IMPORTANT: To clear up some confusion: No announcements regarding Xbox One were made in this interview. Any reference to development of 'next generation' platforms or potential release dates was expressly referring to the PlayStation 4.
The Devs on the Past and Future of Diablo: Full Interview
As you probably already know, DiabloFans got the chance to make a 1-hour interview with Diablo III's developers - Josh Mosqueira, Travis Day and Wyatt Cheng. We already posted the highlights and you can see them here. Below is the transcript of the full interview.
DF: Josh, how did you get on board the Diablo 3 team? Was it something you were planning for a long time or did a position open up and you decided to try your luck? Josh: That’s a good question. When I joined Blizzard I specifically came here because I worked with Jay before. He approached me and told me they were looking for a lead for the console. Initially when I joined I was just really happy to take on the challenge of translating such an awesome PC game to console. I came from Ubisoft where I was Creative Director in a 300 person team, so I was really happy to lead a small team of about 20 people. It was a really nice change of pace. But then when Jay decided to step down and pursue different and awesome projects I spent a lot of time thinking two things in specific: how much I love the core fantasy of Diablo, but more importantly - just what a talented team 'Team 3' is and what a special culture the team had. I knew whoever the next Game Director was going to be, he was going to have a big influence on that culture. This team did an amazing job on Diablo 3 and I think that’s just the beginning of what this team is capable of. I really wanted to be part of not just Diablo, but Team 3 in specific. After much thinking about it I decided to throw my name into the ring and I didn't realize that this was going to kick start a 3 hour interview process, which was pretty grueling, but at the end of the day I was really exciting to just be part of the future of Team 3.
DF: What other games do you play besides Diablo 3 in your spare time? Josh: Usually I try to divide my gaming hours at home between games that are related to the work I do, which includes D3 and some of the other ARPGs, but I also try to make sure that at home I don’t just play the same type of games, that we make here at work, because I feel it’s important to have a perspective. If I have a few hours I might play some Call of Duty. That’s usually my go-to, if I’m not playing anything specific. But I’m looking forward to playing The Last of Us right now.
DF: What has changed internally for you since you stepped into the new position? Josh: I’m in a lot more meetings. The team’s been really awesome in walking me into the role and putting up with some of my crazy ideas. As a Game Director I have some pretty crazy ideas that don’t necessarily work. But they’re humoring me, so that’s been very cool. At least that’s my perspective.
Travis: Josh brings a lot of design experience and really good design instincts and I find a lot of the time it’s perspective. Sometimes I get really close to a problem, like we’re tuning Monster Power in particular or Inferno difficulty and we’d be working hard on those problems and Josh would say 'Well, what’s Monster Power trying to do? What’s the design purpose in the grand scheme of things? What’s Inferno trying to do? Why are there 2 difficulty knobs at all?' And he’ll just ask that question and we’d just sit there and say 'Huh.' We kinda got to where we are with a lot of incremental steps and Josh would say “Where do you want to be with the game in the future?” That perspective really helps and provides a lot of clarity.
Josh: Even though my title says Game Director I see my role more as “the Guide”. I think there’s a natural inclination when we’re working on something to really focus on the details. The team are experts and know what it takes to make an awesome Diablo game, so my role is just to make sure we know we’re heading in the right direction.
DF: What exactly wasn’t fun in Team Deathmatch? Why was it scrapped? Josh: I’ll kick off the answer, even though Wyatt was part of the process. I think at the end of the day when we were looking at “What is the right PvP mode for a game like Diablo” there are two realities which we bump up against. The first is player-facing one, which is when you think about a game like Diablo 3, you think about and you project that it’s really fun for one character to fight a bunch of monsters and it kind of naturally makes sense that one player fighting a bunch of other players would be equally as fun. The thing is that it’s true and it is fun, but the challenge that we had was we had to translate that fun something that’s fun to do for a couple of hours to something that’s really cool to do over an extended period of time. Something that would really give the game a lot of legs.
