Diablo III design disassembled

BlizzCon 2010: Blizzard's dev team goes into the nuts and bolts of crafting its celestial action role-playing game.

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Who was there: Jay Wilson, game director of Diablo III, was joined by Kevin Martens (lead content designer), Josh Tallman (concept artist), Peet Cooper (senior environment artist), Jason Bender (senior systems designer), Jill Harrington (senior technical artist), Steve Shimizu (lead gameplay programmer), Christian Lichtner (art director), and Michael Nicholson (senior user interface artist).

Death, destruction, and colorful armor await.

What they said: The BlizzCon 2010 panel served as a breakdown of Blizzard's methodology in designing all aspects of Diablo III. One of the more interesting topics came from what the development team learned from Diablo II. More specifically, something that bothered Blizzard about Diablo II was the introductory conversation that set the scene for the story. At a little over a minute, it was simply too long and prevented players from getting into the game itself. Ultimately, this went against Blizzard's policy of action-based storytelling. It wants the player to be able to experience aspects of the story without drawn-out expository sequences that interrupt the flow of the game.

The end result of this is a game that tries to tell a story in multiple ways, some more direct than others. For example, a level can tell a story based on its finer details, whereas interacting with non-player characters during a dungeon sequence creates opportunities for smaller bits of story.

What's more interesting is the addition of optional story elements in the form of lore books, which players can choose to ignore completely or they can track down every single one, depending on what they want out of the story. When used, these lore books play an audio file narrated by the character they're associated with, but the key is that the player can still fight and do other things while it's playing.

The panel then transitioned into some visual design elements surrounding the siege of Bastion--a fortification being attacked by the forces of hell. The concept team originally thought of a battleship when coming up with a structure capable of defending itself. As such, the outside portions of Bastion look similar to that of a ship, with a lot of sharp angles forged in iron, ballista perched on the walls, and objects that look like anchors but serve as anti-siege weapons.

Conversely, the inside is meant to look a little warmer and lived in, as if soldiers are there prepping for battle. The end result is the use of more wood and less iron for a generally softer but well-worn look. All of these visual elements then combine together to tell a story that players can fill in on their own.

From there, the discussion moved toward game design elements, specifically treasure distribution and environmental interaction. Not surprisingly, Blizzard wants to make sure barrels, chests, and anything else that contains loot are all placed in logical places and given context. For example, a player is more likely to find a treasure chest in something like a library where people store things than in something like a stable.

Treasure is one easy way to interact with the world around the player, but Blizzard knows that people just like being able to smash various things, whether they're barrels, walls, or some kind of device. But the team also stressed how objects in the environment can tell a story with expressly doing so, citing the torture racks in the Hall of Agony as a major example.

Eventually, the subject of loot and customization popped up to the delight of the Diablo fans in the audience. First, the team stressed how important customization is for Diablo III, and armor is reflective of that. Players will be able to customize the color of their armor by securing dyes found throughout the world, some of which will be incredibly rare. Likewise, the team revealed that there will be 14 levels of gems (and six types), which can be found in the world, but anything past radiant has to be made by the jeweler.

And speaking of the jeweler, the panel revealed some inspiration for the artisans, which includes the jeweler, the mystic, and the blacksmith. The existence of the jeweler is in direct response to people not willing to part with their gems in Diablo II for fear that they could use them in a better-socketed item later. The jeweler can remove gems from any weapon for a small fee. Meanwhile, the mystic can craft wands, identify items, and even enchant some equipment. The previously revealed blacksmith can add sockets to items, as well as repair them. All of the artisans level up as a player's character does, and this is reflected in their respective store fronts.

There was also quite a bit of discussion about Diablo III's monsters, and how they die is ultimately more important than how they live. Members of the team explained that if monsters aren't fun to fight, then the player ultimately isn't enjoying the game. As such, enemies are designed in such a way that they can be difficult to combat, but that difficulty springs from not making effective use of abilities as opposed to just being completely cheap.

The team also stressed how important death animations are, as they generally deliver a sense of satisfaction for the player. There was a funny moment where a movie revealed how people don't generally pay attention to various animation states of creatures before engaging them in combat, so Blizzard has to find other means to give enemies personality, such as spawning animations, when they're not fighting.

Takeaway: It's really interesting to get some insight into why and how Blizzard approached Diablo III's design. What's clear is that the team is trying to make a cohesive world that not only gives context to everything in it, but also makes the game fun to play. The byproduct seems to be a game that focuses on action but manages to tell an engrossing story through its finer details.

Discussion

114 comments
zodiackilla
zodiackilla

My only question is..Will blizard sell out to the little kiddies and make this game teen or do they keep the Mature rating like diablo is born to be....

zodiackilla
zodiackilla

Best hardcore mode in any game hands down, if only wow would make a hardcore mode where when you die your character is deleted I would still be playing and paying but all the 8 years olds wouldnt lol

drokmore
drokmore

10 years lol i hope not...

