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BlizzCon 08: Diablo III Class Design Panel

One of the first panels I attended was the Diablo III Class Design talk featuring Jay Wilson and other members of the D3 team. We had just witnessed the unveiling of the brand spankin' new Wizard class so this panel promised to give us a sneak peak behind the newest defender of Sanctuary as well as other behind the scenes information. They talked about the skill system and how animations and graphics feed back into making a class shine.



The D3 designers want to give players that glass cannon that so many of them love. Sure it can blow things to pieces but get in their face and they aren't exactly the sturdiest of heroes. The Wizard is for that player who looks at the character selection screen and says, "I want to blow stuff up." For those Diablo 2 fans out there, this is an iteration on the fan favorite Sorceress class but with a different focus. Rather than summoning the elemental powers of Fire, Ice, and Lightning, a Wizard uses what Blizzard is calling "High Magic." This involves channeling the raw forces of the universe. The designers described the powers warping the laws of physics, weather control, and even time control to lay waste to foes. They even went into detail of the history of the Wizard. "She didn't study for her Conjuration class... but she aced it," one developer joked. "Her teachers said, 'Don't study that, it's forbidden.' So she said, 'That's what I want to learn.' We'll have to see if that gets her into trouble down the line." Take a look at how she looks in the preview video and you can see how this plays into character design.




They showed off a few skills for the Wizard. Magic Missile, a fantasy classic and very useful for shooting into the darkness, is the first spell a Wizard uses. In raw numbers terms, it's not much different than a Fireball or Ice Bolt but the designers explained that even a simple choice like this has design implications down the road. Players expect a Fireball spell to upgrade into burning damage or an explosion, an Ice Bolt slowing foes or freezing them. A Magic Missile, however, fires more and more bolts as it increases in power or starts homing in on targets. By starting from here, more skills start to come into view as the design evolves.

The other Wizard skills detailed were:
Electrocute - Part of the weather control power set, it's like a beefed up Chain Lightning spell that bounces electricity from target to target.
Slow Time - This is the bubble that the Wizard uses in the preview video. Time control isn't something you see often in RPG games, especially multiplayer. They originally wanted the slow to be gamewide but the implications for multiplayer seemed pretty un-fun. As it stands, it's a great defensive power that really makes the Wizard feel powerful.
Disintegrate - Another pen and paper RPG classic, this powerful spell rarely makes it into computer RPGs. It began it's life as a Barbarian skill called great swing. The idea was for the player to hold down the mouse button and build up a big attack. For the barbarian though, it ended up not being very fun. Monsters would shoot the player from range, well meaning friends would kill the foe before he got too close, etc. On the Wizard, however, holding down the button and sweeping firey death across the battlefield is pretty fun. As the spell hits a single target, it "heats up" doing more and more damage.



The next bit of the panel was about the skill system. They went through a ton of iterations. I chose one of the craziest above to show you that they really considered everything. They have a saying at Blizzard though, "Different but worse isn't better, better is better." This brought them back to something a little closer to those who've played Diablo II. Check it out:


On the left of each tier, you can see active skills. These are just like the kind of abilities you spend points on in Diablo II. To the right, you can see passive skills that allow you to beef up your abilities without adding too many actions to your bar. They want to keep that Diablo feel of fast clicking action rather than something like World of Warcraft where you need at least a dozen skills. Now what are those little circles under the active skills you ask? Why, those are Rune slots of course!


For those who can remember way back to the original Diablo, skills dropped from books. They liked the way this mirrored the random drop feel of items but it was too random. Runes are a middle ground between D1 and D2. The runes aren't class specific and can be put in any skill. The trick is that each skill changes differently depending on what rune you put into it. A lethality rune makes Electrocute cause foes it kills to explode and damage everything around it. Also as pointed out many times, explosions are cool; cheers showed that they were right when they said, "we have our finger on the pulse of the Diablo community." Multi-strike causes the Witch Doctor's Flame Skull to skip across the ground before exploding and the Wizard's teleport spell to create duplicates of the caster to confuse foes.



After covering classes, the technical effects designer talked a bit about player skills and monster deaths. Each class has their own feel: Barbarians display great physical power, Witch Doctor's use various voodoo items and swarms to damage foes, and the Wizard was described in two words: Light Show. All of these help add a visceral feel to playing Diablo. Of course one of the best parts of Diablo is watching hordes of monsters die before you. They added basic physics to monsters so they would fall as they were cut down but didn't stop there. Critcial deaths can occur with crushing swings, exploding with blood. Different damage types leave monsters in pieces or glowing with purple energy. Disintegrate leaves nothing behind and swarm leave only bones. All of this plays into the fun of Diablo: battling the minions of the Lord of Terror and mowing down his hordes.

All in all, Diablo III is looking like a great edition to the Diablo series. It still looks a ways off at this point but what I've seen so far makes me quite excited.

Are you excited about Diablo III? What class are you going to play? Let us know what you think!


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  • Ross HolderRoss Holder

    Heya!  Had no idea you were into games this much - on the D3 team?  Wow!  Love to know how you got involved with this project....

    In any event, yeah it looks great!  I got a million questions about it, but thouht 'hey why not offer up a comment of approval now'.  I play a priest with a few pals from Winnipeg on Blizzard's World of Warcraft already quite religiously (if you'll pardon the expression), and it looks like this might offer some competition for my time playing fantasy RPG....

    Although I gotta say that with the massively-multiplayer attraction of Diablo III apparently absent, it remains to be seen if it'll hold the same appeal games of this sort once did.  I probably havent touched a singe-player (I realize ther's PvP coming with D3) type game since Diablo II and I'm thinking the main reason is the attraction of games like World of Warcraft.

    But here's hoping D3's just that good - that it won't matter.

  • Ross HolderRoss Holder

    Heya!  Had no idea you were into games this much - on the D3 team?  Wow!  Love to know how you got involved with this project....

    In any event, yeah it looks great!  I got a million questions about it, but thouht 'hey why not offer up a comment of approval now'.  I play a priest with a few pals from Winnipeg on Blizzard's World of Warcraft already quite religiously (if you'll pardon the expression), and it looks like this might offer some competition for my time playing fantasy RPG....

    Although I gotta say that with the massively-multiplayer attraction of Diablo III apparently absent, it remains to be seen if it'll hold the same appeal games of this sort once did.  I probably havent touched a singe-player (I realize ther's PvP coming with D3) type game since Diablo II and I'm thinking the main reason is the attraction of games like World of Warcraft.

    But here's hoping D3's just that good - that it won't matter.

  • Ross HolderRoss Holder

    Heya!  Had no idea you were into games this much - on the D3 team?  Wow!  Love to know how you got involved with this project....

    In any event, yeah it looks great!  I got a million questions about it, but thouht 'hey why not offer up a comment of approval now'.  I play a priest with a few pals from Winnipeg on Blizzard's World of Warcraft already quite religiously (if you'll pardon the expression), and it looks like this might offer some competition for my time playing fantasy RPG....

    Although I gotta say that with the massively-multiplayer attraction of Diablo III apparently absent, it remains to be seen if it'll hold the same appeal games of this sort once did.  I probably havent touched a singe-player (I realize ther's PvP coming with D3) type game since Diablo II and I'm thinking the main reason is the attraction of games like World of Warcraft.

    But here's hoping D3's just that good - that it won't matter.

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