Crafting A Character : Hearthstone’s New Demon Hunter Aranna Starseeker
Hearthstone has experimented with all kinds of content and characters over the years, from tavern brawls to dungeon crawls, single-player experiences to the auto-battler Battlegrounds. One aspect that’s always been deftly handled is the inclusion of big new characters to the cast. While Hearthstone has its own amusing identity, the vast majority of the universe is imported from the greater Warcraft world.
For instance, when Hearthstone adds a charismatic bartender to the roster it's fun, but doesn’t have a whole lot of implication to the brand at large. This week, a character that could have way more impact if she ever crosses over into the World of Warcraft is here – Aranna Starseeker, a bold new demon hunter that comes alongside a free single-player campaign experience where you dive into her character and companions as they embark on a Shakespearean Mad Max journey across the Outlands. Yep, you read that right. It’s a wild new introduction for a wild new hero. I sat down with Dave Kosak and Chadd Nervig from the Hearthstone team to ask some of the big questions about Hearthstone's new personality.
Why would you use a new hero instead of somebody who's already established as you know, in this case a demon hunter?
Kosak: Looking through the characters in World of Warcraft and Legion, we didn't think there was a standout character that embodied what we wanted to get in a Hearthstone hero. And we really wanted someone that we could craft a story around. So we gravitated around this idea of Aranna, and tying her to known characters in the Hearthstone universe. Aranna is the younger sister of Elise Starseeker, so she's kind of living in the shadow of her big sister who just saved the world in our last set of expansions.
Nervig: She has a bit of a different attitude than Illidan. We live in the world of World of Warcraft, but we like to tell our own stories within that. Last year was the League of Explorers and League of Evil minor characters scattered some of them within WoW, but mostly our own characters within this grand world. We like doing a mix of that here too.
As siblings, they've taken very different career paths. Do we get to know anything about that? Like, what brought that about? Did they fight growing up, causing them to veer off in such crazy paths?
Kosak: This is really Aranna discovering what she's about and what kind of hero she is. At the beginning of the adventure, she defines herself based on her sister. She's gonna go explore Outland because that hasn't been explored and she’s gonna make a name for herself. She's very competitive with her sister. As she learns and discovers her own kind of mission and her own purpose in life, she sort of becomes a hero in her own right. Then by the end of the adventure, she looks back on her sister and pulls away. She says to Illidan “A sister taught me thick and thin, a Starseeker does not give in.” So by the end of the adventure, she's really kind of reconciled with the memory of her sister, because she's found herself instead of judging herself next to her sister. She's found who she is. It's fun to kind of try and tell that arc in the context of a game like Hearthstone.
Nervig: It’s an adventure of self-discovery in a lot of ways.
What’s the coolest thing you can do with a character like this? What was the most fun to design about her?
Kosak: For me, the most fun was that we really took the time to create this character from the art to the V.O. So Luke Mancini (senior artist at Blizzard) was our artist, spent a lot of time figuring out what we can do, some kind of twists we can do to the demon hunters. I think my favorite thing he came up with was that her hair comes down over her eyes instead of a blindfold. When it came to the V.O., we actually took the time to record both characters together. So Illidan and Aranna were both in the booth together, so we could actually film or record their dialogue as dialogue. That's kind of a rare treat. Often when you do V.O. in video games, you don't get the actors in the same room together, they they're responding to lines that were recorded a week earlier in different parts of the country or something. This is, pre-COVID-19 obviously, we were actually able to get everybody around at the same time.
Nervig: I'd also call out the rhyming in particular being in Shakespearean verse just felt great. Hearing that back and forth in the booth was incredible.
