Mephisto sword prototype.

    Mephisto sword prototype.

    Wednesday afternoon brought the visual prototype for the Design a Legendary item, and Wednesday evening was a larger step, with a community roundtable brainstorming session.

    Earlier phases in this project saw fans select a one-handed sword with a Mephisto design theme, and the podcast hosted by Twizzcast was set up by Blizzard PR to discuss the special legendary mods on the item. Diablo 3 developers DiabloWikiTravis Day and DiabloWikiJohn Yang fielded questions and suggestions from community members Monstrous, Archon the Wizard, and Flux (that would be me). The show ran 80 minutes, the majority of which was Travis talking about general themes and goals for legendary and item design, and shooting down fan suggestions by explaining why they were too visual and/or not impactful enough.

    I pulled the quote you see below since I found it very encouraging, as it shows that the devs are aspiring to a really high standard for modifiers when they’re designing Reaper of Souls legendaries:

    Travis Day: That’s totally the kind of stuff we usually want to capture. Things that players fondly recall when they think about Mephisto. In the case of summoning ghosts or spirits… that sounds cool, but how does it make me play the game any differently? We as designers have our own constraints, things players don’t think about but that we have to think about in the production cycle. Such as finding the time, creating the artwork, and when we’re trying to make hundreds of these powers…

    One of the things we usually try to do is how much art budget do we have available to us, how much time can our tech artists give us to make cool new visual effects. If we get a cool new visual effect does this item mix up your gameplay enough to justify that art time expenditure?

    I think that [the Mephisto spirits] is a cool art idea, but ultimately it’s just a cool-looking damage buff, which isn’t that compelling. It definitely captures the idea of a Mephisto themed item, but we want to take that further and think how we can capture the idea of Mephisto, and have it impact my gameplay as well, other than just looking pretty and seeing a number fly off my screen.

    This semi-opening statement by Travis Day essentially cut the legs out from under at least 3/4 of the collected player suggestions, since most of them, including some of mine, boiled down to “cool visual damage buff with a Mephisto theme.” It was a little surprising to hear at the time, but in retrospect I’m very glad Travis said that, since I think an hour+ of us just pitching player ideas for proc effects on a weapon would have gotten tedious.

    Click through for the rest of the key questions and the video of the whole show. Questions cover item quality in Diablo 3 (you will end up wearing all sets/legs), the planned awesomeness of item set bonuses,

    Interview Notes and Quotes

    I’ll leave out a summary of the rest of the item property conversation (which filled at least 75% of the show) and skip to much later, when a few issues of more general import were discussed. Mostly my questions, to be honest. I had a ton of them on general items and economy issues and while on the last Podcast I joked that I was going to hijack this developer chat like I was wearing a Mohawk and driving a dune buggy in a Mel Gibson movie… I didn’t. I just slipped a few in when they were relevant to the topic.

    Unfortunately, the conversation never went at all into binding or trading. I had questions about both issues, but never had a chance to segue into them, and I doubt the answer would have been anything more than “we’re evaluating all those issues in the game now and changes are possible if they seem necessary…” Which would surely have been true, but also inadequate.

    I made sure to ask about item power balance and long term plans, and enjoyed how straightforward was Travis’ answer. I figured he’d equivocate about how maybe some Rares would still be really good, rolls, etc. Not so much.

    Flux: Regarding legendary gear and power, in RoS now everyone starts out in rares and then upgrades to legendaries and sets in every slot, once they can find them. Is that the design and the end goal is all orange and green gear? Or do you think crafting and rares should fit in as BiS in some places?
    Travis Day: No, that’s our goal. To create a more natural progression of power. We’ve got blue and yellow and orange and green items. And white and gray also…

    Flux: You actually need *more* of those now, for some of the crafting recipes.
    Travis: *laugh* Yeah, for crafting. But it is our intent that you will slowly progress into a land where you’re in all legendaries and set items and you’re trying to find cool combinations or better versions of the ones you already have.

