Blizzard's Matthew Berger Takes us through Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls on Next-Gen
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:07am 26/11/13 | Comments
We sat down with Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (console) lead level designer, Matthew Berger, to find out what will seperate the console version from the forthcoming PC release, plus a few other surprises. Read on for what he had to say...
AusGamers: So I played the Diablo III demo yesterday on PS4, and I don’t know if it’s just because of the monitors being used for the PCs, but it was looking better than the PC.
Matthew Berger: It always helps when you’re on a TV -- a nice big TV screen, that always helps. It’s 1080p native, and we’ve also updated the shaders and the lighting model, so obviously it looks really, really swell. I know that some of those shaders are making their way to PC -- some of the updates we made to the lighting model and the shaders. I don’t know that they’re necessarily already in, so that might be some of the difference, but the big TV makes a pretty compelling argument when you’re staring at it.
AusGamers: Especially when you’re sitting on that big couch as well.
Matthew: Right!? That’s always nice.
AusGamers: Does it feel kind of humbling for you guys to be getting… and I know you all say it’s all one big team on Diablo, but obviously you guys have been working specifically on console, and some of that stuff is now trickling back into the PC version; that’s go to feel pretty nice.
Matthew: It is, but not in the way that you would think. Actually what’s nice, is it’s cool to be able to essentially give back to the greater franchise as a whole. Because if you look at The Ultimate Evil Edition for the PS4 version of the game, which has Reaper of Souls, that’s a whole new expansion with a whole new class and adventure mode and all of those things that have been developed on the PC side, and we’ve helped, but there’s a lot of work that’s done there that comes into the console and… I’m not going to say we get credit for it, but for people that just play the console version and may not know the PC version, they don’t realise how much work has been done by other members of the team.
So it’s really cool when some of the stuff that we pioneer makes its way back into the main game too; that’s really awesome.
AusGamers: Are there any unique features that you guys are kicking off on the next-gen consoles that you haven’t really spoken about yet? There’s a lot of social features there that both parties haven’t really spoken about, and I know you’re only showing PS4, but is there anything you can talk about in terms of stuff like the Share Button and stuff like that; what you guys are doing there?
Matthew: The Share Button is handled by the PS4’s architecture, so we don’t really have anything that we need to do with it -- it does its own little thing and we’re very happy with that. I think one of the things that we were adding, which is not going to be on PC; there are three new features…
We have this philosophy on the original, and you and I talked about this (at Gamescom), where we wanted it to be ‘one couch to rule them all’; we wanted it to be tailor-made for console and pick-up-and-play. Those were our guiding pillars for the original console version of the game. We added a new one, to share your adventures, and what’s social is very much in the air these days. You can see the new consoles are very much embracing that. Our version of that is: we want you to feel like you’re part of a greater community when you’re playing the game, even if your friends are not necessarily playing with you at the same time.
So we’ve added three things: we’ve added player mail, player gifts, and avenger kills. Player mail is very simple: there’s a mailbox in town, you go there, you’ve found a cool item and you mail it to me; I get it, I’m happy; awesome -- it’s very basic. Player gifts is this neat little feature where you’re adventuring in Sanctuary, you kill a monster and an item drops: a legendary drops for instance, and there’s a column of light with a little sound, and you’re, like, “ooh, legendary!” and before you’re able to pick it up, another item is going to jump off that legendary and drop on the ground. There’s going to be a little box on the ground, and it’s going to say “Gift for Matthew”, because you and I are friends, and I’m on your friends list. So you’re going to take it and you’re going to send it to me, and I can open it with anyone of my characters, and it’s going to give me an item that is level-appropriate and tailored to that class.
So I have a level 10 character, and I have a level 70 character; I’m not really playing with my level 10 barbarian right now, but I am playing with my level 70 demon hunter and going through my paragon levels, so I’m going to open it with that one, and I’m going to get a level 70 rare or legendary item that is going to be tailor-made for my demon hunter. That’s cool, right?
Now most things are just like “hey, we’re connected, whatever, blah, blah, blah”; avenger kills are where it’s at! Our game director Josh Mosqueira love to say “Love the player”, that’s his big philosophy in life, love the player -- it’s a good philosophy when you’re making videogames. But sometimes you’ve got to give a little bit of love back to the monsters, because you know, they’re the ones getting murdered -- they’re getting killed by these players. So you’re adventuring, and a monster kills you -- bummer, you’re on the ground and waiting to resurrect -- and that monster is going to level up, and a portal is going to appear, and he’s going to jump in the portal and disappear. Then he’s going to pick somebody in your list of friends who plays Diablo III, and he’s going to jump into their game.
