WWI 2008: Denizens of Diablo Panel

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The fourth and final Diablo III panel at the 2008 WWI focused on the "denizens of Diablo." This meant the characters, the NPCs, and the monsters; how they came about, how they fit into the world, how the different departments of the D3 team divided up the work, etc.

Panel Information[edit | edit source]

(This panel featured several designers, who passed the mic back and forth regularly as they each covered their particular niche of the game development. The video of this panel missed the start, and picked up several minutes in, with lead designer Jay Wilson speaking about character design.)

Character Defining Traits[edit | edit source]

...we could have other fighters, but we wouldn't want any of them to have the barbarian's style or tone. Or have his brute strength. That's what defines him. Those key things. Barb: unstoppable sheer physical force. His whole idea.

Putting together defining traits. Kinds of things they could do. A class like the WD raises zombies and plays around with disease and plagues and controls minds. These are defining traits. To get people's imagination going. If we're not excited about them, they're not going to be cool. What we're excited about is how we make character design decisions.

We ask if they're really awesome. Are they really cool? We could have a skill where a character gains on, 1% more critical damage, but that's not very exciting. It's got its point in an overall char build system, but it's not what you define the character by. It's not awesome. But if we say he hits the ground so hard everything in front of him gets crushed by a seismic force, that's awesome. That's what we look for in defining skills.

It's funny when you talk about them on a panel it seems really obvious, but when you get a game design team together it's easy to get caught in the nitty-gritty details and we spend our time thinking about what attributes they'll have, but it's important to remember to start with something awesome and action.

Art Direction[edit | edit source]

Brian Morrisroe: As art director, my job is to help our creative artists take the info Jay and Leonard went through, to see the story and what we're trying to accomplish with the gameplay design, and really bring that to visual life. That's our job in the art department.

When Jay was talking about awesome action, it's our job to make that visually appealing and make that happen. One of the main things we wanted to do with D3 was start at the beginning and take a look back at what made this franchise such an awesome gameplay experience. We started with the original D1. We looked at the early concept designs and defined what made those awesome at the time. What made the characters so cool? One interesting thing we noticed on the old drawings was the dark nature with which they were created. They're wearing armor that looks sharp, and the characters seem to have a history to them. The wizard has pierced bones through his feet. That inspired us and told us how to approach the classes moving forward. What kind of world do you live in when you pierce the bottom of your feet? But that’s the kind of world that our hero classes were living in.

You also start to wonder what kind of background they have? The wizard looks unhappy. These guys live in a morally gray area. We latched onto that for inspiration as a character design team.

Moving into D2, we took the more mature themes in the char realm. If the D1 chars were morally gray, the D2 characters were more so. You look at say, the Necromancer or the Assassin; those names are downright mean. They could be enemies in a game, not a hero class. We loved that. This universe is extremely harsh. If you're walking down the street you could meet a character or monster that could kill you at any moment. What kind of a person is going to exist in those worlds? So from a philosophical point, that's where we started. Dark overtone of universe.

Barbarian[edit | edit source]

How we approached d3 design. Barbarian concept. This is actually the same char from Diablo 2. He's aged twenty years, and he's got a personality. Look at his gear; his armor has points on which he could impale himself. It's extra protection for the harsh environment, but it's also dangerous to him. The day to day life they have to lead is very hard.

Updating a classic. The Barbarian was exciting for us to work on. To take a classic char we all love to play, and bring him back to life. What's this guy been doing for the past 20 years? As Leonard was saying, this guy's 8 feet tall and 300 lbs of tall pure muscle. He saw stuff in d2 that would kill most people. Giving him some age, graying his hair, giving him some scars. What Leonard and Jay wanted to accomplish, we pulled that together with how we wanted to sell the story visually. Scars, gray hair, how he wears his armor. All that helps us tell the story visually.

Witch Doctor[edit | edit source]

The WD is our brand new class, and we're excited to announce him here. Heroes are morally gray, from a visual stand point. We wanted them to be the type of guy you're not quite sure if he's happy or nice. The witch doctor is where we went to town. He's a grizzled old vet. He's been out there and through it all. He's old, hunched over, he's a great example of physical contrast to barb. He's old and frail; he's not going to smash anyone with a hammer. He's been hit and he knows he doesn't like that, so he's going to be smarter. He's going to mess with the minds of his enemies. He throws powders in their face, he confuses them so they fight each other, he summons zombie hordes.

What kind of char do you have to be to summon a wall of zombies? That's his driving force. But he needed to be different enough form the other classes, from the necromancer, to give him a fresh take. So visually he's more stunning. Big vibrant cloaks of feathers to scare enemies His facemask is designed in a way to be dark and brooding looking. Even though he's old and frail, he presents this massive structure because of the plumage and the large mask. That's what he's all about. Messing with your mind so that he doesn't get his physically.

