Two Diablo 3 Postmortems Coming @ GDC

We previously newsed about Jay Wilson’s “Making of Diablo 3” panel discussion/ Diablo 3 Postmortem coming up at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco later this month. As we discussed in that post, from the program notes it seems like Jay’s talk is going to focus on his (in)famous Seven Design Pillas of Diablo 3.

There’s nothing new about Jay’s talk, other than a time and date (March 28, 2013, 11:30AM – 12:30PM) but two more Diablo 3 related talks have been added to the schedule, and at least one of them should give us quite a bit to chew over. It’s being given by Diablo 3 Senior Technical Designer and frequent Developer blog author DiabloWikiWyatt Cheng, and here’s the full program info:

Through the Grinder: Refining Diablo III’s Game Systems
Wyatt Cheng — Senior Technical Game Designer, Blizzard

Location: Room 135, North Hall
Date: March 29
Time: 2:30PM – 3:30PM
Format: Lecture
Vault Recording: Video
Track: Design

As with all Blizzard games, Diablo III went through many iterations before the final product was released. Wyatt will describe different game systems that were attempted, explored, and then ultimately removed. We’ll go into detail about the pros and cons of each system, what worked and didn’t work, and how the team used each failure to bring them closer to success.

1. Health Recovery: From Regenerative Damage Shields to potion dilution, where potions become less effective as you drink them, many different health recovery mechanisms were tried. What were the major issues with each of these systems and how did it lead to health globes in the end?

2. Controls. At Blizzard, control is king. Although simple on the surface, a number of iterations were required to polish the Diablo III interface, in order to provide the player with tight and responsive controls.

3. Skill System: The skill system underwent multiple revisions. Early systems involved different variations of point spending, an evolution from Diablo II. Later systems had runes, with multiple rune ranks that dropped as items, which could be used to modify skills.


Blizzard has a number of game design values. A postmortem on the development of Diablo III gives us an opportunity to see these game design values in action. Values such as “Control is King,” “Avoid the Grand Reveal,” and “What is the Fantasy.” Ultimately these values are driven by iteration.

Intended Audience

This talk is intended for anyone who is interested in concrete examples of the iterative design process. It’s particularly aimed at those who aren’t afraid to peek behind the curtain to see failures, as well as successes. Portions of the talk will delve into technical detail, but nothing too scary.

Speaker: Wyatt Cheng | Senior Technical Game Designer, Blizzard

Wyatt graduated from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He has worked at Electronic Arts Canada, Totally Games, and Blizzard Entertainment. He has been at Blizzard Entertainment since 2003, where he currently works as a senior technical game designer on Diablo III.

So, how about those 3 topics? They seem a nice mixture of good and bad, and should spur some nice discussion. (Imagine if his 4th topic was Itemization? *shudder*)

1) I think the health system, including the custom class resources and the removal of pot spam, is one of Diablo 3’s best upgrades over Diablo 2 and most other ARPGs.

2) The skill system is very good as well, with a huge variety of skill options and a nice progression through them. (Obviously it’s not perfect and I still think some form of skill levels would add a lot of depth, variety, and complexity, but it’s far less cookie cutter than D2’s system.)

3) As for the controls… ugh. I guess we’ve all grown used to having just 6 hotkeys, 4 of which you *must* cast via keyboard keys, but I’d happily throw that out to return to the D2 system of mapping skills to the left or right click (or both, if you wanted) and cycling through them via the keyboard or mouse wheel. I have a specific example of why the current control system sucks, but I’ll stick it below the fold save it for a new post to keep this main post on track.

In addition to Wyatt’s lecture, there’s yet a third Diablo panel, though it’s all about Blizzard’s localization process, and seems more targeted to industry professionals than fan pundits. Full details on that panel and updated info about Jay’s, if you click through.

The full program page for the Localization Panel:

Implementing Blizzard’s Localization Vision in Real Time

  • William Barnes — Senior Manager – Global Localization, Blizzard Entertainment
  • Arthur Flew — Associate Producer, Blizzard Entertainment
  • Ines Rubio — European Localization Manager, Blizzard Entertainment
  • Jason Walker — Project Management and Analytics, Blizzard Entertainment
  • Location: Room 2008, West Hall
    Date: March 26
    Time: 5:05PM – 6:00PM
    Format: 60-Minute Lecture
    Vault Recording: Video
    Track: Localization Summit

    Setting the stage with Diablo III as the backdrop, this panel of four tenured Blizzard Entertainment representatives will discuss: 1) the depths to which Blizzard goes to avoid banal translation, preferring innovative methods for rich localization, 2) how present day publishing of multiple titles has deemed real-time implementation of new processes a must to stay ahead, and 3) Blizzard’s Localization vision for tomorrow and beyond.


