Developer interview Diablo IV Chris Balser (Senior Game Designer Systems) & Madeleine James (Quests)

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How does it feel now that Diablo has been out for a while?

Chris Balser:
Pretty good! I’ve shipped a few games at this point and we’ve had one of the most satisfying launches and the cleanest launches on Diablo IV that I’ve experienced personally, which is both really gratifying. Because we put a lot of work into the game, but also the fan response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Madeleine James:
Yes, it’s been a bit. Overwhelming is a good word. It’s a bit surreal. The same way for the first beta that we did that was published. I hope people are playing it now. It’s not just our team, but yeah, I was most looking forward to just how communities get formed around games,

like inner jokes that have already emerged, you know people discussing it. It’s been a great experience.

I understand that the game constantly needs to be balanced, and that’s necessary. But apart from that, how do you view the balancing, and are there any specific challenges?

Madeleine James:
Yeah, as a designer you know, you think that players are going to do one thing and you’re like you design for that and then somebody’s always going off and doing something unexpected. And so it’s really those unexpected things that are both happy and bad surprises and you’re just like oh I didn’t realize they were going to do this specific thing. Now that’s where the balancing comes in. I think we’ve done a great job of adjusting very quickly and getting things patched as quickly as we can to make things fair and feel like the community is being heard.

Chris Balser:
Yeah, balancing in systems is pretty precarious, because with feature systems, we always try to maintain a big-picture view of everything that we’re doing. Like what could but potential knock-on effects be when we had something to the game? When it comes to things, like where the loop comes from when we have specific sources or the balance between classibilities and legendary effects, we almost need to have like a “crime wall” with a bunch of red thread, tying everything together so that you know we can kind of like keep in our head, have everything might potentially interact.

So there have been a lot of cases where we had some unintentional interactions that have led to too much player power and I mean, those are fun as a player, but also kind of destroy the experience for other players in other places. So we’ve had to kind of pay special attention to them.

What were your thoughts when it was decided that each act would be more seamless compared to Diablo 3, where there were more defined areas?

Chris Balser:
I took pains not to play the story before we launched the game actually so.. I did know that we had a branching plot at a couple of points and that was pretty cool to see. Especially since I come from open world design and like MMO design is my own professional background, so it’s pretty familiar. Like stories that you can do in any order. It’s nice because it means that if you for whatever reason want to move to another area where the current act that you’re in doesn’t necessarily take place, you can do that. And with Diablo II and Diablo III it’s very much like okay you’re here, you’re here. Now you’re in the great battlegrounds. You just kind of like to do that. Diablo IV is kind of refreshing in a way, you know, you don’t want to be in Hawezar don’t.

There were some people who were quite upset about the seasonal format, where you need to create a seasonal character. Is it possible for you to share your perspective on why this approach is considered the best, and what makes it preferable in your opinion?

Madeleine James:
I don’t see that as a problem per se. Some players want to explore first and, you know, get all the altars of Lilith and clear the map before even touching the story. We saw the story as you know: I did x things out in the world but I always have something I know I can go back to. That leads me throughout the world and guides me, not as we want you to do these things in a specific order to get the right experience. I typically play the campaign first, my partner did the complete opposite and was almost getting to like level 50 and hasn’t done act 1 yet, I’m like you probably should go back and do it, so you can get your mount but yeah there’s no bad way of playing or you know an intended way of playing is. it’s all valid.

There’s definitely been a lot of concerns and questions about why we’re doing the seasonal format. It is a staple of the genre for a plethora of reasons. Why we’re doing it, it is like you are currently spending time in what we call “season zero.” and you spend all that time grinding for your best and slot gear. Now, season one comes out. We add a whole bunch of stuff and all that work feels irrelevant because now you have to get this “new cool gear that we released.” And so we’ve designed it so that those characters that you put all this time into whether it’s “season zero or season five” when the season ends that gets rolled to Eternal and all of your stuff is still there.

Madeleine James:

The uber unique that dropped that you were so excited about is still relevant. Another part of it is one of our strongest parts of Diablo IV is the leveling experience, trying out a new build and that kind of becomes impossible if you’re just like, well, I want to do my whirlwind barbarian forever. We want you to roll and do a different character and a new class and play around with it because that’s where our game really shines.

Chris Balser:
She’s absolutely right. Like you developed this place style in mindset, over the course of the eternal realm experience prior to the launch of season one. And if we let you bring that character into the season. Not only would we not have a clean slate for everyone who’s like jogging for the world’s first uber lilith kill, or any, anything like that. If we didn’t have everyone on even footing and that wouldn’t really be a fair competition. But also like Madeleine said: we want you to try new things. We’re adding new legendaries for the game and we are shaking up the class balance. If you’re trying to do the same thing, you might not even be happy with it, because it’s not exactly the same as before. In my case, I’m going to be playing in an entirely new class. I suspect. A lot of people will.

What’s next in the pipeline, and what can we expect in the near future?

Chris Balser:
I mean, there’s a lot I can’t talk about. I can talk about season one of course. Players can expect a whole lot of worms. The malignant are a pretty interesting type of enemy to fight, the powers that you get from them are pretty compelling. And the surroundings are pretty cool too.

We’ve got a really cool new character that you engage with over the course of the story. I’m going to probably speak more to him than I can. And the bosses are pretty interesting too, they remind me of some of my favorite bosses from Diablo III so I’m looking forward to playing them when they go live.

Chris Balser

Madeleine James:
Yeah, the same thing! We’re really excited but season one! we hope it’s kind of the foundation of what players should expect future seasons that are developing currently to be, and you know, we have that step block and we can just keep going further and push it even more and create even bigger stuff! So that’s what I’m excited about! We got the first season out, we hope players really enjoy it. But we want to do bigger and greater things as we get our pipelines, you know kind of straightened away. Season one was just like: “Well what is a season for Diablo?”

So we had to define that. So once we have that determined, we can really play with that concept. 

Is there anything you would like to add, and or are looking forward to in Diablo IV?

Madeleine James:
I think that we’ve shown preseason that we’re very comfortable, patching things as needed very quickly. Some changes require a bit more like, certain bug changes. It’s like we can’t get that as quickly out as maybe we want to. But we’re going to continue to patch things as needed.

If there’s a big concern or something’s broken we’re going to get that fixed as fast as humanly possible. 

Chris Balser:
We are Pretty much always keeping our eye on the state of the game. Anytime that something comes up and it needs to be fixed, we’re going to fix it. And it’s just a matter of like priority.

If it’s important enough, we’ll patch it in the middle of the season as soon as possible if it’s Just kind of an inconvenient thing, like maybe there’s an extra period in achievement. And we’ll get to that when we can.

So any tips or favorite classes for the Season of the Malignant? (Season 1)

Chris Balser:
All the classes are great! I’m personally gonna be playing a Rogue because we have more sources of grenades. So I’m going to be doing this really goofy stun grenadier build. I can’t necessarily recommend it because it’s going to take some setup and it might be a little weird, because it doesn’t play like any of the twisting blades, or flurry builds that people are going to be used to. But I think it will be fun.

There’s a pretty jazzy new Necromancer unique that people might find familiar with that changes how the bone storm works. That should be pretty fun too. So if you’re maybe trying to recapture the zeitgeist of infamous. This might be an interesting one to wear!

Madeleine James:
I say generic and that just means it’s for all classes. One where it gets,I think it’s five enemies, get close to you, they’ll get stunned every x amount of seconds and when I read it I was like: oh, this would be great for my sorcerer build! I like to use a character that I didn’t play in season zero. I went necromancer, but now i’m gonna bring my sorcerer back for this!

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