Diablo III Q&A - Inside the Demon Hunter
We chat with Diablo III art director Christian Lichtner and senior game designer Jason Bender about the design of the demon hunter class and how it handles in combat.
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At BlizzCon 2010, the final player class for Diablo III was revealed to be the demon hunter, a high-powered, ranged class sporting dual crossbow-pistols, with a seething hatred for its infernal prey. During our hands-on time with the class, we were impressed by its speed and mobility and were big fans of the bola shot, an entangling projectile that wraps itself around the target before blowing it to bits moments later. But our time hunting demons was cut short, leaving us with plenty of unanswered questions. With the reveal of the male-version demon hunter, we took the opportunity to appease our curiosity and quiz Christian Lichtner, art director on Diablo III, and Jason Bender, senior game designer on Diablo III, on the finer points of this fifth class.
GameSpot: Describe the look of the demon hunter; paint a picture in our minds.
Christian Lichtner: The male demon hunter is very similar to the female demon hunter in that we tried to keep their flavors very similar. We tried to make sure they looked alike in some ways, so that you have that nice distinction between the other five classes, but we also wanted to make sure that they were definitely different [from each other]. We didn't want just a male or female model swap; we wanted to make sure they had enough flavor in and of themselves. In the case of the male demon hunter, you're looking at a guy that has a dark and mysterious vibe [and whose design has] a lot of sharp edges in terms of the armor, which sort of looks like demon armor or the trophies of demons he has slain. He's got the cloak, the glowing eyes…but he's also a much more wiry guy than our previous classes. He's a little bit on the thinner side, is a little more agile and lean looking, and definitely looks like a guy who's a ranged class and could take on the worst of them.
GS: What were your artistic inspirations for the design of the male hunter?
CL: I think for us the inspiration was to make sure it really reads as a dark class. [The demon hunter] was one of those classes that really came across as being on the edgier side, and the way we did that is by basically looking at other influences, such as what you would expect to see in Van Hellsing where there are a lot of gadgetry and tools that they use to fight the demon hordes. Visually, it's not that much in that sense; visually, it's really sort of an amalgam of things that we feel really pushes him apart from the other classes. Even the most basic designs try to push him apart, such as [how] the runes and glyphs he uses are sharp and aggressive looking. His skills oftentimes have a lot of black, red, and dark purple in them. Things like that have a more ominous feel to them and contrast well against, say, the monk who is very rounded and focuses more on lighter colors, such as yellows and light oranges. There's a very, very distinct visual language here that we established for the male demon hunter to really push the idea that this is a badass.
Jason Bender: That's something we wanted to do for gameplay reasons, too. We want to make sure that when you're playing cooperatively…if you're playing the barbarian, you want to be able to see the other classes around you and make meaningful decisions [based on who's nearby.] Because the demon hunter is a light, quick-moving, and highly accurate weapon-based ranged character, that behavior is very important when you're trying to play epically at higher difficulty levels.
GS: What types of skill trees are available to the hunter and what do they specialize in?
JB: The demon hunter is interesting in that it's the class with the most sort of duality. The fiction behind the demon hunter is that they're a little bit crazy about hunting demons--they're obsessed. But at the same time, they're really calculating and really precise, and they plan. So with their resources and their skill trees, we split their skills into the categories of discipline, including traps, preparation, things that take a lot of forethought, and hatred, which is the red-eyes insanity the fuels their high-powered burst attacks, alpha strikes, multishots, flame arrows, and things like that. [The demon hunter] really feels more visceral, and there's some interesting interplay in the resource system that allows you to switch back and forth between your discipline abilities and your hatred abilities. It's a little more complex and nuanced than some of the other classes; it's a class about precision and playing [one skill set] off the other.
GS: How does the demon hunter differ from the rogue and amazon classes from previous Diablo games?
