Podcast: Travis Day and John Yang on Reaper of Souls “Design a Legendary”

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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  1. You got some great questions in there Flux – also good to finally put a face to the voice after listening to so many podcasts! 😛

  2. “But it is our intent that you will slowly progress into a land where you’re in all legendaries and set items…”

    Lame. Is that’s their intent then the game should eventually just stop dropping blues & yellows. Ugh.

    • I thought the same thing, any hope of using powerful rare endgame is almost gone now, the only hope now is enchanting and its a long shot there.

      That whole design philosophy just really kills the chance of runes, charms and other interesting things making it into the game. I want to look for things that ARE NOT one specific item type (legendaries).

      Once everyone finds most of the legendaries what else is there to grind for?

      Talk about all your eggs in ONE basket.

      • I would say it will increase the likelihood that we’ll see runes, charms and other things like that later on, once the devs see how quickly people start ignoring everything but sets and legendaries.

    • At a certain point Rares became useless in D2 as well. What’s important is how fast this transition happens.

      • Recall that it was not the original intent for D2 uniques, runewords, and sets to be better than the best rares. There was the philosophy that unique item was also found or crafted before it became famous, and you may find a rare item that itself could become famous. Some of the OPness of the uniques was not intended and the end-game uniques was in part a concession to demands to make them even more OP.

        Even then, without trading or playing for a very long time it would have been almost impossible to get to the point where rares became useless.

      • I don’t recall that ever happening to any of my chars but as a strict SP guy I guess my perspective is very different than most people’s.

      • Let me elaborate a little, because I didn’t have the patience to write a longer post from my tablet.

        In D2 it’s indeed true that only the more rare Runewords (mid runes were enough), Uniques and Sets are flat out better than Rares, but that’s my point. This is important, because for the majority of the game Rares were very viable pieces of gear, at least from a pure damage standpoint. Some builds required specific auras and some such, so Rares were out of the question. Thing is, I don’t see how RoS will be all that different in this regard. The currently increased Legendary drop chances could very easily skew our perception of how things will work.

        To be honest, I’m a little a worried about the fact that Legendaries come with higher possible values for stats than Rares, but that still doesn’t guarantee that they will be always better. It depends on the stat range overlap between them and Rares.

        As an interesting side note lately I realized that even Magic items are useful in D3V. I started a self-found HC WD completely from scratch and as it turns out not having access to the AH and to 6 affix BS recipes a 850 DPS Magic weapon can be a godsend for MP0 Inferno. It doesn’t even have INT on it, but it’s still the best weapon I found after a quite a few hours of gameplay.

  3. My personal preference of how to approach set bonuses is to make them focus on one particular skill and have everything modify it, with the end goal being to make that skill either the defining part of a build, or an incredibly strong support skill to an already popular build. In order to accomplish this, I would have each individual legendary in a set grant a small bonus to the particular skill being buffed, with the overarching set bonuses making the really big changes. This allows for really large, in-depth customization for certain skills (provided that you’re willing to invest in a whole bunch of gear all related to that skill) while still allowing each legendary in the set to be worth a little buff if worn separately.

    I have not seen very many set items in current beta streams, so it is possible that things are progressing the way I am interested in, and it is equally possible that they are not. However, in the legendary gallery #3, I saw a Danetta’s xbow that made Vault a bit better, with the set bonus being that Vault becomes a Hatred-Spender instead of being a Discipline-Spender. This would revolutionize how one used Vault, and might even open up a build where Vault was the main skill, and you specced into damaging Vault and Vaulted all over the place. That seems very ‘build-defining,’ and seems like the perfect thing for sets. After all, some bonuses (as we’ve seen) are too good for regular legendaries, but spread out over a few items would be perfect. To me, this also seems good for sets because it focuses the entire set onto a single goal, rather than having many benefits, but little underlying theme (as they do now).

    • That’s one bow I found on my DH, though I didn’t get to use the Vault much to see how different it felt. (I was in a huge regen build on that char, so my whole play style depended on standing still as much as possible to get the full benefit of Gloom.)

      Danetta’s was about the only set that had new bonuses added; almost all the others still had the D3V properties, which were in the datamined info also. Hopefully in the new patch or soon after we’ll see the updated item set bonuses that match what Travis was talking about.

  4. Really interresting cast and the EPIC “MUUHHHH” at the end !

  5. Watched most of it and it was a good show.

    Its funny, because they kept saying this item was not for Demon Hunters because they couldn’t use swords, and my first DH build i came up with was a DH using a sword…

    If the sword has a interesting and powerful enough buff then it will work for pretty much any class, the only question it will that happen.

