Twelve years after the release of Diablo 2, a full sequel is now just hours away. On the eve of the much-anticipated launch we caught up with Leonard Boyarski, senior world designer, and Julian Love, lead technical artist on Diablo 3, to discuss the game's lengthy development cycle, the design process, fan reactions and how it feels to finally have the game out in the wild.
Here's what they had to say...
Diablo III has been a long time coming - 4 years in fact. How does it feel now that the game is finally out?
JL: It feels fantastic. It's hard to believe actually. We've been working on the game for so long, playing it, making it better and we were always aware that at some point it would make it into a box. But the transition from it being just 'our game' to it being 'everyone else's game' is really exciting to see. We're looking forward to everyone making it their own game.
Blizzard has a very big, very loyal and very vocal community. Are you nervous about the weight of their expectations?
JL: No. Not at all. Ever since we first put up the website for Diablo III we've had a very active fan community. It's much better to have people passionate about your game than not and the trend we've seen is that most fans are positive. There are obviously players who have this complaint or that complaint, but our community on the whole has been really great.
What was your starting point with this game? Was it lore based, character based or did it centre around new gameplay ideas?
JL: Well, that depends on who you talk to, really. My job is based around the lore, so my approach to the game was very much lore-based and character-based. We didn't know all of the character classes we were going to add straight off, but we did know at the very beginning we were going to have the Barbarian in the game. So a lot of early focus was on him and his culture and his backstory. As we progressed we just tried to add more into the mix.
JL: On my end we started with technology, rendering and the engine. The main focus, though, was on making the core combat experience work. Essentially we worked on making killing monsters as fun as possible.
Blizzard Games are steeped in lore - a lot of which can seem quite intimidating to newcomers. If I'm a noob, should I feel the need to study up before playing this game?
LB: No, you can just jump right in. One of our main goals with this game from a lore and story perspective was to ensure players didn't need to have any knowledge of past lore to enjoy it. We wanted it to work on multiple levels. We wanted it to work for players who either don't know or don't care about the story and the lore, but also, we wanted to satisfy players who appreciate those aspects.
Even if you don't know any of the previous lore and you play through the entire game, you'll still enjoy yourself. If you play through it on a higher difficulty level you'll find there's a lot more depth and texture to it.
Speaking of your higher difficulty levels - I hear they're pretty damn brutal...
LB: (laughs) Yeah, that's fair. I recently took a Demon Hunter and a Barbarian up to Hell Mode and it's just really... ah... well, you have to really think about what you're doing. You can't just run into mobs of enemies in there. It becomes a much more cerebral game the higher up in the difficulty you get. You won't get through these levels through button bashing.
Can you talk us through the game's new character classes? When did the ideas for them germinate and how did you go about making them feel different?
LB: I'm not sure of the exact order. I think we worked on the Witch Doctor first.
JL: Wasn't he second? I think we announced him first, though. Then the Monk and then the Demon Hunter. Loosely, at the beginning, it was a process of getting ideas down for each of them - how they'd look and how they'd play. What's good about that is you can allow the ideas to kind of percolate a little bit before you actually have to commit to them.
LB: From a lore and story standpoint it was really great - the process we had with the system designers - because it was pretty organic. For example, we all kind of came up with the idea for the Witch Doctor character and then the story team would go away and develop the backstory and the environments that this sort of character would exist in.
There was a lot of back and forth with the system guys making the character's skill set feel like part of the world and have it feed off that. That's kind of how it worked with all of them really, even the Barbarian, who already existed in Diablo II. Even though that's a character with a bit more backstory, we kind of felt like we were starting from scratch in how we'd define him.