4gamer interview with Hamilton Chu

Source: “Hearthstone” Developer Interview. What Blizzard has Cherished Regarding Localization into Japanese and Development of Hearthstone by Rune

Blizzard Entertainment announced the Japanese localization for their online card game “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft” (for PC/iOS/Android) on October 3, 2015. Two days later, on October 5, we had an opportunity to conduct a short interview with Mr. Hamilton Chu, the executive producer of the game.

In this interview, we were able to hear stories concerning the localization into Japanese as well as the current game balance as seen from the players’ point of view, so we’d like you to take a look.

Japanese localization that cherished feelings


Thank you for having this interview today. First, we’d like a brief introduction about yourself.
I work as an executive producer overseeing all of Hearthstone. Please think of it as someone who supervises all the supervisors for each division including development, marketing, and community relations.


The other day, the Japanese localization for Hearthstone has finally been announced. This is the first time Blizzard offers direct service in Japan instead of going through a Japanese publisher, right?
Hearthstone was an IP that we felt a desire to deploy it directly from our company. However, when we have events in Japan, we will have the assistance of SANKO.


What kind of impressions do you have about Japanese players?
I feel that many Japanese players play games very passionately and are devoted to the games that they play for long periods of time.


Many games in Japan are released for smartphones. What kind of demographic do you think will be the target for Hearthstone?
I believe Blizzard games, no matter what platform, are those that we would like to have played by gamers who love games to begin with.


How many people currently play Hearthstone in Japan?
We haven’t disclosed any specific numbers, but despite there being only a non-localized English version available, many players are playing Hearthstone. We are truly appreciative of that. Therefore, by now releasing a Japanese version, we are expecting that many more Japanese people will start playing.


Were there any hardships concerning the localization into Japanese?
Of course, there were countless hardships if I started listing them. One hardship that stood out was definitely the translation for the ADR script. Hearthstone cherishes the feelings of the characters, and we spent a tremendous amount of time especially to figure out how to translate the phrases that were humorous. We felt that for localization into other languages that this was a hardship as well, so Japan was no exception to that.


True. The voices when minions are summoned are impressionable.
Right. Characters that appear in Hearthstone are all unique, and there is a vast variety of personalities. For example, Lord Jaraxxus is a very interesting character, and it was very important to choose voice actors that could capitalize on such character traits.

Main factor of success was “rules anyone can understand”


The rules for Hearthstone are very simple, and it feels like it is easy even for people who normally don’t play any card games to start playing. Was that point on your mind during development?
Just like you mentioned, we made the game rules very simple. Card games is a genre that is often shied away from due to the difficulty of game rules. We always discuss how we can relay just how fun card games are to as many people as we possibly can.


Are there many card game fans who work for Blizzard?
Of course! (laughs) The staff at Blizzard are full of people who love card games. I myself have been playing “Magic: the Gathering” from their alpha phase.


Please tell us what parts you worked out in aiming for a game that is easy for beginners.
For instance, when you choose a card, the border turns green, and a large arrow appears. We felt it was important to make it obvious what they need to do with one glance, regardless of who was playing the game. And, elements like that are I believe one reason why Hearthstone is being played all over the world.


It seems that Hearthstone has a stronger element of randomness compared to other card games. Even in tournaments, we often see players be elated or dejected by a result of something random. What was your intention behind creating such a game design?
There are basically two big reasons. First, it makes it interesting for all, as it becomes “fun to watch, and fun to play”. When you have a card effect that randomly summons a minion, and a very powerful card comes onto the field, it really excites people.


True. When Doomsayer is summoned from a Piloted Shredder, you have a very grave situation on your hands. (laughs)
Secondly, the element of randomness requires players to have an even deeper set of playing skills. For instance, the field changes depending on which minion the Piloted Shredder randomly summons, and you have to instantly make a judgment call and restructure your strategy around it. Did you watch the game between Kno the Japanese representative versus Kranich the Korean representative?


Yes. I saw it from beginning to end.
The very last turn of the very last round is the best example of what I am talking about. During that turn, Kno used the effect from Dreadscale that deals 1 damage to all minions on the field to explode the Boom Bot, hoping that it will damage Kranich for 6 health. Without knowing whether or not he will get another turn, he came up with the idea, calculated points, chose that action, and executed it in a very short amount of time. I believe that is an example of the high skill level we see from players at the professional level.


