Hearthstone Almost Had No Single-Player Component
Speaking at the Game Developers Conference currently in full swing in San Francisco, former Blizzard AI programmer Brian Schwab discussed the development of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. The title recently went into full release, but it almost shipped without a single-player mode.
"Blizzard teams are typically 60 to over 100 staff members," Schwab said. In comparison, Hearthstone's team numbered fourteen: four artists, five programmers, two producers, two designers, and one person handling all the sound.
"Having no AI was a strong consideration," Schwab explained. "However, we decided to break down the stigma of card games by having a nice tutorial to ease you into it."
The Hearthstone team was only given approximately 18 months to get the game running and released (though it went over that target by a bit). While Hearthstone is still largely focused on player-vs-player, the single player offering provides a way for players to learn the rules and test their decks without getting demolished by an expert player. The AI is a less intimidating way to learn the mechanics.
The AI in Hearthstone is designed to imitate an intermediate player. In order to determine what that means, Schwab observed collectible card game fans on Blizzard's staff and those that are less familiar with the genre.
The computer uses static decks, and the AI was tuned to make sure that it wasn't using cards that with too much synergy. There is no cheating or omniscience, and no alteration of random number generation for optimal card draw. In other words, if you're having problems with an opponent, go back to the drawing board on your deck, because the computer decks won't compensate for different builds.