Brian Kindregan and Kevin Martens on Story and Simplified Diablo 3

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:

Question: Has Tyrael learned nothing from the Tomb of Tal Rasha?
*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.

Question: In Diablo 3 the Combat System has been reduced in complexity since Diablo 2, though the Paragon system is adding some complexity and customization back in. And the writing has become more outspoken and explicit as well. I think it’s a bit too direct; too oversimplfied. Do you feel this happened because you wanted or needed to reach a broader audience? Or would you say that I’m wrong?

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.

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32 thoughts on “Brian Kindregan and Kevin Martens on Story and Simplified Diablo 3

  1. I loved what he said about Tyrael’s reaction as soon as they place the B.S….Never noticed what it meant.
    And yes, thought the story itself is alittle cliche and flat, the way they told…I was never into lore in ANY game, infact in D1 and D2 i would always skip…But in D3 was diff…

  2. As long as we don’t magically resurrect Leah and Maltheal doesn’t spend the whole act spouting cliche dialogue at you I should be okay with the story in RoS.

    I’m pretty sure whatever plan he has for the B.S. is going to be pretty stupid however.

    • Uh!?
      You realize the game is at a point now where it’s mostly devoid of relevant story characters? With the blue masters of endless recycling (who also happen to have taken quite a nosedive by trying to innovate through reinterpreting the Diablo series their [WoW-]way) pitting you against Death, the reaper of souls, what exactly do you think will happen?

      I’d be very surprised not to see Leah’s ressurrection being the key to undo Malthael (or whatever he manages to set in motion) and the trapped Evils’ release being the cost for that.

  3. All the optional story items are great in all three games. But the main story arc is simplistic in all. The problem in d3 is not that the story is worse, but that it is so over done. They beat you over the head with it on subsequent playthroughs. Why is it so hard for them to remove all popups after first completion in each difficulty? They track conversations with followers and the lorebooks found.

    Just play audio only, no popup boxes after beating normal. Or make it an option in the menus… why is this so hard?

  4. Really hoping for a better story this time around – D3’s story was IMO one of its weakest points.

  5. Though I do think, as Flux, said, that the story was well-integrated, in general the use of game-stopping in-game cutscenes was IMO a big mistake in that regard. At least it should been used extremely sparingly. And an option to turn them off altogether, of course. Most of them are fairly unnecessary.

    On the guy’s story question, I would have rephrased it to something like “On scale of 1-10, how much do you hate the butterfly queen?”

  6. I can’t be the only one who read through/listened to all the conversations in D2 with each character at least once.

    I doubt anyone went through and did it regularly though so why would they force the story on you with each play through in D3?

    • They dont force, you can easily skip them with Esc and space bar for all cutscenes, dialog, etc.

  7. The story in d3 is seriously bad, even if they do want to reach a broader audience. The villains are imo pretty cool though, but only Azmodan, Belial and King Leoric and Cydea…I thought they were really well made and it was interesting to follow the story around them aswell.

  8. I fear playing d3 again and being subject to that horrid story dialogue and delivery. I like the comment “some people may not like that and thats fine” or whatever… Ya the dialogue was just horrid so hopefully they hired some decent writers or realize that crap they put out was inappropriately bad for a diablo game.

  9. I think Diablo 2 had great story telling. You could choose to listen to what the NPCs had to say, thereby getting more information about people or things happening, or just skip it altogether. Felt much more real than in D3.

    • Again, same comment as the guy above, you can EASILY skip all cutscenes (with ESC) and diaglog (with spacebar) on D3….
      If you donno that, thats ur fault, the game has skipping like D2.

      • I’m sure that they are aware of how to skip cutscenes and NPC dialogue.

        The complaint is that you have to break the flow of gameplay (however briefly) to skip that material literally hundreds of times as you farm/grind/etc. The game is designed around playing the same areas over and over again. It makes more sense that the player should need to actively choose to view and/or listen to that material (after the first play through) rather than be forced to actively skip it time and time again. It’s a very basic, and easily corrected, design issue.

        Just a tip for future reference: You should probably try to understand what people are saying before you post a condescending reply. If you “donno” that, you should work on your communication skills.

  10. I have just one simple question…
    How in hell was a human being able to create an artifact which is much more powerful than shards of the worldstone itself, and not even angels are able to understand or control it?

    • maybe because nephalem have potential to be stronger then angels/demons ? Zoltan clearly states in conversations that he is empowered nephalem like the player.

      • He wated to reach the power of the nephalem, using the black soutlstone.
        A quote from Kulle’s Journal:
        “I believe with this soulstone I will finally be able to unlock the true power of man. … With the soulstone, I will be able to elevate myself to the strength of my ancestors.”

  11. I don’t think the story in D3 is that bad either. Would I like to see some stuff handled differently? Of course!
    I mean why did Tyrael have to become mortal and why couldn’t Cain be killed by a bad-ass demon instead? (overly discussed examples, I know)

    And while it might be anoying that the ingame cutscenes cannot be turned off, I would love to see the cinematics play between acts beyond normal difficulty.

    Not that I would watch them all the time, but it would be nice to view them every now and then besides selecting them from the cinematics menu…

    • I’m glad someone thought the story wasn’t too bad. I thought that it was the most simplistic, obvious, juvenile story line I’ve ever come across & then been forced to wade through in each difficulty with each character.

