Randomization and level design in the future of Diablo 3


Defiled Crypt variations.

Defiled Crypt variations.

Creating good random map generators is a difficult task in video games, and something we’ve seen done with relative success in all of the Diablo games. Diablo 1 had four dungeon types with quite different maps for each area, though all were just big squares with different arrangements of the pieces within them. (The Hellfire expansion added two tile sets, but both exactly reused the random map grids from Diablo 1 areas.)

Diablo 2 diversified the random maps a lot, especially in the dungeons which could vary quite a bit in shape and layout. The surface areas were less varied, and were almost all big squares with some random pieces inside.

Diablo 3 is both more and less randomized, and players have been debating the merits of randomized and non-randomized maps since the game’s release. In D3v almost all surface areas are non-random maps, which was a point of debate even pre-release. The devs argued that non-random maps let them do more cool art stuff and focus the player’s experience (especially in the early game), while fans feared it would result in boredom and a lack of repeatablility. I’m not sure who won that debate, since while the devs added randomization to the Act 5 maps… the huge random levels = slow quests = part of the reason no one plays Act 5.

The dungeons in Diablo 3 are randomized, and much more flexible in layout than we saw in previous games. None are just big squares with different walls within, and they all have large chunks and set pieces to their maps. But those tend to be so large that they’re very obvious when they repeat, and they only fit into the rest of the jigsaw puzzle of level pieces in a few, predictable ways. That’s one of the things that was coolest when Rifts were new; just seeing some of the existing level maps (like the Act 1 Cathedral or Act 2 Dhalgur Oasis) put together in different configurations.

Quote from Bashiok, explaining the design idea from 2011:

So while the exterior is largely static, within that defined landscape there are literal square holes (from small to huge) and within those empty square holes a great number of possible pieces can be dropped in. And they’re chosen randomly. So you may play a few games and always see empty terrain in the same place, but on your next playthrough you’ll instead have a broken down wagon appear and a quest giver that needs you to go kill a unique fallen shaman who stole his tools to fix it. And maybe the playthrough after that the sqaure puzzle piece is a short dungeon to explore with a big chest or mini-boss at the end. Ideally it’ll encourage exploration of the exterior zones over and over, hoping to find that a rewarding adventure has appeared.

Dungeons on the other hand are completely randomized, same as Diablo II.* All of the halls and rooms and all the bits are shuffled around and it’s all different every time. Some of the rooms themselves will offer unique quests if they’re rolled up, and in some cases individual rooms themselves have those square chunks missing and within those randomly chosen rooms a number of random events can occur.

So I’m curious how you guys feel about the overall dungeon randomzation and design and layout… but also curious what you think of reused maps. Like Hellfire did with Diablo 1’s maps, some areas in Act 5 reuse maps from earlier Acts. The most obvious is the Ruins of Corvus, much of which is a reskinned version of the Act 3 Keep map. Another one I hadn’t noticed until I saw it in a recent forum post is DiabloWikiWhimsyshire/dale, which exactly reuses the Act One DiabloWikiCaverns of Araneae map. (Including all the annoying dead ends.)

Whimshire vs. Caverns of Araneae.

Whimshire vs. Caverns of Araneae.

Level Dreams and Desires

So, what do you guys want to see in maps and level layouts in future Diablo 3 areas? Pre-game everyone wanted bigger, more randomized areas… but look at where we actually play now? Rifts are all about the random, but before Rifts people mostly farmed Act 3’s less-random areas (which admittedly was mostly about monster density), and now we all spend our non-Rift time zooming bounties through the easiest parts of Act 1.

It’s impossible to separate the DiabloWikiRoRG incentive from the ease of Act One monsters and the generally smaller size of the maps… but I’m sure if the RoRG only dropped from Act 5 Horadric Caches, the forums would be continually filled with bitching about how large and random the maps were and how slow the bounties were to complete.

