The Hearthstone Hover

The best part of Hearthstone is the lit­tle orange out­line that shows around a card when your oppo­nent is look­ing at it.

At some point in Hearthstone’s devel­op­ment, some­body at Blizzard real­ized that they could not pos­si­bly allow the play­ers to talk to each other. While many (if not most) com­pet­i­tive mul­ti­play­er games allow for text chat between play­ers, Hearthstone does not. Instead, if you click on the por­trait of your char­ac­ter, you can choose from a num­ber of pre­s­e­lect­ed state­ments, each a vari­a­tion on one of nine phras­es: “Greetings,” “Oops,” “Wow,” “Thank you,” and so on. Although the game does fea­ture an in-game chat client, you can only use it to talk to peo­ple on your friends list, not the other play­er in a game of Hearthstone.

This is good. People on the Internet are hor­ri­ble. There is no rea­son to ever talk to an oppo­nent in an online videogame. Nothing makes me more cer­tain of (and hope­ful for) the even­tu­al extinc­tion of the human race than the way peo­ple talk to each other in videogame cha­t­rooms. I have this prob­lem a lot: I love com­pet­i­tive videogames, and love play­ing games with peo­ple, but I am so aller­gic to the usual trash talk and hyper­com­pet­i­tive alpha non­sense that so per­me­ates com­pet­i­tive videogames that I find myself phys­i­cal­ly ner­vous before I press the “Ready” but­ton while play­ing Heroes of the Storm. I love videogames – I am deeply dis­trust­ful of gamers.

The prob­lem, how­ev­er, is that with­out the abil­i­ty to talk to the other play­er, it is very easy to for­get that you’re play­ing with anoth­er human being rather than sim­ply an AI. I don’t want to play against com­put­ers, I just don’t want to have to talk to the other per­son I’m play­ing with. It’s always more fun to play against a human mind than a com­put­er – humans are unpre­dictable and prone to psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare in ways that com­put­ers aren’t. Given that Hearthstone doesn’t let you com­mu­ni­cate much with your oppo­nent, it would be easy for you to for­get that you’re play­ing with a real per­son. That’s where the orange out­line comes in.

Hearthstone is a very tac­tile game, and it plays beau­ti­ful­ly on a touch­screen. You play cards by tap­ping (or click­ing, if you’re play­ing with a mouse) on the screen and drag­ging the card to wher­ev­er you want it to go. Playing a min­ion to the board has a delight­ful feel­ing of just flick­ing it out, like you’re Gambit throw­ing a card at a wall. If you want to get a clos­er look at a card, you hover over it with your mouse cur­sor or press your fin­ger on it and wait – a zoomed-in ver­sion of the card will appear in the cen­ter of your screen. On your opponent’s screen, what­ev­er you’re look­ing at will be sur­round­ed by an orange out­line.

The game thus shows you (in approx­i­mate real time) not only the moves your oppo­nent is mak­ing, but the cards they are look­ing at. This gives you a win­dow into your opponent’s mind. When you play an obscure card with a dras­tic effect and an orange light appears around it for a few sec­onds, you know that your oppo­nent is look­ing at it, per­haps to remem­ber what it does or to decide what to do next. You can see your oppo­nent cycling through their hand try­ing to decide what to play.

Hearthstone’s reliance on ran­dom num­ber gen­er­a­tion means it behaves in a way that a phys­i­cal card game can’t, but by allow­ing you this insight into what your oppo­nent is think­ing, the game brings you back to the feel­ing of sit­ting across a table with an actu­al human being, rather than cradling a glow­ing screen in your bed­room in the mid­dle of the night.

Bill Coberly

About Bill Coberly

Bill Coberly is the founder and groundskeeper of The Ontological Geek, now that it has shifted over to archive mode. If something on the site isn't working, please shoot a DM to @ontologicalgeek on Twitter!