Diablo 3 Patch 1.05 interview with Jay Wilson and Wyatt Cheng

Frankly, a lot of us are playing that other game this weekend. But I say you can't have too many ARPGs in your life, and thus ventured toward Sanctuary once again to discuss Diablo 3's upcoming 1.05 patch with Blizzard's Jay Wilson and Wyatt Cheng. They gave us the run-down on the upcoming Monster Power adjustable difficulty system, how common collaboration is between the different teams at Blizzard, and all manner of other hellish topics.

PC Gamer: You guys did a blog entry about the crowd control changes in 1.05 - what abilities that no one ever uses now are going to really shine the most after the patch?

Wyatt Cheng, Senior Technical Game Designer: I would say Blinding Flash would probably be a big one on the Monk. A lot of people use Blinding Flash, so I know I'm kind of cheating. But I think everyone uses Blinding Flash because there's a secondary rune on it that adds to your damage. A lot of people don't really use Blinding Flash for the CC so much as the damage, and that's why I think it's going to hit the most.

For [a counter-example], let's take Ground Stomp. For a lot of people who took Ground Stomp off their bar, they'd have to go out of their way to try it out. But I think when the patch first goes live, all of the Monks who have Blinding Flash in their bar are going to hit it for the damage buff, then realize it's actually doing a whole bunch of CC, too.

You also mentioned in that entry talking with the Warcraft and StarCraft guys about the game. I'm curious to know how often this happens, and if you have any specific examples of decisions you made for Diablo based on their feedback, or decisions they made because of something you guys suggested.

Jay Wilson, Game Director: We talk a lot about each other's projects. Like, we all play each other's games, and especially our design culture is very cross-team oriented. So, the game directors for all the projects - we go out to lunch together once a week. We actually meet at least one other time in a more formal capacity. And that's just to talk about games and what everybody's doing.

I, particularly, gave a lot of feedback on the pet battles system that's going into [World of Warcraft expansion] Mists of Pandaria. They gave us a lot of feedback on game tuning and how to handle, kind of, in-game content and reward systems.

WC: I would say that the degree of collaboration is very high. A lot of it, like Jay has alluded to, is formal, recurring meetings with the other directors ... There's also a lot of social interaction that can happen, too, informally. I get e-mails or IMs from people on the other teams, or I'll ask them for their opinions.

We also try to open up communication a little bit. So, sometimes if I'm working on a change, I'll cc them on an e-mail so they can kind of listen in, so to speak. And 90 percent of the time, they won't say anything. But if they see something that seems out of line, then they'll chime in.

I'd say that happens almost on a daily basis.

You guys have also been talking a lot about damage mitigation tuning lately. Kind of a theme we've seen in every Diablo III patch so far is these huge numbers on any change you make, in terms of percentage. I like to say, whereas other games might tune things by cutting off fingers, you guys seem like you'd rather cut off an arm. Or add extra arms, as the case has more often been. What's the reasoning behind that approach?

WC: I think Jay has something he wants to say, but I'll jump in.

JW: (Laughs) You can speak about this as well as I can.

WC: I would say that, from the community perception, I absolutely understand that, often, whenever we make a change, it ends up being a huge change. The truth is that, for every change we make, there are like nine or ten more changes that we thought about making. But if something's only 10 percent off, we have to ask ourselves, given that it's a live game and people are playing, do we really need to make this change at all?

So if it's such a small change, and I'll use Frenzy as an example - this is a really small example, but it illustrates the point well. I personally think that Frenzy generates a little bit more life on hit than it should. Whatever, you know? (Laughs) If players are getting 10 percent, 15 percent more life on hit, I don't think it's really worth- every time you make a change, there's an implicit cost of having made the change at all.

People have to be familiar. People that aren't reading Internet posts and patch notes won't know that their character changed. There's the cost of having left the game for three months or four months and coming back. Because Diablo is very much the kind of game that you will, you know- for example, Borderlands 2 is coming out, right? So a lot of people will go off, they'll play Borderlands 2. And in two months, maybe they'll say, "Hey, Borderlands 2 is fun, but I'm gonna go back and play some more Diablo."

