WWI 2008: D3 Design Fundamentals Panel

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The second Diablo III panel at the 2008 WWI was held Saturday afternoon. This panel began with a 30 minute presentation on the design concepts behind Diablo III, then concluded with a Q&A session.

Panel Information[edit]

Lead Designer Jay Wilson did almost all the talking in this panel.

The Presentation[edit]

(This presentation had a lot of talking and explaining, and as such this transcript is not verbatim. These are notes, covering everything that was discussed, but without all the transitional sentences and verbal digressions.)

Jay Wilson: This presentation will focus on our game design philosophy for D3. What our core focus is. We're starting a little bit late, so we might rush a little to save time for questions.

The History of the Diablo Series[edit]

  • History of Diablo
    • Diablo - Reinvigorated the RPG market.
    • Diablo 2 - Sequel to Diablo. Expanded Scope.
    • Diablo 3 - Next step in the Diablo series.

Diablo 3 is our next big step. I'll summarize the series a bit, then get into the new details.

Diablo: One of the first mainstream games to give you random items, random dungeons, and to have a lot of replayability. It offered very simple, action-based gameplay. Fun character customization through spells and items.

Diablo 2: Expanded on Diablo. Added a lot larger world. Outdoor environments. Advanced the character classes. Much more unique char classes at the time. Barbs and necros and amazons were very unusual then, not the type of chars you saw in games, compared to your average warrior/rogue type characters. Skill tree system has become standard for the industry. It was the original idea based on an RTS tech tree.

Diablo III Design Goals[edit]

Stay true to Diablo experience. Have amazing moment to moment action. Really be an awesome action game. Expand RPG experience. Better RPG than ever before. New systems, most of which we're not talking about today. In the coming months we'll be showing off a lot more.

With D3, we wanted to start with the spirit of Diablo, and stay true to the Diablo experience. That was one of our biggest focuses. It's very difficult to take games like D1 and d2 that everyone loves and that have huge fan base and make changes to them. What do we, as designers, need to be true to? We could just make d2 again, and probably a lot of people would be happy with that. But we wanted to be sure we made D3 enough like Diablo to satisfy the fans, but also to give the game its own identity. To really advance the intellectual property, rather than just being a static content game. So we tried to pick the things we thought were really important. The things that are really the core of Diablo. Make it replayable. Make really powerful heroes who engage in epic scale combat. Include approachable gameplay. Focus on cooperative play.

Replayability[edit]

Key to play experience. One thing not visible in the demo video is this. We are heavily focused on it in D3. (Video plays with a small level that keeps reconfiguring multiple ways , showing how the game could reform it each new game.)This is our VLRG(?) system, which is our system for creating random dungeons and environments. As you can see, it just scrolled through many different combinations. It can put together an almost endless number of layouts and combinations. Every time you do a dungeon it's a bit different. We have other randomness too. Random items, monsters, dungeons. Higher diff levels; something from D1 and D2 we're keeping. We may expand on that, but can't talk about it today.

Random adventures[edit]

Allows us to place random scripted adventures almost anywhere in the game. Better RPG. More interesting RPG. World more alive. We cover that more later.

Epic heroes[edit]

Making heroes that are over the top crazy cool awesome destructive powers. It's one of our main focuses. We're most proud of. As we focused on the barb and WD development, we wanted to make characters that player wants to be. To fulfill the fantasy of playing epically powerful chars. Large scale combat, lots of monsters on screen, characters who can deal with lots of monsters at a time. Huge and over the top powerful, but not just by ridiculous skills, but by making them feel powerful. Making sure every impact is huge. Sound backs that up. Effects that make it crazy over the top.

Strong archetypes[edit]

Strong character archetypes are very important for us. The witch doctor is a great example. You say "witch doctor" you have an expectation of that will do and be and we think lives up to and surpasses it. That's a hallmark of D2. Awesome chars, very powerful and cool and distinctive. We thought we could improve upon and make better.

