I just arrived back at my hotel from Blizzard's 2009 Fansite Summit and thought I'd give you a recap of what went down today (well, what I'm allowed to divulge at least heheh). Hope you're comfortable, cuz this is gonna be a fairly lengthy post.
At 9:30am, myself and all of the other fan site representatives met up in the Anaheim Marriott lobby as we waited to hop on the bus which would take us to Blizzard's headquarters. Bashiok handed out our passes and we were soon on our way.
Once we arrived, we all stood outside for a bit to admire the amazing Warcraft statue created for Blizzard by the Weta Workshop. No matter how many times you see it, you just don't get tired of looking at that thing. (Don't worry, I took plenty of photos which I'll be sharing later on).
Next, we were brought inside for another look at Blizzard's many prestigious awards in their museum sections along with some concept art of their past games. Same stuff we saw last year basically, but still nice to see again. Then we headed into the small theater area for a brief orientation about what we'd be doing today. Also got to see the new Fan Site program logos which they worked up, so it's good to see Blizzard is bringing that whole thing back into focus. Looking forward to proudly displaying the Official Diablo Fan Site logo here on Diablofans in the near future!
Once that was done, Bashiok loaded up the latest Diablo 3 demo (apparently the same build from Gamescon that we've been discussing over the last few days) and we were treated to seeing the new desert areas on the large screen. It really does look fantastic and I absolutely love the particle effects going on as the window blows sand everywhere you travel. No new character classes were shown yet (doh!) so he loaded up the Wizard and started playing a quest where you had to follow the road to Alcarnus. Saw some Sand Wasps get decimated pretty quickly along with a big Lacuni Warrior with translucent blades. There were also some beast carcasses lying around on the ground which could be overturned to reveal some gold and/or potions.
It was nice seeing how effective the Wizard's mirror image spell really worked on distracting the enemies. They would all attack his mirror image, while the real wizard just stood back and picked them off with ease. There's no official answer about whether the mirror image itself could ever do damage to enemies, but it might be possible with certain augmentations. I guess time will tell on that one. He then went on a "Blood money" side quest and was given a wanted poster for somebody who needed to be captured, but he was really just trying to find the entrance to a dungeon, which apparently spawn in random places each time you play.
We saw more of the inventory, which has been improved. Items take up 1 or 2 slots in the inventory and can now be equipped by simply right-clicking on them. They've really improved that system dramatically and I'm looking forward to testing it out when I'm not busy covering the panels.
Anyway, he restored a few desecrated shrines in the desert, and doing so apparently gives you a temporary power-up against your enemies. Saw some more of the Fallen attacking him as well around this time, but then we saw what was easily my favorite enemy. The Dune Dervish. This large creatures flails around wildly at random intervals, and whenever it's actually spinning, anything you shoot at it will be deflected right back towards you.
Another amusing thing was a frightened, crying girl who, when he walked over to her aid, was apparently just luring him into a trap, because a bunch of enemies attacked him. With no sign of the dungeon entrance, he decided to just restart the game and play as a different character class - this time, it was the female Witch Doctor.
Her Zombie Dogs were tearing things up from the get go, and everybody enjoyed the Corpse Spider spell in which a zombie comes out of the ground and vomits up spiders. He then entered the Howling Plateau ares of the desert and soon found The Ruins dungeon entrance. This is where he stopped and told us we'd get to see that dungeon and more for ourselves when we play the demo at BlizzCon.
However, he did show us how the Witch Doctors skill trees were broken up into three category sets basically: Zombie, Spirit and Voodoo. We also heard about some of the other spells for the Witch Doctor such as Mass Confusion, Fetish Army (which many of you will recall from Act 3 in Diablo 2), Gargantuan (which is apparently like a larger version of the Zombie Dog), Parasite (which infects your enemies so they'll fight for you), and some other ones we didn't hear much about such as Grasp of the Dead, Spirit Barrage, Firebomb, Sacrifice, and Horrify.
With the Diablo demo concluded, we were then taken on the franchise tour. Each fansite representative went on a separate tour based on what game their site covered. Naturally, I went on the Diablo one, and we started off with getting to check out the sound booths. Joseph Lawrence (sp), who is the lead on game sounds for Diablo, gave us a quick tour of the foley and voice-over booths, and then brought us into their impressive new mix room. Blizzard can now do all of their mixes in-house instead of doing them in some Hollywood sound stages, so that's definitely nice for 'em. Joseph played the old Diablo 3 cinematic trailer for us on those thundering speakers of his, and wow... it was a hell of a lot nicer sounding than on my laptop speakers. I won't name any names, but I'm pretty sure a few fan site reps soiled themselves hearing that trailer the way it was meant to be heard.
Next we were taken into the Diablo 3 development area and I was amused that pretty much every door still had "Project Hydra" written on it instead of Diablo 3. We saw a few demo pods hooked up where they apparently test the latest elements of the game. Also saw some of their break areas which included some nice arcade cabinets where apparently some heated Street Fighter games take place. Word is that their Lead Animator (Bowie) is currently the king of Street Fighter there. I also couldn't help but nod in approval at the Big Trouble In Little China poster they had on the wall in that room. Blizzard, you guys truly are kindred spirits.