In some ways, as the analogy was explained to me, you can give a bunch of people Nerf guns and they’re going to have fun for about an hour, but after that you just kind of get tired of playing with the Nerf guns. So the question that surrounds that goes to the root of what makes the core Diablo experience, especially the combat experience so much fun, is that everything is tuned around the PvE. All our skills, the combat model, are really reinforcing the core fantasy of one epic hero against hordes of enemies. Things like roots and snares and all kinds of stuff that work well against AI, but against players it starts straining at the core fundamentals of the system. Where we are right now, and I know the minute I stepped into this role it was one of the white elephants in the room, at some point we’re going to need to come to you guys and say 'This is what we think is a really cool way of expressing the PvP fantasy within the Diablo world'.
DF: Back in the day Jay was pretty concrete about Diablo 3 not involved in eSports, but have there been any talks about Diablo 3 making it into the eSports scene since then? Josh: I think the fundamental challenge for that is for a game to have a really great eSport potential you really need mechanics that need to be PvP centric from the ground up, and ours are PvE focused. Therein lays the inherent challenge. If we want to go forward we need to focus on a PvP mode that fits and feels right within the Diablo framework.
Travis: I’ll chime in and start this off by saying I love PvP and PvP in Diablo is something I absolutely want us to have ready to roll and be awesome eventually, but as far as anything related to eSport I hope we never even go down that road. I've worked on WoW for 8 years and I've witnessed the entire design process and changes that occurred as a result to adding Arenas to WoW. When you try to make something more competitive and eSport-like you tend to start suffering on some aspect of the game if it’s not built that way from the ground up. In the case of Diablo, as Josh pointed out, our game is really about being this epic hero and destroying the legions of hell, murdering tremendous hordes of enemies and you have abilities that kind of reflect that fantasy of just being a steamrolling machine. When you start using the same skills against people, they tend to get more mad at you than AI does, so when they’re stunned until they die or blow up in one hit or you turn them into a chicken or whatever the case is, it It tends to be a negative play experience. We talk about fun and anti-fun sometimes as game designers. Being affected by crowd control in a PvP environment for example where you can’t do anything, that’s the kind of anti-fun and that’s the price you pay for the guy who’s having fun killing you. I would hate for us to put ourselves in a situation where we have to change or remove or diminish the awesomeness of our design space (class design, item design, whatever the case is) as a result of trying to turn a game into an eSport that wasn't meant to be one in the first place.
DF: You've hinted there probably won’t be a patch before the itemization one. But just to confirm, there isn't going to be a patch before the itemization one, right? Josh: That is correct.
DF: Well then, about the itemization patch: are there any new features that you’re planning, but haven’t announced yet? Josh: Well, yes and we won’t be announcing them right now. I will say that we have really cool things planned and between now and BlizzCon you're going to be getting more and more information about what exactly’s coming down the pipe in terms of Diablo 3, patches and other really cool things that at this moment we need to be very vague about.
DF: You talk about Thorns. Is it a good time to fix it in the itemization patch? Wyatt: Thorns kind of touches on a broader topic, but as always it’s Thorns specifically. There are certainly some item affixes in our game that can use a little love. Thorns is certainly one of those. We actually think Thorns isn't a fundamentally flawed mechanic, it’s just that the tuning values that we currently have a little underwhelming. One of the things that we've already said we’re going to do in the future with Thorns…
Travis: We have been working internally to have Thorns scale with your primary stat, but we feel like we need to do a lot of playtesting to know whether it’s what we want. And in the grand scheme of things we’re trying to look at all the item properties and item attributes that are underwhelming. Other examples might be healing from health globes which has dubious value, or life on kill. And we want to look at all those properties and say ‘How can we make these more appealing?’ An example is the idea, which we've also experimented with internally, of having the Monk’s Breath of Heaven scale off of your healing from health globes stat. With things like that we want to go through all the properties that are underwhelming.
DF: Are any of these changes being planned for the itemization patch? Josh: We can say they’re being planned for something, yes.
Wyatt: They’re all planned for future content.
DF: And how about the legendary dyes? There hasn't been a lot of talk about them recently… Travis: We don’t have any plans to do new dyes. What we have said is we’d like you to be able to apply one of the dyes that are already in the game to legendary items.
