Interview: We recently got to sit down with Jay Wilson, lead dev on Diablo III, and pitched some burning community questions his way...
Last week, we got to sit down and have a good chat with Jay Wilson, Lead Developer guy on Blizzard's upcoming Diablo III. He's a great guy, and was super-passionate about the game - especially for a guy who'd just flown all over the place (twice to Korea, oddly) just to get to Sydney and get grilled by a bunch of game journos.
Previously, we'd also posted to our forums and gathered a mess of community questions for Jay, figuring that if there was stuff the die-hard fans of the series didn't know, then they'd be good topics to cover.
And here's what we got!
[once_i_was_a_maggot] What is there to do at end game?
Well, one of the things we focused on with Diablo, these have all been cooperative games; they've always had a server/client architecture. For Diablo 2, its end-game was always about adding multiple difficulties, but the problem is that player power eventually overwhelms the challenge of the game, to the point where the only point of going on was sheer tenacity. A player good say 'Look, I've made it to level 99!", which is, like, crazy dude... It was a time investment, but one without any real challenge or fun.
So one of the things we focused on for Diablo 3 - and we weren't interested in making super long gruelling levelling up process - what we wanted was, the fun stuff, searching for gear, and fighting against monsters who are challenging. So we created a fourth difficulty that we call Inferno that is ALL max-level. Max-level for a player is level 60, and so all the monsters at the start of Inferno are level 61, in Act Two they are level 62, in Three and Four they're level 63. And there are items that ONLY drop at level 61, at level 62 and so on; and they're not small number! There's a whole tier of armour in each one.
So even to be able to play viably in Inferno, you're going to have to play and fight in Hell for a little while, to get your items up to the quality so that you'll be able to fight through. And then to move from Act to Act you'll need to do that. We just wanted to take the idea of what was fun about Diablo, and make it challenging so that it would stay fun, and put the the time investment into more combat and loot-hunting, and less into meaningless time-investment to prove that you're more committed than your friends.
[Gharphield] There's been a lot of backlash from the community in regards to the need for a contact internet connection during gameplay, which Blizzard have explained is purely so that Character / Item building is done in a legit fashion, but many have claimed is more so for DRM control. Is this Blizzards direction for all future releases? And will LAN play ever be part of another Blizzard game ever again? (This was an epically long question, so we might have paraphrased it a bit...)
You know, every project is different - and for us, we're focused on trying to solve some of the issues that Diablo 2 had. The reason why we've moved away from LAN play towards online was that we felt the experience that we could provide for players would be FAR better if they were online. We see it as a natively cooperative game, and we had a lot of problems with people in Diablo 2 playing the game offline and not realising that there even was an online component; or, once they discovered there was an online component, not being able to transfer their character over to the official Battle.net. That was a break-point for a lot of people, and they just left the game. Those are bad problems that we wanted to fix.
Diablo 2 also had a lot of security problems, and a lot of them were related to the fact that it's a server/client architecture where gave players the server; so it was very easy to hack that server. It's a lot harder to hack a server that you don't have.
Security's probably one of the biggest criticism's of Diablo 2, so we felt it was one of the things that it was important to try and fix.
[mudg3] Cows - where are they?
There's cows in there I think... somewhere...
Actually, there is a REALLY big easter egg in the game, but I'm not going to tell you what it is...
[neowulf] There have been a number of comments made about the skills interface. Could you provide some clarification on Blizzards thoughts on the interface design? Some have suggested it was done to make the interface easier to navigate for the future console port.
The interface has been changed so players can understand the combat system more. One of the things, or criticisms, that we had on the skills system from our more dedicated players really comes from the fact that they ARE more dedicated, or more savvy, players; they've really learnt a lot about the game's structure. What we found time and time again, internally, when we put even very hardcore players in front of the game, was they would not know how to interact with all the systems. They'd say 'It feels like there's a way that you want us to play, but you're not giving me any hints as to what that is.' It's almost like they're saying 'If I could put the skills in categories I'd be able to understand them.'
Well, hey, we have those; when we designed the classes and the combat model, every class had these different categories of skills. Some of them were really hard categories, like defensive skills, or movement skills, or AOE skills; some of them were more soft, like single target versus area damage. So when we showed people internally our backend categories, a lot of people were like 'Oh, now I get what you're trying to do - why aren't you showing that to the player?'
It comes back to this kind of core philosophy that we have at Blizzard; what we really want to get away from is what we call 'the test', which is putting a skill, or putting anything in a system in front of the players, that there's a right answer for... but where we're not going to help them find it. I think some of our more dedicated, more hardcore users say that that's alright, that's where the fun is. But I actually don't think that's the case; I think the fun is in playing the game, not working out how to play it.
