Developer Insights: The Lost Vikings
It’s time for another Developer Insights, where we bring you the inside scoop on heroes and their transition to the Nexus. This time, Game Designer John Hodgson sits down to chat about The Lost Vikings.
Trikslyr: Heroes of the Storm is all about creating an environment in which Blizzard's characters from a variety of games battle it out. The Lost Vikings was a puzzle platformer we released back in 1992, and gave many players their first Blizzard experience. How did the design team tackle the concept of bringing these Vikings from a very different type of game to Heroes? What was important to carry over from the original series?
John: Whenever we bring a new Hero into the Nexus, we try and identify what made those characters so memorable in the first place, then somehow incorporate those identifying features into the game. This is true for all characters, from Valla to Chen, to The Lost Vikings— it's just that in the Vikings' case, the time between then and now has been much longer than it was for other characters.
We asked ourselves what made The Lost Vikings a unique, fun experience. The answer was that it was a game that required players to solve puzzles by swapping between three avatars in the game— a unique hook for a puzzle-platformer game at the time. That was the concept we ran with for The Lost Vikings in Heroes of the Storm: three individual Heroes that the player could control. Once we nailed down this core concept, we built the Vikings around it.
We tried to include as much of the original Vikings as we could into the game as long as it made mechanical sense for Heroes of the Storm, so we retained things like the different Viking movement speeds and Erik head-butting enemies (through a Talent). However, we had to break from the original in some respects, too. For example, in The Lost Vikings, only Baleog could attack, but we felt that all the Vikings should be able to attack in Heroes of the Storm.
TrikSlyr: Can you give us a brief introduction of the mechanics the Vikings will be introducing to Heroes of the Storm? What makes them different and what should players expect?
John: Unlike all of our other current Heroes, the Vikings are three Heroes in one! Playing The Lost Vikings is a challenge in micromanagement, as if you were controlling a set of units in StarCraft, moving and attacking with them as a group or individually.
Each Viking has different attributes from the others. Erik the Swift moves faster and attacks from a longer range than the others, but has the smallest health pool. Baleog the Fierce has an average health pool and movement speed, but boasts a powerful ranged attack that deals splash damage. Finally, Olaf the Stout has the most health and can charge to enemies, slowing them for a short time, but otherwise has a slower movement speed. Certain Talents can benefit a Viking individually, while other Talents benefit them all. Each Viking has their own death timer, and each interacts with map mechanics individually.
The ability to control each Viking individually means that players should expect a unique challenge when playing The Lost Vikings. In my experience, they create a frantic, exciting, high-speed game experience not unlike StarCraft II. By the time you read this, talented players may take the Vikings to the next level—we're excited to see how players react to them!
Trikslyr:The Lost Vikings do not start with any additional abilities on their Q, W, or E. In fact, the Vikings can choose talents to unlock abilities as the match progresses. Why did you decide to allow players to unlock abilities?
John: Early in development, the Vikings originally had abilities by default; in fact, each Viking had different abilities! But it was very difficult for us to get a handle on how they should play when so much of a player's effectiveness was wrapped up in how you used the abilities. We felt that we should focus on what makes the Vikings unique and make that as fun as possible. Gradually we removed all their abilities so we could focus on just the gameplay of moving and attacking with three Heroes. Once we had that nailed down, we were getting feedback from many players that enjoyed not having to worry about abilities, and many other players that wanted a little more.
The Talent system was the solution in getting both groups of players what they wanted. Players who want more activated abilities can choose those Talents over the passive power-ups. We already have this kind of choice on other Heroes with activated abilities such as Promote, First Aid, and Bolt of the Storm. We simply changed where we put them with the Vikings.
We'll be monitoring the Talent choices closely to see how players choose to fill out their Vikings. We suspect that we might need to make adjustments, but we’re looking forward to seeing how beta testers do with the current setup.
Trikslyr: Let's talk about the heroics abilities. With the Vikings being three separate entities, how did the design team tackle the idea of creating a heroic? What makes the two currently in-game different and interesting?
John: A Hero's Heroic abilities serve many design functions; chief among them is providing an epic "moment" where the full power of a Hero is unleashed. Our goal for designing the Vikings' Heroics was to make one of these "moments" while also trying to provide some critical utility that the Vikings would need.
Play Again! is definitely an oddball Heroic that works uniquely well with the Vikings. The Vikings are a little weaker individually than other Heroes, so they tend to die more often. We felt a moment to "cheat" your way out of that and bring all the Vikings to bear would be really neat. Play Again! revives all your dead Vikings and teleports all of them to the casting Viking, which can be perfect for reinforcing an attack or defense. It’s pretty useful for sneaking your Vikings behind a team for a flanking attack or split-pushing other lanes.
Longboat Raid! was an idea we had all along while designing the Vikings. We asked ourselves what it would be like if you could combine all your Vikings together into a single unit for a short period of time. The appeal was both to control a single epic unit, combining the might of the Vikings, while also allowing players to take a momentary break from controlling all three Vikings constantly. The original idea was that all the Vikings would get into a "fight cloud" like you see in old cartoons, which would vacuum up enemy minions. Then it evolved into a Viking Terra-tron idea. Finally, we arrived at an epic Norse warship, fit for pillage and plunder!
Trikslyr: It's time to end this episode of Developer Insights. There has to be a hilarious story from trying The Lost Vikings in the bullpen. Have anything fun to share?
John: Hilarious? Well, it was funny in hindsight, I suppose...
We very recently fixed a bug where Baleog was so fierce that he somehow dealt damage to invulnerable game elements. He was killing watchtowers, the capture points on Sky Temple (both cases rendering them un-capturable), he was even killing the Talents out of other Heroes' active Talent inventory! And, of course (this being game development and all), this was happening right as we were approving the Vikings for release. Fortunately, we got it fixed, but now we take it seriously when Baleog says he's going to smash something.
A huge thank you to John Hodgson and the design team for taking time out of their day to chat with us about The Lost Vikings. Keep an eye on HeroesoftheStorm.com for more news from the Nexus.