Flux talks with Diablo 3 lead developers Wyatt Cheng and Josh Mosqueira. Topics include end game console testing, the potential removal of Hell difficulty, UI changes, economic issues, and much more. (see full transcript after the break)

    This is the just the first half of our interview with Diablo 3 developers Wyatt Cheng and Josh Mosqueira. The second half will be posted tomorrow. Here’s an excerpt when Wyatt threw out something new and surprising; click through to see the full transcript.

    Wyatt Cheng: Can I use this opportunity to hint at a completely different feature that’s related?

    Flux: Go for it.

    Wyatt Cheng: We were looking at what happens when you run out of resource. Another complaint that’s in the same vein is when you’re playing a Witch Doctor and spamming say, Zombie Bears, or casting spells with a wizard at a range, and sometimes when I run out of resource I’ll automatically walk into melee range. And people say that’s stupid, it should just do nothing instead.

    But we don’t want you just to stand there doing nothing. To make a long story short, we’re testing internally if I spam spells and run out of resource, it will default to a free skill. So if I’m a Barbarian and I run out of Fury using Seismic Slam, instead of doing nothing or basic attack, it will do Bash, Cleave, or Frenzy, if that’s on the bar.

    Again, if a Wizard is using Energy Twister and runs out of resource, instead of swinging a sword or throwing a wand, it will cast Magic Missile, Charged Bolt, etc. Any signature skill on the hot bar. The game actually checks to see if you have those skills and uses that instead.

    Click through for the usual podcast info, the mp3 link, plus a full typed transcript of part one of this show. Part two can be seen here.

    The Diablo 3 Podcast Episode Guide in DiabloWiki.net provides links to every show, plus quick summaries.


    Josh Mosqueira and Wyatt Cheng Interview, Part One

    Here’s part one of the interview. Since there’s an audio version of this podcast that does contain every word, this typed Wall of Text is not a word-for-word transcript. It’s usually quoting directly, but doesn’t include every bit of throat-clearing and crosstalk, for easier absorption and quotage.

    BTW, the “eight hours” mention right at the start is in no way an exaggeration. I type up notes and questions and topics for conversation for every podcast, and by now I can estimate pretty well how long the conversation is going to go, based on the topics and notes in advance. I had something like 120 good questions, whittled that down to 45 or so, and got through 20-25 of those during the actual 60 minute conversation with Josh and Wyatt, and we could have happily gone 120 minutes on those same questions, since I had a ton of follow ups and redirects I wanted to dive into, but bit off in order to cover a wider-variety of topics. That said, I did follow up a few times, since it drives me crazy when someone does an interview, gets a partial answer, and then just rolls to the next question on the list.

    Flux: Hi guys. Good to talk to you today. I’ve got about 8 hours of questions and we’ve got 60 minutes, so while I’d love to go really in depth on some topics, with our limited time today I’m going to try to cover a lot of areas that the fans are most curious about, and the questions will jump around a bit.

    Fortunately, I know you guys eat, drink, sleep, and breath Diablo 3, so you’re ready to roll. Also, this is actually going to be our 100th episode of the Diablo Podcast, so nice timing on that.

    Josh Mosqueira: Oh wow!

    Flux: With any luck it’ll be before #200 when I talk to you again, but we’ll see how that goes.

    Blizzard: *laughter*

    Head D3 CM Lylirra is in the room as well, and though I talked to her while we were setting up the recording, she doesn’t actually speak on mic during this interview. You can hear her a few times though, laughing in the background. Just FYI, if you were wondering why either Josh or Wyatt seem to laugh with a woman’s voice from time to time.


    Flux: One of the most popular fan requests is for an open world, or bottomless dungeon, or more level layout variety, new ways for the jigsaw pieces to fit together, etc. Can you guys say anything about plans on that besides, “We’re thinking about that.”

    Josh Mosqueira: “We’re really thinking about it?”

    Flux: That’s great Josh. Thanks.

    Josh Mosqueira: *laughs*

    Wyatt Cheng: Josh alluded to something which is when we say, “we’re thinking about it.” that can be taken in a lot of ways.

    Flux: That means you’re *really* working on it.

    I didn’t mention it during the interview for time reasons, but I wrote a whole paragraph stressing this point in my Mega Fansite Summit article, since Lylirra spoke about it then and I thought it was a useful point to stress that point to the community. Scroll down that article to the “Talk Isn’t Just Talk” header.


    Wyatt Cheng: Yeah. It’s not meant to be a dismissive, oh, that’s a nice idea, maybe someday we’ll actually work on it. It’s *not* that at all.