    Attendees will learn about some of the outdated localization methods Blizzard is abandoning for more collaborative best practices, the tools the company is developing to support these practices, how their teams implemented these practices during Diablo III development and what they meant to the project.


    William Barnes | Senior Manager – Global Localization, Blizzard Entertainment

    William Barnes is a localization professional working for Blizzard Entertainment in Shanghai, China. His current title is senior manager for Platform Services, overseeing the localization and quality assurance for Blizzard’s games released in China.

    Arthur Flew | Associate Producer, Blizzard Entertainment

    Arthur Flew has worked at Blizzard Entertainment for eight years. He began his tenure in the Customer Service department and after a couple of years transferred to Platform Services to join the Localization department. In his time in Platform Services, he has worked as the Localization QA lead on Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, and joined the Localization Production staff during the first half of 2011 to co-produce Diablo III with Andrew Vestal. At the end of 2012, Arthur assumed primary localization duties of Diablo III.

    Ines Rubio | European Localization Manager, Blizzard Entertainment

    Ines Rubio is the head of Blizzard’s Localization team in Europe. She joined Blizzard Entertainment as part of the newly set-up Castilian Spanish Localization team in France in 2006, and since then has contributed to the localization of World of Warcraft, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, and Diablo III. Prior to Blizzard, Ines worked as a translator at Nintendo of Europe, where she localized a variety of Mario and Pokemon titles directly from Japanese, relying on prior experience with over two dozen games elsewhere in the games industry. Among her earliest work, perhaps as a hint of things to come, Diablo II material was part of her first localization internship.

    Jason Walker | Project Management and Analytics, Blizzard Entertainment

    Jason leads a team of 5 project managers and 10 analytics engineers at Blizzard. He also handles the financial needs of QA and Localization as far as budgeting, and has revamped the contracting of third-party localization vendors. His group is managing the QA integration effort at Blizzard, where Localization and QA are under the same umbrella of Platform Services. He joined Blizzard in 2009 after an internship in the Versaille office, where he focused on CS and financial initiatives. Prior to joining Blizzard, Jason served a helicopter pilot in the US Marines for 11 years.

    The updated info for Jay Wilson’s lecture:

    Shout at the Devil: The Making of Diablo III
    Jay Wilson — Game Director, Blizzard Entertainment, Inc
    Location: Room 135, North Hall
    Date: March 28
    Time: 11:30AM – 12:30PM
    Format: Lecture
    Vault Recording: Video
    Track: Design

    When building any game, but especially when it’s a sequel to the beloved Diablo series, it’s critical that you have a series of core design goals, or pillars, that you can use as a guide to making decisions and defining what you want the final vision of the game to accomplish. In this postmortem, we’ll explore the pillars that guided Diablo III’s development and how well we felt we accomplished each of them. We’ll focus specifically on the ones we feel we struggled with and the game design lessons we learned during those struggles. Examples of specific challenges of living up to these values will be provided, prioritizing them against one another, and evaluating how well they were accomplished after Diablo III was released.


    Attendees will receive insight into the value of defining the core design elements that will drive their game development. In addition, they will learn the importance of measuring their game against those values, and using that knowledge to iterate on the final product, both pre- and post-release.

    Intended Audience

    This talk is intended for a general audience, including those who are interested in game design as well as project leadership. Project leads of all levels will also gain the benefits of good lessons learned on driving and iterating a game’s vision. The intention is for the talk to be general enough that specific knowledge of the Diablo series is not necessary, but such knowledge will be beneficial.

    Speaker: Jay Wilson | Game Director, Blizzard Entertainment, Inc

    As a game director for Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., Jay Wilson is responsible for overseeing the overall game design of Blizzard Entertainment(R)’s sequel, Diablo(R) III. This involves establishing and maintaining the project’s creative vision, and overseeing a development team as they work to craft a compelling play experience. Wilson started at Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. in January 2006 in his current role. Before joining Blizzard, he worked at Relic Entertainment, contributing to a number of highly acclaimed games there. He has also worked as a designer at Electronic Arts, Cavedog Entertainment, and Monolith. In his spare time, Wilson plays both videogames and tabletop games extensively, and also enjoys reading books and watching movies.


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    1. get a 5 button mouse dude! love my forward back button.