They’re going to see a unique-named monster, and it’s going to say ‘you are being hunted’, and that monster is going to be named after you, and it’s going to come and hunt them, and have new powers. If they kill it, they get loot and you get loot. If it kills them, it’s going to get named after them and it’s going to level up, have more powers, and jump into their friends list and hunt another one of their friends.
So it’s that idea of: we’re not playing together, but we’re connected as adventurers going through Sanctuary. That’s out version of social today, in a sense. Those three features are unique to console.
AusGamers: That’s very cool.
Matthew: Thank you.
AusGamers: Is there any talk at all about any cross-platform social functionality? PC to PS4 and that sort of stuff at all? Obviously that asynchronous stuff you could probably do, but what about actual cross platform cooperative?
Matthew: We talk about it as ‘wouldn’t it be great?’, and people do ask us “Can I play with my PS4 character on PC?” and whatnot, but there are several hurdles. One of them is that you don’t log into Battle.net on PS4, so obviously that connection is not there. A good thing is the games, even though it’s the same, you’ve played it so you can tell that they’re very dissimilar at the same time.
If you were playing on PC and I’m playing on console, then what happens when I evade? Well, you need to have evade, but you can’t really use it. I need to have a different user interface than you have anyway. The loot drops on current-gen were a lot different, and now they’re a lot closer, so that problem has been solved, but one of the things on console still: you get attacked by a lot fewer enemies at once, because if I’m surrounded by enemies, I have to manually find a way out of there. On PC, you click somewhere and the game is going to find that path for you.
So all of a sudden, if we’re playing together, which of those two systems is it picking? So it’s not as straight forward… it’s great, because we would love to have our community be one great community -- and maybe down the line who knows? Maybe that happens -- but for the moment, it would be very difficult, unfortunately.
AusGamers: I’m not sure if I should know this yet, but the Reaper of Souls releases will be standalone on consoles, right? You won’t need the original game.
Matthew: Yeah. Reaper of Souls, The Ultimate Evil Edition, and the reason we’re calling it The Ultimate Evil Edition rather than just say Reaper of Souls on consoles, is because it will have the original game, all of the classes, plus the new act with adventure mode, the new crusader class. It’s going to be one chock-full game. Plus all of the unique features like character mail, avenger kills and all of that.
AusGamers: Were they many hurdles going from current-gen to next-gen, in terms of just moving that architecture across.
Matthew: Fewer than you would think; especially because I think the bigger hurdles were going from PC to console the first time. The hurdles this time were much more on the engineers who had to deal with the architecture. Obviously Sony was very helpful, and our engineers are really good, so they were able to move from current gen to PS4 and it was a fairly seamless process for the designers -- we didn’t have to worry too much. One day the kits showed up at our desks; they kind of sat there for a couple of weeks, then all of a sudden they were like “ok, it’s all good; flick them on and you can start using it”. Of course there’s been crashes and things like that, but it’s actually been a pretty seamless process. And now with 1080p, 60 frames a second and the engineers kicking ass every day.
AusGamers: In terms of mastering and what you want to meet for the release, are you there now and just iterating, or is there still room for additional content and features?
Matthew: The team is also working on Reaper of Souls for PC; some of us are also helping out on the PC side and we want to make sure that the PC side gets finished and is awesome. Because once Reaper of Souls on PC is awesome, then naturally The Ultimate Evil Edition is just going to be awesome itself, because it has a lot of that content.
But the development is staggered, so that allows us to do things like avenger kills; it allows us to do things like player mail and player gifts, and it allows us to do a few other things we’re kind of thinking of -- that we’re not talking about yet, but [are] kind of on our radar -- we’re going “yeah, let’s try and do that”, because we are staggered so we have a bit of longer time. And as Reaper of Souls gets completed, we’re going to be able to lean a little more on some of the resources from PC -- their engineers, their designers, the artists -- on that side of the team are going to be able to help us out a little bit.
AusGamers: The reason I ask, is because I thought of a way that you guys could actually combat the lack of PvP, and that is: by adding… because you’ve got adventure mode, and you’ve got the Nephalem stuff -- which is all really cool -- but they’re still dungeon-crawling, which is the heart of the game. But some people want that small arena challenge. Why not do a PvE horde mode?
