Flux interviews Reaper of Souls developers Travis Day and Jason Regier from Blizzcon 2013. Nerfed magic find, Loot 2.0 legendaries, class balance issues, gold sinks and the RoS economy, and more.
I typed up a full transcript for this one, and added annotations with additional info about the topics covered, follow up questions I would have asked if I’d had time, and much more. Click through to read while you listen and soak in the full content.
The Diablo 3 Podcast Episode Guide in DiabloWiki.net provides links to every show, plus quick summaries.
I intended to start off with a question about game systems or some new feature, but the site readers had made quite a few requests for me to ask about new social features on Battle.net and with the new Clans interface sighted via datamining as well as previewed in the Reaper of Souls Blizzcon video, and yet never mentioned in either of the Diablo 3 panels. So I brought it up right at the start.
Flux: When I asked fans to suggest questions for this interview quite a few people asked about new and improved social features and guild support. And then in the Blizzcon RoS preview video you guys showed a new clans interface with chat that looked much like it did in Diablo 2 with animated characters on the bottom of the screen. But you haven’t offered more details about it in any of the panels. Can you tell me something about the plans for clan support in Reaper of Souls? Better ways to chat? Is there trading involved in there?
Jason Regier: Well, we’re still working on the full feature set and what those will actually encompass.Travis Day: Groups really came over from Starcraft, They’re something that people know and love there. They are something for people to get into their shared interests. Clans are something that sort of existed in various games and they definitely offer you a new way to chat with people and get together to play games.
Flux: So the whole chat interface is not being changed that much for Reaper of Souls? It’s just that in a clan you get more social features to chat with people also in your clan?
Jason Regier: It’s not so much… you definitely can easily chat with people who are inside your clan, but it’s more about promoting an awareness that other people in your clan are online and there to play games. Especially for something like Adventure Mode, which is an easy “hop in hop out” type of gameplay.
Flux: Have you looked into item trading as part of that?
Jason Regier: Well item trading isn’t restricted just to clans. It’s something you can do anywhere. If you wanted to talk to other people in your game you could just do it. Items and the way that they are soulbound is a really big change in Reaper of Souls. A very big focus for us is making sure that items mean something for you. Like we’ve upped a lot of the power to make items interesting and unique. Travis could probably speak more on that…
Flux: Just briefly before you go into that. To clarify, all legendaries are Account Bound now?
Travis Day: Yes.
Flux: And anything you put a gem into a socket also becomes bound?
Travis Day: In the case of socketing it’s more that any time you socket a soulbound gem into an item it will bind it.
Flux: In the demo here you get a binding pop up warning when you socket any gem… oh, so that’s just while it’s socketed. If you take out the gem then you can trade it.
Travis Day: Yes. In the case of Rare items. As for legendary items, we really are trying to double down on making items as powerful as we possibly can. We say all the time, “game changing, not game breaking.” The constraints on that is that we want the player to feel powerful, but also feel that you earned it. If you see someone with a really awesome item, we don’t want you to think, “Oh, he just went to the auction house and bought it.”
So all of our trading restrictions that we’re putting in place are to help you feel relaly good about earning your items. And also to give us the option to make them as crazy as we possibly can. When we removed the Auction House we were mostly trying to make the game experience the best it can be without needing one [an AH] and also to find as many ways to make trading still exist while protecting the integrity of the gameplay.
We have a system now that allows you to trade legendaries that drop in a co-op game with anyone else in the game. What we really want is to make the game about playing with your friends. Not just jumping into a game [to trade] and saying, “Hey, look at my stuff.”
Flux: So that would be items that would be account bound if you left the game, but can be traded while you’re still in the game?
Travis: You can trade any items, including legendary and set items, within the game you find them. And even when you leave we basically give you a time window that says “Hey, anyone you were just playing with you can trade that item with.”
Flux: That’ll provide an incentive to multiplayer there.
Flux: And to not having assholes for friends.
