BlizzCon: How to Make a Monster in Diablo III and Open Q&A

BlizzCon 2009 wasn't just about World of Warcraft. Diablo III, though still two years away, also made an appearance with the announcement of the new monk class. Several Blizzard developers walked us through the process of creating a monster in the game, and then the floor was opened up to fan questions. Join us as we take a look at the Diablo III goodies offered at BlizzCon '09. Blizzard Entertainment continues work on Diablo III, and it certainly wasn’t absent from BlizzCon this year. The introduction of the monk class along with several other exciting announcements (that may have been brought up on a somewhat low key) had Diablo fans at the convention reeling with excitement.
Blizzard Entertainment continues work on Diablo III, and it certainly wasn’t absent from BlizzCon this year. The introduction of the monk class along with several other exciting announcements (that may have been brought up on a somewhat low key) had Diablo fans at the convention reeling with excitement.

The Heroes and Monsters panel was of particular interest this year as well as the Diablo III Open Q&A where Blizzard took an hour to answer questions from the players.

Jay Wilson, Game Director; Leonard Boyarsky, Lead World Designer; Wyatt Chang, Technical Designer and Julian Love, Lead Technical Artist were our hosts at the Heroes and Monsters panel. Jay Wilson kicked things off with an answer to the question: “Why monk?”

The monk being the new class for Diablo III announced at the convention, the question certainly was pertinent. Wilson explained the class was inspired by the pen and paper RPG classes that don’t often make an appearance in typical RP games. The class is fast and fragile, offering a good contrast from the Barbarian. The team also wanted to have a bit of a fighting game style in Diablo III and wanted to do something that wasn’t a necessarily expected class. The class would have a lot of combo moves and a lot of martial arts spiced up with holy magic to again contrast the Barbarian class. Moreover, the team wanted a class that would be more challenging to play at the beginning of the game, offering an alternative to players that desired a less forgiving game.

Leonard Boyarsky then took over the discussion explaining that the monk was envisioned as an Asian kung-fu meets Eastern European monk. These holy fighters come from Ivgorod and were raised in monasteries where they learned structure, meditation, and fighting techniques. A tattoo on their backs of their 1001 gods takes a lifetime to complete. As the holy warrior, they do the dirty work of the church. Monks are known throughout the world and are feared and respected.

Wyatt Chang then led into an explanation of the combo system. The emphasis of the game is on simple two mouse button play, but each click is progressional, which allows unique combos. For example, a player could open with the “Dash” from “Way of the Hundred Fists,” followed by the second stage of “Crippling Wave,” which is a debuff, and finish off with the "Exploding Palm" which would place a Bleed effect on a monster, causing it to explode shortly after. With a combo system like this, the possibility for varied gameplay greatly increases.

Next, Julian Love walked us through how the monk’s style kit was developed. A careful blending of martial arts animations with a holy color palette of golds and silvers sprinkled lightly with runic symbols flesh out the class’ overall feel and look. To finish things off, to hint at a 2D-fighter game, some stylized effects are added into various monk skills.

Monks haven’t been the sole focus of the developers, Love noted. The Witchdoctor’s Spider Totem seen at last year’s BlizzCon has changed to Carrion Spiders, which, instead of a lot of small spiders scrambling out from a totem, fewer, but much larger spiders will now come out of a summoned corpse. Also, the Wizard Stoneskin defensive ability changed from a stoney texture to a bright crystalline feel to compliment the theme of the class as a light show. Barbarians, too, have had their whirlwind effect upgraded to one-up the whirlwind ability of a new monster recently added to the game, the Dune Dervish.

At that point, Wilson then discussed resource systems for the classes, such as mana, fury and the like. Based on a similarity to the Warrior’s Rage system from World of Warcraft, the Barbarian’s Fury increases as the Barbarian does damage. To meet the fast gameplay of the Diablo universe, Fury can be regained much faster than one would see in the afore mentioned World of Warcraft. A properly timed Barbarian can regenerate fury as fast as they can spend it, but they do have to be careful they don’t waste their skills, as it will slow Fury regeneration.

Attendees were then offered a brief run-down of monster design philosophy. Wilson outlined that monsters in the game work best when they’re simple. They have short life spans, so they really only need to accomplish one job each. Complexity and depth comes from combining several monster types together in a battle. Also important is the need for players to quickly and easily identify which monster type they are facing. This is done through shape, profile and color of the monsters.

Monsters are split into several archetypes. There are many archetypes, but Wilson only highlighted a few.
  • Swarmers – weak, usually melee
  • Ranged – Speed and distance
  • Lieutenant – Rezzers, Debuffers, Spawners
  • Elite – Tough, Strong attacks
  • AoE – Changes playspace, like setting the ground on fire, forcing the player to move.
  • Weakeners – Debuffers, slowers, drainers
Some one-off types for which Wilson didn’t offer explanations were Sleepers, Alarms, Bee Hives, Linked, Sappers, and Thieves.

How do monsters make it into Diablo III? Chang answered that a concept can come from anywhere, from a visual someone saw in Hawaii, to environmental, like a desert themed wasp, to a behavioral concept such as a monster that leaps off walls.

After the concept is introduced, the design is laid out on paper, followed by a rough art pass. Then, the monster gets prototyped and archetyped before it is put into a level to see how it looks, behaves and interacts. Finally, more detailed tuning takes place and then topped off by the final art pass. This method is followed for all monsters in the game, from the natural “bullet hell” Sandwasp to the Fallen Lunatic who will charge a player, and stab itself repeatedly in the stomach until it explodes.

As an extra treat at BlizzCon, players could ask their own questions of Blizzard. Below we’ve highlighted some of the key points taken from the Q&A session.
  • The PvP system will not support “go hostile at any time” type play from previous games as it hurts cooperative game play too much.
  • PvP will be supported better than any of Diablo’s predecessors, but the team was unable to elaborate any more than that at this time.
  • Synergies are no longer needed with the current skill system in Diablo III. There will, however, be plenty of customization options.
  • The team wants to provide compelling reasons to revisit areas. They do this by making sure that the fastest way to progress is also the most fun way and offer a replayability.
  • Other classes that may not be playable may still appear in the world and story.
  • They want to create a real world feel while playing the game by exploring the cultures of the world.
  • There are no plans to support UI addons. What makes the game work is the simplicity and straightforward design. UI mods increase complexity of design.
  • Priority is gameplay. It needs to be easy to understand what’s going on. That trumps all, even immersion.
  • The team wants currency to be meaningful. They have learned lessons from Diablo II and WoW.
  • A waypoint system will likely be very similar to Diablo II.  They may remove town portals as they were meant to be a convenience tool, and not an escape tool. There is a checkpoint system for death and dungeons have exits at the end. All of these mechanics are meant to speed up travel.
  • All items are dropped on a per player basis. A boss will drop loot for all players. You’d see your loot, but would not be able to see your friend’s loot. This means anything you see in the world is yours to pick up without having to worry about finding fair ways to split the loot.
  • There will be a way to transfer items between your characters. The exact method has not yet been decided, but it will be in the game.
  • Blizzard had no comment on crafting yet.
  • There will be no map editor.
  • The game does have class specific items like fist weapons for monks. These will be useful for certain builds, but they won’t be must-have items.

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