Blizzard recently announced that Heroes of the Storm will get its own original hero in Orphea. The company's answer to Dota 2 has, since its inception, leaned heavily on Blizzard's other franchises such as Warcraft, Overwatch, StarCraft, and Diablo for its many playable characters, maps, and events. On the sidelines of BlizzCon 2018, Gadgets 360 spoke to Matthew Cooper, Lead Content Designer on Heroes of the Storm to find out what led to Orphea's creation, the possibility of Heroes of the Storm hitting mobile devices, and the thought process behind some of its heroes.
First up we had to ask if we could see Heroes of the Storm coming to smartphones. With Blizzard doubling down on its foray into the mobile market despite the backlash towards recent efforts such as Diablo Immortal, could Heroes of the Storm be next? After all, the likes Arena of Valor have shown that mobile tech is good enough for multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) experiences.
"It's an interesting conversation," Cooper says. "It's not a simple port or anything like that. You'd have to drastically change a lot of characters and mechanics, it would be a very large undertaking. Right now, our core focus is improving the current Heroes of the Storm experience."
The improvements he refers to include the addition of new heroes such as Orphea. The conceptualisation of Orphea began with the Raven Lord. He's the announcer on several battlegrounds and a key figure in Heroes of the Storm lore. Cooper tells us he's a character players find interesting, leading to the Heroes of the Storm team deciding to flesh out his backstory.
"It was conversations between artists and designers talking about his family and who is his daughter and what does that [relationship] look like and who she is," he says. "Oscar Vega [Heroes of the Storm concept artist] started conceptualising art for her. Her look that we have in-game was actually pretty close to one of his original concepts."
Certain parts of her visual identity such as a relic she carries around gave Orphea's silhouette a unique look. For the Heroes of the Storm team, a playable character's shadow is as important as the character itself.
"Any time we add a new character and get a different looking silhouette that we haven't seen before, then it makes it a lot easier to do skins and other things because the character is very recognisable at a glance," he says.
What's interesting is that the team took close to a year to work Orphea into the game, which is more than they spend on most of its other heroes. There are four comics along with an in-game event called the Dark Nexus that told the story of the Raven Lord corrupting other realms, all as ways to introduce Orphea into the game.
"Essentially she'll be standing shoulder to shoulder with Arthas [from Warcraft 3] and Kerrigan [from StarCraft 1 and 2] and these other characters that have 20 plus years of Blizzard lore behind them," he says when asked why there was a massive build up behind Orphea's reveal in Heroes of the Storm. Close to a year on a hero is far from the norm.
"In general, a new character from once we start to the day we ship it is usually six or seven months," he says. "And then [with] BlizzCon heroes, we usually spend more time than that. Like for Orphea, we spent closer to nine months of designing her. But before we can eventually get to that point, there are a lot of discussions around what the character looks like, who is she, and so on, so that our hero designer Kyle Dates can hit the ground running because he's got this concept to refer to and he can start figuring out her abilities."
Orphea aside, we wondered what the process is for creating Heroes of the Storm's many heroes.
"For any character that we're adding from an established Blizzard game like Arthas or Kerrigan they have a very well established identity, look, and play style," he says. "But even then there are challenges because in terms of art as it's not going to look like it belongs in the same game if we take them as is. We don't always take the most recent version of a character either, we pick a moment in time of bringing that character in. Like Jaina [from the Warcraft games] we didn't take the more recent version of her with the grey hair. We took the more old school version of Jaina."
On the topic of characters from different franchises, we had to ask which is the toughest Blizzard game to adapt into Heroes of the Storm.
"The Overwatch team is in a lot of ways the most hands on when we develop their characters because they are the newest Blizzard universe. They want to make sure that we're representing their characters in the most accurate way possible, he says. "In some ways I'd say the Overwatch team might be one of the more challenging teams to bring their characters in, even though the kits translate really well."
In other cases, however, it's a question of what aspects of a hero's abilities need to be brought into the game.
"If you look at Diablo, this is a boss from Diablo 1, 2, and 3. He had bone prison, lightning breath, fire stomp, flame wave, he had all these clones in Diablo 3," he says. "The challenge is figuring out what players expect from this hero and what's the fantasy of playing as it and what's unique about this hero that we're bringing into Heroes of the Storm."
Speaking of new heroes, we wondered if Orphea's presence in the game opened the doors for the Raven Lord to be a playable character in the future.
"One of the reasons we didn't do the Raven Lord and did Orphea instead was there was a challenge with the Raven Lord being a map announcer," he says. "So you're playing on a battleground and he's overseeing things and calling out events to players so it's a little odd to be playing him as a character in that same space."
Furthermore, Cooper feels that due to the kind of character the Raven Lord is, having him controlled by players may not quite fit Heroes of the Storm's gameplay.
"We consider realm lords like the Raven Lord as very powerful beings, almost like gods because they control an entire realm, so we weren't sure if that would quite fit like what a playable character would be," he says.
Moving on to the heroes themselves, Orphea's introduction leaves players with 84 to choose from in totality. With so much variety spanning years of Blizzard lore, which ones are played the most?
"It varies throughout time though Li-Ming [from Diablo] is usually a very popular hero," he says. "Actually quite a few of our ranged assassins are near the top. Raynor [from the StarCraft series] is pretty popular too. It does change patch to patch a bit. It also depends on the win rate of the hero, the free-to-play rotation [as not all heroes are available at all times unless they're purchased] and things like that. But in general we see quite a few ranged assassin class characters near the top."
With that in mind we wondered if we'd see a change in monetisation to take advantage of this. Right now cosmetic items and heroes can be bought in Heroes of the Storm, and this is unlikely to change.
"Our new hero content is the heartbeat of the game," he says. "It shakes up the meta and it's a big piece of content for players to engage with. Overall, we're pretty happy with the business side of Heroes of the Storm in general."
Disclosure: Blizzard sponsored the correspondent's flights and hotel for BlizzCon 2018.
If you're a fan of video games, check out Transition, Gadgets 360's gaming podcast. You can listen to it via Apple Podcasts or RSS, or just listen to this week's episode by hitting the play button below.