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BlizzCon 2010: Leonard Boyarsky and Dave Adams Diablo 3 Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:06am 25/10/10 | Comments
AusGamers chatted with Diablo 3 lead world designer, Leonard Boyarsky and lead level designer Dave Adam about their forthcoming dungeon crawler. Read on for more...

AusGamers: Okay guys, for our readers, can you introduce yourselves and tell us your roles on Diablo III at Blizzard.

Leonard Boyarsky: My name is Leonard Boyarsky, I’m the lead world designer on Diablo III; I work with quests and story and lore - working it all together in the game.

Dave Adams: My name is Dave Adams, I’m the lead level designer. My group, we build all the worlds and play-spaces and populate them with all the monsters and stuff like that.

AG: In terms of the synergistic relationship between both teams, how does that work on a day to day basis?

Dave: Yeah, well we basically do a lot of brain storming as a team, and talk about ideas we want to do. Usually Leonard and his group will have a good idea from story points and then we’ll get together and discuss how we can get some cool stuff in the levels in the game...

Leonard: Yeah, it really goes back and forth a lot; it’s not like one side tosses ideas over the fence, you know, a lot of times story ideas will come from their side, or we’ll say “hey what if the level did this?” - it’s really just... the brain storming is the best way to put it.

AG: So no one is no one’s boss - is that what you’re saying?

Dave: I guess not in terms of game ideas. You know, everyone can have their input, I mean there’re bosses and things like that.

Leonard: Everyone has input, and if it’s a great idea you know, we’re gonna do it.

AG: Let’s touch on that, Dave I was going to ask you, as a level designer, you’re obviously always thinking about... well, levels. Do you ever just come up with an awesome idea for a level and take it to the story guys and just say “you need to build a story around this!”?

Dave: Oh sure yeah. We come up with all kinds of different, crazy ideas and stuff and go to Leonard and ask him and his group to put something to it because we really wanna use it... because you know, sometimes the stuff’s random and so if they play it, it’s cool, if not, maybe they’ll hit it next time. But sometimes we come up with something cool where we want players to dive into it and make sure they see it, so it’s, like, “hey, come up with a cool story” and they do.

AG: Diablo II vs Diablo III. Obviously technology has come along way since Diablo II; how has level design changed for you since then, both aesthetically and from a gameplay perspective? I mean, you can essentially do anything you want now, right?

Leonard: Well I think players are just expecting a lot more from us - in terms of our delivery systems; our story delivery systems - the way we’re delivering story stuff to the player. So we have our out-of-door areas, and they’re a fixed layout in terms of their overall shape so that we can have landmarks and places that you can identify interspersed with random elements. So one time you might come into an area and see a specific sequence happen, and another time it might be the entrance to a dungeon. So it’s a little bit more random in that you don’t have the randomisation of these areas, but you still have randomisations of events - so we’re delivering story that way; it’s randomising the story - we still have the main story arc, but we’re randomising other story elements that way.

So that’s one way we’re delivering story and technically it’s a bit different. In D2 we gave you quests and story in the hub, you know in town whereas we have a lot more stuff happening in the field I guess, is what I’m talking about. And Dave could probably talk more about the technology on his end, which is a lot more affected by...

Dave: Yeah, I think we have a lot more versatility now for how we build stuff. The 3D element is much more prevelent in this and we can take advantage of this. And I think technology doesn’t matter as much as the game itself, like, how we deliver all this stuff, how we tell the story now; how we have quests and our character customisation, you know, the tech is cool and it makes everything “wow”, you probably saw the demo stuff already and that makes all the ‘punch’ and the ‘pepper’, I guess as Metzgen would call it, but at the end of the day what we’re trying to deliver is the game stuff, so the tech is...

AG: Secondary to that...

Dave: Yeah. It’s really just a way of looking at it and what players are expecting from it.

AG: Is there a lot riding on that player expectation for you? I mean, since this [Diablo III] was announced, there was a lot of vocalisation from the community, but every time you’ve shown it since it’s basically proven itself time and time again, and I think you’ve obviously reached a new visual plateau, but are those hardcore voices and communities a factor in your overall design philosophy - do they register on your radar?

Leonard: Well we actually have some hardcore D2 fans on our team, you know, so we’re always getting that opinion whether we want it or not... not that we don’t want it, but it’s, you know. So we take that into account, but you can’t make D2 in 3D, we need to bring it to the next place it needs to be. But that’s our starting point, you know, where do we want it to go as fans - where do we want to see the franchise go? So it’s a weird place to put your mind, because it’s what we delivered the fans 10 years ago, so what are we gonna deliver to them this time and how is that growing the franchise, you know, so we don’t restrict ourselves by that, but at the same time we don’t ignore it either.

Dave: I think what’s awesome about that too is that Diablo II is still such a vibrant game that’s out there that people are playing and so we’re still getting current feedback about that, and I think we do take that all into account - we listen to what the player’s loves and what they didn’t like, and we really try to take that to heart when we’re working, plus, as Leonard said, we try to take it to that next level.

AG: In terms of doing that, in terms of not making D2 in HD and 3D, what’s the differentiation? I mean, you’re building the same world with the same lore which is still dealing with this whole concept of hell - how do you do that now and make it seem like it’s not just the same game with prettier graphics and new character classes? What’s the differentiation? Is it just that gameplay has matured and classes have matured...

