Gameplanet talks to Diablo III lead world designer Leonard Boyarsky and production director Ray Gresko at BlizzCon 2008.
GP: So the question everyone apparently wants to know, how big is the world as compared to Diablo II?
Boyarsky: Well, the feel of the world is going to be much bigger. In terms of the game time and game play space, that remains to be seen, we're trying to hit a nice sweet spot, we don't want it too long to bore people, but we want to have more than enough content.
GP: There was some drama when the game was announced, when people got over the "oh my god it's so awesome" there were actually some people who weren't particularly happy with the idea of the camera angles and the isometric, are there any plans to add any kind of isometric orbiting, where the camera would be turning with you - or possibly the possibility of a standard MMO over-the-shoulder perspective?
Boyarsky: No. Our camera's pretty much locked. There's a couple of reasons for that, it's the gameplay we wanted - if you have an over-the-shoulder game, that could be very action oriented as well, but that's a different feel. It's just a completely different game style, it doesn't really have anything to do with technology. And on top of everything else, from a technical standpoint, if we don't let you rotate the camera and we keep the camera where it is, we can do what's called culling the back faces of stuff, so we could have much more detailed environments and still have it run really fast. Whereas if we let you spin the camera, we have to have much lower polygon counts on things.
Gresko: Yeah, I mean Diablo is all about, like, being surrounded by monsters and having these great spell effects you can actually see happen all around you, so the camera just suits that perfectly - as well as making it really easy to move around the environment, so you can point and click where you want to go, it just kind of adds a lot of easy access to the gameplay.
GP: Given the way that it's designed with the random elements, will there be any persistent elements to the world design?
Boyarsky: Yes, the outdoors is actually persistent. What we did with the outdoors is, it's basically a framework, you know, the towns are in the same spots, we wanted it to feel like a much more real, in-depth world, and plus it was easier to make it look beautiful by having a static outdoors. What we do with that to change up the gameplay and keep our random element is to drop in adventures and scripted events, so it won't be the exact same experience every time you go outdoors, but the kind of broad strokes are the same.
Gresko: Players are going to see the world of Sanctuary come into more focus here, we've got a lot of really key locations that go and kinda harken back to the lore and history of the area that Leonard's really pulling together now. A lot of different themes that people have seen in earlier games are really going to come to a head in Diablo III.
GP: Speaking of townships, will any player actions affect interactions within the township or change any relationships that they may encounter?
Boyarsky: Yes, we don't want to get into too much detail, but the game does notice what you're doing, put it that way.
Gresko: That's one of the advantages of Diablo, that we can actually tell and have the player take a role, a really deep role in the storyline, and actually show what they're doing, changing throughout the whole story as well as in the environments as well as what's actually going on in the gameplay.
GP: Following in the footsteps of WoW with all the pop-culture references in the dialogue of the NPCs, and that sort of thing, will there be any sneaking into Diablo, or are you guys way too serious for that?
Boyarsky: No, well, we don't want to be totally serious without any dark humour at all, but the pop-culture references kind of bring it over the top, and you know that's perfect for the kind of tone that you have in a game like WoW, but our game is much darker, so if we have any pop-culture references they're going to be stuff you have to look up... there's not going to be stuff that just screams at you "this is a pop-culture reference"... we might throw some like dark philosophy in there or something, but overall we're going to stay away from that stuff.
GP: With the way that the world's designed, will it be sort of independently designed or will there be some that are designed around specific classes so that certain characters will have an advantage?
Boyarsky: I wouldn't say any characters have an advantage, because we have to balance it for every different character, though you have a different gameplay experience, not only with the skills but also the story takes on - it's not a different story, but it takes on a little bit of a different feel because the NPCs react to your character differently depending on which class you are, so - and then there might be some boss battles that are easier for one class than the other. But you know, the next one around the corner's probably going to be vice versa, so...
Gresko: There are class-specific quests, and so there's a - you know, Leonard [Boyarsky] and [Chris] Metzen and the rest of the team are working on having these great back-stories for the characters, so in earlier Diablo's they were more like these faceless archetypes, here we're actually tying them in, using them as a device to actually deliver more of the story background. So it's just going to be a much deeper experience.
GP: With the classes that you've announced, obviously you've only announced three of the five, do you know what the other two are going to be, have you guys figured that out yet?
Boyarsky: We have a rough idea, we haven't made any 100% decisions on it, but we have a good idea of what they're going to be.
Gresko: There's going to be five total, and the way we approach each of the classes is each one has to provide a totally different way to play the game. So that's provides a lot of replayability, because after you've finished playing it through one class you can go back and play again with a different class, and also it allows us to have a lot of great combinations when you're playing through the game with multiple people, having different classes there lets you have all these great kind of tactical advantages and really varies up the gameplay.
GP: So obviously you've based a lot of stuff on the Diablo sort of thing before, that's what all the presentations have been about, so this worked in one, this worked in two, so we're taking them and combining them. Have you been taking inspiration from other games that have been out in the years since Diablo II was released?
Boyarsky: We look at every game, you know, we're a company of game players, we're all fanatical about games, we just love games, and that's I think one of the secrets to Blizzard's success is the fact that we play everybody's games, because even in the most weakest, most terrible game out there, there's some great ideas, you know, there's great ideas in every game, but there's stuff we wouldn't take from other games because it just doesn't work for us. You wanna really keep track of what's going on in the world of gaming, if someone comes up with this great innovation, you just don't wanna ignore it.
GP: Battle.net's been completely revamped for the new wave of releases, so what is it that you guys are most looking forward to about the updates and changes that are about to be in place?
Gresko: Well, the focus that we have for Diablo III is providing a great co-operative play experience, and so there's a lot of new features that are coming with Battle.net that are going to support that. Another big thing is the competitive play experience, which is gonna just be off the charts, and also improved from previous Diablo's because we're going to look at things like, making sure that you can't grief players, make sure that the cheating and item duplication isn't going to be happening - and we also have a lot of great ideas that are going to be brand new for Diablo III that we're going to be using through Battle.net.
GP: We had someone asking about whether something similar to World of Warcraft's "warden" would be making an apperance in terms of the anti-cheat...
Boyarsky: I don't even know... (laughs)
Gresko: I know that we have some of the top - we have obviously a lot of experience in this area because of WoW, and our other games, so we're going to take all that experience to bear into the new Battle.net and the stuff we're doing for Diablo III.
GP: Because we're based in New Zealand, will we still be stuck having to play against Koreans who are on the west coast of America or is there anything in the works about getting any kind of local Battle.net set up?
Boyarsky: We don't even know, that's down the road, but - request that, put that in writing! (laughs) Sounds like a good idea.
Gresko: Is there just some kind of a skill mismatch there, or...?
GP: Well, other than the fact that we're a really long way away from everywhere, which means that lag is inevitable - we don't want to play against Koreans, they kick our arse!
Thank you both very much.
Boyarsky: Thank you guys for coming out here.