    • The class is too squishy and does not have the 30% damage reduction. Maybe if she had a passive or innate that added massive damage reduction when using a melee weapon…

  6. I watched the whole thing live and think you always ask the best questions, Flux. As far as staying on topic that was mostly up to Archon and a little bit from Twizz.

    Travis was essentially asking for something that’s gameplay-changing but not class-specific. That’s a very hard request. The only thing I could think of was increasing damage based on how unfull your life was. The closer you were to death, the more damage you would deal.

    I also like “the sword itself hates you” ideas but nothing clear came out of that concept.

    And hate as a form of mind control seems like a copout. But also probably what people most want if not just an artsy damage buff.

    As for the trigger for skulls shooting out, I suggested that could be either when there are no more enemies within X yards, or when you take over X% of your health in one hit from a single attack. (Or both.)

    But if you hold a vote I’m assuming the “artsy damage buff” would win, with “mind control some monsters” as a close second.

    • Why do they make this event and cut the legs off it by making it generic to all classes? Seems like they want a boring item in the end to show the community that their legendaries are better. I thought we wanted build definng legendaries? How do you make an interesting bonus that works for all classes and is build enabling?

      I agree that proc spells and summons are a waste. Skycutter for example…

      Maybe tie the hatred thing to massacre bonus? Like you gain a hatred charge that increases % damage to your next secondary skill cast after massacre. Must be used in 10 seconds and plays a bone chilling voice when used, like marius talks about in the a3 cinematic.

      So I kill 50 monsters. I gain a charge for 50% more damage. I use arcane orb, dealing 600% instead of 400% damage for that one cast (multiplicative bonus).

  7. It seems this whole design a legendary thing isn’t quite as easy as putting butter on toast.

  8. “Things that players fondly recall when they think about Mephisto. In the case of summoning ghosts or spirits…”
    I don´t exactly remember a moment of any sort when Mephisto summoned a ghost or a spirit 😀 All I recall pretty clearly was huge elemental damage (Ball of freezing stuff, Lightning and that Poison Cloud) I would start there… These devs act like they never played D2, they just got to or seen Mephisto and said: “Cool, he looks like a ghost.”

    • The ghosts just appeared on his level, semi-randomly. There was actually a lot of investigation of it during D2, like it was an Easter Egg. Could they be killed (not really), did they deal damage (yes), etc. I thought it odd that players retained so much memory of that, as it was a pretty minor aspect of his level. But sometimes the minor odd things are the ones that stick in the memory…

      • As Flux said, the idea of ghosts came from the untargetable ‘Evil Force’ enemies, which popped up during/after the Mephisto fight, looked vaguely like disembodied spirits, and hit you once before disappearing. That said, they had no real connection to Mephisto himself, and if I was designing the legendary, I would probably make its effect something in the vein of ‘confuse/charm all enemies within x yards of you after x seconds.’ The numbers, along with the mechanical workings of the ability, would have to be worked out later by a balancing team, but the core idea would be to have Mephisto’s weapon project his aura of hatred. It would confuse things because that is the best way in-game to show the kind of corruption Mephisto caused with his presence alone. Mephisto corrupted the pure Order of Zakarum into bloodthirsty fanatics and murder-cultists, so therefore his weapon should corrupt your enemies against themselves. For a visual effect on the weapon, the blade should have an ethereal, ghostly aura surrounding it, and the AoE the weapon projected should be darkened somewhat, to show the corrupting effects of the ‘Power of Hate.’ Just my take on it.

  9. Just building on what was in the podcast:
    You guys dropped the sound idea pretty early on but I liked the idea of changing the voice and having effects like fearing or enraging enemies. Just have the voices on the number pad change when they equip that weapon and people hit the number pads to use the effects. That quite literally changes gameplay. And they already have Mephisto samples from D2…

    On the elemental route, have it do elemental damage but have it do more damage with fewer numbers of affixes a character has equipped on their paper doll. That would really mix up the item game.

  10. QUOTE

    I thought we wanted build definng legendaries?  How do you make an interesting bonus that works for all classes and is build enabling?

    I think Blind Faith is a good example. It’s a helm with a good chance to blind enemies you hit. I’ve seen it spawn with 33% chance and that was only at level 60. With enough attack speed this item could effectively replace one of your CC skills, giving you the option to increase your offense. This could be huge for Hardcore, but even in Softcore depending on how your fare with the harder difficulties.

  11. U]
    hats off to you sir …thnx lot..

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