“No one goes alone.” Sound advice for Diablo III’s world of Sanctuary, where death lurks everywhere. It even works in the context of the Diablo franchise itself. Through Battle.net, Blizzard’s proprietary networking service, the Diablo games were one of the first to recognize the potential for co-op. It’s a vision that’s informed much of Diablo III’s gameplay design. In this context, though, a misleadingly labeled “monster” panel at Blizzard’s 2007 World Wide Invitational in Paris has turned out to be more about Blizzard itself and the way it works internally to put compelling characters, enemies and gameplay up on a PC screen.
The Diablo III triumvirate on stage are Lead Designer Jay Wilson, World Designer Leonard Boyarsky, and art director Brian Morrisroe, and they’re discussing how at Blizzard a good idea can come from anywhere but it has to fit harmoniously among all the design disciplines. The Barbarian, for example, who is returning from Diablo II, began merely as just that: The idea that it would be great to see him again. Boyarsky takes over from that point, saying that his job with the Barbarian was to make sure that the character fit in well with the new world of Diablo III. It is, after all, 20 years after Diablo II, and Boyarsky needed to figure out what the guy’s been up to all that time. He then worked with the art department to create a more weathered, beaten and scarred appearance for the Barbarian that indicates that whatever he’s been up to, a lot of it hasn’t been pleasant.
Once the character has been outlined in broad strokes, though, it needs to be integrated into the gameplay. One of Blizzard’s character design mantras is “concentrated coolness.” For the Barbarian, this meant everything had to fit within the “unstoppable force” idea that’s represented by an eight-foot tall 300-pound killing machine. According to Wilson, creating skills and a gameplay style all flowed from that single concept. The first skill developed (Seismic Slam) was based on the idea that it would just be cool for the Barbarian to be able to hit the ground so hard it would break up earth, smash stuff around him, and send out a shockwave that would destroy foes. Subsequent skills were all informed by Seismic Slam to incorporate themes of movement and force.
The Witch Doctor, on the other hand, was a much different story. The team know they wanted to do some type of mage or magic wielder, but didn’t want to get caught up in cliched wizards or have him feel too much like a World of Warcraft character. The Witch Doctor idea came from the concept of bringing a frail old man into combat that the player isn’t sure right away whether they should like. The Witch Doctor has had a harsh life and been knocked around more than a few times. He strikes back using both psychological and magical techniques. The psychological was the province for Boyarsky and the artists who crafted a look rich with a classic “tribal” feel including a ferocious demon mask and feathers and bangles designed to make him appear larger.