DF: What’s the progress on implementing them? Travis: I know players want all the features now. I do, too. I’d love for a lot of these features to be live. I don’t know if we should be talking about timeline as much. We talk a lot about intent and what we’re working on, but we don’t want to commit to dates, because as always, it’s when it’s done. And that goes for itemization, that goes for dyes. I know you want a date or a time. I’d love to be able to say ‘Hey, it’s gonna be this afternoon!’, but the reality is that it’s ready when it’s ready. We are looking at ways for you to dye your gear as we’ve mentioned in the past we’re also working on a transmog system to allow you to make gear look like other gear – a lot like WoW’s system. I don’t want to attach dates on any of these things. I know that’s probably disappointing, but that’s the reality.
DF: There have been some ‘shifts’ in the Titan team. Have there been people transferred to the Diablo team from Titan? Josh: One of the cool things that happen at Blizzard is that our teams are not really that siloed, so there are a lot of opportunities for other designers and other teams to provide feedback and even help out on some of the features we’re currently working on, so we have a very open-door policy.
Wyatt: I think it’s been mentioned before: one of the cool things about working at Blizzard is that we have multiple development teams on different projects. I really value outside perspective, ‘cause we get too close to our work very often and other development teams are another source of outside perspective. In a lot of ways all the developers at Blizzard are influencing other projects. We’ll chat in a single day with the developers from the StarCraft team or the WoW team or the HearthStone team as well as our team to give feedback on each other’s games and with Titan – there were people who were already passionate about Diablo 3. They were playing Diablo 3 super hardcore in their spare time, but they happened to be at another development team. In a lot of cases they had sent us feedback even before. Ever since the game came out they've been sending us feedback. They were like ‘Hey, are you aware of this issue? And are you aware of that issue? Oh, cool you are, great!’. And then when the opportunity for them to contribute as their primary job role came up, they were more than happy to do it.
DF: It sounds like a lot of fun at the office as well. Travis: It IS a very awesome place to work.
DF: Another thing that fans talk about a lot is changing the mechanics of Wrath of the Berserker and Archon and maybe a bit for Critical Mass and Whirlwind. Originally you wanted to lower their power, but have there been any concrete ideas about those skills? Also, are they going to be part of the Itemization patch for example? Wyatt: We didn't want there to be a 100% uptime and that’s still the case. That’s not a small change. That’s a big change that would be impactful if we were to make it in a ‘vacuum’, so we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to flip a switch and all of a sudden Wrath of the Berserker and Archon are not up 100% of the time anymore. Those changes really need to happen at the same time as a number of other changes, because our intention isn't to step in and severely nerf the Wizard and Barbarian classes. Our intention is to make a number of modifications that open up skill diversity, give multiple different skills a different role. So, to give Wrath of the Berserker for example – it could be designed as a skill that’s always up in which case it’s a skill that’s doubling or more than doubling my effectiveness for a single skill slot. So do we then need to design every skill to more than double my effectiveness? That’s not really reasonable. Then it’s like ‘Do we make it less effective? Or does it become a mandatory skill that every Barbarian has to take?’. These are the questions that we ask ourselves. And we've come to the conclusion that Wrath of the Berserker plays well when it is a button that I can push every so often to be awesome for a short period of time. It changes up my tempo; it matches the rhythm of the game when I come across elite packs or whatever. And that allows some Barbarians to say ‘Wrath is an awesome skill for me to take with my build and my items’ and other Barbarians to say 'I’m building mine in a different way, I actually really value Frenzy or Ancient Spear' for example. And that’s where the diversity comes from and this is what we’re trying to build with Wrath and Archon.
DF: A lot of our forum members wanted to ask if you sometimes draw inspiration from ideas and suggestions from our community that we feature on our front page. Wyatt: I think that kind of feedback is absolutely helpful in game development. The community is usually just as… well, I’m not gonna say ‘just as’, cause I LOVE my job and I love Diablo, but almost as passionate as we are about the game itself. I think they have a lot of great ideas. The community contributing ideas to help us draw inspiration from is invaluable. I think lots of really compelling ideas come from them. As I've been working on the legendary stuff for example I drew inspiration or even some direct ideas from the community cause they have great ideas – there’s WAY more people. They say two heads is better than one. I think in some cases 10 million is better than one. That said, sometimes there are ideas that wouldn't necessarily translate the way the community pitches, but I think the core of every idea that is presented is a good idea or a good intent trying to address some issue or something about the game to be better. Every suggestion that the community has is always helpful to us.
