All too often the cinematic side of games are overlooked by the majority of players. In many cases, especially in todays day and age, more effort is placed into these short hyper-detailed cinematographs than any scene of similar length from most full length movies. An exceptionally executed short clip often suffers due to its length. Being so short, it can be easily overlooked, or skipped without much second thought.
What I'd like to help get across in this article is how much collaboration and skill it takes to create a truly fantastic cinematic. To fabricate such a believable, and detailed world through a computer takes an insane amount of time and precision. It could take thousands of man hours to create a three minute clip as seen in The Black Soulstone. I'll do my best to convoy the process as talked about at this panel. Also for the sake of not turning this article into a picture book, I'm going to link relative picture to text, so click the links to check out the pics.
Before the presentation had even really begun, we found out that The Black Soulstone clip (which is not the full clip due to spoilers) is only 3 out of 27 minutes of cinematic cutscenes that will be in Diablo III. I don't know about you guys, but 27 minutes of cutscenes like this is in itself enough for me to get a bag of popcorn and watch one by one.
The most important part of a cinematic is how well it tells a story. This process starts off as storyboards, a collective effort from the team to sketch out in minimal detail scenes they want to link together forming the cinematic. A directer and their crew sits down and forms the storyboard, with close collaboration of the relative crews that will help work on it. This process covers the entire production from start to finish. Be it visual, musical, or character progression; everything has to be planned in the storyboard.
An example given was how Leah is afraid of Azmodan. How she expresses this fear has to be planned in the storyboard. This one small choice can make a huge impact on Leahs' character progression. If she screams and freaks out, this says something completely different about her than if she just flinches and shies away. Camera angles and focal points also help convoy character emotion. Again, this is where it all begins.
Color has a huge effect on how a scene is perceived, this fact is supported by mentioning there is an entire crew devoted to just color scripting. Diablo with all of its earthy hues is particularly sensitive to this color directing. It is so important in fact that the color translation from early rendering to final production is very often spot on the same.
The development of a character in Diablo III pivots around three main concepts, game relevance, suiting to the story, and available technology. Azmodan has gone through many iterations, from a mix of Angel and Demon, through a kind of warrior look, and finally to the crab/sumo wrestler you see today. This final concept was chosen because it represents all of the seven sins in which Azmodan, the Lord Of Sin encompasses. For example the shape of his body suggests gluttony and greed, while his body decorations suggest pride and vanity.
After a characters concept is complete, it must be brought to life. Through a massive effort from many teams, a character is modeled in 3D, textured & colored, rigged for ease of animation, animated, and tweaked for who knows how long before finally making the directors standard. To state that this is an over-simplification is a understatement.
At this level of professionalism, not everything takes as long as you may think though. For example most of the demon horde you seen in the cinematic was conceptualized and preliminarily modeled in just two days. Life is in the details though, and these details are what take the most time to perfect in these creature models. After initial modeling, the item is passed onto the next team which specializes in texturing. Using the initial 2D concept art, the texture team works on translating that 2D texture into 3D, and accurately spreading it around the creature. They aim to perfectly match the 2D concept, since that is indeed where the director chose to finalize the creature.
Beyond the character models themselves, there are tons of surrounding particle effects that add just as much "character" to the character as the traditional traits like skin, voice, and attitude do. For example, the smokey effect from the Lich Kings eyes adds a lot of supernatural meaning to him. Another example is the smoke rolling off the demons in the Black Soulstone cinematic. These effects have to be subtle, for if they draw too much attention to themselves it distracts the viewer from much more important things happening on screen.
Reference From Real Life
When you're aiming to make something believable, what better way than to study related things in real life? This is exactly what the cinematic teams do throughout their work. This is done through setting up target textures, lighting effects, skin tones/textures, etc and photographing them in real life. Then after capturing their target images, the team recreates them over the computer. This is painstakingly done brush stroke by brush stroke using various software.
The results of this can be truly amazing
As with perfecting textures and lighting effects, to perfect a believable rendered human first you must study one. To drive the development of Leah, the teams studied how things appear in real life when under similar conditions to what they wanted to reproduce in the cinematic. In general they setup a photographic environment like the one at the beginning of the cinematic, complete with a stone, a girl (their producer), candles, and great lighting. The photograph was then manipulated to closer match what the director wanted to see as the final result in the cinematic.
Continuing with their study, they took close-up shots of various eyes and facial expressions to better understand how to accurately reproduce a face, which is arguably the hardest thing to do when speaking of realistic art. In Blizzard fashion, they went so much further than just simple photos. They setup a specialized camera rig to capture light exposure, color saturation, and texture mapping of various faces, which they can directly use while creating the character model. From early rendering to near completion takes hundreds and hundreds of tweaks to everything from lighting, to textures, shaders, and many other factors even with the assistance of real life examples.
