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BlizzCon 2010: Diablo 3 panel covers Artisans, armor models and atmosphere


The Diablo 3 crafting sanctuary panel, much as the name suggests, did introduce a look at the new Diablo 3 item crafting system. However, it also covered quite a few interesting inside looks at the philosophy and process of the upcoming Blizzard game.

As game director Jay Wilson puts it, Sanctuary is a world at war. It's been 20 years since the events of Diablo 2, in which the 3 prime evils were vanquished, and hell has been preparing for revenge ever since. The development team has been working on building that world under siege, and this panel was meant to reveal a little bit about how they've been going about doing that.

The Story

Diablo 3 is, at heart, an action game. You expect blistering fast action, with frantic clicking and things constantly dying and/or exploding. This means that to tell a story in the game, the developers had to go with the idea of "action storytelling." The concept of "Play don't tell" is the standard by which Blizzard operates. People should be participating in the story as they play through the game wherever possible, instead of standing silently by and watching. As an example of where they failed with this concept in Diablo 2, The team showed Deckard Cain's introductory speech at the rogue camp in Act 1. The speech, they noted, lasted 1 minute and 4 seconds, during which time the player killed no monsters and gained no treasure, but did get bombarded with the entire story. This isn't good. After all, you don't play to stay a while and listen, you play to click stuff and watch it explode.

The team then revealed a few ways in which they are trying to fix this in Diablo 3. They showed an example of a quest in Diablo 3 in which a weaponsmith wants you to kill a cult leader who has been slandering him. However, he actually follows you to the scene of the crime, saying things and giving you small snatches of the quest's storyline as you kill things. Finally, when the boss dies, he thanks you and offers you your reward - and access to his shop - on the spot.

The team also talked a bit about how they're working on opt-in storytelling. While they're adding more lore and storytelling and conversation than ever before to Diablo 3, most of it is going to be opt-in. As an example, they gave a preview of their lore book mechanic. These are books that drop off certain mobs. When you click on them, it brings up an audio file of the book read by the author that plays as you continue to advance and kill monsters. The example we heard was from the diary of Leoric, the king of Tristram, who battled the influence of Diablo but went crazy in the end.

One more challenge the developers described is that of making the story scenarios match and support the gameplay. The example bought forth in the panel was a siege. A siege implies a lot of story to begin with, with the presence of two armies in battle and high stakes for the armies, but more importantly, it matches the basic Diablo philosophy of killing and action. the example the team gave of this was that of a dungeon created when a team of sappers breaks through the basement and the enemy comes pouring in. This creates a classic Diablo dungeon, but also gives the player a sense of urgency and story involvement as they save the keep from certain doom by preventing the enemy army from breaking through.

The Environment

With the idea of a siege established, the art team took us through the process of creating Bastion Keep, a castle under siege. Once the concept is explained, the concept art team visualizes the place. For Bastion Keep, they actually first envisioned a battleship, which lead to a lot of fixed ballistae on the walls mean to emulate a gunships guns, and lots of triangular towers and imagery to give the look of a ship's prow. The triangles place everywhere also gave it a sense of being designed by a single architect. They also used iron and stone materials to convey a sense of strength and sturdiness. After they received feedback on the art, they also made it chunkier and more primitive to give a better sense of an opposing battle-keep. The final image should also be modular, that is, while it does show a whole scene or area, the individual components break down so that the design team can use and reuse them to create the randomly generated dungeons and scenery Diablo is famous for.

The team also contrasted the inside of the keep with the outside. The outside, they decided, needs to be more warm and lived in. Thus, they used fewer triangles and more squares, and replaced iron with wood for a less threatening and warmer feel. They also populated it with props soldiers would use to prepare for a battle, such as forges and weapon racks, all to give it very much a calm before the storm feeling.

