Hey there, welcome back to the Fan Community Spotlight! You might have noticed that I'm not your regular writer - don't worry, Demon will be back for the next one. I've taken over for this FCS because the set we're looking at was designed in part by Demon, so it wouldn't make much sense for him to interview himself. Though it would be an interesting experiment...
Today, we're looking at Liftoff!, a community-built expansion. What this means is that multiple card designers came together and worked on the project, deciding on the mechanics and general theming together and then designed individual cards. The unusual circumstances of this set's design meant that there were plenty of people to pick from to interview for it; we have insight from Demonxz95, henlo, Zozoth, AlphaEthan and Mega-Pixel, though they weren't the only people that worked on the set.
Fair warning - this one's a lengthy one! This is really five interviews in one, so don't be surprised if it takes you a bit to read them all - I think we got a lot of interesting perspectives, but I've colour-coded everyone in case you just wanted to see a specific person's answers.
Liftoff! has two main new mechanics, Launch and Observe. Launch minions have an effect that activates the first time the minion attacks, going off before the attack connects to make sure you get full use of it. Cards with Observe, meanwhile, function in a similar manner to Discover; instead of generating a card from a set of parameters, however, you look at cards in your deck that match them and then place one on top.
Now that you're introduced to the set, let's get right into the interview!
How did you come to be a part of this project? When did you start designing cards?
henlo: The original creator, Smiles, messaged me about a month before the project officially began. Smiles wanted me to help organize it, and essentially be the “right hand man” of the whole project. I initially started card design in mid 2018 when I had first joined the r/Hearthstone Discord server. I was instantly drawn to the #creative tab on the server, and since then I’ve basically fallen in love with the concept of custom Hearthstone and its community.
Mega-Pixel: Smiles just messaged me, asking if I wanted to be part of his set and I accepted, easy as that, we had interacted before and he appreciated the designs I came up with. I started designing cards a while ago, I think 2016-ish, not long after I started playing the game, I've come a long way since my first card.
Demon: I became part of the project when I was invited by a Discord user named Smiles to join. I had previously worked with Smiles (and several of the other people involved in this project) from an expansion called Terrors of the Past, which we ended up finishing, but never posting anywhere. My history with designing cards goes all the way to TGT where I believe the first card I ever made was an 8 mana 10/1 vanilla weapon for Rogue. Although I did compete in some competitions before this, I only really got serious about it shortly before KotFT.
Zozoth: I had previously worked with a majority of the people in this group on other expansions such as Terrors of the Past or Gunslingers of Westfall, so Demonxz95 simply invited me when the Liftoff Discord server was created in order to participate. I personally started designing and posting cards around 3 years ago, somewhere in between the expansions of Journey to Ungoro and Knights of the Frozen Throne. I mostly made individual cards, but eventually worked my way into crafting full expansions and now going a bit further to join collaborative servers and teams, pooling my ideas with others to create a flavorful expansion such as this one.
AlphaEthan: A friend of mine that designs cards named henlo, asked if I wanted to join a discord server for a hearthstone expansion called liftoff. I started making cards for it, when I found out what the themes were going to be for each class and what the keywords are.
The expansion has two new keywords. How did you decide on these mechanics? Which one was your favourite to design cards with?
Demon: How we came to using Launch and Observe as our mechanics has very different stories. I find that the best way to think of keywords is to not actively try to think about it and instead let it come naturally to you. Launch came naturally to us with the theme of being in outer space. As a one-time trigger when you attack, it was flavored around the aspect of spaceships launching. This is most apparent on cards like Glaiveship, Gilded Warship and Faulty Spaceglider. That said, there are other types of minions that use Launch as well. Cosmic Corsair was the first card made to demonstrate the Launch mechanic and one of the very first cards made for the set.