    2:00 — We like the idea, the intent of what people want. There are implementation details that can make things difficult. For example, I’ll put that out front. We started looking at endless dungeons… and we prototyped endless dungeons internally, and we found um.. a really quick way for us to prototype it is just to increase the monster power every time you clear a dungeon level, well how far can you get?

    What happens is players start… like it drives you into starting gameplay styles. We saw this some at release, where maybe you make a super tanky defensive build, which is effective, but not very funto play. Yeah, I can beat something, but it took sixty minutes of kiting. Which is really fun and exciting the first time you do it, but isn’t something we really want to encourage people to do en masse.

    But I think that the idea that there is greater challenge out there is cool. I think the idea of I want to test my character is cool. I think the idea of this game is too easy and I would like a great challenge is cool. So the desire behind those is cool, but the design of a dungeon, where every level is progressively more difficult, we found didn’t work.

    3:50 — Josh Mosqueira: The core of what Wyatt was saying now is… all those things you mentioned in the question, they’re things we’re thinking about. To be specific without necessarily getting into the details, I absolutey think that the intentions of providing players with more ways to play the game… for me that’s a key pillar of taking Diablo to the next step. And the concept of an end game for everyone.

    For us to really articulate that, we’ve been thinking and prototyping as many different vehicles of gameplay that will allow all our players to find something interesting to do and to constantly shift their objectives as they play the game.

    Flux: You guys have talked about what is the core of people’s request. When people say “endless dungeons” what do they really want? For instance, they mean that they want something to do other than fifty-seven more Alkaizer Runs. Or whatever we’re calling what we all do now in Act One. One of the things I’m really missing myself is more different layouts of levels.

    We get some rose-tinted glasses about Diablo 2’s levels which were just big squares with different walls in the middle. And then we get Diablo 3’s which are big not-squares with different chunks in the middle. I think people just want to see different… it’s just so familiar now, you’re running through most of the areas now and you’ve seen it before. People just want new layouts and new random jigsaw puzzle pieces, and I guess that’s just really hard to do with the way the random dungeon layouts work?

    Wyatt Cheng: Yeah… More is better. When it comes to level variety. As long as the quality is high. So yeah, I would fully expect that more would be better… not always, but when it comes to variety of level designs in a randomly-generated world? Yeah.

    5:55 — Flux: Something interesting, if you go back and look at the earlier Diablo 3 gameplay videos… People still harken back to that very first one, with Jay Wilson narrating from WWI 2008, but other more recent ones show levels in the game now, such as the Act One Cathedral, and it’s weird to watch them and see the level layouts are totally different. Just the way the big pieces connect together, and after seeing how the game looks now so many times, those old ones seem fresh and different. That’s a fairly small thing, but players want that kind of variety.

    The same thing with different monsters in different areas. Diablo 2 had the whole thing with Guest Monsters (eventually), but in Diablo 3 you know exactly the kind of monsters you’ll see in every level, and there’s very little variety. Might we see more variety in monsters in areas in the future?

    Josh Mosqueira: Yeah, I think it’s um. One of the things we’ve been focusing on a lot, is how can we change up the formula a bit. So you’re looking at the Cathedral, is there anything we can do to change up the lighting or the monsters from the last time you were in there, to give it a different feel? We want to create a framework around the way we can power these changes and present them to the player. Replayability to us is a really big pillar, but we’re going to keep hammering on it and try to really live up to that.

    7:30 — Flux: One of the things I’m doing in this interview is indulging some of my pet peeves, since I have two of the lead Diablo 3 developers trapped in a room for an hour. For the first example, four difficulty levels feels really redundant. It’s no fun to get through Normal and Nightmare and you’re level 50ish and all you want to do is get to 60, and you’re looking at grinding through a whole additional difficulty level just to get there before the real game starts.

    My suggestion is that when you add another Act (or whatever) in the expansion, you rejigger the experience progression in a bit of Diablo 2 style, so that characters hit level 60 after two difficulty levels and then go right into the end game in Inferno.

    Josh Mosqueira: Ahh… you know, that’s a great question and something we’ve been wrestling with internally as well. To answer the question with the question, when it comes to that aspect of the Diablo formula, how much can we change before we end up pissing everyone off and going back to where we were in the past. So you mentioned going back to the way it was in Diablo 2 and it was two runs and then end game after that… it comes out to trying to figure the right balance of change vs. keeping close to the roots.