I see. That was a very impressionable scene where one could get a glance as to just how his skills as a player were.
Kno had already played his turn while I was thinking of exactly the same thing. (laughs)


Speaking of decks that require high skills to use, there is the Patron Warrior deck. That deck is often very hard to calculate, but from release of Blackrock Mountain to present, it has shown its place in the meta as a top tier deck. Players often talk about “when will Patron be nerfed?” but what kind of impressions do you have concerning that particular deck? (Patron Warrior: a deck centered on combos from Grim Patron, a minion that summons another copy of itself by surviving an attack. The card is highly compatible with the Warrior deck that can create synergy by having many means of damaging your own minions. Ever since the release of Blackrock Mountain, it has always been at the top tier of deck rankings for progamers, and is widely used both in ranked matches and in tournaments.) 
I feel that it’s not as powerful a deck as many players think. The Patron Warrior deck is very popular, but it does not always mean that popularity and deck strength are proportional to each other.
Patron Warrior is a deck that is often used in tournaments as well, so I believe that is giving the impression to players who watch the tournaments that it is a powerful deck. However, it is important to consider what everyone thinks about this Patron Warrior deck, so we will continue keep an eye on Patron Warrior and decide where to go from here from there.


On a card-by-card basis, Emperor Thaurissan is also a very powerful card. Thanks to that card, new deck types such as Malygos Warlock came into play.
Like you said, Emperor Thaurissan is a very powerful card, and was an element that created all sorts of new decks. Also, that card has the “element of randomness” that I mentioned earlier. For instance, if someone using a Druid deck gained the effects of the Emperor, whether or not they have Force of Nature and Savage Roar in their hand already will greatly change the outcome. I believe that things like that cause this card to lead to situations much like the one I mentioned earlier.


Changing topics, can you tell us the intent behind the addition of the new mode “Tavern Brawl”?
Good question. We developed it with the goal being a mode where a wide array of players could play, including those that are too lazy to construct their won decks and those that want to enjoy playing with rules that are different from normal. Also, ranked matches until now were based on a monthly basis, but we had wanted to offer a different mode where something new happens every week.


You win one card pack if you win once in “Tavern Brawl”. Was this intentional, as a way to help out the beginners?
There is that aspect, yes. Also, we designed it so that even beginners can try it out without too many worries. I believe we made it so that it can be enjoyed freely, where you play once just to taste, and if you like it, you’ll continue to play.

Is the recommended server for Japanese players Asia or Americas?


Onto another topic. Concerning the upcoming release of the Japanese version, there is speculation among Japanese players that all future tournaments will be played on the Asia server. Please tell us what Blizzard’s opinion is concerning which server Japanese players should be playing in the future.
This is something that is often discussed internally as well. Currently, many of the Japanese players are playing on the Americas server, so that server may be more familiar for them.
On the other hands, the Asia servers has much less of a time difference, so there is merit in playing there with regards to creating more proper matchmaking. Blizzard does recommend playing on the Asia server, but we would like the players to choose a server that they feel is easier for them to play on when choosing a server.


Then, please give an insight regarding deck-related assets for participating in tournaments. For instance, if all tournaments are going to be played on the Asia server from now on, I believe that every player currently playing on the Americas servers will not have a deck to play*. Is there a possibility that Blizzard will provide loaner accounts during tournaments for players in that predicament? (* Player data for Hearthstone is saved on a server-to-server basis, so someone playing on the Americas server must start all over if he wishes to play on the Asia server.)
I believe that the current issue we have where it is difficult to participate in tournaments on a different server will persist. However, concerning this localization for a Japanese version, we are considering some form of solution such that this will not become a huge issue.


I am hoping that the assets obtained by all players on the Americas server will not go to waste, then. Finally, can you give one last comment to all fans reading this article?
First off, thank you for playing Hearthstone for all this time despite the differences in languages. Also, we really do appreciate your attendance of various events and communicating with us. We will be releasing a Japanese version as well soon, so we would like you to give your continued regards for Hearthstone.
We will be creating an official forum in Japanese, and we will be hiring community managers that concentrate only on Jpaan. I hope we can actively listen to everyone’s feedback and suggestions.


We’re looking forward to the release of the Japanese version and how the game will unfold in the future. Thank you for this opportunity you gave us today.


Hearthstone is a game that many Japanese people have been playing even without a localized version. With the upcoming release of the Japanese version, it will be a good opportunity for those that were shying away just because it was a card game with English text to touch upon Hearthstone and see why it is a game that is played all over the world. The Japanese version is set to be released in late October, so we have something to eagerly look forward to.




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