With the latest preview of the anticipated action role-playing game Diablo III's beta build out, it only seemed natural to have a word with one of the top people responsible for the universe's inception and how it all ties in to gameplay. GameSpot recently chatted to world designer Leonard Boyarsky about story elements, competitors in the hack-and-slash scene, and much more.
GameSpot Asia: Tell us a little about yourself.
Leonard Boyarsky: Before Blizzard, I started out in Interplay. I did Stonekeep and Fallout. Afterward, I started my own company, Troika Games LLC , in 1998 and did Temple of Elemental Evil, Arcanum, and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. I joined Blizzard in 2006, and that was the start of Diablo III's development.
GSA: Where do you get your inspirations from as world designer to the project?
LB: Everything. I just suck everything like a sponge and spin it in different ways.
GSA: How about the design lessons you learned from your past contributions like Arcanum and Vampire: Bloodlines?
LB: We really wanted to add player choice and put in more depth to it in terms of dialogue choices. We quickly found out that it wouldn't work out with something like Diablo III's gameplay. I definitely took game design philosophies and put them in past projects, but they're more hardcore and in depth with player choices and story. Our game is more about player choice in regard to kits and skills and delivering a streamlined story alongside multiple combat situations.
GSA: Here's the elephant in the room: How complete is Diablo III? Are we looking at 80 or 90 percent?
LB: Right now, we're closing in on it. It's feeling really good. We're still going with the "When it's done" answer.
GSA: In terms of story, are players going to be dealing with the rest of the prime evils Belial and Azmodan? Will they be the focal point of the story?
LB: Yes, and yes. The prophecy of the end days is all about the invasion from hell. When Deckard Cain pieces new lore and arcanum together in the game's story, he'll have the answers to keep it from happening. We've had Diablo and his brothers, Mephistopheles and Baal, on Sanctuary before but never accompanied with an army.
It's always been a one-on-one affair with these guys. Even though Belial and Azmodan are the "lesser evils," they're the guys in charge of the civil war in Hell. They're the ones who exiled Diablo and his brothers; they have their own power. And now, they're getting ready to stage the next invasion.
GSA: What was the thought process behind the monk and wizard classes?
LB: The monk comes from Ivgorod, a country with a couple of Eastern-European conglomerations in the world. The wizard comes from Xiansai, the Eastern Asian-influenced part of Diablo III's world. We wanted to flesh out [Diablo III's] world a little more [with this diversity]. We didn't really know how it came to that, but we felt that it stuck as we went along with character development.
GSA: Throughout the development phase, what is the one thing in the game that's taking the longest?
LB: We iterate and make sure it's the best possible product it can be. We have to go back and refine the gameplay a lot, like the revamped skill system for example; so just the game flow was a lot.
Personally, there are certain elements of the story and how we deliver it that took the longest. We've done something called "micropacing." When you play, you either play it to get involved in the story or play it for loot runs and just have fun in that way. We're trying to deliver both a game with a story and at the same time not make it get in the way in a player's next run. With micropacing, we look at little ways in how in-game dialogue is delivered and look at little events, put in a [mark] there, and say "How can we make this shorter and quicker?" and "How can we make it not get in the way of the action?"
GSA: Why take a different stance to maintaining health (potions cooldown, orbs popping up on dead corpses)? Is this inspiration from console RPGs like the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series?
LB: Well, it became a potion-spamming thing. I remember fighting Duriel by opening up a portal first so that I could go back to town to get extra potions when I got out. That's not intriguing gameplay; it's a war of attrition. We wanted more interesting boss battles, and if it just becomes a potionfest, it doesn't become interesting. What's compelling about the combat now is that the lower you are on health, the more you want to kill things. It drives you into battle even when you're holding back for cooldown. It really changes your mindset in a good way. I've been here on the project since we've rebooted [the game].
We've definitely tried a lot of different systems, and we didn't want potion spamming to be there because it will flatten out the gameplay. We've tried mechanics like [regenerating health], and we ended up having the player just standing there waiting. I can't think of all of them off hand, but we've tried a lot of ways of handling health. Perhaps the guy who came up with [the current system] was influenced by those games, but this just seems to fit really good with the action RPG style of gameplay.
GSA: Can you elaborate on the stages of player versus player at this point?
LB: The characters you created will be the one you use on PVP. You don't start with new characters. That's one of the reasons why players will be always online on Battle.net. We have these characters we can use on multiplayer and PVP. Some people might want to build specific characters for PVP, but this goes back to the revamped skill system. We also have matchmaking so that a player's level-eight barbarian can fight other players who are equal.
GSA: How did crafting and artisans came to be? How is this an evolution of the gem-slotting system?
LB: There were two aspects to it. We wanted players to interact with the world in a deeper fashion; a way to drive players back to town into another collection game to make players go, "Ooh, I want to find these drops that have these cool recipes and level up our crafters." At the same time, we also have these vendors who players can talk to and get help from for resolving their plotlines. The vendors help deepen the story of the game without mandatory talking.
GSA: With three types of followers, how would they complement a player's class setup?
LB: We have the enchantress, the templar, and the scoundrel. They have two different upgrades when they level up with you, so a player can either build up the templar as a damage dealer or as a healer. If I'm a barbarian, I'd much rather go with the latter than the former build. If player is 90 percent in the game and chooses to switch to another follower, he/she doesn't have to level the followers up since they'll be a level below a player's character. And yes, they'll follow you through the end.
GSA: What else can the dev team add on top of the action RPG genre with games like Torchlight 2 and Dark Souls on the horizon, and even other action RPGs that came out since Diablo III's development?
LB: I can't speak to what they're doing, but like we said, we're pushing customizability for your characters and we're pushing different resource systems since characters aren't just using mana anymore. We're also pushing the runes system that also complement with the customizations. We're trying to deliver an in-depth story and finding different ways to push that story. We're trying to deepen all the aspects of the game, as well as make a game we ourselves want to play.
GSA: Going back to Torchlight and its upcoming sequel, do you think an action RPG's slashed price point could pose a threat to Diablo III?
LB: Like I said, we make the games we and the people want to play. A lot of people are looking forward to a new addition to the Diablo series. As far as the development team goes, we don't concern ourselves with that: We just make the best game we can.
GSA: Lastly, since each class has its own intro, will there be five different endings depending on the classes?
LB: No, they all converge to a single point. It's one straight line to the finish in the narrative sense.