    Flux: I don’t in any way hold that Diablo 2 was the greatest game of all time, and I’m open to change. But at this point in Diablo 3 I think that 3 difficulty levels before the end game starts feels redundant. I’m playing Hardcore too, so I actually have to reroll. Regularly, unfortunately.

    Josh Mosqueira: One of the things I’ve found an interesting quirk about Diablo in general, but specifically about Diablo 3, is that at the heart of it you have a game and a game engine that is based around procedurally generating random monsters in random areas. Which is great, but by the same token, we constrain that awesome potential by forcing players to replay the same series of acts and quests and levels over and over again. It’s like being stuck in this weird version of Groundhog Day, where the sets keep changing, but the movie stays the same.

    I think one of the things I really want to see moving forward is how can we change up that formula moving forward. How can we put the players in the driver’s seat, instead of the story being in the driver’s seat.

    Wyatt Cheng: A related question to that is, 1-30 the first time through normal is interesting, maybe the first time because of the story. maybe the 2nd time through it’s a different class and you’re doing different skills. Maybe the pacing feels right. maybe it’s even interesting further down since the challenge holds up and your loot/reward acquisition rate stays high and feels right.

    But then kind of like what you’re saying, I don’t know if it’s specifically NM and Hell that’s the issue. More that you really want to get to Inferno and you’ve got a long road ahead of you and it’s very predictable and very much the same. Another question for us to ask ourselves is, what makes the destination so much more interesting than the journey? Can we make the journey appealing as well? If not, then maybe we should just move the destination closer.

    Flux: Now we have 1-30, 31-50, 51-60 is kind of the ideal progression. And if you add a whole nother act, then maybe you can change the progression. I wrote a whole article called Beware of the Fearsome Fifties a few weeks ago so the issue has been in my head lately.

    Just to mention what you were asking about Wyatt, the gear game really starts at 60, and moving from 59 to 60 is like entering the golden streets of Heaven. You instantly get a huge upgrade to your EHP, Critical hit, Critical damage, resistances, Attack speed, etc. In my experience there’s a huge difference between 50 to 60 vs. 40 to 50, or any of the other decades.

    I didn’t do a great job arguing the point live on the podcast, but it’s better presented in the 50s article, and we talked about it near the start of The Diablo 3 Podcast #96.


    12:50 — Wyatt Cheng: Yeah. I think, for me I have a definition of what it means to be “grinding” in a game. I define grinding as when a player is heavily fixated on a long term goal which might be 8, 10, 15, hours away, with nothing interesting happening in the short term. And that definition seems to hold up when I hear other people talking about grinding in games. And that’s kind of what you were alluding to, where 51-59 you’re just thinking about level 60 the whole time. So I think… I agree. We should address that. How do we address that?

    Josh was alluding to different modes, different ways to play, different ways to experience the game. I think there are a lot of different takes on it, but I do think there is a core problem there.

    Flux: I put up a vote a few days ago, asking about rushing. If people thought it should be easier or harder. Looking at the results now, 46% said it’s fine, and 26% said there should be an instant Inferno/Level 60 button. So… it’s hard to meet both goals in that, which is why making games is hard.

    Wyatt Cheng: Do you enjoy twinking your characters?

    Flux: That’s another aspect of the whole thing. You can really boost your experience gain, but especially your damage with rubies in your weapon. Those in Normal and Nightmare make a huge difference, but once you’re up to 52 or something, and you’ve got like a 600 DPS reduced level requirement weapon, the Ruby makes no real difference. so you can turbo yourself really well through Normal and Nightmare, but once you’re into Hell that slows down a lot also.

    Wyatt Cheng: I feel similarly about Twinking. It’s really cool what you mentioned about the reduced level req thing. And there’s something really sweet about reaching level 48 and putting on a really sweet reduced level weapon. There’s a feeling of power and Diablo definitely lets you feel really awesome some times.

    Flux: My next pet peeve. The controls. I want to map default attack and click to open chests/doors on the left click, and not waste a main skill on that. My main char of late is a Monk, and it really sucks to put your main attack on the left click, since it doesn’t do automatic target acquisition, you have to click constantly, you pick up tons of junk since there’s no /nopickup option in the game.

    I want to put that main skill on the right click, but you have to have something on the left click. You can’t do a build that has 5 buffs, debuffs, auras, etc, with just one attack skill, unless that attack skill is on the left click. I want that on the right click. So please make it happen.

    Wyatt Cheng: I had the same problem the other day. I was playing my Monk with a pretty cookie cutter Sweeping Wind/Fists of Thunder build.

