The subject of our developer interview at Blizzcon 2014 was Travis Day, a Systems Designer on Diablo 3. Armed with a big list of questions whittled down from the dozens of excellent suggestions you guys offered, I hit Travis with almost every big question on the list, and quite a few small ones as well.
This is part one of the interview covering the first 15 minutes. Included are questions about improving the Realm of Trials, adding higher levels of Torment, allowing trading, making bounties more viable and not just Act One oriented, the new legendary gems, buying more stash space, and more.
Part Two will be posted tomorrow, covering the second half of the interview. I’ll post the full audio then as well, for readers who would prefer to be listeners. Enjoy, and thanks to everyone at Blizzard for getting us into Blizzcon and for setting up this interview, and especially thanks to Lawrence Travis Day for handling every question and giving such honest and open answers.
I forgot to get a pic with Travis this year, but since I interviewed him at Blizzcon 2013 (along with Jason Regier) you can just view that pic if you want a side by side. We looked pretty much the same as last year, though I was in a black IncGamers t-shirt this time around.
Diablo 3 Interview: Travis Day @ Blizzcon 2014:
IncGamers: So Travis, what have you been working on recently?
Travis: Lots of things. Recently in Patch 2.1 I spent a tremendous amount of time working on the legendary gems. I got married and went on my honeymoon also, during our Patch 2.1 PTR. Recently I’ve been working on Patch 2.2 and Ancient Items and some other stuff we’re going to show off tomorrow.
IncGamers: What was your favorite legendary gem, since you were working on them?
Travis: Oh wow… I think my favorite is Boon of the Hoarder.
IncGamers: Hah, you and everyone else. We ran a vote recently for favorite Legendary Gem, and Boon of the Hoarder came in first. Despite the fact that people constantly post saying gold is meaningless and worthless and they have too much of it. People just love the shiny. And the level 25 bonus you get to move really fast.
Travis: Oh yeah, I love it. My first time using it… I don’t even remember what I was killing. A pack of swarmer mobs… and my screen just exploded in gold.
IncGamers: It makes you play terrible areas too. I do the Ruins of Corvus in Act Five for all the scarabs. Or the first time I was using it, I was doing the Spider Caves in Act One. Everyone’s least favorite bounty area, but there are *so* many little spiders.
Travis: Yeah, totally.
IncGamers: So speaking of Legendary Gems, that was one of my main questions. About how there aren’t any useful defensive ones. But today’s What’s Next in Reaper of Souls panel revealed two new legendary gems with big defensive properties. I assume you guys looked at the currently popular gems and saw the two defensive ones were the least used?
Travis: Yeah, they are. We’re always trying to iterate and always trying to find interesting ways to add new items to the game, and Legendary Gems are just the newest feature. And since they’re a new feature, the first round that we created and sent out with Patch 2.1…. there was a lot of question marks. We weren’t really sure…
We knew things like Moratorium would be less popular than Bane of the Powerful, but we put them out anyway. We were like, “well, even if only Hardcore players use them.”
IncGamers: *laugh* But Hardcore players don’t use them. I play Hardcore.
Travis: Yeah… The thing players ask us for the most is healing and defensive gems. Which is great, because it’s amazing when players want more tanky things. Because for years, its’ been “no one cares about tanking in the game.” I think Greater Rifts helped sort of reframe the mindset about those things.
IncGamers: I was surprised none of the Legendary Gems have any of the “resurrect upon death” properties. Those are found on many items now and some skills, but they’re unevenly distributed and Barbarians still don’t have one, and that class really suffers for it in Hardcore.
Travis: We haven’t talked about that yet, but it’s something we’re open to.
IncGamers: Is it because Blizzard hates Barbarians?
Travis: Blizzard loves Barbarians! I’ve played one myself quite extensively.
IncGamers: Well players just say that for whichever class is best or worst at the time. Obviously you guys loved the Barbarian best for like a year and a half during Vanilla.
Travis: Ahh… I think we just didn’t patch as much as we could have. To maybe try to normalize the playing field. I enjoyed it thoroughly, personally.
