Another video interview of Jay Wilson has gone online, courtesy of PCGames.de. You can view, or at least open another tab and listen to it here. Thanks to Sefer for being the first with the tip, via our handy main page SUBMIT NEWS button. (Which I wanted for years, but am now beginning to dread since there’s so much stuff coming in from helpful readers that it’s hard to keep up.)
I always enjoy Jay Wilson interviews and panel presentations, since he seems like a straight shooter and is articulate in his explanations, but this one was not his best work. The problem, I think, is that while Jay’s passionate about game development and discussing game features, he’s not a politician, and when he gets into the PR-style BS about the AH and DRM, he’s just going through the motions.
A summary of his replies can be seen below. I’m putting it in quote just for the formatting; it’s not a quote of anyone but me. You are encouraged to listen to the interview yourself, of course. It’s about 10m in length and has excellent sound quality and I have put together a summary of the content…
Jay says that the Diablo 3 Beta is coming soon, and that it’s basically a hardware demo. It’ll contain about half of Act One, it stops before the big game story starts, and they’re actually taking more story stuff out of it to preserve surprises.
The Inferno difficulty is much harder than Hell difficulty, to the point that players will probably need to stay in Hell a bit to upgrade their gear before they move on to Inferno.
He gives their standard replies about the online-only issue, before getting to the Auction House, where things get more interesting. Jay then gives a lengthy defense of the AH, but he’s all over the place in this section. The main problem is that he’s constantly blending his replies between the AH itself, and the RMT aspect of it. For instance, Jay says that they’ve received about two-thirds positive reaction to the AH, and that that’s actually better than they were expecting pre-reveal. “Most of the negative feedback is from people misunderstanding the system, or misunderstanding what Diablo is all about, or just flat out not liking the idea… We can’t address that; if people don’t like the system, oh well, too bad.” (But people specifically hate one aspect of the AH. Twenty-nine percent of them, by our current vote.)
Jay continues, ‘[People say that] Diablo is about prestige of items and you should have to find them yourself. That’s not true in D2, since people could trade for them or go online and buy them for real money.” Jay then stresses that D3 is more of an isolated gaming experience, that players aren’t entirely about comparing their gear to others, as they do in a game like WoW. Huh? I think what he’s driving at is that since there’s no raiding in D3, where the equipment of other characters in your party is essential to your success, therefore your items are just about you. This seems like sort of a reaction to the common “pay to win” objection to RMT, but that’s only really relevant in regards to PvP, which Jay doesn’t mention at all. Like I said, his replies on this issue are kind of scattered, and if someone wants to type up a full transcript of that portion, I’m sure you’ll be thanked.
Jay concludes his Auction House discourse by admitting that they may sell vanity items at some point (surprise!) but that they will not sell anything that impacts the game balance or character power. No, “really powerful sword or armor… that would destroy the game. That would cheapen the value of items. we’ll never do that in Diablo.”
He then moves on to skill changes, and gives the familiar explanations. One new bit is when he says they’ve now calculated the variety as much greater, and that there are something like three trillion possible build options now. The previous figure was 97 billion, as was somewhat mathematically-elucidated in a forum thread. I’m curious how they arrived at an increased number after cutting the maximum skills by one, cutting the maximum traits by about 10, and removing skill points?
Jay also says that they hung onto skill points forever during development, out of a sort of loyalty to the D2 system. They finally realized that it wasn’t working in the game very well, and that skill points were hurting the process. Since the removed them they’ve had nothing but positive feedback from their internal testers, and they think that now players make harder, more impactful choices about their builds, instead of just loading up a low level skill, then respecing all those points to a higher level skill once it becomes available. The dev team is confident that we’ll all like the skill system much better once we’re able to play the game. (Though since they’re not releasing the earlier version with skill points, it’s not clear how we’re supposed to arrive at an objective judgment.)
The interview concludes with a bit about the Diablo console project. They’re not announcing anything yet as they’re very early in the process. They do stress, again, that they’re not making D3 for the PS3, though. “Port is a dirty word to us. we want to make the most awesome, amazing Diablo experience possible, on a console.”
