Blizzard recently had Jay Wilson, the Director of Diablo 3 in town. MCV spoke to him about expectations and storytelling in Diablo.
This won’t be the first time you’ve brought an existing franchise to life and dealt with fan expectations. When designing Diablo 3, did you look to World of Warcraft, the original Diablo games, come up with totally new ideas?
Yes, yes and yes. We definitely looked at Diablo 2 especially. I played Diablo 2 a LOT when I was interviewing for the job. I found out kind of midway through the process that Diabo 3 was what [Blizzard] were looking at me for, so I immediately cracked out Diablo 2 and started playing it again.
There were games that I thought were unusual – the kind where people would say ‘Really?’ if they found out, but I was looking at games like God of War (both it and Diablo are action games) and there were a couple of RPGs that I dove into. I figured that these were the two building components of the game – action and role-playing. So I wanted to really consider each element on their own, and then look at how to bring them together.
God of War isn’t a bad touchpoint considering its status as the epitome of cinematic hellishness at the moment. Which brings me to another question – you decided to eschew in-game cut scenes for D3. When it comes to storytelling, what’s the zenith of good, non-invasive narrative? How do integrate it?
For me, it’s when the player understands what they’re doing, the context for it, and doesn’t find that the story slows them down. That’s been a big thing for us, we did do a few in-game cut scenes and I kind of wish we didn’t even have to do those. I wanted us to have good story without relying on what I felt was the crutch of in-game cut scenes.
Now, we do have cut scenes that are glorious and wonderful, but for me, it was about the Blizzard legacy. So we put together these things which were going to help us establish our world and show something to the players that’s really worth watching, but for in-game we wanted to keep it snappy.
The thing is, for Diablo 3 you have to think of it as a replayable game. You have to bear in mind that people are going to play each section over and over again and do you really want them to have to watch that cut-scene? We’d rather not; we’d rather they can just click their quest-giver, ignore him and go. And yet, we wanted more story, so we added in systems like the follower system, our random adventures that appear out in the world. All of these things are very much in the game and are right there with you, commenting on what you’re doing, providing context for your actions, but without getting in the way of the action.
Diablo is a particularly frenetic series; when it’s in gear it’s unrelenting. Do you find yourself wanting to take opportunities with the game’s slower moments to dwell on building the world for the players?
Yeah, there’s a couple of places in the game where the run to the next spot is a certain length just so that a character can say something. It’s not very long, but what’s important is that the player is able to do something. So often we’ll throw in a chest or maybe a monster or two, but those are very controlled and are not very long (they’re mostly under 10 seconds), but they appear and part of their purpose is to help provide a little bit of story for the player.
They must add up though. What would the size (if you can possibly quantify it) of the entire Diablo 3 script be?
I know that at one point we were talking to a well-known famous actor to play one of the characters and we decided not to because the number of lines was something like 25’000 and the cost per session was reasonable, but the number of sessions we needed to do was kind of outrageous.
So in order to do it, it’d have to be a Sean Bean character who can die in the first act?
Exactly. And with a role like that, can we really justify getting a well-paid famous person acting in that role?
I don’t know the exact length of the final script, but it’s definitely got more voicework than any game Blizzard has ever made. By a lot.
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