As with lighting and texturing, the animation team began their study via photographing relative real life objects. They first took hundreds of photos of different facial expressions to identify how the different facial muscles moved during each expression. Their goal in this was to replicate every muscle in the face into their character model so they would be able to perfectly reproduce different emotions through the character, they reached this goal, and the results speak for themselves.
They did the same thing for eye expressions. When observed closely, the human eyes and eyelids have tiny micro twitches, which we don't even notice until they're not there. When viewing older character models up close in cinematics, something looks off. You can't always place your finger on it, but something tips your brain off that this isn't real, and that negatively effects how that character conveys emotions. It's through these tiny movements that the character comes to life, and suddenly all of their emotions become so much more believable. This can be seen as Leah falls asleep into her dream during the cinematic.
This trend of study also made its way into hand and writing observations. Little things like how a pen indents the paper as you write, or how certain small muscles contract during tiny movements. Through the close collaboration of the animation, rigging, and modeling teams they eventually achieved their goals of a believable character, interacting with a believable world.
Features of a character which constantly change drastically are known as Dynamic Systems. Take hair, and clothes for example. With their success in real life studies, similar simulation techniques were used to perfect hair animation. They tracked down a coworker with similar hair to Leah, found a fan, and went to work replicating movements Leah had to do in the cinematic, with the added effect of wind.
After they had all the info and observations they needed, they moved onto modeling, and animation. Hair poses a problem in that there are hundreds of thousands of strands of air, which are near impossible to compute or individually animate. So instead of dealing with each strand one by one, they start off with very large chunks, maybe five in total. Then they'll break those chunks up to say 200. Those smaller number of strands are what actually move individually. On top of those large strands they add in hair models and effects in order to make it look like there are hundreds of thousands of strands moving.
Another thing the Dynamic Systems Team covers are rigs. Essentially rigs are basic models of the character that are broken down into separate parts and placed on different pivot points to enable the animation team to make the characters move. Think of a rig like an action figure. This process in itself is precision work, since if a model isn't rigged correctly, it will be impossible to creature realistic movements in the end character.
What's interesting is that the movements don't always have to make perfect sense, as long as you're not looking at the entire model. In the scene to the bottom left Azmodan is completely hunched over, which looks reasonable from that camera angle. Now if you zoom out and look at the entire rig to the bottom center, you now see he is actually broken, which says that his movement was impossible speaking realistically.
To make those believable movements, first the team had to observe similar creatures in real life. Sad fact though, nothing on Earth is exactly like Azmodan. So instead, they choice to observe crabs for lower body movements, and sumo wrestlers for his upper body movements. Through excellent creativity they managed to merge these two and were left with a very believable rig.
Their next production challenge was to get Azmodan to believably speak without any lips. In order to produce sounds such as "P" and "B" you need to have a way to block air flow for a second. It just so happens Azmodan has no lips, so instead they used very pronounced movements of his mandibles and tongue to create relative actions to syllables. The end result comes across great, and adds to his creepy factor during the close-up shots.
The Hordes Of Hell
During the end of the cinematic there are tons of creatures marching around, each seemingly doing their own things. In order to populate the entire screen with great looking creature animations, they needed to use some smoke and mirrors. The creatures in the far back are using very simple animations, which don't have those little detailed movements we see in more important close-up shots. The more important, and unique animations are called "Hero Animations". As the link shows, this classification of animation is not bound to living creatures. Another trick they used in order to create the illusion of every creature having uniqueness, is to individually tweak how they hold their weapons. By tweaking this they create a great silhouette across the entire army, where no two spears are tilted in the exact same direction.
The Right Stuff
Not everything makes it into the final cut, in fact most of the original concepts don't. On of these that they talked about was Azmodans lava drool. They tested all different kind of viscosities until they found one that worked, they added lighting and texture, and even went as far as you add it on the finial model. Even through all this, the end result didn't come across right. They felt it made Azmo feel sloppy, and even comical, two things that are not part of Azmodans characteristics; so they cut it completely. Some effects that did make the final cut for Azmodan include awesome things like active lighting effects from his mouth and eyes along side a heat distortion filter.
Lighting effects can make or break everything in a cinematic. During the panel Blizzard mentioned how they adopted the same cutting edge effects major motion picture companies are using. These effects make for great lighting across the entire world, but in particular, faces. No one looks good under a harsh light, it blows out every little detail to an undesirable degree. Through combining the crisp detail of a hard light, and the blended effects of a soft light, they achieved a great shot which looks both crisp and delicate.
