Diablo III: Gameplay Systems and Crusader Panel

A live blog of the BlizzCon 2013 Diablo III panel digging into the new and updated systems coming for the game

BlizzCon 2013 Gameplay Systems Panel
More coverage of Diablo III at BlizzCon 2013, with the Diablo III: Gameplay Systems + Crusader panel. We are expecting more details of the many gameplay systems that will be updated with the Loot 2.0 patch, or added entirely in the Reaper of Souls expansion.

The description of this panel: The Diablo III team presents an overview of new gameplay features and systems, with a special focus on the new playable class: the Crusader.

The many people on this panel:
  • Andrew Chambers, Senior Game Designer
  • Wyatt Cheng, Senior Technical Game Designer
  • Nicholas Chilano, Lead Animator
  • Paul David, Senior Artist
  • Travis Day, Game Designer
  • Nicholas Eberle, Senior Technical Artist
  • Josh Mosqueira, Game Director
  • Steve Shimizu, Lead Gameplay Programmer

Update: Here's a video of nearly the full panel, with the live blog below.

11:06 AM PDT - The panel starts in 7 minutes, and we'll have it all!

11:16 - And we're off, Josh is out, saying he brought the whole game team with him today. Today is about the deep dive into a few systems. Starting out with the Crusader, the star of the Reaper of Souls. All classes are getting brand new skills, Wyatt will cover that; we'll learn which class is Wyatt's favorite. Why do we play Diablo III? Loot! A big focus on the expansion has been Loot 2.0, more on that. Kevin Martens starts to talk about the Crusader.

11:17 - Nothing is more complex than designing a class, in the game. The Crusader is a great choice to balance against someone like Malthael. Who is the Crusader? Starting out, they had the vague idea that they liked the idea of a Paladin, with the vague idea that often are the start of a class design. Matching that against the villain of Malthael, they went with a dark Paladin idea.

11:19 - Talking about the basic overview of the history of the Crusader order. It is the proper hero for humanity in this darkest hour. The idea is a knight in battle-scarred armor. Another idea is "Righteous Wrath", and that idea shows up again and again in the skills and background of the Crusader. The core tactical concept: War machine made human. They wanted a heavily armored character, but they wanted them to stand out from the Barbarian and the Monk. That lead to a mid-range melee character.

11:21 - Paul David comes up to talk about the art concepts that lead to the Crusader we see today. First in the design, they brainstorm to come up with the idea of what the class represents. First off is shape languages, the idea for the Crusader is "blocky", including the skill concept of the shield being used as a melee weapon.

11:22 - A huge range of armor set ideas, including some with cloth elements. Those ideas are taken into concepting, to really figure out what the character should look like. An early idea includes the cloth as a tabard. Iterations include the tabard, the flail, and the big bulky shield. After many weeks of work and countless drawing, they came down to the one image that really fit what they were looking for.

11:24 - Moving on to modeling: they block out the movement of the class, and how it looks. And now a sneak peak of some of the final armor sets for the Crusader.

11:25 - Now talking about the animation for the class. They start with the idle pose, that captures the feel of the character. They started with an old stoic idle, but when he went into dynamic action it didn't move well between the basic pose and the action for skills. So they shifted to more of a square for the final idle animation, with the Crusader leaning forward a little.

11:27 - Creating the signature weapon. They knew they wanted the big weapon with a shield, but the flail itself became a big part of it. The physics for the flail at first looked odd, so they shifted it so that it is more about how the flail shifts after the move, not just during the move itself.

11:29 - Moving on to the meat and potatoes for the animators: the skills. The Crusader has a bit of a build up for his animations. The Crusader builds up, holds back a little at the start of the skill, and then unleashes it into a skill that feels really good and looks really awesome. Up next, Andrew Chambers to talk about the skill design.

11:29 - Chambers interacts with the crowd a bit, tells people to come up and give him a hug if they see him on the show floor. On the design side, it comes down to: how does the class play? They knew straight away that he had to be a melee character; this is someone who likes to be up close and personal with his enemies. But there are already 2 strong classes with the Barbarian and Monk, so for the Crusader, they gave him a strong ranged component; a lot of skills can slay from afar. Part of the key to that is having him being powered by Righteous Wrath.