Soilworker1234
Soilworker1234

It will be out when its out, Blizzard can take as long as they want in my opinion, I want near perfection, if that takes ten years. By all means, I am willing to wait, just means more time for D2.

Zoyl
Zoyl

@Ladiesman17 SC2 ep2 will not come out that soon. Josh, I hope you're right. I especially hope it comes out in the summer so i don't flunk out of school when it comes out.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

@Josh-Fu maybe your prediction become reality. last months they released SC2 ep1 around Q2/Q3 2010. maybe D3 also happen on Q3 2011. because ActiBlizz gonna be released MW3 on Q4 2011. and specifically this year they released big name. Black Ops & Cataclysm on Q4 to hit the market. and also.. probably they released SC2 ep2 on Q1/Q2 2011 to fill empty gap between those titles. :)

Hurvl
Hurvl

Oh, so you can read from a book and kill enemies at the same time. Well, I hate to be interrupted while reading so I understand the need to kill anyone doing so. It's good that they've decided that the lore won't be a chore, but I don't mind learning a bit more about the events of yore.

Pete5506
Pete5506

We are going to have to wait ages for this game but when it dose come out it will be almost perfect

wexorian
wexorian

wll they arer not giving us damned release date, and it's not delay like Gran Turismo 5 :D

Ferris_bg
Ferris_bg

SC2 ep2 is going to be released before Diablo 3 for sure.

Josh-Fu
Josh-Fu

The game will be out close to Q3 2011, They announced Starcraft 2 about in 2007 in Korea 3 years before release (maybe it was late 2006), Diablo 3 was announced in 2008. It has also been quoted by a Blizz excuetive that D3 will be out between Starcraft 2 Ep1 and Ep 2, SC Ep 2 is about 16-18 months out. Not to mention it makes marketing sense to release during this time. Cata content will be getting old and KOTOR will be out, a good release date can get people back to playing Blizz Games. If they time it right they can take bored WoW players into the D3 universe, Not to mention SC2 content will be getting old and that will give another reason to get more money pumping into Blizz befre more SC2 Content. I dunno it just makes sense. If they push a Q4 release it will contend with too many titles possibly more WoW content), and a Q1 2012 release will contend with SC ep2, a good game company wont put too much content out and take from their sales with multiple titles. If they wait any longer people will simply stop caring and the Genre will evolve, hopefully. It just makes sense. "Diablo 3 will be out Q2-3 2011." - Josh Fu

dkdk999
dkdk999

@sieg6529 thats what i thought too. But i guess this thing called blizzcon is going on?

sieg6529
sieg6529

Gamespot? Mo' like Blizzspot these days.

Hydrolix
Hydrolix

@aschuhart I think they were referring to npc expositions in game, not the cut scenes. To start D2 you had to sit and listen to an old guy blather on about how he came to his predicament. You could only run around in circles while he jabbered on and couldn't start actually playing until he was done since you couldn't skip it. On multiple play-thrus this was tiresome. At least that's what I'm hoping they are talking about. The cut scenes were amazing in D2 I watched them over and over.

lithus
lithus

[QUOTE="darkraiders"]You're right but they are starting to do the same with console games too.[/QUOTE] What, release dates for consoles? No they're not. Granted there are a few games they push back a FEW months for consoles, but NOT YEARS like PC games man. On the rare occasion it does happen, but for the most part consoles get their games out in a reasonable time frame. Apple and Oranges my friend. Hence the shift. And umm scorpion_great...any reason why you're quoting me word for word without the quotes?

scorpion_great
scorpion_great

PC games shouldn't even have release dates anymore, just expiration dates like milk. Man, how long was that Starcraft wait? Duke Nukem still? A college graduation, a kid and 3 Gaming rigs later?! I love my PC games, but they need to b out sometime this decade to praise them. This is a big reason why the power shift went over to consoles.

Masta_Rix
Masta_Rix

Yay! Sounds like fun. I hope the game doesn't get too long though. that way when i get hacked like on diablo 2 it won't suck as bad.

darkraiders
darkraiders

@lithus You're right but they are starting to do the same with console games too.

grove12345
grove12345

If only gaming sites got this excited about posting every tidbit of news for games that werent Blizzard or COD games.

WarPrime
WarPrime

You will be lucky if they give a release date by this time next year. If they started working on D3 right after LoD then this game has been in development for about 8 years.

slicedbread117
slicedbread117

man i hope this dosent turn into another Star Craft 2 kind of wait

BigDaveyDogz
BigDaveyDogz

ITAM PLZ ITAM PLZ U GIV SOJ? SOJ SOJ SOJ??

lithus
lithus

[QUOTE="Kayweg"] Feel free to talk to us again when we'll be playing Diablo 3.[/QUOTE] That's ok, feel free to talk to us know when you ARE actually playing Diablo 3....eventually. ;)

LeadnSteel
LeadnSteel

Just give us a damn release date already!

cboyuno
cboyuno

This game will live up to everything that Diablo 3 should be but it will not live up to the hype. Just a prediction.

lithus
lithus

PC games shouldn't even have release dates anymore, just expiration dates like milk. Man, how long was that Starcraft wait? Duke Nukem still? A college graduation, a kid and 3 Gaming rigs later?! I love my PC games, but they need to be out sometime this decade to praise them. This is a big reason why the power shift went over to consoles.