What do you guys think? Can anyone make more sense of Jay’s various comments about the AH? And really, is there any point in even debating the RMAH or always-online DRM anymore? You can learn to like the taste, choke the medicine down coughing, or struggle and get the poison forced down your throat — but if you want Diablo 3, you’re drinking it no matter what. How it tastes is up to you.
Update: Thanks to Elbozo for typing out the whole transcript. Quoted below.
Q: So many people are waiting to play the game, it’s a boring question but i have to ask it. When the beta starts and what the beta will be all about?
JW: We’re hoping to start within 3rd quarter which I believe ends at the end of September, so before then, but we don’t have an official date for it. The beta is going to involve a small part of the game, probably about half of act 1 and first difficulty. Primarily for us it’s a hardware test. We’re only providing only a small part of the game, because we don’t to reveal the core content of the game and story. We’re actually trying to pull things out of the game in the beta to make sure to preserve some of the story elements.
Q: You have recently announced 4th difficulty setting, could you explain what that means for your end-game philosophy.
JW: The purpose of the 4th difficulty is primarily to provide an area for players that will remain challenging even once they reach max level, even as they get really good items. So the idea is that you reach max level, and inferno is so difficult that you actually have to stay within hell difficulty for a while and improve your items to be able to get to the point where you can go into inferno and fight effectively. Once you do that, essentially because all of inferno is at max level it makes entire all of the game content viable. So players can play through essentially any content and be able to find some of the best items in the game, without have to pick and choose the efficient areas.
Q: Your recent announcements in the past weeks have created some reaction among the community, the fans and our readers. I think the 3 things that stand out mostly are Auction House, Skill System and necessity of being online. At first about the online issue. Why don’t you offer offline character outside of Battle.net.
JW: Because if we offer offline characters, we essentially can’t provide some of the things that being exclusively online provide for us. The ability to provide a secure marketplace and a secure economy to the players. One of the reasons that diablo 2 was not secure was because they allowed offline characters. Which means you ship all the server architecture out with the game and you basically give up control of a lot of the game, so item duping and a lot of those issues are in direct relationship with offline mode. But we also feel that having the game online provides the best possible experience for players. There’s just very very few players who aren’t online all the time. A lot of players end up screwing up themselves by unintentionally making offline characters and then not being able to take part in the community as a whole. So, we’ve intended from the very beginning that diablo 3 be an online game and an online service, and that allows us to provide persistent friends list, cross-game chat, persistent characters that we’ll never delete even if you uninstall diablo 3, we’ll store your characters for you so if you ever return. And all that for a game that you don’t pay a subscription fee for, is a pretty good value and we feel worth the price of being online.
Q: Of course the Auction House had a huge reaction among our readers. Did you expect that?
JW: Yeah, we totally expected a huge reaction. What we found is that it’s been more positive then negative. We had about 2/3rds positive reaction to it, which is probably a little higher then we expected, we actually expected people to kind of “sky is falling” reaction, and so we assumed that we did a good job explaining the system so that players understood. Most of the kind of cautionary negative feedback has been more either people misunderstanding the system or misunderstanding what diablo is really all about as a system or just flat out not liking the idea, and we expected a certain percentage of that. But we can’t really address that, you know, if people don’t like that idea and don’t want it, then… you know… too bad. But for the people who say “oh well, diablo is a prestige item system, i’m gonna feel less special now”, well it’s no different then diablo 2. And diablo 2 and original diablo, every item in the game could be gained through trading. You could go online and purchase it for real money. So, if you feel like it makes items less special i would say no less then it did in the previous games.
The only difference is now, you don’t have to risk account fraud, you don’t have to risk not getting the item you paid for, because we provide a service that’s completely secure. Diablo is just not a system like World of Warcraft where the best items in the game go to the most prestigious players. Goes to the players who most actively trade with other players. It’s also not a game where the item base is part of the social network of the game. It’s not like there’s a place where everyone gathers and compare their items like Orgrimmar in World of Warcraft. Players play diablo in more of an isolated experience in a bit of an isolated community. It tends to be more about individual development and individual achievement. We don’t feel that… well if players who want to stay purist or want to just engage in trading without money, we’ve given the option to do those things, so we feel like we’ve given the option for players to play diablo the way they want.