Matthew: I’m going to tell you why. I’m going to go completely off script (and the PR guy is looking at me like he’s going to throw stuff at me). I’m not going to say that we haven’t thought about it -- it is a very natural inclination -- but doing that is not easy, and the reason it’s not easy is not because of getting it in and getting it fun -- that’s probably doable -- it’s getting it in, and getting it fun, and getting it done to the level of satisfaction and polish that we expect of ourselves at Blizzard, is a completely new endeavour.
If and when we do something like that, it’s going to be Diablo III as a whole team that’s going to be a path I would want to go “as we’re finishing Ultimate Evil Edition, we’re going to add this feature” [but] it would not be polished to the extent that we would be happy with it, and we would not want to deliver that to the players.
AusGamers: Ok, fair enough. Switching gears to the networking side of things -- and I’ve spoken to guys about this before -- obviously lag and latency in Australia is pretty bad from international servers, and we haven’t really had a chance to test the new consoles at all yet, but can you talk about how you guys approached it? Is it pretty much the same as what you did with PS3 and Xbox 360?
Matthew: Yeah, we go through Demonware and PlayStation Network, so a lot of the code is going to be the same from what we did on PS3. I don’t know if our engineers are going to be looking at specifically... I don’t have that answer for you, we would have to get back to you on whether we’re improving that aspect of the game. If it needs improving, then it’s almost guaranteed that it’s on our backlog and somebody’s going to be looking at it, but off the top of my head, I don’t know.
AusGamers: Now again, this is not alluding to a version for the other console that may or may not have been announced, but the Xbox One has this really awesome feature, which is daily challenges that are Achievement-based.
Have you guys thought about that kind of feature? I know you have more [Trophies] in your PlayStation game than are actually currently allowed, but have you thought about introducing daily challenge dungeons or anything like that?
Matthew: Not really. It’s not something that’s come up. I think we prefer to provide something like adventure mode, which creates its own replayability that’s more tailor-made to when players can actually take advantage of it, as opposed to: here is your task list, your chore list for today; you’ve got to do it; if you don’t do it that day, you kind of missed out on it.
I think we want something that’s a little bit more in your hands when you and your buddies want to play the game, or when you want to play the game, it’s relaxing and you can have a great time with it -- is more our look on this.
Matthew: That would be a great question for our art community. I would say that a lot of that stuff is being fostered by Sony itself, because it’s in their interests to introduce console gamers as a whole into this notion of “hey, you can now stream what you’re doing; have players see what you’re doing”.
There’s a lot of opportunity there too, for instance: right now if I’m playing a game and having a hard time with a section of a game on console, I want to go and read a walkthrough. Odds are I’m not going to see a video of it or it’s going to be a guy filming his TV -- it’s not really often that you see someone that is properly connected, it currently takes a whole lot of equipment, but that’s not going to be the case anymore. I’m going to be able to hopefully logon, to turn on the Internet and say “hey, how do I finish this level in that game?” and there’s going to be a walkthrough with a video on it that’s going to directly show me how to do it. And that’s really, really exciting.
AusGamers: Do you guys have a more specific release date yet?
Matthew: Just 2014. Obviously, we have to finish Reaper of Souls before we can come out, and we’re staggered a little bit and there’s still some things we need to do, but 2014 -- which is pretty good for Blizzard, I think.
AusGamers: Are you trying to aim to have PC and PS4 out around the same time?
Matthew: No, they’re definitely going to be staggered. It’s going to be a lot closer than it was last time -- it’s not going to be a year after, obviously, so it’s going to be a lost closer -- but we do need to complete Reaper of Souls before we complete The Ultimate Evil Edition. Then there are unique features we’re making for The Ultimate Evil Edition, and of course, it’s a console game, which means it needs to go through certification. There’s a whole manufacturing process that’s a little bit different than for PC.
AusGamers: Adding to that, one of the big models on console is DLC to push more frequent new content, and you guys tend to just trickle new content into patches anyway. Have you guys thought about how you might want to approach that, and whether or not you want to adopt that as a business model on console, or would you rather keep following the PC suit?
Matthew: I don’t have any information on that. That’s the kind of decision that Mike Morhaime gets to make when he has a chat with whoever else he gets to make these decisions with. That kind of high-level strategy is above me, I just focus on making sure that the game is going to be awesome once it gets delivered to the player.
AusGamers: Ok. Thanks so much Matt.
Matthew: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.