Earlier this week Travis Day spoke on the same live stream that brought us that great Wyatt Cheng interview. The stream is run by , and Travis joined him for nearly two hours of chat. Travis had a *lot* to say, answering dozens of questions, chiefly about the upcoming itemization changes, but also touching on skill issues, class balance, his development time working on World of Warcraft, and much more.
Many of us found Wyatt’s time on the stream frustrating since he was so into the nuts and bolts of specific issues, but the streamer never asked any redirects or follow ups on those detailed issues. Travis’ conversation doesn’t suffer (as much) from that problem, since he’s more thorough in his replies, but mostly since the interaction is more general. This isn’t a critique of either dev — it’s more about the topics that were covered. Travis speaks more about future (and past) changes on a theoretical or high level sense, whereas Wyatt’s was more about specific examples of ongoing skill tweaks and nuts-and-bolts game changes.
Here’s the stream; Travis joins in to chat around an hour and ten minutes in, and continues until almost three hours.
The transcript below is *not* word for word, since it was a very long conversation with a lot of chat and digression. I distilled Travis’ comments into more direct, discrete points. This is hugely long; nearly 8000 words to cover the 110 minutes Travis spent chatting. If you don’t want to read the entire thing, I broke the blue quote format in a few places to put in a remark or two after the especially interesting revelations, so you can kind of skim down the page and check where there’s a comment if you want the really highlight points.
Will elemental effects do something again?
Travis: Yes, we’d like them to do things again at some point. That was a very cool thing in D2. It’s nice if they have effects, more than just cold slows things. But no concrete details at this point.
Can you tell us about itemization?
Travis: I’ve been been working on Diablo III for eight or ten months, and I worked on World of Warcraft before that. In terms of Diablo 3 items, I really value randomization on the items. I like the fun of not knowing what you’re going to get. That said, there’s definitely room for improvement.
Legendaries should be more game changing. There’s something to be said for having a Holy Grail of items that players strive to obtain. The very best possible gear. Just yesterday we were talking about just how crazy we could get with legendaries or sets. What are the bounds? How powerful can something be without breaking the game?
Extreme #1, anything that makes the player invincible forever and always. Obviously that would be too good. But there’s something to be said for gear that can be super awesome, but is a really big challenge to obtain. Like D2’s runewords, some of them had 6 runes and almost every rune was really hard to find. When we’re debating item qualities, I say that we don’t need to make everything bland just because players might get it someday. Diablo 3 is an ARPG, it’s supposed to be awesome.
We also talk about game-changing gear. Like for instance, what if a full item set granted a bonus of infinite resource? That sounds crazy, but maybe it could be there someday. We’ve also talked about an item that would grant no collision with monsters. That’s something we’re not really sure how useful it would be, but we like the idea of throwing in some interesting properties and letting players figure out ways to use it.
Click through for the rest of the transcript. It’s hugely long and full of good details. Here’s a *very* brief bullet point list of what I think are the key points:
Click through for the whole huge thing.
I also have a longer term goal of improving the overall game in a lasting way. If in five years when we’re not still working on the game, would there be enough variety and variation in the game that players could still have fun in different ways?
I played obscene amounts of D2. Not constantly, but I’d go back to it every few months or years, and it was fun every time I went back. I want to ensure that the future of Diablo 3 is like that. Players can come back after years and still find fun and new things to do. I want it to stand up to the test of time.
I want there to be items that are game-changing. That when you find them you want to make a new character just to use that item. Like, and this is a bad example, but what if there was a Witch Doctor mask that doubled all pet damage. Pets aren’t great, but that’s kind of the thing we’re thinking about.
Another example that was a good idea but fell short. The Three Hundred Spear (db). It’s not good enough now since there are so many things a weapon needs to be useful. Enough DPS, a socket, etc. And that spear the damage almost always sucks, but I liked the idea of the big bonus to a specific skill. If all things were equal, a weapon that does 40% more damage with Weapon Throw opens up a spec you haven’t played before.
Or say, a wizard wand that allows you to have a second hydra. Maybe you use that with other items that boost other skills, or reduces the cooldown times or resource costs, etc, that can all leverage together. I’m still putting together ideas, but that’s the kind of thing we’re working on.
Is there any discussion now about PvP?
Travis: Um… yeah, there is discussion. But I can’t talk about it much yet. I can say I’m a huge PvP fan and I want us to figure out how to do it properly. I want it to be really good and in and sooner than later. Beyond that I can’t say much.
Can you give us some more details on itemization? You said you could just ramble on about them for hours. And that’s fine.
Travis. *laughing* I can and have talked for hours and hours on items. But I don’t want to just free form. Can you give me some more specifics? One thing I should make clear. Anything I say about item changes is going to be down the road a ways. Not very soon. I felt bad when we posted the itemization blog (March 5, 2013) since people thought it was coming soon. Maybe it was premature, talking about changes so far down the pipeline, but I wanted to communicate with the community since there hadn’t been any good info shared out for a long time.
I perked up at his last words here, since he so casually criticized the PR and community relations in a way we very seldom hear from a Blizzard employee. This was far from the last time Travis spoke so honestly on that front.