11:31 - Wrath is this mystical power he has inside of him, and he can choose to unleash it in any shape and form. It's generated by combat, too. So how do they create that in the skills? Showing now Slash and Shield Bash, how they interact. The Crusader often is wearing a shield, so he won't be able to duel-wield; but a lot of skills are AOE oriented, so they can hit a lot of monsters at a time. Moving on to ranged, with skills Justice and Blessed Shield; the Crusader hurls a hammer, slamming into enemies, charging up the shield and throwing it at them.

11:33 - Skills have a fantastic physical component to them, even the ranged skills have a great sense of strength behind them. After figuring out the ideas, then it moves on to creating the skill kit. They have to create 24 classes for a class, and some of them are a lot easier to design than others. Showing a skill called Crushing Resolve, based on the original Resolve skill from Paladins in Diablo II. It didn't work out too well. In Diablo II you had 2 skill buttons, and in Diablo III there are 6. When there is one skill that does as many things as Zeal does in that context, it becomes a little sad; that becomes all you need to press, and it gets boring. So, they didn't keep that skill in for the Crusader. But they learned a lot, and that skill became Slash, which has a rune called Zeal.

11:35 - Sometimes, lightning strikes... showing the skill Fist of the Heavens, raining lightning from afar. When the Crusader commands, the heavens respond, and give him that. The designers call that an epiphany skill; they haven't changed it since they tried out the initial design, they just kept it and haven't had to iterate on it. Mechanically, it comes from the sky; as a Crusader, I want to be surrounded by a lot of enemies. So when surrounded by enemies and you want to kill the Treasure Goblin farther away, this is the sort of skill that drops death from the sky. Up next, Nick Eberle to talk about technical iterations on the skills.

11:37 - The first big question when designing a class: what is the fantasy for the character? First up is the skill Heaven's Fury, the hand of god reaching out to destroy the Crusader's enemies. Showing the first version they tried; mechanically you right click and drag a line, and the beams come down and rain destruction on the battlefield. It had some problems; it was really loud, bad in multiplayer. Showing version 2, where the beam chased the mouse cursor around. It felt powerful and didn't take up a lot of space on the screen. But it was a channeled skill and they didn't like that for a Crusader, who isn't a full ranged class. In the final iteration they gave the skill it's own AI, and the beam goes out and chases down monsters automatically, so the Crusader can keep fighting while it goes off.

11:38 - Every class needs a movement skill; what's a knight without his horse? Steed Charge allows the Crusader to move around the battlefield really fast, with some awesome runes.

11:40 - What if the Crusader was an artillery shell himself? Showing the skill Falling Sword, as the Crusader jumps up into the air, crashes down and doing massive falling damage.

11:40 - The Crusader is descended from Paladins. There was one skill they had to bring forward: Blessed Hammer is swirling hammers, laying waste on the battlefield. And a little video of the Crusader, with a bunch of different skills in action.

11:42 - Up next is Wyatt Cheng, to talk about the rest of the classes. He says that Crusader will be his new favorite class. They also wanted to revisit the 5 original classes, and he'll go over the changes they're making for them.

11:33 - Barbarian has multiple features like his physical strength, and earthen might. Avalanche is a new Barbarian skill that brings down a massive pile of rocks. It has a 30 second cooldown by default, but the more Fury you spend, the lower the cooldown.

11:34 - On to the Wizard. A lot of people want to play the wizard as a glass cannon. In the live game, there are elements like Fire, Lightning, Cold and Arcane, which gets the most attention so far. On of their focuses is to bring the elementalist Wizard for Fire, Lightning, and Cold forward more, since the focus has mainly been on Arcane so far. Magic Missile is getting a rune variant that allows it to do Cold damage. Looking at Arcane Orb, they decided to pay homage to the original Frozen Orb skill, with a new rune that does a massive frozen orb. The Wizard's new skill is called Black Hole, which pulls in all the monsters and crowd controls them, and does a huge amount of damage in that targeted area. Nothing sets up the perfect Meteor better than Black Hole!