The modeling team takes the concept art and creates models based on it for use in the game. Modular art with mood and depth helps them do this. They start their modeling with a grey box version that lets them create the basic shape of the world, and lets them run test characters through to give a proper understanding of the game play space. Next, they drop in the textures and maturity, the stone and wood. The challenge with the textures is to make them unique for the area, but also to make them provide a seamless transition from area to area (such as from the inside to the outside of the keep), so that the player feels like they're in the same world. Finally, they add shadows and effects, as well as doodads and environmental interaction, such as gates to lower and raise, scenery to blow up, and so forth.

The Details: Populating the world

Once the scenery and the area is created, you need to add the things everyone comes from. The dev team acknowledged that people play Diablo for two things: items and monsters. Treasure distribution, therefore, is a very important part of designing Diablo. You must handle distribution in such a way as to provide an even flow and pacing to the game, always providing something new to find. Therefore, the team creates thousands of potential item caches, and hand places them all in the scenery. This allows them to place caches that are logical for the places they appear, such as a chest in a library or a corpse on a battlefield. Only a few will actually populate on a given run, of course, but they've all been placed with care.

The team then discussed the idea of mini-dungeons, small side areas where one could go to get a change of scenery from the main area and have a chance to get some loot and fight some rare monsters or mini-bosses. These mini-dungeons are also a good place to provide some story, such as, for example, a cave that could be the storage area for the moon clan.
Events also figure into things here, triggered throughout the world. These can break up grinding monotony and again, allow for more storytelling, such as allowing a new monster type or showing an overturned wagon and its owner.

They also spoke a bit about the ability to break stuff, that is, to destroy environmental things like barrels and the like. It's just plain fun to break stuff, and when your warstomp breaks things, it makes you feel powerful. Similarly, it makes sense for stuff to break. If you're flinging around bolts of arcane energy, it's only logical that fragile barrel in the way would break. In addition, breakable items in the world can tell a story. That overturned cart or that barrel full of blood implies a lot.

Monsters are the other important part of Diablo's world, and the dev team is doing a lot to keep things interesting. The first question the monster designers ask is, "What lives in this world?" Monsters are still random, but certain types will appear in certain areas where it's logical for them to appear. In addition, types will appear as "families" of a sort, working together, with various types of monsters with varied attacks to challenge the player's skills and keep them on their toes.

The process of designing a monster begins with the a type, such as a defender, a leaper, a swarmer, or so on and so forth. The design team talks to the art team, and together the team brainstorms a concept, which the model team then creates as a basic mockup. The mockup is them tested to make sure the basic concept works. Their example concept, a tank type with huge forearms, was too wide to fit in your average corridor, so they had to redesign it to fit, and they went through many concept phases before finding a design that keep the large forearms and the feel of the huge tank creature, but made it usable in the game world.

Animations are the next step in monster creation. They add personality to the creature. Death scenes actually get a whole lot of attention. It makes you feel badass to see a monster die gloriously.

Of course, once the monster is made and animated, you need AI. AI can be used to create animations that give life to the character, such as an animation for being idle, for being alert, and attacking the player. Of course, a lot of times, the player misses these animations and simply leaps into the fray, killing the monster right away, so you need to pick your battles. This one reason why death animations are such a focus, because the player will see those. You can also use unique animations for spawning, such as a when a skeleton bursts out of a barrel, or invading monsters climb in over a cliff or wall. You can also add taunting animations during combat, such as The Fallen shaking their sword and shield.

Combat AI is the next step of monster creation, and the thing to keep in mind is that it's not so much about helping the monster kill the player as it is making the player feel badass. If a monster simply makes a beeline for the player, that isn't always fun. Therefore, to allow players more leeway, they might add so forced delays in closing or attacking so that, say, a ranged class such as the demon hunter can get range to use their bow skills. This is an excellent place to add the aforementioned taunting animations, or for certain "cowardly" mobs like The Fallen, fleeing animations. They can always run "near" the player as well, which gives them a sense of dread without an overly frustrating amount of danger.