Travis: I can put a concrete example. There is a suggestion on DiabloFans, I think, on 'What if we could use Demonic Essence to change the stats on an item, improving it by 25%, but doing so, we cause the item to become soulbound'. I think it’s a pretty cool idea. There’s a number of things it’s trying to do. It’s trying to make soulbound items a thing. It’s trying to remove items from the economy. It’s trying to bring back the Mystic. Basically I think those desires are good and we look at that and we agree with a lot of that desires. We ARE working on the Mystic and the types of things that we've looked at – we've looked at soulbinding, we've looked at crafting reagents (Is Demonic Essence the right one? Should it be Fiery Brimstone instead? Should it be essences instead? Should it be a lot of gold?). The community would probably say ‘Yeah, I love that idea, but… Oh, yeah, yeah, these are all alternate possibilities that would also be good’. Should it be increase in the stats by 25% or should it be replacing one of the stats? Should it be adding a new stat? Should it be allowing me to reroll the numbers on all the items while the properties stay the same? Can I do this to legendary items? This is kind of the process that we’re going through with the Mystic right now.
A similar process can happen for things like the Talisman suggestion that had also all these UI mockups which was very cool. And all sorts of other collection mechanics. There’s lots of ideas. We can’t pursue all of them, but when we feel that there is a need that the players try to address and that we also should look upon, then yeah – we look at it.
DF: The fans are going to be very happy knowing you actually read and take into consideration their stuff. So, about the Bound on Account items. Are you happy about how they turned out? Are we going to see more of those or more tradable items? Travis: I think the BoA stuff worked out pretty spectacularly. Really at the core of that – some people accurately identified right at the gate, and some people didn't realize this is the intent – it gave the players a goal to aspire to that they have to earn themselves as opposed to the ones that the Auction House could fulfill. You couldn't just go buy the Demonic Essences or Crafted items from the AH. I think that has a lot of value. At its core Diablo’s about killing lots of monsters, getting awesome items and sort of finding ways to get to refocus the game to be on finding lots of awesome items instead of buying lots of awesome items really helps it being a more enjoyable play experience. It’s something that we talk about a lot, something that we discuss expanding beyond the scope of what it is now. It sort of touches on – this is something Wyatt loves to talk about – the idea that when the people in the community who chose to play the game differently by not interacting with the Auction House or trading with people and they’ve sort of got themselves ‘Self-found’ characters…
Josh: ‘YO, SELF-FOUND!!!’
Travis: But the thing that I think people really enjoy about that is - at the heart of that what people are really saying is 'This game is super fun and I really love killing guys and finding cool stuff, I just don’t want someone to hand me the keys to the best Porche in the game and make my SUV feel kinda dinky anymore'. People love finding their own things. People like having the sense of accomplishment and the sense of ownership. When you work for something, you generally have a more positive attachment to it, so I think the account-bound items and the Demonic Essences were definitely a step in the direction to see if players would respond as positively as we think. And they did and I think you can expect more stuff like that in the future.
DF: You tend to talk about the console version of Diablo III a lot. Is there anything new about the next-gen consoles? Josh: Oh, do we have any next-gen announcements? Nothing specific. That is because in the last couple of weeks we deployed all the PS4 kits out and we’re really starting the really cool work of getting the engine up and running and the designers are starting to look at the controller and some of the new social features the PS4 is focused on. So nothing specific to announce, but I’d say from a possibility stand point, we’re really excited to look at the controller. Especially the track-pad – I hope we’ll do something cool with it. Not just in terms of what it means to the inventory and skills menus, but maybe we can do something cool with some of the skills. And then there are the social features like the ‘Share’ button on the PS4 controller. On PC we have a vibrant streaming community, but on console it’s not something you see all the time and that Share button I think is the first taste a lot of console players can get to. That’s how cool it is to share gameplay videos and actual gameplay footage. It’s gonna be a fun process to figure out just how do we translate and take advantage of the new hardware and a lot of the new infrastructure that the PS4 is bringing to the table.