IncGamers: Jumping around to different questions to cover the most requested ones. Probably the most requested issue relates to stash space. Everyone wants more, and players talk all the time about how they’d even be happy to pay for more space. It seems a natural extension, since you guys had the whole Real Money Auction House, and that was supposed to be the ongoing source of income to pay for the servers and development. And now that’s gone, so why not fill the money hole with DLC stash and character tabs?
Travis: Well that’s two questions. Do you want to know about stash space or about microtransactions. Since those aren’t the same thing.
IncGamers: Well stash space…
Travis: Stash space comes up a lot. I’ve said myself, “I would totally pay to have more stash tabs.” But honestly… that’s when I’m in my player’s shoes. When I’m in my designer’s shoes, we talk about it differently. No matter how many tabs we give players; two more, five more, etc, they’re going to fill those and want more. So what we’ve been trying to figure out recently is how we can help you better manage your stash. How we can help you not need to save so many things.
So take something like crafting materials. Maybe we make them easier to store. maybe we find reasons for players to get rid of some extra stuff they’re keeping.
On top of that there are technical reasons. There are only so many… we call them “actors” but it’s about how many items are in our game and how many it’s storing in memory at any given time. If we do almost any more than we have now, the game can’t physically keep up with it.
IncGamers: It’s often an issue in Hardcore since players need to hold extra gear for when they die. And you guys have put in so much more customization of items that gear isn’t interchangeable between different classes or builds anymore.
Travis: There are a lot of technical limitations to it. The one that comes up a lot is, “what if you just let us pay for more storage?” Well one, even if we did that, that’s not necessarily the right fix or the right approach. And two, there are a lot of technical reasons we couldn’t do that. So instead we’re trying ot figure more ways to get rid of things and feel good about it in the process.
IncGamers: I’m sure I’ll be asking you about this next year…
Travis: *laugh* Well… I hope not. I’m sure by next year you’ll have seen some changes.
IncGamers: So, Trading. Pretty much everything is bind on account now, except legendaries in the same game. And there’s constantly requests, especially from people in the clans I head on US and EU, to allow some trading within clans. Make it so you have to be in the clan for 30 days so people don’t just join up to buy gear… any possibility we’ll see more trading allowed in the future?
Travis: We’re happy with how trading is now. We hear this feedback a lot…
IncGamers: I’m asking the most popular questions first.
Travis: Yeah. Someone at the bar yesterday was asking me about this.
When we took trading and restricted it as much as it had to be to help make the game the best it could be, it was something that I use an anecdote a lot in these conversations. In D2, my buddy would join the game and throw all these items on the ground and I’d be like, “Sweet! Hooray!” But that moment of altruism on his behalf, and that moment of excitement for me, basically just truncated all future item finding for me.
So even though this issue comes up a lot with suggestions for safeguards like 30 days in the clan, or on the friend list. The reasons we got rid of trading was to protect players from spammers, bots, people who would try to take their credit card info. Any trading that’s available at all will open the door to black market sites. And ultimately, you still can. If you’re playing with your friend or family, here’s a great item and here you go.
The trading rules we have in the game now are the best for the co-op experience we want players to be having.
IncGamers: Difficulty! There was nothing in the panel about higher difficulty or changes at that end. Now that so many players are well-geared, having just Torment 6 isn’t enough. That’s only equivalent to Greater Rift 25 and lots of players can just steamroll T6 in a few minutes, with no difficulty or danger. Obviously you guys want Greater Rifts to be the highest difficulty for the end game content, but it seems like T6 has become pointless for some. Have you thought about higher levels of Torment?
Travis: This issue comes up sometimes around the office, but we don’t have any plans to add higher levels of Torment now. When we do talk about this, the issue is usually… we talk about what we want the cadence of the gameplay to feel like. We don’t feel the game is at its best when played at the highest difficulty for extended periods of time. Which is why Greater Rifts you have to sort of work your way up each time. We feel like the game is better with peaks and valleys. When you’re compressing and trying really hard, then the unwinding.
