Diablo III Preview and Interview

PC Gamer US has posted a point-by-point preview of Diablo III…

The Graphics

What we know: Diablo III is powered by a proprietary new 3D engine (with no catchy name as of yet), and the first screens and game footage offer a taste of what it’s been built to do. The world’s depth is immediately apparent: for instance, instead of simply spawning offscreen, ghouls scramble up the walls from the unseen depths of the Forgotten Tombs, only to fall off bridges back into the mist when they’re killed. And yet, even though the objects are built in a 3D space, many of the elements look painted, particularly in the autumnal Leoric Highlands. Ankle-deep water, hazy rain, fog, smoke, and swaying grass are all benefits of the modern tech beneath the gameplay – not to mention the splattery hunks of meat and gore that come from dispatched enemies. Diablo III will support both DirectX 9 and 10, so if you haven’t upgraded your rig in a year or two, you’re not completely sunk.

What we think: Diablo in 3D? It’s not heresy – it’s about time! Or rather, it’s about every game being a product of its time. Diablo II made excellent use of 2D graphics, but that’s because it came out eight years ago. Don’t let nostalgia upscale the screenshots in your mind: Diablo II’s maximum resolution was a paltry 800×600. Diablo III’s overhead isometric view keeps the game’s look consistent with the series; the camera stays clear of the action and we’ve seen no gimmicky use of 3D so far. We really don’t see a downside to this one – it’s logical progress.

…followed by an interview with lead designer Jay Wilson:

PCG: What do you think Diablo fans will be most excited about in the new game?

JW: Our co-op focus is something that we’re really proud of. I think Diablo and Diablo II were always focused on co-op, but they unintentionally did things that harmed the co-op game. We’ve really learned from that and are getting rid of [those things]. How we do loot drops is a big change for us. It used to be in Diablo II that everyone fought over the loot – the Barbs and the Paladins usually managed to win that fight, and we changed that system completely so that essentially whatever drops, drops individually for each player. So, when a monster dies, if you’ve got three people in the game, it can actually drop three different things, one for each person, and then people just see their own drops, so if you see it on the ground, you can pick it up. Overall, not only is it more friendly to cooperative play, it also doesn’t encourage people to fight – it encourages people to work together. What we found is that it actually encourages a lot of trading.

PCG: Is it a co-op game over a single-player game?

JW: I wouldn’t say (over) a single-player game – that makes it sound like we’ve sacrificed something from our single-player game, and I think it’s just that we don’t really distinguish. For us, a single-player game is a co-op game with one person. I think the only thing you lose by playing single-player is the fun of having other people around, but certainly, every system is designed to be good for single-player and co-op.

PCG: What were the key design challenges and opportunities in terms of actually evolving the Diablo gameplay?

JW: The hardest thing when you’re dealing with a much-loved franchise is balancing satisfying the fan base against making a game that stands on its own. That’s a hard challenge, because you end up looking at things that maybe people don’t look at very objectively. When we were looking at the health system, we weren’t sure – people might like potions and the potion system that was in D2, not necessarily because it’s good, but because it’s familiar.

PCG: So the health potions are gone for good?

JW: We still have potions in the game, but they’re a backup. It really becomes hard to decide what’s sacred and what’s not, so for us on the design side, one of the things that was most important was to be the voice of reason and say, (These are the things that actually matter) and to boil things down to their simplest form. For example, there was a lot of conversation like that when we first talked about, “Should we make an isometric game? Should we make a first-person game? Should we make a third-person game? Should we make an MMO? Well, what do we want to play?” And we want to play a true Diablo and Diablo II sequel – we wanted to keep that gameplay going. So that kind of made a decision for us.

And then on the other side, we kind of liked how approachable the Diablo series was. So now you look and say, (Well, how does that apply to all your features?) Well, controls have to stay simple, so that we had all of these decisions to make: (OK, we don’t like the potion thing, and we really like the hotbars from WoW, so we’ll have a hotbar but it’ll occupy the same space as the potion bar, and because it occupies that limited space, it will remain simple.) It’s a good example of how we went through the decision process; it’s a lot about boiling down to the core principles that allow you to iterate without stagnating.

They then go on to interview lead producer Keith Lee about fan feedback and the release date.

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