Story[edit | edit source]

Leonard Boyarsky: One of the things we wanted to do with D3 that was different than D1 and D2 is to expand the character voices. In the first 2 games, they had limited voice. They'd comment when their inventory was full, or might say "Rest in peace." When they put a soul down. But since we were going with specific individuals with specific personalities in D3, we thought best to define them through their voices. To give them very identifiable voices that drive who they are as chars. That reinforce their personalities and can change during the course of the game.. That are an aid to storytelling.

Character through conversation[edit | edit source]

Another thing you saw in the demo is conversation system. In previous games it was all monologues from NPCs. Our little equation is that conversations are better than monologues, and that monologues are longer. Even if it's the same number of words, monologues feel twice as long. The best way to impart information is not to have an NPC talk at you. It's quicker and easier and more entertaining to have conversations. Your character comes to the table knowing things the player might not know. Facts they can reveal during a conversation. This technique is more interesting and lets you discover things while you observe the talking. You'll learn character history during the course of the game.

This way we can create backgrounds for your chars, people from your character's past can come back to haunt them. We'll also have various class quests that will be very interesting. Each class will have different views of the story that will play out through conversations. Bottom line beyond all this is it gives us a way to put the hero at the center of the story. Your hero can drive the story as opposed to being errand boy. You can decide best thing to do. Villages can be cowardly, you can suggest we need to go do this, not just me. I can take control because no one else will. Puts you at center of the action. Makes char have more of a hero feel.

Signature Skills[edit | edit source]

Jay Wilson: These are where we bring the design and art together. We focus on a small set of skills, and poick ones that are very cool to work on. By this we focus on defining a character's essential nature. When we star to work on a character, we can sit in a room and come up with 100 skills. Ideas for them isn't hard. We don't make them all though. We figure which are really cool and defining of that character, and those are the ones we pursue. We have a saying, "don't balance too soon" The goal here isn't to crate a skill that's fair and balanced gameplay. The point is to make a skill that people will think awesome. And that can be edited by worrying about balancing it too soon.

I'm not trying to trivialize balance. It's important; but not too soon. Don't balance at the beginning. At the beginning you're trying to make the heroes as awesome as possible. One cool thing that happens is that we have an arms race between the characters as we design them. The first one is awesome, and then we make the next one a little bit more awesome. So we have to go back to the first one and up their awesomeness, and back and forth. It makes them better and better over time.

Barbarian: Seismic Slam[edit | edit source]

This is a skill where barb raises weapon over head. Slams it down. Anything in front of him gets rocked and destroyed. This skill was first skill we made for Barb, and one of the first we did in the game. Getting it right took longer than it did with most skills. We did many iterations. Animation especially. Had to make barb feel physically powerful. Traditionally we associate big bold movements with power. But if you want a game that feels fast and responsive, you want the movements to be really fast. Getting balance of fast movements and powerful feel. It's a big challenge in many ways to get that animation right.

Once we got through all that, we didn't still didn't really like the skill. We got programming done and wasn't that great. Got effects done, and still not that great. Somehow didn't quite sing to us. Wasn't until we got sound that it was really awesome. Really fun. Key to that was faith to get through process. Once you do get through it, all the skills that come after that come much quicker. What's the Barbarian about? Look at Seismic Slam. With that he rocks the world with power. Next few skills we did almost required no communication between art and programming, since art knew what the barb was about. Knew what we were designing for, since we had a great example.

Witch Doctor: Firebomb[edit | edit source]

Interesting evolution of this skill. It was one of our first skills for him. Originally it was a sort of fireball spell; when cast it traveled in a direct line from the WD to the target and would hit anything in the path. It exploded nicely. Explosions are cool. Everyone likes them.

Problem was, not really problem, but we've all seen that kind of Fireball spell before. The artists came back said we didn't imagine him that way. We saw Firebomb as more of a physical magic. Like concocting some alchemical recipe in a skull and hurling that, and it explodes.

Once it was a physical projectile designers liked. It became a physical thing to throw, could go over walls. Become different tactics and use. Great example of how art and design can work together to iterate to make cool skill.

Last thing artists wanted to do was put the image of the witch doctor into the fire effect. When fire goes off it's big form of his hands and face in the flame. We thought that idea was so cool that we put that into the graphics of his other skills. Horrify, Mass Confuse. Just shows how one skill can inform whole class.

This is how we develop skills. Rinse and repeat this idea. First few are hard and time consuming, but the rest come easier and makes for a really cool character.

Visual Effects[edit | edit source]


Let's get to effects!

Special effects for Diablo 3. right at the beginning we had some overriding goals. Fundamental philosophies when creating the graphics. We wanted D3 to be a very visceral experience. Players experience real combat and real godlike power. Chars do crazy things and express more personality and back story than in previous Diablo games. Our goal with the special effects is to punch these things up really loudly.

