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Heroes of the Storm: Dustin Browder interview

We talk Li Ming, Xul, improving matchmaking and fixing the stun meta.

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About John Bedford

John is Metabomb's Editor in Chief, and is responsible for all of the Hearthstone news, features and guides content on the site.

Two new characters have just been revealed for Heroes of the Storm: Li Ming, representing Diablo 3's Wizard, and Xul the Necromancer from Diablo 2.

Last night, we had the opportunity to speak with Game Director Dustin Browder about the design of these new characters, and also find out a little more on the team's immediate plans for improving matchmaking and addressing the stun meta.

(Don't forget to check out our Heroes of the Storm Hero guides if you want to get up to speed with any other characters in the game!)

I wanted to ask you first of all about the new character Li Ming. What sort of diversity is there in the build system for this Hero?

"We're doing lots of different stuff with our talents. As we become more and more comfortable with the system we learn more and more. We've got lucky in the past with some of our Heroes - where our early tests were pretty successful - and we got unlucky in a couple of cases with some of our earlier builds - they weren't as diverse as we'd like and we're revisiting them as we go. For a character like Li Ming we've got three core builds, although obviously you can mix and match as well.

"The first build you can take with Li Ming is a Magic Missile build which is a good, midrange build. Li Ming is a little less worried about what her teammates are doing than she is about the battleground and what the enemy is doing. The Magic Missile build is good against teams of mixed compositions, or if you're on a battleground where you're not sure where you'll be fighting. You want to be good at distance and good close-up, and you need that flexibility overall.

"The Arcane Orb build is a much more poke-orientated build for when you're on a battleground like Cursed Hollow where you know there's going to be a lot of poking going on. Say you're against Raynor - who can shove you away - he's not easy to burst into oblivion but you know you want to poke this guy to pieces.

"The last build is a little bit more scary, and it's a teleport build. It involves not you teleporting out of danger, but instead taking your vulnerable glass-cannon wizard and teleporting right into the heart of the action, then blowing everyone up with all kinds of teleport-orientated attacks.

"This is a very dangerous and very aggressive build. If you know what you're doing with it, if you understand the strategy of the game, if you're carefully timing enemies core crowd-control abilities, and you understand when it's safe to approach and when it's not safe to approach, you can get a tonne of value out of a teleport build."

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How the team designs new Heroes

When you're designing these characters and their roster of skills, what's your process for deciding which ones work for a particular Hero? How do you arrive at those core HotS abilities from such a wider pool available in the original universe?

"You can look at any one of the Diablo 3 characters and see the challenges we're dealing with there. Look at Sonia, or Kharazim or the Wizard or Nazeebo.

"I'd certainly argue that a core part of Witch Doctor is Zombie Dogs. When we developed Nazeebo, we thought we had to go another way though - I feel like we have to be very careful how much we use pets in the game. They can fill up the game with a lot of noise, and it can be difficult to control them. We had to go another way with that character, but we want to be true to the core. What is this person about? What does it feel like when you play them?

"We definitely look for iconic abilities. We really felt like [Li Ming's] Disintegrate was an iconic ability from Diablo 3. There are certainly players who don't use that ability, but it's such an iconic ability, just how it jumps off the sceen at you when you see someone using it.

"We thought if we can hold onto that then we should try. We're always looking for those kinds of opportunities, such as Sonia with Whirlwind. Are there other Barbarian abilities? Absolutely, but Whirlwind works for us and we're looking for those intersections."

Can we talk a little bit about the origins of Xul?

"He comes from Diablo 2. He is a well-loved Diablo 2 hero that didn't really come forward in exactly the same form in Diablo 3...He's been an often requested character from us by our players since we announced the game in 2013. At PAX, Gamescom and so on, people asked for Necromancer. We thought it would be fun to make a guy who can summon skeletons, can curse enemies, and really get that Necromancer vibe from Diablo 2."

You teased the other day on Twitter that you might look into Diablo 2 characters...

"There were some people asking me specifics about things with voiceovers and people asking if it was Diablo 2. I'm really not meant to leak this stuff, tempting though it may be from time to time! I will no doubt doing it again some time by mistake! They were such iconic characters from that era of gaming if you had a chance to play it. The Diablo 2 Druid would be an absolute blast, and the Paladin would be an absolute joy."

Are you going to move on from Diablo 3 now and focus on the other universes? Or maybe do some of the remaining Diablo 3 bad guys?

"We're always bouncing around. We feel like Heroes is at its most fun when you don't know what's coming next, it's all crazy, and stuff's changing all the time - there's a new weird character coming out of the woodwork to join the Nexus.

"We had a period of time last summer where we had a Diablo-themed event which was pretty cool and we did enjoy it. But it did seem like it was a little too much Diablo. I think we definitely want to consider themed events going forwards, but for shorter periods of time.