Travis and Jason: *laughter*
Travis: It’ll get you playing with people and you’ll be like, “Hey, you’re a Wizard! I just found this cool wizard item. Here you go!” And you can get all his Barb stuff, so it works out for everyone.
The opening of this exchange was intended to get into “is there a new trading system coming to replace/supplement the function of the Auction House?” There’s been a lot of speculation that we’d see such a feature once the AH shuts down, at least to somewhat automate the buying and selling of commodities like crafting materials and gems. And the thinking was that perhaps the devs would tie that into the Clan system, where you’d have some kind of mini-AH, perhaps only for stackables, to exchange those with your clan mates and save you the wasted time of trying to find Tomes of Secret and gems and such via trade chat/spam, or via third party selling sites.
I didn’t actually ask about that since from their reply on the trading stuff, it seemed pretty obvious that no such system was in the works, or at least nothing far enough along that they were going to talk about it yet.
I scrapped some questions about ladders for the same reason, since I’d talked to some of the devs prior to this interview, asked about ladders, and heard that they had nothing yet to reveal on them. Josh gave the on-the-record version of that reply when asked during a panel Q&A.
Another big community debate point has been the post-Auction House economy and whether gold will retain value, if we’d move to some kind of barter systems, etc. The devs have talked about new gold sinks, and the biggest of those seems to be the Mystic‘s enchanting. So I asked about that to kick off some econ discussion.
Travis: There are some throttles. If you want to enchant legendaries, if you want to reroll the best things in the game. You also need the disenchanting material for legendaries. So there are definitely some limits; there’s an increasing gold cost the more you repeatedly enchant the same thing. So you don’t need a ton of money, but if you have a ton of money there are things to do with it. Ideally we want to give players things to do with their gold that they’re happy about. We don’t want to tax people; we want to find things in game that seem like they’re value.Jason: I think Transmog is a perfect example of that. It’s something players wanted in the game already. They didn’t want to be forced to have the look of an item just because it had better stats.
Flux: I liked the clown suit you put together in that picture at the panel. With the yellow pants and the pink top. It was like Diablo 2 just came back to life there.
Jason: You don’t have to try too hard to find those looks.
Flux: Oh I’m sorry, I forgot. Diablo 2 was only black and dark and gothic.
Jason and Travis: *snickering*
This and other new info makes me think gold will have more value than I expected, though probably less than Azzure argued in our joint editorial. I figured gold would be largely useless in Reaper of Souls since the devs would design the game to make it useless. And they’ve done quite a bit of that with all the Binding on the most tradeable/salable items, but the Mystic seems like a bone they’re throwing to gold rich players. A fortune in shiny yellow metal won’t be a guaranteed success in RoS, but it at least puts you a leg up on rerolling items you do find.
I was also intrigued by the mention of “disenchanting materials.” We don’t know much about materials and commodities in RoS, and there are big changes coming to them, largely due to the flat/scaling difficulty of Adventure Mode, which makes the current system of different materials on each difficulty level unworkable.
Flux: The Barbarian is *just slightly* more powerful and popular than any other class right now. That class seems like it’s getting huge changes from the datamining we’ve seen so far, but is the ultimate goal to get the classes more even in popularity? Obviously you’ll never get them all 16.66% burn rate, but do you guys want them all very similar, or are you okay if you make changes and everyone starts playing… the Demon Hunter, say?
Travis: Class balance is something we’re spending a lot of time working on in Reaper of Souls. We really want… for example during the panel I alluded to “Everyone plays a Whirlwind Barbarian!” We really want players to play what they enjoy. If you want to be a Demon Hunter we want you to feel good about being a Demon Hunter. And we want all the Demon Hunters to have as many ways to play that class as possible, so you can find something that suits you best.
That’s something we’re working on with the skills, we’re going through and revising a lot of the old skills doing really big numbers passes to just balance everything out better. We’re also trying to play that up with the items, we’re adding lots of affixes that reinforce certain skills so that you can find items that suit your playstyle. And also especially the legendaries, we’re trying to make those really embody or open up playstyles that players didn’t previously have.
