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AusGamers Diablo 3 Jay Wilson Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 06:14pm 04/05/12 | Comments
AusGamers recently had a chance to catch up with Diablo III game director, Jay Wilson, just ahead of the game's launch. Read on or watch for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or via direct link, or download it.

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers. Once again you are here with Stephen Farrelly and once again we have another very special guest with us today -- Mr Jay Wilson.

I don’t even think he needs an introduction. You all know what he has been working on for eons. It was going to take Diablo himself to really bring this game to the fore, I think -- in the minds of a lot of people.

Jay Wilson: [Laughs] It did actually!

AusGamers: So let’s just go there, let’s start with: home stretch -- well not even home stretch, it’s pretty much done and dusted, right?

Jay: Yeah, on the gameplay side, we’ve been done for a couple of weeks. We do have some programming talent there still working on minor stability issues and stress tests of the open-beta just occurred and we want to take things from that, but for the most part, we’ve been done for a few weeks, of the actual game component.

AusGamers: The whole Blizzard philosophy of “done when it’s done” and not really having a release date perse -- what’s the vibe usually when you get to that final two weeks, three weeks of all that stress testing and just knowing that ultimately there is going to be a ship-point. What’s the vibe in the office like?

Jay: Uh, lack of belief... it’s funny, you go through a lot of emotions. it’s one of the hardest if not the... it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and you go through frustration, you go through exhaustion. It’s almost like the 12 stages of grief. And then elation.

I’ve shipped games before, but I’ve never... I don’t know that I’ve ever had a moment on anything I’ve worked on, that felt as good as the day we announced the release date. It’s not even the release date, it’s just the announcement of the release date. And leading up to that, I was getting Twitter feeds like crazy of people just wanting the release date and I’m like “we’re so close to telling them, I wish I could tell them!”.

So yeah, it’s pretty exciting now, but in some ways it’s still just sinking in that it’s real.

AusGamers: Well it’s a bit of a strange analogy to use, but like a crime-scene, once it’s out there, will you guys just flee and hide and just wait a couple of days until the dust settles. Then come back out and see what the response has been to the game proper? Or will you guys be there that minute after 12:01 and just seeing what everyone’s root reactions are?

Jay: Yeah, we’ll go in swinging. We’ll be right there.

AusGamers: Because I’d go under the blankets if I were you.

Jay: No way; no. I would be playing -- if I didn’t have the launch event to go to and boxes to sign -- I’d be playing the game at 12:01. If I couldn’t play the game at work, I’d be taking the time off. So no, that’s go-time for us. That’s the time when we double-down on it.

I get jokes from people asking me what I’m going to do when we’re done and I’m like “Oh, I’m going to sleep or go on vacation”. The Truth is, I already went on vacation, so I could actually be there for the launch and be ready. Because for Blizzard, the real work starts when the game ships. That’s when we go into hardcore support mode.

We view ourselves as a company as almost more of a customer service and support company than a product company. We produce these services for players, not just an end-product.

AusGamers: Well that’s a really good segue, because one of my big questions was going to be: post-release, what’s the plan moving forward? Obviously PvP was pushed back -- and I do want to touch on that in a little bit, I know you’ve probably been asked it a bunch of times today -- but what’s the process? Because again, rolling with that “it’s done when it’s done”, but now that it’s done, obviously there’s got to be a bit more of... I don’t want to use the word “speedy”, but more a “reactionary” process to what happens post-release.

And then of course there’s content that you guys have talked about and patches and what have you. So what’s the process moving forward?

Jay: I think one of the things that isn’t apparent to people -- because we have that kind of it’s “done when it’s done” mentality and we don’t talk about release dates until we’re sure -- there’s the thought that we never have them. And the truth is, we always... we’ve had several projected release dates and we work very hard towards them.

So as a company, we have a lot of structure. So structure for the release of our product is something we’ve gotten very good at -- especially for the last eight years since World of Warcraft. We’ve released several World of Warcraft expansions, we’ve released StarCraft II, and now Diablo III.

