Designing Hero Academy 2 - The Ketsali
Blog // 2018-03-07
From Bruce Shelley, Chief Designer at BonusXP
Creating a new faction for Hero Academy 2 (HA2) requires not only a theme for how they might play, but also a theme for how they are portrayed. The art for the Ketsali was the idea of Andrea Werntz, a BonusXP artist, who created the first concepts for possible heroes. She had the idea of building upon the colorful and feathery look from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, particularly the Maya and the Aztec cultures. Here is a concept art piece that illustrated the distinctive look of potential Ketsali heroes.
These concepts were discussed and modified, and tied to how the differently portrayed heroes would play. Once the concepts were agreed upon, our modelers created the digital heroes, and our animators brought them to life. We are pleased with the consistency and accuracy of the Ketsali. We spent considerable time researching that look for appropriateness and costume authenticity.
The theme for how the Ketsali would play was based on affecting movement mechanics. Designer Jacob Naasz recalls the consideration that movement on the board is an important part of what makes HA2 fun and different from other card games. Because movement and position are so important in HA2, we wanted to give players more tools to affect both. Ketsali heroes and spells also offer new opportunities for combination plays and decks. Jacob also recalls wanting to add more neutral animals into the game and this fit well with the colorful “bird people” concepts.
Our first attempts at the Ketsali involved much more movement modifications for both heroes and spells. After a considerable amount of testing, we decided that the number of changes proposed distorted the core game too much. In effect, we’d added too much of a good thing. So, some of those bonuses were reduced or cut entirely. We also tried to make possible several combinations (hero + hero or hero + spell) that rewarded players for having heroes with reduced movement (1 or even 0). That proved to be very hard to communicate to all but the hardest of hard core players, so we scrapped many of those, as well.
Game Director Dave Pottinger summed it up well; we were doing too much with Ketsali when we started building them. They are the first major content addition to HA2, so they ended up becoming a catch-all for every great idea not already in play. That proved difficult in putting together a cohesive, unified faction. Our reliable process of designing by playing (prototype, playtest, iterate, new builds daily) led us to a more modest suite of Ketsali features and a consistent theme for them (movement mechanic modifications). They are a faction that works well and distinctively, particularly as complementary pieces to already strong decks.
Some of the exciting new spells, for example, Soul Swap and Wind Walk, were ideas we had tried in development previously. We had tabled them earlier because they did not fit with any of the existing houses or factions. With the Ketsali focus on movement mechanics, those spells fit perfectly. That said, our folder of good ideas waiting for the right faction or hero remains very full.
One of those mothballed ideas was the original power for Chieftain Oza’Mek. Initially, he swapped places with whoever he attacked. We ultimately scrapped that idea due to issues with how it interacted with other mechanics already in the game. There were also ambiguous situations such as whether or not he should swap on a revenge or not. So, that idea has been put away, but not forgotten.A popular combination from our internal testing was the Zephyr Shaman hero and the Soul Swap spell. The Zephyr Shaman comes onto the board with an attack of 0, which is not attractive by itself, but she does double an ally’s movement for this turn. If you can follow her appearance by playing the Soul Swap spell, however, that improves her value dramatically. Now she has a chain attack of 2 that can be further boosted with spells or weapons and she has become quite dangerous.
The Chatterbeak is an interesting hero because of its relative low cost and 50% dodge attribute. It can be frustrating for opponents when it dodges attacks and, as an animal, it has access to several buffs. We like it as an early, inexpensive summon.
Chieftain Oza’Mek is now noteworthy because he is Vicious. He’s the first Vicious Hammer hero. Getting him next to an enemy crystal makes him very dangerous with two possible attacks.
Ixtili’s Offering is a +1 bow that heals an ally sword hero for 3 health when equipped. That can be very useful, not only for a damaged or poisoned sword hero, but for other heroes in play who are buffed when any ally is healed. Akna’s Gift and Protection of the Tether are two spells that could be very useful in a deck heavy with Elemental heroes.
We think the Ketsali will prove a great success as a new faction. They offer subtle advantages that can be very powerful at the right moment, but are often best used to amplify strong heroes from other houses. They take the iconic board positioning of Hero Academy and turn it up to 11. They’re a great first faction to introduce to the Hero Academy 2 pantheon.