AusGamers Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:36pm 28/10/13 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Lead Designer Kevin Martens and Lead Writer Brian Kindregan to talk about their forthcoming expansion. Read on for what they had to say...
AusGamers: Let’s talk about raising the level cap to begin with. Was that a ubiquitous decision, like it has to happen in an expansion to entice people to come back?
Kevin Martens: No, it wasn’t as obvious as it seems. At the end of the day it came down to… well, there’s a lot of things we can do to add a lot more replayability or reasons to play Act V, because the game has lots of hooks already -- it has the loot hook, and the variety hook, and all of those things. People have certainly not stopped playing once they reached the level cap -- it’s not a game where you reach 60 and I’m done, that’s not beating Diablo, and we already have that paradigm out there.
However, it sure is more satisfying to gain the real levels, as opposed to just the paragon levels. That said, we did make the paragon levels more valuable and wider-ranging and things like that. So we did decide to do it to 70, just because it’s fun to get that kind of experience, and what we bit off for ourselves by doing that, is we have to have new skills, new passives, new runes for all the classes -- which is ok.
It’s very time-consuming; making class-skills is the most expensive thing we do on the project. A close second would be randomness, and how difficult it is to make a compelling gameplay experience in a game that’s as random as as this, but we spend most of our time on classes, so it’s eating up a lot of time, but we’re giving people new things. We have a reason then, to expand the tactical role-set and give people more potential builds; so that’s good.
AusGamers: On the aesthetics side of things, it was mentioned during the presentation that ultimately, this expansion is a darker slice of the world. When the game was first announced, you guys spent a lot of time at loggerheads with fans about the perceived darker versus cartoony style. It was all a bit silly, but is there a reason this one is darker, or is it just that Westmarch is that place?
Kevin: Westmarch is only one of the zones that we have in the game. It sounds like you’re familiar with the argument already, and you’ve played Diablo II and Diablo I. Diablo I, I would say is horror fantasy, some would call it dark fantasy. It was a horror-inspired thing, very lovecraftian etc, and horror is best in an intimate setting. Then Diablo II was world-spanning, you crossed continents and things like that; Diablo III is more in that vein. Diablo II obviously had lots of variety in appearances; there was light areas, there was dark areas -- there was the bright desert, there was the green misty jungles etc. Both of those games, Diablo I and of course, where Diablo II started, and where Diablo III started, those all had that horror influence. So in every case, we’ve been making that nod to our roots, and Reaper of Souls is no exception.
So when we say it’s darker… Diablo III actually ended on a hopeful note, the game was about doom. The armies of hell were coming, Diablo was returning, we’re all going to die. You managed to stop that, even though you were betrayed, and Tyrial declared this age of angels and humans together. What Tyrial didn’t count for -- and what you saw in the [trailer] -- was that Malthael had returned. Tyrial, and even Imperius -- who does not like humans, and thinks they’re abominations -- had to agree that the humans did save them. So humans and angels were allied at that point, with you, the hero, the Nephalem, being the primary human contact with angels. As far as he was concerned: “we’re good”; malthael disagreed. Malthael used to be the leader of the angels, and when he left, he pondered this issue as well.
So the backstory is pretty simple: it’s that angels and demons are the parents of humans. The eternal conflict is that angels and demons have been fighting forever, essentially since they existed. A long time ago, an angel and a demon got tired of conflict, they stole the worldstone, and they created Sanctuary -- a fresh world -- and they tried to start a new life together. The demons found out about it, and the angels felt like they needed to step in a little bit -- at least Tyrial did, against the wish of Malthael -- and the conflict became humans being caught in the middle of that.
So where Tyrial looks at people and sees that potential for good -- and realises that the Nephalem hero did not get corrupted, and did save us all, including the angels -- Malthael looks at the same situation and sees all the evil that humans have -- Zoltun Kulle being a prime example, from Act III -- and thinks “Holy crap! The humans are so powerful. They stopped the Prime Evil” -- something he had failed to do -- “I’d better stop them before they get any more powerful”.
AusGamers: So Malthael’s motivation is still like a misguided sense of righteousness?
Kevin: He doesn’t think it’s misguided. He’s trying to end the eternal conflict. There’s a valid argument that humans should have never existed; creation did not intend them. Or did it?
AusGamers: So we shouldn’t be looking so much at Malthael as being evil, because ultimately he’s just a warped sense of what we would assume…
Brian Kindregan: Yeah, I think the best villains should always have an understandable motivation, where you can see the path that they’re following. You might not agree with it -- I hope you don’t want to kill all the humans -- but you can understand it, and that’s definitely what we’re trying to achieve with him.