We’ve really gotten to refine that whole process. So we plan out our patches and we say “ok”, well we assume -- because we’ve seen what's happened on the other games -- we assume that there will probably be some kind of emergency technical problem show up fairly early on that we’ll need to address, so we plan a patch in for that. And we will probably have some kind of balance issues that we don’t think are super-major, but are major enough that we... or maybe are ones that we didn’t see early on, so let’s assume we’ll get that in at the earliest possible we can get it; so we set that patch date. And then we know that PvP is an element that we knew we wanted to add in, so we have a patch date for that.

So we just plan them and each one is... we don’t know... we have a target date and it will probably be pretty close to that. But the key is that we don’t know exactly what’s going to be in them, but we do know the kinds of things that are going to be in them, so we can plan resources for that.

AusGamers: So you know that they’re there and you don’t talk about them either. I guess that’s the big key. Because this is a two-part question, so PvP -- I overheard some of the reasons behind [postponing] that, and everyone has heard that already, just from previous comments -- but you guys have been working on the game for a really long time. Was it a case of getting the single-player up and running and then PvP was secondary, ergo: it wasn’t finished to the level that the single-player was, because that was always the main focus?

And with that in mind, can you talk about a projected time period between when the game releases and when PvP will be available?

Jay: For us, the core issue is... the Diablo III team is -- like a lot of Blizzard teams -- is actually smaller than most games industry teams I’ve been on, and the reason for that is because we think small teams are more agile; we think they have a better team spirit. We really hit a point where, myself and the production director actively capped new hires, because we just didn’t want the team to get any bigger.

That means sometimes you make hard choices. And the choices that we made throughout production was to focus on co-op and single-player, so PvP kind of always got the shaft. So it was something that we didn’t feel that a compromised, shafted experience was what we wanted to ship. But we also knew, running up to the release date, that the single-player was going to get even more focus and PvP would get even less. So we felt like PvP needs its time, it needs its time where it’s the only priority, so that’s why we chose to kind of push it off.

Any time we make those decisions, we try to let everyone know as soon as we’re sure. But it’s really important to us that we not deceive our audience. A lot of the times I think our audience is like “Why don’t you give us more information?” and the truth is, because we change our minds, as we get more information.

The development process, when you’re aiming for quality over anything else -- if I didn’t care about quality, I could tell you exactly what we’re going to do, because then if it didn’t work out it doesn’t matter, or we don’t care because the quality is not going to be there -- but a lot of the times, we say “this is what we’re going to do”, and then we go and try it and it doesn’t work. So we change it, and now we’ve lied.

I think with game systems, players are used to that, so it doesn’t feel that way. But if we tell somebody a date, and then we don’t hit it, we’ve lied to them, and that’s one of the things we try really hard never to do. So that’s one of the reasons why we hold on to that information a lot of the time.

AusGamers: Well, I mean delay in the videogame journalism world is an ugly word, and no publisher ever wants to come out and say “game delayed”, so I think you guys kind of nailed the sense of “when it’s done it’s done”, just from a PR perspective in regards to that. But to touch back on that question before. Do you have any concept of time that you could even throw at us? Like a year; six months?

Jay: Oh for the PvP patch? For the PvP patch, we definitely... I would say, we want to get it out within months after release. I would say, if it showed up close to the end of the year, that would be... I would say, almost a disaster. So I don’t see it slipping out of this year at all, and I think it’ll be much sooner.

AusGamers: Now moving on, this again is something that has been touched upon in many, many interviews with many of the team members working on the game and it’s something that has sprung forth -- I think probably more predominantly from the beta than anything else -- and that is this concept of challenge.

Everybody talks about how the first two games had this ramped-up challenge and a lot of people have talked about the [Diablo III] beta not being challenging enough. I know you guys have said it’s the tiniest slice of the challenge that’s awaiting everybody. But one of guys that is part of our community asked a question about... he played through the beta a bunch of times with a bunch of different people and never really felt like there was a differentiation between his solo playthroughs and the cooperative playthroughs in terms of the level of challenge that was being thrown at them.

