BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III's wizard explained

In its first panel, Blizzard explores in depth the newest class as well as the top-level skill system for third installment of seminal dungeon crawler.

by

ANAHEIM, California--Blizzard president Mike Morhaime didn't have much to reveal during his opening remarks this morning. However, what news he did have to offer pertained primarily to Blizzard's newest game, Diablo III. Of note, the developer took the lid off of the third of five classes that will appear in the final version of the game: the wizard.

As shown during the brief trailer for the class earlier this morning, the wizard will resemble in large part the sorceress from Diablo II. Area-of-effect magic that damages multiple enemies at a time appears as if it will be the wizard's specialty, and the teaser cinematic highlighted damage spells that radiate out from the player as well as ones that jump from one monster to the next.

Not skipping a beat, Blizzard returned to the stage in Hall A of the Anaheim Convention Center to give eager attendees a look at Diablo III's class design. The session offered deeper looks at the newly unveiled wizard, as well as the previously announced barbarian and witch doctor. Lead designer Jay Wilson, lead technical artist Julian Love, and technical game designer Wyatt Cheng began with what everyone wanted to know: Who is the wizard?

Wilson, Love, and Cheng.

In short, the wizard class is an iteration on the sorceresses from Diablo II, according to Cheng, who said that her specialty lies in channeling the powers of the universe to wreck destruction from afar. One of Blizzard's primary challenges in creating this class, noted Cheng, was creating a class that was familiar to those who enjoy playing the role of "blaster cannon," but also bringing some innovation to the ranged-damage class. Blizzard's answer here was to invoke a caster class that was rooted in pen-and-paper-style wizards, one that draws power from the universe, as opposed to aligning with good or evil, summoning, or pure elementalism.

Cheng also expounded on the wizard's character philosophy. "She's super ambitious, smart, and powerful," said Cheng. "She's the kind of person that would drop out of college to start a dot com."

The first of the wizard's spells shown was one that Dungeon & Dragons acolytes will know well: the magic missile. Functionally, it acts similarly to the firebolt in Diablo II. However, Cheng noted that giving players a raw-power spell as their first introduction to the wizard sets the tone of universal power. The technical designer then explained electrocute, which is an elemental spell in the vein of chain lightning.

Next up was slow time, which Cheng said would be a component of the reality-control kit. Slow time presented numerous challenges to Diablo III's design, he said, noting that it could really wreck multiplayer matches. The solution, then, became to implement the spell as a bubble effect emanating outward from the wizard.

Cheng then introduced the disintegrate spell, which he described as "a real face-melter." Again a callback to pen-and-paper forerunners, the disintegrate spell was actually a failed experiment with the barbarian class. It uses a charge mechanic in which players hold down a button and then sweep their mouse across the screen to aim the ray of power. The longer an enemy is targeted by the spell, he said, the more damage it will do.

Cheng then handed the presentation over to Jay Wilson, who spoke at length about Diablo III's skill system. Wilson began by explaining Blizzard's process in arriving at the skill system as it is in its current state. That process involved analyzing what worked in the original Diablo and Diablo II, as well as World of Warcraft. From Diablo, Wilson noted that skills were obtained from books, and though that system was exciting, it presented a number of challenges, including low class differentiation and character customization.

Moving on to Diablo II's skill tree, Wilson said that though it resolved the problem of class differentiation, it forced players to focus on only a few skills that were often unimportant. He also bemoaned the lack of a re-spec option, which would let players easily reset how they had divvied up their skill points. As for World of Warcraft's system, itself an evolution of Diablo II's skill tree, it didn't create the immediate impact on a character that Blizzard sought for DIII, among other detriments.

So as for what Blizzard sought to do with Diablo III, Wilson said that such a system must be simple to understand, compelling for both the early game and when players move on to hard difficulty modes, allow for a large variety of character-build options, and support six active skills. Those being the top-level goals, Wilson then regaled the audience with failed ideas, ranging from skill rings, to radial beads, to a skill wheel, to the Horadric skill cube.

"A lot of these turned out to be different ways to do the same thing," Wilson noted. "Different, but worse isn't better; better is better." From these experimentations, Wilson said that the folks at Blizzard arrived on two ideas they liked: randomly dropped skills, and modifying skills through item drops.

