Games Interview: Heroes of the Storm‘s Matthew Cooper talks Mephisto, Hanamura and more

Mephisto, Diablo‘s Lord of Hatred himself, has entered the Nexus. We spoke to Heroes of the Storm Lead Content Designer Matthew Cooper to find out what it takes to successfully weave a character like Mephisto into a game like HotS, and we pick his brain on the recent Hanamura map rework, one of the comprehensive in the game’s history.

 

What was it about Mephisto that made him the right pick to enter the Nexus? What sets him apart?

Mephisto is a character that brings fond memories to many of us at the office and players around the globe. He is one of the three prime evils, a major act boss, and more importantly, a loot piñata that players have farmed countless times. We’re always looking to introduce a good mix of characters into Heroes of the Storm, and Mephisto was a good fit for our 2018 roster as an iconic Diablo character, a Mage, and someone who looks visually distinct from many other characters in the game.

As for what sets him apart, Mephisto’s playstyle really differentiates him from other characters. While at his core he is a Mage, he excels by playing very aggressively, often getting into the middle of the enemy team. If you use your abilities well, you end up doing a high amount of sustained damage by consistently lowering your cooldowns. Many of our mages traditionally do very high burst damage and then they need to wait on cooldowns, whereas Mephisto can keep his abilities going (as long as he is being aggressive and engaging with enemy Heroes.)

 

Mephisto is considered one of the most cunning and manipulative of the primevals. How did these characteristics inform the design of Mephisto’s moveset?

The design and art groups definitely drew inspiration from his lore, his boss mechanics from the original D2 encounter, etc. In terms of his abilities, we wanted to bring mechanics from the original boss fight that players would be familiar with. Skull Missile is one of the abilities that Mephisto would use against players in the original boss encounter, so this was the early inspiration for his Q ability. Very early on we also played with a number of different nova mechanics – in the D2 fight, he uses an iconic Poison Nova ability, but this is something we had already designed for Xul, our Necromancer. This meant that we needed to develop and iterate on something a bit unique here, something that would hit that nova fantasy but provide new gameplay opportunities for players. Eventually we landed on the Lightning Nova ability he has in Heroes of the Storm and this helped to cement that Mephisto would be able to do a ton of sustained damage and helped to shape the direction for the rest of his kit. Ultimately, we wanted Mephisto to be familiar to players, while at the same time, bringing something new and unique to Heroes.

 

Mephisto’s moveset feels like it has a lot of utility when compared to other ranged assassins. He’s good at the chasedown, he can impose status effects, he’s got cooldown reductions, he’s helpful with choke poke. Considering everything he can do, what do you see as the ideal Mephisto playstyle?

Mephisto’s trait, Lord of Hatred, means he is much more impactful when damaging enemy Heroes. As such, Mephisto actually has less wave clear and is not as successful at taking mercenary camps as some of our other mages. Ideally, Mephisto can use his Shade to teleport in very aggressively and start wearing the enemy down. Essentially, he is a mage that can start engages/poke, but he has to put himself in harm’s way to do so.

Shade of Mephisto provides that ability to chase down enemies but done in a unique way. This is a situational teleport ability that is better for being aggressive, and not always useful for getting away from harm. Mephisto is a character that players will need to play a number of times in order to discover how they want to play him – his various talent builds offer different playstyles, and as long as you’re being the right amount of aggressive, you should have some success

Given that it can reveal enemy Hero locations, Consume Souls is an extremely powerful move. How do you balance an ability like that so that it doesn’t feel unfair?

Early on in development, Consume Souls was entirely about the damage which meant you would strictly use it as a finisher. If it didn’t get a kill, it would feel underpowered, while at the same time if it dealt too much damage then it could drastically swing fights and alter the game state. Through iteration we added the slow and the reveal which gives Consume Souls more dimensions – it can still be used as a finisher, but it can also successfully initiate fights. Slowing the enemy team and guaranteeing a lot of damage before a fight starts is hugely impactful.

In general, these kind of abilities are tricky to balance – teams will not always have obvious counterplay options (although Blaze Bunker works nicely). By making Consume Souls more than just a pure damage ability, it gives our live design team more tuning knobs, which is super useful since it allows us to easily tune the CC time, damage, cast time, cooldown, etc.

