Joystiq chats with Jay Wilson on Diablo 3

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The buzz here at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles is all about Diablo 3. When will we have a playable demo? When can we expect a release? Blizzard, of course, isn't willing to commit to a date other than their standard "when it's done" answer:

  • What classes are going to be available? Blizzard's answer: we're not ready to talk about that.

  • Will there be a cow level? Blizzard's answer... well, more on that later.

Joystiq had a chance to catch up with Diablo 3's lead designer Jay Wilson (whom you may know from his work on a little game called Dawn of War) and pick his brain about how he got on the Diablo 3 project, what's in store for, and the secret cow level.

Do you have any plans for
Diablo on consoles?
We don't have any plans.

Are there an plans for mobile or any other platforms, or is it purely PC/Mac?

Right now we're just focused on PC/Mac. I believe we've got people who are focused on mobile stuff and I'm sure we're going to be having conversations with them on some point on what we can do, but in terms of taking Diablo 3 as a game to mobile ... I doubt it.

Looking at the gameplay footage, Diablo 3 looks very similar to Diablo 2. What are you doing to differentiate it from Diablo 2?

We're trying to balance satisfying the fans and also creating a game that feels like our own. A lot of the stuff that we've done already, that we've shown today, from a gameplay standpoint makes it play dramatically different and better than Diablo 2. The health system, monster design, environment interaction, being able to put scripted events anywhere in the world... those all have big impacts. I can say we have a lot of other features that we're gong to talk about over the coming months, some of which are pretty big.

There is some other stuff that I think may have a bigger exclamation point in terms of diversification. But we felt if we take this game and did these improvements, we'd actually have a better game. Because when you get right down to it, it plays. It plays better.

Gallery: Worldwide Invitational 2008

You mentioned earlier that Diablo 3 would be playable online with but there would be some improvements coming to Can you say anything about what improvements might be coming? [Ed: See WoW Insider's liveblog of the Worldwide Invitational's opening ceremony for full notes on Jay's presentation]

No, I can't. I'll give your our goal, which is that we really focus on online service and online experience as one of our top priorities at Blizzard. We want to provide the best online experience you can get anywhere. People will really get their first taste of the next version of with Starcraft 2. And I don't want to steal their thunder. We'll be focusing on getting players together easily, matchmaking will be a big part.

Is there a reason you decided to go with a model instead of an MMO model?

The simplest reason is that's the game we wanted to play. A lot of the time that's how we make our decisions at Blizzard -- as gamers and fans, because we like our games too. So what we really want is ... a game kind of like Diablo 2 but better. And we feel like the genre ... some genres have a lot of progression in them. With RPGs and FPSs you get a ton of them! But this genre has not had a ton of games in it. So we felt like there's still so much to say here. And there's so much to say on the WoW side for MMOs, but we've got that and don't necessarily need another one right away.

So we felt like it was really important to do the true Diablo sequel. As players, that's just what we wanted to play.

How did you wind up working on the Diablo project?

Well, I was working at Relic Entertainment. I started on RTSs originally and I interviewed at Blizzard ... I was actually very happy at Relic, but I had friends who had moved to Blizzard and they got me an interview. I was like, "Cool, Rob Pardo! I get to be interviewed by him and he's an idol of mine!" For me, it was just a cool experience to be able to talk to Rob for an hour. And we continued to talk and I went to the first BlizzCon [October 2005] and they just talked me into it. Essentially, I've always been a huge fan of Blizzard and it just felt like a natural fit.

Did you feel like possibly working on Starcraft 2 from you background in Dawn of War? Is it that you just wanted a change?

How do you not say yes to Diablo 3? Starcraft 2 was really appealing, but I'd made a few RTSs and I'd made RTSs that were trying to be different than Starcraft, with some similarities. We already had Dustin [Browder, lead designer for Starcraft 2] and that guy's way smarter than me. So it seemed like a good place ... and there was no way I was going to say no. That's the chance of a lifetime.

Have you noticed any difference from working on FPS/RTSs and moving into this more hack-n-slash genre?

What's funny is I started in FPSs, the first five years of my career, and moved to RTSs. What's interesting is the actual math, stat-oriented nature of an RTS actually blends nicely into a game like Diablo. And a lot of the action elements of an FPS blend nicely with Diablo. So I kind of felt like my background was custom designed. It's not like I could have worked on all of those Diablo clones out there because there just weren't very many of them. So while it doesn't seem like the obvious path, it's really been a good set of skills for this project.

Can you tell us anything about how far into development the project is or when we might see more of the game?

I think with any other company that might be a question someone could answer, but it's really hard to answer with a Blizzard game because we don't look at it as a linear scale. We could look at it and say we're this percent complete, but the last whatever percentage could take ten times longer than the previous, depending on how much iteration it requires. I can say we have a game we love to play. That's always the first goal. We're really happy with the art style and a lot of what we're doing right now is trying to build all the content and make decisions about the vast number of systems needed.

In terms of the engine and its current state, where do you see the maximum number of co-op joint players?

Right now we support the same number as Diablo 2, which is 8. We can actually do more if we wanted -- it's not a technical problem, it's a gameplay issue. What we've found is that the game is actually better with a smaller number of players, even smaller than 8. When we play, we have the most fun with about 4 -- and that's because of the camera and the nature of the game. So we're gearing towards that and really trying to encourage that. But whether we enforce it or not [with a strict limit on the number of players] ... it's hard for us to say at this point.

Will you get the same number of monsters with 8 players as you would with 4 players?

We don't change the number of monsters that spawn. That way we can make sure that even if you're playing by yourself, you can still have a crazy giant pile of monsters to fight. So no, we play with difficulty in other ways.

You mentioned two classes today ... can you tell us how many you plan to have in the final game?

No. Several more, but I can't tell you precisely. [Ed: The FAQ currently lists the number at 5.]

From a lore perspective, when is the game set? [Ed: Warning, spoilers below if you haven't played through Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction!]

It's about 20 years after Lord of Destruction. Essentially since then, if you're familiar with the lore, Tyreal destroyed the worldstone and the general consensus was that this was going to be the big Hell invasion because the worldstone's keeping everything back. And essentially that invasion never happened and one of the many questions is ... why? And we aren't going to answer that today, but that's what the story addresses. What's happened to Tyreal since then? What's happened to Deckard Cain?

We bring back a lot of characters, not just from Diablo 2 but Diablo 1 as well. We're also bringing back some characters in kind of unconventional ways. For example, the barbarian we showed today is actually meant to be the same barbarian from Diablo 2. So we're planning on doing a lot of cool stuff to make a richer storyline.

Is there a chance of another Deckard Cain rap?

I think that Michael Gough, the actor who plays Deckard Cain, is up for it. But no promises!

You've probably heard this a hundred times already today, but is there a cow level?

Secret cow level? Secret! I will say that we think the idea of putting secrets and things into the game is really cool. That doesn't mean it's going be in the game, though!

From playing earlier Diablo titles ... did you ever dupe to get items?

I never did. I knew people who did. Something in Diablo 3: our new is a lot more secure. We've learned a lot since Diablo 2. With the amount of experience we got from Diablo 2 and the amount of experience we've gotten from WoW, we feel like we should be able to make it very secure.