Gameplanet: What are the things you learned from the beta?
The game wasn’t hard enough. We even came out saying, “no the game’s definitely hard enough!” because we really consider Act 1 to be the tutorial. But we got a lot of feedback – enough feedback from enough different sources – so we said, “OK, even for a tutorial the game’s not hard enough.” So we definitely learned that.
We learned a lot about security, which was part reason for the beta. Also about our infrastructure generally – hardware infrastructure.
The rest were one-off small things so it’s hard to pull them back off the top of my head, but those were the major ones. There are tons and tons of feedback that we get but they’re usually not something I can call out.
Gameplanet: How do you extrapolate a difficulty curve for the rest of the game from something like the beta?
There are two sides to difficulty. One is the capabilities of the player, and the other is the capabilities of the monsters. So what you do is categorise those capabilities: [those categories] are really evident in our skill system now. When do you start introducing primary spamming skills? When do you start introducing area of effect skills? When do you introduce movement? When do you introduce defensive abilities? When do you introduce what we call tertiary abilities such as auras and shouts?
[The idea is to] pull on the player’s mental bandwidth. Now they’ve got these other things working, they’ve got this new thing they need to think about every now and then. You essentially guess: where is the good place for these things to unlock? And you place them.
You do the same thing with items: unlike Diablo II that opens up all the items right away, we hold off a little bit, there’s a little bit of time before you’ll get a helmet, for example. There’s a little bit of time before you’ll get a ring. I’m not sure amulets even show up in the beta since they’re not available [to characters below] level 14.
On the monster side we did the same thing. We have this big list of categories, of things that monsters can do. There’s a heavy-hitter – a monster that does a lot of damage. There are tough monsters, there are fast monsters, there are monsters that I call “beehives” which are essentially summoners and things like that – they produce [other] monsters. There are monsters that do AOE [area of effect damage], then there’s about seven sub-categories of AOE: point-blank AOE is not as effective as ranged AOE; circular AOE is more powerful than line AOE.
So then you guess where all those things need to fall throughout the game, and then when you play the game and see all your guesses are wrong, you adjust them.
Gameplanet: What’s next for the development team, what’s happening post-launch?
Sleep! Vacation for some of us! But the first thing is going to be our Player vs. Player [PvP] patch. We’re already working on that. There’ll probably be something – we tend to plan a whole series of patches. We already have our “this is an emergency just in case something goes wrong-patch” that we put out this point. This is our “emergency balance-patch”, that we put out at this point. Then we have our PvP patch that we’ll put out and it’ll also probably be our secondary balance patch.
Those are our focus right now. We are starting to talk about if we’ll do an expansion. We think the game might be successful now [and] warrant such a thing. But we’ll see! We also have a group internally that’s exploring console.
Gameplanet: So that brings up a couple of things: what goals, or what benchmarks do you personally hold that will need to be met in order to qualify this game as a success?
We have mathematical numbers internally. Those are boring to me. I want us to hit them and I think we will because the game is good, and it’s not that I’m dismissing that – the game’s got to make money – but I think it’ll make money because it’s good, and we worry about that first.
So for me, if a community builds around it similar to the community that built around Diablo II, then I will feel like it’s a success. If that community is vibrant and wars with each other, and with us, and struggles and fights to make the game better, then to me that's worth continuing to work on the game. That’s success.
Every company I’ve worked for before – through no fault of their own – when they finish a game, they’re done. Once the game is out the door, they really barely think about it again unless they do an expansion. Even so, if they do an expansion, that’s very expansion-centric, it’s not really looking back at the previous game.
Blizzard’s not like that. We look at the game shipping as the start date, that’s when the game really starts, and that’s when our work really starts, because now we can build a game in the best environment you can possibly build, which is with people playing it.
Gameplanet: Now that you know what’s made it into the box, what are some of those ideas, perhaps for example classes, that didn’t make it?
There were no classes that we did that didn’t make it in. There was no work there. Other than – and we’ve talked about it before – the original Demon Hunter was more of a Ranger, and we actually did have the Ranger working, we had an ammo resource system and it was terrible! We used the scoundrel follower, who was built at the time, he was actually the character that we used. He wasn’t meant to be the character, he was just a stand-in because he used a crossbow. So there was that one.
Early on, there were a few of us that were really hot on doing an Illusionist. It was a really interesting kind of pet class. But then a bunch of people said it kind of sounded like the “fairy” class – not in a positive manner! – so that kind of dropped off.
