Diablo 3 launch interview: 'The transition from 'our game' to 'everyone's game' is really exciting'
14th May 2012 | 14:53
Twelve years after the release of Diablo 2, a full sequel is now just hours away. On the eve of the much-anticipated launch we caught up with Leonard Boyarski, senior world designer, and Julian Love, lead technical artist on Diablo 3, to discuss the game's lengthy development cycle, the design process, fan reactions and how it feels to finally have the game out in the wild.
Here's what they had to say...
Diablo III has been a long time coming - 4 years in fact. How does it feel now that the game is finally out?
JL: It feels fantastic. It's hard to believe actually. We've been working on the game for so long, playing it, making it better and we were always aware that at some point it would make it into a box. But the transition from it being just 'our game' to it being 'everyone else's game' is really exciting to see. We're looking forward to everyone making it their own game.
Blizzard has a very big, very loyal and very vocal community. Are you nervous about the weight of their expectations?
JL: No. Not at all. Ever since we first put up the website for Diablo III we've had a very active fan community. It's much better to have people passionate about your game than not and the trend we've seen is that most fans are positive. There are obviously players who have this complaint or that complaint, but our community on the whole has been really great.
What was your starting point with this game? Was it lore based, character based or did it centre around new gameplay ideas?
JL: Well, that depends on who you talk to, really. My job is based around the lore, so my approach to the game was very much lore-based and character-based. We didn't know all of the character classes we were going to add straight off, but we did know at the very beginning we were going to have the Barbarian in the game. So a lot of early focus was on him and his culture and his backstory. As we progressed we just tried to add more into the mix.
JL: On my end we started with technology, rendering and the engine. The main focus, though, was on making the core combat experience work. Essentially we worked on making killing monsters as fun as possible.
Blizzard Games are steeped in lore - a lot of which can seem quite intimidating to newcomers. If I'm a noob, should I feel the need to study up before playing this game?
LB: No, you can just jump right in. One of our main goals with this game from a lore and story perspective was to ensure players didn't need to have any knowledge of past lore to enjoy it. We wanted it to work on multiple levels. We wanted it to work for players who either don't know or don't care about the story and the lore, but also, we wanted to satisfy players who appreciate those aspects.
Even if you don't know any of the previous lore and you play through the entire game, you'll still enjoy yourself. If you play through it on a higher difficulty level you'll find there's a lot more depth and texture to it.
Speaking of your higher difficulty levels - I hear they're pretty damn brutal...
LB: (laughs) Yeah, that's fair. I recently took a Demon Hunter and a Barbarian up to Hell Mode and it's just really... ah... well, you have to really think about what you're doing. You can't just run into mobs of enemies in there. It becomes a much more cerebral game the higher up in the difficulty you get. You won't get through these levels through button bashing.
Can you talk us through the game's new character classes? When did the ideas for them germinate and how did you go about making them feel different?
LB: I'm not sure of the exact order. I think we worked on the Witch Doctor first.
JL: Wasn't he second? I think we announced him first, though. Then the Monk and then the Demon Hunter. Loosely, at the beginning, it was a process of getting ideas down for each of them - how they'd look and how they'd play. What's good about that is you can allow the ideas to kind of percolate a little bit before you actually have to commit to them.
LB: From a lore and story standpoint it was really great - the process we had with the system designers - because it was pretty organic. For example, we all kind of came up with the idea for the Witch Doctor character and then the story team would go away and develop the backstory and the environments that this sort of character would exist in.
There was a lot of back and forth with the system guys making the character's skill set feel like part of the world and have it feed off that. That's kind of how it worked with all of them really, even the Barbarian, who already existed in Diablo II. Even though that's a character with a bit more backstory, we kind of felt like we were starting from scratch in how we'd define him.
Which of the new classes would you say changed the most from its inception?
JL: The Demon Hunter, for sure. During the percolation process at the beginning we wanted to do a Ranger class, and we produced a lot of artwork and ideas based around it, but it just never really caught fire. So we didn't jump on it and worked on other classes instead. By the time we'd doubled-back to the class in question, it was really obvious to us that it had started to feel really flat. We wanted to do something that would really blow it up and that's when the idea for the Demon Hunter came in.
The Demon Hunter has a really large creation arch; we took this more traditional sort of forest-y, desert-y Ranger class and added lots of flavour and fire. It really plays back into the story a lot better than the character would have done if we'd just left it as a Ranger.
LB: From a system design standpoint I'm not sure if the most change happened to the Demon Hunter or the Monk, but I do know that in terms of the Monk specifically, there was a lot of working and re-working abilities. The Monk's combat system is very different from the other classes. It's almost a kind of fighting game influence there. From a lore standpoint, we were lucky that we were pretty much able to run with our initial concepts for much of the project, once they were decided upon.
What was the brief when you first started crafting the world of Diablo III? Or did you pretty much have free reign to do what you wanted?
LB: We were pretty much given free reign. Obviously, the primer we had to work with was lore that was set up by the previous game. But we really wanted to delve more into themes contained in the previous game. We felt that like Diablo II didn't really expand all that much on the themes that the first Diablo and we really wanted to incorporate them all into the feeling of a trilogy and make what happened in the previous games resonate a bit more.
But apart from stuff is creative and gets peoples' juices going, we weren't really given a hell of a lot of perimeters. We worked very closely with Chris Metzen and he had a lot of great ideas and helped us cover the ground to make the game what we wanted it to be.
Did you ever feel like you were sandwiched between the game's lore and the expectation of the Blizzard fanbase?
LB: Not really. At one point we kept going back and forth on whether demons had already invaded Sanctuary or not. We were really at the point where we didn't really need to talk about it much and we were going forward. But I was going on the forums a lot and I found that whether hell had invaded the world in Diablo was one of the biggest questions fans had. We decided from that that we really needed to address that issue. Then it kind of went from there - why had hell invaded?
It's interesting, though, you have pre-existing lore to work with. In a way, it could constrain creativity. But I've found that if you have to work within certain perimeters it actually helps you stretch out more. If you don't have any barriers or sides to your box, it can get a bit daunting. For us, it was great to have a set of rules and lore and feed off from the start.
Does it feel weird to have left your stamp on such a massive IP?
LB: Ah, (laughs) I try not to think about it in those terms. I try to focus on the game I'm working on. If you start considering how big the project is and how many people are going to play it, it can get a bit daunting. You just have to focus on your work and do the best job you can.
It was rumoured that Blizzard are working on a console version of Diablo III. Is there any truth to this and if so, how far along are you?
LB: Well we haven't announced anything yet, in terms of console releases, but we're continuing to explore the possibilities.
How's that exploration going?
LB: (Laughs) Good one!