BlizzConline 2021: Diablo Immortal: Alpha and Beyond Transcript
The Diablo Immortal: Alpha and Beyond panel was held on February 19, 2021 at 6:45pm EST. The next Diablo Immortal test will be soon up to level 60. One of the two remaining known Classes will be playable in this upcoming test, and it will be longer than Technical Alpha (which lasted two weeks).
- Bluddshed (moderator, content creator and streamer)
- Wyatt Cheng (lead designer)
- Caleb Arseneaux (lead game producer)
Diablo Immortal: Alpha and Beyond Transcript
Rod: Speaking of immortal, we had a limited public tech alpha last December and I had a lot of fun playing over the holiday break. Apparently our play testers did too killing over 70 million monsters in just two weeks. Diablo immortal is Sanctuary, as you’ve never seen it before.
Now a persistent online multiplayer world and we can’t wait until you get it in your hands. So, let’s get into it. Next up, Diablo Content Creator Bluddshed sits down with the Immortal Dev Team to talk about his impressions of the Tech Alpha test and to answer all of his questions; and after that, we’ll enter the dark and twisted world of the legendary artist Brom to learn more about his Diablo work, and what inspires him.
Bluddshed: What’s up, everybody? Bluddshed here. If you don’t know me, I’m a Diablo content creator. I love the hell out of Diablo ever since I was a little kid grinding legendaries, all night, way past my bedtime. As an adult, I still do that, but I also run a full-time twitch stream and a YouTube channel where we make build guides, educational videos. Because of all this I’ve been able to build an amazing community and I have the opportunity today to talk to some of the Diablo Immortal Developers. What’s up, guys?
Caleb: Hey, what’s up Bluddshed should we refer to you as Bludd or Mr. Shed?
Bluddshed: Mr. Shed might be too formal. We’ll go with Bluddshed. It is fine.
Caleb: Okay, great. Well Bluddshed. I’m Caleb, the lead producer on Diablo Immortal.
Wyatt: Hey Bluddshed, my name’s Wyatt Chang. I’m the lead designer on Diablo Immortal. Thanks for making this time so we can talk about the game.
Bluddshed: Yeah, I’m super excited to kind of delve into Immortal here.
Wyatt: Yeah, and you were actually part of the Technical Alpha, right? You had a chance to play.
Bluddshed: Yeah, I think I played over a hundred hours. I was grinding yeah [laughing]. Burning the thumbs and the screen it was fun. It was a lot of a lot of grinding but I had a good time with it.
Wyatt: I know some people kind of picked a class and went really deep, and some people played a breadth, kind of played them all. What was your experience like?
Bluddshed: Yeah, I went through and I played all the classes, all the way to max level. Even grinded out a little bit of Paragon on each of them, but my big my favorite was wizard. I spent the most time on wizard. What was your favorite class?
Caleb: So my favorite class is the monk. I love the mobility. I like just getting in and out and like destroying whole packs of mobs together. That feels really good but I think, like, in terms of fantasy fulfillment, my favorite would have to be the barbarian. I just love that it’s like the meat & potatoes is pop-demons-with-my-axes feeling, and so sort of like nothing takes that place in my heart. So my answer is cheating. It’s two.
Wyatt: Every time we do a playtest of some kind, I like to play a different class. So this time around it was time for some barbarian love, and I played barbarian up to max and played some Paragon after that. I had a good time with it. I love some of the legendary items on the barbarian. I got this one sweet legendary I found. That it was every time you use Hammer of the Ancients, it would summon an Ancient to fight alongside you; and then I got another legendary item that gave Hammer of the Ancients two charges so I could actually like double up on those and that was super fun.
Bluddshed: Yeah, I had a Twister legendary that turned into a giant tornado and that was really cool. I was just running through the Elder Rifts gathering up all the mobs and then just using this big tornado it’s like this big, it’s as big as is the whole screen, it’s really an awesome one.
A lot of the abilities, I noticed have like a dual purpose like with monk, you can kick and then you can kick off the wall; and then with wizard you can place like an Ice Crystal and then reflect the Ray of Frost off the Crystal and then you do this big AoE to all the enemies in the area, what was it like designing all that interaction that we don’t have in other games?
Wyatt: When it comes to designing the skills for Diablo Immortal, we definitely want to make sure that we’re bringing something new. In a lot of ways, it’s good when the classes feel familiar and sometimes fits like an old glove. People love to have their barbarian with whirlwind and whirlwind through enemies. It’s such a classic. People would always want to look for that.
It’s also really important that we have new experiences and I think things like the Ice Crystal and the kick that you mentioned are really important. You want some things that are new, some things that are improved over previous, and some things that are familiar and comfortable; and I think the right mix of all three when it comes to class skills is what lets us have honoring the Diablo legacy, while still pushing in new directions.
