Through interviews with numerous prodigious legacy Diablo modders and scarce snippets from Blizzard, we will delve in to a trove of opinion, fact, and speculation.
Modding has a long history with the Diablo series. Entire modding communities have popped up around the web (see the Phrozen Keep) devoted solely to this formidable practice. In Diablo I, we saw an entire expansion added by third-party company Sierra (Diablo I: Hellfire), and post- patch 1.10, Diablo II's modding community virtually blossomed. However, both games still lacked any form of modding toolkit as seen with newer mod-friendly games.
Of course, with Diablo III coming as a very modern game, the lack of a modding toolkit in a user-created content age is something of a pitfall. Laz (whom we interviewed last year: Overhaul Diablo II with Median XL), developer of the popular Median XL mod for Diablo II, believes that "[...]there is no real reason to fight to the death with an inflexible game engine when you have Starcraft II's world editor." And other fantasy ARPG's with editors, to boot.
The lack of an editor isn't the only thing making mod developers angsty. The lack of multiplayer LAN suport in Diablo III has been a source of consternation for some. We asked Soulmancer (whom we interviewed last month: Unlock Diablo II with Hell Unleashed), creator of Diablo II mod Hell Unleashed, how he believes this may affect the future of modding with the Diablo series, and his response wasn't particularly bright: "Diablo at its core is a multiplayer game and if mods in Diablo III are going to be strictly limited to single player it is doubtful you'll see much motivation from developers and players to create high quality and in depth mods."
Soulmancer isn't the only mod developer to recognize this challenge. Laz of Median XL shared his sentiments, noting that "the lack of any (legal) multiplayer options whatsoever in a multiplayer oriented game may prove to be fatal for the popularity of any mods that struggle to the surface [for Diablo III]."
While Blizzard did consider making an editor available to the masses, more recent considerations led them in a different direction. Various Blizzard representatives have stated that modding isn't necessarily something they want to discourage, but something they have decided not to support. In an article on ShackNews, Jay Wilson even admitted that many game designers got their start in modding games over the years.
Later, in an interview at the 2009 Blizzcon, Leonard Boyarsky graced the subject when he was interviewed by Joystiq:
Official Blizzard Quote:
We talked about it early on and we considered it but the way we put together our maps and the fact that it's random ... it's very artistic-centric. And, on top of that, the fact that it's so random it's like, would people just change the random number generator? You know what I mean? [laughs] We don't hand-build our dungeons anyways, but the way we build our maps kind of makes that prohibitive. But we're always looking at what the end users might want so we did look at including a map editor and we just said that it's never been a big part of Diablo.
Oh, the irony.
LAN, a feature whose usage could never really be tracked in prior games with any degree of scientific accuracy, was among one of the earliest things to change in the transition from Diablo II to Diablo III. As early as summer of 2008, the same year of the announcement at the last WWI, Blizzard stated:
Official Blizzard Quote:
We’re not supporting LAN play. We’re basically focusing on making the best multiplayer experience we can, and that’s all through Battle.net. There are tons of features we’re going to be supporting both for cooperative play and competitive play. One of the things we can talk about with the new Battle.net is security. Fixing some of the problems we had with the earlier Diablos — item duping, cheating, and griefing — we’re going to be addressing all of those things with the new Battle.net, as well as some pretty awesome competitive play ideas we’re working with right now. So that’s going to be the biggest advance, especially for previous Diablo players, to see all these we’re planning. It going to be really awesome.
These combined factors are a major hurtle for would-be Diablo III modders, and a major deterrent for legacy modders in adapting to the new game. Many games could be said to have survived for as long as they did due to their modding capabilities. As we look toward another stepping stone in the Diablo saga, we can only hope that it will last as long as Diablo II did.
But will the preclusion of modding tools for Diablo III hurt its longevity? Soulmancer responded that "there is no doubt that the ability to mod does preserve the longevity of games for certain audiences and there are plenty of examples of this, such as Oblivion (which is still popular only due to it's modability.) Some people don't care for mods at all, and some people love 'em, whether it's playing them or creating them."
But not everyone is on the modding toolkit bandwagon. True Mage, creator of Diablo II mod Battle for Elements (whom we interviewed last year: The Battle Beyond Sanctuary: Battle for Elements), went as far as to say, "To be honest, I would even prefer to see absence of modding support in Diablo III, as well. It is always more interesting to explore unknown mechanics than just make a mod and the second reason it will get rid of many cheap cut-corners works proudly named 'mods' for us."
Regardless of how legacy modders viewed the preclusion of a solid game editor in Diablo III, opinions of the plausibility, and even necessity, of modding in Diablo III were as varied as they were sincere.
To get to the root of what created the modding communities for the legacy games, we asked Soulmancer what he believes contributed to the growth of the Diablo modding community. He presented us three considerations:
A dedicated, motivated and knowledgeable community of players and developers as well as the release of the official 1.10 patch were two huge factors in Diablo II's modding evolution over the years. But there was also a multiplayer option: TCP/IP, LAN and Open.net.
While multiplayer is now a vapor in the wind, the first two factors are still just as, if not more, applicable to Diablo III. The wealth of modding knowledge, or perhaps logic, that legacy Diablo modders can bring to the table, combined with the possibility that Diablo III will be open to modding in much the same way as Blizzard's other more modern releases (through things like XML scripting), could make Diablo III's modding future brighter than previously anticipated.
Perhaps the easiest way to see this is by looking to the past. Mod developer Mordor (whom we interviewed last year: Return to Diablo I with "The Hell") brought us back to the days of Diablo I, which was about as mod-unfriendly as it could get, and yet there were still some great mods, even, as mentioned earlier, an entire third-party expansion. Mordor continued to state that "[...]if there are some crazy devoted fans for Diablo III in the world, there will be decent modifications for it, I'm sure. Another thing to remember is that modding is not about simply changing a game to make it different, it's about improving the game, making it better. The better the original game, and the more complete it is, the less work we modders (of my kind) would have to do."
Whether or not Blizzard is open to modders tinkering with their work, and whether or not modders are up to the challenge, may be some source of debate, but in the end, many of these doubts will only be resolved once we finally have the game in ours hands. Long-time developer Onyx at the Phrozen Keep (whom we interviewed last year: Back to Hellfire with Diablo II) had this much to say: "I think we'll find our way through Diablo III's structure, anyway, and I'm optimistic about Diablo III modding, but it's too early to speak."