BlizzCon 2009 Diablo III Game Director InterviewBy Brian Leahy - Posted Aug 24, 2009
After getting some hands-on time with Diablo III, including the recently revealed Monk class, I was able to sit down with game director Jay Wilson to talk about the Monk, itemization & player economies, and why you probably won’t be doing endless boss runs in the end game of Diablo III.
G4: What is the development process focused on right now?
Jay Wilson, Diablo III Game Director: What we’re focused on right now is production. We’re in a stage that we call a “hardcore production stage.” Most of our big scary questions have been answered. Most of the questions that are remaining are not questions that we consider to be especially hard. We just have to make these decisions at some point. For example, itemization. Itemization is not a big looming worry for us, it’s just something that has got to be done. That’s where the project is at. We’ve got a whole bunch of things to do and everything seems like it is on a very good track, but it’s just a lot of content to make.
G4: Yesterday, at BlizzCon 2009, the Monk class was revealed. What do you see the Monk’s combat role as?
Wilson: With the Monk, we really wanted another melee class, but we wanted him to be the polar opposite of the Barbarian. Somebody who focused on speed over toughness, who could use magic where the Barbarian really doesn’t, and who had a combat style that required a little bit more finesse. He’s kind of the opposite of the, “I’m going to run in and try to overwhelm all my enemies with my sheer ferocity.”
For the Monk, we really were inspired by fighting game characters and games like God of War, where we wanted a character that could do really cool moves in rapid succession. So, we decided to do a combo system for him where many of his combat skills have different stages to them so as you use them, you move from stage 1 to stage 2 to stage 3. You can mix and match abilities as well and put them together.
So with the other classes [in multiplayer], the Monk moves forward because he’s faster than everyone else, and gets in front of the fight. He tends to disable enemies a lot. He can blind them. He can debuff them. If he stays, however, he could be in trouble because he’s a lot more fragile than the Barbarian. So, then he’ll step back and then all of his friends can come in. He can certainly do a lot of damage. If used right, he’s ridiculously powerful. We have a lot of skills that focus on placing something on a monster. For example, we have the Exploding Palm skill where the third stage will place a bleed damage-over-time (DoT) effect on the monster. If the monster dies while this DoT is on him, and there’s a high chance that he will, the monster explodes and does damage to everyone around him. So it really supports this idea of, “He runs in. He does something and then he backs off or goes after another monster because he knows the first monster is already dead.”
G4: In my playtime, I noticed a lot more area-of-effect abilities in the game than compared to Diablo II. Why is that?
Wilson: It’s because we like them. Diablo II was most fun when you were laying down these massive area-of-effect abilities. Really, every class came down to how it deals with multiple enemies so that has become a big focus for us: a lot of big attacks that hit in an area-of-effect. Or, fast attacks. That’s our other side. If you don’t attack a lot of enemies at once, you attack very quickly.
G4: I noticed after leveling up in the demo, you are just required to make a skill selection. The stat progression is handled for you. What was the design decision behind this change?
Wilson: Stat progression as a system is very difficult for a lot of players to understand because you get these 5 points, but you don’t exactly know where to put them or what benefit you’re getting with them. You might make some obvious choices, for example, with Diablo II’s Sorceress, you might put all of your points into energy because that’s the obvious choice, right? Except that for almost every build out there, you’ve just made the wrong choice.
Any system where you have to go up onto the Internet to figure out what the right answer is, is not a good customization system. Any system where there’s a “right” answer is not a good system for customization. The truth is, with stat point systems, they are simple math. It’s not hard to figure out what the absolute best choice is so we decided we didn’t want that as a customization system. With that being said, we do have another system we’re working on. The specifics intent of it is to capture the imagination of what stat point spending was supposed to do, which is, “I want to be stronger. I want to be tougher.” These kind of simple ideas are not contextualized well within a skill system. The skill system is about what the player is doing, not higher ideals about what their character is. So, we’re going to work on a system that really satisfies that feeling, but is way easier to understand and also has some true customization to it.
G4: On multiplayer, how much thought at this stage of development is being put into the player economy that will be created online, as far as item bartering and the value of gold goes?
Wilson: So, player economy and itemization are two of the last things you do. Mostly because nothing waits for them, but they wait for everything. Until you have vendors in working the way you want, until you have a lot of progression through your game, all your support systems and different items that you find - until you have all of those things - there’s really not a lot of go hpoint to doing any in-depth economy or item math. Most of the items that we’ve done so far are so there are actually items in the game. So, that being said, the key to doing a good economy is pulling out money at roughly the same rate that you’re putting it in. I say roughly because a little bit of inflation is okay, but deflation is generally bad.
As long as you’ve got a way to get it under control, you know, with DLC or an expansion, make an adjustment. So, having a lot of things for people to spend gold on is really important. Every system that we design, we go, “Oh, how can we spend gold here?” People have asked about a respec system, for example. We will have one. We haven’t designed it yet, but I guarantee you that you’ll have to spend a lot of gold. I can guarantee that because that’s one of the places we’d look at to try and balance the economy. There are a whole bunch of systems like that that we haven’t announced or are in progress. “Will you be able to remove gems from items?” Yes, you will able to and I guarantee you it will cost a lot of gold. Those are part of the ways that you handle and make gold valuable.