A character has many different light sources effecting them at once. The example they showed was of Leah, which is under five completely different light sources when she faces Azmodan in her dream. When combining all of these, they can go back and tweak each one until they are happy with the result. The second type of lighting passes they spoke about are called render elements. These are essentially just the various layers of each shot. Each other these layers have their own effects which add to the shot, but don't effect one another directly.
Bringing Down The Walls
Moving onto the scene where Azmodan brings down the rock wall, revealing his plan to evade Sanctuary, how this was achieved is pretty amazing. Aside from all the lighting effects which had to be changed as the wall comes down, how they broke the wall itself is pretty interesting. They used a shaping technique called Voronoi. Essentially, they place random dots across a plane, draw lines equal distances from these dots, then uses the lines to create organic shapes which look very natural.
It is also worth mentioning that the falling rocks didn't go through any type of physics simulator. The director had a very specific visual in mind, and so every single one of the 40,000+ rocks you see were animated individually as the fell and interacted with each other.
Well that about wraps it up, I hope you enjoyed our journey through the making of the Black Soulstone Cinematic, and learned a little bit about the absurd amount of effort that goes into creating these windows into Sanctuary.
For the full experience be sure to watch the panel!
Special thanks to Verity for uploading it.
If you missed any of our other Blizzcon coverages, by sure to check out the Blizzcon Hub, and catch up on what happened regarding Diablo III.
After the massive lore panel, it was time to get some feedback from the diehard fans that managed to pilgrimage to this year's convention. Here are the highlights from the Open Q&A; just keep in mind that this isn't meant to be a transcript, so all of it is paraphrased.
Caution: The following may contain spoilers.
Q: You made the followers more powerful for end game content. Will they be viable all the way through Inferno?
Blizzard representatives responded positively, saying that companions will be able to fight adequately alongside heroes through each difficulty. They have done some testing with companions through the difficulties, and although this is a very recent change, they do believe that changes they have incorporated into the hirelings will make then viable in the endgame.
Q: Is Diablo a girl?
The cover art for the event booklet made Diablo look anything but the usual muscular, bulky monster we've seen in his more animal incarnations in the previous games. While nothing was confirmed on why Diablo looked so distinctly female, with the sleekness of the abdomen and the wide hips, they did acknowledge that it was done. So it was on purpose. Maybe there's something to the popular Leah-possession lore speculation prevalent in our lore discussion forum.
Q: Can you elaborate on hardcore mode and how it's different from the previous games?
They mostly confirmed what is already known about Diablo III's hardcore mode: it will have its own Auction House that does not interact with normal, softcore players, said Auction House will use only gold as a currency (not real money), and so on. However, it was mentioned that if a player is killed, other players will not be able to pick the gear from the fallen character. In Diablo II, players were able to set their hardcore characters to "lootable" to other, trusted party members in the event of an untimely death. Unless misspoken, this is a marked change from the previous games. When you die, your gear is gone. Period.
Q: Can fresh sixty players succeed in Inferno, and will Inferno ever be nerfed for newer players?
In step with sentiments spoken yesterday about the difficulty of Inferno mode at the tail end of the Gameplay and Auction House panel the other day, it was confirmed that newly max-leveled characters (sixty is Diablo III's cap) will not be able to succeed easily, if at all, in Inferno mode. It's meant to be a challenge in every sense of the word, no matter what level characters are at.
While they were vehement about not nerfing it for the newbie's sake, they did add a caveat: as they address hardcore, there may be some balancing to account for hardcore players in Inferno mode. But they will not be simplifying Inferno mode for casual players.
Q: Why is light radius not in the game?
Light radius is not entirely gone, and it still works well in some contexts, like deep dungeons, but they found that using the new 3D engine really looked lack-luster when limiting light sources to only that of the player. They really want to utilize different light points to add interest to the 3D environment, so it's no longer a major element throughout the game.
Q: What's being done to protect against botting?
Probably a topic near and dear to any players getting ready to compete in Diablo II's upcoming ladder reset, botting has always been a controversial and annoying issue. Bots served as everything from farmers to level grinders, making the ladder ranking system essentially a hopeless, pointless list of bots outstripping human players. It was argued that the actual gameplay of the game renders botting more difficult to achieve, but that they will be policing it well, likely actively and with more robust security measures. It is also important to them to address spam bots, likely by watching join/leave events.
Q: Will WASD control be available?
While it had been played around with, they ultimately felt that non-analog controls didn't work well with Diablo's very analog-focused gameplay.
Q: Will runewords ever be added to the newest game?
They stated that the new gameplay mechanics and customization options account for what was previously done with runewords. The new, more robust crafting system allows for vast player-generated gear, runestones allow for heavy skill customization, and any other number of mechanics compensate or surpass what was accomplished with runewords in Diablo II.
Q: Can you confirm a console version?