Zozoth: Since there were so many of us with so many different ideas initially, we discussed the potential ideas and put it to a vote. Since the theme of space and space exploration was already established, it was simply a matter of deciding which ones fit it the best. Observe was chosen first, and if I recall correctly it was based off of one of Demonxz95's keywords for a custom class they made a while back. The flavor fit perfectly with space exploration and so the keyword stuck. Launch was a bit trickier of a keyword to finalize, mostly because there was a lot of discussion as to whether or not it should be 'whenever' or 'after' a character attacked that the effect would proc, as plenty of custom cards have been made with both options in unrelated expansions that use them well. We finally decided to use the 'whenever' and make it a one-time effect. This was used to simulate the explosive power of a rocket launch and made for some interesting effects. Two of the cards I made utilizing the effect were Faulty Spaceglider and Gilded Warship, which reflect the failed launch of a poorly built spacecraft or a combat ship readying its weapons upon takeoff, respectively.
henlo: We initially started with around three separate keywords, not counting Launch. We put a vote up for the three, and the majority of people seemed to like Observe the most, which I think is a very successful mechanic. Personally though, I prefer Launch as I find designing with it a lot easier. Observe is by no means a bad mechanic, but I feel like Launch is very elegant, and a lot of my love for it comes from Spellburst, another keyword that comes naturally to me when making cards.
Demon: Observe was the second of the two mechanics to be added to the set. Observe was a mechanic that I pitched for the set when it was decided that we would have a second mechanic in the set. I made the mechanic with the flavor interpretation that space is full of several beautiful things to look at or to try to dissect scientifically. The first card I made to demonstrate the Observe mechanic was Stargazer Prodigy which I think is a simple, but effective way to show off that mechanic's flavor and gameplay. Discover and Sightless Watcher was the basis I ended up using for the mechanic, and I think it turned out nicely. There were a number of mechanics that were in the running to be chosen as the second mechanic alongside Launch, although we didn't really get to example cards for those mechanics. Observe prevailed as the second mechanic off of quite literally, a coin toss. Some of the people were originally skeptical of the keyword, but after we started using it, it proved that it was able to stand on its own ground as an interesting keyword and everyone started liking it. Observe was also my favorite of the two keywords to design for because it allows for really neat designs interacting with your deck. Out of simply the ones I made, some examples of how I used Observe in some particularly neat ways include Peripheral Watcher, Cosmologist, and Pillars of Creation. Some less direct examples of this are Resonance (by Mega-Pixel) and Stellar Seer (by Zozoth).
AlphaEthan: I was too late to give my opinion on the keywords, but I still thought they were both good keywords. My favorite one to design cards with was Observe because it was interesting to make cards with that keyword.
Mega-Pixel: Observe was created to be a healthy replacement to Discover, just like Rush to Charge, I don't exactly remember how we came up with the name itself but it always started as being a keyworded Sightless Watcher's effect, it's a really awesome mechanic so I'm happy we added it. Launch was created to really fit the whole flavor of the set we went through a few iterations, I remember one of them being whenever the minion attacked, but we went with a "Spellburst" approach and made it trigger only once so it felt less snowbally. Both were equally as fun to design with, there are some great cards using both keywords and Observe really has potential to be reused in the future as an evergreen mechanic to lower the amount of randomness from Discover to the game.
Creating an expansion based around space, which classes were easiest to design for and which were hardest? Did you start with mechanics or flavour?
AlphaEthan: The easiest classes to design for in my opinion was Warrior since it made sense having mechs and Warrior is about mechs. The hardest class to design in my opinion was Demon Hunter because we had to design the most cards for that class and I didn't really know what to do for Demon Hunter to make it interesting. I started with mechanics first before flavor.
henlo: Only one of my class cards that I created ultimately made it into the expansion; Aim Assist. I definitely found that designing the neutral cards for this set were a breeze. I think many of us struggled with the Demon Hunter set for this expansion, especially because we decided to give them more cards than the rest of the classes. I personally do a mix of both designing mechanics first as well as a more “top-down” design by coming up with flavor first and/or finding a good art piece, then designing around it.
Demon: The beautiful thing about community sets is that when we don't know what archetype to push for in a specific class yet, someone will make one or two cards for a class as the first cards, and some people will follow suit for supporting them. Space Jam was the first Priest card made. This spawned using expensive cards as a Priest archetype which is where cards like Time Behemoth (by AlphaEthan) and Twilight Priestess (by myself) come from. The easiest class to design for was probably Mage. A theme of using big spells was suggested pretty quickly, which led me to create Supernova as the first Mage card for the set. Using Elementals was also something that came naturally for the theme. Space Elementals are kinda cool, thus Asteroid Elemental and Sunspot Shaper was made. Cosmologist exists as a combination of the two themes.