We want to make sure the game isn't changing on you when you do come back, a lot. So there's always a cost associated with making any change at all. So, as a general rule, if a change that we feel- the number change is not at least 15 to 25 percent, we don't even bother making it. And that's the 90 percent of changes that don't even see the light of day.

JW: I'd say that's pretty accurate. I'd also throw out that I think, with all Blizzard games, you tend to see more radical changes closer to ship. 'Cause we ship the game, and then we get it into the hands of a whole bunch of players, and they teach us things.

And because we're not going anywhere, because we support our games so much, we kinda feel okay that, if something's really wrong, we'll change it pretty radically. You know? With Diablo 3, one of our big goals was to provide a lot of build diversity. That was very important to us.

So a lot of times we would look at, say, skills that were being under-utilized. We felt like, you can't do a five percent or a 10 percent change and suddenly turn people turn people around on a skill that they don't like. Sometimes, you've gotta make a bigger change to make it more impactful. So, you know, as we've learned more about the game, we try not to be afraid to make big changes when we feel that they're necessary.

That being said, I'd like us to reach a place where our changes are more incremental. But I do think, as Wyatt mentioned, we don't want the game to change too much. So you want to make sure that when you do make a change, they're profound enough that people can notice. The flip-side of that is, you don't want to make too many of those, because then exactly that problem happens.

WC: And I could probably refine my previous statement in that, Jay is totally right. The early parts are sometimes tougher, because you're learning a lot more about your game. I said that a 15 percent change, you don't always make. But in retrospect, there are quite a few changes that are in the five to 15 percent region.

A lot of times, there's also [the issue of] a buff vs. a nerf. So if we decide to do a five percent buff, yeah, the game changed, but no one minds. And if we think something's off by only five percent, maybe we can make that change safely. There are no hard and fast rules, obviously. It's half art and half science, but that's definitely a factor. The psychology of it.

How many levels are going to be available for Monster Power?

WC: Currently it's 10.

And you've said Level 0 will be less difficult than the game is now, but will be giving you the same amount of rewards as you're getting now?

JW: Yeah, more or less. That changes based on the difficulty you're in, and even in Inferno, the act that you're in. So, at Act 3 of Inferno, you'll probably need to set Monster Power to level two or three for it to feel as difficult as it is currently, but you'll actually get better rewards for that.

So, if you put it at Monster Power zero, the game will actually be easier than it is right now, and no less rewarding.

And, is this all unlocked right away, right when the patch hits, for everybody?

WC: Yep.

How will it affect the distribution of items? Like, can you find item level 63 stuff in earlier acts if you crank up Monster Power?

WC: You can get item level 63 stuff in all acts of Inferno when Monster Power is on. The moment you go into Inferno with any kind of Monster Power, all monsters become level 63, and they can now all drop item level 63 stuff the same way that Act III and Act IV Inferno do now. However, cranking up Monster Power beyond MP1 does not further increase your chance of getting 63 stuff.

Are there any new achievements planned for, like, the guy who beats Inferno by himself on Monster Power eight? Or anything like that?

WC: No, and I'm super glad that you asked. Because part of the messaging we're trying to get out to people - and this is a challenge on our side, of how we communicate this - is we don't want Monster Power to feel like a mountain you have to climb. And we feel like if we had an achievement for it, people would be like, "Oh, I like to collect achievements, I guess I have to go and do this thing."

It's very much, different people like to play different ways. If you like building your character to tank lots of damage and slog through, and feel very triumphant, and get rewards for doing so: great. If you'd rather build, for example, a glass cannon, turn the difficulty down a little bit. And maybe you're not getting as much per monster, you're killing twice as fast. So, more power to you.

And because it's really dependent on the player style, the gear level, the amount of challenge that you want, we don't want people to think that they have to do it.

JW: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that I think is really interesting- let's say that you start the game off and you turn Monster Power all the way down, but you kind of wish the drop rates were a little higher pre-1.05. Because we've certainly seen that comment from some people. The thing is, you're going to be killing a lot faster now. And killing faster is the equivalent of higher drop rates.