    Temporary legendary names

    Temporary legendary names

    The next question Monstrous asked about the temp naming scheme, where you find new legendaries with names like, “x1-boots-norm-unique-01.” He wondered if the “norm” in the title referred to a quality level or rarity or something, but Travis said no. It’s just their naming system that’s old and added to during dev and doesn’t tell you anything more about the items.

    A question about the quality and value and scarcity of rares, Travis said that yes, they are making the best items scarcer. As he explained, it’s an organic property. During development they just cram hundreds of item mods and properties into the game and let people test them out and see what’s good and what’s great and what’s not so useful. And they tweak all of those, but also do some sorting by scarcity and quality, and one solution rather than nerfing the best mods is just to make those items drop less often.

    Another point we talked about the sort of legendary bonuses that worked across classes. How it’s very easy for the developers to make items with bonuses to one skill, or even to one class. But it’s hard to make a bonus that’s useful for every class, and they’re trying to do that with properties that grant things like +% damage to lightning or fire skills. Those work better in Reaper of Souls since they’ve juggled so many of the rune effects to give all classes a variety of damage types. I jokingly asked if they had a spreadsheet that broke down every class’ skills and runes by damage type, and Travis immediately said, “Of course.”

    My suggestion for cross class bonuses was making ones that affected multiple skills. There aren’t skill points or skill trees in Diablo 3 which really limits the +skill bonuses that were among the most powerful in Diablo 2. But what we have in Diablo 3 are the six grouping categories of skills for each class: Primary, Secondary, Defensive, etc. So how about some bonus properties that boost every skill in a category? I saw that as similar to bonuses now that boost all Monk Mantras, or all Crusader Laws, or all Wizard signature skills. Travis said that was possible, but mostly it’s an issue of complexity and explanation. That players like us would know what it meant and would follow it, but casual fans wouldn’t.

    I don’t see that as a real strong reason not to do it; just have the tooltip display each skill that it works with. You’d need to do that anyway, since all classes have primary and secondary and defensive categories, but the other categories of skills have different names for each class. So if the item mod boosted every skill in each class’ 5th category, the tooltip for each class would have to show just their skills in that category. Which wouldn’t be hard to follow, but would not indicate that the bonuses were available to all classes, for their skills in that category, and there’s so much variety in the lower categories that it’s hard to envision bonuses that would go across them all. some classes would only want cooldown reductions, others would nly want casting speed or resource cost lowering, etc.

    So in retrospect I guess Travis had a point. Those bonuses wouldn’t work widely, mostly for documentation reasons.

    I got in one last bigger picture question right at the final buzzer:

    Flux: Currently most of the set item bonuses are tiny and useless and left over from Diablo 3 and you guys are upgrading them. For the new set bonuses, are you putting on really powerful stuff? Do you sometimes have bonuses on a legendary item that seems too good in testing, so you move it to an Item Set bonus? It’s too good of a bonus for a single item, but it’s fine coming from 3 or 4 items?

    Travis: Yeah, absolutely. That actually, literally happened during the development of the expansion so far. I had an item where every time you cast Leap you land so hard you cause an Earthquake. And I thought that was awesome and put it on a pair of boots. And then I got the boots in the beta and I was like, this is way too good for a bonus from boots. Just Leaping and Earthquaking every few seconds.

    So yeah, we talk about that. If you wear a Set you’ve got to give up a bunch of legendaries, but it’s still something we’re talking about and working on and it’s still the beta. The things people see now aren’t necessarily final. John last night was tweaking set bonuses with one of our other designers. So it’s absolutely what you said, where we go, “this is absolutely an awesome bonus but maybe it’s too strong for a legendary.” And if necessary we make it stronger, since you have to give up a bunch of bonuses from other items to wear a set.

    Those are the excerpts of the things I thought most informative about larger issues with items.

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