Whereas in the other games, if you had four players, it was a lot more. So I know that you guys have this line that is “just wait; just wait until the game comes out”, but for their sake and our readers sake, can you reiterate that?

Jay: It’s interesting that you’re specifically saying that compared to the previous games, the co-op doesn’t feel like it ramps up. What’s interesting is, I know the exact numbers for how Diablo II ramped up, and ours are higher -- even in the beta, they’re higher.

AusGamers: So quantifiably, that’s exactly what’s going to happen?

Jay: Yeah, the difference is though, when you take something that isn’t very hard, and you add in more players, it’s going to be even less hard. The sheer versatility of having more people just kind of scales it down.

But we view Act I as a tutorial. We didn’t put the beta out there to test game difficulty, we put the beta out to test our hardware; to test our software. Traditionally, that was our betas for the original Diablo and Diablo II, they were software and hardware stress tests. They weren’t there for kind of comprehensive game balance and tuning feedback. We do that a lot more in World of Warcraft, because the scope of the game is so big that it’s not something that we feel like we can tune without that kind of feedback.

Scope on Diablo is not as big as an MMO and so we felt like we could tune the game really well without having to put it in front of the entire world. It’s really that players getting used to the difference between the way we used to do betas -- and still do for the more boxed-product game -- versus how they see MMOs working, where a lot of players are more familiar with MMO kind of betas than they are with a boxed-product like Diablo.

But in terms of the... I’m sorry, I kind of lost my train of thought there.

AusGamers: Just the level of challenge that comes up, especially with cooperative play.

Jay: I guess your question is, is the game going to get more challenging? I can say, unequivocally... and I don’t like to firmly stamp my foot down on things -- because that almost always comes back to bite me -- but I can honestly say, that the end-game of Diablo III is way more challenging than Diablo II; way more.

There’s none of the... because we’ve added Inferno -- the max-level difficulty -- there’s no case where you had in Diablo II, where you simply out-levelled and out-geared the content. The content stays relevant. So it takes... when you get into Inferno for the first time, if you haven’t spent time in Hell, just farming for gear, you will get crushed.

We die... we have encounters in the Inferno mode, where we will die a dozen times trying to take a rare down. And I mean, that rare, not only do they have a host of different abilities that we don’t even have earlier in the game -- things like the ability to create walls in front of me and enemies; the ability to do all different kinds of spells and effects that control area around the player and dish out damage.

Just being able to make creatures that are faster than the player, which you don’t really see in the earlier difficulties very often -- we can make any kind of common creature faster. And you take all that, and we also have enraged timers, where if you don’t kill the monsters in a certain amount of time, they enrage and then they do massive damage.

You take all those things together, and it creates an experience that’s a lot more challenging.

AusGamers: Have you capped the level of farming that a player can do, to a point where there’s always going to be a couple of levels of challenge regardless of the gear that you have and the level that you are? Or is it actually possible for somebody to get to a point where it is a bit of a breeze if they want, but clearly they would have had to have spent hundreds of hours with the game or something?

Jay: We don’t believe that there’s a place where you can play the game at the maximum level and it will be easy. We think it will always be challenging. I say “we think”, because players surprise us, and the level of difficulty on Inferno is so high that a lot of people on the dev team can’t test it very effectively. So we’ve actually had to use a specialty group within... we always run into this problem, you know game developers are never as good as the players, because we don’t have the time to play that the players do.

So we have groups internally -- and a few exceptions to that case -- and we formed a specific strike-team, just for end-game. And their goal was to tell us that this was a challenging and compelling experience. So they spent just as long working on the game as our kind of normal difficulty strike-team did -- which is unusual. For most of our games... World of Warcraft does have a kind of raid group that they have dedicated, but most of our games have just a regular strike-team. They don’t have, like, an end-game, hard-mode strike-team like we’ve created.