Approachability[edit]

One of our other key factors. Speaks to why d3 is an isometric game played from overhead view. We have a saying, "If you can click a mouse you can play Diablo." We wanted to maintain that. We didn't even explore the idea of 1st person. All isometric. Simple to learn. Wanted to focus on increasing the depth of the game. Control and combat improvements. Smooth difficulty curve. D2 did very right. Early game very easy to get into. Not too challenging, as you get into higher diff it ramps up a lot. Becomes very challenging. Very smooth diff curve. We want to maintain that for casual gamer.

Cooperative Play[edit]

Competitive play seems to get the focus when you talk about mp games, and it's awesome and we'll have some, but we're not talking about yet. But co-op was our focus. And it's a key to why Diablo has done so well. Play over Battle.net, join your friends at any time. We have a lot of improvements to Battle.net. Whole never version of it. It's going to premiere with sc 2. you can be sure everything Starcraft 2 uses we'll take advantage of and many more cool features. It supports easy communication and connection with other players. Matchmaking. Get online, find friends, have a good time quickly. More co-op battles, and a game that supports that.

On the multiplayer side, Battle.net isn't ready to premiere yet, but we'll have more about that in the coming months.

Making D3 a better action game[edit]

Here's short video showing some of the barb and WD skills. (The same ones that can be viewed on the official site's character pages. Cleave is fun barb skill. It's a sweeping attack that hits everything. It's been our goal to make incredibly kick ass player chars that you really want to play. We felt like we needed to make a lot of improvements to the game controls. What we call "less spam, more depth." Not to say you won't break some mice playing d3, since it's a mouse killer, but not as clicky as d2. Allow you to get more skill diversity.

Combat and Tactics[edit]

Control improvements. Hot bar. The hot bar promotes what we call skills over potion use. In D1 and D2 the primary focus for escaping problems was potion use. When you ran into tough monsters you drank potions until you won. We didn't think that made for great combat, since it turned most combat into battles of attrition and that's not the most fun way to play. We wanted the player to use more diverse skills. The D3 hot bar allows the player to use many skills very quickly. Occupies the space the belt used to use. Not any more complex. Actually a lot easier. Not need to use the complex function keys d2 used. We don't use those anymore to switch skills because you can access skills on the hot bar and you don't want hot keys. Also you can use the mouse wheel or tab key to swap between skills.

You can still one-skill through the single player game on low difficulty. That's part of keeping the difficulty curve smooth. But as you get further into the game, you want to use a more diverse set of skills. Escape skills, attack skills, buffs, all of those things are way easier to use in d3. it's a cleaner UI, all the advanced features are there and available to all the players, not just those who figure out what the more arcane features are.

It promotes things like tactics. Previously the answer to a Barb being overwhelmed was potion. Same with WD. Now the WD can horrify his enemies, and the Barb can stun them. The Barb is tougher than his enemies, so he can just last through them. Or the WD can use pets to distract enemies. Makes for a more interesting dynamic combat. W/o pulling away from the fast-paced Diablo style play of owning a big pile of monsters. That's part of the fun.

The Health System[edit]

We haven't gotten rid of potions entirely; they're just less core of the game. We redesigned the health system. We tried a lot of ideas. We tried a Halo kind of shield system with a very quick regeneration, but it didn't give us the effect we wanted. It forced players to leave combat to recover health and we never want that. We always want the player moving forward, and we want the pace of play to be fast. No WoW system of stopping to drink potions after a fight. We view Diablo as a very fast paced active game. Little to no downtime is one of our goals.

The great thing about health globes that drop off of monsters when they die it encourages players to fight on, whether they're low or high on health. It creates positional gameplay where you need to consider the type of attack based on where you are positioned and where the monsters are located. Our health system forces the player to go someplace they don't want to go. "Oh no, I need to get that thing, but I have to get past 10 monsters to do it." It's really exciting.