JB: The demon hunter has some similarities with the amazon, with the bow and whatnot, but focuses a lot more on traps. It goes back and forth between the mainstay of ranged attacks--dual crossbow-pistols and flipping through the air…highly mobile stuff--and control. [The control aspect] is a little bit more like the assassin's traps. To manipulate where the monsters are, you might set a spike trap in one area and then backflip out away and multishot into that area while the [enemies] are trying to get through it. It takes a little bit from both styles and combines them into something that's completely different with the way the skills and resources interact.
GS: Is a melee build of the demon hunter a viable option, or is it purely a ranged class?
JB: A lot of our classes are versatile between [ranged] and [melee]. The barbarian is very focused on melee with a little bit of range if you need it, whereas the demon hunter is epically focused on ranged. But, in order to give a melee feel, we've given him some abilities that work in melee. Things like the ability to jump out of or into close range. [The demon hunter] plays with long and short range a lot but definitely synergizes best with a bow or crossbow-pistol.
GS: What sort of rune skill combinations are there for the demon hunter?
JB: Oh yeah, there's a bunch we've been playing with lately. With the runes, we always like to think about where the energy comes from. With the wizard, for example, you may have some runes that tend toward lighting or tend toward ice, and we try to do it that way in an elemental energy sense. But with the demon hunter, it has been interesting because we get to play off the backstory of him being obsessed with learning everything there is to know about demons and finding ways to use their own strengths against them. So we have some [runes] that focus on shadow and play with how the demon hunter adds shadow magic into certain [attacks], making them hone in, split into two when they hit a target, or bounce from one target to the next. Traps are also really fun. When you lay out a spike trap, there are a lot of different things you can do with runes, such as have shadow creatures or tendrils come out of them. You'll see a lot of really nasty and painful-looking attacks coming out of this character; he's pretty wicked.
GS: How does playing the demon hunter differ from the other classes?
JB: We try to fulfill a different gameplay fantasy and flavor with every class. Compared with the wizard, who is just raw power, the demon hunter is a little more agile and doesn't mind getting a little closer and a little dirtier to maximize the effectiveness of his abilities. There's a lot of quick movement [and] a lot of nuance in the demon hunter; everything you'd imagine you'd be able to do with a bow and arrow while also having all these tricks and traps at your fingertips when you need them.
CL: When we're designing the classes, we really want to make sure there's a wide variety of choices for the player. We want to make sure that every player who plays Diablo III has a choice between the things that most relate to them, not just in gameplay with ranged versus melee, but in the storytelling sense, such as "Hey, I want to be the character who's on the edge of society and knows more than everyone else about this struggle between Heaven and Hell," and the demon hunter is that character. He gets it and wants to let everyone else know, but they're just not listening.
GS: How does the demon hunter's energy differ from traditional mana?
JB: [This system is] still in development…we're still tuning it. But in theory, we want the demon hunter to have some highly regenerative, more accessible hatred abilities that he always has up and can use to zip around and keep the pace [of combat] up. But then the discipline side tends to be a more precious resource that you have to manage a lot more carefully. You really pick and choose when you want to use your discipline abilities because they make a big difference in how you escape, how you set up an attack…things like that.
Some abilities use hatred; some use discipline. That's where we're at in development. But we want to make sure you're bouncing back and forth between the two without having to switch a stance or anything cumbersome like that. So you'll have abilities from both camps accessible at all times, depending on how you build your character. Some demon hunters may focus on hatred, with lots of shooting and moving around, and try to amp up that ability as much as possible, while some may focus on discipline instead. [Either way], the default path is going to be a little of both.
GS: Any other thoughts you'd like to add about the demon hunter?
JB: The demon hunter fits in really well with the darker side of Diablo. We have a lot of games here at Blizzard that everyone loves and is familiar with, but with Diablo being a darker game, this is where we really get to indulge in the darker, grittier side. And the demon hunter really [embodies] that.
GS: One final thought: Traditionally, most ranged or ranger-type classes have some sort of pet accompaniment. Have you given any thought to giving the demon hunter a pet?
JB: We have thought about it, but I really can't say more than we like the idea.
GS: We'll just leave it at that then. Thanks, guys.