‘Design Space’ has become a bit of a meme. The designer terminology has been widely mocked since the Blade Flurry nerf. But for all the rhetoric, what does design space actually mean? Why is it so important? And is it a valid reason to change or rotate cards? To understand this, we first need to understand the different types and impacts of design space.
What is design space?
Design space, is essentially the possibility of all the potential cards that could reasonably be designed for Hearthstone. The exact limits would be subjective, but contains all reasonably straightforward cards that fall within accepted power levels. This will vary depending on who you ask; for instance, designer Mike Donais famously jumps at the opportunity to print a card that breaks unspoken rules. But generally, it consists of all possible cards that would not be obscenely overpowered or underpowered, would massively undermine class identity or would be exceedingly unfun to play against.
Considering design space’s flexibility, it might not make sense to justify changes or rotations based on it. But cards can have a massive impact on design space, regardless of where you consider the exact borders are.
Negative design space
Negative design space is what we’re most familiar with. This is the concept of certain cards ‘restricting’ the ability of the developers to design. A card reduces design space when it interacts with a theoretical card to produce an unfair, overpowered, or otherwise game-breaking result. This means that the theoretical card could no longer fall into “could be printed” and into “would break the game”. This can apply to whole swathes of theoretical card.
Take Warrior’s Charge in its 3 mana single-target incarnation. This version of Charge made a lot of potential cards untenable. Its ability to give any minion charge meant that cheap minions with Windfury were often limited due to being able to push huge OTK damage with buffs.
In Charge’s new iteration that does not allow for hero damage, it opens up great many more possibilities, specifically Un’goro’s Adapt minions with their cheap Windfury potential.
What did Blade Flurry die for?
Blade Flurry is the most infamous change justified by restricted design space. It also provoked the widespread use of sarcastic comments of “design space” being freed up on every bad Rogue card since.
For the uninitiated, Blade Flurry was once a terrifying tool in Rogue’s arsenal. At 2 mana, it could cut through a board and deal massive face damage; especially with Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil weapon buffs. But “Oil Rogue” ended when Blade Flurry’s cost was doubled, and the face damage was removed. This is par for the course; but the justification was new. Instead of simply stating it was too powerful, Team 5 also invoked design space; stating it was “an obstacle to adding better cards for Rogues”.
Many took this to mean new, powerful Rogue weapons and weapon buffs as powerful as Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil were forthcoming. However, they were disappointed for a long time. Only Un’goro, which released nearly a year after the change, contained any substantial weapon buffs in Envenom Weapon (which didn’t even synergise!).
So was the ‘Design Space’ justification just a poorly thought-out excuse?
Means to an End?
The answer to that question may depend on whether you view design space as a good thing on its own, or only if it results in more varied cards. And the answer to that question might depend on whether you’re on Team 5 or not.
From a consumer perspective, design space on its own doesn’t seem to do much good. Sure, it’s heartening to think of all the possible fantastic card creations that might have made it, but it doesn’t make much difference if it doesn’t actually translate to new gameplay. The Rogue player who can’t make a Control deck due to a lack of a board clear isn’t much cheered by the fact that the developers could have added all sorts of cool new cards, but then didn’t.
But it might be worth having some empathy with the designers for. Though it might not always be capitalised on, design space can give devs the breathing room they need to innovate. While it may not be directly utilised, it makes for easier testing without too much worrying about broken interactions and starting from scratch. So while we may not appreciate the direct benefits, it may be worth considering the indirect bonuses it brings.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Title image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment
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