Candace: Hi, everybody. My name is Candace Thomas, I’m a senior encounter designer for Diablo IV; and that feels really good to say outloud. What I do, is I bottle up all that story, all that history, all that lore and I turn it into a combat experience; and what that actually means is that, I tell you a story by punching you in the face.

What does that mean? I’ll talk about The Drowned. So if you didn’t get to play the demo, or if you’re watching from home — you don’t know who these people are, because they’re new to Diablo IV; but they’ve always been a threat to Sanctuary.

First, to tell you the story about them, I’ll use my words. So these are monsters of legend in Sanctuary. They haven’t been seen in generations, and most people don’t even believe that they exist. These are like the terrors in the night that’ll come in and kidnap you, and drag you into the water and drown you. Villagers will tell the stories of these guys huddled around their campfires to scare their children at night, like: “if you don’t go to bed on time then the Drowned will come and take you.

Harrison: It’s a good villager voice.

Candace: Thank you. But their effect is real, the bodies of the victims wash ashore and bloat in the midday sun. Ships are lost at sea; and on the first moonless night after all of the omens have passed the Drowned will appear; and these denizens of Sanctuary believe it or not, they have to face it, because now here they come to attack.

When they attack, they infect the shores like a disease, with them comes this thick brackish fog that encroaches in from the shoreline. Ships are lost at sea, people are going missing; and everywhere you go there’s this constant unyielding tolling of the bells clamoring — reminding you the Drowned are out there, and they’re rallying to come and get you. That’s how you tell a story with your words. Now I want to talk about how I punch you in the face with it.

This is a lineup of The Drowned. Early on, this is a concept piece that we encounter designers will use to inspire us to determine what they’re gonna do in combat. On the far left, you can see the Wretch. He’s like the little guy, and they’re numerous, there’s a lot of them. Next to him is the Sea Witch, and she’s a dungeon boss, and she’s pretty cool; but I want to talk about the guy in the middle: he’s The Drowned Juggernaut, because there’s kind of a cool story about him.

If you look at him, and you get inspired by this photo, it’s perfect. Like he’s supposed to be a heavy punisher. He’s supposed to be a brute that has these vicious attacks; and that’s perfect. Except for one thing that’s kind of weird. If knowing the story that I told you about The Drowned, and how they shamble in from the ocean, and they kidnap you, and they pull you out to sea, what story are we telling with that flail? You know, like where does he get that thing? Is there like… do we have to tell some story about like a store that he buys this from under the sea? Like that redhead with the clam shells, does she like brush our hair with this thing, like what’s the deal?

Instead of telling you the story where he got the flail, we changed it, because it felt wrong; and now you’ll see that he has the mast of a ship that he attacks you with.

Because their story, because that fog comes in, because the Drowned come in and they bring the sea with them — to make it a complete thought, to kind of supplement the story that we’re telling you with our words and with our world, you can see that in the apex of a slam, not only is he beating you with the mast of a ship, he’s bringing the sea with him. He has this faint phantasmal wave attack that comes out even though there’s like no water nearby.

So, this theme we carry it across the entire monster family. You see the Sea Witch here for a lack of a better word has like a wave attack. She has geysers that come out, even the little drowned wretches will lob little like water crystals at you, and really this is just to make the game more of a complete thought. It’s these little things that we’re hoping that will carry through and make these monsters come to life in Diablo IV.



Now I want to talk about bosses, because that’s like my specialty, that’s what I like to do; and it’s kind of why I joined the team. First, I want to talk to you about Ashava, and you’ve probably heard a lot about her; and I hope you played her on the demo. Please give us your feedback, but if you haven’t met her, I think that she’s important to the world for two reasons; one because she’s this ever-present threat in Sanctuary, she’s lurking, she’s sleeping underneath the surface of Sanctuary; and she can pop up anywhere in the world — as like a constant reminder that Lilith is watching and that nowhere is safe from the from the gates of Hell.

But to us as developers, I think that she’s kind of like a monument to what Diablo IV is as a game. She’s this enormous monster, but she takes more than just you to defeat. People have to come together across all the regions to take her down, because she’s just this giant killing machine. I thought she was kind of cool. She’s actually the reason that I joined the team. I was walking by the Diablo IV area and Jesse’s playing metal music or whatever, and I saw her on someone’s screen. I was like: “What’s that?” — and he was like: “Girl, let me show you” — and he showed me the stagger mechanic that she has, and I got super excited; and I was like: “Man, I got to join this team. Tag me in.”

Anyway, if you have been watching the gameplay trailers, or if you have been watching closely on some of the other panels — you might have seen this guy. He’s returning to Diablo IV. If you don’t know who he is, his name is Duriel and he was the Lord of Pain; and I don’t want to spoil any of the interaction that you’re gonna have, or the impact that he has on Sanctuary, because that’s something that you’re gonna find out in the story.

But what I want to talk about is kind of our philosophy behind the designing of bosses in Diablo IV. In Diablo II, if you fought him, you know that he was just this giant ass-beater. He comes toe-to-toe with you, and one of you comes out alive, and there was nowhere to run. You’re enclosed in a small space, and only one of you is gonna emerge victorious.

We wanted to honor the legacy of who he was in Diablo II, but while also kind of elevating it and telling more of a story about who he is for Diablo IV. You’ll notice in this gameplay fight, did you know that he’s the Lord of Pain, but he’s also the Lord of Maggots? So, we decided to sort of explore that side of him, and he’d burrow into the ground to give you some like real one-on-one time with those maggots; therefore like reducing the space you have to fight him. Kind of just paying tribute to who he was in Diablo II while kind of taking it into the next level in Diablo 4.

So, you see how he like jabs you and like pulled you into his belly? We’re trying to kind of use that symbolism for an Iron Maiden. That’s one of those cages from medieval times that has the spikes in it. We wanted to evoke those emotions in you whenever you see Duriel. I wanted to tell a story about who he is.

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of our process whenever we design monsters in Diablo IV, and we can only hope that you get as much joy from killing our monsters as we do when we find out that our monsters kill you.


1. Intro2. The Tone of Sanctuary3. Lore4. World Building
5. The World6. Monsters7. Q&A
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BlizzCon 2019 Panel Transcripts