Player Skills[edit | edit source]

With the whole godlike power thing in mind, lets look at some player skills.

What we do when we want to work on graphics, is we take all this info from design and concept departments, and ourselves as effects. We bounce the idea of skill back and forth between the departments. Talk each other up. Try to one-up each other. Who can come up with craziest description of a skill or general character trait. We try to use very evocative language to really describe what we're imagining. For instance, we might say of the Barbarian, "When he leaps he lands with the force of a small bomb." Or "When he charges he knocks everyone down." These physically-oriented descriptions help to inform and inspire us when we go on to make the graphics.

The Barbarian has another skill called Hammer of Ancients. When he uses it he seems to wield this giant god hammer. At first it seemed kind of mystical to us, but as we worked on it more we realized the Barb was still just swinging a huge hammer, and that's a physical effect you expect from him. So it works out.

For the Witch Doctor, we wanted to get a rich, voodoo vibe. We wanted to avoid straight up master-caster feel. He's not just conjuring things out of thin air. WDs don't just channel magic. They take real world objects and infuse them with voodoo magic. Our spell descriptions for the WD were like, "He's going to throw a shrunken head filled with a chemical concoction." Or "He's going to create insect swarms by blowing voodoo dust from his palms." Or "He's going to sprinkle dust in the air and cause illusions and frighten monsters away."

Of course you're not a real witch doctor unless you're doing zombies. WD and zombies go together naturally. We didn't want normal slow wandering zombies either, so we took the typical zombie concept and smashed them up with other skill ideas. Like firewall, we smashed that with zombies and came up with zombie wall.

Other ideas were more straightforward. Man's best friend is dog. WD's best friend is zombie dog. Mongrel. Only thing better than zombie dog is an exploding zombie dog. So let's blow them up!

Monster Hit Graphics[edit | edit source]

That takes care of godlike power. The other side of our combat equation is that if heroes need crazy effects to punch of their personality, then monsters need insane impact effects as well. To start with we focused on impact effects alone. You hit a lot of monsters in this game and we didn't want the blood splatters to get monotonous, so we made just a ton of blood effects.

We have at this point fire, cold, lighting, poison, and a new type of damage called arcane, so we made appropriate effects to display on the monsters when they took damage. Players need to be able to see what type of damage they're dealing when they hit the target. If they die from fire, they have a burning rag doll effect, ice freezes them with icicles visible, lightning zaps them, and so forth.

Critical Hits[edit | edit source]

We took that concept further, when it came to critical hits. Critical hits are bigger deal in d3 than in the previous Diablo games, so we took all the same visual effects we had for normal damage types, and made them that much louder and bigger for critical strikes. When you kill a monster w/ critical damage, they literally explode.

With all that hitting happening, you'll be killing a lot of monsters. We wanted to pump up the player's sense of impact on monsters. In D3 monsters all die with ragdoll physics, which allows the character to interact with the monsters. Depending on what/how you hit them, monsters die in different ways. You can set up situations to knock them off of ledges, or send them flying out into space.

We have a lot of things exploding in the game, and there's a good reason for that. It's a complicated formula, as you see on this slide:

  • Monsters + explosions = awesome.

(Audience applause.)

Custom Deaths[edit | edit source]

Elemental and critical deaths are cool. One thing that made D2 cool was that all the characters had their own custom death, and there was personality to the monster deaths. We brought some of that into D3, and reserved some monsters just for custom deaths. We look into the monster's core vibe, and take something from that to try to punch that up.

Special deaths are a good example of our 2nd overriding goal. Reinforcing monster personality. Custom deaths bring that to forefront.

The other way we emphasize monster character and personality is to look at the monster on whole. How do they get on screen and die? He's going to be on screen in a cool way, so we went to the the Thousand Pounder here. He's all bout hell. He's summoned from it literally piece by piece. When he gets on screen we figured he should be made and big. Express anger. Part of his gameplay is that he gets really mad when he's almost dead. Throws a huge temper tantrum and this changes how he plays and how the player has to play against him. When he's enraged we changed how he looked; made his tattoos glow, gave him new attack animations and special effects. When he dies they animation is somewhat a reverse of how he came on screen. We did this to show of the whole idea that he's from hell.

That's a taste of special effects in D3.

Monster Creation[edit | edit source]

Jay Wilson: I wish I had more video. Trust the effects guy to bring the cool slides.

Julius told you cool things about how we kill the crap out of monsters, and now I'm going to talk about how we create monsters in first place. Monsters come form a lot of different places. This list of bullet points is not chronological, it's just a selection of monster idea sources.

