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More Glimpses into Blizzard Design

About two weeks ago, I pointed out how the Diablo 3 forums are really the place to be if you are interested in Blizzard’s evolving, internal design philosophies. It is not every day that you hear Bashiok come out and say that WoW has been “[…] struggling with how to cope with a skill tree system, which has huge inherent issues with very little benefit, for years.” Nor the disdain that Jay Wilson feels towards PvP affecting PvE game balance. Now there is another nugget of design insight from Bashiok which, while not as bombastic, is still rather interesting:

In some cases though we are purposefully avoiding affixes we just don’t think promote good gameplay, like +damage to X. We want people to play the game and have fun, not feel crappy because they’re in an area full of ‘beasts’ and are stacking +damage to demons. It also encourages a whole host of other divergent gameplay like holding sets for specific types of enemies, or building sets to run specific areas at end-game. Lastly it’s very difficult to make affixes like that compelling, and not necessary. Either it’s powerful enough where people do all those crazy things to leverage the bonuses in destructive ways, or the affix is just de-emphasized to the point of meaninglessness.

Feel free to read the actual thread for the full context, and the full quote for that matter.

I find it interesting because it perhaps speaks towards the larger question of specialization, and what role (if any) that it should play in games generally¹. Is having and collecting a demon-slaying set not fun? I remember back in the Quel’Danas dailies circa TBC how I would typically skip the non-demon quests on my paladin since having Holy Wrath made the impaling-demon-corpses quests that much quicker/more entertaining. Here was a time to flex an oft-neglected muscle in a thoroughly satisfying way!² Of course, the flip side of specialization also in TBC was how paladins were heroic 5m tanking demigods and largely unbalanced garbage raid tanks.

Honestly, Blizzard probably has the right idea here. Specialization with equipment sounds nice on paper, but it also devolves into the D&D-esque “golf bag” problem when you simply “specialize” in everything, and whip out the demon-slaying sword for one fight, and then the beast-slaying sword the next. Similarly, class specialization is usually long periods of underpoweredness punctuated by brief moments of awesomeness… assuming the class is balanced to begin with.

¹ Pun maybe intended.

² Err… no comment.

Diablo Learns from WoW

All the cool stuff is happening on the Diablo 3 forums, as far as roundabout WoW internal design philosophy goes. For example, this is Bashiok:

You’re overestimating what stat points actually provided, customization-wise in Diablo II, and really overestimating what skill points did.

Diablo (1) did not have skill trees, it was a feature added to Diablo II, and then more or less copied by World of Warcraft. Some could say to World of Warcraft’s detriment as it’s been struggling with how to cope with a skill tree system, which has huge inherent issues with very little benefit, for years. Diablo III, like Diablo II, is an evolution of the series and game systems.

Saying that Diablo III shouldn’t learn from the successes and mistakes in World of Warcraft, let alone Diablo II or any other game, is just nonsensical.

Bashiok went on to post some Youtube links of Jay Wilson being interviewed about a host of Diablo 3 design questions. One off-shoot of that was about Diablo 3 PvP, in which he very strongly expressed disgust about how “PvP wags the tail” when it comes to WoW design, and that it would be “over his dead body” for the same to happen in Diablo 3. In fact, this is what he literally said vis-a-vis WoW:

Even the amount that PvP can alter the PvE game in WoW is unacceptable to us. Whenever we run into a case of “this would be really cool for us in PvE,” the PvP guy goes [raises hand] “That kind of screws PvP,” the answer is always “Shut up, PvP guy. It’s awesome in PvE and so that’s what we’re doing.”

This is not particularly groundbreaking news (the tension between PvE and PvP has been officially recognized for years), but it is fascinating to me hearing a more candid take on these subjects from designers. And, of course, what it could mean in design moving forward. Given that PvP is essentially free, infinitely recurring content while patches take 6-7 months to phone in lovingly craft, such hostility is… instructive.