Wyatt Cheng: My name is Wyatt Cheng, I work as a Technical Game Designer on Diablo III.
We actually have multiple different types of, what I would describe as, difficult encounters. Elite encounters. Obviously we have bosses that are key to the story, in the beta, people will be able to fight the Skeleton King, King Leoric. He is a named boss who appears in a very specific location. But then, if we take a step back from that, Diablo II also had the notion of Champion Monsters, and Rare Monsters, and those are really important. For me, Diablo is largely a game about feeling awesome, and heroic, and huge, and doing huge damage and having lots of mobility, and tons of utility skills, and great visual effects. But at some point, you have to feel challenged, because if you don't feel challenged, then you're knocked out of the zone. You don't have the concentration. All of my builds and my gear are only meaningful if they help me become more powerful, and becoming more powerful is important. I need to be able to feel it, and to feel it you need to be challenged. And so a lot of that challenge is provided by these "elite" encounters, as I like to call them.
So on top of bosses we have champions, who are packs of monsters, with special abilities. In Diablo II, the champion packs were things like champions, and ghostly, and fanatic, and so we've expanded a little bit on that idea in Diablo III, just the idea that there would be these packs of monsters with special ability. Then there's also the rare monsters, which are again packs, a rare and his minions. And it's a pack of monsters where one monster is the ring-leader. And fire enchanted monsters, and everyone remembers lightning enchanted monsters, and multi-shot monsters, those are great examples of rares. So even though they weren't named bosses in a specific area, they were a really integral part of Diablo II, and so we have rare monster packs in Diablo III as well, and they're scattered randomly throughout the world for you to come across.
And then there's unique monsters, unique monsters are a lot like rare monsters but they have a specific name, and sometimes they have a story element to them, and sometimes they appear in certain locations only, there's no hard and fast rules when it comes to uniques, but generally it's when we want to build on the story a little bit, or we need a monster who has a specific set of powers for the location that they're in. Again, that's an elite encounter to provide an additional challenge.
Gameplanet: We've seen the complexity that you've introduced into the game, is there a risk when there's so many different ways to play the game with these characters that people might get bogged down with choice, and it might slow the game down a little bit for them?
Cheng: Yeah, I mean that's definitely a concern. We've changed the skill system so many times over the last few years (laughs). It's unbelievable how many times we've changed the skill system. Pacing is a big deal. The system we have today where you acquire skills and they unlock as you level up, what I really like it, is that you are given one skill at a time, so it's gradual. I actually found it more overwhelming before, when I would level up and I'd hit level six or something, and I'd have three new skills to choose from, sometimes four new skills. And I'd have to stop and read all four skills. When you have runes, you have five runes, and each rune might modify the skill to do something different, so now it wasn't just choosing one of four skills, I have four skills and four times five - twenty rune effects that I had to take into consideration. That was really overwhelming, so I feel like we're in a better place now. When I level up I get one, sometimes two new skills, usually one. I can just try that one out, check out the runes in that one, so it's actually even better.
Is there a risk that it's still overwhelming, and players still spend too much time in the UI? Yeah. I think it's still something we have our eye on, it's something that we'll keep iterating on. I don't want to take away the depth though. We have something that's good, we have something I believe in, which is awesome rune effects and skills, that do big, meaningful things, I would never want to lose that. So that's the trick now, how do we simplify it, and make it accessible and understandable without losing any of the depth we've created.
Gameplanet: We've heard that the beta is primarily about sorting out technical compatibility with PC's?
Gameplanet: Is there anything that anyone can do to increase their chances of getting in on the beta? Are you looking for particular types of machines that people have?
Cheng: You know, I'm not super-familiar with the beta selection process, I'm not involved with that. I do know that they want a variety, and I know there's some luck involved.
Gameplanet: We've heard this news today obviously about the auction house, with the ability for weapons to be sold. Has this altered in any way the algorithms used to randomly generate weapons? Have you had to take into consideration that maybe you have to make them rarer if people are going to be selling them?
Cheng: No, not for me. For me, and this is just my personal philosophy, is the game should be fun. And so when I'm tuning the drop rates of items, or measuring the power progression of the items, how much fun a single person has playing the game, who never plays co-op, who never interacts with another person, who never uses the auction house, that person needs to be having fun too. If that person is not having fun, then we've failed.
The auction house is a feature to basically provide a more secure and enjoyable experience for people who were engaging in this whole other trade system, but I would never want to compromise the experience of a single player person. When it comes to making an item rare, we have randomly generated loot, so things are hard to find. A lot of the philosophies are honestly very similar to Diablo II. I don't want to get into exactly how we generate items, but perfect items were ridiculously rare in Diablo II, and that philosophy is really more about having the endless item hunt, which is what people like so much about the Diablo series.
Gameplanet: Just to confirm, is there a six player limit for multiplayer, or a four player limit?
Cheng: Currently, multiplayer is geared towards four people. Playing co-operatively in a party together.
Gameplanet: The crafting plans - I actually picked up one before, it looks very good. But with so often of these designs, they sort of lose a bit of steam towards the end of the game. So endgame content, are there really awesome, epic crafting plans you can get?
Cheng: Yes. Absolutely. I don't know if you saw the recipes - what kind of recipe did you get right now?
Gameplanet: It was an apprentice something-or-other...