Visual Concepts[edit | edit source]

Monsters come from visual concepts. Artists have cool idea something they want to see. They might say, "Monster is big giant dude he blows up and spits crazy eels out." And we designers will say, "Okay, that sounds cool, go for it."

Then the designers will say, "We want a guy who has this charged up powerful attack but so when it hits the ground it gets stuck you and you retaliate against him." And the artists say, "Okay that's cool, we can do that visual."

Other times the lore or story or plot drives the design. Some area might need goatmen in it, since that's the kind of area it is according to the lore or history.

All of the departments feed off of each other to come up with list of creatures to create.

What do they do; how do they die?[edit | edit source]

After that, we have a meeting we call, "What do they do, how do they die?" It sounds snappy, and in those meetings we get designers and artists together and we talk about what we want out of that monster. There are key questions.

  1. How does it appear?
  2. What does it do?
  3. How does it die?

When we started we spent a lot of time on point two, but as we've done more development we've learned that the other two are just as or more important. A lot of creatures show up and die, and they do it a lot. Make their entrance, and a couple of seconds later they're crushed. That has to be really cool and visceral, and it's a reason we came up with this elaborate kill system. It adds dynamic fun to how monsters die.

How they appear has to be the same. Ghouls climb up walls. Thousand Pounder is summoned and comes together. They don't just walk up. Cultists who transform into demons look really cool when it happens, and those things are important. That's what meetings are about. We come out with perfect picture of what we want monster to be with art and design together.

Artist Input[edit | edit source]

Brian Morrisroe: That's where we artists start. How are they born and how do they die? In between that's our job from a visual stand point. Make the monster breathe as best as possible for the five seconds he lives. We take all the design goals and work on them in a way that's very similar to hero design process. We talk to Leonard and what his guys want a monster to come from and take all that info and add design. Is it melee, caster, what kind of activity it does on screen? Then we think to ourselves, if our hero classes are morally gray, and we're not sure if we like them, and they look bad guys already... our enemies have to look even worse.

That's one of the most enjoyable aspects for us. It's crazy fun to come up with weird creatures. We reach into the deepest depths of our imaginations and spew out what we can come up with. What design and story were looking for. What's the most mutated, nasty looking demonic thing we can possibly think of?

In this stage of char concept modeling we take it to animation dept, and they're some of the most talented guys anywhere. The creatures we dream up aren't anatomically correct. They have arms out of their heads, feet where eyeballs are, etc. And the animation guys have to make them move realistically and have the be believable in their in their own world.

Let's take some questions. (Audience applause)

Audience Q&A[edit | edit source]

Q: Are you going to make the monsters with some variety? Small variations between them to improve immersion.
A: Yeah, absolutely. One of the main goal is to make the game as visually interesting as possible. In art and design. On the art side, we find it visually appealing if we can get the same creature to with some different looks. Where in the world they live, breaks up the monotony of killing same color creature all the time. Def art priority.

Q: In D3 will you be allowing respecing?
A: Jay: We haven't decided on that yet. We've not even nailed down the skill system. That said, I think respecing is pretty awesome, and that's all we're going to say on that for now.

Q: Items? In d2, every unique item looked just the same, and eventually all the chars looked the same since they were in the same top quality unique items. Any fixes to this in D3, so you don't have to choose weaker gear to look different?
A: One of our core philosophies is to maintain what made D2 classic, and the loot system was excellent. From art, we want to make a diversity in the range of items at low end and high end. Not sure to what extent, since we're still working on system. We're working on diversity in all types. Jay: From the design point of view, we have two choices. We can have items be more stats driven which equals no customization. Or we can have customization but not as much stats driven. We feel stats driven like in D1 and D2 is better model in this game. Not that it's bad to have visual customization of items, but visual customization is not something we're planning for those reasons.

However, as Brian said, we'll expect a lot more diversity in items and the look of them. If you watch the video, you'll notice that the items effect the look of the slot they're put on. In D2 only chest/head/weapons changed look. In D3 all items do; boots, gloves, and we've added shoulder pads and pants as item types too.

Q: Will you be following the D&D Diablo 2 game, will you follow the lore from the D&D guide book?
A: (Blank stares, none of them have any idea what was in the D&D Diablo game.) I'm not familiar with that... I guess I should look that up. We're not real familiar with it or how it links up with our official lore.

We are keeping as much official lore as possible. If we go a totally different direction we'll give a good reason; not just change it and pretend it was that way all along. We're going to respect the lore and not just throw it out and start over.

Q: Will there be a secret cow level?
A: It's a secret.

Q: Why did you choose to keep the isometric view?
A: Jay: because it's Diablo 3. Simplest answer. For us we felt it's the game we wanted to play. That's the game we thought fans would want to play. It keeps the game approachable, and there aren't a ton of isometric action RPGs out there. Where there lots of other types of view. We wanted to stick true to Diablo series.