Blizzard clearly has much work left to do on Diablo III. At BlizzCon in Los Angeles recently we had the opportunity to talk to two members of the design team - Kevin Martens and Julian Love, the Lead Content Designer and Lead Technical Artist, respectively. In between telling us what they don't know (many aspects of the game seem to be undecided at this stage), we did learn a few things about Blizzard's vision for the title.
GP: In Diablo II the maths and the statistics that you used for item drops were really complicated, there were so many different layers and rolls determining what you would get. Are you doing the same for Diablo III?
GP: Exactly the same?
KM: It is quite complex. The robustness of the random system is kind of shocking - when you're going to tweak one of those numbers, you do it with the utmost care. It can affect so many things - it's like, "oh that's fine for this situation, but what about the other seven hundred thousand times that that roll's going to happen?"
GP: So we're still going to see the same level of rarity - like with the Zod Rune that nobody ever really picks up?
KM: That's yet to be determined. I'm not exactly sure if we're going to make it a little less rare or not. Hard to say yet, we'll keep tweaking the numbers and we'll have to do a lot of testing to find out if we're happy with things. Even if we do change it in one direction or the other, we may change it back as we're testing it.
GP: In the demo version at BlizzCon (which I played for over an hour), there's one part where there's like a mine, and you can look down and see right into it - it's fully three dimensional. Has this change to 3D terrain been a big focus for Diablo III?
KM: Absolutely. We have a fixed camera, we wanted that for gameplay reasons - it's an integral part of the Diablo style of play. But what we call the 'z' axis, that dimension in the game is something that we have to constantly be playing with and using. That's what gives us the sense of depth and scope within the game. We're always looking for any opportunity that we can find to try to max out on delivering that scope. The other way that you will see this, if you go into some of the dungeon areas and other content that we've shown - you know, in Diablo II the edges of the screen outside the dungeon are just black, so here what we are doing is trying to take that opportunity to spell out depth in the world, by giving you areas that you can't quite go to but which say, hey, this dungeon, it just goes on for... you know, you can't see the edge of it!
JL: Yeah, and you've got a pile of bones down there, there's skeletons that come out of it, they climb up the walls, over the top, you see some of that. In this demo you would have seen the Lacuni - you may or may not have seen that actually, it's random whether you would have seen it or not - but the Lacuni climb up on the cliffs - these are the cat people - and then they'll jump down when they get close enough. So they can get onto areas that you can't get to, and they can harry you, and throw their little grenade-bomb things at you from a distance. So we're using it in the gameplay as well as just for making the world seem bigger and better and deeper.
GP: Diablo: Hellfire (the 1997 expansion by Synergistic Software) was obviously not a Blizzard game, but I have to ask about the Monk, because it appeared in Hellfire - did you guys look at Hellfire and draw any kind of inspiration from what they did with the Monk in that?
JL: We can't really talk about non-Blizzard games usually...
GP: So it's no relation at all?
KM: No, the monk is much more inspired by... - it's a pretty disparate group of influences, but for example on the gameplay side a pen-and-paper monk from D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), it's kinda like that for the early inspiration. And obviously kung fu movies, Jackie Chan all that sort of stuff, Once Upon a Time in China, many, many things from there. He's a got a bit of that Eastern European monastic thing, as far as cultural development goes. There's the fighting game mechanic, his combo system. So the way we try to do it is we take something that's archetypal - in this case, a fast but weaker melee character - but we try to put twists on it, with the culture, with the moves, with every aspect of this we can, we try to give it something fresh and interesting. So if we're going to introduce a new class, you know, it's not just the "assassin" by another name, it has some similarities to that but there's enough different about it that he not only plays differently but he feels different, and looks and fits into the world differently as well. We have't met anyone from his part of the world in the game before, so he's actually expanding the universe and the story as well.
GP: OK - Normal, Nightmare and Hell. You know how in Diablo II you go through the same missions all over again, what's happening in Diablo III with difficulty levels?
KM: We'll probably have the same ones. Maybe we'll have something different, but we'll definitely have difficulty levels, and we definitely want some of those same challenges.
GP: Is Wirt really dead?
KM: Well, he's running out of legs...
JL: Yeah, he's not got too many body parts left. (laughs)
KM: To get Wirt into the game... - there's definitely an intention to bring characters forward from the previous games. I don't think we've yet determined Wirt's fate for Diablo III.
JL: What would the fans prefer?
GP: Yeah, that's true. I don't think you could have Diablo without Wirt. He's part of the scenery. What about voice actors for the likes of Deckard Cain? Are you using the same people for the voices?
KM: The casting hasn't been finalised yet. I believe in the demo last year we had the same actor. I'm not sure yet. We're casting some of the characters, but sometimes you get somebody you like and then they quit acting, or they get to do a TV show and they're in a contract, all sorts of things happen with voice actors. We like a lot of the actors from the previous games, but whether we'll go with them or not is yet to be determined.
GP: Do you think you'll actually succeed in removing the town portal entirely from the game?
GP: So it will all be checkpoint based, if you're being followed by a creature you'll have to run to the town to get away from it?
KM: Yeah, we're talking about waypoints, we're looking at other ways of making that work... backtracking is something that we wanted to avoid as well, so you retreat by fighting in a different direction - multiple paths through the areas, and that sort of thing as well I think will make it so you basically just don't need it (the town portal) as much. We're also trying to make sure the inventory system makes it so you don't need to go back as frequently - or you go back when it makes sense in the story, which also conveniently ties in with when your bag's kinda full. So it's hard to say for sure, but we're happy with where we're going so far.
GP: Do you think you'll include combat in towns? Sort of like World of Warcraft does where you've got people that can come in and take out towns. Do you think it's likely the monsters might go into a town environment or have that type of challenge?
KM: There's multiple locales, some of them have fighting and some of them don't. Whether they all will or not, whether it's a systemic thing, it's hard to say. But you're definitely going to get to do some fighting in towns. The exact nature of that... we'll tell you later.
GP: Is there going to be the ability to reverse modifications to weapons and characters, perhaps like unsocketing and things like that? Or is that still yet to be decided?