Travis: There’s going to be a spectrum, obviously. One side point is that I don’t think legendaries are so terribly rare. People complained a lot when the game first shipped that legendaries were too rare. That was kind of a player issue with power and play style, since at that point I was running around with max Magic Find and I saw like a legendary an hour.
There’s a massive discrepancy between player power and style. The gap between MF and none is a huge difference. So I don’t think the problem is that legendaries are too few and far between. The problem I think is the quality. That when someone does find a legendary it’s usually garbage. I think there will always be the legendaries that people don’t want, but I want them to be much improved.
I think legendaries should be very good. . It might not be for your character, or for a spec you don’t play, etc, but it should be good enough that some build or style would find it really useful. I want players to see an orange drop and get really excited. To know it will almost certainly be better than a non-legendary they’ve got equipped in that item slot right now.
I think the values of items and relative power need to be right. And I favor legendaries as the most powerful items. For instance, if the rares go up to 80 damage, then the legendary in that slot should go up to 100. If not to 150.
Also, I think scarcity is fine. Some things should be super hard to find. The problem is when you have items that are hard to find and also terrible. The new design idea is that an orange will be to a rare what a yellow is to a blue now. You should expect it’ll be better in most circumstances.
Sounds like he’s talking about really dramatic buffs to legendaries, if he expects them to usually outdo Rares. There are certainly some Legendaries in the game today (and a lot of sets, usually when paired up for some partial set bonus) that are BiS, but in many slots players can still find or craft a Rare better than 99.9% of legendaries. Especially players who aren’t super rich, since savvy players can often find great Rares at discounted prices while other players are focused overly on Legendaries.
Unfortunately he never addressed the issue of making all legendaries roll even in the end game with upgraded stats. That’s something the devs have mentioned a few times and it sounds fun with a few specific items (they always mention Leoric’s Signet (db)), but as we noted recently when Travis brought this up in a forum post… just upgrading the basic stats to level 63 won’t make 99% of legendaries worth using. They need big buffs to their inherent bonuses as well, not just higher dex or vit, etc.
Can you talk about Thorns, or other affixes that aren’t much used now?
Travis: Well, Thorns is just weak. We have plans to improve it, but we want it to be useful for some. Most people won’t like since it’s not their play style, but we want someone to value it. We mentioned this before, but we’re considering making it a property that would scale up in damage by your character’s main stat. So a Barbarian’s strength would go to boost up his Thorns damage.
What are other item stats that are bad, that I can talk about? Like pickup radius isn’t great, but Witch Doctors love it.
Okay, how about added bonus from health globes. That’s a pretty lame stat, but it’s not so much the stat as the game. The larger issue is that health globes are essential in the early game, but they become mostly irrelevant end game. We tried to make that stat better by adding a boost to potions on it, but it’s still not that useful to many players.
Is the issue that players stack up so much Life on Hit?
Travis: Yeah. I came onto the project after the game was done and shipped, so I can’t say exactly how or why everything is the way it was upon launch. But I think that health globes as a primary healing method was a system that was baked into the game long before the game was finished. So I think other things changed over time and maybe that’s why health globes aren’t so important in the end game.
There are ways to make the stat better. Maybe we could make health globes tie into other skills. Like bonus healing from a health globe is as useful to a Monk as pickup radius is to a Witch Doctor. We want some affixes to be more useful for some classes than others.
I’m very interested in a self found mode.
Travis: Um… yeah. Wyatt’s a big fan of self found mode. We debate that. Not the validity, but if we want to support that as a gameplay style. It’s cool, but we don’t need to support every sort of behavior that emerges. We don’t need HC, SC, self found, X, Y, Z…
I think people find self found more fun since the game is better when you’re not using the AH. When you can feel proud of your gear, that you found it rather than just buying it. More sense of accomplishment. Strong psychological draw to it. I’ve thought about playing that way myself, but I haven’t really gotten into it. My characters are pretty high level, like Paragon 60 or P70, and I can buy what I want for them, but I’d rather find item upgrades. That gets back to the heart of D2, since items are so much fun when you find something to improve with. Rather than just buying or getting from a friend. Using the AH makes it easy to buy super powerful gear, but that has a bad side effect since then you know that everything you’ll ever find will be lame in comparison.
That takes the game focus off of items, since they’re not really changing. Instead players focus on the EXP bar going up, since that’s the progress. But it’s very static and predictable; you never say, get three levels at once in a spike of fun. And I don’t think just gaining experience can’t ever be as fun as finding a new item upgrade.
I think for a lot of players the self found mode is fun since it’s about obtaining regular item upgrades that you find yourself, rather than buying from the Auction House. That’s what’s fun. People enjoy self found since they want something from the game, and that’s a reward that we are not currently delivering for everyone. So self found is something we’ve talked about and we may pursue it someday. I think people should try it; make a new character and only use what they find themselves.
TLDR, the heart of the issue is players who play self found want the item game to matter, and the rewards to be there, and when you’re self found the items you find on the ground are awesome. What players are doing with self found is creating a game mode that simulates what we want everyone to get all the time. We want you to be excited about finding items. Right now the AH sets the bar for what a good item is so high that 99% of players will never find anything better than what they bought.
I want the self found feeling to exist for everyone. We want you to get excited by items you find on the ground. We want legendaries to be mind blowingly awesome. We want that in the game but it’ll just take time to figure out how to work that.
Travis has a good point about the core issue motivating players to try self found, and I hope he’s successful in making all item drops much more compelling.
That said, As with Wyatt earlier in this stream, neither of them addressed the core issue of an Ironbornmode; that it has to work like Hardcore, where there’s a separate player economy/ecology of people who are not using the AH, twinking, trading, etc. You can’t have a proper Ironborn system where you with your self found Wiz struggling along at 55k DPS joins a game with some AH-polished 250k DPS Monk. Even if you don’t take gear from other players or use the AH, if others are blitzing through enemies and you’re just trotting along behind, soaking up the exp and drops without earning the kills that’s defeating the whole purpose and purity of an Ironborn system.
I think their silence/avoidance is pretty informative though. Either they don’t grasp the point, or they’re not interested in it, and in either event that’s a pretty godo sign we won’t see any such game mode any time soon. Sadly, if seems like if we’re ever going to see a proper Ironborn play mode, it won’t be until years from now, when they’re putting in ladder resets and other such long term, largely-automated, game sustaining modes.
Improving affixes on items?
Travis: One of the things we’ve mentioned is the appropriate primary stat rolling on specific items. For instance, no one wants dexterity on a Barbarian belt or strength on a Demon Hunter quiver… I want as much variety and variance as possible on items, but yes, there are lines to be drawn. We don’t want stats to spawn on an item that you’d never want. We’ve already changed that and it will be in some future patch. You won’t find items with the main stat roll that’s not your character’s main stat.
Can you improve weapon rolls?
Travis: Weapon damage rolls. Random is hyper important to a game like Diablo III. But there are degrees. I think there are some areas of the game that are too random, and we need to reign it in some. There are so many moving pieces you need to roll for a weapon to be useful. You have to get elemental damage, percent damage, a great roll on both, and a socket, and crit damage, and a primary stat… and weapons can only have six things. And you have to get five of them for the weapon to be considered “good.”
And “good” is a moving target, and it’s easy to find things in the Auction House, but you must have all those affixes on the same weapon for it to be top quality, and that’s a bit extreme. If you look at say, a chest armor, you want primary stat, and sockets, and maybe res, but those aren’t essential. But with a weapon you almost have to have a great roll on those five properties for it to be useful. Your weapon is the most important item on your character in terms of raw power. All of those stats go to make it useful, or not. You mouse over and see the big number and it’s more or less than your current and that’s that.
We’ve talked about taking percent weapon damage and reducing it so it’s not so variable. Like it would be akin to the weapon speed bonus, where it’s nice if you have it but not essential and doesn’t make a huge difference. And variance is important, but the range of a good weapon shouldn’t be like, a factor of ten. If the weapon ranges from like 400 to 600, then 400 is still “bad” but it’s not 1/10th the use of the better weapon.
I can’t give details since we’re still working on it, but it’s all under consideration.
Travis: Okay, so those are nice, but they’re not amazing. What do they do that makes them special? They add 2% attack speed, which you can’t get on other bracers. Okay, that’s nice, but eh… I really want every legendary to feel fun and powerful and impressive. Something unique about it. That it’s something you can’t just get with any old Rare item in that slot.
When you think back on Diablo 2 about like, Windforce or Enigma… When players talk about items from D2 that they remember, the items did something special. Windforce knocked back, or Buriza pierced. People don’t talk about an item that had slightly more damage.
Those bracers were good, with slightly more damage, but it’s not all that special.
Will there ever be a ladder?
Travis: We’re discussing and looking into it, but I can’t promise that we’ll ever have one.
When a player sits down to play Diablo, you want them to think “what do I feel like doing today?”
Travis: I’ve said that a lot. It’s a problem with how the game currently works vs. how it should work. Right now the game is lacking a lot of the randomization it needs. For starters, the items need a lot of love. Beyond that, like what you’re doing right now… you’re farming this one room with a per-determined set of spawning creatures. You’re basically like flipping a dungeon… that’s not really the spirit of the game in my mind.
(The streamer has been repeatedly clearing Leoric’s Manor, farming the boss pack outside, the big knot of cultists at the front stairs, moving through the rest of the area, then exiting, creating a new game, and repeating it all multiple times to level up before moving deeper into the dungeons.
Travis: If the play experience is different every time, it’s better. Right now that’s not what you’re doing. Also, there’s just a lack of things to do. In my perfect version of Diablo 3, we want to present the player with a spectrum of things to do. I want you to be able to sit down and do… Hellfire Rings were a good stepping stone in that way. But it’s only a start.
You should be able to say, it’s Friday night, I’ve got like 5 hours to play. What do I want to do? There should be options to do something more involving. Or compare that to if you’ve got half an hour on your lunch break. What could you do then, just for a short term boost to your character?
It shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion that when you sit down to play, you’re going to do a bunch of Alkaizer runs. Or Vault of the Assassin runs. We need more things that players can do. You should be like, “I’m going to farm Belial.” if he’s got something specific you want to hunt. Or you can play just to get exp. Or to try to find specific set items.
We want to present players with a lot of different options, and you can choose what fits best your desires and play time that day.
This was about the most interesting and encouraging thing Travis said, IMHO. I love the idea of different runs for different purposes. Rather than just everything in the game being about gaining exp and maybe finding items along the way.
It reminds me a bit of D2, where you’d do Mephisto for high odds of legendaries, but he couldn’t drop the highest quality gear. For that you’d do Pindleskin or other level 90 superuniques. Or you could do Hell Andariel for the best odds of some specific ring. Or run Lower Kurast chests for the best odds of runes. Etc. Diablo 3’s more randomized drops means that you’ve got many more places to find top items, but also you’ve got nowhere specific to go for anything specific, other than Key runs.
Travis: Yes, we talk about that a lot. It’s funny, with endless dungeon, it’s… it’s something people will heatedly debate what that’s supposed to mean. I have my own take, but I’m not sure what everyone wants from it. My take is that players want a measuring stick, to see how far you can go, like they reached level 200 or something. But I think the real purpose is that players just want to play for a long time without repeating the same levels over and over again. They don’t want just more Alkaizer runs.
Everyone’s different, but what they want… but I hate what you’re doing. Farming Leoric’s Manor over and over again. I know that what you’re doing is the best thing for your character, but it’s making me crazy. It’s exactly the sort of thing I don’t want players to have to do in their play time.
This part was funny, as the streamer was on about his 8th clear of the same Leoric’s Manor, and Travis was obviously annoyed. Not at the streamer, but at the fact that this sort of play was actually the best thing to do. I found it funny to hear the obvious annoyance in Travis’ voice, but at the same thing… repeat running Leoric’s Manor with a low level character is like the single most D2-style play mode in the entire game.
We didn’t do runs like that in D2 purely for experience, and certainly not at low levels, but that game was all about runs of small areas, over and over again, for exp or items.
Travis: Um… I have plans for Paragon system, but they’re kind of involved. So yes, Paragon system will be improving, but I can’t go into details yet.
Character customization. Maybe tie that into Paragon somehow?
Travis: I would like to… Character customization, it’s an ARPG. The fantasy of being this character or progressing them. Your Barb is different than my Barb, or that guys’ Demon Hunter, etc. You want to be different than other people. A lot of that’s about equipment. Or Paragon customization. Or assigned attributes.
Players want to be different. We don’t all want to be Kratos. We want variety in characters. I want to hook progression or customization into the Paragon system, but there’s a lot to do there. A lot of the ideas aren’t yet finalized. But I think players can expect one day to see that.
We went back and played D2 some months ago on the stream and I’d forgotten how much I loved the skill tree. You get more a sense of ownership and pride.
Travis: That’s more to do with customization. You feel like he’s your guy. It was fun to do skill trees, but it was also full of black holes and traps. I think back on my early D2 chars, and I was playing really blind and didn’t know useful forums to find strats. So I’d just throw together skills and have fun, but it was a flawed system.
So I had my Necromancer with this awesome skeleton army to tank, and skeleton mages to kill, and it was great in Normal. And then I got to Nightmare and it was not working very well, but I could push on. And then I got to hell and it was just terrible. My skeletons would die in one hit, I couldn’t kill anything to get a corpse to summon a skeleton from…
I think that players remember the highlights and best things about a skill tree, but it’s an outdated system. People have fond memories, but there are tons of players who had a really bad game experience with it as well. For gamers in general, if you’re playing a game and you just hit a brick wall of difficulty and you’re suddenly dying over and over again, it doesn’t make everyone want to reroll and try improving their build. It makes a lot of gamers just want to quit and play something else. So permanence of decisions was great in some ways, but really bad in others.
I call it the illusion of false choice. If A lets you do 1 point more damage and B lets you do 1000 points more damage, making that a permanent decision is just a way for players to ruin their characters.
That’s a good argument for respecs and for better skill balance. It’s got nothing to do with skill points or skill trees.
I think D3 did a fantastic job in making skills scale up and remain viable into the end game, which was something D2 sort of attempted (and failed) to do via skill points. And I don’t want to go back to the days of no freespecs. But skill points provided a level of customization and specialization and choice/value that doesn’t exist in D3. And I hope we get something of that system back.
Travis: Loot tables. I think they’re hard to define. I have no objection to like… The Butcher has much better odds of dropping The Butcher’s Cleaver. So long as I can also find it elsewhere. I don’t like the idea of an item only dropping from a single monster.
That idea ties into what I was saying earlier. Maybe I’ll farm exp. Maybe I’ll farm for specific items.
Binding is a touchy topic. I’ll say that years and years of time on WoW, we took it for granted. Binding. But on Diablo seeing all the problems we have to deal with that are different than WoW… there are parallels. There is value in soul bound. It helps contribute to the ownership. You earned it, you didn’t buy it from some dude in China for two dollars.
I dunno. There are degrees. I think it’s possible that soul bound will come into the game in a larger way than now. Like the new crafting recipes. We wanted to give players a reason to play more instead of just buying from the AH. It worked since the materials were bound and the final product was bound.
Useful since it lessens trading.
Travis: I think what you lose by being unable to trade things is more than overshadowed by what you gain. Binding isn’t always the right choice. But I think the crafting recipes were good. 1. they got people playing the game again. You couldn’t just pay your way to victory. Can’t just buy them. Have to farm for the Demonic essences and crafting their items. It boosted play, rather than just boosting Auction House.
It certainly has value. Binding. But you lose out on the trading. Trading comes up all the time in discussions. Talking about items or crafting recipes. When soul bound comes up immediately someone is always, like, “trading is important!”
Is it more important to trade always, or feel pride in what you’re wearing? If you can just buy the best gear in the game, then that’s cool, but that’s a world where no one really cares about what they see on the ground.
The fantasy of trading is fun and you switch stuff with a buddy, or bartered out an item. But the difference between that and what actually happens, with a fluid economy and Auction House, it fights against the idea that your time is valuable. Or the things you find are valuable. The fact that everything is tradable, goes to general psychology. The more we make you feel less special, the less special you feel.
As soon as everything is tradable, your can’t help but base your time against someone else’s time. And that’s a shitty feeling, as you realize they can do much more with their time than you can with yours. Do I want to buy things, or actually find something that’s good for me and I’m happy with.
I can’t say where we’ll end up down the road since we’re still debating everything. What’s more valuable, trading or finding things? Those two are at direct odds. You can find things that are awesome for yourself, or you can trade with people. And if you’re trading someone else usually has something better than you, and thus you’ll never really find your own upgraded items.
I know it’s a touchy subject, but we like to debate it. I like to find great gear, but when I can go buy items in the Auction House, trivially, they’re way better than I can get.
Ultimately I think the AH does way more damage than good. I was on the strike team for Diablo III testing before the game went live, and the AH was a really big unknown. No one really knew how it would work out. That’s just game design. You create ideas in your head but you never really know how it will work, since players do things you can never expect.
I was surprised to hear this part, since his earlier talk about making legendaries so awesome, and allowing constant gear upgrades from what you find… seems to require a high degree of item binding. I mean that’s just obvious; if you change the game to make more better gear drop, then obviously that stuff will go straight into the Auction House, if you allow it.
So you have to have item binding, if not on find then on equip. Or maybe you can make items only able to be sold once or twice? Or make them decrease say, 5% in value once they’re sold. Or each time they’re sold. There are a lot of ways to attack the problem, but boosting item drop quality and rate means nothing to the overall issues if you don’t make some binding type changes, since all that new better gear will just flood onto the AH otherwise, and we’re exactly where we are today, just with higher numbers.
As we’ve talked about on a number of podcasts, the Hardcore economy is vastly more fun and functional than softcore, since there aren’t so many people flooding it, it’s harder to find good gear, there aren’t so many bots, but mostly since items leave the economy when players die. There’s never any item drain (or quality decrease) in softcore, and with paragon levels there are perpetually more high level chars with max MF finding better stuff, so the item supply is ever-increasing.
The economy is the hardest thing to predict in advance?
Travis: Yeah, players are resourceful. Unfortunately there are lots of players who like to make bots to play our games. And if there’s a valuable commodity that will make them money, they’ll flood the economy with it. That creates problems in terms of the right rate of acquisition of something, and how do we work out farming for players versus botters or people who exploit.
That’s kind of why Demonic Essences had soul binding, since it was the way to fight it.
We ban bots. We ban an outrageous number of bots. We just don’t always publicize it.
Can we expect new affixes that do novel stuff, not just add numbers.
Travis: Yeah. I’d like to think so. We always strive to find new affixes. The problem is ones that you’re talking about are the same ones other people think are crap. Like um… health globe radius. Or ignorable durability loss.
At the core of the game there’s what you’re doing and what you’re getting. You’re killing monsters and getting loot. And generally if we don’t give you something that makes you kill faster or get more magic find, most people will look at it and think it’s stupid.
That said, I think there’s room for more. I want every legendary to be memorable and unique and distinct. I think legendaries can do that. They don’t need to all be the best weapon in the game. Some can just do cool shit.
I just think about what I’d like to find as a player. People ask what makes a good designer and I’m like, “I dunno, tell me when I’m one.”
I think there are player and designer rolls. I try to take off my designer hat and put on a player hat sometimes. And think what would be cool. Players say they want more neat things, but if like 1/10 items I pick up has this neat thing on it, then it’s not fun or new or different anymore. If people have brilliant ideas that people want for item mods, I’d love to hear more about it. We always want to add more things you guys want to see. And it’s always hard to think up stuff that’s not just rehashes of current things.
I try to read as many threads as I can. I can’t do too much since it takes a lot of time. I like to read things and hear what players are saying, but I don’t have that much time to contribute to every thread. But I definitely find good ideas from players.
Like making the Call of Ancients last forever, I think I read that in a thread and I thought it was a great idea. So we’re going to put it into the game.
Travis: No, Demon Hunter will never get any attention. We’re removing them from the game. I’m kidding, of course.
Wyatt is way more the one to talk about this, but I can say… in a vacuum the Demon Hunter is great. The problem is less the Demon Hunter is bad but that in the end game the Barbs are way out of control compared to the other chars. I can say to Demon Hunter players what they won’t like to hear, is that they’re not really that bad. It’s just that other classes, Barbarians mostly.
I don’t have huge solution long term, but basically Barbarians and CM Wizards are way out of line with the other builds. I’m not generally a fan of nerfing. I much prefer buffing. But when we talk about class and skill diversity, when you look at Witch Doctor and Demon Hunter, they have a lot of skill diversity compared to Barbs and Wizards. You have a lot of compelling, well-balanced skills. But then you’ve got the Barb and Wiz who have some skills that are clearly breaking the game in some ways, and generally it’s about proc coefficients that create a degenerate play experience that WW barbs have infinite rage sicne the procs on tornadoes is too high, which makes your Wrath of the Berzerker last forever, etc. So you’ve got all these things that are feeding into these few character archetypes that are way out of line with the rest of the game.
So while those characters are way fun to play and I like the pay styles, they’re so efficient they overshadow everything else. I have a barb that I enjoy playing, and I use to do all kinds of weird builds, with Revenge and Overpower and stuff. But eventually I just tried out the WW/tornado thing, and it’s obviously better than everything else and then I felt like I had no real other choices anymore.
I have to basically disagree with this. The DH was my first real Paragon level character in D3. I played her madly, tried tons of different builds, and by the time she was around Paragon 55 I got a little burned out and went back to level a Monk for a while. I started moving him up through the Paragons, by by Paragon 20 or so, when he had about 80k DPS, he was already *clearly* more effective than the DH, who had much better gear and over 170k DPS. As I upgraded gear the difference became more stark, and by the time the Monk had 120k DPS he was hugely better than the DH at 200k DPS, since he was so much more robust, hardly ever died, could hit so many more things constantly with more AoE, hardly had to waste any time kiting or retreating, had better burst damage for bosses, etc.
I played a Barb not long after that and the difference there was even more stark, and while DHs have been boosted a few times in patches since then, most players who have experimented with all the classes (I have one of each to at least Paragon 30) are pretty unanimous in their view that the DH is the slowest overall, largely since she’s the most fragile.
On a side issue, I think the DH needs a NDE or Spirit Vessel type death-cheating skill to make them more worth the effort in HC. Making the same class the most fragile and the most unable to survive any mistake is not a great recipe for Hardcore success.
I think the Demon Hunter is the most polished in some ways. I can do different builds all the time.
Travis: Demon Hunter is a good class. And I hear all the times that people think the Demon Hunter sucks. But I disagree. I think the Witch Doctor is a great char with so many options. I hear from people who think they’re way more fun than the Barb. Way more build options. But it’s just compared to the sheer power and speed of a Barbarian it’s lacking.
Is the solution to diminish the effectiveness of the Barb and Wiz? Or to make the gear required for those builds harder to get?
Travis: Any class that has an ability with a vastly out of line proc coefficient with the rest of their skills… we see a great lack of diversity in the builds for that class. Because almost with every class people gravitate to those skills, and then get gear that capitalizes on their skills. And then there’s just no skill diversity.
Chars like the Demon Hunter and Witch Doctor have good balance on their proc coefficients have a lot more build diversity. So we’re really working on fixing the proc coefficients.
There are skills that are like 20 or 30% better than others, and that’s fine. But then skills like CM or tornadoes are like 10x better than other. And that’s just way out of line.
At the same time, when we did the nerf in um… v1.04 I think? When we made the one change to tornadoes that slightly reduced their coefficient… I’m not offended that Barbs can WW all over the place, but I don’t like that they can only do that with the tornadoes. So we reduced the proc coefficient some, and we know people will freak out. So we took that down and also reduced the cost of Whirlwind, since we liked that players could WW all the time, but we didn’t like that to do so players were required to use Intro the Fray and other skills to enable it. Since that meant zero build diversity.
And that didn’t really work. We didn’t change enough so most people kept using the same thing. Long term, we just don’t want specific things to be mandatory to a character.
Ladder seasons some day?
Travis: Everyone keeps asking about this! It’s something we talk about. It’s possible someday. One of the things I want is for Diablo 3 to remain playable for the long term, even after we’re not working on new updates anymore. It’s like D2 where there was hardly anyone working on it long term. Like, 5 years from now we’ll probably not be releasing new content an patches for Diablo 3. We’ll have moved on to working on Diablo4 or whatever.
Ladders work very well for that. They keep the game fresh and reset the economy for people who want to opt into it. That’s great, but it does come with some baggage. But we probably want to have that one day, but I don’t know when we’ll do it or how it’ll work.
Oh, I just said Diablo 4. Okay, I’ll break news and guarantee you that someday in the future, there will be a Diablo 4. It’ll probably be twenty years from now. *laughing*
Grace periods so if you teleport from town to someone else in combat you won’t get destroyed instantly?
Travis: Probably not going to add grace periods in. Look, if you’re teleporting into an area and getting one shotted, you should be in an area you can handle. I’m sure someone won’t like that answer. Look, communicate. Talk to the guy and ask him if it’s safe before you go in. I used to play with my brother a lot and he was using a Witch Doctor, and he used to joke that he had to hit Spirit Walk before he teleported in, since I was always in some super dangerous hairy situation and he’d die instantly.
Honestly, coordinate a little bit. It’s easier now with the new multiplayer changes. We do things like put marks above someone’s banner so you’ll know they’re in combat. I know people want it, and if you’re in Hardcore you should be a little more cautious.
Can you comment on the attack speed nerf?
Travis: Attack speed nerf was controversial. I will say… ultimately, I don’t think it needed to be done. I think there was concern… I’ll take that back. Maybe it needed to be done to some extent.
This is where I get the “player’s shoes vs designer’s shoes” thing in my head. I’ll just make a really sweeping statement. As designers we get offended by things that don’t fit within the box they try to create. And when something becomes way the best modifier in the game, when a blue ring from a vendor (with IAS) is better than a pretty good rare ring, that’s a problem.
It wasn’t a problem in the context of “something is always the best of X” and it’s fine to have things that are really powerful. But the mistake with IAS was mostly that we changed things people had already acquired. So I think in Diablo we’ll mostly never do that again. We’ll make the old thing that’s bad not drop anymore, and a new version that drops instead. So it was a controversial nerf, and hindsight 20/20 I don’t know that it needed to happen, but… I wasn’t actually on the Diablo 3 team at that point, and I gave them my insight that it didn’t really need change, but they went with a change.
It was controversial but it was a useful lesson. And now the Diablo 3 team doesn’t nerf things out from under players anymore.
Can we see runewords in Diablo 3?
Travis: I like the idea of what Diablo 2 style runes do. I don’t necessarily like the old implementation. I think runes and sets have some overlap. At the core there’s the idea that individually they don’t do much, but it gives me a grand goal to aspire to. In D2 that was to get the runes and the item with the sockets, and make this amazing awesome item. I don’t get it right away, but it’s something to work for, and there are incremental goals along the way.
In that way I think runes are cool. Or I want the same thing from Sets. The whole set bonus is huge, like infinite resources, but you work towards that goal long term.
You probably won’t see runes in Diablo III the way they were in D2, but that was a bloated system to find out what it did, had to go to wikis to read the functions, etc. So there were drawbacks but it was an interesting system.
Interesting he didn’t even mention that runes were in Diablo 3 for about the first 3 years of development, until the entire skill system overhaul where rune effects were baked into the skills and skill runes as objects were removed. That was probably a good change on the whole, but I still miss the whole customizing skill points aspect of it, where there were going to be 7 levels of runes with increasing power.
Travis: Probably won’t see that. Our game doesn’t really have clickable items. Also our game has a more robust skill system. D2 I didn’t like the hot key binding and all the keyboard clicking and such. You could have an item with charges and you’d mouse over it and bind that ability to a hotkey. We don’t have that. We think 6 buttons and your potion is enough buttons to click on. I like procs and such, but I don’t like items with charges that you have to repair to replenish, it’s never the right time to use them, etc.
There’s design space there and maybe one day, but I have no current intention of going that route.
Making farming more fun?
Travis: We need to provide the players with more things to do. More content. More areas to explore. Density changes helped with that. Ultimately there will probably always be “the right” thing to do for exp. There will always be something in the game that’s got like 10% more exp than elsewhere. That’s fine. But I want to provide players with more things to do and more reasons to play than just gaining exp.
Imagine if there’s some system that has something like Demonic Essence, but it’s only obtainable in some restricted area. Like a super demonic essence. And they only dropped from say, Diablo and Belial. I’m not saying we’re doing that, but we can find ways for you to care about other areas and other thigns in the game other than just your exp bar. And we want to enable that and give you more things to do, but it’ll take some time to get there.
Why didn’t the game include all that to start with?
Travis: Um… I dunno. A lot of this is just my opinion, so I can’t say exactly how it all happened. A lot of game dev is learned by doing. A lot of things that seem obvious now were not obvious years ago when the game was being designed.
I’m in the fortunate position of coming in afterwards and seeing the problems and making fixes. It’s easy to look at it once it already exists and figuring how to make it better. But at the time it’s really hard to see everything and work at it at the time.
A lot of the time there’s a “trust me on this” sort of attitude from designers. Players often want things, or think they want things, that won’t actually be the best idea.
Going for the larger issue and at the core of things is useful. Like rather than my specific idea, Wyatt will say, “what’s that actually about. What are you enabling with that?”
Travis: Players often don’t realize the real root of the problem. They’re good at seeing the problem on the surface, and the quick fix, but players might not have a high enough level view to see the root cause of the problem. So even angry ranty comments are useful, since you can see the underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
It’s like going to the doctor and you’ve got runny nose, and instead of giving something to stop the symptom the doctor can treat your actual cold or pneumonia.
Differences between working on WoW and Diablo 3?
Travis: They’re very different games. Blizzard is an outstanding place to work. I’m lucky to work with so many intelligent and highly-skilled devs.
Warcraft was… they were different since WoW was an MMO and we had to sustain an ongoing game. Constantly doing new content. Updates for their subscription fees. The biggest difference is WoW is a much bigger team, so it’s different to work with so many people. Diablo is a smaller team.
The other big difference is I can’t break WoW. There were more boundaries for what was acceptable for items or rewards. The game has to be sustained. Anything you make… it’s like power creep. Anything we make now has to be outdone later. So the boundaries for what’s acceptable is more defined and has less flexibility.
when I started on Diablo 3 I was talking to my brother who is a dev on WoW. His short reply to me about Diablo loot fixes and improvements, he said, “just do everything you ever wanted to do on WoW but couldn’t.”
I think there’s a lot of value, but in WoW the most extreme thing I ever did was make heirlooms. I thought leveling up new chars was lame and I wanted that experience to be more fun. So I made those items as good as they could be without undermining the experience structure of the game.
So in Diablo 3 we’ve got more room to make something bigger and more powerful. Like an item set that gives infinite resource. You want to become a murder train and be super powerful in an ARPG. But an item like that can’t be in WoW, it’s too powerful for the system. So Diablo there’s more freedom in that regard. Crazier ideas are still acceptable.
If someone aspires to do what you do, what advice can you give them?
Travis: That’s really hard to answer. I never know what to say. I guess play a lot of games. Video games, board games, card games, etc. Play everything and learn the core elements and see what’s fun and how things go together. What do you enjoy about games. All kinds of games. Understanding what makes a game good or bad and trying to figure out what you can do to improve it.
It’s really hard to teach good design sense. The best advice I can give is the ability to step out of player’s shoes and into designer’s shoes. You need to set aside your personal emotional response to something and see why you feel that way and figure that the way you play the game isn’t the way that everyone plays the game.
That’s a big one. I know a lot of people who can’t make that leap. They think everyone plays the game how they play the game. That’s not true. Understand why casual games or other types of games are enjoyable.
If you want to be in some other area, work in art or programming or the like, WAY different answer. You need to get training in those fields, or a degree, etc. But for design like I do, it’s more about figuring why a game works or doesn’t, and figuring how it works and how to improve it. Identify the actual root cause of the problem rather than just chasing after the symptoms.
When I got hired at Blizzard I didn’t really have any experience. That was 8 years ago as a GM. Then I moved to QA for like a year and a half, and eventually got a design position when it opened up. If you really want to be a game designer, and I knew I wanted to do that since I was like 12 years old, I just had to bite the bullet. I packed up all I owned and went to California and got a job as a CM and just worked my way up.
College degrees in game design?
Travis: Not really. I don’t know anybody who has a degree in game design. People come from all over. I knew a great designer here who was a high school math teacher. So he was really good at balancing things and figuring if the math was out of line. Rob Pardo has a degree in something odd.. like criminal psychology? I forget. But it’s something you wouldn’t think applies directly to video games.
You don’t need training or a degree that’s in the field. But if you don’t have experience you need to really work your way up and start at the ground floor. I know a lot of people who can’t get things since they feel entitled. They want to come in and be right on top. Start at the bottom, work your way up, if you’re good you’ll get promoted and work your way up.
Location-based viewing of friends.
Travis: We’ve talked about adding features, so you can see players by location. It would be mostly applicable to like, web cafes. It would show you players from nearby locations.
Travis: I love lots of different games. I’ve been playing a lot of Heartstone, since I have access to that at work. I like Netrunner. I paly a lot of Diablo 3. I play Smite. My fiancée streams for HighRes, and I play Smite with her on occasion. I played Neverwinter for a day or two and didn’t really get into it. I play anything. Anything good, how about that? I played Bioshock recently. Loved that game. I was ranting about how good it was.
Path of Exile. Nah. I looked at it and didn’t feel interested. To be fair, I should try it since it’s very similar to our game. But I think enough other people here played it and we sort of gleaned everything worth taking from it.
If anything his spoken words were even more dismissive of PoE than this semi-transcript. He didn’t sound insulting, just very disinterested. I wish the streamer had pursued that a bit, to ask what he didn’t think was of interest in it. The gigantic PoE passive skill system is one obvious point of difference, but I’m pretty sure Travis or other Bliz guys would just say that it’s interesting, but totally against the Blizzard philosophy of simple controls and interfaces, and not off-putting new players with what looks like huge complexity and consequences for game decisions made from noob-ignorance.
On the whole, Travis’ talk was quite interesting. I was almost afraid to transcribe some portions, since I’m afraid that Bliz PR will see them and check to be sure that the bomb in his brain hasn’t been disabled, or they’ll send him off to some PR reeducation camp from which he’ll emerge spouting CM-style platitudes. Great to hear a D3 dev actually speaking his opinion on so many things and not temporizing or wishy-washy wording his way out of ever calling garbage “garbage.”