Interview: Blizzard's Rob Pardo on Diablo III
On PC exclusivity, design philosophy, and more.
by Charles Onyett
We caught up with Rob Pardo, Blizzard's executive vice president of game design following the Diablo III
announcement at their Worldwide Invitational 2008 event in Paris, France. During the course of the interview he expanded on some of Blizzard's design philosophy as it relates to Diablo III, its development process, some of the game's features, and managed to eat about one half of a slice of pepperoni pizza.
Development on Diablo III began way back when Blizzard North was still around and currently the team working on it consists of around 50 people. Initially the game's visual design was closer to the older games than what we saw in the gameplay demonstration. "We probably did three rev[ision]s on the visual direction until we got to this and now we're really happy with it," said Pardo.
The gameplay was also given several overhauls. "We were pretty heavily influenced by some of the games that were coming out like God of War, a very visceral game," said Pardo. "A totally different genre but you kind of saw games like that and we thought we really needed to update this game's gameplay…it has to be much more of an action game."
With many before the reveal buzzing about a potential Diablo MMO announcement, we had to ask: was there ever any thought to moving Diablo away from its overhead action-RPG roots? "It totally crossed our mind but this is the game we ultimately wanted to make. Obviously I love MMOs, I think it's a great genre, but that doesn't mean that other genres aren't great too. I actually see a huge opportunity in the action-RPG genre because nobody's really doing a lot of games in that genres and I don't understand why, personally."
Though there have been quite a few action-RPG releases since Diablo II
, perhaps there weren't as many as there should have been, or perhaps action-RPGs get labeled incorrectly
. "What I think often happens with the genre, with the games that I've seen, is that they kind of get confused as to whether it's an RPG that just happens to be real-time or is it just an action game," said Pardo. "I feel like that's oftentimes you get these games that are not quite doing both. I feel like that's the big opportunity for us. If you look at Diablo and Diablo II, they're really action games. The story was light, the RPG were very light and I think one of the things we looked at with Diablo III was that doesn't have to be the case."
Pardo cited what Blizzard did with real-time strategy design from StarCraft to Warcraft 3. "A lot of people in that time period were doing RTS missions where you just build up your base, slug it out against another base, do that 30 times and you're done with the campaign. With War 3 we tried to come up with interesting scenarios and I think that's the same thing with Diablo III. You guys may have been used to Diablo and Diablo II being really just kind of a point and click game…fun but not really immersive."
Incorporating more involved questing and role-playing elements is something Blizzard is focusing on with Diablo III
, but also make the gameplay more dynamic. "We had bosses in Diablo II but, again, they weren't really involved. We really want to try to implement bosses that are much more epic, there's much more gameplay to actually defeating them. We're taking cues from games like Zelda, God of War, games like that, bring that to the action-RPG genre. We want to have side quests and scenarios that are much more involved…like defend the town from attack or something like that."
Diablo III will be similar to Diablo II in terms of its overall structure. There'll still be acts. There'll be above and underground sections of maps, though the outdoor environment won't be as randomized, as Blizzard wants to build more distinct personality into some of the game's sections. There still will be plenty of randomization though when it comes to items, monsters, and dungeons.
While roaming around the game's areas, you'll have a selection of classes to pick from. At this point Blizzard is saying it'll be similar to what was originally available in Diablo II before Lord of Destruction. Their official FAQ sheet says there'll be five classes exactly
. So far we know of the barbarian and all-new witch doctor, a spell-focused class that can summon minions, fear enemies, and summon walls of zombies.
Pardo had quite a bit to say about how Blizzard is going about the tweaks made to returning class skills and the new ones being brought in. "With any sort of sequel, and I'm going to go ahead and use Sid Meier's rule because we use something similar…The way he approaches sequels is one-third proven, one-third improved, and one-third new. That's pretty much how we approached StarCraft 2…some of the old units came in, some of the old units got improvements, we brought in some new units, and we also got rid of some units. I think you'll see something similar [in Diablo III]. The barbarian as you saw has a ton of abilities that are totally new but we had to bring over things like whirlwind."
So why announce Diablo now? We still don't have release dates for StarCraft II or World of Warcraft's Wrath of the Lich King expansion, which many were speculating would be announced at WWI, so why bring another high profile product into the pubic with yet another nebulous release date? "The announcement of our projects is usually when it's time for that game to be announced," said Pardo. "This project has been going for a while and it finally got to the point where it felt like it's time to announce the game. We kind of have this rule of, ideally, we announce a game a year to a year and a half before the game comes out. That's our theory, and then three years later [trails off]. We're getting to be a bigger and bigger studio so we can't just keep one game announced and everything else hidden. We have several games in development now."
Finally, when might we hear something about another MMO from Blizzard? "I think it'll be a while before we announce our next game."