 

Where do you see Mephisto fitting into team compositions? Are there any Hero or move synergies the team are partial to internally?

It’s hard to say, but we’re definitely excited to see what players do with Mephisto in the live game!

Mephisto obviously occupies a ranged DPS slot, but he’s unique as a sustained damage mage. Typically, you don’t want to have multiple Mages on a team as they’re providing mostly burst damage. Burst damage is great, but most team compositions are going to also want some reliable sustained damage. Mephisto can potentially pair with another mage and still round out your team composition with both burst and sustained damage.

Internally we’ve seen Mephisto pairs well with allies who can provide good CC – using Lightning Nova on enemies who are locked down by an Arthas or a Mosh Pit means hes going to deal an insane amount of damage and have his cooldowns come back extremely quickly.

 

Changing gears now to the recent Hanamura Temple Battleground rework, what was the driving factor in deciding to revisit that particular level?

We first released the Hanamura Battleground last year and tried a ton of ambitious stuff on it. We loved how Towers of Doom had pushed the boundaries of what a Battleground could be, and we wanted to take this even further with Hanamura. Multiple Payloads, a score-based victory, mercenary camps that drop consumable items, etc. Overall, we received a ton of feedback on the battleground, especially about players not clearly knowing what they should be doing at any given time. This feedback, that players didn’t have a clear direction, is the biggest area we wanted to address.

With the updated Hanamura Temple, our primary goal was that players needed to have clear objectives – we liked the Payload mechanic, essentially a moving objective, but having multiple Payloads was creating much of that confusion. Now with the update, only a single Payload will spawn and it’s a tug-of-war. This is definitely much closer to our other Battlegrounds where teams are often battling over a focused objective that can be a pivotal moment for a match. We also revisited many other parts of Hanamura Temple with the update:

Payloads no longer score points towards victory, the objective directly shoots structures

Since structure damage is critical, we have a mercenary camp that pushes the lane, and individual players damaging towers also provides a tangible benefit for their team

We also tried something a little experimental with the new Watch Tower mechanic – defeating this mercenary camp allows the team to capture a beacon that acts as a Watch Tower – the mercenaries then defend this location.

 

 

I’m curious about what the process for reworking a battleground like Hanamura is like? What do you address first? What do you address last?

This is similar to the above answer, but we’re generally looking for what we think the major issues or concerns are and attempting to address those first. In Hanamura’s case, this was the multiple payloads splitting players attention and taking away from the epic team fights that makes Heroes of the Storm exciting for many players. We discussed Hanamura a lot and we were pretty adamant that moving objectives in the form of a Payload could work, we just needed to limit this to a single point of interest for players.

Once we’ve identified the core issues, we implement and playtest – you need to iterate a lot, oftentimes the first thing you design or try won’t be the correct solve, but hopefully you’ll learn and continue getting closer to the right solution. When playing with a single Payload in a tug-of-war format, this was immediately a huge improvement, but it required us to update the layout of the map significantly, revisit mercenary camps, and hone in on the damage the payloads are doing. Even little things like the turret being placed on Payload’s – this was something we liked but eventually iterated out of. It felt weird to be able to put a Turret on a neutral payload and created some awkward moments.

To talk about the Mercenaries a little bit: Upon moving away from the score system and allowing players to directly attack cores, we quickly designed some mercenary camps to push lanes. The recon camp that currently guards the Watch Towers were initially a fairly weak camp that pushed lanes and their attacks blinded enemy Heroes. We iterated on this a little bit but had a few challenges: a fairly weak camp that pushes on a 2-lane battleground didn’t have a lot of value and the blind effect was confusing for players. Watch Towers that had mercenary guards were something we’ve wanted to try for a while, so we ended up trying this – we were excited about giving players a vision option especially since the lanes on this battleground are fairly long and can pull you far from safety.

 

Our sincere thanks to Matthew for taking the time to chat with us. Heroes of the Storm is free to play on Windows PC and Mac OS via the Battle.Net launcher.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.