      *And* then having the flaming cutscenes with Diablo during the fight, there was me thinking that they didn’t want anything to break up the combat (which I thought was the reason for the salvaging & sell-****-in-the-field things being removed from the inventory during the beta)…

  12. Wait! did I forget the D3 story? It was pretty bad so I may have blocked those memories. But wasn’t the whole point of getting the Black Soulstone was to put all the Prime Evils in it, and destroy it? I’m sure Tyrael knows his stuff, or he would have said ‘Hey this Soulstone plan might not work, what is our backup plan’ Or did Tyrael get another bout of amnesia and forgot the original plan of destroying the thing?

    Looks like ROS is off to a good start with a flawed story.

  13. Wasn’t it Adria’s idea to get Black Soulstone and destroy it? As we know she had other plans, so maybe destroying it was made up lie.

    • Yes, Adria seemed to be the only one who knew what was going on with the soulstone. Everyone else took the view of “this is a terrible idea, but I don’t have a better one.” No wonder Tyrael didn’t last long as Angel of Wisdom.

  14. Seems like the “tacked on story” of D2 was a happy accident. It feels optional and doesn’t get in the way. Once you feel like immersing in it there’s quite a bit of it to be had(mainly in the form of monologues, admittedly). Could it have been incorporated into the playing experience some more? Sure. As long as it was done tastefully. D3 is not a shining example of how to do it right. Oh no.

  15. I’m sure that they are aware of how to skip cutscenes and NPC dialogue.

    The complaint is that you have to break the flow of gameplay (however briefly) to skip that material literally hundreds of times as you farm/grind/etc. The game is designed around playing the same areas over and over again. It makes more sense that the player should need to actively choose to view and/or listen to that material (after the first play through) rather than be forced to actively skip it time and time again. It’s a very basic, and easily corrected, design issue.

    Just a tip for future reference: You should probably try to understand what people are saying before you post a condescending reply. If you “donno” that, you should work on your communication skills.

    • ^^^^ Ignore the post above. It was intended as a direct reply to an earlier post, but somehow got posted as both a reply AND a new comment. Sorry about the double posting.

      P.S.- I know I’ve said it before, but an “edit” option would be nice. I still don’t get why we have that option elsewhere in the forums, but not on the “News” comments. It’s really not that big a deal, I suppose… but it would be a nice touch.

  16. Maybe some of us are old farts who like the old days when the only story was in the manual. Fire up an old Mega Man game. All the necessary story happens before you push start (and you can skip it, too!) After that, it’s pure, uncut game. D2’s “story” was good b/c it wasn’t even there. If you actually stayed awhile and listened, it was about as bad as D3’s. Meph’s speech when Diablo goes through the portal is particularly campy.

    Let’s face it. Blizz never, EVER built their reputation on story first. If they did, they wouldn’t let Richard Knaak anywhere near their properties. Blizz has had maybe two really interesting storylines; the fall of Arthas and the Rise of the Lich King, and Kerrigan winning the Brood Wars. Everything else, Diablo, SC1, WC2, SC2, everything, has been pretty lackluster. D3 (and to a lesser extent SC2) made the cardinal sin of letting it get in the way of the game. Even Raiders of the Lost Ark gets tiresome if you watch it 100’s of times a week.

  17. Well, if their game play changes (or attempts to change) are any indiction, and if they say they get these ideas from the forums and internet complaints, then I think we’re bound to see a similar effect on the story telling. I think there have been no less than 2 million threads talking about moron Azmodan who won’t shut up. Also, Josh has done work as a writer, while Jay is a big fan of garbage movies like Underworld, perhaps that has some effect on the integrity of story telling techniques.

    So I guess I’m optimistic or something…

  18. I don’t think the story of Diablo 3 was a failure of any sort. While it certainly didn’t blow my mind in any way, it’s a perfectly servicable story for a game that is supposedly mostly about farming for better and better items with a very random drop-system. I enjoyed the story at about the same level as I enjoyed the story in Diablo 2. In the end, what made me play Diablo 2 for thousands and thousands of hours was not the story, it was the constant search for items to power up my characters, open up new builds and later trying to fill out the grail.

    The problem ind Diablo 3 is that the story can never be ignored, you have to do it over and over and it is constantly showed into your face through game mechanics. If you are going to have a game with such an immense story focus, the story automatically becomes the carrying force of the game and Diablo 3s story isn’t even close to carrying the game enough when compared to the amount it shows up.

    When I initially assessed the gameplay of Diablo 3 after a few playthroughs of N/NM/H I didn’t see this as a problem, but the more I leveled characters (since Inferno was a horrible unbalanced mess at the start I didn’t bother with it to much) the more I realized that the story annoyed me more and more and I just wanted it to end so I could get further into the game. And since getting further into the game meant crashing and burning as soon as I reached Inferno I simply stopped playing for the most part. Unless Blizzard alters the way the game plays and shows the story I don’t think I will be buying the expansion, which already has quite a mediocre choice of theme in my opinion. Malthael never interested me particulary, and I think it was a mistake to have us kill all the evils in one go since it basically ended the story of Diablo and the other evils and anything that comes after really doesn’t have anything to do with Diablo at all.

  19. We’d killed Diablo twice before we fought him in D3, and I think the RoS opening cinematic makes it abundantly clear we haven’t seen the last of him.

  20. You can edit your posts in the forums; for each blog article, a corresponding thread is created by a Bot “the Hound” and all comments are shared between the blog and this thread (so you can edit the post you made on the blog page going in the corresponding thread in the forums).

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