    2. I’m convinced that they’ll adopt parts of the old rune system for the expansion. Preferably just for end game, so maybe you have these random drops that are about as rare as legendaries, and they serve as upgrades to a specific skill/rune. Oh look, my Wizard just found a Level 3 Magic Missile/Split upgrade, which adds two extra missiles and ups the damage.

      It’d give you a reason to use specific skills, rather than just following a cookie cutter build. Eventually you’d find all the upgrades in the time it takes to grind paragon 0-100, but in the meantime you’d have a limited set of uniquely powerful skills.

    3. “As for the controls… ugh. I guess we’ve all grown used to having just 6 hotkeys, 4 of which you *must* cast via keyboard keys”

      This is false, and I for one would never use the keyboard for 4 abilities myself. You simply have to rebind those 4 keyboard keys to your extra mouse buttons. I assume the vast majority of gamers have a nice mouse with many extra buttons(if you don’t, do yourself a huge favor and get one).

      Personally I have 5 of my abilities on my mouse. I could have all 6, but I like have just 1 on my keyboard(generally something I cast a lot sitting right under my pointer finger on keyboard).

      As far as the D2 system of having to cycle through skills with the mouse wheel, etc…UGH, what a terrible system of control that was. I know we all got use to it over time, but even when use to it, it still remained a horrible inefficient system.

      • You seriously used the mouse wheel for skills in D2? Really? Did you not know about hotkeys?

        • I liked being able to scroll between an AOE attack and a focus fire attack, both on right click. I think it works much better than having situational skills on the keyboard or mapping them to all the extra buttons on a mouse.

        • Yes I knew of hotkeys, I was referring to Flux’s article in which he talked about cycling through skills with the keyboard or mouse wheel. Specifically how terrible that system was.

          Did you not read the article?

      • When you play on multiple PCs, different control schemes are annoying.
        You can’t expect everyone to have same HIDs over different computers.

    4. Main problem with d3 controls is the inability to remap left click to *move/interact only*. It makes the whole game biased toward melee classes. Forcing the use of hold position is bad contols design.

      D2 was great in that you could bind everything to right click. The ui design messes up the controls for d3. As a result, I mainly play melee characters in d3, not because I like them more, but because the controls are much easier to manage.

      • That’s basically the complaint I’ll voice in another post. That I want my attacks all on the right click, since the left click is a much less efficient way to do it, since you have to actually click on the moving (and small, and obscured by explosions, etc) targets. And you constantly pick up crap off the ground while clicking.

        Where as the right click you can just hold down the button and you’ll acquire any new target you mouse over or even near. It makes a huge difference in enjoyment playing as a Monk when you learn to put your main attack on the right click.

        As for multibutton mouses, that’s obviously one work around, but it’s not exactly the same thing. Many people don’t have those devices or aren’t comfortable using their thumbs or other fingers for mouse buttons, and it’s not like the game came with one and a requirement that you learn it. The official D3 merch mouse doesn’t have that design, after all.

        • Actually, the official mouse does include additional buttons.

          And while I agree accidental left-clicking ground loot is suboptimal, everything else about the control scheme is much better, and certainly more responsive.

          • Sure, it’s got the back/forward buttons on the thumb like almost every mouse these days, but it’s not the keypad on the mouse type design like the *real* gaming mices, is what I meant.

            I’ll save my comments for an article probably later today, but yes, casting buffs from 1234 keys (or whatever you’ve got them mapped to) is much better than right clicking them D3 style. My main complaint about D3’s controls is having to waste the left click on a skill, when on pretty much all of my chars I’d prefer it to be just a movement option, since right click is so much easier to use for target acquisition.

            My ideal D3 controls — LMB = base attack/move, RMB = main attack skill, 12345 = other hotkeys. (And sure, you can map a skill to LMB if you want, but it shouldn’t be mandatory.)

            • Well, there’s only 2 mice with a keypad set-up (three if you include the Hex), but all of those would be WAY overkill in D3. If you are a WOW raider, sure (I used them then), but not in D3.

              With the D3 Steel Series mouse, or any other mouse with backward and forward you have 5 alternative bindings.

              Scroll up
              Scroll down
              Scroll Click
              Back button
              Forward button

              I say all that, but I have an alternative set-up. I have RSI in my right shoulder so I don’t even use my mouse for clicking. Instead, I have my right and left mouse clicks moved to my keyboard. I use my scroll wheel for forced movement (down) or for quick-reaction situational skills(up), then use the backward and forward buttons (and other keyboard buttons) for my skills, potions, etc…

        • Both agree and don’t agree.

