BlizzCon ’11: Interview with Diablo III Designers

By on October 27, 2011

We discover what’s brewing in the depths of Hell

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First Impressions
My reaction is

It seems like only the other day I was wandering through a haunted monastery resurrecting skeletons to do my bidding as I plunged into darkness to hunt down the prime evils. But though it may have been a while since I played Diablo II, I still remember the frantic pace of the game and the countless hordes of the underworld that would seek to destroy me. Fast forward to 2011, and we’re at BlizzCon to talk to Wyatt Cheng and Andrew Chambers, both Game Designers on Diablo III.

You guys have worked so hard on pushing out the Diablo III Beta – what have you learnt so far from it?
People are excited for more, and that’s always a good thing. They’re always asking “How much longer is the beta going to go for?” but what they’re really saying is “Can I keep playing?”

From a technical point of view, have you gone back to the game and tweaked anything based on the beta feedback?
Yea – all over! The forums are fantastic for that, as people post their issues and we try to address them as quickly as we can. One of the big things was skill swapping during combat – when we put that out there for people to try, there was some erratic behaviour which we were able to take note of and address in the game, and we’re still testing internally.

Where does the story pick up in Diablo III?
I know that it’s 20 years after Diablo II, but beyond that we can’t say too much without ruining it for everyone!

One of the newer items you’re including is the auction house – can you elaborate a bit more on how it works?
Diablo II is a trade based game – all hardcore players got their items through trading, and we felt the interface for trading was pretty bad. So the auction house is a method to make what is fundamentally a trading game more accessible to players, and also provide a safe and secure place for trading. A lot of players went to websites where their accounts were hacked or something worse, and we don’t want that. We want your experience with Diablo II to be safe and secure, so we’re providing you with this experience.

I know you’ve been asked this before, but with Diablo being a predominantly PvE game, what will it have in store for players who just want to get into the game and beat the crap out of each other?
That’s our team Deathmatch mode – I think you just came up with the tagline: “For people that just want to beat the crap out of each other!”

I have that on record and I’m claiming copyright – you’ll hear from me next week.
We’re really happy with where Team Deathmatch is right now, where the action is really frantic. You get to explore mode, and find out more about how your character does in a PvP scenario. It’s a lot of fun and we can’t wait for gamers to get give it a shot when the game releases.

What we’ve seen from playing the beta is that you’ve reworked the skills system to make it more straightforward – what kind of feedback are you hearing on this?
The skills system that’s in there now isn’t that useable. If people get it, then it works, but for a brand new player it make take anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes to figure it out. The worse thing to witness is for someone to spend 5  minutes looking at the skill selection and then just give up.

One of the things I’ve personally loved about Diablo is just how random it is, like random dungeons, items, etc. How is this carrying forward into Diablo III?
Well we still have random items, that’s very important. I think that we also have random monsters and distributions, as well as champion and rare monsters. I think some players may remember from Diablo II the Lightning-enchanted monsters that would give off electricity when you hit them, and we felt that was an opportunity to explore things more, so we included things like the teleporter monster, there’s a vortex monster, a knockback monster, and over a dozen different abilities that can be placed on any monster, which drastically changes the gameplay experience.

What made you introduce all-new classes to Diablo III rather than just carrying forward those from D2?
That’s the classic challenge of making a sequel – finding the right balance between something old and something new. We didn’t want to make Diablo 2.5 – some players would be happy with Diablo 2.5, while others would say that we didn’t go far enough. So what we did when we started Diablo III was a little bit of introspection, and asked ourselves what was the real core of a Diablo game. As long as we stay true to those core values, we can change things around in the game. So having things like different classes that are iconic and feel powerful, those are important. Having the exact same classes? Not as important. Another example is camera angle. We decided camera angles are important to Diablo and is another core element. The different classes also means that each player has a class that suits them and speaks to their personality.

Chris Medsen mentioned yesterday that the game is going really well and is progressing towards the finish line – do we have any timelines on how far away we are from a release?
When it’s done.

I love that answer – it’s a Blizzard classic.
The reason we say that is it’s a commitment to quality. It’s a promise to our community, and we promise that a game will be good when it comes out – when you see the Blizzard logo on there, you know it’s an awesome game because we didn’t ship it early or rush it out the door. We are our greatest critics, so when we’re happy with it, it’s going to get released.

Three words for you guys – Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno. What makes the higher difficulties more rewarding in Diablo III?
Certainly normal difficulty for an experienced Diablo player will feel too easy. On Nightmare mode the challenges get harder, and there are better items and skill runes to loot. Inferno is pretty much designed to be a challenge, as you’re only allowed to choose six skills. You need to have a plan, and properly execute it in order to survive.

You touched upon runes – can you elaborate a bit more on them?
The runs are used to socket into your skills to modify them, and each class has anywhere between 21 to 25 skills, but each skill has five variations. I don’t know, have you had a chance to play with the rune system yet?

Today’s going to be my first time ever with the game, so no offense to you guys, but I can’t wait to get out of this interview and rush down to play the game.
We don’t take offense to that – in some ways that’s a massive compliment! So let’s say you’re playing as a wizard with a skill such as Magic Missile. There might be a rune that causes you to cast two or three missiles with each use, or maybe give you a heat-seeking one, or use up less arcane power. You can customize your skills to suit your needs, and players will soon find what works best for them.

Between the two of you, which is your favourite class and why?
(Andrew) Hands down the Barbarian for me, his Whirlwind skills is just awesome.
(Wyatt) I’m really enjoying the Demon Hunter, and I’ve played all of our classes often enough, but what really sold me was the way our cinematics department really nailed the Demon Hunter announcement trailer. So when I play as the Demon Hunter, I still have the cinematic running through my head of this fantasy where I’m saving orphaned children and killing demons. So yea, definitely the Demon Hunter class for me.

Not talking about timelines or anything like that, but would we see Diablo III ever on a console?
At the moment we’re still focusing on PC games as that’s always been our strongest point, but you never know, one day…


A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys hurling fireballs and tinkering with the latest gadgets. Follow him on Twitter as @theregos

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