DF: If you’re getting the PS4 Dev Kit right now, does that mean Diablo III’s not in a release state for the next-gen console? Josh: It’s not a launch title; it will be released at some point at 2014. We thought that it’s really important we stagger development, so that we focus first on the PC, then to focus on current-gen and then – now that that’s done – we’re really looking at how to make it to the next-gen. Always making sure we’re making the right decisions to make each of the platforms really take advantage of what makes those platforms unique and special.
DF: There is also another idea among the fans – do you think it’s possible there to be a portable version of Diablo III – for tablets for example? Josh: That sounds very cool, but again – right now our hands are pretty full just tackling PC and console.
DF: You’ve mentioned changing the boss mechanics in console and you've realized that you can do some better things with the bosses in the PC. So, what exactly are some good ideas on the console you can be implementing in the PC? Josh: That’s a good question. We ARE looking at what those changes are – the changes we could bring over from console to the PC. I think some of them will be really problematic like the camera changes we made to Belial are obviously made for console cause of the direct control scheme and the camera is linked to that. But in some of the other boss fights there are some further iterations that the team feels can jump from console to PC.
DF: I guess you can’t say anything about the expansion, but at least if it’s going to be released simultaneously for all the platforms? Josh:(Laughs) You know, that, I can obliquely answer. Our philosophy is not gonna change. Our philosophy was 'Let’s make the PC version and make sure it’s awesome'. And then when the PC version was awesome we started to move to the console and we made sure the console was rock solid before shifting onto the next-gen. So I think we always want to make sure we treat each version of D3 as its own sort of separate thing and we’re making sure we’re making the right decisions for each of those platforms. So we want to try to avoid making compromises that would make one version less cool because we’re trying to ship them all at the same time or anything like that. Again – we’re neither confirming nor denying, but the idea is we’re focusing on one thing at a time and make sure we get it awesome, ship it and then we’ll transition to the next.
DF: A thing that Travis mentioned once – adding efficiency to the Paragon system. Have there been any talks on what those additions can be? Travis: Yeah, the Paragon system was spectacular for what it was trying to accomplish. Sometimes random can be a cruel mistress and the paragon system’s primary intent was to allow you to feel like you’re acquiring progression and even if you’re not getting too lucky with your item drops. We want to take that and expand upon it even more. We've definitely talked about things like taking Paragon and decoupling it from your character specifically and making it something that is more account-over working. So that any time you invest in the game is rewarded and you don’t feel like we’re taking anything away from you if you want to try new characters or try out different play styles within the game. That’s something we've looked into a lot.
Also, maybe potentially adding some sort of customization within the paragon system. Sort of in the vein of a throwback at a Diablo II start location. We've looked at things like that. We definitely have plans to flesh it our more in time. We don’t need to design it from the ground up. What it does, it does well, and we just need to make it more encompassing.
DF: You've also mentioned that you’re not looking into increasing the cap of Paragon. It’s going to be a hundred for at least a while, right? Travis: For the foreseeable future. I think at some point you can expect the cap to go up. The cap isn't even really there to necessarily make an end point to the player. The intent was for paragon 100 to take a long time to get to. Which it does. But as we improve different aspects of the game (make changes to Monster Power, Monster Density, etc.) the time that it takes players to fill out that cap is shorter than we’d like. And once you do cap out, it definitely removes a very important reward for you – your XP stops going up. So that’s something that we want to address – at some point we’ll definitely look at that cap.
DF: About those customizations to the paragon system – what about the people who are already capped? Will they be receiving any kind of reward on patch day? Travis: Yes, absolutely. If we’re making the sweeping changes to the Paragon, the people who invested time will certainly have the reward that is associated with that investment.
DF: Since the Auction House is staying in the game even after the itemization patch, can you tell us how the AH will be important for the future of Diablo 3? Josh: A general philosophy statement is that if someone has 13 items they’re wearing and somewhere between 4 and 10 of them are BoA and the remainder are traded to them or bought on the AH, that is a better place to be than right now, when almost all of your items are from the Auction House. That’s a little bit vague, but the AH is good to round out your character or fill some holes. It’s not great when it becomes the destination for all your loot.
DF: Well, if you want to say something for the end of the interview, now’s the time. Travis: I will say it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the interview. Wyatt: Yeah, some good questions! Josh: Yeah, and I’ll keep up on the site – it’s good work!