They did not want to officially confirm a console version because they want to be completely sure it's something that will work and work well. They have been hiring console developers to work internally on console ideas, and they feel that it plays very well with the kind of game Diablo is, but they don't want to announce anything until they're entirely sure everything will work out.
Of primary concern is not wanting to compromise the PC version, likely in playability or release (as stated any number of times over the last months.) For now, they're focusing on filling out a console team.
Q: Attuned runes essentially allow for a ton of specialized runes for each character skill, creating a huge inventory problem with storage. What's being done to address this?
They acknowledged that they are aware of the issue and are thinking of ways to fix it. They believe that attuned runes add an interesting new facet to skill selection, customization, and build commitment, so they don't foresee removing them, but there is definitely an inventory issue that needs to be addressed.
Q: What are some of the issues seen in developing a console version?
Targetting skills becomes more difficult when using a controller and not a mouse and keyboard although they feel that player movement is greatly improved. Monster AI seems somewhat different when interacting with the game in a new way. They found that they spend the most time working with controls with a console iteration. They don't want a potential console version to feel like a port of the PC version, but a quality version that plays well as it is.
Q: Can we get more beta keys?
They have more waves coming out after the BlizzCon and are very happy with the feedback that they've received so far. In addition to more beta access sweeping across Battle.net accounts, they also said that a major patch is coming for the beta version of Diablo III very soon. We can guess that this will likely include the skill updates and other changes seen in the beta iteration seen in the PvM demo here at BlizzCon.
Q: What comes after Inferno?
While the team feels that Inferno mode will pose huge challenges for players for a long time to come, they have said that they will add more endgame content should they find that players demand more. There's also secret content, which they have confirmed to be in the game, so perhaps we'll see content similar to the Cow Level for endgame enjoyment. At the moment, they are more focused on just getting the game as-is out to the public.
Q: With the Wizard's cast rate announced as being based on weapon speed, what is being done to reward opting for other items besides cast rate-oriented equipment?
They believe that choosing cast rate-centric gear versus more obscure equipment is entirely based on the build a player opts for. If a player decides to use skills that benefit more from faster cast rates, it will be logical to use weapons that allow for faster cast rates, while skills which do not focus on cast rates, like Meteor, will allow players to focus on more damage-centric weapons.
Q: Will there be more skill slots?
The team believes that allowing more skill slots removes choices and, by extension, build diversity across a playerbase, so they will not be adding more skill slots.
Q: How will RMAH PvP players be matched with PvP players that do not spend real money on the Auction House for gear?
Buying higher gear will cause a player to be matched with peers of a like power level through the hidden ranking system, so purchasing gear with real money will only cause players to be matched against more experienced or more powerful characters. The actual outcomes of PvP games will not be affected.
Q: Will there be more PvP modes besides arena mode?
The developers found that PvP in Diablo II mostly split players up for fear of getting ganked, meaning more players were playing in private games than playing together in public ones. This led to a focus on on a dedicated PvP mode with dedicated PvP support, the arena, and a PvP progression system. However, more PvP modes are being considered, and Jay Wilson even said that they are looking into a dueling option similar to Diablo II, although nothing concrete is yet known and they aren't sure if such a mode will make the initial release.
Q: Will there be guild support?
Guilds and clans in Diablo II were often organized using chat bots and out-of-game online communities. Hope had arisen that this would mean the developers saw this need as enough to implement guild support in Diablo III, but the idea was shot down. They will not have guild functionality available for release, but something may be implemented after release. They saw a lot of guild ideas that didn't get implemented in Diablo II as great mechanics that they want to work on in the future, but they want to make sure that if they do implement guild functionality, they will do it right.
Q: Will boss AI be scaled with difficulty to allow for more interesting and less repetitive battles at different difficulty levels??
They're looking across the major bosses for the game and tuning their AI to be refreshing and challenging according to difficulty mode, but they aren't sure if the changes will be really drastic from difficulty to difficulty or only minor, although they want such differences to be big. It seems to be another question of what will make it into the initial release.
Q: Will players be able to use their skills together in combination attacks?
They have seen many players using strategic implementation of skills, like a Wizard freezing enemies and then melee characters shattering frozen enemies. They think that more sophisticated team play would be fantastic, but they don't want payers choosing not to play with other players because of class choices in certain situations, which they view as adverse to encouraging group play.
Q: Will there be an API for the Auction House?
They have talked about it at length, but it will not make the launch version of the game. It may be added after release. They seemed positive about such an implementation.
Q: With the 12-month account for WoW players allowing a free digital purchase of Diablo III, will there be any compensation for purchasing a collector's edition of Diablo III?
Buying a collector's edition of Diablo III will count as credit towards a 12-month account.