As it stands today--and to be clear, Wilson noted that this system is far from final--Blizzard is currently leaning toward a skill system that is an evolution from Diablo II that incorporates active and passive skills, synergies, skill runes, and the ability to re-spec a character. This system has several issues that have yet to be resolved, he said, bringing up such challenges as the intimidating number of choices and skills. Likewise, assigning skills is still unintuitive, and there is no way to enhance skills beyond their initial power level.

Wizard concept art.

Returning to the idea of modifying skills through item drops, Wilson unveiled the rune system. This will represent a deviation from how runes worked in Diablo II; randomly dropped runes will enhance spells in Diablo III. As one example, Wilson said that the witch doctor's base skull of flame spell lets players toss a flaming head at enemies. With a rune of multistrike, the skull will bounce instead of explode on impact, hitting more foes. If you add a power rune, the skull explodes and leaves a burning flame pit on the ground to do additional damage.

Finally, Julian Love described how special effects will factor into character skills. From an art perspective, the formula is divided into two components: "stuff you do, and then what monsters do as a result." In the case of the wizard, they wanted the class to be a light show in which all of her abilities create screen-illuminating effects. As for how monsters react to these skills, Love said that monsters can die in several different ways, and those include being eaten alive by the witch doctors' swarm or exploding after what he called a "critical death." Diablo III will also feature hand-crafted deaths along the lines of what was seen in Diablo II.

Discussion

73 comments
GariSnail
GariSnail

I like the idea of using skills to gain EXP for it and leveling up that skill like that. I also like the idea of augmenting your skills with runes found randomly throughout the world.

athenian29
athenian29

What I think people should do is have a skill tree kinda like Diablo II and World of Warcraft, but all the active skills (the ones you have to "cast" to use) can only have 1 point put into them. Then, to improve those, you actually have to USE those skills, and gain XP in that skill for damage done, blocked, etc. Still, that's just my opinion, and I'm sure there's someone out there with a better idea. I'm just offering my 2 cents.

Thebomb44
Thebomb44

snbatman nailed it on the head. A plot does not make things linear. I totally forget about Oblivion's plot very often while playing it (especially on PC where there are tons of mods to keep you busy) and it makes you feel like you're in control. There's nothing keeping Blizzard from doing the same thing.

snbatman
snbatman

@ kisameboyz Posted Oct 12, 2008 9:52 pm ET A strong central story doesn't mean one can't have fun "messing" around. There are a few games where this was pulled off like Oblivion.

snbatman
snbatman

@ Cerebris Posted Oct 11, 2008 5:54 pm ET I would like to see statistics on which classes are used more as the mains, the caster/spell user classes or the melee/warrior classes. As someone who is firmly in the melee character camp, I'd be pretty dismayed if they had 5 caster classes and only 2 or 3 melee classes. Each broad category has the same potential for diversification, no need to have an unequal number.

kisameboyz
kisameboyz

this game is running away from what d2 was. d2 was more like a do what ever u want game and just have fun messing around. this game is more like play the story and no messing around. you kno what i mean?

Decardcain
Decardcain

in my opinion five characters are not enough for this game . but i am not afraid i have to wait for the xpansion set just like diablo 2 and lod ... btw this game is gonna be clasic

lightwarrior179
lightwarrior179

The wizard sounds as a nice modification of the sorceress and seems to be having revamped elemental spells. I think the idea of randomly dropped skills and modifying skills through item drops is extremely awful. I am hoping for a refinement of D2's skill system. Btw,the concept art looks nice...

Elhan
Elhan

No, I do recall an article about that. I just thought they perhaps revised and opted for gender-based classes as in DII. Good to know they haven't. Regarding it being about "melting face" a simple test of that is to ask how people would react if the designers decided to make the female wizards old crones. ^_^

prdeiro
prdeiro

yeah you obviously haven't followed DIII's Development, because each class has male and female versions..... who knows if the male will be "Scantily clad" or not, who cares though really, this game is about melting face

Elhan
Elhan

Rockman, I'd also prefer attractive, scantily clad male ones, as an option. Not all male arcanists are old men stuck in towers hovering over tomes or deranged cultists who look like they've been disemboweled. Why should barbarians get to have all the fun? :P Cerebris, arcanist is simply a term I use for anyone making use of arcane magic. Not just ritualists. I'm not sure about modern usages of witch/warlock, but the words are archaic and they thus connote very different things. This has some some good posts on the topic: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071007162128AAFi0PL I agree otherwise though.

