We had the chance to walkthrough the demo of Diablo Immortal with lead designer Wyatt Cheng and senior producer Joe Hsu and chat about the game. Here's what we asked about and learned during the 30 minute demo.
Note: Interview has been slightly edited and rearranged for clarity. Answers not attributed to a specific person are paraphrased.
Q: How will Diablo Immortal deliver story to players
Players will still get story primarily through talking to NPCs. Dialogue will sometimes continue between characters while in outdoor zones battling demons.
Hsu: "We are putting a lot of time into thinking about how do we tell the story, because it’s on a mobile platform, it’s faster paced, we don’t want to be reading like a WoW quest."
Q: On whether the demo at BlizzCon will be in the final game
Level sequence at show was built for the demo, but final game will use the same art assets. Plan is for game to ship with 15 unique tilesets, or environments, in the form of eight outdoor zones and seven instanced dungeons.
Q: Will there be random maps?
Cheng: "We are looking at the outdoor world being fixed. We wanted to capture some of that MMO aspect where the world was real. And one of the things that make a world feel real are...familiar landmarks. And if you have random tilesets, it takes away from the world feeling real."
Q: On the development philosophy behind Diablo Immortal
Cheng: "One of our general guidelines, this is just kind of a rule of thumb and not a hard rule, a guideline for making content, comes from something I heard Sid Meier say at a GDC talk about 10 years ago, when he was talking about when they make a new sequel to Civilization, they try to use one-third familiar systems that people know and love, one-third where they take an existing system and evolve it, and one-third new. We kind of approached Diablo Immortal the same way.
"You look at a game, we kind of followed that rule with Starcraft 2 from Starcraft 1, there’s a mix of the familiar and some new stuff there. When it comes to even something like the rare monsters, they have jailer and waller and stuff, there will be some familiar ones (monster affixes), some changed ones, and some new."
Q: How is development split between Blizzard and NetEase?
Hsu: "It’s a co-development, so there’s no real split, everybody has good ideas and everybody is brought in to discuss good ideas. We all implement, so it’s one team."
Q: On new content coming post-launch
Cheng: "One of the really, really exciting things about Diablo Immortal, we know from the outset we plan to expand over time. That’s not something we’ve done with a Diablo game before, where even before we ship we know we’re going to support it with live content updates.
"One of the things players love is new content, players are always eager to have new content and see new experiences, so we’re planning at the beginning on that. We’re planning on new classes, new zones, new loot, new dungeons. We're making sure we're able to continue expanding."
Q: How frequent will updates be?
Q: Will there be a way to trade or exchange items? Will there be an auction house?
Cheng: "That is a great question, it’s something quite a few people have been wondering about. Back in Diablo 2, there was just free trading of items among everyone. That had its pros and cons. On the upside, it was super fun to trade for items. On the downside, it wasn’t necessarily a great experience. You had to hang out in trade chat a lot, or go to third party forums or sites, there were a lot of scams and hacks that happened. People were always talking about getting scammed. So we actually, when we did the auction house for Diablo 3, that was really because it was an earnest look at how people were playing Diablo 2 and let’s make this a good experience. Let's take what people love. And a lot of players were, “Oh yeah, a nice, clean, streamline, secure, way to get one item from a player to another."
"The side effect was that getting the best items came from spending a lot of time in the auction house rather than fighting monsters and slaying demons. So we took the auction house out. We thought it was going to be an awesome idea, but it had these negative side effects of taking away your core motivation to play and get better loot. So we took it out in Reaper of Souls, and we said everything is going to be soulbound in Reaper of Souls, and that made the game a lot more fun for players, they really enjoyed finding items for themselves. But that has had its own negative effect. It’s a smaller one, but now you don’t care as much about the fact that you’re part of a great society. ....we do want to see if we can find a middle ground between no trading of any kind and an auction house."
Q: Will there be a crafting system?
Team is looking at opportunities to provide some form of item improvement, whether it is reforging, socketing or improving stats in some other way.
Q: Will there be support for alternate control schemes, such as controllers for phones?
Cheng: "It has been brought up, kind of too early to say right now. Personally I’m a little skeptical because we’ve designed this for touch screen. Even the way we aim the abilities, if I attached a controller and then activate one of these. We have an open mind, but we’ll talk about that down the road as we get further along."
Q: Will there be more cinematics similar to the reveal cinematic?
Hsu: "I think it’s too early to say but it’s definitely interesting and we’ll be looking at feedback. That’s not the only way to tell our story. There’s a lot of different forms that Blizzard tries to use and we’ll be taking a look."
Q: What kind of visual customization can players expect?
Cheng: "As far as transmog we haven’t made a decision on yet, but we do think the look of your character is an important part of the game. At the panel yesterday we showed how the barbarian progresses in gear over time and showed some concept art for that, we showed another at the bottom, we showed the wizard progressing in gear over time. So we’re just starting to map out what each of the classes looks like as their gear gets better. We definitely want that...in the demo your gear doesn’t change your appearance, but in the final game it will."
Q: Will classes have some kind of resource management?
Cheng: "It’s still TBD…there’s been a ton of experimentation. It was not that long ago, just a few months ago in Diablo Immortal, every class used mana, which was more like Diablo 2. Then we said "Hey, we always want to experiment and iterate, and we said let’s try going to cooldowns for everything and see what that’s like."
"So we did that, and said “Hmm, it feels different but not better. So what if we added charges to abilities?" So maybe I’m not using mana, but I am manipulating my charges. So that’s definitely showing a lot of merit. What you’re seeing now is a snapshot in progress of development. Maybe mana will come back. Maybe we'll get some other resources. Maybe we’ll iterate with what we have now and be happy with it, but expect it might change before ship."
Q: On people playing on PC via Android emulators
Cheng: "We are not planning on going after (those players), not going to try and ban people running on emulator. But it’s not something we’re going to officially support. In my personal opinion, we are designing this for touch screen device, if somebody were to map keyboard keys to the directional controls and then use the mouse, I don’t know if that’s actually a great game experience. But we’re not going to go after people and vilify people. And I’m sure they will (play via emulator)."
Q: How will Diablo Immortal be monetized?
Cheng: "Monetization, business model even, we have nothing to announce today. We haven’t even decided honesty. We have nothing to say because we don’t know. At Blizzard, the focus is always, always, gameplay first. It’s etched, molded in metal, as one of Blizzard’s core values. Gameplay first. Get a good game, get the itemization figured out, skills, progression, UI, feel. And say okay, now that the game is fun, what makes sense for a business model."