Guest Article: When it’s Done and The Future of Diablo 3

Guest Article: When it’s Done and The Future of Diablo 3

A site reader named Stalkman sent in a couple of good guest articles late last month, but what with all the news from Gamescom and the console launch, I lost them in the shuffle. Happily I rediscovered them today, and here’s the first of them, with another one coming up next week. This one talks about the development process of Diablo 3 and how the designers could and should do a better job interfacing with the community, for the sake of the game and the happiness of the fans.

diablo 3 article

What I do know can happen with perfectionism is that when the details are the focus for too long the big picture gets missed. The rune system was shifted around several times before the game’s launch to something that works quite smoothly. However in the same breath, the tuning of inferno’s difficulty and legendary items seemed to be hacked afterthoughts. Both skills and items play a role in shaping the long game, but I disagree that focusing on the skills was the way to go.

…I submit the best way to fight the infamous attitude is to open the lines of communication as we’ve been seeing with the recent developer interviews. As an impatient fan, it’s so much more reassuring to be getting information that I don’t agree with rather than no information at all. Given the Diablo 3 community’s stamina for complaint and criticism, it could be argued that Diablo 3’s staying power lies partially in its bad press.

That’s just a short excerpt; click through for the full piece and add your thoughts in the comments.

When it’s Done and the Future of Diablo 3

I recently watched the movie “Indie Game” which follows three developers in different stages of the development process. One of the young professionals is a tortured guy in his mid twenties who has remade his title from the ground up twice. The night before a show, he makes changes to the game creating an unstable build that keeps crashing whenever someone tries to play it. His partner left and isn’t making his life easy. His girlfriend went the same way as the partner. As a viewer, I ended up feeling bad for this guy who had a great idea and a nearly finished product who couldn’t get out of his own way.

Watching this poor, perseverative soul, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Blizzard’s design philosophy: “When it’s Done”. In one of the recent glut of interviews, the developers described themselves as creative types who have a natural tendency towards a big reveal of a perfectly crafted product which they have to fight. But when is it done? My fear is that whomever is making that vital decision will be part of the same insular, perfectionist culture as the rest of the team causing delay after delay. I don’t know that this is what was happening in the year before release of Diablo 3, but no contrary information has been provided so I’m left with my conjecture.

What I do know can happen with perfectionism is that when the details are the focus for too long the big picture gets missed. The rune system was shifted around several times before the game’s launch to something that works quite smoothly. However in the same breath, the tuning of inferno’s difficulty and legendary items seemed to be hacked afterthoughts. Both skills and items play a role in shaping the long game, but I disagree that focusing on the skills was the way to go.

This is for two reasons. The first is that items are what drive the bus in the Diablo games. The skill progression is nice, but isn’t at the heart of the longevity. The second is that even with the polished set of skill runes we have now, there are mandatory runes and many that aren’t used at all in the few skills for each class that are viable for inferno play. No matter how much time was spent on the skill system, there were always going to be skills that were the better choice, which nearly all players are going to look up online and use without much experimentation. The delicious nectar that keeps us coming back is the item drops which distinguish your character from others. This differentiation through items was most pronounced in Diablo 3 because of DiabloWikifreespecs and set stat progressions but the items weren’t developed well enough to balance stat and skill homogeneity. The first legendary that ever dropped for me was a 463 DPS Skysplitter in May 2012. Looking at it even then something was very wrong. Its face value to me the player was off immediately, and I couldn’t have been the first person to have such a reaction.

I submit the best way to fight the infamous attitude is to open the lines of communication as we’ve been seeing with the recent developer interviews. As an impatient fan, it’s so much more reassuring to be getting information that I don’t agree with rather than no information at all. Given the Diablo 3 community’s stamina for complaint and criticism, it could be argued that Diablo 3’s staying power lies partially in its bad press. For some reason people log on so they can tout the superiority of Torchlight 2 or Path of Exile in general chat. For the Diablo 3 community any news is good news, evidenced by the fact that some of us were excited to find out that there wasn’t going to be any new content until at least November. Not because we don’t want the game changed, but because the developers actually told the community what to expect, unlike the grinding years of silence pre-release. Not that I blame the team. With a community that has enough vitriol to give the League of Legends crew a run for their money, opening the door and inviting “What do you think of us, really?” would be about the last thing I’d want to do.

