WWI08: Diablo 3 design fundamentals

At the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in Paris, Blizzard designers took to the stage to talk about the design goals and fundamentals behind their upcoming title, Diablo III. Jay Wilson, lead designer on the title, presented a rundown of the design philosophy behind the game, covering its origins, the game's approchability, and the design team's "better gameplay, less carpal tunnel" approach.
Jay spoke about the core focus of Diablo III and the evolution of the Diablo series. Diablo I featured random dungeons and items, action based gameplay and character customization; Diablo II took that further with outdoor environments and a larger world, unique character classes and introduced a skill tree system. The goals for Diablo III are to to stay true to the Diablo experience, keeping moment-to-moment action and expanding the RPG part of the game.

What is the spirit of Diablo? Apparently, one of the hallmarks is the concept of the replayable RPG; it also revolves around having powerful heroes engaged in epic, large-scale combat, while maintaining approachable gameplay and a co-operative focus. The designers wanted to maintain Diablo's strong identity while also making improvements and advancements, rather than just remaking Diablo II.

Replayability revolves around randomness: random environments, items, encounters and -- new to Diablo III -- random adventures. Higher difficulty levels are also key to the series' replayability. The epic heroes enable large scale combat, and are massively powerful classes in that they don't just have powerful skills but also feel powerful, almost over-the-top, in their gameplay. With strong and unique archetypes, heroes have their own identities, and these hallmarks of Diablo II will be improved upon in III.

Approachability revolves around a design mantra of Blizzard's, "if you can click a mouse you can play Diablo." The familiar isometric gameplay is continued in III, and Jay mentioned that they didn't consider other alternatives -- "it's Diablo." Gameplay is simple to learn, but deep, and the difficulty curve is smooth -- Blizzard think they did this well in Diablo II and intend to keep it up.

"Approachability revolves around a design mantra of Blizzard's, 'if you can click a mouse you can play Diablo.'"

Diablo's always focused on co-operative play, which includes Battle.net, where you can join your friends at any time and embark on massive co-op battles together. This is a key philosophy behind III; although it doesn't rule out competitive gameplay altogether, the focus is definitely on co-op,

On to the improvements that we'll see in Diablo III -- Blizzard wanted to build a better action game. This includes better controls, with a 'less spam more depth' approach (fewer rats to kill) and new breeds of monster that encourage innovative play. The hotbar is being changed, with the addition of skills where potions used to be, and the UI is becoming cleaner overall, promoting greater skill diversity with more opportunity to use escape, control and buff type skills rather than simply drink a potion. Specific classes will have different tactics in a pinch and the guiding phrase is "better gameplay, less carpal tunnel."

A new health system is on its way too. Initially the developers thought about a 'Halo' style rechargeable shield, but found it created the wrong effect; instead, they plan little to no downtime and encourage conflict by causing vanquished monsters to drop red health globes. They also use positional gameplay -- based on the skills and monsters in question, the player's position is really crucial to the encounter. The main outcome is to keep gameplay interesting, varied and above all fast, encouraging players to continue fighting even when low on health.

Jay moved on to talk a bit about the upcoming monsters. The Berserker is an aggressive creature that deals massive damage, particularly when using a charged-up attack. However, he's vulnerable if he misses an attack and so players can take advantage of that opening to defeat him -- it's an example of dynamic gameplay that keeps the player on their toes.

The Skeletal Shieldbearer is a tough monster, but with a slow and methodical approach to combat. He will often accompany ranged units and act as a 'health wall' to protect them so they can unleash hell. However, he's reliant on his shield; if the player destroys or circumvents it, he'll soon fall.

"Blizzard's key aim is to make a 'better RPG,' to improve on the story without losing the 'opt in' feel."

Blizzard's key aim with Diablo III is to make a "better RPG," to improve on the story without losing the "opt in" feel. They wanted to remove the generic feeling from their randomly generated dungeons and bring the world to life with better interactions between the player and the world as a whole.

As part of this goal they're introducing an adventure system to the game. Adventures are scripted events that can be placed almost anywhere in the game world, for example one particular location could be host to a number of adventures spanning a cultists' summoning ritual, a haunted house or a caravan that needs an escort. As the player progresses through the game they will encounter different adventures, which will change when the game is played through again, allowing plenty of replayability.

On the subject of better interactions, conversations in Diablo III have been improved. They are designed to bring the NPCs to life and allow for a more engaging story by giving the player a 'voice' in the game.

Jay wrapped up his presentation by summarizing that Diablo III is true to the universe and gameplay of the series; they have created a deeper action game without losing the ease of play, and they have improved on the story and RPG elements of the series.

Next: Audience Q&A

This article was originally published on Joystiq.