Art tools and character customization

The next segment of the panel focused on the art tools used to help players look unique and badass. They showed a series of armor sets. Armor sets are being created with multiple skins for each class. Each class will have a specific look or silhouette that stays the same. Barbarians, for example, will have massive shoulders, while Witch Doctors will always have those huge masks. They're also looking to push the envelope for armor looks. As an example, they showed a witch doctor set that had tentacles on the shoulders and helmet that actually writhed and wriggled. They also showed the new icons on the equipment screen, which will actually have unique icons that match the look on the 3d model, even changing based on the class wearing them.

One final big announcement was the existence of armor dyes. You will be able to find, craft or buy various dyes for your armors. They will work on a per slot basis, and some colors will be rarer than others, such as black or crimson red. The dyes will not carry over between armor pieces, because they want you to have to find more dyes. In addition, the more rare dyes won't be backbreakingly hard to find, and the rarer colors will also have easier to find "diet" versions that won't be quite as cool as the real thing.

Weapons progression for Diablo 3 is focused on going for simple on the first tier to very ornate on the last tier, to give you a better sense of progression and a feeling that you're truly upgrading your look and your power. In addition, weapons will be incredibly varied in looks. Some will match armor sets or tiers, and some will follow certain themes, such as evil-looking or holy-looking weapons.

Crafting and the artisan system

The crafting system took up the final segment of the panel. As the team explained it, the crafting system in Diablo 3 is meant to help plug the gaps in the random loot generation system. The system doesn't always give you the drops you need, and that's by design. In Diablo 2, vendors would be available for you to make up for that, by allowing you to buy gear that's good enough. The Artisans are the vendor replacement for Diablo 3.

There will be three Artisans:
  • The mystic will create wands and staves, and will enchant items, as well as identifying.
  • The blacksmith will create armor and weapons and will add gem sockets to your gear.
  • The jeweler will create rings and amulet, will desocket gems so you can reuse them in other gear, and will combine gems to create more powerful gems. You will definitely want to make use of this system, as there are 14 levels of gem, but only the first 5 levels actually drop.
The crafting interface, pictured above, follows the basic philosophies of the game: namely, that you don't play the game to stare at the UI. There were, of course, many iterations of the crating UI before the one picture above. Earlier versions listed too many items, or had tooltips that were too clunky. To get to the version shown above, they made a lot of decisions, such as to make the item list simple, without images or lists of components. They also scrapped an item queue that would have allowed "epic" recipes that would have taken days to craft, because it became too confusing, and people would rather get their items right away instead of waiting for days. The next step in creating the Artisans was to design a caravan, an in game area where they congregate, which will follow you from area to area. Each artisan will have their own unique wagon. For example, a blacksmith's wagon will have lots of heavy metals and blocky shapes. A mystic will have lots of organic and natural themes and vibrant cloths. The jeweler will have lots of soft woods and intricate bling. The caravan and its occupants will also level up, with their wagons and work areas becoming more intricate and distinct as you level. They may get more wagons and more work space, and the wagons and wares on display will become more intricate and complex looking.

Questions and Answers

Finally, they took a few questions from the audience. One questioner wanted to know if the UI would be customizable in Diablo 3. The developers answered that they have no plans to do so. They saw the way UI mods changed WoW, and they don't want that same issue to crop up in Diablo 3. They want to keep it simple. Another person wanted to know how vendors will appear in multiplayer games. Right now, the plan is just to let everyone see their own vendors, since people want to see their own vendors. Vendors will not be in PvP arenas, because they want PvP to be completely separate from PvE.

Another player wanted to know if gear would transfer between difficulties. The team confirmed that gear will carry over. There's 18 distinct tiers of gear in Diablo 3, as opposed to 6-8 tiers in Diablo 2. This allows them to let you make you progressively stronger without requiring those gear resets.

Another player was concerned that Diablo 3 might lose the feeling of being frail and horrified that Diablo 1 sometimes had. The team replied that they still want you to get your ass kicked, and that they were looking for a sense of dread and difficulty somewhere between Diablo 1 and Diablo 2. One way they've done this is through UI tweaks. Now that you can't potion spam or town portal immediately, it by definition means you're always in more danger.

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