Kosak: Yeah, it gives it this kind of surreal, like almost a stage play quality. It feels very much like you're living a story actually, that was one of the things that we wrestled with on the Hearthstone team when we were bringing Illidan to Hearthstone. He’s a franchise level epic character, and he's a pretty serious dude. He's pretty grim. Hearthstone tends to be kind of whimsical and charming. How can we be true to Illidans's character and still keep that sense of whimsy that makes Hearthstone so much fun to play? So we started writing this adventure in verse and it allowed Illidan to still be the brooding kind of dark hero that he is.
So the single-player adventures are almost like puzzles, you know, constructed the way that they are. What was your favorite encounter to build for this set?
Kosak: So we were presenting Outland as this ravaged world that people were trying to survive in, and at one point in order to get to the Black Temple, our heroes steal a demolisher, they steal a tank, and race through the felstorm. It’s kind of a scene straight out of a Mad Max movie and so it was all of our heroes shouting at each other as they fire rockets, dump gasoline into the engine, and keep the thing moving while they're being attacked from all sides in this felstorm... The team had a blast with that one.
Of course, the character isn’t just art and design. To make things come alive in any universe, great voice acting plays a big role. Enter Myrna Velasco, the voice actress for Aranna Starseeker! We had a chance to chat with her a bit about her contribution toward setting the stage for Aranna’s grand entrance to the Hearthstone world.
So you’re a demon hunter now! What was the coolest part of that experience?
Velasco: Well, I'll break it down. I guess there's so many cool parts about it. Learning about what a demon hunter is in Hearthstone was a really cool experience because you've got Liam O'Brien who's been playing Illidan Stormrage for forever. It's just really cool to be kind of considered a badass and to work on the theater skills I went to college for. A lot of work that I did was through Shakespeare and classical training.
And so like, top two favorite things about working on Aranna and working with Hearthstone was working with Dave, the writer who wrote it in verse. Like, who does that anymore? It's just so like.... classically cool. And then, there are so few jobs that we get here in Hollywood, that you can say like, Oh, great, I'm going to finally use my college Shakespeare practice here to be an actor again. So that was just kind of really gratifying for all of my college professors as well.
So did you have any experience with Blizzard IPs before this? Or was this your first time seeing you know, a demon hunter or an orc warlord?
Velasco: So admittedly, I'm not a huge gamer. I am very novice. I grew up in a household without video games, so I was aware of the Blizzard universe, but I had never played the game before. And I was a little bit like, Oh, no, I don't know if I should tell anybody that! So when I told Chadd, Chadd Nervig he was like, Oh, that's fine, you get the story and you get the concept. And in the end, I ended up downloading Hearthstone. And now I play it! At the same time, I grew up with Lord of the Rings and with Harry Potter and so it's not unusual for me to know what an orc is.
So what was the most challenging part of this project as a voice actress?
Velasco: What's always kind of the biggest challenge for me is kind of recognizing whether or not I fit into the process. Because you know, there are a lot of four-year-olds that can beat me in video games. So I, I walked into this job being like, well, I don't know if I'm not gonna understand what I need to do to please the fans, because I'm not necessarily on their level. So for me, it was more just like recognizing that no, I understand stories. And that's all that we really need to give people a good story while they play a good game.
If you could voice any real or fictional animal a voice, which would you do? Real or fictional. Any animal ever.
Velasco: Probably… Velociraptor and Dragon. I think those are the two I want to be.
While many of Hearthstone’s single-player content chunks can have a paid aspect to them, the giant 5-act structure of Ashes of Outland is totally free, and features Aranna at the helm of a band of misfits as they work across the wastelands to take on the big bad leader, who in this case isn’t a giant dude in a hockey mask but instead, in very Hearthstone fashion, a mecha-demon.
You can also play as Aranna in Battlegrounds, where her character transforms into a much more powerful entity after you complete some basic game requirements. And if you still want more Aranna to bring into your ranked games, you can purchase an Ashes of Outland package that comes with the character portrait, voices, and effects! The Felfire Festival is an ongoing event, and more aspects will open up in the days and weeks to come. And that’s not all! Check out some exclusive Aranna concept art below!