We all say we want large randomized maps when a game is in development, and then in practice we just play the smallest, easiest, least-random areas. (Basically what Malcolm Gladwell shows about human coffee preferences, where everyone claims they like a rich, dark roast, and then most people serve themselves a milky, sugar-filled, liquid breakfast dessert.) Every time I bring up “should RoRGs be Act 5 only” on the podcast, the guests immediately say “Yes.” Most fans talk about wanting more challenge and variety in areas, and more exploration… even as we all secretly enjoy the RoRG being in the Act with by far the quickest/easiest bounties.

So what do you want in level design in the future of Diablo 3?

Comments

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  1. Random is good. Maze-like is not; it's clearly suboptimal. So if we all want levels that are either linear or wide open, can we still randomize those? Sure! There are plenty of fixed elements in levels like Oasis and Fields that could be moved around, for example. And it doesn't always have to be the exact same shape.

  2. All in all, area randomization is quite well.

    Not counting Events, I'd prefere having a few layout variations for each act to break up the static procedure of running down the same routes again and again. Event randomization is enough to compensate the lack of freshness, though, bringing D2s and D3s exterior degree of randomization to comparable levels. (For my taste, the amount of individual Events available to each map/act could quite frankly be trippled – and then would still not feel like having enough randomized elements available to me.)

    On the dungeons randomization, the game is at worst hitting a similar degree of randomization D2 had provided the player with, while mostly even offering far more variety. (Tilesets of rather small maps being rolled for rather large rifts, thus with a lot of the same tiles being used repeatetly, is kinda experienced like being the modern actI tower, which was later also increased in size on nightmare and hell.)

    Thus I end, as I started: All in all, area randomization is quite well!

  3. in regard to rifts, i personally very much welcomed the various level ranndomizations but have nonetheless found my favorites in i.e. the curesed hold-type map when it is bigger and the biggest, practically only one single huge rift map one single ancient-waterway-type straight 10 minute map. or atleast semi-straight.
    simply out of the convenience of not having dead ends and googleplexes of nooks and crannies.

    everyone loathes caverns of aranae and imho blizzard only implemented the ros whimseyshire treasure goblin because noone really went there anymore anyway – previously only because the lsd level had a use because of the staff of herding let you slay horsies carebears and flowers, and which is bascially useless now, whimsey featured the horadric hamburger (which i never once found or even had the gold to buy on the ah) and was nice pk terrain.
    love the colors but hate aranae bc you always found yourself going a wrong way.

    if bigger maps feature moar monsters, moar elites, moar gold, moar xp and moar legendary chances, bring them on!

    a5 cematary is great bc big. black holes in maps are nice, but not as nice as making monsters go in the wizards back hole.

    d3 has already come a long way and maps are far more random than they used to be but i feel we need new side quests just to spicen things up again and not quests that make a npc drop 5-100 gold or merely a blue or yellow.
    we want *dinggggg*!!!

    yes rorg is elementary but also crushing.
    yes you can have up to two different set bonuses (even if not all full sets). bonuses) but its elementariness deprives us of equipping i.e. soj and unity or soj and dead mans's finger or whatever other combinations you fancy.

    xpac please!
    less caps and ramalala dingdongs gift sockets for non-jewelry.
    why remove sockets for ice climbers and taskers?

    c'mon blizzard! we want to give you our money!

  4. Their current approach and amount of randomization is good. A5 maps are awesome for rifts…they just feel a tad too big for bounties (there should just be some kind of real reward for doing the special bounty acts of the day beyond blood shards to incentivize doing acts other than 1).

    D2 randomization was more about not knowing if the exit was on the north, south, west, or east of the giant square level, which I don't find compelling in the least. D3's randomization is more about finding mini-quests, events, rare NPCs, purples, etc. All of that makes playing bounty maps you don't see often very interesting (although they need to re-restore some kind of purpose to killing the random purples).

  5. >>Pre-game everyone wanted bigger, more randomized areas… but look at where we actually play now?

    Look at who is left now. People who wanted to play strongly randomized content are long gone.