Everything else though, I know we had a big list of names, but I don’t really remember them, because obviously they didn’t catch on. Once we committed to a class, it’s such an investment, we were sure.
Gameplanet: Speaking of things that dropped out, the Mystic artisan has been removed. Is that something you’ll ever come back to?
There’s certainly a lot of art there, so there’s good production reasons to go back to it. I think we have to solve the problems we had with the character. Primarily, we felt the system was kind of convoluted, and complex, but then we also felt that she didn’t have a lot of diversity in what she did. She had this one complex system and that was it, whereas the others have a couple of things that they can do.
I think we have some ideas. We’re always seeing problems [just] before, or right at the same time as the community is seeing them. A lot of the times we already have solutions in our head. So some of them might work really well [when] put on her, some might not. I wouldn’t be surprised if we used her, certainly it would make sense but we’d have to have good game design reasons.
I wouldn’t want to put something into the game just to add complexity, or to add something new. I think that’s one of the problems people have when they continue to expand games, they just keep piling more stuff on, and sometimes staying strong is good.
Gameplanet: Why do you think so many people are afraid of the concept of Diablo III on consoles?
The game industry has been saying the PC is dead for about 15 years, and I think [some gamers] see it as the sign that Blizzard will abandon the PC and go to the console. People pay a lot of money for their PCs, and there are particular kinds of games that are on PC that are not great on consoles, and vice versa.
If you love some of those PC games and you’ve got this PC gaming rig that you’ve invested all this money in, you’re invested! You want the PC to do well. [For such people] Blizzard is one of those companies that you follow, and you feel they champion the PC market.
I don’t see us going away from the PC market. No one at Blizzard thinks the PC is dead, or at least, I’d be shocked if someone did – we make a good living off the PC. What I often like to say is, I really appreciate the game industry telling everyone the PC is dead, and the gaming press saying the PC is dead because it’s really cut down on our competition, and a key to why we’ve been such a runaway success is because, who is competing against us? But there are more PCs out there than all the consoles put together. It’s certainly a market worth going into, worth being in. I don’t see us going away from it. I don’t think they need to be afraid.
Gameplanet: We’re always speaking to people like you, but who are the unsung heroes of Diablo III’s development?
Oh man! I’m going to start, in no particular order, with our Localization Producer, Andrew Vestal, and start with him because I think if I had to do localisation, I would jump off a building! He loves it, he’s amazing at it, and he has done such a great job!
Our audio guys handle all our games, they’re a shared department, and their quality level is so high, but it also means they work like dogs, and I’ve never had a project where the audio has gone smoother! I’m very, very focused on audio – every project I’ve worked on, I’ve hand-directed the audio, I’ve talked to the audio director directly, but this is the first project where I didn’t. Wonderful audio would just automatically show up, I wouldn’t even know it was being worked on then suddenly everything sounds amazing! I very rarely had to give any feedback. It was almost a downside, they kind of wondered if they were doing alright because they never heard anything, you know?
Our Battle.net [architects], they do all the infrastructure that makes everything run. I think people sometimes look at our graphical technology and say “you guys aren’t doing the latest bells and whistles, your technology is old hat,” and I’m like, “you should see our server architecture, that’s where our tech is!” Those guys are way smarter than me! No one ever recognises the server architecture guys, but they’re huge!
I’ve missed tons! You know, as they say, it takes a village. There’s something like 23 support groups. There’s a lot of unsung heroes in the making!
Gameplanet: Cool. Going onto Battle.net: there’s the real-money auction house, but what other features would you like to see implemented?
Our plan for Battle.net has always been to turn it into something more of a social network than just a platform for starting games. I don’t think it’s there yet, I don’t think it’s even close. I think you can look at it – we’ve got a lot of criticism from people saying that in a lot of ways it’s not even as good as Diablo II. While I would put forward things like cross-game chat and the quick-join capabilities, match-making – things that just didn’t exist in Diablo II, things that I think are more powerful than what you had – but I don’t think they’re wrong.
I think there are some things that we could be better at. We could be better at getting players into chat channels together, we could be better at allowing people to show gear off to one another. So those are problems that I do think we need to look at and continue to solve, but I [also] think that’s the great thing about working at Blizzard. As I said earlier, I don’t have to look at this game as being done, I can say, “Yeah, those are good points, those are things we should make better.”