Those were most of the more interesting questions asked, but we encourage you to stay tuned as we upload video versions of each of the panels and keep your eyes peeled for full transcriptions. There may be things that you will find more interesting on a personal level, and with so much up in the air with Diablo III, there are a lot of questions that didn't get answered very directly and were cut from this report.
Let's begin with the stuff we already know, or at least we thought we knew. With the introduction of the Book of Cain, the aim of this release is to help consolidate, sharpen, and retcom the lore of the previous games. Chris Metzen commented how the original lore of the franchise was basically a mess with so many people with their hands in its creation. Much of the lore is remaining the same but there are some clarifications and minor changes that they needed to change to help tell a better story.
Starting at the very very beginning, the Diablo team has created an origin of their Universe. Legend in the Book of Cain, two primordial beings were in a constant struggle between good and bad. Anu, a creature representing good made of primarily diamond and Dragon Tathamet, a seven-headed dragon who breathed evil. The two destroyed each other and the after math essentially created the High Heavens and the Burning Hells. A part of Anu, the Crystal Eye, created the Worldstone. The Worldstone is said to be able to create worlds and reality. It is this Worldstone that the Angels and Demons are fighting over.
This fight takes place in Pandemonium. You may remember a part of this area from Diablo II before going into Hell. For hundreds of thousands of years, Angels and Demons have fought over control over this area and the Worldstone itself. Inarius, an Angel, and Lilith, a demon, were sick of this eternal struggle so they decided to leave this battle and create their own world. They manage to get to the Worldstone and essentially steal it from the Pandemonium. They bring the stone into another dimension and in this dimension they create Sanctuary, a paradise. Eventually, Angels and Demons procreate and create the Nephalem. The Worldstone slowly drains the Nephalem's powers reducing them to mere men while innately, they hold the power to be stronger then both Angels and Demons.
Now, some Angels and Demons eventually find out what Inarius and Lillith has done and discovery Sanctuary. However, both sides agree to let man live without influence of either side. However, demons being evil, they decide to try to corrupt man. The three prime evils set a plan in motion while Azmodan and Belial are unhappy with the break of the pact with Heaven. After exiling them to Sanctuary, Belial and Azmodan create a civil war for power in Hell.
Back on Sanctuary, it has been retconned that the actual hero from Diablo I is Aidan, King Loeric's eldest son. As for his back story, Aidan was missing from Tristram right before the events of Diablo I because he was leading an attack on Westmarch, an order made due to Diablo's corruption of King Leoric. He comes back to Tristram to find out his father has gone mad and his younger brother has been kidnapped by Lazarus and we all know what happens from there. Just to note, a big reason for this change was merely to give this character more weight and importance to help tell a better story.
Moving on from the past, the panel moved to the importance of the role of Angels in Sanctuary. It was mentioned that they have developed a lot more into this side of the conflict to help build and expand the world of Sanctuary. It was mentioned that their role will only get bigger as the franchise progresses. The Angels are created from the Crystal Arch, Anu's spine, of light and sounds. As far as going to the High Heavens themselves, it was not answered one way or the other. The biggest section of the Angels and the High Heavens is the Angris Council. A group of five Angels comprise of the council and rule over the Heavens.
Tyrael the Angel of Justice - Tyrael becomes the rouge angel after he witnesses Uldyssian's self-sacrifice and sees man's potential.
Auriel the Angel of Hope - Auriel is the Angel the holds the group together.
Malthael the Angel of Wisdom - Malthael begins to go mad and darker due to the unknown reasoning and existence of man.
Imperius the Angel of Valor - Imperius is a warrior at heart and wants to destroy all semblance of demons including humans.
Itherael the Angel of Fate - Itherael can see all paths of future except for that of mankind since their existence was unforeseen.
Opposing the Angels are the main Demons of Diablo III. Belial and Azmodan are the only two remaining Evils after the events of Diablo II. With the destruction of the Worldstone, their focuses have moved to Sanctuary.
Belial the Lord of Lies
Belial uses coercion and lies to get others to fight for him. The Triune and vipers are underlings to Belial. It was also noted that in gameplay, many of his underlings will appear human and then turn on you. Belial's pressence will be encountered in Act II around Caldeum. The once prosperous city has fallen and refugees are on the verge of death. Your hero will come into the story trying to figure out how the city has fallen and why Belial is there.
Azmodan the Lord of Sin
Azmodan has two of the sins in Diablo III who work for him. Much more pronounced and hands-on the Belial, Azmodan had ruled Hell for over 300 years and is now emerging in Sanctuary to obtain the Black Soulstone to obtain the greatest power. His siege will pour forth from Arreat Crater to attack Sanctuary. On a side note, Sedeah, the Maiden of Lust, was originally the Mistress of Pain who was removed but brought back thanks to the costume contest winner of the 2010 Blizzcon.
