. So their stories are quite different and hopefully, that will be a fun experience for players as they get to enjoy all these different storylines.

When will we get more books in the book of heroes?

So we are trying out a new release cadence for the single-player adventure. Although the book of heroes is the name for all of the content will be divided into 10 parts. So, there will be one instalment for each of the core Hearthstone heroes, even Illidan will get more content. Because he just can’t get enough. Each Hero will have eight missions that are single-player and we’re hoping to release them roughly a month apart. So, you will have something new to look forward to every month in Hearthstone and also with each hero, there will be a special hero skin. A bundle available in the store featuring one of their new appearances from their book of heroes instalment.

We see Jaina flinging in any spells that aren’t in the typical Hearthstone mage toolkit?

Yes, so as we were creating the book of heroes, something that was really important to us was making sure that players felt their power level growing as Jaina’s power grows. Right? Because she’s one of the most powerful mages on Azeroth, and because of that the single-player mode allows us to give you some very special and exciting cards that capture those moments from her life, but would probably be very difficult to balance in ranked play. Additionally, on top of that, her hero power will change with each mission. So you’ll really have that sense of, like, you start off with the basic mage hero power, which is fine but then they get more exciting and you’re able to do wild and crazy things as you’re fighting more and more difficult opponents and a lot of these abilities or things you’ll recognise if you have played Jaina in other games, like Warcraft three or World of Warcraft. So it was really fun getting to re-imagine that experience to really bring Jaina her full power to life in Hearthstone.

What was the inspiration for Book of Heroes?

I think the Book of Heroes idea itself came quite naturally out of our work on the prologue for Illidan’s debut as demon hunter we wanted everyone to get to know him and then we kind of sat back and thought, well, maybe all of our Hearthstone players should get to know all of our heroes. This seems like something that would be a great opportunity and we all felt really strongly that it would be nice to begin with Jaina. Not just because of Scholomance, which we already had planned at that point, but because she’s also featured in our tutorial, and she’s just iconic and well known Hearthstone character. Everyone will have their chance in the spotlight. All of our core heroes will have their own Book of Heroes and planning that has been hard because there are so many great classes, but just please, please be patient and hang with us. And your favourite Hero will get their own instalment soon.

I’m so grateful to the community and to our team for growing to the point where we’re able to take on ambitious new content releases like this. It’s really exciting. It’s an exciting time for Hearthstone.

Are these tall tavern tales, or will we see the events clearly?

For me, I really like incorporating everything that’s come before. So it’s a rewarding experience for people who’ve invested into knowing the lore. Everything in Hearthstone is sort of central to that Hearthstone tavern and the stories they tell and it is its own world, but I think there’s a lot of value in respecting the lore that’s come out before and the players who’ve experienced that hopefully, if we’ve done our job as much as we’d like to, they won’t feel that there are any shocking twists or surprises in the Book of Heroes. But it has also given us a chance to kind of expand on some moments and fill in some gaps, so that’s nice too. Because it is only eight missions, some stuff is left out, but it shouldn’t feel like it didn’t happen. It’s just there wasn’t space for it. So, that type of challenge always comes with making content and presenting content in the framework of the game. But I think the overall reward is just getting to see Jaina’s story in Hearthstone and getting to see all of those moments strung together from her perspective for the first time is actually quite exciting and resonant.

Are the Book of Heroes linked to the expansions they will be released during?

It will vary, depending on the character how closely the theme reflects the upcoming expansion. So, Book of Heroes is kind of its own wild, both in deck creation and in nature. Since we’re going out 10 months in the future, Book of Heroes content will be continuing through all of those new expansion sets.

Everything in Hearthstone is sort of central to that Hearthstone tavern and the stories they tell and it is its own world, but I think there’s a lot of value in respecting the lore that’s come out before.

What is the hardest thing about designing these books?

The hardest part was probably narrowing it down to just eight iconic fights for Jaina, because I feel like we could easily do a lot. But, yeah, that’s the main challenge for me, there are so many good moments and the characters just have such wonderful stories that have stuck with people for a long time. So choosing well and trying to do that justice and to string together a moving and exciting tale is, you know, that, that’s what the book of heroes is all about. So it does incorporate some more serious storytelling than we’ve seen in Hearthstone, which tends to be quite a light-hearted, fun game.

But I think at this point, Hearthstone has grown to the point where it can service a number of different storylines and we can see that variety in there and enjoy it together.

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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