The other thing is that we talked a lot about how this system interacts with co-op. Every system in the game is considered in terms of co-op play. We set it up so that if you pick up health globe, any friend nearby will receive the same healing benefit. It's good to be near each other. We didn't want the Barbarian to get all the health while the Witch Doctor in the back withered. Now not only is the Barb a de facto front man, he's a healer too. Same thing for the Witch Doctor; if he has access to a health globe, he can help out his buddy. That kind of cool co-op play is our focus.

Monsters[edit]

What kind of cool monsters are we making how can we improve upon them? D3 is filled with all kinds of swarming monsters to crush in large numbers, which is awesome fun, but we wanted more tough monsters too. The Berserker is a great example of this. He's very tough, very strong, but he's got this massive charge up attack. He swings his big mace with a fiery effect and if it hits it does huge damage, but if you can dodge it he'll hit the ground and be stuck. This kind of feature encourages positional gameplay. We want players to not just run in and click to attack. We want to force players to back up, or think sometimes, since that makes combat more fun and interesting.

Skeletal Shieldman. This guy shows monster synergy. He's very slow, but very tough. Shield takes monstrous amount of damage. But if you can destroy or subvert the shield, he's not very tough. He accompanies ranged units or caster, and he's in front. But if you can do something to make him drop the shield, like stun them, or horrify them with a fear skill, that shield drops and then you one shot them and they're gone. Really cool fun creature.

Better RPG[edit]

Our last big key point to talk about today. Really focus in Diablo series. Idea was to improve story Make a better story. Not lose feeling of Diablo, or WoW. The story in D3 is an opt-in; you're not forced to pay attention to it, and we don't subject the player to lots of dialogue of mountains of text. You can just get the quest and race into battle. Have a great time. But if you're interested in the story it's there for you. We wanted to really improve the feeling that as you move through the world, there's a focus. There's a lot going on. The world is more than a container for monsters. We wanted to bring monsters to life, to enable NPC interaction, to include cool events/quests. We've learned a lot about quest design and story since Diablo 2 was designed, and we're trying to put all those things into D3.

One of the ways we'll accomplish that are through adventures. Adventures are an expansion on a lot of the randomness from D1 and D2. They allow us to place a scripted event almost anywhere in game world. You could come across a particular area in the outdoor world with a variety of possible elements in it. One game it could be a old abandoned house to explore. Maybe it's infested with crazy undead guys, and as you clean it out you learn the story of the family who lived there. Another game that same area might instead have a clearing where a cult is performing a summoning ritual. Another game might feature a cavavan that needs protection from marauding monsters, or escort to the nearest town. Another game you might find a boss monster there. Or you might just get random monsters. The idea is that every time you go through the game we want you to see something different. We want to provide randomization everywhere, to make things so replayable. To make it fun to keep coming back to.

Conversation system[edit]

We showed in demo. Chars really interact. You feel as if you are in the world. See the Barbarian and Cain interact. The Barb has a voice and a distinct personality. Big focus for us to bring NPCs to life. This was something important to us, that our characters tell the story and drive it forward. Tomorrow's panels will focus on the world lore and environment, and on the characters in the game. Those talks will cover how we focus on chars and voice, so I'm not going to steal their thunder. More engaging story than in previous games.

Conclusion[edit]

Those are all very important to us. Also a lot of really cool features we're going to announce in the coming months. That leads us to time or questions.

  • D3 remains true to the universe and gameplay of the series.
  • D3 is a deeper action game without sacrificing ease of play.
  • D3 will improve on the RPG and story elements of the series.


Questions and Answers[edit]

Q: What's the typical group size for D3? 5, 40, 100?
A: It's not so much a technical issue, it's about gameplay. Small groups work better because of the nature of the camera. More than 4-5 it gets chaotic. We haven't decided on a final number, but we're probably going to focus on 4-5.

Q: Are you going to increase the inventory size from D2.
A: We haven't settled on a final size. We're going to improve the inventory. We want to make trading to other players and passing to your other characters easier. The inventory grid system from D2 is gone. It's now one item per space, so it's hard to compare the sizes.