Kevin: I think it’s really interesting to think about the background of this Universe, and: what choices do angels and demons have? That’s a classic thing in Western mythology, that humans have a choice. You could argue that Lucifer, for example, and Diablo beside him, that neither of them have a choice, they have to do what they were built to do. Lucifer, in his case, he had to tempt humans etc, and Diablo is the Lord of Terror: what can he do but terrorise? What can he do but corrupt? Does he even have a choice? That’s interesting, and it’s a question we’ll explore in the future, by the way [laughs].
An interesting point to make, for anyone that is a lore-nerd out there, is that Malthael did make a choice to do something different, and he was no longer Wisdom; he became Death. Players obviously have a choice, but previous to this, humanity haven’t often had the power where their choices mattered, they were at the mercy of angels and demons. That’s no longer true; clearly proven by the hero of Diablo III.
AusGamers: And Malthael is still at odds with Diablo?
Brian: They’re not allied. I would say that Malthael would love to make sure that Diablo was never seen again.
Kevin: Malthael would be happiest if there was only angels left; it’s done; it’s only angels; we won!
AusGamers: Can we broach how you’ve approached a lot of the negative feedback that stemmed from Diablo III, in terms of what has been implemented. With vocal fans that essentially wanted Diablo two-point-five as opposed to three, can you talk about how you might have sated some of those guys at all?
Kevin: Sure. I think there’s lots of valid criticisms of Diablo, and there’s criticisms that didn’t come out until a lot of people have played for a lot of time in many cases. Early on, we just had errors in the difficulty, it was just wrong. At a certain point in Hell difficulty, it did get too hard, and the gear didn’t keep up, and we did patch that pretty rapidly. We do believe that we did make Legendaries wrong, and we do keep making them better and better and other build-changing as well. So I think we’re finally nailing what the fantasy of the Legendary items is, and it’s still a little different than Diablo II, but is much more in that direction than it used to be.
So not all of the changes that we made in Diablo III are better than Diablo II, and a good example of that, that people complained about, would be the ability for people to customise their stats, to spend in different ways. We wanted to solve a problem that we think was endemic throughout Diablo II, and that was that people would get locked into a built that wasn’t quite what they thought it was going to be; they had to spend a point before they knew what that meant, and then they couldn’t re-spec it -- for a long time, there was no re-speccing available, and eventually they solved that problem.
Often, people would learn -- usually at the end of Act II, where they tried to kill Durial -- they’d learn that they had made a huge mistake, and this build was not going to work out, and they’d have to start over. Some people love that actually, and I have to say that we’re not supporting that, and we’re not going to in the future.
AusGamers: In this day and age, I don’t know that it is supportable.
Kevin: Right, and some people will never be happy with that answer. That’s an unqualified no, and we just have a disagreement on philosophy there. What we did instead, is we gave people a lot more ability choices, and we tried to give them ways to change their build instantly, and that’s where that skill-system in Diablo III came from. That said, we weren’t necessarily opposed to stat-spending, and we simplified that out of the system. We’re now adding it back in at the paragon levels. You still have the advantages of the skills system -- this is our goal -- the advantage of that skill system is that you’re not locked in. You can change your gear often, that can even affect your build, and you can still customise your character stats for a long time, with the endless paragon system.
So we’re trying to find the best of both worlds there, and that would be one example. We’ve done a tonne of patching as well; it’s hard to even cover all the changes.
AusGamers: Yeah, the problem is that most people have just switched off, as opposed to going “Well, this is Blizzard, balance is key, and they’re always transparent”. You guys are always listening and talking, and it frustrates me that people just switch off like that.
Kevin: To some extent, it’s understandable. I look at Reaper of Souls as a good chance for everyone to take another look. I don’t expect people to play the game forever, but what I would like is for people to come back pretty frequently, and there will still be something fresh and new to see, and that replayability is what the expansion is all about.
So for everyone who has moved on, once the expansion comes out -- as the press build-up, and announcements like this come -- there’s a chance for them to click on a story and say “Oh, yeah, that thing I didn’t like, that’s different”, or “Oh, that new thing looks super cool”. So this is a good chance to say “Hey everybody, here’s where we’re at” with the expansion.
AusGamers: Moving on, why the Crusader, and not Paladin?
Kevin: We got the same question about the Wizard [and] the Sorceress, and if you play the Wizard now, and you play the Sorceress in DII, you can make a Wizard play like a Sorceress, but you can do a lot of different things with the Wizard as well; the same with the Crusader. The Crusader only has two Paladin skills that are the same as Diablo II, all of the other ones are new.
So it does fill a similar tactical role, but in a different way. In the same way that the Witchdoctor and Necromancer are not completely different, but the Witchdoctor is still very different. We like to do things that are respectful to what we’ve done before. With respect to the Paladin, the Crusader definitely has a dark paladin vibe, but we want to give people something fresh and new.
