Diablo III Q&A: The Diablo Mouse and Exploring Lore

Blizzard lead world designer Leonard Boyarsky discusses evolving mouse clicking, keeping role-playing game archetypes alive, and new ways of delivering story.

While a lucky few Diablo III fans have been able to get a hands-on feel for the long-anticipated sequel with the recent beta, those who missed out on keys have only the game's nebulous "when it's done" 2012 shipping date to look forward to. We recently chatted with Diablo III's lead world designer, Leonard Boyarsky, about different methods of storytelling, why hindsight doesn't always matter, and the Diablo mouse.

GameSpot: You joined Blizzard in 2006, but you're no stranger to the role-playing genre, having worked at Interplay and helping form Troika. What does experience with other development teams and a fresh set of eyes bring when you begin working on a game like Diablo III?

Leonard Boyarsky: I can't speak to how other people have approached the franchise in the past, because I didn't work with any of the previous designers, but when I approached it, I came in looking at it from a deeper story standpoint than I think it had in the past. Shockingly, I found out there was a deeper story there; it just really wasn't presented in the best possible format. There was huge dialogue, paragraphs and paragraphs of dialogue when you talk to an NPC, and it didn't grab me the way it could have in previous iterations. I came in, and [vice president of creative development] Chris Metzen and I had a lot of conversations about bringing the emotional resonance to the series. It was all there in the background, and we just wanted to bring it to the forefront.

GS: You've worn a lot of different hats in your development career: project lead, art director, designer, and writer. How has your own role flexibility helped with working across teams with different tasks?

LB: I think I speak pretty good artist [laughs] because I've had that experience in the past. I think it helps to have that experience when you talk about things you want to see in the world and your ideas. It also helps to know what is and what isn't possible.

GS: What are the non-negotiable elements that make up a Diablo game?

LB: For us, it's not so much on the story side; like I said, I feel like that's where Diablo had the most room for improvement, on story delivery. The action RPG side was where I think all the checkboxes were. It had to have a great item game, it had to have unrelenting action, it had to have mouse-breaking capabilities, it had to have all those things that people remember so fondly from the first two games, and I think I'm pretty confident we've accomplished that and brought it even further.

GS: Are those expectations challenges or opportunities? Were there any off-limit elements of the franchise when you started working on Diablo III, or was all previous work up for potential change?

LB: Everything was open. There were obviously things set in stone in terms of story and what the world was, but we wanted to open up the world into a lot of different areas and bring the story into some new areas. I think it was more of a mood and feel thing, where we ran into areas that we didn't want to touch, and it was more us searching around and trying to find that Diablo sweet spot for our story delivery and our tone. We knew what we wanted; we had a really good idea of what it was, but for us to put it down in a game and have other people feel that was the biggest challenge, I think. It took a lot of iteration. We were changing dynamics, the player now spoke a lot more, we delivered dialogue in a different manner; just all that stuff.

GS: Is that a constant challenge for you as developers--understanding the intentions of what you're trying to achieve, but not knowing how the audience will receive the content?

LB: I think early on it was a bigger issue, and through the iteration process we've really dialled it in. I think that's one of the things that we're fortunate of here at Blizzard; we have time to iterate and have great designers on other teams. Any game you're working on, just by the nature of the beast, you get too close to it to actually be able to see what you need to see. To have fresh eyes to look at it and give you feedback is invaluable. I think the challenge with Diablo that I've found, that's been a little bit more than some of the other games I've worked on, is the economy of delivery systems. We don't have a huge amount of dialogue with which to convey ideas, we don't have a lot of the RPG conventions that I fell back on in the past, like dialogue trees, to really convey a lot of the stuff, so for us to convey the mood and vibe in a really succinct manner was a really big challenge, but I think after a lot of iteration and a lot of great feedback from other designers I think we've pretty much hit it.

GS: With such a long time between sequels, even though you didn't work on the originals, what were some of the lessons the team learned from the 20/20 hindsight of the Diablo II development process?

LB: We did have some people from the previous game, but Jay Wilson, our game director, was new--he started about a month before I did, and we totally rebooted the game then. We obviously looked a lot at what had been done before, but we'd have to talk to him about lessons in terms of skill system and item game. I didn't have a lot of direct contact with previous designers, so I didn't get their wisdom passed on to me in terms of story delivery or quests or anything like that.

GS: Was there a risk that because you didn't have direct contact with those who worked on the series previously, you may have fallen into the same design holes they did?

LB: I think we approached it differently, and with some different goals in mind. It's a different day and age, and, I think, even in action games people expect more story now. I don't think we could have gotten away with something that didn't have a deeper delivery system of story.