While not much was revealed about the Black Soulstone is was said that Leah is trying to use it to capture and destroy Belial and Azmodan. However, Azmodan is trying to obtain it himself because it will bestow him power that will make him stronger than any other Demon in Hell.
Three new areas were shown from Act II. All three of these areas are playable and play an important part in telling the story as we progress through this Act.
Caldeum - Caldeum was the jewel of the East. In became the trading center for all of Sanctuary. However, there was turmoil due to the Zakarum, rich merchants, and Wizards all vying for power over the city. Hakan eventually took rule and united the three groups to create the most prosperous city. However, his death left a son to young to rule the city. The Iron Wolves, lead by Asheara from Diablo II, were hired to protect him until he was old enough to rule the city. However, Hakan II removed them and replaced them with his own Caldeum guards. However, Asheara is unsure of why he made this decision.
Dahlgur Oasis - This small paradise was the birth of Caldeum. A mysterious man rose from the waste and showed the original settlers this source of water which was used to help begin Caldeum. However, the story is said that this mysterious man disappeared back into the waste after showing them.
The Archives of Zultun Kulle - Zultun Kulle was one of the original members of the Horadrim who helped capture the Prime Evils the first time. However, he eventually became corrupt and evil. He was so strong that they could not kill him they cut him in half. They removed his head and buried it underground surrounded by magical runes. His body has sent into another dimension.
Questions and Answers
I will be paraphrasing these questions. We will have complete video coverage of the panel later for direct reference.
Q: Is Adria dead?
A: Yes, you will find out how in Diablo III
Q: Can Angels become Demons?
A: No, but they can be corrupted and become evil. You will also see Izual again in Diablo III.
Q: Who is Leah's father?
A: No comment (Although this is odd because it was already released that Aidan, the hero from Diablo I, is her father.
Q: Will the heroes from Diablo II have an appearance?
A: To some degree. Some are hinted at. The Necro's apprentice is in Act II.
Q: What was the effect of the Worldstone's destruction?
A: Azmodan's invasion is a direct effect. Also, it is possible it was not actually destroyed since it was only in Sanctuary as a shift in its dimensional existence.
Q: Will Trag'Oul be in Diablo III?
A: No, after putting the Necromancers' on their path, he has disappeared.
Q: What about the lesser evils not having soulstones?
A: "I wouldn't leave them"
Q: Why is Arreat Creater the place of the invasion?
A: Logically, it is where the Worldstone disappeared so it is likely the place where reality is weakest currently.
Q: Will items connect with lore?
A: Yes, a lot of Legendary items are tied to lore of previous and new lore.
Q: Will Ormus appear in Diablo III?
A: He was and then removed but I would like for him to come back.
Q: Will we see any areas from Diablo II?
A: Other than Tristram, no.
Q: Why does Diablo need a human body but not always?
A: He primarily needs a body because he is weakened in Sanctuary. It is also because being a human host helps anchor him into the dimension of Sanctuary.
You can also see every image shown during this panel here.
With the game drawing tantalizingly close to completion, there wasn't any ground braking announcements in this particular panel, but one could say none were expected. Most, if not all of the game features have been announced prior, even if they have not been detailed yet. So in that light, while nothing completely new was founded, we received a great deal of detail on already existent features.
Achievements & Banner
As the panel opened they jumped right into it, beginning with Achievements. We've heard very little on this front in the past, so any news on them was welcomed. There are three main ways to progress through your achievements.
This is rather self explanatory, there will be achievements for progressing through the game such as completing a difficulty, or defeating a boss.
So you've defeated the normal difficulty, neat. How about weaponless, or even gear-less? Such feats of insanity will be rewarded via achievements.
These goals include things such as completing the Bestiary, a feature while tracks what creatures you've encountered. Or finding every lore book in the game.
Your achievements progress reflects onto your Banner, slowly but surely adding new ribbons, facets, or other features. New ways to personalize your banner may become available through these achievements also. These small additions to your banner themselves expand as you complete more and more achievements. For example, as you progress in a certain category of achievements more gems may start appearing on a ribbon dangling from your banner. Or as you play through more Hardcore content the mound of skulls and bones under your banner will grow.
Crafting is getting an overhaul in Diablo III, becoming more viable for any stage of the game. In this topic we got a good amount of confirmation on the abilities that each of our three Artisans will provide.
This Artisan offers item enchantments. This may ring a bell, as a similar system was in place in Diablo II. With the new system you'll not only be able to enchant your items, but continuously do so, each time rolling better and better stats. This enables a player with enough focus and funds to eventually achieve very high stats on his or her item.
