Gameplanet: What do you see as the original Diablo's contribution to gaming?
Leonard Boyarsky: It totally reinvigorated the action RPG genre, there's really nothing like it on the PC for the most part, it really took the world by storm. It was a breath of fresh air. The original, especially, just had this great horror vibe to it that you really didn't get from fantasy RPGs a lot. It was a really different take on the genre.
Gameplanet: How has Diablo influenced you as a developer?
Boyarsky: For the past five years it's been a major influence in my life! [laughs] I have to admit that coming in here, I did not realise the depth that the lore went to in these games. I came in and they handed me this world bible that was fairly thick, and I'm like "wow, I didn't get this from playing the game!". So immediately we set our sights to really flesh this out, and make sure this information gets to the player.
I was on a different career path before coming over to work on Diablo III, which is more action-RPG than stuff I've done in the past. But even some of the games I worked on, I think at certain times we said that maybe we should veer a little more towards the action, seeing as how successful Diablo has been.
Gameplanet: Speaking of the lore, we've already seen a bit of New Tristram, are there any other areas in Diablo III that have been compulsory inclusions due to their significance in earlier games?
Boyarsky: There's one place that is very important to the lore of Diablo that we're returning to. We contemplated going to a couple of other places that have been in our fiction and haven't been in the games before, but those didn't make the final cut.
Gameplanet: Will there be at least areas that will have a nod to previous areas in the Diablo series?
Boyarsky: That's a hard question for me because I feel like there was a certain kind of gameplay that permeated all of Diablo. Diablo had a certain style of gameplay and it kind of evolved in Diablo II. Of course, this is coming from the story guy not the system guy – the system guy would probably be smacking me over the head! [laughs] I didn't feel like there was a lot of very specific different gameplay elements to, for instance, the Arcane Sanctuary. Artistically, it definitely had a lot of interesting aspects to it, and the way they did the randomness there compared to the randomness of the rest of the game was different. But I feel as far as the system stuff goes, and the gameplay goes, I feel like we've varied it up a lot more, and we've introduced more unique gameplay elements into different areas of our game.
Gameplanet: So what do you see as the major difference between the original game, and what you're working on with Diablo III?
Boyarsky: From my point of view, trying to get across a lot more story, while at the same time streamlining that story delivery. I'm sure everyone remembers in Diablo and Diablo II clicking on an NPC and getting five paragraphs of text that just scroll by. A lot of words, but not as much story as we wanted to deliver in this one. So from my point of view, and the stuff I've been working on, that's the biggest change; really delivering the story that resonates with people. There has always been people into the lore, and people who really focus on that, but we really wanted to bring it more to the mainstream, for the more action-orientated Diablo players, we wanted to affect them as well and have the story be an important part of the game for them too.
Gameplanet: How do you balance all the environments to provide a cohesive, believable world?
Boyarsky: First we come up with what we think is our basic story, and I say "we think" because it changes millions of times! Then we look at the areas that takes us through, and we talk to our artists, and we look at it from a gameplay angle as well as a visual angle. We talk about whether or not these areas will be different enough. Are they going to flow together? Are we going to be able to introduce different types of gameplay? As far as making it feel like a cohesive world, I think that's more about the way you write characters, and the story. You can look at different cultures on earth, and look at the different architecture, or different clothing styles, and they're totally foreign to each other, they don't seem like they're part of the same world. So that's really not an issue, I think we can go pretty far afield on that kind of stuff, it's about making it feel like there's a cohesiveness under the surface.
Gameplanet: Looking at the evolution of the game, destructible environments weren't really a feature in the first two games. Are the destructible elements in Diablo III something you start with first then build the environment around, or is it the other way around?
Boyarsky: We build the environments, then as we're planning out the environments we have meetings where we talk about what would be some good destructible things that would work well in this environment. From a theme standpoint, if you're in a keep, what kind of things would you see in there? How can we leverage the kind of vibe you want to get from a keep and bring destructible items to that environment?
Gameplanet: How has the random dungeon layout evolved for Diablo III, compared with the earlier games?
Boyarsky: Our dungeons are still randomly generated. I'm not as familiar as to how they did it in Diablo and Diablo II, I think the basic bones of it are kind of the same. They had some specific areas – like where you met The Butcher - but we've taken that a little bit further. We have areas, or scenes, that are very unique that will roll into the random dungeon, and amongst all the random stuff we'll put in unique areas to try to have little story moments. And then of course, we totally changed how we did the exterior. The exterior has a fixed outline and the scenes within it can be randomised, which is totally different from how it was in Diablo II.