GS: EA's Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is pinning its hopes of success on a dynamic class concept, rather than choosing and sticking with one archetype. They believe the latter is an outdated notion in this day and age. Why have you opted for set classes in Diablo III, and was a dynamic system ever on the table?

LB: From my side of the table, it's all about archetypes. When I set out to play a certain type of hero and click on that button to pick that hero, I want to know what I'm getting in for. To me, that resonates with people when they pick and build that character. If you veer off from what the base of that character is, it's kind of like taking it away from that visceral...when I play a barbarian, I want him to feel like a barbarian. I'm not familiar with the game you just mentioned, but it sounds to me like they're going down a totally different road. We made our choice. We wanted to go with archetypes. We felt that added a lot to the world and the game.

GS: Blizzard is incredibly close to its community. What are some of the things fans have been calling for inclusion of in Diablo III, and have you implemented any of them? Are there ideas that simply wouldn't work from a balance or gameplay perspective?

LB: From a story standpoint, it was very interesting early on. I read our forums a lot to see what people expected, because we didn't want to give people exactly what they expected, because that would be kind of boring. But you don't want to go off in a totally different direction than what people are expecting to see, because that would feel like you cheated them. They've invested this time into the series. Diablo II's expansion, Lord of Destruction, ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger, so we really felt there were certain things we had to deliver, and just touching base, looking at the lore forums, and seeing what people were talking about and what their theories were as to what was going on in the world, were very helpful in knowing what they expected from our game. One of our villains in the game is the Maiden of Lust, and her concept was up on the Web, and two years ago at BlizzCon someone at the costume contest was dressed as her. She was originally a totally different character and she had been cut from the game, but we saw that costume and it was such an awesome costume that we said we had to put it back in the game. So that was an instance where we were really inspired by a fan and had to change the content of the game.

GS: With people dissecting the lore, and you as a team cautious of making it too predictable, have you found yourself in the position where you've changed content because players have already guessed how it will play out?

LB: No, not really. We figured out what we wanted our story to be and pretty much stuck to it. If some people guess what we're doing, that just means they'll be pleasantly surprised. Sadly, it's a minority of people who really care deeply about the lore. There are a lot of people out there who do care deeply about the lore, but in terms of our overall fan base, it's not the top thing on people's list. I think that the kind of people who really care about the lore and delve into that will feel proud if they feel like they figured it out. We haven't seen a lot of people make correct guesses, by the way! [Laughs]

GS: What were the key world-design goals heading into this project? What was it you were you aiming to create?

LB: We just really wanted to expand the world of Diablo, the world of Sanctuary. We wanted it to feel like a lived-in world, we wanted to show different cultures, we wanted to get behind the scenes about how these cultures work together and talk about the world as a whole. We just really wanted it to have more depth.

GS: Diablo has always been known as the clicking game. How are you breaking that mold, and have you considered bundling a mouse with a copy of the game?

LB: [Laughs] I'm sure we have! Don't we have a Diablo mouse?

PR person: We do!

LB: I'll bring that up with the licensing guys. I think that's perfect. As far as the clicking goes, and how we've changed that up, the guys change the skill system every day, sometimes five times a day. But when I played Diablo and Diablo II, I was a one-skill spammer--I didn't bind my keys. But in Diablo III it's much easier to have access to a multitude of skills at once and use a variety of things. It's still got that mouse-clicking and spamming feel to it, but it feels like there's a little bit more strategy, and you plan your strategy out a little more.

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Discussion

139 comments
Rizzla-lord
Rizzla-lord

what should i buy starcraft 2 or diablo

 

rhymesmatter
rhymesmatter

I see that users rate this 7.5-ish....Yummy :) Bet my a** that GS will give it 8 or 8.5!

eliebaz
eliebaz

this game looks incredible definitely a gamespot 9 unfortunately i am a proud mac owner and therefore have to suffer with the leftovers of gaming left behind by pc users i feel as a mac user i am very much at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to pc games which is unfortunate especially seeing as this is a great game (from the looks of it)

GamecenterHQ
GamecenterHQ

The Beta was so very good. It's making the wait infinitely more difficult

niceguy1958
niceguy1958

diablo 3 should be played offline with out a connection in single player mode

themidgethotel
themidgethotel

@qsaaiman It's not as simple as that. For one, not all people have internet access. My grandmother doesn't have a computer nor internet access at her house, so if I bring my laptop over, I can't connect to anything. Second, even though connection speeds have increased significantly, connection reliability has not. I've had routers go haywire and connections get shutdown for routine maintenance even on 25 Mbps connections. Third, it's a requirement for single player mode. It's unnecessary and intrusive irrelevant of the internet connection, and Blizzard shouldn't be monitoring what my offline character's are doing. Fourth, is potential data loss. If character information is stored online, it can potentially be accessed and/or corrupted by hackers.