Bluddshed: One thing I definitely want to dive into is the progression speed. It really gives me like D3 vanilla vibes where legendaries aren’t dropping left and right; and like everything you get you’re so grateful because you don’t get that many items or like crafting materials, like you’re always kind of thirsty and then it feels really good when you get it. Was this all kind of planned? Its pacing? Is this what’s you guys are thinking about?
Wyatt: Yeah, I think that you always want to have a good pacing of reward, but you really want those random moments to be exciting as well. So for us finding a new legendary item is that surprise, right? It’s like “oh sweet I got a legendary;” and if it’s happening too often then it’s not as exciting anymore.
But we also want to make sure that you’re feeling like every play session was worth it; and that’s where systems like Paragon and gear rank up come in — where if I play for a 15 or 30 minutes and I don’t see a legendary item, I still managed to advance my character in other ways. As we sort of have that like predictable reward that you can count on, but then you also have those moments of excitement that come from an awesome drop.
Bluddshed: When I hit max level on my wizard, I was like I was bummed because I’m like: “no frozen orb?” … like that’s so iconic right? And then, I got a legendary that turned it into Frozen Orb, and I was like this is cool — like it kind of makes you think like anything’s possible because you can just kind of modify the skills to become other skills.
Wyatt: Yeah yeah, yeah… and you know there’s something super exciting about finding a legendary that you didn’t even know existed in the game. It’s almost like the magic that existed during Technical Alpha. Nowadays, sometimes we play and all the information is available on the internet, and you can look it up; and you sometimes you even know what item you want beforehand. I think, one of the things that kind of made the Technical Alpha special was people being genuinely surprised like, “What? I didn’t know this was in the game.” You know? I think that’s awesome. And I also think there’s a lot of people who play games and they don’t look stuff up on the internet beforehand, and they’ll get that experience and that feeling; and we’re hoping that with a little bit of a slowed down pace of legendaries and kind of having the skills and legendary items be easy to understand people can really have that discovery process as they play the game.
Bluddshed: I think that’s one reason why I had so much fun too, doing the Alpha, like you said. it’s a full Diablo game, it’s like you’re getting a brand new Diablo game and everything’s new and we’re discovering stuff left and right, and you get that like new player feeling all over again; and I’m sure we don’t even have all the game yet.
Wyatt: Yeah, it’s like a kid in the candy store. Right? It’s everything wide-eyed and awesome.
Bluddshed: One of my favorite things about Immortal is the variety. There’s so many different things to do, and as you’re leveling you get to a point where you can’t really continue until you do some other quest grinding. I like it because I can go do Bounties or run some Elder Rifts. Was the break intentional?
Wyatt: Yeah! Oh great question. It was absolutely intentional. A couple reasons for that. In Diablo III, Greater Rifts were great, they’re really fun; but some of the feedback that we got was that people wanted a bigger variety of things to do. You know, there’s sometimes just a lot of a good thing can still leave you wanting to do other activities. And in Diablo Immortal, we said okay, well let’s make use of our outdoor world, let’s make use of these instanced dungeons that we’ve created, let’s give players a variety of activities to do. The other reason to have this variety of activities is one of the goals for Diablo Immortal is we really want to double down on progression.
We want there to be lots of ways for people to meaningfully progress their character all the time; and so we have the gem system, and we have legendary gems, and we have gear rank up, and we have legendary collections, we have Paragon, and by having all these different ways for you to improve your character; it lets players, sort of, really feel like, what do I want to do today, what am I in the mood to do and what way do I want to make my character more powerful?
Bluddshed: I think that’s awesome, sometimes I feel chained to like a quest hub or like a zone where everything is in this one little spot but being able to go around the world and hunt for different things and have a little bit of a variety and there’s a lot of variety actually in the game, it makes it so much more enjoyable.
Wyatt: Cool. Awesome. I’m glad it’s working out. Umm, we feel like it’s working out pretty well too; and we’re looking forward to being able to build on that.
Bluddshed: The PvP event is something special, like, it’s like the World of Warcraft Gurubashi event right?
Bluddshed: Yeah, what was it like designing the PvP, in the game?
Wyatt: Kind of zooming out a little bit every zone has its own event that’s associated with it, so for example in the Bilefen, like you mentioned there’s a little arena where a chest spawns and players can fight over to every three hours; but over in Ashwood cemetery every half hour there’s a carriage, that comes through and anyone in the zone can come by and attack the carriage and partaking the loot. And it’s kind of like a different thing going on in the Darkwood, there’s a corruption going on, and the Tree of Inifuss has a ceremony were you can fight a corrupted image of yourself. And so in every zone there’s a different mechanic and when we got to the Bilefen, there was this idea to allow just a free-for-all PvP event and it’s definitely turned out to be a lot of people’s favorite.
Bluddshed: Yeah, I had some experiences there. The first time I showed up, it was like me and like five people. And I was all bright-eyed, and I’m like “Let’s do this it’s gonna be a fun little bloodbath.” I found out really quickly that you can group for the event and it was 4v1 and it was an experience. Speaking of like these zone events the Ashewold event, where you have to like escort this horse and carriage, I believe, through the zone was my favorite one by far. Seeing everybody on the server kind of coming together fighting over it and then getting the loot was pretty awesome. Do you guys have any like favorites?