11:36 - Up next, the Monk. The Monk's core fantasy is to be fast and elemental. Monk is an elemental bender, bringing in fire and lightning damage. The Monk should be the fastest character in the battlefield; in the expansion they're making changes to help with that. Right now in the most popular Monk builds the Fists of Thunder - Thunderclap rune is extremely popular, because of the teleport it provides. They want to open that up more, so now all runes of Fists of Thunder will teleport to the opponent. They're also looking at Dashing Strike, wasn't used as much as they'd like. The mechanics for it will be reworked; even though you can't teleport indefinitely, you should be able to click on a an empty location and go there. Seven-Sided Strike will get more movement too. The new Monk skill is Epiphany; once activated, all skill attacks will take the Monk to his target.

11:48 - Demon Hunters up next. Their fantasies involve Traps, which weren't being played up as much as the developers wanted. So skills like Spike Trap and Sentry are being looked at; a Demon Hunter should be able to make a little nest around her, to lure enemies to come in and mercilessly die. But at the end of the day, a Demon Hunter is a ranged class. Their new skill is called Vengeance. It allows every attack the Demon Hunter does to fire off even more ranged weaponry. Once it's used, every attack done fires additional shots; rail guns, rockets, it's pew pew pew all over!

11:50 - For Witch Doctor, the aesthetic plays out really well on live, but the mechanics aren't all there. One of the fantasies is to be a dot and pet class; but the dots aren't worth using. They are making huge improvements to DoTs, and one of the new passives make DoTs last for 5 minutes. They wanted the new skill like Amplify Magic to fit into many different play styles. Thinking about all the cool creatures that can be summoned like bats and frogs, they wondered, how far can we go this? What about... Piranhas! The new Piranhas skill causes enemies effected to take more damage from all sources. And out of the pool of piranhas, a Bogadile that leaps out from the water!

11:52 - Moving on to items, delving into the Mystic. Transmogrify allows you to change the look of items, and Enchanting allows you to choose any property on an item, and reroll it. There are 3 new randomly generated properties to choose from, which acts as an effective gold and item sink for the end game. You can do the enchanting process as many times as you want. To talk more about items, it's Travis Day.

11:55 - So on to Loot 2.0! Three big philosophy changes around items moving into the expansion:
  • Less is More
  • Items Support Builds
  • Rarity = Power
For "Less is More", they want to drop less things, and most of them should be better. "Items Support Builds" means items should change the game and the way you play. There are a lot of new affixes and to support that. "Rarity = Power" is the idea that rarely seen items should be actually powerful.

11:50 - The Smart Drop system means that the periodically in a drop, the item type, item stats, and skill affixes are chosen based on your class. The random range of values is now smaller, instead of for example 1-100 Strength, it's narrowed down to 75-100 Strength that can roll. One other change to help with Less is More is that they talked about a lot of the stats, and changed them up. They are now doing Stat Grouping, and splitting the stats into Primary and Secondary stats. Primary stats are things that directly increase your power, and Secondary stats are other effects that do things for your character but not necessarily give it direct power. So stats are broken out; stats like Bonus Experience and Magic Find don't take the place of Critical Hit and other direct power stats. All items will have a fixed amount of both Primary and Secondary stats.

11:59 - "Items Support Builds" means that there are a lot of new affixes so players can find things that suit their playstyle, and try out skills they wouldn't have thought of. "Rarity = Power" creates a clear progression in item power, so that legendary items are actually powerful. The harder it is to find something, the better it should be. To talk about that, is Steve Shimizu.

12:00 - When talking about legendaries, a lot of people may think that this doesn't matter for them, since they never see legendary items drop! They are changing it to an "end game for everyone", so everyone has a reasonable chance to find these items. That being said, legendary and set items are by far the rarest; so they should be the most powerful items as well. They didn't deliver on that for the launch of D3, but they are looking to fix it for the expansion. So to do that, they are going to first improve some of the classical legendaries in the game. There will be new versions of the current legendary items. They can drop at higher levels, with stats that are appropriate for that level, since the power of a legendary will be based on the level of the monster that dropped it. They are doing a stats pass is on all legendary and set items, to make them viable. They are adding new powers to many of the legendaries; to make them unique from a utility point of view, to give them powers you don't see anywhere else in the game. Frostburn Gauntlets is an example of this: showing a level 70 version, with much better stats, and secondary effects. The new effect on the gauntlets: "Your chill effects have a 50% chance to Freeze instead of Slow." There are also grey numbers that come up when you hold down Control, showing for each stat, the possible range that you can roll. They want to show more of this sort of info in the game.