Gladestone1
Gladestone1

Theres two things they can fix i dont like..Scrolling in closer to the person..Why cant we scroll in during game and get up and close with our character..Should be able to see all the detail on our person..Its to late to change this now..What about the potions..Think a timer is stupid..They should bring back the old ways on this..Other than that it is fun as hell.. They should change this for people who dont have internet connections..If enough people complain about it maybe they will listen..Think there are things in there i dont like where the franchise is going..There to stuborn to realise there making some mistakes..Understand there trying to stop pirating..This will just add fuel to pirating for some people unfortunatly...Its a shame really,, Dont get me wrong diablo 3 will sell millions..Not enough people will protest things an say hey we dont want to be online all the time..

freestyler_85
freestyler_85

suckers... I'm already playing D3 in beta! i kid i kid... but I am in beta :)

Navydad101
Navydad101

Ya the 100% online thing stinks. For everyone out ther saying "get over it", I agree that its not the game breaker people are making it out to be, but as a 12 year Navy Submarine Veteran I have a hard time getting a connection a few hundred feet under water.

qsaaiman
qsaaiman

Odd that people complain about the 100% online thing. You have to be online to play WoW, EVE, Guild Wars, SWTOR. Yes they are MMO's, and from what I have seen D3 is leaning in that direction, you just join your own "instance", instead of a persistent world. I live in a 3rd world country, I have a 1mb line (10mb being the the fastest and most expensive available), why is it that the always online thing doesn't bother me? Yet it bothers people that live in countries where they slowest and cheapest line is ~20mb? It takes me ~2 days to download a 9GB game on steam, if the line is stable, you have nothing to complain about. The 100% online thing is a minor issue. @Brazucass "I will probably have a legit copy to play online and a hacked to play offline." No you won't. Character and Item info is stored online... like an MMO. @AzulSoul "Maybe I am wrong but I think it is like this: How we can make some extra money? Action House!!! How we can make the AH a need? Online only!!!" You need to be online to use any MMO's Auction house. Yes it is there, I have not read anywhere that they said that you MUST use it. "IMO Diablo was darkness, intimacy, a lot of hours searching Sets and unique items playing by myself. It's a slash festival now. Why???. I am the only thirty-something player out there." It looks to still be the same, Slash fest? and D1 and D2 wasn't? I have played both, and they where. I am also a thirty-something player.

Scorpion2929
Scorpion2929

I wouldn't be surprised if this game gets delayed to Q4 2012...

Hessieng
Hessieng

i hope its worth all this wait

AzulSoul
AzulSoul

Maybe I am wrong but I think it is like this: How we can make some extra money? Action House!!! How we can make the AH a need? Online only!!! IMO Diablo was darkness, intimacy, a lot of hours searching Sets and unique items playing by myself. It's a slash festival now. Why???. I am the only thirty-something player out there. C'mon For teenagers you have the wii and some portables. Give me my Diablo game back :(

BackSeatSuicide
BackSeatSuicide

So friggin stoked ! Having read this, I am now installed Diablo II just so I can curb my hunger for Diablo III, not that it will quite satisfy it, but it will have to do for the time being ! This game is gonna be so sic !

Brazucass
Brazucass

I wonder if its the 1st action game of the history that lets you play only if you stay online 100% of the time. It is the worst Idea ever. I will probably have a legit copy to play online and a hacked to play offline.

HellScream1359
HellScream1359

Must to say ... I hate ALWAYS online for D3 ... But i love the series /// I will not abandon the loved Ones ...

HellScream1359
HellScream1359

All of you people who cannot wait and do not have balls to say it , Instead of blaming Gamer God company for bad game , Have some patience .... And again ... All of you "Of Course" will buy the game in 12:01 A.M of 1st February ... Take your time in smacking a unreleased Legend ...

valent1n
valent1n

i only hope D3 will rock the boat once more.... i am not sure at this moment that it will, but i still hope, and this only because: Diablo was "the RPG", you know the one that really made stay in front of your computer and just play it for hours, and the second reason is that the other RPM titles on the market with too few exceptions are really bad. In conclusion, Blizzard please make a good game, a good RPG game...