    Personally, i’d love more randomization. Figuring out what characterbuild can clear what content how quickly to maximize farming efficency is great content for me. Sadly, great content for Blizzard is mashing teh butans and greening teh numbar. Oh, bitterness is me!

    • I love strongly randomized content and I'm not going anywhere. I absolutely love Act 5 and it's huge, random maps. I do agree that when you want to complete bounties fast and efficiently that it's a hassle, so all you have to do is increase the rewards to match the extra effort required that Act 5 gives. I LOVE the random maps in Rifts, absolutely. I want more Act 5 type gigantic maps just with equivalent rewards.

  6. "Pre-game everyone wanted bigger, more randomized areas… but look at where we actually play now?"

    The reason people don't play A5 now is because we were supplied with predictable areas in the first place. Predictable areas are more boring but more profitable. Many exploits have been based on predictable locations.

    I personally think that having more of a focus on randomization in all the tilesets would have been better. (TL2, for example has more random elements than D3 both in terms of the tileset, layout, and population of elements within the layout, and the result was much more variety. Granted, all were likely much simpler and faster to make than for D3.)

    • Whoops…to answer the question Flux posed:
      Future designs should FURTHER randomize existing locations along with adding more randomization. This includes monsters. It would result in a better game with fewer reasons to play one section over another. Then on rifts, I personally want to see 2-3x the monster variety and 2-3 tilesets in one rift. That much would greatly improve variety without causing too much of a hit on loading times.

  7. I see this a lot when I play FPS games. I always want MORE. Bigger, more complex landscapes with plenty of detail and eye candy, variations on hallways. I always loved the idea of NOT knowing every single detail of the map so you have to play not knowing where enemies will be, etc.

    But, people would rather learn the map they like and replay it over and over and over again. In fact, people don't even want objectives to get in the way most of the time. They just want as simplified an experience as possible. fy_iceworld for instance.

    I'd rather see the best of both worlds. Big maps like in act 5, but a 'where you're supposed to go' arrow show up faster and with a larger range to make up for the bigger maps. More to explore and discover if you wander off the beaten path, but a clearly visible beaten path.

    • This! If you take Act 4 bounties then I know where I'm going and I know what will be there. Same for Act 1 and to an extent Act 2. The only problem is when you're in a bounty like a "Kill X and 100 mobs" in the Caverns then it's a pain to find the mob. Having a more visible path (even if it's an option you can turn off for more blood shards/achievements/etc) would help and if your interested in killing everything like I am, well, you'll get to it eventually! Monster density is the other thing I'd like to see increased but that's not really the topic being discussed.

  8. I'm much more satisfied with what we have now than the old "random squares" junk. Given infinite resources and time, I'd like to see a more variable "feel" to the zones than what we have, via "alternate tilesets". As an example, take the Fields of Misery. Add in an alternate set of graphics and different enemies, like

    The Spider Forest. This variant would appear 30-50% of the time, and replace the goatmen/leapers with spiders and ghouls from the Arenae caves, turn the ambient lighting to blue-gray, and coat most of the trees with webbing. There could also be a couple extra events that only spawn in this tileset, and a transmog set that drops from certain alternate enemies.

    You could also put in demonic invasion portals in other outdoor areas that change the nearby spawn to the stronger melee enemies and "leak" corruption into the area.

    I realize this would double the required art assets for many areas, so it's not going to happen. But it would be a nice change to further differentiate adventure mode.

  9. I’m not a fan at all of the way the levels come out. When I’m doing a Rift, I’d rather see a better randomized layout rather than look, you landed in Fields of Misery, an exact replica of the area from the Adventure and Campaign. Rifts should feel more like alternate dimensions.

    I also don’t like going through caves or any other dungeons where you constantly see the same set piece used, often multiple times in a row. It doesn’t feel random at all, just glued together in a different configuration, I guess. They might want to re-look at the layouts now that they have the game modes together and create more set pieces so that each area is more \seamlessly\ randomized and built.

