Game Design Process
17. How are heroes designed? Who’s involved in the process? How are stats, speed, and specials determined? How do you approach nerfs/buffs for heroes already released?
We have a fairly clear order of what colors, classes, and genders are coming up because we have a pretty clear idea of what combinations are needed. It may not be clear to the community, but we know internally that we need, say, yet another Holy monk, or a Hero of different speed, in near future.
Gender of new heroes generally alternates monthly — for example, January was Onatel (female), February Kunchen (male) and so on. We listen to community feedback — e.g. we heard a lot of requests for a female orc; that’s coming! We took a while to get that through, because there’s a pretty long lead time for a hero. We get the art through, then plan the special that would fit the art, idea and the meta. So for example with the female orc, the community has really been asking for a female orc. It probably should be red or green, but all the male orcs are red, so when can we have a red character? Then we have the art ready and the slot ready.
Specials, especially this year for HotM, are trying to fill something that is missing, or the meta is very skewed in some way. But we can’t guarantee that everyone gets a HotM so to some extent this is a creative process.
The wilder things tend to happen with the event heroes. HOTM this year — let’s see how it goes in 2020 — are remixing existing special components, while the event heroes have the wilder specials. When we started designing Wonderland, all bets were off, like for Cheshire Cat. We just couldn’t give such a wild skill as reshuffling to a Legendary hero — if there’s too high a risk of really breaking the balance, then that hero has to go down to a lower rarity. Once we know what we’re doing and how it will fit in the meta, then we hope to get a skill like the Cheshire Cat’s to the Legendary level.
Was Wilbur an example of that? He’s almost a 5* in a 4*'s body.
Yes, and Merlin as well. We wanted a hero who could possess another, is a good example of a skill that was potentially too powerful for a legendary. Event heroes are designed in batches and can allow more range, while with the HotM, which are all legendary and released one by one, we are a bit more cautious and they are a bit more safe designed. With the Challenge Event heroes, we are able to be a bit wilder. This is a big topic!
18. Have you ever had a fight over original art for the game? If yes, which art and who won?
Yes, some. Very early in the game, we decided it could house more different visual styles than other games. It’s had ups and downs; not everyone liked the Christmas hero art. We’re pretty happy with the design process because it’s also created the opportunity for good designs to come in. Even if there a few negative voices, they might decide it’s still okay to have that art in the game because we’re still following the philosophy that the game can have many different artistic styles.
Once Season 3 comes, we’ve learned some things from feedback on Season 2 heroes art and design that will affect Season 3 heroes.
Not many fights internally, but we still want to keep up the spirit of experimentation with heroes and art; we think in the long term that makes the game even better. There are some debates internally about revising released art; we did that early, as you can see comparing the early promotion art, but we’ve been resistant to change in the last year, year and a half. We are keeping focused on the future, even in this area.
We all have our heroes that we all have our pet peeves and our favorites and least favorites.
19. Where do you find your inspiration for the far-flung art designs?
Everywhere; it’s part of the design process to be open. When we had options for the fifth challenge event, instead of going with “it’s another tribe of orcs” or a variation of an earlier challenge, we really intentionally looked for ideas that could theoretically fit the game but could be fresh. Alice in Wonderland, which is used in many different ways in many different medias, seemed interesting against the small chance that it could go horribly wrong — like any creative idea. With Christmas, we were saying, what if we had some truly Christmas heroes.
We have some super-talented artists in the company, but we also get art from all over the planet, because we have a lot of art needs. Asia, North America, some from Finland which adds diversity to the game’s art style. We want art that’s done by different people in different places around the world. It’s worked out surprisingly well.
Can you speak to the Japanese heroes and where those designs came from?
For Season 2, we wanted three distinct families; Season 3 might be very different. We wanted the Atlantis family, something that’s very Asian (I’m a big fan of samurais, but everyone’s a fan of something and that affects decisions).
The very first idea of Season 2 was like, “the heroes go to the Bahamas,” so that was another family theme.
The three family ideas may not be totally in line with each other, so that might mean that they were less focused, and Season 3 is likely to be more focused on one central idea. After setting three different themes, SGG worked with different partners to develop the distinct families. Asian characters were not drawn in Asia, so some of the details might not be exactly right.
Kira: I didn’t realize how little known Danzaburo was outside of Japan, he’s quite famous. There are shrines to him all over the place, and he looks exactly like a statue you could buy in a Japanese gift shop; we even have one in the office. Our art has added a little loincloth to make him more appropriately dressed.
Tim: Pretty far-flung ideas. We always try to make sure there’s cool things in queue for the next 6-12 months. We are still a small company so things happen pretty freely. We try to combine the ideas and art design we get from this forward-thinking process. Hopefully, we like it and enough people like it. We understand when someone picks up an issue in the design. “Why is this a bit more wilder bunch than in some other games?” We intend to have this game running for many, many years. Next year we might adjust the style a bit based on community feedback, and the year after that something new might happen again.
20. We now have five Challenge Events, one for each reflecting color. Are there new events planned? Will these be added to or replace existing events?
I think this is public — well, it’s public now. Breaking news!
The plan is to update/refresh all current events well before the end of the year.
The original plan has always been to have five challenge events, but it did not happen quite as quickly as maybe some thought it might. Now we’re up to five. So before we think of the sixth, we intend to do more work on the existing five.
There will be sneak peeks of new challenge event heroes in the future.
We’ll look at the rules for the challenge events.
I think we will have a challenge event summons token once we do a refresh of the whole thing. The challenge events are the only portal that doesn’t have a free way to draw, which we’d like to add.
The sneak peek might be of the new heroes, because we already know who will be there, or a sneak peek of other stuff.
21. Does hero design take into account diversity of age/race/body type?
We have a long lead time on hero design, so changes happen gradually.
With respect to gender, from our point of view, the HotM are already developed male-female-male-female. Some are a bit more like, what is the gender of a statue or a ghost, but we’ve actually developed them based on gender.
With race, we have a bit more work to do. Even at the beginning of the game, we chose Bane to be a lead character of the original cast, but we’re trying to be more systematic about race and body shape; that’s part of the plan.
We are trying to get more elderly heroes in the game (such as upcoming Hero of the Month, Margaret). Not the easiest thing in the world, even in the fantasy world genre.
Some popular movies are doing awesome work on this. When some old stories are made into movies, they go through a reshuffle of races and genders of characters. We’ve tried to get people of different skin colors in the Challenge Events, but we have more work to do there.
Kira: We’re especially trying to have a diverse representation of women in the game. Sometimes there’s less armor than some would like; last year we introduced three skimpily clad women in a row and we learned our lesson from that. It’s something we talk a lot about, and we have a very international team here at SGG. There is always a debate within the office. I quite like our female characters; I think they’re super powerful and great, but I’d like an old maid.
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