A short interivew from NieuwerwetsTV features Brian Kindregan and Kevin Martens and answering two questions. Just two questions, but they’re both very good questions and each one spurs a lengthy and interesting reply. In fact, the second question could have been the best one asked at Gamescom… if the interviewer had pursued it a bit and not let Brian deflect it as he did.
Paraphrased, semi-exact transcript:
*laughter* Brian: Well, the tomb of Tal Rasha was pretty successful at keeping that shard of the soulstone hidden for quite some time. Nothing is forever.
In seriousness though, [in the opening of RoS] Tyrael found himself in a very hard situation. People have asked why he didn’t just destory the soulstone or keep it in heaven. The fact is that the Black Soulstone is the most powerful artifact in creation, in existence. And it has a corrupting influence. And Tyrael very clearly felt that it was not doing good things in heaven. It was sowing dissent amongst the angels who are the most powwerful beings in existence. Other than the Nephalem. So Tyrael had to get it out of Heaven.
He didn’t know if he could destroy it. People have said why not smash it on the Hellforge? But would that even work? The Black Soulstone is not like the other soulstones. Those were chipped off of the Worldstone, while this one was created by a human being. A notoriously twisted human being. Zoltan Kulle.
So really… it’s like dealing with this crazy plutonium bomb that no one knows how it works or how to deal with it. So the best thing Tyrael could do was hide it away. He knew it would be found eventually, but it was all he could do. The one thing he didn’t know was that Malthael come for it, since the Angel of Death can sense all living things.
There’s no way Tyrael could know that the Malthael, vanished for long years, the former Angel of Wisdom, had turned into the Angel of Death and would be coming after the Black Soulstone so quickly. So Tyrael’s effort was the best plan in a bad circumstance.
Jason: One of my favorite things in the movie was when the horadrim finally put the soulstone into the locking device, and Tyrael sighs in relief. He knew it wasn’t going to work but he was feeling helpless and what else could he do?
That’s the first question. The second question is a politely-worded version of “Diablo 3’s game mechanics were dumbed down with a lack of customization, and the storytelling was broad and obvious; is this an effort to reach a larger audience?” Brian answers it, but in a subtle way that doesn’t really agree or disagree with the accusation, and there’s unfortunately no follow up.
Click through for the transcript of that one, and think what might have been, with frank talk of the quality and method of storytelling in D1/D2 and D3.
Brian: The reason the level of storytelling changes from Diablo 2 to Diablo 3… There’s a change there since Blizzard has tried to incorporate more storytelling into their games. The story in Diablo 2 was great when that game came out. But really, you just ran up to a character and they monologued to you. That was great at the time and I played a ton of that game. But as everyone’s standards have changed to want more immersion in the story, it’s become more important to have a real conversation. and the level of story and amount of story in the game has gone up a lot. Some people aren’t fans of that and that’s fine. Obviously when you try something new some of it will work and some will be rough around the edges.
If Blizzard has one quality that stands out from the rest it’s that we continue to support our games after they come out. Diablo 3 came out and we tried a lot of things with the story and some of them worked and some of them didn’t. And I think the storytelling in Reaper of Souls is going to be better than in Diablo 3. and whatever we make in the future is going to continue to improve.
That’s not a bad answer, but it’s very political and general. (Brian does a good job saying they’re trying to improve without singling out anything in the past as a mistake.) The question tried, but it was too broad as posed, and it really needed a follow up. And more explanation. Time, alas, is always fleeting in these show interviews, with PR people hovering and tapping their watches.
So… let’s be frank. Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 didn’t really have any storytelling incorporated into the game. All the story in D1 was in the manual and in some books you found in the dungeon, and in D2 it was in the manual, in long NPC monologues that most players always skipped, and in the cinematics. (Which the Bliz Cinematic team took in their own direction, forcing the Bliz North devs to make last minute rewrites to match the game to the cinematics.)
This wasn’t an accident, since the Blizzard North developers focused entirely on the game content and mechanics with very little thought to the story. Max Schaefer has admitted as much, and I’ve spoken to him and other D1/D2 devs in person on numerous occasions (on and off the record), and heard much the same from them. For example:
CB: What do you like most about Diablo III?
Max: Everything is polished and slick, and the artwork is awesome. Sometimes while I’m playing I’ll just pause and look at the river. I like how they told the story, though. It’s interesting and I’m compelled to listen to it and I like how it’s related. The method they used to tell it is nicely-done, and it doesn’t feel tacked on. I will admit that in previous incarnations of Diablo the story was completely tacked on after the game was complete, and it felt that way. I think Diablo III did a great job integrating the story into the mechanics.
I don’t think anyone would argue with the substance of Brian Kindregan’s reply to the interviewer’s question, since the storytelling is clearly much better integrated into the game in Diablo 3 than in past titles in the series. The issue is that many fans hated a lot of the form and content of that storytelling, including in-game cinematics and especially the constant hologram-based lectures by Azmodan and Diablo throughout Acts 3 and 4. (The RoS opening cinematic exhibits signs of improvement, at least.)
It would have been great if the interviewer had been able to ask a more specific question or a follow up on that, and perhaps Brian or Kevin would have cheered us all by admitting that the constant nagging speeches by the Act Bosses was a mistake and that they won’t be repeating it in RoS. Or Brian or Kevin would have enraged us by defending that tactic and saying it’s going to return in RoS. Either way it would have been nice to hear a more specific reply.