19Killer
19Killer

@Hakkology: I don't doubt for a minute that's what they will do. Other businesses do it all the time. The oil industry is the worst about it. That's their "subscription fee" right there for this half-assed MMO (as I like to call it now). And I have a solution for a 100% hack/cheat free game experience.....get ready..... OFFLINE single player mode!! TADA! Blizzard, you reading this? Probably not. @Drizzt: (most overused/stolen fantasy name ever) I do not believe that a company which has produced a product, has 100% control over its product's integrated market, and forces its customers to use only their proprietary service should ever profit from that. You start getting into illegal and unethical business practices. I can see why Korea has an issue with that. The Asian gaming community has a history of real life violence over gaming accounts, especially ones involving real currency. Oh but I suppose that's where the End User License Agreement comes in, which hardly anyone ever reads, because once you click 'accept' then the company can legally do whatever they want. So long as it was in the EULA. One more thing: a subscription fee for this type of game? Are you seriously joking or are you just mad?

DrizztDoUrden16
DrizztDoUrden16

I dont get the problem with Bliz making some money off the AH... You have to think about the rising cost of maintaining and updating games these days, is it really so bad that they want to have a long lasting source of income other than charging monthly fees? I think its great.

Rovelius
Rovelius

I understand a writer's fascination for a game's lore but as a gamer I liked it better when it was left mysterious and hard to understand. Dark Souls did it right - a huge lore so intricate and hidden, uncovering it is ten times more satisfying. D2 did it right, too. Slay up the bosses, smash the stones, win. Want to learn more? Get digging ! After all, If I want to watch a movie, I'll freaking rent it.

ZombieKohhi
ZombieKohhi

Why does my gamespot.com avatar never show properly? The image is always zoomed in even after resizing the damn pic.

Hakkology
Hakkology

@Bladestop I agree with your thinking but when you think the whole picture, they can use the economy of the game like a puppet master. After all, they will be asking a "small" amount of money for each auction created and sold. For example (totally random) ,increase the drop rates for 2 hours, everyone gets drops and decrease it so the demand on a certain item can be manipulated. Is this possible, why not ? They can control your chance of getting the item, which is just like a slot machine for 15 year old kids. They can change the demand and growth of their own market ! Now can you tell me, there will be no cheats in D3 ? No item duplication? Can it be %100 safe ? If you remember even in SC2 they had to take action against map hacking and such game breaking features, hacks, etc. Worse part is this time Blizzard is actually ( without willingly, or not ) supporting this illegal market and thinking of making money with their own RMAH.

lobo_plateado
lobo_plateado

hey when this game finally comes out wing sale regards good year

darkvaper
darkvaper

All blizzard games are top notch , they never failed there consumers and always seek to give us the best of the best . the Problems is people are by nature naturally skeptical towards new ideas and new features .. then they get used to it and like it . don't rush your judgment .. they only announced major updates to give an idea how they evolved .What i always adore about blizzard is the just know how to keep spoilers away .. most games a just to predictable and there stories are easily cracked and spoiled .

gino_pachino
gino_pachino

1 thing i do realy hope make it amost perfect like the last diablo games...

eerichtho
eerichtho

I'm on the same page with WaltherQ68. The original felt dark and interesting also because of the implicit nature of the story. It felt as if I'm actually in a nightmare... and now they want to make the story more understandable, explicit and, sigh, normal... I loved the originals not because of the item system or whatnot, I loved them because of the tormenting feel of imminent doom, nightmare and unhumane environment... Why do games need to look up to movies anyway? That's becoming really dull.

SmartGhost
SmartGhost

CAIN..!!!!!!! making and battle/healer monk

Bladestop
Bladestop

@Hakkology They included the RMAH in the game because it happened in D2 and there were way too many scam sites that just took peoples' money. Blizzard didn't want their community to be ripped off and possibly lose the money and account so they included it in the package. It's a smart idea because people that buy items, not me I was too young to and when I found out about it I was sickened, will get their items they buy without a chance of identity theft, account loss, and/or simply losing their money.

zoeyleft
zoeyleft

sounds very very good to me. im happy so far!

TheGreatmars
TheGreatmars

as much as blizzard always disappoint with late releases of there games, there quality never disappointed me at least until now...

WaltherQ68
WaltherQ68

I'm a fan and a proud owner of the original Diablo and Diablo 2 (including LOD). For me, everything I saw about Diablo 3 is going to be different then the 1st two games. Now I might be wrong and I'll have to wait for the release to judge that, but seriously, I really don't have interest in buying this game for now. The trailers are awful imo. The hardcore part is lost, not just the ESRB (if you're gonna make a game 18+ then it has to be done wih some intelligence), but the real Diablo feeling was much darker and bold. It's like, today there's so much details that you cannot implement your fantasy - and that is a bad thing overall.