Jason: There are some legendary items; like for the Wizard class, there’s the Hydra skill. So maybe you didn’t really like Hydra, but if you got a legendary item that gives you two Hydras, them maybe that skill becomes appealing to you and you go and choose that instead.
All of the legendary items and a lot of the items in the game we’re just trying to make it so that there’s a lot of diversity amongst the classes. I think when we play the game at the office, we sort of have our own groups at the office that come out and say like, “Oh this build’s the best. This is totally OP.” And then it’ll change week after week. I mean we see that in the live environment too, where something’s the best and then it changes over time. I think that’s a testament to the depth of the game. And the legendary items and all of the new itemization with Loot 2.0 is really going to play into that.
Flux: A couple of things on stats and items. Are you guys still thinking about hard caps on properties like Crit and Crit Damage and Attack Speed? As we’ve seen from datamining that’s gone in and out in various versions during development.
Travis: That is something we were experimenting with early on in the dev cycle, but it’s been out of our plans for a while. We were sort of playing around, “Well what happens when you hit 100% critical hit chance? Can you go over it? Do you care?” We sort of came to the conclusion that in Diablo we want to give the player as much control over their character as possible. It’s not an MMO, we don’t have to balance things around some really tight bar, and if you want to stack certain stats, go for it. Ideally you want to have lots of different stats because they’re all compelling, so we’re coming at it from that angle.
We’ve added a lot of new affixes recently, to sort of reinforce that. We added resource cost reduction as a percent, so you can stack that on your gear. We have cooldown reduction as we showed, we have a lot of affixes that make certain specific skills better, we recently reintroduced Crushing Blow into the game.
Travis: So we’re really trying to get as many cool affixes as possible so then it’s not really a big deal if you decide you like crit or attack speed.
Flux: The problem now is the trifecta stats… everybody wants those since they’re the best and there’s no real diminishing returns or hard caps or breakpoints, so it’s always better to have more of them. But as you guys say, if there are other properties that are more compelling… You wanted to add something Jason?
Jason: Yeah. Well first off, I wouldn’t read too much into the datamining stuff.
Flux: That’s all we have, though….
Jason: I understand that.
Flux: It’s our whole little world!Travis: *laughing*
Jason: It’s like reading tea leaves though. We change stuff so often at the office, like we just want to try out a whole bunch of new things and that’s really the iterative nature of life at Blizzard.
For items themselves though, something you probably noticed from the slides at the panels is that we’ve divided up the affixes into primary and secondary categories. I think there were some cases before where you might have gotten an item with an affix that’s like plus to gold find, or health globe pickup and you’re like, “Oh man, that came at the expense of something I really wanted, like Crit.”
Now these affixes are classified in different groups, so that you actually know you’re not losing one at the expense of the other. With that come some caps on how many primary stats you can have and how many secondary stats you can have at the same time. So we’re changing… we understand that the trifecta of stats does exist on the current set of items and we’re looking to address that so there are more interesting choices for people.
Flux: And hard caps would certainly incentivize making those choices. But you guys aren’t looking at hard caps anymore, in your current thinking? Or diminishing returns above 50% or something like that?
Travis: Currently not. I’ve frequently said this when we talk about caps. If we do have caps it’s a very heavy-handed way for designers to address the problem. It also opens up its own bag of problems, which I refer to as “item jenga.” So it’s like, “Now I hit the cap on this item, so I need to replace this other item, and I’ve got to enchant this to get rid of the crit, but then I need to put crit damage on this one, then like every time you find a new item it becomes a burden.
Flux: That can be fun though. I guess it’s a min/maxer kind of thing?
Travis: I think it’s very fun for a certain mindset of players and I don’t personally mind it. What we don’t like about it is if you look what it does in WoW with reforging. There every time you get an item you’ve got to go to a website, punch in your stats and it says, “Here’s the things you need to do to your item!” And here’s all the stuff you’ve got to do before you can actually use it. And we really just want players to go, “Here’s a good item, put it on and go to it.”