Khatjal
Khatjal

Thats great. Just announce when we can expect to actually play Diablo 3.

Buck_Swaggler
Buck_Swaggler

In a future far far away... I will play Diablo 3.

BFKZ
BFKZ

u can make a series coz of how many stuff u showed us...GIVE US A RELEASE DATE ALREADY!!

dzimm
dzimm

"...the introductory conversation that set the scene for the story. At a little over a minute, it was simply too long and prevented players from getting into the game itself." I've been playing the sublime Planescape Torment recently which is an interesting antithesis to Blizzard's design philosophy.

Delston
Delston

@mull20641 "2 - I think it's sad that Blizzard are playing to the wants of the consumer" This is probably one of the dumbest statements I've ever read on gamespot. It's called a business, and the point is to make a profit by bringing a product to market that their consumers want. Making cool games happens to be Blizzard's selected venue for such a profit.

Delston
Delston

Has there been any sort of confirmation as to whether it will be subscription-fee based? If it is I'll have to regretfully pass. The game is looking good however, and I'm looking forward to see what the end result is. Diablo II has been a game I've continually revisited over the years and has made a large influence on me as a gamer.

guitarist1980
guitarist1980

Diablo 3... may go down in history as the best game of all time. No pressure Blizzard!

dkdk999
dkdk999

@ jasopan oh haha that explains it.

onelessvillian
onelessvillian

I thought the headline read: "Diablo 3 team disassembled"

acer_062
acer_062

@mull20641 Well stated and absolutely agree and like you .... 'Hell, I'll preorder it anyway... '

mull20641
mull20641

OK... I'm about to go ape on people. 1 - Really guys? You can't sit through a 1 minute cutscene just because you want to start playing? Why don't you just skip the damn cutscene? Alternatively, why not give us the option to control how much you want to get out of the story instead of just practically removing it (that's what it sounds like to me)? The cutscenes were amazing in Diablo II and i'd hate to see them go. 2 - I think it's sad that Blizzard are playing to the wants of the consumer rather than making something wholly original. I'd love to see more than an empty hack and slash (I'm not saying that the first two were but rather that I think they will be. Hell, I'll preorder it anyway...

jasopan
jasopan

@dkdk999 Well Blizzcon is on right now... Go figure

BloodySlushy
BloodySlushy

Why do people keep saying they need to get a new computer? Blizzard games are usually pretty good about playing on just about any machine, unless you haven't upgraded since 2000 :) In which case, I understand the need. On a side note, I hope this game turns out awesome and full of great cut scenes.

dkdk999
dkdk999

blizzard this blizzard that. Is that all their talking about this week?

tko6070
tko6070

@Nodashi immunes could still be damaged, for instance a barbarian with fire dmg could still damage a physical immune, it was not an easy task especially with mana burn/spectral hit as well lol. it makes you think and work cooperative with other classes. i can imagine if you played single player you would want to tear your hair out though...

DrewTheSchu
DrewTheSchu

Are you kidding me? The intro, cut scenes, and ending were wonderful to watch! Well acted, well written, and (for the time) had AMAZING graphics (except for LoD which looked like crapped). It saddens me to hear that people complain about having to listen to a one minute intro. Everyone wonders why so many kids these days are diagnosed as ADHD....perhaps it's because we cater to them. "Oh you don't like to read or wait? We'll fix that for you!!". I will appreciate a well written story in a game much more than "non stop in your face Michael Bay action!" but I guess I'm a dying breed.

eitremn
eitremn

updated diablo II with WoW aspects thrown in... looks lame.

rohitmitra5752
rohitmitra5752

I liked everything in the article, but I figure they missed out one point. WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO RELEASE IT. I am sorry if I seem a little rude, but now Blizzard is trying my patience. They took 12 years to release a sequel to Starcraft. I hope they don't take that long for Diablo 3. I want to play it before doomsday(21/12/2012).

DEATH775
DEATH775

@Alucard_Prime my friend we are the same. I'm getting a new PC just to play this game. I wish they made it for the PS3 or 360. Oh well

Nodashi
Nodashi

@senjutsu Not a joke at all. It's paleolithic game design (not to say idiotic, cause it was bad even when it was fresh and used in A+ games). Clever fights (like having to force them to put shields down or attack from behind in the example they like to use), hard enemies (good damage, good HP, etc), everything is ok but to put invisible walls, immune enemies and stuff like this in a game. This ain't 1990 anymore, there's a think people SHOULD use to make harder enemies nowadays, it's called A.I.; games are made to be fun.