Heroes of the Storm feels like a place where Blizzard Entertainment can have fun with their own back catalogue. From the anime–inspired Mecha skins for Diablo III‘s Tyrael to the ever popular Deathwing variant for Overwatch‘s D.va, new Heroes skins give the impression that Blizzard is happy to have a little fun at their own expense. We got the chance to chat via email with Ted Park, Lead Character Artist on Heroes of the Storm, about the creative process surrounding the hero skins fans have come to love.
The Iris: Can you walk us through designing the look of a new Heroes character like Blaze? What are the guiding principles involved?
Ted Park: Blaze is a hero we’ve been excited to tackle for some time! As with many of our heroes, we wanted to call back to the design aesthetics of the source material (in this case, the Firebats of StarCraft II) but also take this opportunity to enhance his look for Heroes of the Storm. Given the other Terran armored heroes in our game (i.e. Raynor, Tychus and Lt. Morales), it was important for Blaze to have a strong silhouette that not only separates him from the other Terrans but also to indicate his role as a tank. Ultimately gameplay readability is our top priority and then we do our best to facilitate the fantasy of playing a fan favorite unit from the StarCraft universe.
When the time comes to start designing alternate skins, what’s the process there? How does the team decide which looks get the go-ahead and how far can you go in altering the look of a character?
Usually our art director has an idea to explore and then our concept artists flesh out that idea. Sometimes we hit the mark in one go, other times we go through several conceptual pitches before we decide which version to move forward with. In this case, Blaze’s silhouette lent itself to a fun correlation with the Fel Reavers of WoW so we moved forward with that idea pretty quickly. Regarding how much we can alter the look of a hero, it is important that any given skin still retains enough identifying features to associate with its base hero. Silhouette and color are an important factors but so are animation, FX, spell design, etc. when evaluating a skin as a whole.
The new tech- and mecha-centric skins, particularly Mecha Tyrael, resemble a very specific anime about robots in space. Whose anime fantasy come to life was this and did they have to pitch you very hard on it?
I can confirm there is a pretty wide affinity for giant robots across the art team There were very passionate people involved with the direction of this Mecha pack and the homage of shapes and colors were a love letter to many of the fixations we had as children through adulthood (although some might argue we’ve never reached that latter state). There was no arm twisting here.
Is there a set criteria for selection on which characters will receive new skins and looks?
There isn’t a set criteria. We factor in a mix of data and aesthetic calls to create themes and skins that we think will enhance player experience to the best of our ability. However, sometimes an idea just pops up in the moment that resonates with everyone on the team (like Deathwing D.Va) and then we push forward.
Staying with the new Mecha skins for a moment, quite apart from the obvious anime feel, I got a big Warhammer 40K vibe from the Firebat and some of the more alien or fantastic characters. Is everyone over at Blizzard into some sort of table top gaming as well? If so what are some of your favourite tabletop games at the moment (in the rare moments you’re not working on Heroes)?
I personally don’t play very many tabletop games, but there are many people on the team who do. We find our sources of inspiration from many different aspects of our collective experience and tabletop games are definitely an avenue of inspiration.
Having put each of their looks together, do the team have any particular favourite characters? Any designs or skins that you were especially happy with when they were completed?
In general, we’re very happy with the vast majority of content that we put out mainly because it takes quite a time commitment across many departments and disciplines to see them to completion. Over the last year, it’s been a pleasure working on heroes with strong lore ties (Kel’thuzad), interesting abilities and spell kits (Stukov) and fan favorites (Genji). Single skin ideas like Deathwing D.va and Mad Axe Garrosh were exciting moments as were bundle ideas that helped us frame content together for the first time (Dreadlord Jaina and her court as well as the new Mecha bundle).
With a content release schedule as regular as the one Heroes has, how do the team maintain the creative energy required to operate at such a pace?
Sometimes I ask myself that same question but the team continues to impress and amaze even at an internal level. Ultimately, I would say that the Heroes team is filled with fans of not just Blizzard games but also geekdom in general, so there is a never ending supply of inspiration and passion for everything we make. Having the opportunity to stretch our imaginations in every way possible is something we don’t take lightly and we continue to look for ways to keep people excited and engaged with the game.
Our sincere thanks to Ted for taking the time to chat to us. Heroes of the Storm is free to play via the Battle.net app on Windows PC and Mac OS.