An area that I’d like to be explored is how the “When it’s Done” approach influenced Diablo 3’s development in its last year and what the team has explicitly learned and what they’re trying to do differently. We know that there’s going to be a blackout of new information and content until the expansion is announced, so why not dig into what was going on in the year prior to release? I’m not looking to put any game directors head on a pike, but rather what shaped the latest game in a series that has followed me from my early adolescence well into my adulthood. The open communication makes me very hopeful for the game’s future along with the strike team from the other teams at Blizzard. That’s open communication within the very limited context of a Blizzard development team, however Flux’s interview with Wyatt and Travis were the most candid and refreshing I’d ever listened to after spending an adolescent lifetime following Blizzard games. I strongly urge you to check them out if you haven’t yet. I hope that Travis and Wyatt may have learned some things from talking to Flux, but there I may have over extended my optimism.

Going back to the items for a moment, focusing only on the legendary items, the Diablo 3 team had a group of people on campus who had hand designed every item with weighted stats to be roughly equal for their game. Why were they not used, or not used effectively in the game’s development? I don’t want it to become Wodin’s Wizardspike, but now the Diablo 3 developers are using the example of WoW legendary weapons as a small part of the experience they want to provide moving forward.

I hope that as the lid continues to slip off the Diablo 3 development process there’s more regulated exchanges between the development team and the community in a way where both can learn something: a cross pollination which would benefit both the team and the community. The community would get more information to be excited about or more insight into why decisions were made in the games development. What they do with that information is their business. The developers would get fresh eyes and input, provided they choose who they talk to wisely.



This guest article is by Stalkman and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Offer the author feedback in comments, and if you’re interested in contributing a guest article or other content to this site, get in touch with [email protected]

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16 thoughts on “Guest Article: When it’s Done and The Future of Diablo 3

  1. “The developers would get fresh eyes and input”

    Players have been communicating and suggesting long before Diablo 3 was even announced. If Blizzard had listened only to a fraction of the well thought out ideas, combined with the heritage of Diablo 2, the game would have been an instant classic on version 1.0

    But no, here we are, one and a half year later, and are discussing exciting things like bind-on-account and glorious game changers like double hydras.

  2. If the devs had listened to the community long ago we might not be in this mess now. Many of the articles/news on this site cast doubt on changes and things being removed and a lot of the comments (apart from the fanboys) would agree. Blizzard didn’t know best.

  3. I disagree with good deal of the article. A lot of points seem to be nothing more than fan-pandering regurgitation of most common complaints on forums, which are known for many things but not for their intelligence.

    It is well written but it is not so well thought out.

  4. I think that generally, the Diablo III that shipped a year and a half ago was an example of the negative end of the perfectionist “when it’s done” viewpoint. Being flexible with game systems is not necessarily a bad thing, but D3 iterated too much with the game systems. The developers should have picked the game systems, debated them, and decided upon the systems before ever starting work on them; once work had been done to create game systems, such as Runes as dropped items and such, they should have just stuck with it. The amount of time and effort it takes to iterate and reiterate major game systems reduces the amount of time spent on bolstering other game systems, such as difficulty level, the power and interest value of items, and the drop rates of such items.

    In the end, I think that the D3 design team probably had good ideas for creating better items, but they were pushed to release before they were ready because they iterated too long and wasted too much time developing new, ‘better’ game systems when the originals worked fine to begin with. If this is true, then most of the fault lies with the design team for being too wishy-washy: iterating on game design is nice, but when you iterate for so long that you redesign the game from scratch (multiple times over) then you run the risk of creating good game systems at the expense of other, lousier game systems, which you were rushed to create because you failed to leave yourself enough time to properly flesh them out. In my mind, this is what happened with the development of Diablo III, and it took several very large patches just to bring the game up from the level of bad-mediocre to just decent, when the game really should have been great from the get-go.

    That said, there is one piece of your article that I feel does not fall in with the problems of perfectionism.

    You wrote that the tuning of Inferno difficulty seemed to be a hacked afterthought, but I would say rather that the initial problems with Inferno difficulty have more to do with bad responses from the community rather than bad tuning on the part of the game developers.

    When Inferno was originally announced, it was supposed to be a super-hard, extra difficulty mode in which only a small number of players were meant to really play through. The idea was that most people would play Hell as the main ‘final’ difficulty, and that Inferno would be a kind of ‘bonus’ difficulty level, a ‘harder-than-hard’ difficulty level for the super-hardcore gamers, similar to the “Dante Must Die” modes in Devil May Cry games. This idea was further strengthened by the popular opinion of the time, which was that the D3 development team was full of pussies who didn’t know how to design real, hard challenges, and the prevailing fear was that Inferno would be too easy because the D3 development team was full of ‘WoW casuals’ who could neither recognize nor create real difficulty.