12:05 - Legendary affixes have been added that can change the way you play the game. An example shown are the bracers Haroutunian Arm Guards with the effect: "Every time you destroy a wreckable object, you gain a short burst of speed." Another example are Illusory Boots with the effect: "You may move unhindered through enemies." Those could be a great hardcore item to keep from being surrounded, maybe you don't need an escape skill anymore with a legendary like that. Some of the legendaries change specific skills, like the Witch Doctor helm Tiklandian Visage that has the effect: "Horrify causes you to Fear and Root enemies around you for 8 seconds."

12:07 - Now a legendary (that gets a big cheer from the crowd) Thunderfury! Some items they do, just because they're cool to do! It has a lightning affect much like the World of Warcraft version, that shoots out and damages enemies around the target.

Finally, a set item example for Demon Hunters, although it has placeholder graphics and names. Some of the better powers are on set items this time around. The 2-piece bonus is, "Your Spike Traps lead enemies to them." so traps taunt enemies around to them. The 4-piece bonus is "Automatically cast Smoke Screen when you fall below 25% life. This effect may occur every 30 seconds."

12:09 - Back to Josh, who is recapping everything. We really feel we're on the eve of a new era of Diablo. Now on to a little Q&A.

12:05 - Q: Any concern about stat inflation, if the numbers are going to get too large at some point, like they have in WoW?
A: Wyatt says, it's a tricky balance, but he's not worried about it yet. Maybe in 8-9 years it'll be an issue.

Q: A thanks for all the work the D3 team is doing. Arcane Sanctuary level in D2 was a favorite, he's looking for that in D3.
A: We're not going back to Arcane Sanctuary, but we did like that level too; Pandemonium has a lot of levels inspired by that.

Q: In D2 when you had every set item your appearance changed, any idea to do that in D3?
A: We haven't talked about anything like yet, it's not a bad idea, it could happen. We're trying right now to make set items feel worth getting on their own, so trying to get set bonuses good. Maybe they wouldn't want to apply that to every set in the game, but appearance changes could happen. Everything's a trade-off in development time; a tech artist's time to do that, could also be spent making a new item power.

And that's the end of the Q&A and the panel. There will be a full Diablo III Open Q&A panel in another 3 hours, and we will have a live blog of that, as well!

Update: More from the live stream with the anchors, some Q&A about the PS4 version of Diablo III.

Q: So it's 1080p, 60fps on the PS4?
A: It is, and we improved the render tech as well compared to the PS3. It looks really great.

Q: What about Remote Play on the PS4, with the Vita? A: We have no plans for that at this time.

Q: Will Reaper of Souls be on the PS3 as well?
A: Right now we're focusing on the PS4. It's such a powerful platform, we're taking advantage of that. Once it is out on the PS4, then we'll look at taking that package and moving it back to the current-generation consoles. We really believe at supporting our platforms, so we'll look at the big picture again after it's out on the PS4.

Q: What about using the controller in the PC version of Diablo III?
A: All of that changes the game, it's not just plugging in the controller. You have Evade, we bring the camera in closer to make it work. So we'll keep the mouse and keyboard on the PC, and the controller for the console.

Q: The PS4 touch controller, how does that work?
A: The item control shortcut can be done via the touchpad. As far as having to switch between each person to handle loot, when doing multiplayer co-op on the consoles: We feel your pain, and we're working on that.

Q: How has the response been, regarding the lack of AH on console?
A: It feels great, nobody is asking for us to bring the AH to the console! A lot of the changes we made on the console for Loot 1.5, are what we're using to take the game forward to Loot 2.0.

Q: Will there be any better way to do trading to find specific pieces on the console?
A: We are in discussions about that, can't get into the details right now.

And that's the end of the Q&A there on the live stream, too!

See the BlizzCon 2013 News section for the latest live blogs and other Diablo III news from BlizzCon! Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for all the breaking Diablo III news, as it happens.
Feedback for Diablo Somepage