Hearthstone Design: Thinking Inside the Box

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment Inc.

What with all the minimalist, flat, and Material designs being so popular, the Hearthstone designers went in an entirely different direction, opting for a skeuomorphic, physical interface instead. We’ll be looking at some specific examples of what makes Hearthstone so appealing and some areas where it isn’t so great.

The Box

It’s physical. You can almost feel it as it opens and reveals the main menu. Blizzard’s experience in creating immersive experiences really shows, because each animation has a deliberate impact, and each interface element is consistent with the tavern theme. The physicality of the box is so compelling that fans have made actual Hearthstone boxes because… well, it’s a box. You can put stuff in it. If you want to learn more about the design process leading up to the box, Derek Sakamoto talked about it at GDC 2015.

The Box

Solo Adventure Mode: Karazhan

One Night in Karazhan is a little different from its predecessors; instead of locking all the content behind a paywall from the start, it offers one free match, and an explosive one at that. Hearthstone’s first expansion, Naxxramas, also offered its first wing for free, but there is a notable difference in the design of the interactions. For one, making the first wing free in Naxxramas was more of an incentive to get users to buy into the new “expansion” idea. The content was already made and ready, it was purely a promotional gesture. In the Karazhan expansion, this first match is designed to sell the rest of the expansion, and it shows. Players get to play as the all-powerful Medivh, and get to enjoy powerful cards and effects they haven’t seem before. This seems like a better approach, and I’d love to see the comparison of conversion rates in the different expansions.

One Night in Karazhan: An Uninvited Guest

Deck Slots

Yes, we finally have the coveted extra deck slots… But why do we need to scroll past all 17 of them to make the final, 18th deck? It’s like they’re punishing us for not committing to only a few decks. You would think that having the New Deck button on top of the existing deck list would encourage more experimentation with different decks. So why would it be at the bottom? Maybe testers wanted to see and change their existing decks more than they wanted to make new decks. After all, with 18 deck slots changing an existing deck is probably a better idea than making another new one.

More Deck Slots!

Another interesting challenge in this arena is deck organization. As of writing this, there is no way to reorganize the decks, meaning the decks will stay in the order that you created them. The Blizzard designers might have shot themselves in the foot by having both a grid view and a list view for their decks. Even if they do implement a reorganization feature

From Play to My Collection

Hearthstone not-so-recently “fixed” an issue reported by players who wanted a faster way to get from the Play screen to their decks in My Collection. Granted, clicking My Collection is better than going Back, then My Collection, the same animation is played, so there is little time saved. Sakamoto explained this by saying the team emphasized “flavor over efficiency.” Ok, I’ll buy that. But the player still needs to click again to choose the deck they want to edit. In the end, it feels like nothing was accomplished with that change.

What if from the Play screen, the player could jump directly into editing the selected deck by “pulling” it out? Think about it this way. Imagine you had a physical box full of decks in front of you, and you were ready to play an opponent. But alas, your deck isn’t ready, you need to change it. Would you close the box, open a separate compartment with a copy of the same decks in a different arrangement, and then pull that out to edit it? No, you’d just pick up the deck right in front of you, and change it there. There are visibly some UI obstacles for that, seeing as the deck grid is on the left side in Play, and the deck list in My Collection is on the right.

Hearthstone Play screen

Despite my minor gripes, Hearthstone is still a great game, and the team did a great job making immersive interactions, and the amount of effort they put into crafting this experience is palpable. I look forward to enjoying the rest of the expansion as it comes out!