    The development team continued to insist that Inferno was very hard and that they, when play-testing, died constantly; however, most people on this site dismissed it as ‘casuals not understanding real difficulty,’ in part because Bashiok and other developers stated that they had family members, grandparents and non-gamers test the game as part of internal testing. As a result, the game launched, and everyone found out that indeed, Inferno was Really. F***ing. Hard. However, it turned out that people really didn’t want the game to be super hard; they wanted to be able to play on Inferno and complete the difficulty so that they could farm the super-awesome items. As a result, people complained en-masse that Inferno was too hard, and that the development team had screwed up the endgame design. However, as I have stated here, I believe that this has more to do with the player base repeatedly saying they wanted massive difficulty, when in reality, they didn’t. Don’t get me wrong; I hated the gear-check wall in Inferno, and I’m happy that they changed it and made it the way it is now. However, considering the attitudes towards Inferno at the time, I can’t really blame the developers for hearing that people wanted a super-challenging endgame difficulty mode and giving it to them.

    • I think with inferno the real issue with it was less of the difficulty, but more about the problems of acquiring gear in a regular fashion in order to do the difficulty.

      Before they released patches to make gear better, it was bloody hard to get even barely semi-decent gear which couldn’t get you through the bare basics of Act 1 Inferno. I liked the idea of Inferno being super-hard, but more of a “beatable” super hard, like Dark Souls. Instead we just got unbeatable super-hard.

      I don’t think nerfing the difficulty was the proper solution but more that the itemization was what made the game hard. Too many systems were designed around the auction house’s existence and as a result made it mandatory.

      I don’t know what the blizzard developers intend to do for itemization other than apply a band-aid solution to a gaping chest wound. Their build changing legendaries don’t look that great, and they keep giving us promises and more promises with no actual concrete information.

      I think it would be better for them and for us if they just put their prototype systems up on the Test Server and let people decide for themselves if they thought the system worked well or didn’t, rather than iterate the game to death… like Duke Nukem Forever… in development forever.

      • Have to agree with you there, if Hell dropped the best gear at the same rate as Inferno, then Inferno could have stayed extremely difficult as there was no point to farm it, only to play through it for achievements and, in the potential future, banner changes, cosmetic items, pets, transmog stuff, etc.

        Sadly, players are so funneled into “BIG NUMBER” syndrome that they need to see better items drop or else they feel there is “no reward” which is 100% false, as the reward is the challenge and some fancy stuff to show taht you could make it through inferno.

  5. The problem wasn’t that Inferno was hard in and of itself. I for one wish they have never nerfed it. The problem was the item progression was disastrously off balance. It was basically impossible to farm inferno items because none of them dropped in Hell. Had it been possible to farm and grind our way in Hell and then ultimately progress into Inferno it would have been a better system. The other problem was Max level of 60 with no Plvl made it tremendously boring as Blizzard themselves recognized with the quick introduction of Plvls.

    Additionally, Inferno never should have been all 4 Acts again. Playing through the game now 4 times especially with MP levels I find tremendously boring. Just end the game at Hell and turn on MP’s, why make me go through Inferno MP0?.

    Inferno should have been the size of an Act and been with whole new challenges and excitements.

    P.S. Where are my D2X Clone type events. That system was very fun.

  6. I enjoyed the article for the most part. Well written, good points. However, I feel considering the way Blizzard has improved of late in communicating, it’s less pertinent than if it had been written a few months ago. Still, I think this should be shared with the devs if it were possible.

  7. Communication was terrible through beta and it is still being terrible. In beta everyone pointed out how horrible everything was and how it would bite them back, anyone remembers vanilla “placeholders” legendaries? Yeah, that was something that Blizzard should never have done and as game developers working for such a huge company they should know how horrible those items were when you are developing an ARPG, specially a sequel to D2, no community input should be required for them to realise that.

    The relationship between developer and community should be of some feedback here and there but in D3 case a very bizarre scenario has occured: where the players just seemed to know better than the developers itself. My mind still cant get around that but it just seemed like it.

    And I have no hope for D3’s future, Josh just got a broken game from Jay Wilson, which was Rob Pardo’s puppet, and he is in no mood for dire changes or big overhauls to the game, just like at the expansion features, there is nothing groundbreaking there, what is here to stay is going to remain like this, they will play safe because the way they designed the core game is so locked into itself that only a whole new game could actually change things.