    Flux: That’s my build also.

    Wyatt Cheng: I put my Fists of Thunder on the 4 key since I could hold that down, and I put Lashing Tail Kick on the left click. Someone asked me why, and I said since it’s the one that annoys me the least if I click it by accident. So I definitely feel your pain, but um… we are… I don’t have an answer for you right now.

    Can I use this opportunity to hint at a completely different features that’s related?

    Flux: Go for it.

    Wyatt Cheng: We were looking at what happens when you run out of resource. Another complaint that’s in the same vein is when you’re playing a Witch Doctor and spamming say, Zombie Bears, or casting spells with a wizard at a range, and sometimes when I run out of resource I’ll automatically walk into melee range. And people say that’s stupid, it should just do nothing instead.

    But we don’t want you just to stand there doing nothing. To make a long story short, we’re testing internally if I spam spells and run out of resource, it will default to a free skill. So if I’m a Barbarian and I run out of Fury using Seismic Slam, instead of doing nothing or basic attack, it will do Bash, Cleave, or Frenzy, if that’s on the bar.

    Again, if a Wizard is using Energy Twister and runs out of resource, instead of swinging a sword or throwing a wand, it will cast Magic Missile, Charged Bolt, etc. Any signature skill on the hot bar. The game actually checks to see if you have those skills and uses that instead.

    So that’s something we’re testing, and it’s working pretty well. It does have a weirdness with the Witch Doctor where it’s like, Did you really want to cast this other spell? So we’re evaluating it.

    Flux: But as you know, it’s actually impossible to ever run out of resource with a Wizard or Barbarian in Diablo 3. Since they’re grotesquely overpowered and the easiest characters to play in the history of video gaming. Right?

    Wyatt Cheng: Oh yes. In the entire history of video games. And will ever be made.

    Josh Mosqueira: Yes, in the future also!

    Flux: *laughs* Yes, you’ve staked out a claim in advance.

    19:40 — Okay, one question that Xanth insisted I ask. Social features were greatly improved in v1.08, but a lot of players still want to create public games, create names games, make passwords, etc. Would you guys ever consider that?

    Josh Mosqueira: It’s funny, we just finished a meeting discussing the future of matchmaking. Specifically going back to wher matchmaking was in the early 2000s… I think we want to take the intentions. The reason people were using custom names, we want to give players as many tools at their disposal to actively and passively broadcast their intentions, so our matchmaking system can better do it’s job in connecting players.

    Wyatt Cheng: Yeah, this is something that I see come up in the community a lot, so to be a little bit candid about matchmaking… The reason we don’t like custom games is that our audience has grown too large. Custom games works well if you have say, 50 people looking for a game. You’ve got games for Act 2 runs, or this other guy is trying to do another side option.

    But once the number of players looking for a game grows very large, the problem is games are already full. How many times have you played an FPS and you say, Here’s a great server to join, but by the time you double click the sever is full.

    Abstractly it’s kind of like the commodities problem. Bear with me on this analogy, but In WoW, if I want to buy linen cloth on the auction house, I sort by price, and I go to buy the cheapest linen but oh, it’s gone! So I have to search for the next cheapest but it’s gone also. And that kind of still works in WoW since they have servers, but if they had one giant auction house for all WoW players, like 99% of the players would find every auction gone already. So that’s why we did the AH for Diablo we’re not going to make you click on stacks of commodities and buy them. So we set up a commodities market so you went to a central location and made sure that when you went to buy you didn’t have that negative experience.

    I know that’s a little bit abstract, but to bring that back to matchmaking, the problem is the same at the core. Lots of people want to play, but players don’t know that when you’ve got thousands of people going in and out of games, you actually need an automated matchmaker to get you into games together.

    To bring it back to what Josh was saying, there’s still a core desire. People ask for it because, although we were trying to solve this racing to join games issue, we introduced a new problem that you can’t specify the types of games you want. We can’t just go back to where we were with custom games, we have to say that the old approach wouldn’t work, but the new approach has problems as well. So what can we do to address and solve both problems? Players wanting to specify the game they want to play, and also the problem of so many people trying to join games at the same time.

    Did that all make sense?

    Flux: Yes. And Lylirra, next time Xanth tweets you about that, just tell him what Wyatt said! That’ll fit into 140 characters no problem.

    Wyatt Cheng: *laugher* Sorry for the long answer. I see it discussed a lot and it’s kind of a hard topic to really dig into, and not something I’d really talk about on the forums, though maybe it’s worth making something more succinct?