Cerebris
Cerebris

I don't agree on the nudity of characters... but it is a gothic themed game, and THAT DOESN'T mean "All black" like some cliques have decided to represent it, it's more of a dark and gritty / realistic adult style game... and so it makes sense of that... but I gaurentee you that female supporting parties will be outraged that they are being given a stereotype of "wanting nudity on men", though men won't care at all about the naked women. Sigh.

RockmanSRD
RockmanSRD

I've gotten tired of the almost-naked female summoners/sorceresses/wizards/whatevers in games like Diablo and Sacred. It's a bit cliche (more like a huge, massive cliche) and not really clever or even remotely attractive. I'd rather be looking at some almost-naked male ones (preferably ones that aren't ancient or wrinkly). Then again, that's just me.... that's just what I'd like to see. To be fair, Blizzard could just give us a choice between male or female magicians that happen to be almost-naked. That would be okay.

Cerebris
Cerebris

Ehh, I agree about the Arcanist quirk Elhan, but I'd much prefer an ACTUAL summoner using the arcanist methods, such as elementals and what not... I don't want another necromancer, despite what everyone says, I'm not a fan of poor usage and portrayal of a necromancer. Necromancy is NOT EVIL, it is the study of LIFE, necromancers are both clerics and summoners of light and dark. Necromancer's are known for their ability to REVIVE, give life to that which has none, and pursue the study of the book of life and death. In this game series all it has been is summoning golems of the undeath, as well as skeletons, as well as pathetic skills and utterances of what could be called "magic". No it is unfortunate to say the least. However enough of that rant, and onto the subject at hand. A Witch is actually a female, I've never heard of a male WITCH ever, as a Warlock is a male, and not a female, which unfortunately WoW destroyed the utter meaning and reality of... but again back on topic... a Wizard is both a male and female, and unlike people think, a Wizardess, IS NOT EXISTANT, just as Sorcerer and Sorceress are the gender forms of said classes. I don't mean to dispute you Elhan, but those are indeed the clarifications for said types. Diablo 3 will have a few expansions, obviously... but they won't put each class into one game, as that would be ridiculous and is nothing like what the brilliant idea of Starcraft II's trilogy, is representing. I however would prefer more magic classes such as Wizards, Sorcerors, Arcanists, Summoners, (Warlocks can't be done since it would place you in the evil route of the game, and using demons against demons is so cliche and poorly thought out in this case) and perhaps Enchanters (research their REAL combat capabilities), and less abominations and abhorrence of true professions, that Diablo seems fond of. Someone seriously needs to catch up on their fantasy reading. - Cere. P.S. I look forward to this, but I've never been much of a fan of the Diablo fan base or its community, as it seems they are like ALL online games communities... but nevertheless... I shall play it and give it my review as I do all things.

Elhan
Elhan

On terminology, Wizards, Witches, Warlock etc. are all gender-neutral nouns. They're not male or female, they're just typically associated with one gender or other. But a female can definitely be a Wizard and a male a Witch. It's a different type of spellcasting. "Hey Blizz, you should release D3 as FIVE games.. and each game only gives you ONE of the classes. That way you can make five times as much money!! You're doing it with SC2, why stop there?" I laughed, but this is so childish... some companies do indeed do this. Unless they make it worth the while, it's a stupid tactic. Charging more/releasing more games with less content does not equate higher profits.

Elhan
Elhan

Very very interesting. So we have a Wizard now, not a Sorcereress. Well I shall definitely give this class a try, as I love arcanists. I like Blizzard's ideas. Of course, this wizard is different from the D&D counterpart, in that she does resemble D&D's sorcerer more so than its bookish wizard.