Through these enchantments, you can also take advantage of very off-class type items on your character. An example the developers gave was a Demon Hunter using a one handed axe and a shield, both of which being enchanted with Hatred regeneration, something that wouldn't natural spawn on such weapons. As the Mystic levels up, she will have access to more powerful enchantments, which are dropped as recipes in the game.
This old man has very simple, yet essential talents. He can combine Gems, add sockets to items, and remove gems from items. Exactly what scales as he levels isn't entirely clear yet, but one could imagine a few scalable aspects, such as what level gems he can combine, or what level item he can add sockets to.
We know more of this Artisan than the other two, both through more exposure via Blizzard, and presents in the beta. The Blacksmith can forge a huge variety of items, some are unlocked as he levels up, others only through recipes you find as drops. He even has the ability to forge legendary items, some with set values. This is a beautiful thing, since through the randomness of Diablos' drop system, by the time you find every item in a set for a mid-level character, you've likely already out leveled the set, making it useless.
Now through the Blacksmith you'll be able to craft your way to a full set if you're willing to front the needed materials and gold, making those low-mid range set items a viable choice. Besides crafting he can also repair your items, something that will likely need to be done regularly come Inferno, seeing as you loose 10% of your item durability with each death in the game.
PvP: PvP hasn't undergone very much change, which at this stage of the game shows how solid it is at heart. As was discovered a while back, the Arena will now have a team death match style of scoring. Meaning that your lives are infinite, you respawn shortly after each death, and the team with the most kills at the end of the game wins. Exactly how long each round will be isn't clear, though one full game will likely be around ten minute. The system of health globes that spawn at certain points on the map wasn't spoken of, so where they are with that is unknown.
Something that has changed is the amount of players in each match, moving from 3v3 to 4v4. Another useful tidbit of knowledge is that you will not be able to swap skills in between matches. This makes it so a team can adapt their play style to counter an opposing team, without worrying about them having an entirely different skill-set from round to round, making it so comebacks are very possible if a team can adapt efficiently. This forces players to think strategically, instead of just swapping skills to deal with a problem.
Auction House: As known, you'll be able to trade nearly anything you find in-game through the Auction House, be it gold, gems, crafting materials, tombs, etc. Whole character selling will not be available at launch, but will likely be added later on. Search features will be extensive, including a "smart search" which detects common stats across your character and searches for items with similar stats. For the more picky person there will be an advanced search feature where you'll be able to pin point exactly the item you're looking for.
Life Cycle Of Items
With the introduction of the auction house, comes a new level of item recycling that had never been seen in a Diablo game. Whereas in Diablo II items more or less drifted around form player to player endlessly rotating, in Diablo III these items can be transformed into many forms, and then like a Phoenix reborn, take shape into new amazing forms.
In Diablo II the ideal life cycle of an item was as follows: Drop > Wear > Trade > Eventually Sold. That's about as far as it went in the best case scenario. This wouldn't be so terrible if gold had any true value in the game, a purpose.
In Diablo III this is the ideal life cycle of an item: Drop > Wear> Trade > Eventually Salvaged > Crafted into new item > Eventually Sold. Not only are there many more things you can do with an item, but when it is eventually sold for gold, that gold can be used to continue feeding the economy, or even better, sunk into one of the many gold sinks, removing it from the game and delaying the build up of gold in the economy.
Final Game Tuning
Those words have a great ring to them, or maybe just the word "final" being used at all. Tuning, or polishing if you will, comes as the last stage of development. It's where numbers are tweaked, and features are perfected for release. This polishing happens across the entire game, so we'll touch on the interesting topics which were presented.
The creatures of Sanctuary are a formidable bunch, each with a role to play in the heat of battle. Fulfilling these roles is an important job, and sometimes new roles need to be created to address balancing issues. One of these issues that's very clear for any Diablo player is how casters can often avoid affixes of creatures, such as lightning, thorns, or other short distance AoE effects.
To adress this, the new affix called Mortar was introduced, where a creature will lob fireballs across the screen, endangering casters while flying right over melee characters' heads.
Passive Skills & Synergies:
True to their claims of nothing being final, there have been small tweaks all cross the passive skills. In some cases is may just be a number change, though as they displayed there are a couple of new passive skills to support different builds.
Another way Blizzard is supporting build diversity is by cutting down on synergies. While synergies may look appealing, they actually drastically decrease the amount of viable builds. This is due to the very nature of them, where if you have one skill you're most likely best off following it up with skills that all have corresponding synergies. This forces the player down a certain path in order to maximize the effects. While they're not removing synergies all together, they will be down-tuning their effects, or removing certain corresponding effects completely.