AusGamers: Is there an issue... well I don’t want to use the word issue, but in terms of... the game has been coming for a really long time and there’s such heritage there. Diablo II came out close to 12 years ago, by the time D3 comes out. Do you ever feel like there’s always going to be a point where hype for the game -- based on its heritage and just how much information you’ve given everybody and how good the game looks in terms of the media outlay that we get -- that you’ll never quite reach a point where everybody’s satisfied?

Is that something that always sits with you guys? Or is it just a case of “let’s get it out there and we’ll deal with it later”?

Jay: You know, I would have said “yes” about a year ago. I would have said “oh yeah, that terrifies me”. Now, no, because I’ve played the game. Sitting in our test area and we’re doing four-player Inferno. I can’t name a time in the last few years I’ve laughed so hard and had such a great time.

So, do I think there will be someone out there who will be disappointed? Yeah. There’s always somebody you can’t satisfy. But seeing people playing the game; playing the game myself and also seeing the response to the beta that’s been so overwhelmingly positive and to me, I look at that and say “wow, you guys aren’t even playing the good part yet!”. To me, the early part of Act I on Normal difficulty, that’s boring. It’s not hard enough, you know. When I have to do testing, that’s the part that I grind through so I can get to the good stuff.

It’s funny because it starts getting better. Even almost right after beta, I think it starts getting better because it gets a lot more challenging. But in Act II and especially Act III it really takes off. But overall, I’m really proud with how the game has turned out. So I don’t worry about people being disappointed or [the game being] over-hyped. I think if the game’s great, then people will enjoy it and if they enjoy it, then the hype is justified.

AusGamers: One of the... I don’t want to use the word competitor, but one of the other larger PC teams out there, Valve and Steam, has recently announced that a bunch of their games are going to be available on Linux finally. Have you guys... is that something you’ve even thought about? Because I know there are variable levels of Linux and it’s quite complicated to take an established product and port it over to the varying levels of that OS. Is that something on the cards? Is it something you’ve ever thought about? Or is it strictly a “You know what? We’re just going to stick with the platforms we’ve got”?

Jay: You know, what’s interesting about making decisions like that is that they’re generally not ones that I make. Whether we support something like that or not, really kind of comes out almost more from our Birmingham team a lot of the times. Like if it was something that they saw a lot of demand out in the community, they would just come up and say “hey, we think we can support Linux” or something like that.

I haven’t had any particular conversations about that. I know we actually have a lot of stuff that we... like a lot of our server stuff actually uses Linux, so I don’t think that it would be outrageous, but I think that we’d have to see that there’d be a demand for it. And then we’d have to see that that demand would be worth the time we take away from the other things that we could do.

One of the things that... I know we’re Blizzard, so people kind of think we can do anything, but the truth is, we’ve got limited resources just level everybody else, it’s just... our plate’s just a little bigger.

So it’s like, well if we had the choice between getting PvP out earlier, or doing a Linux version, well PvP comes out earlier. That’s always what kind of ends up happening. Whenever anybody ever asks us “well why didn’t you do this thing?”, it’s, like, “well because we did this other awesome thing that we thought was more important”.

AusGamers: Yeah, I guess when you’ve got 500 people using Linux, over 50,000 people using Mac or PC, then obviously there’s a certain hierarchy as to what is made available or even put on the plate as you say.

Jay: Yeah.

AusGamers: So I talked about the post-release thing. Another component that came up is the always-on Internet connection, which is fine and that’s been talked about enough. What’s the level of support that you guys are looking at in the long-term? Like, will there be D3 servers for 10 years; do you have a component of time? Or is it strictly when the love of the game drops off to a point where you’re running these servers for just a handful of players and it’s time to call it a day?

Jay: It’s hard for me to answer that, because we’ve never hit that for any of our games. We still run servers for the original Diablo; it’s 15 years-old. So we don’t set dates for such things. I think we assume that we support our games for as long as there’s an audience for them.