  10. One of the big elements not touched on here is randomization of enemies.

    D1 had the most enemy randomization, and the best implemented, in that there were certain random combinations that could occur on particular levels, and other combinations that would *never* occur.

    D2 pulled back on that by quite a bit, most levels will have the same core set of monsters with maybe a couple of variants tacked on. Act 5 has almost no enemy randomization at all, and it was always my least favourite.

    D3 has entirely static enemy choices each time, and it really ruins the 'surprise' and variety of the game.

    • Mobs with abilities developing step by step into more powerful and/or flexible (and/or, when skipping a few difficulties at once, just counterintuitivly different) attack patterns going up the torments, would be a welcome addition to the game indeed. Yes!

  11. you say no one really farmed the act 5 maps in d2 due to the fact they were too big and too randomized… this is actually the EXACT reason i spent most of my time doing ice caverns (crystalline, glacial, ancients way). i love more and more randomized really large maps. i wish d3's maps were more like this to be honest… even the maps that are more random than others (excluding the random ones that are not related to quests), i feel like i always know the exact direction i am supposed to be heading, and will subconciously ignore half the level because i know "oh, the next quest area will be to the northwest". give me bigger and more random please! 🙂

  12. Randomized really sucks in higher grifts when you get many elites lined up in long narrow levels that you can't circle around unlike squares, which is terrible if you ask me.

  13. I’m guessing the stampede crusader would disagree with you.

  14. If Blizzard added an instantly replenishing resplendent chest to the hub for each Act with a big warning telling players that using the chest to get items would ruin the game, most of us (myself included) would still spend hours repeatedly opening the chest until we got top gear, played a couple high rifts, and then complained abut the content being too easy. The player base almost always follows the path of least resistance, even when players know it cheapens the experience and is less "fun."

    As long as the game is only an item grind and playing/killing fast is the best way to grind for items, anything that slows game play will be detrimental. Blizzard needs to make exploration and slower game play more attractive. Even something as simple as buffing the rewards for clearing longer side quests, or giving some sort of reward for completing maps. Maybe add full clears to the bounty system (with buffed rewards.) Maybe some sort of magic find buff for survival or a de-buff for dying to encourage toughness and more careful play (in soft core.)

  15. What would be smart is including more things that you can find in the maps that are out of the ordinary and worth finding, like mini-dungeons within the dungeons, mini-boss battles, events like the jar of souls, new monsters and tactics, giving more rewards for completing maps or killing all monsters, etc. In other words, make us want to explore every nook and cranny instead of simply discouraging us from wanting to be on the maps in the first place. These were things I suggested before the game even launched, and they are still true today. I'll admit, they have made many improvements to the game since launch, but it is still a very shallow experience, and a lot of that is to do with monotony.

  16. Randomization doesn't work as well in D3. In D2, you were mostly playing for Exp and random drops. In D3, very often you are playing with a specific goal and randomization only makes that take longer. In D2 the journey was the game, but in D3 it's an obstacle. On top of that, we suffer at the gods of RNG more because of lack of trading and the search for the top tier items. If I find any chest piece that isn't Marauder, it's worthless. Now if you make the maps more random so that my already frustrating farming takes longer, it doesn't make the experience any better.

  17. The map randomization in D3 is not good, even in dungeons you always get the same big tiles connected by the same smaller tiles in the same recognizable patterns. I'd rather go back to square tiles like D2.

    In D3 I prefer the large exterior areas, even though the layout isn't randomized, because they are open areas with generally a lot more monsters.

    Torchlight 2 shows how map randomization should be done, it's unbelievably good.

  18. For me, the reason I rarely ever go into act 5 has nothing to do with the map. Nearly every monster you face in the whole act can either slow your movement speed to 0 or do massive damage with a leap attack that originates offscreen. The reward just doesn't compensate enough for the time and risk involved. If act 5 had act 1 monsters, I'd do it at least as frequently as acts 2-4.

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