Jason: It sounds really interesting to have one change force you to change a bunch of other items, but that’s a pretty big disincentive to trying to change your build around. And changing your build around is something we want people to feel like they have the option to do. Especially with a lot of these new items. We’re adding items that give you pretty compelling stat boost to certain skills that might make you take a skill you normally wouldn’t want, just because the stat boost [from the new item] is so awesome.
As a Wizard maybe I wouldn’t normally use Arcane Orb, but if I find an item that gives 20% bonus damage to that skill, I might check it out.
Flux: And now there’s Frozen Orb too! Oh wait, that’s a Magic Missile effect…
Travis: Ah, it’s an Arcane Orb effect.
Flux: Which one is the Magic Missile effect? One of the famous D2 skills returning? I’m blanking on the name…
Travis and Jason: It’s Frozen Orb.
I was trying to allude to Glacial Spike, the Diablo 2 Sorc skill that returns to Diablo III in RoS as a rune effect in Magic Missile. This was one of the default skills in the Wizard’s setup in the Reaper of Souls demo, but I hadn’t played a Wizard before this interview or my memory would have been refreshed. And then everything would have been different! Or not….
On the larger issue of simplifying item mods, I’m not a fan of their design choices, though I suspect most players are, so I can see why the choices have been made. Clearly most players just want to find items with bigger kill numbers, throw them on, and feel awesome. Making sacrifices for Magic Find, or engaging in a more complicated item game that rewards intelligent play and equipment choices is more than most players want to bother with. I loved that aspect of the Diablo 2 item game, where there were so many useful affixes and most of them had hard caps or diminishing returns or breakpoints which meant you had to carefully monitor how much of each property you had, since too little wouldn’t have any effect and too much would go to waste.
The only thing close to that in D3 is when you get a character high enough into the Paragon levels that they exceed the 300% Magic Find cap from their gear + passive bonuses. That’s a fun time since then you get to start switching out the MF gear, and you have to juggle the stats a bit to keep that 300% cap without going too far over it. That’s a pale imitation of the system we saw in D2 though, and hopefully the upcoming system in D3 will be more fun, even if Magic Find is basically out of the equation now.
The numbers we’ve seen for crit and critical hit damage and other such stats on the new RoS items are lower or at least not increased from what we see today D3V. So the purpose is to put huge stat rolls on the new RoS items so they’ll totally outpoint the current gear, even if they’re lower on the trifecta stats? (This was the most rambling and mis-worded question I have ever asked in an interview. Mercifully, Travis got the gist of my point.)
Travis: There’s absolutely a degree of that. Partially because what we’re really trying to do in Reaper of Souls, and moving into Loot 2.0, is we’re trying to shift the paradigm in a meaningful way. So here’s where items used to be, and here’s where we think they should be. And it takes a meaningful amount of change to get there. Because we’re trying to reduce the discrepancy between the top end and the bottom end players. But also we’re guaranteeing that every item is going to have 4 primary and 2 secondary stats, which means you’re way more likely to find items with a lot of power. So that’s part of how we’re encouraging people to transition into the new system.
Flux: Related question: Are gem bonuses going to increase? Currently 50 of a stat from a gem is nice, but that’s when you’ve got 100 of that on your armor. In RoS if you’ve got 800 stat on your item, 50 from a gem is miniscule.
Jason: There are absolutely going to be new tiers… that was a 100% accurate statement and yes, we will have really powerful new gems for you guys.
Flux: One more question… let me pick a good one.
Travis: Pick your best.
Flux: Okay, Magic Find and Gold Find via Paragon Points. One of the things you guys said when you were first adding in the Paragon Levels was that you didn’t want Magic Find to be an essential property on equipment, so you were going to give it via passive bonuses. That philosophy appears to be completely gone in the new Paragon system. You can add Magic Find, but it’s in the tab competing with what… Movement Speed, Pickup Radius, and Resource regen, I think. And most of my chars would like all three of those more than Magic Find. So is Magic Find going to become more important on gear? Are you switching how it works on gear?