With the idea of class specific resources surely came a huge amount of development to get to this point. As with any complex feature, constant polishing is the only way to achieve balance. While each class is fairing well with no major setbacks, small tweaks are being made to adjust how each class handles.
The trend Blizzard has noticed in the beta is players will skip the small Fury generators such as Bash or Frenzy in favor for the larger ones like Leap Attack, or Ground Stomp. To account for this the amount of Fury the smaller generators will create is getting bumped up. They also found that come late game the Barb is having a tough time surviving due to the classes' need to be within melee range of creatures. This is a little more complex polish, and will involve a few defensive changes.
As we've known, a certain section of skills will slowly become less costly as you level, eventually becoming completely free. This system is undergoing small changes which weren't clearly detailed. All spells are also moving to % weapon damage, making weapon more important to casters than before.
A common concern with this change is - well if casters depend on weapon damage, shouldn't I just run around with a two handed axe? - This is being addressed by also having the casting speed rely on weapon speed, so while your attack may do more damage with a two handed axe, your DPS may be less than if you were to use a wand with a lower attack, but faster attack speed. There are also class specific buffs on many casting oriented weapons that could sway a players choice from say a sword, or axe.
Mana seems to be unlimited in the beta, and at this early stage of the game it essentially is. Though as the game progresses you'll have to make crucial choices that will effect how your Mana will behave. It was stated that if one were so inclined, they could form a build where you do indeed have infinite Mana, though they'd be sacrificing other aspects of the class, such as damage, or defense.
Mantras are now going to have a three second period when first cast where they'll grant double the buff they normally would. This makes them feel like less like a maintenance skill, and more like an active skill that needs to be paid attention to. Combo skills are also undergoing some small changes in their basic functionality, both in how they are combined, and how powerful each level of attack is. For example they plan to increase the range in Deadly Reach to make it more viable.
As touched on not too long again, the DH will have a completely new Hatred system than as the class does now. At this very moment in the beta Hatred constantly regenerates, though as many have found, you end up constantly low,if not drained of it. To remedy this there will be Hatred generating skills and spending skills, much like Fury. Snares will also see some buffs to better keep enemies at range, or help better preform their role.
While each class have some very specific changes coming, one change is reaching across every class - awesomeness. Through feedback from the community, and internal testing, a lot of players have found skills as a whole don't make them feel as awesome as they'd prefer. Blizzard has heard the cries, and plan to increase the visual effects of many skills, helping enforce the fact that you're a badass demon-slaying demigod.
Many fans have speculated on exactly how difficult each act will be. Some even feel the entire game will be relatively easy. This may be due to the easy content we've seen in the beta, which is indeed very casual. This is by design though, normal difficulty is meant to be a kind of
tutorial, which teaches you everything you'll need to know, while not punishing you too hard for making mistakes.
Very casual players will enjoy this first difficulty, while more serious players will find it laughable. This again is by design, because in essence every serious gamer was once a casual gamer. At one point in time we all were n00bs. Blizzard understands this, and wishes to help turn those casual gamers into more dedicated gamers through nice and easy difficulty transitions.
Blizzard also understands that a large portion of their fan base are hardcore gamers looking for a challenge. Thus comes the concern that even in later difficulties the game will not present an adequate challenge, well Jay Willson assured us that this isn't something we should be worried about. Through a display of testimonials from in-house testers who have been put up against the Inferno difficulty, we're given an idea of how difficult endgame content will truly be.
Followers replacing mercenaries wasn't all too popular among the community. The fact that these new side-kicks were only available in single player was a big change it itself, but the added hit of them only being viable in normal difficulty never settled well with the majority of the fan base. In good fashion Blizzard has listened to these concerns and tweaked followers to be viable through all levels of content, though still only useable while playing solo.
Town Only Skill Swapping
The title speaks for itself, but the reasoning behind why this change is being made is interesting. The dev team found that more and more often players would have their skill UI open while slaying monsters, swapping skills out multiple times as they played through small areas. This would make for some problems if left unattended. Not only does it take up a large amount of screen real-estate, but it takes away from the feeling of identity with your character when you're changing such a core aspect so often.
So right now they're testing town only skill swapping where you'll walk over to this area or NPC to swap out your skills. Jay didn't seem very happy about this, and stated how this isn't the final solution. If this doesn't work they will also be testing an out of combat swap system. This second option could make for some heavy development, since it have been stated that Diablo has no in, or out of combat tracker that these type of systems can communicate with.
Blizzard holds their costume contest every year at Blizzcon. In the last two years, a Mistress of Pain and Monk costume won. Unfortunately, this year there was no Diablo themed winner. However, there were many more Diablo entries as interest in this game rises. Here are images of the Diablo costumes. Click on any image for the larger version.
Blizzard also had their art contest with a Diablo entry winning 3rd place: