Bashiok Explains Diablo 3 Skill Tree Design


Bashiok clarified some fan feedback concerning the resemblance between the Diablo III skill tree and World of Warcraft talent trees. He defended the concept and pointed out the differences, and the purpose behind this decision.

Bashiok: I should stress that what everyone was allowed to see was a behind the scenes glimpse at where the UI is now. BlizzCast specifically serves that purpose, and by showing unfinished work we take the risk of people critiquing our work before it?s done. To that same effect though it?s an amazing way of getting feedback, but that doesn?t change that it should be understood to be unfinished work. Moving on?

The Diablo III skill tree is a skill tree and not a talent tree because you learn all of your skills from it.

You aren?t given new abilities every other level from a trainer. There?s no expectation that you?ll have some specific ability at some level. There?s no role requirements that dictate where you have to spend points to hurt monsters. The points you spend determine exactly how the character is built, how it functions, and what it?s able to do.

So, people are comparing the trees for a few reasons and using these reasons as negatives. I?ll try to cover them all.

1. ?They look similar.? Yes, they do. They?re both downward expanding trees, they both have icons that you can spend points in, they both have arrows that determine expansion into other skills.

These were all features also in the Diablo II trees.

2. ?It?s unoriginal.? I agree. It?s only after 10 (?) or so working concepts of various other skill tree designs that we were able to arrive at the conclusion that this is a system that works and achieves the goals that we want to achieve (we showed those failed designs at BlizzCon btw). There?s no point in trying to put in something new and complex just for the sake of originality. When people play the game will they remember that it?s not new, or that it?s not fun?

I want to heavily stress again on this point that the skill trees are not finished, we?re still in the process of heavy iteration and experimentation.

3. ?Point requirements to advance down the tree is lame.? One of the main problems with the Diablo II trees was point hoarding, which was the act of holding on to all of your points until you are able to reach a skill you want to put points into. This may not be an issue to some players just because it?s so easily dismissed as ?part of the game?, but from a designer perspective it?s a huge failure. You are giving the player a reward and they are hoarding those rewards because they have nothing enticing to spend them on. This was attempted to be remedied through a patch by introducing synergies, unfortunately they caused their own issues. World of Warcraft looking at the Diablo II trees for inspiration saw this flaw but took a different approach in solving it, instead implementing a point requirement to advance down the tree. The player now has to spend points to advance, and with that comes the ability to provide more impacting and meaningful places to spend them.

4. ?Cookie cutter builds!? Again these are skill trees, not talent trees. Every single ability you can cast/use is learned through spending points in the tree. This allows, in comparison, for a huge amount of customization. Now, that doesn?t escape the truth that there will always be builds considered to be the best, but that?s more an issue of balance, not skill tree layout design.

Also on that point, and I?ve said it before, character customization is a core design goal of the game. It?s one of a few, and that means that we?re not going to release the game unless we?re happy with the amount of customization available.

So, hopefully that touches on most of the main points being used over and over again as a reason to hate the skill tree. Once again I want to ask that you approach the game with a question rather than a statement. If you follow up ?I don?t like this? with ?I wonder why they decided to do it that way? then we can have a conversation. If you?re just making a statement the best I can do is read it. There?s no way for me to comfortably reply to a post that has no intention of learning about the game.

Update: Bashiok has returned to the scene of the crime with a number of follow up replies. All these posts are in the same thread; the added links below point to the appropriate DiabloWiki pages, where you may learn far more about the various topics under discussion.

Regarding automatic placement of stat points:

STILL!? Let it go! Ok, well, quickly – it’s confusing for players, it forces us to limit skill diversity/item attributes, and the amount and type of customization it offers is neither important nor sexy. So we take away stat spending, make items have more and cooler stats, know stat minimums at a given level which allow spell diversity/balance, and then introduce new customization systems that are actually fun and engaging in creating a unique character.

DiabloWikiTrading interface improvements?

Anything is possible. I think the “dump everything into a trade window” was awful, I’m sure the designers agree, and if there’s a desire to look at someone else’ items then there needs to be a way to do it properly.

Is it set that five skill points are required on each tier of the skill tree before you can start adding points to the next tier?

Potentially. It hasn’t been decided. The point caps of various skills is also undecided, although they’re likely to vary from skill to skill.

Do those five points mean just spent skill points, like Diablo II synergies? Or does it include bonus points from items?

It hasn’t been decided if gear will provide +skill stats. I’d say it’s probably more likely that if items were to include stats that augment skills, that they would add specific things to skills instead of just adding more points into them. But nothing has been decided.

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  1. These folks are among the pioneers and inspiration to the RPG and Fantasy games boom since the 80s, 90s and beyond. MMORPGs also have tons of inspiration from the dragons & dungeons series.

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