Warcraft meets Starcraft meets Diablo

Last updated 11:38 12/07/2014

NEW GROUND: Nova Terra is just one of the characters plucked from the Starcraft universe to take part in heroes of the Storm.

Blizzard Entertainment
A menagerie of Blizzard characters take up the fight against each other in Heroes of the Storm.
Blizzard Entertainmenht
Heroes of the Storm.
Blizzard Entertainment
Heroes of the Storm.
Blizzard Entertainment
Heroes of the Storm.
Blizzard Entertainment
Heroes of the Storm.

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Many of the video game world'sbig publishers own a host of characters and properties that could be mashed up into a genre-bending free-for-all.

Nintendo is the classic example, bringing all of their favourite characters together in Super Smash Bros, but now Blizzard is getting in on the act.

Heroes of the Storm is a free-to-play online multiplayer game that combines characters from the Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo universes, and perhaps from further afield.

Watching the game in action and noting its superficial similarities to games such as Defence of the Ancients and League of Legends, it is tempting to label it a MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena. However, senior game designer Richard Khoo is quick to correct that notion.

''We call it a team brawler,'' he says. ''When you kill enemies, you gain experience, and that actually adds to your entire team. So the efforts by your allies in other areas will add to your team. You win and lose as a team.''

Khoo explains that some online games feature individual rewards that encourage selfish play, but the HotS team wanted to encourage teamwork on a fundamental level.

''We don't want any really selfish mechanics. We'll still call people out for doing a good job, but without any personal recourse gain, so it doesn't matter so much. This means you can focus more on the game that's ahead of you.

''It also gives you someone to blame, too!'' he says with a laugh.

At a glance, the game itself looks like a hybrid of a standard MOBA and one of Blizzard's signature strategy games such as Starcraft II or Warcraft. The controls are largely the same as in their strategy titles, employing the mouse and many keyboard shortcuts.

However, the development team has been working on making HotS a more immediately exciting experience than other similar games. ''We're trying to encourage really fast-paced team fighting,'' Khoo says. ''Only minutes into a game, you'll have a massive battle going on.''

To anyone who knows the Blizzard universes, these battles will look very strange indeed, with high-tech space marines trading blows with angels and demons. ''You're actually fighting a menagerie of characters from different Blizzard universes,'' Khoo says.

He explains that the game was inspired by the cross-property artworks on display at their annual fan event, Blizzcon. The team noticed huge banners showing characters from different games posing together and thought, how great would it be to actually have these guys all in the same game?

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''We called it Blizzcon: The Game internally,'' Khoo recalls. ''Diablo fighting Tyrael? That's normal, but Diablo fighting Raynor fighting Uther? That's awesome.''

He also speculates that it might be possible to licence characters owned by Blizzard's sister company. ''Maybe we could tap Activision publishing and use, I don't know, Tony Hawk or something,'' he says. ''I really don't know what we can and can't do! Keeping it loose, keeping it fun, that's what we're really trying to do.''

Khooadmits that there is no real reason for these characters to be fighting with and against each other. ''With mash-ups like this, the more you try to explain them the more questions people have, so the more nonsense you're going to have to come up with!

''So in the beginning there's a cinematic with a little bit of exposition, and Raynor's like scratching his head, wondering what's going on, and someone really just says, 'Don't think too much about it!' That reflects how we think about this thing too.''

The game's progression structure is unique among online multiplayer games, starting the player off with tutorials and gradually working them up to competitive online matches in stages.

''You start with the tutorial, and that unlocks solo practice play. When you get enough experience from that, it unlocks co-operative play, letting you fight alongside other players against the A.I., and then you'll unlock versus mode where you play against other players. As you progress, we slowly add more and more mechanics that gradually add more depth to the gameplay. We want to make sure the game grows with the player.''

The game will also feature a robust matchmaker, making sure players in competitive matches are pitted against opponents of comparable skill.

Heroes of the Storm is currently in closed alpha and is expected to go into beta stage later this year, similar to Blizzard's online card game Hearthstone. No date has been announced for a final release.

Heroes of the Storm
Classification: TBA
Platforms: Windows PC
Release date: Beta this year, final release TBA

DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez


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