          While I agree that it feels way better to perform most attack skills with the right mouse button. That is certainly not true for all skills, especially ones that require no target and perfect timing, such as smoke screen, spirit walk and the most notable one, revenge.

          Then you might say. “Well, ok, but I want to choose what skills will be swapped and what skills will go of instantly when pushed”. But then it starts getting a bit complicated. You’ll have to remember what keys will fire skills of immediately and what keys will swap out. And you will have to add one button to push for every skill that you want to have as a swap-able skill, since you’ll need a button to swap back to your main attack.

          And just think about it for a sec. If you want to cast magic missile, followed by 1 arcane orb, and then a magic missile again, you’ll have to first make sure you have magic missile as your right mouse button skill. If not, then you’ll have to push a button to switch to that skill. Then you’ll have to cast MM, push a button, cast AO, push a button again, and then cast MM. That’s 6 buttons pushed for something you can do with 2 in d3 while holding down 1 button. So basically 3 but in the same time as two.

          We need all this sh*t because you don’t want to hold down one button while performing your left mouse button skill? Really flux?

          Just imagine playing a CM wizard with the d2 control system. DAMN that’s a lot of buttons pushed! 😛

      • It does get annoying to accidental click on items, monsters, etc when trying to move. Ideally I would like a setting where the only time my left mouse button will cast the spell assigned to it, is if I’m holding down the “hold position” key. I personally love the hold position key, and use it every time I’m casting a ranged attack, I even use it a good deal of the time when using melee skills(partly due to habit, but it works well for aoe type melee skills such as cleve)

        I suppose this option may be best implemented only if the left mouse button skill was a non melee attack, I assume most people don’t use hold position when casting melee skills. This option would completely fix the issue of accidentally clicking on random stuff when wanted to just move with left click, at least for me.

        • I actually hold position and left-click when I use Cleave (Rupture). Since the range is a little farther out than the computer thinks it is, you can still hit critters while not encroaching. If you just left-click, you’ll keep creeping up, and that animation of taking those little half-steps slows down your swings.

          And I agree that I wish LMB would only trigger skills when holding position. That’s how I play all of my characters, even Barbs and Monks (Monk is using Thunderclap, natch, so movement isn’t much of an issue). And I still pick up random grays accidentally.

    5. I agree with you, Flux, on the skill system, health and resource system. Dare I say, I actually believe the old Diablo 2 way of allocating stat points is not organic at all. To me, I can understand why the D3 team decided to do away with arbitrary stat and skill points and relied on items to build a character. Obviously itemization is lacking but I’m sure that the items will be revamped in the expansion.

    6. Everyone needs to get a gamepad or equivalent. When you get that, your control problems go away, at least in most games. When I played WoW, the difference was night and day. This thing makes WASD controls pretty good for D3 or other iso games.

    7. I am looking forward to hear this portmortem, even tho I know they wont admit anything wrong with the game, but it will certainly be entertaining to see them boasting sales numbers (once again…) and defending design choices that led a franchise known for having insane ammounts of replayability to have it almost dead before even a year was completed after launch.

      The same defenses about their design choices will be the same as always: “Illusion of Choice is bad thats why there is no permanence of character customization” “Acessibility” “Consoles” yada yada. D3’s fumbled development has been more entertaining than the game itself. Looking really forward to it!

    8. It sounds like a delightful way for Wyatt to commemorate a full decade of working on Diablo III.

      I wonder if rotten fruit will be provided at the door, or will attendees be expected to bring it?

    9. I was fine with having hot keys in D2. I guess it was just the way to play, and that’s how it was. I do agree that a build such as CMWW would be pretty tough to pull off with hot keys. I like how the use of skills is setup now, and having a primary attack on the LC does not bother me at all. I have not used the stand still button in a long time , as I just highlight the monsters and start spamming while the character stands still. As long as there are monsters around, I keep moving the curser to them and she keeps firing off without moving. I does suck to clear out junk from the inventory because of clicking on the ground, but it’s not that bad. Most builds I play have something spammable, so it works out for me, but there is a problem putting a heavy resource skill on LC and it going off when you don’t want it to. RC has always been reserved for an escape skill like teleport, spirit walk, or smoke screen. I would like to see a hot key for switching out 2 skills that are bound to a mouse click and especially if it gave us a 7th skill to use.

    10. How is the new skill “system” better? It’s incredibly shallow and boring. And it severely limits what they can do with items. Period.

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