And for some people, killing faster is way more fun. I have friends who say, "You know, I really like taking my Act 3 Inferno into late Hell difficulty, because I just get to stomp stuff and it's really fun. But it doesn't give me good rewards." Well, now you can go to a place that gives you good rewards and get to stomp stuff. And if you prefer something a little more challenging, you crank it up.

But it's really important to us that that not be the goal. With Diablo 2, a lot of players never knew that Players 8 [a command that increased the difficulty] existed, and perfectly enjoyed the game. We want to make sure that, with Monster Power, they feel the same thing. It's just an option for how you want to play.

How much difference would you say there is in difficulty between Monster Power zero and Monster Power 10?

WC: I guess, there's different types of difficulty, is probably how I would start that. Right? There's the number of monsters, there's the affixes. But more importantly is the difficulty coming because I'm being one-shot by the smallest creature in the entire game? Or is it difficult because I'm always hitting the enrage timer?

For Monster Power in Diablo 3, what we decided was that Diablo 3 is very much an efficiency game. Players are always asking themselves, "How much loot am I getting per hour?" That's a little bit of a dry way to reduce it. But I think that's kind of always going on in the back of your mind.

So what we decided is, you can turn Monster Power to 10, and you might even beat it the day it comes out, but it might have taken, I don't know, three hours to kill Diablo. So you conclude after that, "Okay, I did it. But it wasn't very efficient, and it wasn't very fun. So I'm going to turn the Monster Power back down. Not so much because it was challenging, but because it wasn't efficient."

That's the real metagame, right? Everyone has their route, everyone has their run. That's what we're focused on.

JW: Yeah, so if you crank it up ... we're not saying you're gonna walk into Inferno and a skeleton's gonna one-shot you. Depending on where your gear is, that might happen. But, you know, the goal there is to challenge players to find efficiency, not necessarily kill the crap out of them.

So, the last time I talked to you guys, Jay, you were very open about saying that 1.04 was not going to really fix the difficulty issue. Do you feel like Monster Power is that fix, or is there still more distance to cover after 1.05?

JW: I feel that Monster Power is that fix. That's kind of what we were hinting at, because we knew we wanted to do this for 1.05. Because you have two groups of players. You have players who think the game is too hard, and you have players who think the game is just fine or too easy.

It's been our anecdotal observation that more people think it's too hard than not, but it's hard for us to even know that. You know, it's always the squeaky wheel that... complains. (Laughs.) So, it could be that everybody thinks the game is too easy, and we just haven't heard from those people. So the point of this system is to put that more in the hands of the players, and they can decide how they prefer to play.

And as we mentioned earlier, that's one of the reasons it's so important to us that we don't, say, link achievements to this. Because as soon as we do that, it's not up the players how they play anymore. They all have to be in whatever Monster Power they have to be in to get the achievement that they want.

Does Monster Power stack with the monster health modifiers for the number of people in your group.

WC: Yes, it does. It's also worth noting that the magic find and gold find can go above the 300% cap.

You said you aren't going to talk a lot about Infernal Machine so players can discover it for themselves, but it sounds like the unlock process for that will be something like getting to Magic Brony Land [Ed: Whimsyshire]

JW: It's similar. I'd say it's probably a little easier. [Whimsyshire]'s probably a little bit more hidden. And there's a little bit more to it, but it's similar.

WC: Run around to a bunch of different places and beat stuff up.

And does Infernal Machine unlock totally new bosses, or is it just harder versions of existing ones.

JW: They're not completely new bosses. They're not exactly harder versions of existing ones. We didn't go in and say, "Let's add all new bosses!" But we also didn't just go in and crank up an existing boss. We tried to come up with unique ways to make some new versions of existing bosses.

How many encounters are there to possibly unlock?

JW: I don't think we should say. It's not a ton. There's a few different encounters.

Thanks again to Jay and Wyatt for talking to us. Patch 1.05's notes have already appeared on the forums , and it should be crashing through a cathedral ceiling near you before long.