Gameplanet: Why have you chosen to do that?
Boyarsky: It was mostly an artistic choice. Not speaking as an artist on this decision, it was just felt that if we had the ability to really do the art beautifully around the edges, and still have the ability to mix it up inside those boundaries that we wouldn't lose that much and it would take it away from feeling too linear, too cube-like. If you saw in Diablo II, it felt very patterned and very cube-like. So we really wanted to get away from that and make it feel more organic, for the out-of-doors.
Gameplanet: Going back to the art, Diablo III caused a bit of controversy with the early artwork, we've seen the rainbows in Tristram. That seems to have changed now, was this based on community feedback?
Boyarsky: One of the first areas we showed off was one of our more colourful areas, and it's still in the game. We said at the time that you have to have lighter areas for the dark areas to feel dark. If everything is dark and dingy then you don't have a lot of contrast, your dark areas aren't going to feel as dark. Everything is going to start feeling monotonous. We've gotten really good feedback on it, but there was a vocal minority that were upset about it, but overall the response has been very positive. We always planned to do the art that we have in the game – that you're seeing in the game – and obviously it's made a progression along the way. We always listen to fans, we always listen to what fans want, but I think there's this perception out there that's kind of skewed from what our perception was, because we got a lot of really positive feedback on the way our art looks. But like I said, there's a vocal minority who had the opposite opinion, so I think there was a lot of attention paid to that.
I've been very happy with our art from the beginning, the way we use different colours, we have a more varied palette, I think it makes it much more of an effective looking world.
Gameplanet: You worked on Fallout, and Fallout II, where you had the ability to create a new world, with a fairly unique '50s design. Has it been hard to work within the constraints of what people expect Diablo to be?
Boyarsky: No, it's just a different challenge. It's not so much re-interpreting, but drilling down and finding the depths in the Diablo universe, and how we can make it resonate more. How we can bring this on to a more personal and emotional level. So it's just a different set of challenges. They both have their pros and cons. It's exciting to work on something you know people are already very excited about, and they have great expectations. To deliver the next instalment in what people are looking for or have been waiting for is actually quite a thrilling prospect.
Gameplanet: So beyond the established world of Diablo, where do you look for inspiration?
Boyarsky: We look a lot to history. There are bizarre things that happen in reality that you can't make up. We get a lot of our inspiration from looking at what has gone on in our world, and try to get a feel for how kingdoms work, how people work, how different societies and different civilisations have worked, and take that as a jumping off point. Of course, there's all the pop culture and stuff you see in movies. We do a lot of research where we look at different art, different movies, different books that we'll take as touchstones to take pieces from here and there and kind of mix together. But for me it really starts in thinking about real-world stuff.
Gameplanet: Has there been anything you've attempted to include in the game but couldn't because people have said "it's just not Diablo"?
Boyarsky: We haven't had the "not Diablo" comment. Early on, we really wanted to have it feel that people had very real responses, have our characters feel like they had the depth, and they weren't as two-dimensional, and we were really trying to find the voice. So there was a bit of that, were we were trying to search early on for the voice of the game. But in terms of big-picture stuff, not really. It's just been an evolution of really finding the sweet spot for what we're trying to do. It's like we always knew what we were trying to do, it just took a bit of experimenting to actually put that out there and have people respond the way we wanted them to, and get the feedback that it was hitting that spot.
Gameplanet: Does that relate to the way the game was prior to 2006 when you joined Blizzard? We understand that Diablo III had already been in production, and was basically stripped out and started again. Did it not conform to what you expected it to be?
Boyarsky: I had no expectations when I joined. The engine was pretty far along, but we did pretty much strip it down to its basics and start over. It just wasn't the game that Blizzard wanted it to be at that point, and we agreed. Obviously if it was this great thing that was far along, then we wouldn't have restarted it. But coming in, I didn't know what to expect, so it was a really cool opportunity to work on a game that already had an engine up and running, and not have to go through that painful process of working on a game that didn't have an engine yet.
Gameplanet: When you were working at Interplay and Troika, you must have played Diablo a fair bit, and taken inspiration from it in the games you worked on. So it must be strange to come full circle back to work on the same franchise?
Boyarsky: Yeah, it's a unique experience to come and work on something so well established, and so well known, and to have played it as a fan years and years ago, then to come work on it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd end up working on Diablo, so it's a happy experience!