Vasot
Vasot

I would prefer a male Wizard with a cloak and a hood

sebaste
sebaste

I hope there is still an assassin or a similar type. Wayahh!!

sebaste
sebaste

I hope there is an assassin. Wayahh!

jazilla
jazilla

They say at first they are mixing it up...people complain. they tell everyone they are staying true to its roots...people complain. If I was Blizzard, I would just make the game exactly how i want to make it. If people like it, great. If people don't like it, I don't care, because its the game I wanted to make.

-Adob-
-Adob-

Cobra5:So, Witchdoctor=Necro, Wizard=Sorceress... but what does Barbarian equal...? Yes and no, while Barb and Wizard are definitely just reiterations, the witch doctor is different. He may have what seems like a similar skill set, in terms of what the spells do, but there is diversity for sure. Like the fact that they said he can take control of enemies while they're still alive, as opposed to just resurrecting them as themselves or as skeletons after they're dead.

WiiNut6493
WiiNut6493

I Am always the dude with the awesome spell that totally kicks butt.

ReaperV7
ReaperV7

meh not my kind of class. wheres the knight class? there has to be a aura good / evil knight in diablo III.........

sandyqbg
sandyqbg

The class sounds cool but I'll probably stick to one of the more melee classes or the necromancer

Cobra5
Cobra5

So, Witchdoctor=Necro, Wizard=Sorceress... but what does Barbarian equal...? Honestly though... they are just using D2 classes and renaming/redrawing them- Except for the barb, he's straight outta D2. I'm guessing the last two classes will be "ranger" and "holy knight".

KHAMSES
KHAMSES

Bah!I want now ugh!;-) And where did u put my PALADIN "Palaclone" will be reborn (i didn't get to play that char nearly enuff then i lost the disk;-( ) HOORAY and hurry up d3

Pete5506
Pete5506

Sweet, I know what I am going to be in the game

Gamesterpheonix
Gamesterpheonix

Hahahaha. I saw gameplay...this class is sick. You get a freaking shield...A SHEILD...

Binpo
Binpo

Looks like the assassin's from D2 turned to wizards on the new one

endocrine
endocrine

Not to sound nerdy (but I will) pen and paper wizards were more generalist than just pure destruction.

Eko_Eko_Azarak
Eko_Eko_Azarak

This looks like a great update on the previous sorcerer/sorceress. The more I see of this game the more excited I get about it. Diablo!!!!

Lach0121
Lach0121

@jared.. warlock is not the male witch, or son of the devil... a warlock is a simple term used to label people that where banished, so if someone was kicked out of a town, family whatever, they are then a warlock.

Soulk
Soulk

loved the orb/glove weapon, and the Disintegration effect also

Lightz39
Lightz39

This game will not win game of the year...people are to stupid to give it game of the year.

star77241
star77241

What does he mean she? Wizard's aren't girls. Wizards are always boys. Girls are witches.

NiteX
NiteX

She should be able to summon a panda.

mugupo
mugupo

Look good, and see if can deliver.

yunarce19
yunarce19

this game will be win the game of the year award when it will release somtime in 2010 2011.... can't wait to play this game!!!

JaredTrotterboy
JaredTrotterboy

RaiKageRyu Posted Oct 10, 2008 11:37 pm PT "Wait... A girl wizard is a witch... no?" dude pick up a Harry Potter book, a girl Warlock is a witch.

Valen_Ca
Valen_Ca

In other news, in order to make a great, epic story, Blizzard.... aww, everyone else already beat me to the multiple games joke...

DukeBriggs
DukeBriggs

They definitely put a lot of thought and time into each character class... It'll be hard to live up to the hype (or hate) that this game is getting, but if they keep this up it'll be a great game, Diablo or not.

TigerGuy06
TigerGuy06

I can't wait for this. I hope it delivers.

denter21
denter21

Hey Blizz, you should release D3 as FIVE games.. and each game only gives you ONE of the classes. That way you can make five times as much money!! You're doing it with SC2, why stop there?

PSdual_wielder
PSdual_wielder

We should appreciate how blizzard at least takes the time to discuss how they put effort into designing a good gameplay system, unlike a whole lot of other devs that just take like one day to make up everything as complicated as possible and just call it a good system.

shogoh
shogoh

Wizards don't drop out of college, they study!!!

BenderUnit22
BenderUnit22

Glad they bring teleport back, that's the most useful skill in Diablo 2