AusGamers: Well, speaking of audience for them. Is there a possibility -- and this sort of happens a little bit in gaming these days... Diablo III is going to introduce the franchise to a lot of new players -- there’s a lot of hype around it, there’s a lot of younger guys that have never played the other two games, and standalone they’re still fantastic titles. But is there a possibility that you could bring them into the modern era with revamped graphics? Even if it’s just upping the resolution of the game or anything like that, and releasing them as special editions in HD or something like that?

Jay: Well, everything’s possible. But the group that would do that, is the same group that is working on Diablo III. So it would be, we would stop working on Diablo III; we’d delay the PvP patch or potential expansions.

AusGamers: So it all just boils down to that hierarchy.

Jay: Yeah. And It’s one of those things where I think that a lot of the idea there is really cool, but we tend to look at Blizzard and say “well, would we think that was cool? Yeah”, but when’s the last game that came out that was an up-res’d version of an older game -- there’s tonnes of examples of it, people do it all the time, and I’ve bought many of them myself and I love it, I play them for, like, 15-minutes and it’s the greatest, I remember what I love about it and then I kind of stop and move on to something else.

That’s not really the kind of experiences we make. If we’re going to dedicate our current resources into something, it’s going to be something that we know players are going to play for years and years and years. So we’d rather -- I think in general -- we’re way more interested in investing those resources into current projects.

AusGamers: Now I will wrap it up on this last one. It’s a bit of a cheeky question and I’m not going to take full responsibility for it -- it was a bunch of the other guys. But now that you guys finally have a release date and the game is about to come out, is there a possibility that you might know when your loving competitor Mr. Torchlight II might be coming out [laughs]. Because I know that a lot of the guys that you guys have worked with are working on that game and they put that on the shelf to wait for you guys to come out. So I’m sure you’re just as happy for them to release theirs.

Jay: I’m actually very much looking forward to Torchlight II; I think you can pre-order it now.

AusGamers: Yeah, you can.

Jay: If I knew such a date -- which I don’t -- I would never do such a thing as to screw those guys over by announcing it. We don’t even announce our own dates, much less other people’s [laughs].

AusGamers: A suggestion: DoTAish crossover -- Diablo III/Torchlight II.

Jay: Torchlight II versus Diablo? Sounds like a fun call, needs to happen.

AusGamers: Alright Jay. Thank you so much. The guys at Blizzard here know how amped I am for the game, so thank you so much for finally giving it to us.

Jay: My pleasure.

AusGamers: And cheers for coming out to Australia.

Jay: Thank you.

AusGamers: Cheers.
Read more about Diablo 3 on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Posted 07:19pm 04/5/12
It looks like an awesome game! Can't wait to try it!
Posted 08:48pm 04/5/12
Great interview! I wish this game wasnt coming out mid-week! there goes my sleep!
Posted 11:51pm 04/5/12
Awesome awesome interview. The guys over at have also jumped on this one. Thank you Steve and Jay for all this fresh info, somehow I'm now even more looking forward to the game. I mean seriously, are you guy's trying to get me frothing at the mouth or something? ;-)
Posted 11:54pm 04/5/12
the potential for D1 or D2 being re-released in HD form

That would be so good. I would actually bother to play through Diablo II.
Posted 04:11pm 05/5/12
Thanks for another supremely awesome interview Steve! Had this title pre-ordered for a couple of months now from Only 52 bucks then I saw your post on how you could get the digital download pre-order for a couple bucks more than that! Damn you international shipping!
Reverend Evil
Posted 04:48pm 05/5/12
Another awesome interview Steve. I wasn't that excited for this game but the closer it gets and the more I see of it I'm starting to get psyched for it.
Posted 10:38pm 05/5/12

Another similar interview but another site. Asks a few other questions.
Posted 12:56pm 06/5/12
I like Jay Wilson, he can always justify his design decisions without fear.
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