The masterminds behind the creation of the Diablo franchise gathered today at BlizzCon to discuss the in's and out's of realizing such a rich mythology in a fully-fleshed universe. From story, to world-creation, to the game's visuals and the small details that make the world believable, the panel revealed a lot about Blizzard's approach to visual storytelling in Diablo III. Most importantly, the company's motto is key to the end result:
Play, don't tell…
Creating what they call "action storytelling," the development team strives to incorporate story and information in quick, successive bursts, keeping the dialogue and exposition within the action of the game. Key to creating a successful flow is opt-in storytelling where the gamer is given the choice to proceed as they wish and absorb as much of the material as they prefer. For example, lore books provide a depth of background to the universe that players can choose to ignore if they're first priority is simply hunting demons and defeating monsters. Lastly, Blizzard strives to to create the best scenario to suit the story, constantly asking, "Where can the narrative go that'll provide the most dynamic content for the player?"
To answer this question, the team raised the example of a castle siege, an event which advances the story while offering the player a unique scenario and environment. Visuals are key to underlining these story decisions, and the team took a close look at the siege environment, modeling the area after a battleship, incorporating elements of one into the other -- chains like anchors, massive weapons like gunships, triangular elements like the hull of a ship. In an effort to put as much information into a single image as possible, cutting away the unnecessary elements is vital, honing the image into a beautifully produced, visually stunning level.
Because the devil's in the details, so to speak, and in addition to populating the world with destructible items and environments, the distribution of treasure is what keeps the player moving throughout the levels. All item locations are hand-placed to ensure an even division that'll keep you exploring, but equally important are the various locations that'll root you in the world itself -- caves, graveyards, interiors, exteriors, etc. Constantly changing environments is important to the introduction of new monsters in a logical manner, offering bite-sized experiences to expand the story beyond the main quest.
The team talked a little about monster design, tracking the history of a new creature known as the Brickhouse (not the final name) from its initial sketch to its current realization in the game. This stocky, low-crawling creature with massive, armored claws went through a complex visual evolution, but more importantly, said the team, it had to be fun to kill. Death animations and invisible monster AI are central to an immersive combat experience. The goal is always to make the player feel "awesome" and the group talked in-depth about some of the very small tweaks -- like delays, taunts and attack warm-ups -- that provide the player with sufficient buffer time to wail on creatures whose straightforward AI might otherwise exercise more deadly attacks.
Lastly, the team addressed the new Artisans, describing the three new characters as Vendors 2.0:
- The Mystic: Sells magical items and enchantments
- The Blacksmith: Sells armor and weapons; makes repairs; can add gem sockets to your gear
- The Jeweler: Sells rings and amulets; can combine and un-combine gems
The Jeweler earned the most discussion as he'll no doubt be key to your usage of gems within the game. There are now 14 levels for each gem, but only the first five are dropped within the game, so the Jeweler will be the only way to sufficiently level-up your gems as your progress through the game.