Cheng: Were you able to make a belt, or a chest-piece?
Gameplanet: It was something like that, I didn't have enough of what I needed to do it.
Cheng: Ok, normally there's a really important part of the text there, when you go to craft. I think one of the first recipes is a belt, and it says something like "+ attack", and there's a random range on it, it says plus one or sometimes plus two other random properties, that's a really integral part of our crafting system, because one of the core values of Diablo is randomness. Random environments, random loot, random drops. And we wanted to integrate that randomness into our crafting system as well, so what we've done is crafting gives you some input as to what comes out. So you know you're going to get a belt, you know it's going to have two affixes on it, you know that one of those two affixes is going to be plus attack, but what you don't know is how much attack, and what's the second property going to be. So you can make two, three, four belts in a row, and get something different every time, in theory.
So then for the endgame, we have more recipes that generate yellow items, with lots of properties, and they have a chance – randomness, always randomness – they have a chance to be the best items that the player can find. I'm not guaranteeing that, but it's certainly possible. In the same way that people would ask me in Diablo II, who is the best boss to kill? Pindleskin runs were really popular, Mephisto runs were really popular, but it was always a chance, always giving it a shot and seeing what came out.
Gameplanet: Are you concerned – it wasn't really an exploit with Pindleskin or Baal or Mephisto, it was a function of the game that they were the easiest ones to get to that had the highest monster level in order to drop items, are you concerned that this could happen in Diablo III? Have you made a conscious effort to make it so that people spread it around a whole bunch of different locations?
Cheng: Yes, we are concerned, and we have plans for that, for sure. What's interesting from a player behaviour standpoint, like the way players approach any game like this, is that players care about being efficient with their time. At this point I'm talking about the hardcore players, players who have played the game for hundreds of hours and they've got a great set of gear, and back in D2 they were probably level 85 or above, and they're just farming items now. And they take the path of least resistance, that's what you see time and time again. People would say "why don't you nerf Mephisto?" Well, you could nerf Mephisto, but then players would just find the next path of least resistance. And that's what happened – at some point the Cave became really popular, and the problem isn't a matter of "does there exist a most efficient way to farm", but rather "is the most efficient way to farm also fun". That's the kind of question we'll be asking. I don't think we're discussing any end-game plans yet, but that is something we're aware of and we have plans for.
Gameplanet: At what point do you think you'll know when the beta is over, and you're ready to go, from your perspective?
Cheng: You know, the decision for when the beta is over I think is largely on the technical side, since the number one goal is server stability, patch, launcher. So I can't really speak... from a design side? That's hard to say. Over the next few months, my primary day-to-day responsibility is game balance right now, skills, runes. So I would love as much time as possible, I could spend hundreds of hours just balancing and tuning all the skills and runes, there are so many possibilities to get through, I'm sure you can imagine with all the skills and runes, so certainly we want to look at like the most powerful skills, if someone says something is overpowered, if the skills are too powerful we want to bring them down, and basically nerf them. It's not really a nerf, because it's not out yet, right? (laughs) we're just bringing everything in line.
But another thing that is actually equally important, and people don't always think about this, is that tuning and balance doesn't just involve what is overpowered, it involves what is underpowered. Because what good is it if we ship 120 skill and rune combinations if 100 of them are useless? If I take Magic Missile, and there's five rune variants but everyone looks at that and says well these four are dumb, and everyone is going to use this one, well that's not really much of a choice. What you want is to have Magic Missile with five runes and to sit there and go "Huh. That's a hard decision, these are all valid". If one is overpowered, that's going to stick out like a sore thumb, we're going to figure that out really fast and we're going to bring that back in line. But if something is underpowered, it actually tends to go undetected unless you consciously look for it. Nobody is posting on the forums: "such and such a skill is way too weak!". No-one comes into work saying "I played this, and this skill is useless!". People complain about the powerful stuff, so during the beta I'm going to be looking at not just what's too powerful, but what's too weak as well, and bring that up. More skill and rune combinations that are viable is more choices for the player, more build diversity between all the classes. And more build diversity honestly is more longevity in gameplay, that players get out over the course of our game.
Gameplanet: Just in terms of balance there with PvP, it's often been said that Diablo III is not really focussing on PvP, it's a casual element of the game. If someone comes out and discovers through PvP testing that there's ultimately some hugely powerful character that blows everything out of the water, it's your job to jump in there and determine what that is and patch it, are there going to be regular patches like StarCraft II? Or if it's only casual, do you really care that much for PvP?
Cheng: You know, PvE comes first. It does. Obviously we don't want one particularly egregious PvP build to ruin the game. We have a number of options and possibilities if something ends up being ridiculously overpowered. My first question is always, is that skill and build also overpowered in PvE? Or if it's strong. Maybe not overpowered, but top-tier strong, and breaking PvP well then maybe that's enough reason to bring it back into line. More difficult is if something is very strong in PvP but not PvE, but we have controls to basically, if we really had to. There's lots of options, we could make that skill behave slightly differently against players, we could shift some rune effects around. It's pretty hard to just summarise that, especially as I know this is our last question, and to a short answer I guess the final answer is that although it is secondary to PvE, I do want our fanbase to know that we value PvE higher, and that's important. PvP is important too, and we'll do what we can.