"We definitely want to bounce around a lot. We want Heroes of the Storm in its right groove where it's doing crazy stuff all the time. We'll definitely do some new universes going forwards, but we'll bounce back to Diablo, and just try to keep it as fresh as possible."

The future of matchmaking in Heroes of the Storm

What's happening in the next round of matchmaking changes, and what's the acceptable balance between getting a good game and getting a quick game?

"Well, right now we're definitely going a little long on the matchmaking. We've extended our matchmaker by around 30 seconds depending on your skill level, the time of day etc. We've definitely seen big improvements in the matchmaker, we can study the behind-the-scenes data. We know how many games the matchmaker was making in the past that it knew were bad matches, and we've seen a drastic reduction.

"Right now we're definitely taking a little longer to make better matches and that's in line with our feedback from players saying "Hey, I'd rather take another minute to make a match and have a good one, than have [a faster] one that's garbage.

"We just recently made a change about team size, and we're going to study that change and see how it goes. We were caring a little less about team size in December when we rolled out those changes. Now, in January, we have feedback about team size. We see the numbers - who's winning and losing - for things like five-man versus solo. The numbers are not bad and even pretty fair. We can actually see that at a lot of skill levels, the five solos do just fine.

"The perception issues are real [though], and I think it sometimes feels like teams are in a hole when the game begins and it kind of feels bad.

"The matchmaking team decided to tackle that problem. They went ahead and made a change, I think just last week. Does it have a negative impact, a positive impact? I'm not saying you'll never get a five-man team versus solos, but we've definitely favoured matching bigger groups versus bigger groups, while also trying to keep the skill level in line with one another. Skill level is a critical component to hang onto.

"Going forward I know there's more the team wants to do, and they're studying what is possible and what is not possible. I don't know if this is going in or not, but one of the rules they're examining involves a bunch of Heroes we call "low lane presence" Heroes - they change the style of everyone on their team when they come into play.

"When you get too many of them on one team it can be very challenging to figure out what to do. For example if you get Murky, Nova, Cho'Gall all on one team, then throw in a Zeratul...We don't think it would damage the matchmaking time to make sure some of these Heroes were split up more often than not. We'll take a look at that and see if that's viable.

"There's also a lot of enthusiasm on the matchmaking team to take a look at MMR accuracy. The MMR is supposed to reflect something in the real world. Right now it reflect your wins and your losses, but it's also supposed to represent how good you are. If, for some reason, you've been lucky and got more wins than losses, that number could divert you from your actual rating...We're also looking at adjusting your MMR based on the number of games played with a particular Hero."

Introducing new social features into the game

Will there be more tools to dictate what type of group I want? For example, if I'm looking for a party but I want to specify a preference to play a Ranged Assassin, or another character archetype that I feel I'm good at playing?

"We're not planning on that right now. I would like to get more social systems like a clan system to let you self-organise teams a lot more easily, but still have a social contract with players before you go into a game. I do think the best way to play the game is with friends, and the barriers to players doing so are a little higher than I would like.

"There are players going into chat channels and finding people which is great, but I know a lot of players are not doing that. I encourage everyone out there to go into the chat channels, talk to your fellow gamers, find like-minded players and play with them. But I do want to add more tools down the road to allow yourself to organise, for sure.

Do you think that's the main barrier for the next big push to elevate the popularity of the game?

"I think that will certainly help, and I think there's lots more work we can do on this game. We can do more balance, we can add more Heroes. We don't have bans yet, we don't have Master League yet, we've got to do Seasons! There's so much stuff we have yet to do in this game that we keep working on.

"I'm always excited about the next patch, I'm excited about what's coming in the months to come. I always feel like whatever we're playing now, it's going to be so much better in just a few months. If you could just knock me out and wake me up a month from now I'd be so excited. I cannot wait for what's coming next."

How the developers intend to fix the stun meta

Regarding the stun meta, what's your top-down approach for dealing with this problem?

"First step is to just nerf some of the more obnoxious stuns. Second step is we can remove some stuns from certain characters that I don't think have any business having stuns on them - or at least not that many. Third step, if none of that works, is to discuss concepts like stun reduction over time - like World of Warcraft has."

Can you give some specific examples of likely candidates?

"Tyrande is obviously vulnerable and Raynor is obviously vulnerable to having their stuns reduced. I feel Muradin doesn't need a bunch of micro-stuns on his Avatar, for example. It is insane what he's getting for that Heroic Ability.

"I don't even know if Raynor needs the stun talent on his Q. We're going to nerf it to start with, but maybe it needs to go away completely. I think there are lots of ways we can go about this. Even reducing a quarter of a second here, a half second there off of these stuns could make a big difference to gameplay overall."

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