Veteran and well-respected game designer Stieg Hedlund was a Lead Designer on Diablo I and Diablo II. He did not work on D2X or the Blizzard North version of Diablo 3, since he left Blizzard North in 2000. He’s worked on lots of games since then and his current project is an upcoming F2P ARPG called ChronoBlade, a game so new it doesn’t even have a wikipedia page yet, though it does have a nice website and a FAQ.
As part of a publicity push to raise awareness of ChronoBlade, Steig’s submitted to an interview with PC Gamer. The whole piece isn’t yet online, but they’ve posted an excerpt with a few questions about Diablo 3. There’s no telling if the questions now posted are all of them about D3, but Steig’s comments are largely negative about character customization and level design.
PCG: What did you think of Diablo III?
Stieg Hedlund: It’s hard to separate personal feelings about something like that from how the game was perceived. I think the audience really didn’t react to it very well. A lot of the changes were things that they perceived as negative. Personally, I was just so deeply involved in the creation of the world and how everything worked in it… The direction a lot of things went was not something that I felt was where I would have gone. But I don’t want to Monday-morning quarterback them. It’s a tough thing to follow up on, the success of Diablo and Diablo II, and not encroach on the territory of World of Warcraft.
PCG: Is there something you would have done differently in creating Diablo III if you were involved in that project?
Hedlund: I think one of the things that I looked at was really… The low-level stuff. The dungeons didn’t feel random enough to me. They felt a little bit been-there-done-that very quickly. I think the way that people played in multiplayer games, they were pretty much just running for the exits and trying to figure out the quickest way to get there, rather than engaging with the minute-to-minute exploration of the world.
I think most players are in agreement that we’d like more randomization and variety to the dungeons in Diablo 3, and that’s why I asked several questions about it during our recent dev interview, but let’s be honest… “just running for the exits and trying to figure out the quickest way to get there” is an absolutely perfect description of how 99% of players behaved in Diablo 1 and Diablo 2, where the end game play was largely about runs. Laz Runs, Baal Runs, Meph Runs, Countess Runs, etc.
In D2 the goal was to get through the dungeon levels as quickly as possible in order to reach some boss, on some lower level, who had a better chance of a good drop. Players did sometimes clear out whole areas, chiefly the Cow Level, but that was all about grinding for exp. In the end game we mostly hunted items, and that meant runs to the big bosses, and those required us to zoom through intermediate levels to find the exit ASAP. (This is less true in recent versions of D2X, where rune-hunting is more about clearing certain levels, rather than racing to Act Bosses.)
In contrast, Diablo 3 is *not* about that. There’s some rushing for exits during the early leveling up phase (which I’d bet is all Steig did). Some players wish there were runs and reasons to race through Diablo 3, but for the most part the end game is about clearing out areas, and the best levels get cleared out to every nook and corner, since that’s the best way to garner exp and item drops in Diablo 3. Which doesn’t mean Steig’s wrong about his other comments, but this one on player behavior in dungeons seems wrong, at least in terms of end game behavior…