    Ah and this Loot 2.0 hype, what a load of BS, it cringes me to see people hyping that, as it is also ridiculous that we have to have a loot 2.0 in a loot hunting game that was in development for 7 years in the first place, in what version will they finally get it? 4.0? 7.0? I will tell you guys when: Never, loot will never be good because of how they developed the game and made a barebones-streamlined character customization and skill system, the synergy between Items and Characters will never be good because of how they interact with each other. If they made something against weapon damage being tied up to all skills I would think of it as a great step in the right direction, but it would be too much work for them, so they wont do it, never.

    Seriously, the expansion was the last chance but I do believe that they missed it, still the same boring affixes, bigger numbers, power creeping, etc… this game was just designed wrong from the ground up, to develop an ARPG in the same way as you develop a MMO? Seriously? Why do developers need community feedback to tell them its a horrible idea to do that? Its just crazy that people defend them like that. Blizzard’s famous “iterative process” got a point in D3 where it wasnt just an iterative process but rather a jambalaya of bad design choices on top of band-aid fixes on top of more badly designed core features, it was messy and unnorganized, and appalling for a company like blizzard to do that with one of the their franchises, and they only got 3.

    So far, the only communication and feedback that they deserve is to question how badly they managed to screw this one up so badly.

  8. Personally love the rune system. I can see why it has made the items especially bland as a consequence. The gains though are enormous.

    Look, if your primary motivator is the loot that drops, d3 is not your game. Go back to d2. If you like experimenting with skills and good combat feel, d3 is your game. Play it because it is fun to play, not for the loot. Blowing away monsters should be the bulk of the reward. The longer you play, the less likely you will find an upgrade. You get the ez upgrades fast.

    Is d3 perfect? No, but it is getting better all the time. Don’t expect huge changes though…ever.

    • Generally I agree with you, but I would say that Runes as they are now don’t have enough ‘Oomph’ for what they do. There are a lot of cool runes now, and kudos to Blizzard for making them, but there are also a lot of runes that just do derpy effects, or add something small to the base skill like extra damage or extra slow, rather than changing what the skill actually does in a meaningful way.

      A good example of this is the Wizard skill Familiar. The skill, already not all that strong, gets no special additions from runes: one rune adds damage to all attacks, one rune heals for a small amount per second, one protects your for a bit of damage when your health is under half, one gives you a tiny bit of extra arcane power, and the last one adds a small, worthless AoE effect to attacks that were never very damaging to begin with. None of the runes change the feel of the skill, and none of them change the utility either; nobody picks runes for Familiar because they make the familiar more useful, they pick the runes based on what passive, 5-minute buff they’d like to have.

      I completely agree with you that the rune system is great, and should be the main reason for playing the game. Drops are nice, but if we had real runes really changing what the skills do, then we really could have what Blizzard promised us: a game with a few cookie-cutter builds, and millions of other viable combinations. As it stands, we have a few cookie-cutter builds, and a few other viable options. I would rather see a lot of new, powerful skill runes that open up the game to real creativity in deciding builds and styles of play.

  9. Nice to hear your feedback. As Flux mentions in the intro I sent this in probably a month ago, a couple weeks before the expo was announced. Keep in mind that when it’s done doesn’t mean every area of the game is polished to perfection, but rather an environment where it’s easy to get caught in the details and other things get missed. It may be a pedanitic point to some, but resonates with my experience with the game from launch until now.

    One thing I’ve heard since I submitted this to Flux that I’d love to integrate is that the original team was trying to produce a product that would stand on its own for a decade a launch. That attitude was actually the shortsighted one as games get balanced and expansions get added. Just a cultural attitude that would’ve place the team in some unnecessarily difficult situations when deciding what was good enough. It would also explain, as was pointed out, why inferno was tuned to be as challenging as it was at launch.

  10. It doesn’t take 8 years to make a video game.

    The world fought WORLD WAR TWO in SIX YEARS. LOL

    You gotta be kidding me. “When its done, indeed.”

    Captcha solve: $1.29 Hot N Spicy McChicken

    • True in but that’s Blizzard for you, but how you can put D3 and WWII as a comparison whether joking or not I’ll never know

    • Worth comparison I’ve ever read. Please refrain from ever arguing with anyone ever again. Horrible. Plain and simple

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