Q: Thanks for the videos. They're very informative. Do you want to attract WoW players, or D2 players, or just one of them? A particular focus?
A: Not really. We don't have a particular audience. D2 was a great game and it sold very well. We don't worry about WoW. It will do great. We play it too and D3 as well. We're just trying to make a great game.

Q: New classes? The same classes?
A: We've already added one new one. The witch doctor. We don't have plans to bring over D2 classes. We haven't decided on the final number. We're not going to try to bring old D2 classes over. Not a goal for us right now.

Q: In the gameplay movie, the barbarian's mana sphere was green. Are you going to work in energy or other options for the other classes.
A: We're really interested in exploring some alternate gameplay options for other classes, but no specific plans at this time.

Q: Hardcore?
A: We haven't decided yet, but I don't see why we wouldn't. It’s not a decision we need to make yet. We probably will, though.

Q: Item drops to share loot fairly, so one person doesn't snatch it all?
A: Yes. I played a lot of D2 and I didn't like that. In D3 when you kill a boss multiple items drop but each character only sees what they can pick up themselves. In D3 each player sees items that are only for them, and does not see items that are for other players.

Q: Will you be able to respec skills?
A: We're not talking about skill systems or trees yet. But I will say that I think it's a bad idea to not give some kind of capacity to respec your character. We have no specifics in place yet, though.

Q: Is the witch doctor a replacement or spiritual successor to the Necro? Similar skills.
A: We don't view WD as a replacement. Necro is a very cool char. We thought about him as a class and tried to see if we could improve on him, which is something we did with every class. If we ever decided to make a Necromancer, the WD wouldn't prevent us from doing so.

Q: How does the gear system differ from D2?
A: We have a bunch of new features for items that we'll talk about later, but the core item system isn't drastically changed. We feel that D2 did that very well; drops, rewards, etc. The structure there is so good that we didn't want to change that. We want to make new items and new ways to recover items, and more co-op, but it's not finalized yet.

Q: In d2 many overpowered players on Battle.net. Any solution to that in D3? To stopping cheats?
A: I can't talk about specifics at this point, but in the new version of Battle.net security is a big priority. The security is much stronger. Being able to prevent cheats is one of our biggest focuses. We realize that those really hurt the community.

Q: Are you going to have Easter eggs and other secrets to discover during play?
A: That's a secret.

Q: Will SP and co-op be balanced? In WoW many things can only be done by large group. Will it be the same in D2, or can everything be done solo?
A: Another way to look at that question is are there rewards that can only be achieved in large groups. The game exp will be different in co-op, but there is no item that only drops for groups and not for singles.

Q: Since 2001 we've not had much news of Diablo. What's been going on?
A: we've been working. The development of a new product is often a long affair. Trying to establish a game that we know is worthy of being a Blizzard game, and worthy of our fans. That looks awesome, plays awesome.

Q: I like the option to choose male/female char. Any different attributes?
A: There won't be any differences other than visual appearance. It's tough to take gender and make any differences. If there's any perceived differences we're seen to favor one gender over the other. So it's primarily an aesthetic choice.

Q: The system requirements will be very high? If you can run WoW perfectly, will you be able to run D3? Direct 10? Or 9?
A: Not settled yet. It's always Blizzard's goal to run on a wide variety of machines. I can't say if D3 would work on a WoW system since that's a wide range of machine specs. We do want to support as low system reqs as possible. We don't make super high end games, that's not our focus. We do not require Dx10 at this time, and probably will not at launch.

Q: Do you plan on creating a map editor?
A: No specifics about mod development. But the Diablo series is not real friendly to mod development due to the random nature of the game. It's fairly difficult to learn the program well enough for users to add content on their own. We haven't decided for sure on that this time, though.

Q: Runewords will return in D3?
A: (Long pause for consideration.) No comment at this time.