We then walked past the programming and concept art areas and saw a large Diablo statue in the hallway that was lit up. Really cool looking, but obviously, we weren't allow to take any photos in there so you'll just have to take my word for it.
Next we went to their Library, which apparently was still under construction last year so that's why we didn't get to see it then. The library is filled with everything a game developer could want - classic games from yesteryear (both PC and console), coding books, art & design reference books, graphic novels... the works. All of it can be checked out by employees just like you would do with a regular public library card. I loved that they had many classics in there such as Populous and a variety of Sierra's point-n-click adventure games including "Space Quest" and "Police Quest". Bashiok was trying to find a copy of Leisure Suit Larry, but I guess that one is always checked out. Hmm... I wonder why.
Another nice feature of the library is how it's made to look old. The doors at the entrance have old iron handles on them, the bookcases are made to look a bit aged, and there are even flickering faux-lanterns inside. It's just nice to see how much they care about aesthetics, even outside of their games. Really creates a nice welcoming atmosphere for anybody who walks in.
Now that the main part of our tour was done, it was time for lunch with the developers. The three people who were there (in addition to Bashiok) were Dave Adams (Lead Level Designer), Nate Bowden (Environment Artist), and Chris Haga (FX Artist). The way the table was divided up, it was pretty much impossible to hear everything they were all saying, especially since only 1 rep from each site was invited, but I was able to speak with Dave and Nate pretty extensively. They talked with us about their typical days at work, which are apparently anything but typical since they're always working on something different. Some days they'll show team dailies to the other developers so everyone knows who's working on what, other times they're in meetings, and then of course a lot of time is spent on concepting and modeling.
They've also apparently gone on some team building adventures including a sea voyage which they refered to as "Team Diablue". They equated it with the Life Aquatic film since they were all given hats similar to the ones the characters wore. Both Dave and Nate talked about how nice it is working at Blizzard compared to other companies they've worked with because of how the company has a strong-sensitivity to the life-work balance of their employees. If somebody is seen working too late, they're literally told to go home because Blizzard feels that will just harm their productivity the following day... not to mention, they want their employees to have plenty of time to spend with friends and family outside of work.
That doesn't mean employees don't put in their hours, especially during crunch time. But even then, members from other game teams will apparently come and lend a hand to help ease things for the team in crunch mode. You can just tell everybody there is genuinely happy with how they're being treated and that there's a lot of camaraderie amongst the employees.
Nate and Dave also discussed their backgrounds a bit. Nate has a strong background in architecture which he says really helps him with his work as an environment artist. He also worked at Electronic Arts, so I can't say I'm surprised that he's enjoying working at Blizzard based on the horror stories I've heard about working at that place in the past heheh. You'll hear more from Nate in the coming days since he'll be in the Diablo Art Panel.
Dave actually has a degree in film which he also said has helped him as a level designer. He's worked at a variety of game companies and worked on titles including The Neverhood and Skull Monkeys (hooray for Claymation games!!) and later, Metal Arms. When he came to Blizzard, he started working on Starcraft Ghost, which he said they'll still play multiplayer modes of the demo version every now and then. I suggested they include the demo as a bonus for anybody who purchases all the Starcraft 2 games. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one, but it's nice to think about. Hopefully that game won't remain a shelved idea forever as I'm sure many people would at least like to try it. Really makes me wish I could've attended the first BlizzCon... I hear the multiplayer games were a blast. You'll hear more from Dave at the Design Q&A panel in the coming days. He even joked about possibly puking during his panel and how that would be "Diabloish". I then commented that it sounded exactly like something the Witch Doctor would do. In fact, I'm putting this out there right now - I want to see a "Putrid Projectile Puke"(tm) spell for the Witch Doctor in Diablo 3!
From what I gathered, most of the employees seem to like the Witch Doctor character in Diablo 3 the best simply because of all the crazy spells. I guess it appeals to the designers and developers, but they did talk about liking the Wizard as well. Couldn't get them to speak at all about the unknown character classes. Shocking, I know.
Our day at Blizzard's headquarters ended around 3pm back in the small theater, where we watched some Starcraft 2 Beta gameplay between the Protoss and Terrans, but I can't really comment on that as it may be a part of a video that Blizzard will release in the near future. It definitely made me want to play the demo some more at BlizzCon over the next few days... but the same could be said about any new game footage we see, right? Right.
Again, they wanted to remind all of us that they will be updating on Twitter extensively during BlizzCon, so be sure to check that out. And, of course, during the Diablo panels, be sure to stop by here on Diablofans.com because I'll be hosting Live Chats right on the homepage where you can interact with us as the news of each day unfolds, just like last year! Click here to see our Live Chat schedule.
Ok, my fingers are now tired from typing up this virtual novel of a post, and my stomach is growling because I haven't fed it enough. Hope you guys enjoyed this extensive recap of the 2009 Fansite Summit as I did my best to cover all of it (what I was allowed to talk about, at least). I really enjoyed meeting with some of the other fansite members and, of course, more of the Blizzard team. Everybody here is ridiculously nice and I can't wait for more o' BlizzCon in the coming days!
Talk to you guys tomorrow!