Travis: Actually, we’ve made some changes to how Magic Find works in the game. One of the biggest things we did with that… for example if I have 100% Magic Find from my gear, the cap today is 400%. Or is it 300%?
Flux: It’s 300% from gear.
Travis: *laughing* A year and a half working on the expansion, and I don’t even remember….
So basically Magic Find will provide less and less of a return the higher the quality of the item is. [He means the item being dropped and affected by your character’s Magic Find.]
So you actually only get 10% of your Magic Find applies to the legendary. So, since it isn’t that impactful a stat anymore, we didn’t feel like we needed all the restrictions we had on it. And we no longer needed to automatically just give it to everyone. Like we can’t have two people with like, five times different reward schedule, like on top of your character efficiency and the skills and how familiar you are with the game… we wanted to really diminish that gap. [The gap between the haves with amazing equipment, and the have-nots.]
As a result we’ve made some changes to Magic Find, and we took it out of Paragon since it’s no longer as mandatory as it used to be.
Flux: Okay, I guess that’s it. Thanks for your time, guys.
Travis and Jason: Thanks. See ya.
Apologies for not getting them to moo!
I was going to ask for their best cow noises, but we were over the time window for the interview and they had other media to service. I did impose on them for a group photo, at least. Thanks again to the devs for their great answers and I hope you readers found it informative and entertaining.
The following can be safely skipped if you only care about the game info and not Blizzcon press behind-the-scenes activities.This interview took place Saturday afternoon, after Friday’s Reaper of Souls Panel and Saturday’s Crusader + Game Systems panel. That was ideal for me, since it helped me to avoid pointless questions about info that had already been revealed. I’d also had time to play a fair amount of the Reaper of Souls demo before the interview, so I was familiar with the changes, with the Crusader, etc.
I took a lengthy list of questions to Blizzcon, many of them submitted by you guys, our readers. Some of them were answered in the Diablo 3 panels or by spending time on the demo, but many of them were still good, and lots of new questions had occurred to me during the first 1.5 days of the show. So I spent an hour before the interview going over my questions and whittling the list down to 15 or 20 juicy ones, with another half dozen quickies, and during the interview I got to ask about 2/3 of the juicy ones.
The interview sessions at Blizzcon are booked for 20 minute time windows, and it always takes a few minutes to get to your assigned interview room, say hello, get your gear set up, and get started, so the 16 minutes I got out of this one was about the best that could be hoped for. I supplemented that by quick conversational questions to half a dozen other Diablo 3 devs who I bumped into walking around the show, in the chow line in the press room, etc, but that mostly helped me avoid asking questions that would just get philosophical replies.
The question I had planned most to ask stemmed from early RoS demo play when I saw just how awesome and profitable Adventure Mode was. I wanted to ask how the devs thought the long term balance was going to be; if players were only going to play AM for the profits, if Story/Campaign Mode would be equivalent in value, etc. But I figured that would get a long reply about how different people would have different objectives, and they were making the game for a wide variety of play options, etc. And happily, Lylirra provided very much that sort of reply to almost exactly that question the day after the show, thus validating my decision not to spend a big chunk of my interview time on it.
There’s an art to structuring useful questions in this sort of interview. I don’t claim to be a Picasso at it, but if you do too specific or narrow a question you get a short answer, or else they dodge the direct short answer by going into a long rambling reply about a related issue. If you ask too general a question they reply with the high-level system/feature type talk that is what general gaming sites want, but that informed fans like you guys find useless. If you ask something they’re just not going to answer (release date!?) or something stupid or that would make them or Blizzard look bad with the answer, they’ll evade or monologue.
I thought this interview went well, mostly thanks to Jason Regier and Travis Day giving really good answers, and going out of their way to share more details and nuances and behind the scenes decision making in their replies. Thanks to them for the great replies, thanks to our readers for submitting many good questions, thanks to Lylirra and the other CMs for facilitating, and big thanks to Kevin Martens for looking over the interview schedule, seeing that I was initially set to talk to some story/art guys, and rescheduling me to grill a programmer and developer who were better suited for the type of questions I was likely to ask.