And we feel like T6 Rifts are filing that purpose now for the really advanced players. While Greater Rifts are the higher difficulty. And we don’t really want to muddy that water now.
IncGamers: Speaking of Rifts, how about the Realm of Trials? Some people hate doing it. They hate doing Waves, and character builds vary a lot in how effect they are in that area. People always ask why they can’t start on the last Rift they did, instead of doing Waves. And sure, that kind of usurps the function of Urshi and the choice players have to make between upgrading their gems or their rift key… I’ve heard many people talk about how they can only do say Wave 30, but up to Greater Rift 35 or 38. Unless they party with some Demon Hunters, in which case they can start right out on GR40. Is that a concern for you guys, balancing Waves with Greater Rifts?
Travis: I think the Trials are something we’re still iterating on. WE talk about this a lot at the office. There are some changes going in Patch 2.12 to make Trails more rewarding and to take some of the more frustrating things out of them. People talk about the ability to pull some of the monsters, like with Piranhas or Cyclone Strike. I think last week we made the change to allow you to pull all the monsters in the trials.
We talk about this a lot… How often people should need to do trials… This is something that we know we want to change, but we don’t necessarily know what we want to do yet. I talk about this with Wyatt a lot. We know we want to have Trials, they serve a very good purpose to let players not have to clear 1-30 every time, that’s why we have trials. They can be a point of friction for people who want to do a lot of Greater Rifts in a row.
But at the same time, when I go to a ride, and they take out a measuring stick and say you must be this tall, they don’t measure me again the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time I go through the line. So we want to reduce the amount that players need to do Trials, but not remove them entirely.
IncGamers: How about giving multiple keys when you do a trial?
Travis: Sure, possibly. Maybe we could give 5 or 10 keys at a time.
IncGamers: Could they pop and drop all around the level, so players would have to run and pick them up?
Travis: *laugh* I don’t know that that would be as fun….
IncGamers: How about a Trial Key goblin, and he runs around the level, dropping the right keys. We need more types of Goblins, right?
Travis: Goblins are awesome.
IncGamers: So changing topics again, something that’s been mentioned a few times recently by your fellow developers is the possibility of Bounty improvements. People do Adventure Mode non-stop, and you talked about it in the panel but just in terms of improving the Rift map layouts, or fixing monster density in Rifts. What about making bounties more compelling or rewarding? No one does bounties in Acts 2 or 3 or 5. How about boosting those? Putting the Ring of Royal Grandeur in Act Five? Giving out a bigger bonus to players who do all 25 bounties in the same game? Any ideas for making Bounties more rewarding?
Travis: I don’t think Bounties are not viable. They’re really good and they have a distinct purpose in the game. When we talk about this at the office, generally my opinion on the topic is that bounties are cool as they are. I think it’s that in the last patch when we changed how many Rift Keys are required to open up a Rift, it went from 5 down to 1.
One key per player was good, since you didn’t just stand around in a public game going, “Who’s going to open this?” And then people join and leave and don’t open it. But the downside is that if you’re a solo player, or a hardcore player with some friends you don’t use keys as often as you used to. A full Act of Bounties used to give you one Rift and now it gives you five. So it’s really shifted the focus purely because we under-costed keys now.
That’s something we talk about so do we raise the key cost back up, or do something else to make people do bounties. But ultimately I think between the Rift cost, and the Bounty bag rewards… I think bounties are less fun than Rifts, so we don’t want the focus of the game to be on them.
IncGamers: I know you guys have exact stats, but when I’m on and looking at what people in the clan are doing, it’s 99% Rifts or Act One Bounties, since everyone always wants a better Ring of Royal Grandeur. But the incentives are so different. And Act One is so much faster and easier. It seems very unbalanced.
Travis: People have just suggested why not moving the Ring of Royal Grandeur to Act Five. And then it’s like, we’re just moving the problem, and everyone just does Act Five. There’s no plans to do anything of that nature. If anything we’d look at it on the key front, or increasing the diversity of the rewards.
That’s the end of Part One. Part two with the full audio can be seen here.