Hi Alex, pleased to meet you and welcome to Argentina. Thanks for having us, we have a few questions for you. Let's start with your role, you are Senior Producer on Diablo 3, and seeing the tasks of your job, can we say that you are like an acrobat that juggles a lot of balls in the air at the same time?
(laughs) Sort of, I have an ample spectrum of tasks to supervise/oversee that go from the gameplay to Art and Sound. But I don't tell people how things must be, they know how to do it, but I am in charge of coordinating different teams and pave the way so they can do their jobs.
After much wait, finally the game is almost in our hands. Are you going to go on some deserved vacation?
Actually no, even though the game starts being sold on May 15th, you could say that the real work starts instead of ends on that day. As you know, there is a small army of people working on Diablo 3, and there are teams that finished their tasks while some others will keep working, since the game requires that we work until after release, with things like servers, gameplay balance, bugs, Customer Services, ultimately all that has been expected from Blizzard games. Personally, I am going to be on Paris on launch, then right after I will go to Madrid and only afterwards I go home; there are teams that are resting right now but I would say that on May 15th everybody goes back to work.
This small army that you mention will be reduced right after May 15th?
No. Well, actually yes, in the case of some support groups. We share them with other development teams and they go to other Blizzard games, such as StarCraft II. Audio is a great example, we have an Audio department working on every game, so if they are not working on Diablo 3 they will probably be working on another franchise. They have no rest.
Although not confirmed, I guess there will be a sequel to Diablo 3...
At this time we are not announcing expansions, it is the game's release and we hope it has a long shelf life (from a selling point of view), but if you see how we have handled other franchises, you can notice a little of our strategy.
One thing that amazes audiences around the world, well at least in my opinion, the deadlines that Blizzard brings: you usually don't have one, in the sense that a game is released only when you believe the game deserves to be released. You don't play with dates such as Christmas or the like (my note: in which you could exploit positive waves of sales).
We have internal deadlines. We set our own agenda - not announce to the world. But when we approach a deadline we see how the game is and wonder if we really believe that it is ready for the public, and if the answer is "no", then we don't set that date. This is why you will not find dates by us until we are absolutely confident that we will fulfill it. We are aware that people have wanted this game for a long time, but the reality is that if we launched Diablo 3 and it was wrong and full of bugs, the fans would be devastated, as would we. So while having to wait a little longer, they will have a much better game that they will enjoy playing it.
These changes to deadlines have a side effect of higher costs. Do you have some kind of limit as to costs, do you have a boss who tells you "sorry, these changes can not be made because it would overcome our budget", whatever it is?
Obviously we are a business, the budget is a factor but not necessarily the determining factor. Really, to Blizzard the theme is "Quality First". We look at our schedule and budgets, but if the quality is not there we will not release the game. It has nothing to do with the gains, it has to do with the fact that if we launch a game that does not match our quality standards, we risk devaluing the Intellectual Property we have created, so it is in our best interest to not release a game that hurts brands like Diablo 3, World of Warcraft or Blizzard.
In that sense, how much pressure is put on the team to achieve success - again, for the umpteenth time?
Extreme pressure, but pressure is coming from within, I mean, we have outside pressure too, but we also put more pressure than perhaps any other, because we know we have to stand up to the expectation. For example, I played Diablo I before entering the industry of computer games, and played Diablo II before working for Blizzard. Diablo II is high on my list of favorite games of all time. We are all aware of the weight we have on our backs and we must continue a legacy of the greatest games ever made. That's where we feel the pressure. But we have a great process of iteration. We don't start at a point and continue until the end, hoping that things will work out, but what we do is work in repetitive cycles in which we try things, make things simple and start playing with them, taking small steps and when we find something we do not like it gets discarded and it starts all over again. We also have a process that begins with our team. We played and played and played the game until we got to a stage where we feel that it is very "playable". Then let the rest of the company play it and take their comments and opinions since they are all professionals with extensive experience and wisdom; and then play with our families and friends, then go to a Beta process. This weekend we did a public beta, everyone had a chance to try it... We hear all voices, in fact one of the core values of our company, I do not know if you are aware, but did you see the statue of an Orc in the Blizzard park? Well, around that statue is a ring that contains our values as a company, and one of them reads "Every person matters". We pay attention, everyone has great ideas, and we use the combination of these ideas to improve and shape our games.