That said, I think there's an enormous amount of capacity in the game for crazy builds, to try and actually break the conventions of the combat model. We've given a lot of power to the player to strain it, and test it, and to come up with whacky combinations.
To me, that's what's fun. There's nothing wrong with understanding the categories to begin with; so you take all that, and take all the challenges of making a game that is... you know, we make games that are very hardcore, but we still want them to be approachable, and it's one of those situations where you're never going to make both camps completely happy.
But I think that'll change once people can actually play the game. There's a lot of stuff going on right now on the forums where our community members will say we've really got to address this problem, or whatever, you know... they're just excited. They just want the game to come out, and they're looking for anything to talk about, or to debate or argue; anything they can, because they just want to play the game.
In fact, one of the great things about Blizzard is that it's really easy for us to put is in our customers shoes (stage whisper) because we ARE them (/stage whisper). We're right in the same situation when one of our favourite games is about to come out, we're the same ones, pounding on forums, saying 'You've ruined the game!', and then it comes out, and we're all like, 'Yay!' and all's forgotten!
You've got to remember, as a developer, that all that feedback comes from love.
[neowulf] Do you believe that the cash shop will wind up dragging the best items out of the economy? There seems to be little reason not to sell your ultra rare items for cash rewards. Won't this lead to a model where those who spend the most will be the best geared? Does Blizzard see this effecting the game long term?
I don't think it's a big issue, and here's why. So let's say you are... if you don't have any time invested into the game, or money, well, you're probably not going to be very successful. I'll admit that.
But let's say you have a situation where you can invest a lot of time, but have no money, or you don't want to spend a dime... well, you're gonna find good items. It's mathematical - you WILL find good items. It may not be the items you want, but you will find them. You can put them on the Auction House, and earn currency to buy whatever items you want, without putting a single dollar of your own currency into the system.
Originally we planned to have a listing fee, and we struggled to find ways to remove it, and finally did - so that players don't have to invest money into the Auction House if they don't want to. We thought that was essential - being able to trade with virtua; currency should not mean you have to open your wallet.
So I don't t think anyone needs to worry.
And you know, if you look at Diablo 2, there were lots of traded items, and they traded in the essential equivalent of a an Auction House, even with money changing hands. They'd trade with friends, or with random people, and I think that now we have the Auction House, I think people will trade there too. I don't think it'll hurt the game at all.
[NukeJockey, for clung3] Is there any particular reason you stuck with the Diablo 2 style controls, instead of having a traditional KB+M option?
Like a WASD setup? I'm going to assume that's what they mean... and yes, we played around with it, and we thought it felt awkward. When you are trying to take direct control over an isometric character... if you think about an FPS, where you use WASD, you have an analogue input, which is the mouse. When you think about in terms of the Diablo-style, your mouse becomes your aim, not a control mechanism; so you have no analogue input. You're literally talking about a character that can only move on eight axes - it works, but it doesn't feel awesome.
So when we looked at games that did it, and we played around with it a little, we thought it felt kinda clumsy. To us, that's not Blizzard-quality; so we said, no, we're not going to do it. We even had some people who said, 'Well, how about we support it?', and I would say that the hardest thing you will do, to get right in a game, is controls, and the worst mistake you could ever make is to have two control schemes; you're basically taking the hardest thing in your game, and doubling it.
[lhsan] Any particular reason they removed the ability to loot dead player corpses in hardcore?
Yes - it was done for two reasons. Well, there's also a technical issue, to do with how we designed the game, but that could have been overcome if we wanted to go that way. But I'd say the two main reason are we didn't want people to find ways to exploit, or to steal items from other people. We just didn't - we have a prime directive of 'do no harm to the co-op game'; anything that can essential create these instances where players benefit from the downfall of others... is a bad thing.
We already think there will be problems with people trying to get Hardcore players killed, if they think it's funny - you will have some griefing like that. That's stuff we can't help, but the thing I would tell people is to be real careful going through Waypoints and player Portals when you're in Hardcore. Unless you can trust that other player, you need to be careful where you're teleporting! But to some degreem, that, also, was the choice for Hardcore; we're not MAKING anybody play like that, and I'm actually in favour of things that Hardcore MORE hardcore. I think having player corpses NOT be lootable makes it MORE hardcore, because what would happen in D2, is that you could play with your friends, and if you died you wouldn't lose your items, because they'd loot them for you and give them back - that doesn't sound very hardcore to me.
I think as a designer, you're trying to make a game, y ou very rarely get to be evil; but this is the one case where, you know what? If you don't like it, you're not hard enough - and I get to say that and people will cheer! (I did - Ed)
And I say that as a person who probably won't play Hardcore, becuase I don't want to lose my character!
There you go, folks - Jay was a pleasure to chat to, and we have even more questions of our own we'll get to next week. Stay tuned!