Gooshnads
Gooshnads

People say this game won't do well They say SC2 wouldn't do well, look how it turned out. Blizzard gets so much hate from elitists who want the same game, then complain about a game like Call of Duty because the game is the same. [Not a connoisseur of the COD franchise after the 4th myself] There's gotta be a line where you guys draw and understand the difference between lazy design, and design that can attract all types of players. I don't like catering to casual players but at least the more dedicated players have an identity. Much like in Starcraft 2.

Hakkology
Hakkology

Come on, them controlling the drop rates, you selling the item for a real price, its no different than a slot machine. I'm proud of SKoreans for making a stand against this atrocity. Diablo 3 is just not going to be the Diablo everyone is expecting. A feature like RMAH should never exist in a video game.

19Killer
19Killer

@y3ivan Na it's not really the art style that's holding it up for the Korean censors, it's some of the content. Like not allowing swastikas or Nazis in a Wolfenstein game that's being released in Germany, or not allowing excessive bloody violence in Australia. Most nations have their own ESRB and as anal as we consider ours to sometimes be, it is actually pretty lax compared to others out there. I still say tidy up the game, finally, and release it to a multitude of markets and deal with Korea's issues with the game later. Games get staggered release dates all the time. It's like having that one idiot who is late to formation and everyone else has to put in extra time for it. Of course Blizzard is milking the clock on this so they can polish it some more. They should have the expansion pack included at release by the time it goes gold.

rprieto75
rprieto75

They are taking too long on this one, definitively going to pass on this game.. unless when I pick up loot in game it is deposited into my checking account, then I would reconsider.

Firzenzo
Firzenzo

this will get top notch reviews but in terms of players it might not live up to the hype because there are so many good games coming out these days and this is really an old school of game.

gideonkain
gideonkain

Is it just me or did this guy have no idea about Diablo, game design or other games that are going to be on the shelf competing with his product?

ferna1234
ferna1234

not bad but doesn't taste like diablo.

Atheosis
Atheosis

LOL at him not knowing about Kingdoms of Amalur...

y3ivan
y3ivan

@19Killer Koreans are on of the biggest fans of blizzards product. Thou i believe this isnt the reason why the game design has changed from a dark settings to a childs play. i guess Activision wanted to bring Diablo 3 to younger audiences. D1 &D2 was M 18+

megakick
megakick

Rift and WAR had more accounts on release then SWTOR. SWTOR is a console MMORPG.

edgewalker16
edgewalker16

@GravyCrazy Care to bet your account on that notion?

19Killer
19Killer

I watch all these Diablo 3 cinematics and think "oh my that looks good!! The people look proportioned, the environment has an old world Gothic feel that seems realistically plausible, and it just looks scary as Hell itself! Just like a game called 'Diablo' should be, and used to be." Then I look at in-game images and videos and it feels like something from Warcraft kicked me in the balls. It is all bright and friendly pastels. Yea! verily pass the grape juice as we no longer drink wine here! As has been said earlier, Diablo has always had its own art style. It was gritty, dark (NOT as in no light), foreboding, and between the previous art style and the genuine real world lore, it really brought a sense of being the pivotal player in the battle between angels and demons for the souls of men and the right to rule on Earth. I wonder if the barbarian screams "zug-zug" as he hacks his way through demons? Even though I no longer plan on spending $60, before taxes, on this game still I must say for all those that do plan on buying it: Blizzard needs to forget about Korea and what it wants to allow to be released into its culture. Deal with them later and stop delaying with bullcrap cover stories. It's no secret that Blizzard considers Korea to be their "number one GI." Not going to get into the absurdity of this game requiring an internet connection ALL THE TIME!!

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

I don't know about you guys!! but I really looking forward to this, If It's at least as good as Diablo 2 then why not... :) I'm PC user since i was 11, my buddies goes with Zelda, Mario, etc.. but to me, as a longtime Blizzard fans playing a bit is not gonna hurt :P who cares about marketing, about hype and all of that.. If you want to play.. just play... and if not GTFO...It's easy as that.. :P

GravyCrazy
GravyCrazy

I was very excited about Diablo... two years ago. At this point I don't really care. They stylized the environment and made it a short term game. No one will be playing it after a year of release.

Dassam
Dassam

@mortaleclipse Right on! A few years ago this was one of my most hyped games. Now? I'd be surprised if I got it. It will be released far after the hype begun to die and I have a feeling it will be underwhelming and not worth the wait.