We were talking earlier how some people might prefer us to make Diablo two-point-five, as opposed to Diablo three, but we’re already onto Diablo three-point-five. We’ve made our choice, and we’re making a game that’s different. When you’re making a sequel, you can do it two different ways. You can make a sequel that’s very, very similar to the one before, or you can make a sequel that has the same feel… this game feels like Diablo; as soon as you start playing and clicking monsters, it definitely feels like Diablo; I make no apologies for that -- we totally nailed it -- but we want to make something new as well. Especially since we’re talking 10 to 12 years later.
AusGamers: This is a pretty obvious question, and I can pretty much predict the answer, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway: We’re this far in and there’s an expansion already, and still no PvP.
Kevin: So PvP has been difficult for us. The reasons are actually pretty easy, it’s when people start asking “What about this, and what about this?” that things start getting complex. The reason why it’s difficult to do PvP, is that we made a vast PvE game. The core fantasy for us was “I want to kill lots of monsters in lots of awesome ways”. You can’t kill lots of players in those awesome ways, or lots of players will get ticked off because they have the exact same fantasy as you, and they want to kill you in vast ways, so essentially, the game is automatically changing.
That, plus the vast differentiation in power, and gear, and we didn’t try to balance the classes against each other, we tried to balance the classes against monsters. So your DPS versus all of the different kinds of monsters works well, but with DPS against each other, it becomes a super-rapid game of “Oh, you’re dead; oh, you’re dead; oh, you’re dead” and it’s just not fun.
We also don’t want people to play a different character: “That’s my hero; that’s the gear I found; I killed X monster and got X legendary” that’s the fantasy of Diablo. People say “well, why not make pre-made characters? Give me two different Barbs I can chose from, and that’s my PvP Barb”, but that’s not your PvP Barb, that’s some random one. If your gear doesn’t matter, and this game is about killing monsters and getting loot, what we’re actually making is a different game.
So we’re trying to find that balance, where we can find a PvP mode, a type of game where you can use your hero, that’s really important to us, or else we might as well make a new game.
AusGamers: Now somewhat off-topic: Hearthstone is awesome, but a Hearthstone Diablo version would be equally awesome.
Kevin: Everyone has that frustration all of the time. Blizzard is a big company, and we do mostly big things. Hearthstone is one of those few things we do where we try to stay focused: a small team, keeping the idea of the project within reason.
AusGamers: Would you love to see that?
Kevin: We’d love to see all sorts of things. I would say for tablet games, we’ve got like six solid ideas out there, but what are we going to stop doing on Diablo III to make the tablet game? Blizzard is just built to make big things. I hope that Hearthstone opens up more options for us, and we say “Oh, we can take a small team, keep it targeted, and do something that is grand, but not seven years grand” [laughs], well four years grand at best. So the company wants… they are interested in doing stuff that is smaller, and Hearthstone… I hope it opens doors.
AusGamers: I know this one is an awkward question, but everyone will ask: how much gameplay, quantifiably, have you added in the expansion?
Kevin: The act is definitely going to be one of the bigger ones, but we haven’t finished it yet. What it takes me to play through it now is not indicative of the final thing, because not all of the events are in, but it’s a big act. The replay systems like loot runs -- that’s taking all of the existing dungeons, all of the existing monsters, and combining them -- and some of [that] content is super compelling. So while it may not be a quest, if that counts as content, well then we’ve added endless content. If that doesn’t count as content, then it depends on how long you find loot runs fun for. Many of the combinations are just as good as the dungeons we’ve hand-crafted.
Brian: There’s other features too, that we’re not talking about yet. But also, Act V is more replayable I think, because of the randomised tiers.
AusGamers: Obviously everything is randomised with the loot runs, and you guys ran through the numbers in the presentation, but is there an endemic problem there that people will just go and farm in that?
Kevin: Yes, and that’s something that had to be corrected. The reasons that loot runs came up to begin with, and the thing that we do not want to become an unintended consequence of them, is that people are doing the same thing over and over again in the end-game right now. So loot runs are one of the activities we would like people to do, which should not be the only one. While condensing the randomness of Diablo into that cycle -- random dungeons, random monsters, random boss -- it should be very fun, but if you just kept doing that, the mechanical nature of that would start to become apparent: “I know it’s different monsters that you’ve never seen before together, and a different boss than I’ve ever played before, but I’m getting bored!”, that happens, so we have to address that.
Either they’re spliced in so that people can’t run them endlessly and they have to earn the chance to do it, or we have to offer something that’s equally efficient, but different, on purpose. So “I can’t do this in loot runs, so I have to go and do this other thing. Oh this thing is fun, I’m going to keep doing this”. It’s that kind of push and pull all the time.
AusGamers: Thanks guys. Really appreciate it.
Kevin: Nice to meet you.