You just said you played Diablo I before entering the industry, and I was reading your biography and found an interesting thing, that you have a very unique background, from having worked for AT&T to a period in the police ... I ask the "gamer Alex" what kind of games do you like: PC games, console, board, card, role-playing with paper and pencil ...?
I like all games in whatever format. At home I have a NES, a GameCube, a PS2, a PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, three PCs, two laptops, three iPads, two iPods, 2 iPhones, a Wii, and all versions of GameBoy...
You must be the most popular in your group of friends, all must be met at home ... (Laughs)
Now my kids are gamers, I am raising a new generation of gamers, games have an important place in my house. I remember as a child playing console games at age 4 that we had, where we could play bowling, Pong, then we could play on the Atari 2600; games were always part of my life, first I was a gamer and when I went to college and took programming courses to enter the industry I discovered the level editor for Doom II and created levels for the game, I did not expect working in this, so being able to work on Diablo 3 is my biggest dream come true.
How much did your degree help you in what you're doing?
I never finished it, I was half way there, was a decent programmer, but could not do what I wanted, it is a very slow path, and when I found out the level editor for Doom II was written in Visual Basic, I had no instructions, I was not sure what I was seeing, but if you played Doom II you know that when entering the first level in the courtyard there is a shotgun, then I recognized the code and looked at the list of items and I said "I think this is a plasma rifle" so I changed it, I compiled the map and when I played, there was the plasma rifle! "Ahhhh, that's it!" And so I began, I started making my own levels, share them but there was no Internet, there was CompuServe, where I ended up meeting other level designers and we made what was probably the first Doom mod called Eternal Doom, replaced all the game levels we added new characters and extras, we made a new game out of Doom II. Then came Duke Nukem 3D with new things, force fields, exploding walls, sloping surfaces, and as I started to edit levels, I contacted the company interested in a job,but in the end we did not come to an agreement, but Xatrix Entertainment licensed the engine, so I gave my name and started working on Redneck Rampage.
With all these people you have worked with, would you say that the majority are people who have studied in this area, or does the majority have huge creative desires to do great things and have become good at it by studying on their own, or is it 50-50%?
It is a wide variety, I have seen people who have left high school and people with PhDs, at the end of the day what matters is that if you have what it takes, it doesn't matter, you may have left school but you are the best world artist, or you can have studied mass and be the best programmer in the world, to us what matters is that quality and talent and perfection. Our company has an incredibly high concentration of perfectionists, and it shows in our products.
I would like to ask you one last question on the Latin American market; you are launching the game 100% translated into Spanish, how do you choose the talent to work on the translations?
As you know, Blizzard has grown significantly over the years. I think at the beginning of our development our mindset was towards the Anglo-Saxon, but as we have become a global company we realize that our fans are worldwide and there are people so passionate and love our games that we want them to play and have a more native experience, so with Diablo 3 I worked closely with the translation team to make sure they had the time necessary to make translations and dubbing, because what happens in game development is that we want to work until the last day, but we found that if we do that we will not have time to do quality translations. We have so many lines of dialogue and narration that I realized that if we do not give them time to work on it, they would do poor job. So basically we make sure to set deadlines in which the translators will have the game and have the time to translate it properly, and then we determine our own deadlines; that allowed us to look for the best talent in each region and have time available to work, so the end result is that we will have an experience in Spanish, and it will feel like we made the game especially for you. I think we have 11 versions: English, German, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, French, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian... We try to improve ourselves and we will continue doing so because we want the game to be available in as many languages as possible and that people have a playing experience that they can only have in their native language.