Q: I have a feeling that the misunderstanding of some people what the auction house is all about was basically that they felt like they had to pay at some point for some content like it was a free-to-play game, i think that’s one of the reasons to some people, who really misunderstood that.
JW: That’s absolutely true, there were some people who assumed that we’re basically embracing micro-transaction model and that Blizzard is going to sell items directly to players, and that’s absolutely never going to be the case. If Blizzard sold items that were… i should say, i should qualify, if we ever sold items that equaled game power, that weren’t things like vanity items, which we might do something like that if we have good ideas for it or there seems to be demand for it, but if we were to sell a really powerful sword or a really powerful piece of armor, essentially we feel it would destroy the game. That would cheapen the value of items, and so no, we would never do that in Diablo.
Q: And the third thing i believe what many people were upset about, especially the fans of Diablo 2, was the change in the skill system. I’ve played the game many many times over the years, and each time i played the system was different. Now you don’t have skill points and no attribute points and the system predefines which skill you learn at which level and some people believe this cuts down the customisation options. What do you respond to that.
JW: I actually would say that customisation options with the new system are more intensive then previously. We actually did the math on all the different builds that you can do, which we did it at the previous blizzcon it was something like 69 billion, it’s close to 3 trillion now. When you go in… what i think people didn’t realize when they saw the skill system changes on the one hand they said “oh you got rid of skill points, we loved that restriction of having to commit our power” and then they turned around and said “oh but you cut down the total number of skills, we hate that you restricted us”.
I think that they’ve seen that we moved the restrictions around, to something that suits the game a lot better. Which is… with a skill point system, players end up with a very very tiny number of skills, usually 1 or 2 viable skills, which doesn’t support our combat model, and doesn’t support how people play diablo, where essentially they trade out skills early on in the game for better ones later on in the game. Nobody uses Firebolt on a sorceress late game, well, some people do, but, you know, those people are weird! You know, most people get Fireball, Fire wall or some other cool fire skill actually frozen orb probably most likely. But they get something that feels more powerful, regardless of whether it is or isn’t and they transfer to that.
So you look at diablo 2 skill system and it has all these flaws in it because it wasn’t catering to how people play the game. It’s a cool system, and that’s spawned a lot of cool systems, but it’s evolved and as you try to evolve the system, you can’t do it forever. We basically came to the conclusion that skill points weren’t helping us, that they were hurting the game. We took them out, we focused on skill restrictions, there’s a small number of skills you can take. That restriction is really tough, you have to pick and choose exactly what those skills are going to be. You add in runes to that, there’s 5 runes, and each rune modifies each skill, so that means of the limited 6 skills you have to choose one of 5 variants of each one of those skills. You cross multiply all the variations that that does and you have a massive amount of build variation, far more than diablo 2 ever had, and far more meaningful then 8% more power here versus there that skill point system provides.
We feel the choices that we’ve given there, are a lot more compelling, and when the players play it, we think they’re gonna have the same reaction the company had, which is… the company responded and said “we don’t like the skill points, we don’t like the system, it doesn’t work for the type of game that you’re building, it doesn’t feel right any more” and we adapted to that, and we got nothing but positive response from people who actually played this system.
Q: My last question… You have not announced a Diablo 3 console version yet, but you’re openly communicating, surprisingly enough, that you’re working on console version.
JW: Yes, we have a team that we’re putting together to work on the console, Josh Mosqueira is the lead designer on the console, he’s here with me today, he can comment a little bit about where they’re at.
JM: I guess that we’re just in the process of exploring possibilities of what it would take to bring the diablo 3 experience to the console. We’re all really big diablo fans and it’s a great responsibility that’s been handed down to us. We’re not announcing anything, we’re really at the very beginning stage and we look at the awesome game that is diablo, and asking ourselves “how can we make… not just a port, a port is a dirty word for us, how can we make the most awesome, incredible, console experience in the Diablo 3 universe”. That’s where we’re at.