All Aboard: Creating the Nexus’s First Multi-Hero Mount
“It almost seemed like some people were more excited about the train mount than about Deathwing.”
Veteran Hero Designer Kyle Dates leans back in his chair and a bright-eyed smile flashes across his face. We’ve just asked him to recount how Heroes of the Storm’s first multi-Hero mount came to be, and it’s clear he has a story to share about this little engine that… almost didn’t.
When the team first showed off the mount at BlizzCon, Dates explains, “everyone just kind of assumed it [linking up your train cars] would be automatic.” Though, as he knew, this was not currently the case. “At the time they didn’t connect,” says Dates, “and there was no intention for them to connect.” The only way to form a train was to organize your buddies and have everyone meticulously control their character in line. Sure, you could make it work, but players wanted more.
The crowd’s reaction to what they thought was the first multi-person mount in the Nexus was immediate, loud, and for Dates and the team, a little terrifying. His eyes pop as he walks us through his panicked thoughts - “There was this insane amount of excitement that I don’t think anyone on our team was prepared for (…) crap, everyone is saying 5-player mount, we can’t not deliver on that!” So, come Monday morning, the team headed into the office invigorated and determined to turn these related but disconnected mounts into a fully functional train. But, how? They knew it was technically possible. In fact, they had originally considered the same idea using the Scarlet Heist’s motorcycle and sidecar but getting everything running smoothly was deemed too complicated to realize at the time. Now, they were setting out to do it again, but on a much larger scale. Deadlines were looming. It was Monday, the patch had to be complete on Friday, and no one was quite sure where to begin.
After seeing firsthand the passion of players who directly approached him about the mount at BlizzCon, Kyle stepped up to the plate. Though his primary role is that of a Hero designer, Dates’ twelve-year history of testing, game design, and implementation at Blizzard prepared him to take on the responsibility of getting this train out of the station, tricky as it may be. “The community was so excited for it. It would have felt wrong to not give it my best effort.” Now, thanks to his initiative and expertise, the project was chugging along, though not without some brain-bending and panic-inducing bumps in the track:
“They all need to follow each other, but the game also needs to let you bail out immediately. So, what happens if car #3 decides they want to bail out and go a different way. Should car #4 start following car #2 or should car #4 keep following car #3? Can you break them up? Does car #3 become a new engine? There were all these weird things we had to figure out how to handle gracefully.”
With the final submission deadline looming ever closer, Kyle buckled down and had the linked-up train cars figured out and functioning in two days. The shiny new tech was securely committed to the final published build, and the train was in the hands of the larger Heroes team. The choo-choo was now laden with players and plowing full steam down the lanes of Cursed Hollow where the team could see the fruits of their labor during playtesting:
"One team is just playing the game and the other is [mounted on a train]. They’re trying to stay in sight range of the other team so they can show off like ‘oh yea, we’re all on this train.’ But not in range where they can get damaged because they’ll get dismounted (…) One person will get hit and dismount, but no one else will dismount to help them because they’re like, ‘Pfft, I want to stay on my train.’ It’s great!”
Thanks to the efforts of Kyle and the Heroes team, the overwhelming reaction of passionate Heroes of the Storm players at BlizzCon 2019, the Toy Train is now in the Nexus in all its multi-hero glory. You can conduct your very own by picking up the limited-time mount in Loot Chests, crafting it with Shards, or by purchasing the Toys Bundle as part of the Heroes of the Storm Winter Toys event.
Oh, and in case you were wondering: yes, there’s plenty of room for the Vikings (if they could ride):