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BlizzCon 2008: Blizzard's Rob Pardo talks Diablo 3

Kevin Kelly

We met up with Blizzard's Rob Pardo, vice-president of game design and one of Time Magazine's 2006 "100 Most Influential People in the World," at BlizzCon to ask him about all things Diablo 3, since we'd already gotten the good from him about Starcraft 2 and He didn't grant our wish to let us take home a copy of the Diablo 3 demo, but he did say a beta would be out for the game ... at some point. Find out what little we were able to squeeze out of him after the break.

Gallery: BlizzCon 2008: The Experience | 49 Photos

We've seen the Rune system, and noticed that Socketed Items are still in the game. Are the other systems combat based?

Yes. Well, there's definitely systems being designed right now that are modifications of things you might have seen before. We also have some systems that are completely new to Diablo 3, we're not talking about them specifically because we're not ready to ... and also because once we figure everything out, we may not like 'em. That's one of the things that's great about our development philosophy. We get to try things out, and if they're great we keep them, if not we go back to the drawing board.

When your character talks to an NPC, he or she will actually talk back now. How has that changed the design?

I don't think that system is done yet. That's a system that we've definitely been iterating on quite a bit over the last year or so. We've gone through a lot of different stages with that. We went through a stage where we weren't even using in-game models for the conversation system, we used a system that didn't have your character talking, we have the system now where you go close and see both. That system's definitely still evolving, and it's probably going to evolve for awhile.

"One of our goals with Diablo 3 was to really to add a lot more role-playing game feel to it."

One of our goals with Diablo 3 was to really to add a lot more role-playing game feel to it. I think that some of the knock on the previous games is that it's too action based, that you don't get enough story, that you don't have RPG choices. That's something we really want to add to Diablo 3, but we're not going to slow it down. We have to keep it fast paced, we don't want it to be a game where you're slogging it out through dialogue trees. This system is a great example, we're really evolving it a lot to make sure we make the right decision to make the game fast-paced.

Gallery: BlizzCon: Diablo 3 Skill Systems Gallery | 17 Photos

Diablo was a great example of a game where, I think this started with Ultima Online, where people would sell real in-game items on eBay for large amounts of money. Will they still be able to do that?

That's a tricky one, and I don't know ultimately what the answer is going to be for Diablo 3 yet. I can talk a bit about the in-game item economy, we want to do something with that's closer to the Diablo 2 approach, rather than World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft is what I'd call a deterministic item economy, and what that means is the very best items in the game are soulbound on pickup, and those items drop deterministically off of certain monsters in the game. So if you want to get the War Glaives off of Illidan, he's the only guy that drops them, and you have to be in a group that is strong enough to take him down.

Diablo has more of a merchant economy, because none of the items have soulbound tags or anything else, and all of the items are completely random. So that means there's a low chance that you're going to successfully get the best item in the game just from playing, since it's kind of a slot machine. So generally, you'll have to interact with other players to get the best items. I think we'll have an item system that's more like that than the WoW one. Now, as far as how that interacts with the virtual / real money transfer sort of economy, I'm not sure how we're going to handle that yet. We definitely want to preserve the in-game economy over an out of game one, but we're just starting to talk about those issues now.

Is there anything specifically you're not looking to repeat from the previous two games?

There's a lot of things, I think a great example is the health globe system we're putting in Diablo 3. In Diablo 2 you could just head back to town, fill up your inventory with potions, and use those on the fly with no sort of cooldown, right? It ended up being a frustrating interface, and you had to use up half your inventory just to have these things. But they had a really positive effect too, in that they kept the action moving at a really fast pace. In World of Warcraft, we intentionally put things like cooldowns in the potions, because we actually want players to have a bit of downtime after fighting a long time because it's a more social game. We wanted to give people more time to talk and chat more.

"We want to get rid of this weird potion-spanding, "fill up your inventory" kind of behavior. So we put in a potion system that's a little more like WoW."

Diablo is kind of action to the hilt, so we want to keep the action going, but we want to get rid of this weird potion-spanding, "fill up your inventory" kind of behavior. So we put in a potion system that's a little more like WoW, so you still have potions but you can't use them very often, so they're kind of for emergencies, and in return we made it so that monsters drop health globes fairly often. As long as you're killing monsters at a fast pace, you can keep on regenerating your health and it keeps the action moving. It's a system that we developed by looking at a lot of first person shooters out there that don't have medkits anymore, they just kind of have a shield health system, like Halo or Call of Duty. Hey, if they can do it, what can we do in an action RPG that makes sense for us but can keep a similar sort of pacing?

That's a long-winded explanation of a specific example, but that's the approach that we take. The new Skill system is another good example.

Will there still be PVP in the game? I remember leaving town in the first game and instantly dying.

Well, that was Diablo I, in Diablo 2 I think in some ways we went too far in the other direction. Diablo I was pretty much survival of the fittest, like the Wild West... almost like the original Ultima Online, since you used that reference. Diablo 2 we made it so that PvP in a lot of ways almost died. I think we need to come up with a happy medium in Diablo 3, it's a system that we're talking about quite a bit right now.

Both Diablo 1 and 2 had expansions, is it safe to say Diablo 3 will have one as well?

I would imagine. I mean, we're not to the point where we are planning stuff like that. But, assuming the game is really popular and people want more content, I'm sure we'd give them some expansions to it.

The demo that we've been playing at BlizzCon, would you release it anywhere else?

I think this is the only place we're going to show it. We'll probably do something similar for a future show, but we're definitely not going to release it on the internet or anything like that. I'm sure it will have a beta at some point.

The Skill Trees in the demo, are those pretty final or are they evolving?

They're definitely evolving, although it's towards the end of the development but I'm sure it will change a bit as time goes on.

Gallery: BlizzCon 2008: Starcraft II | 59 Photos

We were impressed with all of the Skill Systems you showed off in the first Diablo 3 panel, it looks like a lot of work went into those.

That's the tough thing about doing iteration based design, you have to be willing to give up on things that aren't working right. It's really tricky because you come up with an idea that's great on paper, everyone around the room is nodding their heads and you're like "this is a great idea" and you start putting in all the work. You get an emotional attachment to the design, and you have to be able to say "You know, this really isn't working" and let it go. The thing you get out of that is the knowledge and experience that process, but unfortunately it ends up on the cutting room floor.

There was a lot of controversy about the art direction when this game was first announced. Did that change at all? It looks a bit darker now.

We didn't change it that much, really. One thing to keep in mind... no one has seen the breadth of all the different environments. You're seeing one dungeon environment and one exterior environment. There's going to be some darker and spookier environments yet to come, and there will probably be some environments that are brighter. The ones we've chosen are most representative of the middle.

We've pretty much stuck to our guns on this one, because I haven't spoken with anyone who hasn't told me that they don't love the new art direction. Everyone asks about that controversy, and I'll say "Well, do you love the way it looks?" and they say yes so I tell them, "Well, then we'll keep it that way."

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