Leonard: Well I think you just said it, it is that maturing of the franchise; we’re digging a little deeper into the world lore, we’re digging a little deeper into the story, you know, we’re looking at the background - using Deckard Cain as an example, we really get into his character - how does he feel about what happened in D2 and D1? Whereas in Diablo II, all this horrendous stuff had happened in D1 but you didn’t really get a feel for that, or for how he felt about it, you know what I mean, it’s, like, you find him in this cage in Diablo II and you rescue him and he might say a few things about it, but this time around we really wanna give you this feeling that everything is more real, you know a little bit more like these characters have depth. And not to knock Diablo II or anything but it’s more of what people want these days, and I think it adds a lot more to it because it’s a story with a lot of depth; it’s a story that when you look at it from that perspective, it has a lot of gravity to it and I think that’s a rich area we haven’t tapped into yet.

Dave: And it’s also, on the gameplay side, instead of listening to a story which was a lot of what you do in D2, we have this philosophy of “play, don’t tell”. So we’re trying to deliver the story in what you’re [actually]] doing. Instead of having all this dialogue you’ll have this part in whatever the event is and at the end you’re like “oh, okay I learnt something there” rather than just someone saying something about what just happened.

AG: Which in and of itself is part of that mature gameplay tool-set - players are crafting the world and the story as you go, but in terms of the characters - they’re all pretty different, you know, you’ve got a whacky one in there, the Witchdocter is great, and all the examples we saw in the presentation were awesome - but from a player attachment point of view, how much of a human element is there to the experience, what have you done to get players emotionally attached to these characters?

Leonard: Well they each have their own background, with what they’re doing and we’re telling the story from each of their point of view’s, to a certain degree. And one of the things we’re playing around with now is in the quest log - it’s written from their point of view, and so that’s something we’re playing around with now, but who knows what the final expression of that will be. But that’s one possible way of engaging - it’s opt-in, like Dave was saying there’re ways we’re delivering the story that are opt-in as well, and if we do our job right, you won’t ever have to open your quest log of lore.

So it’d kind of like, you could be totally into your character and your character build and how awesome your character is with all your runes you put into it and all the skills you can have and just totally identify with your character that way, or you could be a player who does go deeper; looking at it from a more emotional perspective. So our job is to put that stuff in there for you to find and as much as possible put it in the “play, don’t tell” scenario. But at the end of the day it’s Diablo - it’s all about the action, it’s all about the immediacy of the action and if there’s a little bit of that rubbing off to the full straight-ahead action player, then we’ve done our job. We just want to make sure there are the deeper levels there for players if that’s where they want to go.

Dave: I think a lot of what you miss in the demos and all the loud stuff is the voice of the characters; each character has their own voice and I thin when you have their skill-sets when you go through, that sells you on who you are as a character as well, so in this environment (BlizzCon), I think you miss out on that a little bit. But when you’re playing the game I think you really get into these characters - all of them. You know, they have an amazing voice and I think that will come out as you’re playing through.

Leonard: It’s hard to get that out in such a short session.

AG: Is the game beginning, middle, end? Or are there multiple paths based on which character yous choose - different story outcomes or anything like that?

Leonard: No, it’s a linear experience because we’re really focusing on the co-op side of things. So I could be playing a game and we can have all these different classes, and I bring the Witchdoctor and that’s what I bring to the game, and so what I bring to the experience. And you know we have all those little story cues in there, but no branching paths or anything like that.

AG: In terms of sheer level design what kind of differentiation can we expect? You know, in terms of aesthetics and the like...

Dave: It’s all over the place (laughs). Last year at BlizzCon we showed the desert stuff and today we showed some new environments (Leoric’s Hall of Agony) and at tomorrow’s Q&A we’ll have more (Bastion’s Keep).

Leonard: And you know, we try to tell story through our environments as well, you know, some of our back-story too. King Leoric, he was driven mad by Diablo and in the demo, you’re playing through his dungeons and his torture chambers that he was torturing people in. So that kind of paints that dungeon as a different dungeon. As well as the highlands around his manor that have been corrupted by him. So we do have these different areas, but the interesting thing in how they’re built is we try to build story even into how we present them to the player.

AG: From a technical perspective, I know guys tend to not scale everything up to the nines, so that everyone can enjoy the same experience but do you have a baseline set of system specs you're building from? Like, if you can play StarCraft II, you'll be able to play Diablo III?

Dave: Yes.

Leonard: Our goal is to always make games as available on as many systems as possible. You know, we're definitely not the sort of company to tell you, you need to play on a certain video card or whatever - we don't know what our system specs are yet, but that's always our goal - to make it available on the widest range of systems possible.

AG: Okay, one final question, and I would assume it comes up a bit, but of all the Blizzard franchises, Diablo seems the most-likely fit for consoles - is that ever tossed around the office at all? I mean even Diablo or Diablo II on XBLA or PSN would work...

Leonard: We've talked about it, I mean it's something that, you know, out of all the games that we've done as a company, it just seems like the most obvious. But right now we're just concentrating on the Mac and PC version of the game. But everyone says it, and you said it too, it's the most obvious one... but right now we have enough on our plate finishing this one (laughs).

AG: Okay great, thanks a bunch dudes.

Leonard: No problem.

Dave: Thanks a bunch.

Latest Comments
Posted 12:32am 25/10/10
Something went wrong here...?
Posted 12:46am 25/10/10
Post limit this man to 10 minutes and then once he's able to post in 10 minutes ban him for life, immediately.

Edit: it was an empty post with no subject. It's all fixed now. Unban this man and remove his post limiter, immediately.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 12:40am 25/10/10
huh? what happened, seems normal from my end
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