Rogue was another pretty easy to class to make. The first card I made for the class was Solo Starcruiser which ultimately started the support of Shuffle Rogue in the set. Space pirates was a fairly obvious artistic flavor for the set as well, so we also started making support for Pirate Rogue in the set, which is then when I designed one of my favorite cards of the set, Starship Telescope. I adore this card for its relatively simplistic design, but also its usage of the Observe mechanic.
Out of difficult classes to design for, designing for Demon Hunter presented an awkward challenge. Designing a set for the class is easy, but designing one that isn't boring and one-dimensions not so much. It's a bit difficult to design a card for the class that isn't either gaining Attack or drawing cards. This is something I ended up noticing happened in the set and also something that I pointed out as we developed the set. This aspect of Demon Hunter is where Demon Souls originates from.
Mega-Pixel: Classes like Mage and Shaman were definitely the easiest to flavor around space, while something like Druid or Hunter felt a bit trickier as the classes have no real connections to outerspace. I pretty much only worked on Shaman myself and it was great fun to use those big space events and flavor cards around them. I'm more of a flavor person myself so I usually did flavor first, inspired by either a name or space-themed art.
Zozoth: Personally, I've always enjoyed the idea of a space and sci-fi based expansion, simply because it is a surprisingly underdone premise in the custom hearthstone world and that it has a lot of potential. Personally, I spent most of my time creating neutral minions since I found it less limiting, so I unfortunately don't have enough experience within this expansion to give a proper analysis on which classes were easy and which were difficult. For this expansion, we decided to start with flavor; designing around how the cards and ideas would fit in a space setting then working to get them in line with our established mechanics and keywords.
What is your personal favourite card that you designed for the expansion?
henlo: I think my favorite card that I created in the set is Aim Assist. It’s definitely not the strongest card, but I really liked how the card came out. Everything from the art, the name and the effect fell in place so well.
Zozoth: As stated above, I mostly dabbled within the neutral cards. As such my personal favorite card that I designed was Star Scouter. It is a little slow, but I enjoy cards that give players a ton of value, and this would definitely be no exception. In an expansion full of spaceship Mechs, Celestial Elementals, and Void-infused Demons, I figured a brave and attentive explorer-type card would be a nice way to flavor-fully tie the minion types together. I also think another fun aspect about this card is that since it mentions specific minion types, it will cause players to think of some fun and exciting cards they can add to their "deck" that would help this gain maximum value, as they did with Countess Ashmore, The Curator and even the new N'Zoth, God of the Deep.
AlphaEthan: My favorite card that I designed for the expansion was Planetary Disruption because I really like the name, art and the effect was pretty interesting.
Demon: My favorite card that I made for this set is Watcher Cybele, one of the Priest Legendaries in the set. This card is a great representation of what Priest is in this set, using lots of expensive cards. I love this card because of the number of play possibilities it opens up. You can play all 5 of the cards right away to set up a huge board or pull off a combo, or use some of the 5 cards now and the rest of them later. It's perfect for a class like Priest. I'm also quite fond of the artwork as well.
Mega-Pixel: I think King Grond, for the little amount of cards I've done, I really wanted this sorta huge big dumb guy to give Elemental Shaman some love, I've always wanted a really powerful ongoing effect like Frost Lich Jaina's to boost the archetype's lategame, in fact it went through a redesign as the first version gave the buff without the added permanent dormant, but it made the card feel more legendary-worthy to have this, and easier to keep track of the effect as well.
How did you find working on an expansion with so many other people? Were there any unexpected challenges?
AlphaEthan: What I found working on an expansion with many people is that people have different opinions on different things. Some unexpected challenges were that people soon got bored of the expansion and we didn't really have a lot of active people.
henlo: As you would expect, working in a community based project, not everyone has the same perspective. We definitely had our disagreements as a team, but I think those who stuck around were all mature enough to look past them and ultimately come up with a group decision for the things we didn’t agree on. A few people ended up leaving because of this (as well as other reasons), but I think overall things turned out quite well in the end. An unexpected challenge that I stumbled upon was losing interest for a short while during the middle of the expansion for some reason. I wasn’t really inspired by the concept during that time, but I eventually realized that we were so close to finishing and there was no point in giving up halfway through.
