Diablo News Diablo 3 Post-mortem with Jay Wilson Part three

Our interview with Jay Wilson, Former Gamer Director of Diablo 3, continues today focusing on the characters and the pitfalls of success. Catch up on part one and part two if you missed them!

Characters: We see the Necromancer returning to Diablo 3, were these any characters you wanted in that didn’t make the cut?

No, not beyond brainstorming discussions, at least not from when I came on. There were some ideas from the version before I started, but as a team, we wanted to start from scratch on the classes, so I never knew much about those concepts.

That’s a boring answer, so here’s some details of how we made the decisions we made. We wanted, as much as possible, to do new classes, or at least new twists on old archetypes.

A Barbarian-like class was a must have for me, because it’s my favorite archetype. There was some talk to make a Barbarian-like class that wasn’t called Barbarian, but I felt we never had a strong enough idea for that. If it looks like a Barbarian, and quacks like a Barbarian, etc. Our challenges with him were that it’s always hard to make cool melee abilities, and since he was the first class we were also creating the baseline by which all future classes would be compared.

Interesting side point: we had a bit of trouble with environment scale when we first started, because all the structures, doorways, objects, etc. were being built to the Barbarian’s scale because he was who we were always running around with in the game. But the Barbarian is huge. It’s like building your whole world to be Shaquille O’Neal sized. The doors shouldn’t be built for him, he should have to duck through them. We quickly switched the default model over to the Wizard so the environment artists would have a better model for size reference.

The second class we did was Wizard. It could be argued that we should have called this class Sorcerer/ess, but we chose Wizard more to try and break ourselves out of a comfort zone than because the class needed a name change. We wanted to do different things than the classic fire/ice/lightning combo, and it was hard to do that without a bit of a mental shift. I wanted to tap into the full set of D&D magic user abilities, which is why things like disintegrate and magic missile showed up. A lot of the systems we needed to be able to have monsters die in different ways (burned, dismembered, frozen, disintegrated, skeleton punched out of them) came from things we needed to make the Wizard’s abilities really pay off. There was some argument at the time that Wizard was a goofy word, and maybe at the time it was, but it came around back as a stronger cultural norm during development.

The Witch Doctor was championed by the art team, and truth be told he was the easiest class to nail the look of because of that. He felt like he appeared fully formed, whereas the Wizard needed tons of concepts before we found a look we liked. The WD took longer to get the abilities right, because we wanted him to be different than the Necro. There was always a strong desire to make the Necro post-ship, so we needed to leave “room” for him conceptually. Wall of Zombies as an idea was a big turning point for this class.

The Monk was probably the most debated class, because we considered doing the Crusader instead. Ultimately we decided Monk because it was more of a counterpoint to the Barbarian in terms of look and kit. If we’d gone with Crusader then Monk would have been the expansion class. I’m glad it worked out the way it did because I think the Crusader was a better thematic class for what we wanted to do with the expansion. Challenges with the Monk came around making cool melee abilities, accepting that combo attacks are cool even if they don’t have huge gameplay impact, and reconciling the idea of a Monk as a shirtless dude with no weapons in a game that’s all about item drops. There was also some debate about making him larger, and overweight, which would have been a cool take, but ultimately we felt it would visually make his profile too similar to the Barbarian, and later the Crusader, both physically larger melee classes.

The Demon Hunter was the last class, and was something we wanted to do to try and reinforce Diablo’s themes. We had lots of debates around the character, but Wyatt ran this one in a way that learned from our previous class development and as a result I remember it going relatively smooth. I think the only big debate was there was popularity around the idea that she was part demon, but I felt strongly that this wasn’t a good way to go. I saw the character more as Batman than Blade. Plus, part demon usually equalled crazy demon limbs that made her look like a melee character. I think an important lesson I learned a few times on previous projects was you should really pay off on your player’s hopes, and their hopes are often based on what you show them. If you show them a badass looking melee character who turns out to be all ranged attacks you’ve dashed their hopes.

It could be argued that the Crusader didn’t ‘make the cut’, but I see it more that he was chosen as the expansion class.

Diablo 3 sold very well, and was well received, how do you deal with success?

Haha, well…um, step down and retire from the games industry?

That’s a really hard question to answer, primarily because I don’t think of myself as successful. I don’t mean that negatively. I’m proud of my career and what I’ve accomplished, but I think success is often coupled with some kind of feeling of resolution.

“I made it!” he said, standing on top of the mountain he climbed and looking over his kingdom.

That feeling, in my experience, doesn’t ever actually show up. I never look at any project I’ve worked on and say I finished it, more like I stopped at an acceptable point, but could have moved on. After Dawn of War I had a very clear idea of what I would do to make the game better in a sequel. If not for the Diablo 3 offer… If I were to make another Diablo I have a pretty good idea of what it would look like (and no, I won’t comment on that 😉 ).

Money is great, but was never a strong drive for me. I was glad when games I worked on sold well because it meant more creative freedom, larger budgets, and more lenient schedules on the next project.

Fame…well, that I don’t care for. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed being “two-day famous” (a phrase my wife coined after going to Blizzcon with me one year). It’s a good feeling to have people know who you are and look at you as someone important, but it was nice to go home after Blizzcon and return to anonymity. Fame was never something I wanted. I ended up in the spotlight a lot because I was excited about what I was doing and wanted to share it with people, but any time it felt like it was about me I recoiled a bit. I’m naturally a pretty introverted person, so it took a lot of energy to be ‘on’ for the public. I liked working at Blizzard, where our focus was more on everything being about the company and the teams, not a single individual. Ending up as a public figure is something I hope does not happen to me again.

Games are made by teams, not singular individuals. My co-worker relationships are the place I can point to as feeling truly successful. The fact that anyone would enjoy working with me makes me immensely happy. I like for the people around me to succeed. I can’t think of a more gratifying feeling then to see people at their best, loving what they’re doing and loving life as a result and knowing you had a part in making that happen. It’s the best feeling.

Jay goes into depth about PVP and hardcore in part 4!

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