    Flux: Yeah, I get it. I think there’s some rose-tinted glasses in the requests for named games, since people remember the good points of Diablo game naming. I used to be part of this Good Morning Group of hardcore players in the Diablo 2 strategy forum on my website, and we had a few games of the same name that were almost always available. You’d log in those days before Battle.net had real friends lists and you’d just type in the game name and password and it was usually there and you’d see people you knew.

    That was the Diablo 2 style where more players in the game was necessary for more experience, and in the open world style of that game half the people could be in Act 1, half in Act 3, and you’d all play together happily. And that’s just not how Diablo 3 works, so I don’t really get the nostalgia for game naming, but it was a popular suggestion so I served as the voice of it.

    Josh Mosqueira: Okay.

    25:00 — Flux: Okay, next question!

    I’ve got a bunch of economy questions… Lemme pick one… Console related.

    I enjoyed playing the Diablo console when I visited Blizzard a couple of weeks ago, but not so much that I’m going to go out and buy an Xbox or PS3 just for this game. But many players are very curious about how the economy will work. There’s no Auction House and there’s the idea of fewer rares but better quality rares.

    One of the things I asked the console team when I was there visiting, was how confident they were of the economy and progression? How much testing had they done of the end game, the progression, etc? As we remember, there were unfortunate problems with Diablo 3 when it first launched in terms of the item game and economy in Inferno. Players called it the “gear check” wall. How confident are you guys that the Diablo console won’t have that problem, and how much of the console economy, item drop, no-AH is sort of a testing ground for what you might be doing on the PC version in the future?

    Josh Mosqueira: To answer the first part of that question, one of the advantages we had when we started working on the console economy, is that we got to see the evolution of the base PC game from launch on up through the patches. Especially the hanges in v1.05, v1.06, and v1.07. So we got to really benefit from the lessons and a lot of the great fixes that Wyatt and the rest of the designers put into the game. So it’s not like we were starting from the same version of Diablo that shipped.

    27:15 — So we had that advantage. We also did extensive testing on two fronts. We have what’s called our User Experience Group. Which is a sub-team within the QA department. They’re all expert players and they were playing the console for weeks specifically looking at this issue. To see if we’re running into any brick walls, if we’re dropping the right things.. they helped to identify a number of things that we had time to address and look at.

    We also had our internal Strike Team, these are just other senior designers and devs across Blizzard and I think at the beginning they were really focused on the core initial experience, but the last copule of months their whole focus was on the end game and making sure that once players got to level 60 and beyond they had the right balance of items and such. In addition to that, I think there are a few mechanic things… making sure the recipes and item sales were beefed up for both the vendors and the blacksmiths. If you’re not finding it you’re going to be able to make it or buy it.

    The last few months this was a big issue in testing for Jason Bender, and myself, and Matthew Berger. We wanted to make sure we didn’t run into the same problems. The philosophy is that players are going to get fewer items, so we have to make sure they’re the right items.

    Flux: And is this all a nefarious test to see how this will work in Diablo 3 in two years?

    Josh Mosqueira: *laughs* I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s nefarious, but I think it’ll be interesting to see what the reaction is… comparing the closed ecosystem of the console to the open ecosystem that is the PC, and there will be interesting lessons learned both ways. As with most Blizzard games, it’s a living process, and we’ll see what comes out and the good and the bad and make adjustments.

    Flux: How much of the fact that there’s no Auction House in the console was technical issues due to the lack of secure B.net servers and the issues of console insecure character storage and potential duping — and how much was philosophical and ideological of not wanting an Auction House in the console.

    Josh Mosqueira: That’s um… the technical requirements were pretty large factoring into the decision. The fact that such a high percentage of current gen consoles aren’t on the internet meant that there was very little we could do to make sure players were playing nice and not doing something they weren’t meant to be doing. Definitely, the technical was a motivating part of the argument for no Auction House on the console.

    Flux: But you were probably curious about how it would work without an Auction House, right? Everything you just said about testing the economy in a close system vs. an open system.

    Josh Mosqueira: Yeah, for sure. We first started having those conversations from a technical standpoint, but we eventually saw the interesting by-product of it, was that it created a closed ecosystem so we could see how the economy would sort of evolve and mature without the influence of the Auction House.

    Thus ends part one. The second half of the interview will be posted tomorrow, with topics including Ironborn mode, item binding and economy fixes via the Mystic, Legendary item improvements, Demon Hunter hardcore issues, purple monster fixes, and much more.

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