Demon: The most notable challenge of working in a community set is that sometimes, our visions for classes or opinions don't line up. Sometimes, someone might make something that seems like the perfect card only to not get the feedback they expected. Demon Souls in particular took a few tries of convincing the rest of the group that it was fitting and good for the set that it was finally added in around the end of the set's development. Another thing that happened in the set was that even as a group, we sometimes weren't sure exactly what to do to finish off a class's set as was the case with Hunter.
Mega-Pixel: There's bound to be problems with group projects, disagreements on flavor, balance, etc had to happen, but I don't remember any big argument that caused a lot of problem so it was just a lot of fun in the end, I love when some people tried to build around the ideas brought by others, it really made for strong sets fitting together, but with each card feeling unique enough so you could see there were different people behind it.
Zozoth: I have worked with many of the people in the Liftoff! set before, so it wasn't entirely new for me to adapt to their likes and dislikes. Since I usually work alone, I do find collaborating with other to be fun, learning new ways to balance my own cards and helping them with their own designs. That being said, the main challenge is having to change ideas you believe are already finalized. Lots of times people would have to change their ideas when a majority of the other designers disagreed with them regarding a card. From experience I can say that it is not always easy to do so, but eventually you must give in and work to a consensus with the rest of the group.
What design philosophies do you have? What advice do you wish to spread to future creators?
henlo: Great question. I think my biggest design philosophy is a very vague and almost mysterious one: “design over balance”. Now, I’m not saying that balance doesn’t matter in custom Hearthstone, it still plays a huge role in custom Hearthstone. I would much rather design unique and interactive ideas rather than just make 4 Mana 4/5 Rush cards that are completely uninteresting, but are completely well balanced in Hearthstone. Obviously, this mindset can’t be too applicable to a whole set, but I tried my best to make my cards for this set as fresh as possible.
AlphaEthan: The design philosophies was that I would make cards that make sense for the class and are unique and interesting. Advice I would wish to spread to future creators is to not over think when making cards.
Zozoth: Since the idea of a space Hearthstone expansion was largely untouched, a majority of my philosophy came from seeing a sci-fi art and thinking how I could make a card that best reflected the flavor and meaning behind it. For example, my card of Containment Breach.
The art depicts astronauts running away from a flood of ooze. And though the art is not in the Hearthstone style, I was reminded of the card Blood To Ichor and made a card with similar flavor. Minions running from a wave of ooze, with the ones that survive having their injuries corrupted. For future creators, I say just keep doing what you are doing. It may be difficult at first when you face some harsh criticism for your ideas, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? If you love making cards, don't let anyone stop you! There are plenty of unexplored ideas out there, so let your creativity Liftoff!
Demon: As for advice getting into making your own cards, I'm going to echo what I said when I was interviewed in the FCS of my Time Traveler class, and compete in some competitions. Competing in competitions seams the important factors of improving into one fun, productive environment. You will need feedback and experience, and will most likely try to be looking at other cards to see how other people design. The competitions will do all those at once for you. Don't be afraid to break the mold of what's normal in Hearthstone. The mechanics are only too complicated if you allow them to be. If you have a design that's different for Hearthstone, go try it. And above all else, have fun.
Mega-Pixel: Really just have fun, it's supposed to be a hobby before anything else, the card doesn't have to be balanced if you just want to show an idea/concept for a mechanic, just the fact that it can inspire others is great, let yourself be inspired by others too, it's always good fun to use someone's else unique mechanic ideas and see how you could make cards with them, and the other way around as well.
Do you have anything else you wish to share?
Zozoth: Nothing much left to share for me, just that you enjoyed the expansion and all the creative cards it had to offer. It was a blast getting to design this with such a large group of talented people, and I hope for many more experiences like this to come!
Demon: We're in the works of making another set right now, so stay tuned for that whenever it comes. Observe will make appearances in that set as well. If you get an opportunity to be part of a community set, then consider taking it because it's a fun experience.
henlo: Just for a closing statement, I want to thank the Out of Cards team as well as my design team! Thank you, both groups, for this opportunity!
We've reached the end of the interview! Thank you to everyone who took part; make sure you check out the full thread to see more of the amazing designs from this expansion. Let us know what you think in the comments below, and I won't see you in the next one because Demon will have returned to his post.