G4: Will any items be, to borrow a World of WarCraft term, “Soulbound” or is everything freely tradeable?
Wilson: We have no “Soulbound” or bind-on-pickup, except for quest items. We do have bind-on-equip for the highest end items in the game. We targeted, roughly, any item above level 85. These we will do as bind-on-equip. The reason for this is that we want people to be able to trade them, but we also want to remove the high-end items from the economy. One of the greatest ways that you can do that is with bind-on-equip. What we don’t want is to have a situation where you find something on the ground like, “Oh, man. This would be a perfect weapon for my Monk. Oh, but I just picked it up and now it’s on the wrong character.” We don’t want that at all. Most of our focus on Diablo is as a trading game. So, if you take trading out of the item space, you ruin the core of the game. Finding a really great item that is not for you is still a great event because it means you have a bartering tool to get the item that you do want. We definitely want to make sure that that still exists.
G4: To that end, are there plans for any type of auction house functionality to allow for bartering and trading outside of game sessions?
Wilson: We haven’t made a decision about something like an auction house, but we want a better trading system than the one in Diablo II. It could take the form of an auction house or it could take the form of a new trade system that is easier, facilitating trades through Battle.net. That could be another way that players could trade items without having to actually go into the game. We haven’t made a decision on any of that, but we are going to do something to that end. We consider it really critical to the game.
G4: With Battle.net 2.0 and the Real ID system that will be used for StarCraft II, will there still be Realm and Open characters in Diablo III?
Wilson: I don’t think we’re far enough along in development to say. We haven’t done a ton of Battle.net work so we haven’t gotten to the in-depth conversations about what it’s going to mean for Diablo III. Other than, I work with them to make sure that they’re not going on a tangent that is completely contrary to us.
G4: Diablo II generally didn’t have unique items that could stack up with some of the randomly generated rare items in the game. For Diablo III, what is the philosophy behind balancing uniques and rares?
Wilson: We’d like to get a mix. We would like uniques to be valuable for some builds and rares to be valuable for some builds. Ideally, we’d love to look at an in-game character and see a mix of uniques and rares. There are a couple of ways we can accomplish that. One is to look at the constraints of what a rare item could be and create some space for those items to exist that it makes them superior to uniques. Then, look at uniques and give them some specific attributes that are very hard or almost impossible to show up on rares, but then keep those item bases separate. So you go, “This unique item is really awesome for this, but there’s no belt, for example, that goes with it and so I’m going to look for a rare item to fill that slot, whatever it might be.” The other way is to really focus on unique items having a very specific roll and filling a very specific function.
G4: On item bonuses, themselves, how creative is the team getting with new bonuses on items?
Wilson: We’re trying to get as creative as we can. Again, itemization happens later, but we have a list of something like 300 affixes that we could do. A lot of them are pretty out there and probably not doable. It behooves us to have a broad item space that doesn’t have a right answer of, “You want these two attributes.” It’s also kind of cool to get an item that has all the attributes that you want plus this other crazy thing down here.
G4: The UI has taken a lot of improvements from the MMO space, particularly from World of WarCraft. How do you think Diablo II players will feel about the UI versus players that are going to come from World of WarCraft or other MMOs?
Wilson: I think Diablo II players will like it because I think it pays enough homage to the previous game, but it actually improves a lot of elements of it. We’ve gone back and forth on a lot of things. Originally, we had the full-Tetris Diablo II inventory, for example. We got rid of that for a simpler system, more like World of WarCraft’s: one slot per item. What we found was that items didn’t feel important enough to us. So we really wanted to make the item’s icons larger. If we did that, it made the inventory really small and so we did go for a compromise. There are two sizes of items, but there are only two sizes. They don’t take that long to manage and they don’t seem to irritate the people who really didn’t like Diablo II’s inventory.
In a lot of areas we feel like the improvements are pretty evident. The hotbar is a really good example. Having four buttons that basically do the same thing in Diablo II (Ed. Note: Jay is referring to the belt slots for potions) was essentially not the most efficient design. Potions were so redundant. Every class did the same thing to get out of the same problem and they did it over and over again. In Diablo III, to get out of a problem you have a series of skills that help you out. They’re different, not only depending on your class, but also your build. That, we think, make the game play a lot better.
G4: In your vision for Diablo III, is the endgame going to be a lot like Diablo II, where players are doing Pindle runs and just repeating the same content over and over or will it explore a greater variety of content?
Wilson: It’s definitely better if the players explore more of the game. It will be a lot more fun for them, but players will gravitate toward the route that is fastest for what they want. Even if that route makes them crazy… even if that route is not fun at all. It’s not their fault. It’s our fault as designers. It’s our job to make sure that the path of least resistance is also the path of most fun.
We do have specific systems planned for the late game and our goal for those systems is to make sure that players are experiencing as much of the content over again as possible.
The best example of where we feel we do this well in our other games, in World of WarCraft, is the quest system, which really gets you to move all over the world and do lots and lots of different things. The basic, core actions of the game are very repetitive. It’s not that they’re not fun, but the boredom with anything comes with repeating the same thing in the same way. If you could repeat the same thing in a different way it stays interesting a lot longer and that’s definitely going to be a goal for us.
G4: There’s one more class to be revealed. I see some space for an Amazon-type, ranged non-magical fighter. Any hints?