BlizzCon 2011 Diablo III preview

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BlizzCon 2011 is a celebration of all things Blizzard Entertainment. The game publisher and developer was on hand at the fan festival to reveal the latest information on the much-anticipated role-playing game, Diablo III. With a new early 2012 launch time frame, attendees were able to get quality time with the new game over the two-day event. And for those who already play World of Warcraft, Blizzard is offering an incentive to those who purchase the new Annual Pass by offering a free digital copy of Diablo III next year.

“I think it’s a great value,” said Julian Love, lead technical artist for Diablo III. “For a lot of people who are already playing, and are already planning on playing World of Warcraft long-term, they have a chance to get a free copy of Diablo III. It also maybe solves that problem of, ‘Am I going to have to give up on one game to play the other?’ Well, you can have both.”

Love said the extra development time will allow the team to work on polishing the game for delivery, which includes much of the end-game content for long-term players. Blizzard spent time connecting with fans to provide clarity about what the developer is doing in respect to the end game, which includes things like the Infernal level and some of the itemization things that will change with regard to legendary items once the game has been beaten.

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“BlizzCon is really critical to us from that perspective, because it gives us the possibility of putting a very unfinished game, or some sections of it, in front of our audience — the audience that’s really passionate about what we’re going to do,” said Love. “It gives us the opportunity to tell us exactly what they feel about it. It also lets us stand in the background sometimes and observe them and see, ‘They don’t really get this thing that we thought everybody would get,’ in which case we go back to the drawing board.”

For those who didn’t attend the sold-out BlizzCon, the beta is allowing the developer to fine-tune every aspect of the RPG.

“We get to find all those things that are maybe not working as well as we would like, things that are confusing to people,” said Love. “It’s also given us a chance to look at the way the skill system works and to re-evaluate how complicated that is. We’re trying to find that balance of usability and freedom of exploration, but also a sense of ownership and feeling like this is a class that you’re going to invest in. We have to do that in a way that doesn’t make it too complicated, as well.”

Love said the beta has also allowed the team to learn which systems might be too complicated early on in the game.

“We want to try to take that complexity of the game, which is very rich indeed, and introduce it slowly over time so that you don’t hit some phases where the game is just overwhelming to new players,” added Love.

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One advantage that the long time span between games that fans of the franchise have had to patiently wait for is the advances in technology that Blizzard has been able to take advantage of with this new game.

“If you think back to Diablo II, that was a game that was mostly based on sprite technology,” said Love. “To be able to revisit the idea of doing a Diablo world, but having the opportunity to do it with 3D graphics, that was pretty big. It seems like it’s old hat that we’re talking about 3D technology, but for this particular franchise, it’s actually a big deal.

The other thing that we have available to us is physics and things like cloth simulations and stuff like that that allow us to provide a deeper sense of reality and a visceral impact to the world. Rather than just killing a monster, you can kill a monster and then send him flying across the screen.”

Love said the team has been able to tune the physics for different classes. For instance, when the barbarian hits a monster, he really goes flying, whereas when the wizard witch doctor does it, it’s not going to be the same effect. This helped the developer differentiate each of the classes. But when it comes to choosing a favorite class, that’s where things get complicated for Love.

“My job, and my team’s job, is to take those classes, make the special effects for them, and be really involved in the skill design which represents what those classes do,” said Love. “It’s their actions; it’s who they are. We really can’t do that effectively if I can’t fall in love with each and every one of them along the way. If you pin me down and make me pick, I think it’s going to be the wizard, mostly because I’m such a big sorceress fan from Diablo II. That’s the kind of class I like to play.”

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For those players who choose to play as the wizard class, Love advises they explore the world. He said there’s a lot of stuff to do in the game world, and the best way to find things is to explore and then exploit your discoveries.

“The wizard class is all about flashiness and power, so there are plenty of options to do that,” explained Love. “We have so many skills per class. If you think about it, we’ve got some between 22 and 25 skills, roughly, per class. Then you’ve got five skill runes that change each one of those skills, plus all the passives.”

While the PC game’s launch has been delayed until early 2012, there’s already a small team of three exploring the console potential of Diablo III. The key to whether this RPG makes the jump to consoles will be the controller. If the team can perfect console controls as it’s done with the PC game, then Diablo III will make the jump down the road. For now, Love and his team are perfecting the PC experience so that fans have plenty to keep them coming back for more.

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