Caleb: Oh yeah, my favorite is in the Library of Zoltun Kulle. Sort of peppered around the zone, you’ll find these hidden tomes, and if you collect enough of them, you can combine them together and essentially unlocks a secret level.
And so it could be a level where you go in fight some mobs get some cool loot and come back out; or it can actually even summon a world boss, like a hydra, that everyone in the zone has to come together and kill, And so I like the randomness there, because it feels like.. doing it over and over, you could get a different result. And it kind of keeps the excitement up.
So one if the things also new is our Paragon system. And we were able to design something from scratch for this game with all the learnings we have from Diablo 3. So my question like is actually for Wyatt, like, what was that like designing a new paragon system?
Wyatt: It was cool. It was cool. We had Paragon in Diablo 3, but once you reach Paragon 800, it became a more sort of just a linear path and being able to say, “OK, we know that Diablo Immortal is a game that’s going to have a long lifetime. We’re going to provide content updates to it. We’re going to be adding an expanding all the features. How can we design a Paragon system that is exciting now, but it’ll also be exciting years into the future” and that’s where the idea of like, well, let’s have multiple trees; and when we want to expand on the paragon system we’ll add additional trees.
Each tree provides players with some choice of where they want their Paragon points to go and the system is completely extensible anytime we want to raise the paragon cap. But that’s me talking as a designer. Bludd, you experienced it from a player’s point of view and also as someone who’s done a lot of paragon in Diablo 3, what was your reaction to the Paragon system?
Bluddshed: I was blown away by the choice you can specialize in like four or five different trees and then with each tree, there’s like these like, I don’t know what they’re called, the circle and square nodes within the trees so there’s like traits, and other abilities that you can earn.
Wyatt: The circles of the ones that give you bonuses all the time, no matter what tree you have picked as being active and then the squares are the active specializations that give you a special bonus when that tree is selected.
Bluddshed: I love to kind of min-Max whatever I’m doing in the game, so if I’m doing PvP, I can swap to that tree and get those bonuses; and then if I’m doing some farming, I can switch to like the Treasure Hunter tree which was my favorite and then you get more bonuses doing that activity.
So, I guess for me being able to kind of control how my character’s performing. I mean, that’s, I’m all about it. There is a dungeon now where you can kind of go back in time where you fight alongside Kulle and you get to hang out with Tal Rasha. It’s kind of like a WoW-time walking event. Are you guys going to explore this mechanic further like maybe we can, I don’t know, do a dungeon after the Sin War or something like that?
Wyatt: You know that is a great call out and your spot on with even referencing WoW-time walking dungeons because that’s actually how we’ve talked about it internally as well is, “hey, the Library of Zoltun Kulle is this opportunity for us to like dive into the past. We get to see Tal Rasha and Bale, you know have this conflict and for the player to relive it;” and we really love the way that World of Warcraft use the Caverns of Time and time walking to further expand the reach of the types of stories that you could tell. So, no announcements today, but definitely something the team is excited about using.
Bluddshed: I noticed that every dungeon has like a cut-scene it feels like a full-fledged normal like AAA game. It’s awesome.
Caleb: Well we have a policy that you know that relates to the cinematics but also things like audio design that a lot of mobile players they don’t play with the sound on, but because this is a Blizzard game we felt like for those players that do we have to really show up, and show people that AAA quality that they come to expect from any of our games; and so that provides us a lot of, just like, excitement and enthusiasm on the team because we know we’re not holding back. Not just because this is a mobile game, we do less. We still just take it to 11 every chance we get.
Bluddshed: Speaking about the story and the characters: we get to hang out with Deckard Cain again, what was it like working with him?
Wyatt: Yeah that is awesome! It was great to be able to bring Deckard Cain back. Being able to work with Michael Gough again. There’s a short BlizzConline segment with him. He’s such a beloved character in the Diablo franchise. So I’m glad we’re able to do that. I love that we’re able to visit characters that are fan favorites, but we’re not just Diablo on mobile, it’s a brand new game. And so, as part of a brand new game, we’ve got brand new characters that we want to explore as well.
From Skarn, one of your main antagonists in the game, you’ve also got Xul and Lethes. We’re going to be exploring the storylines behind Valla, and Josen. Valla going to the Demon Hunter, being able to learn more about her and her history. We’ve got all new stories to explore.
Bluddshed: Yeah, I didn’t realize how much I missed Deckard Cain, until I got off the boat, like you said, and I’m like “Man… yeah this is awesome”
Caleb: He’s back.
Bluddshed: He’s like the glue of the franchise, almost?
Wyatt: One of our goals was to be a mobile MMO and one of the ways that we really focused on it is having a cool town hub, like Westmarch. I don’t know if you felt like Westmarch made the game feel bigger?
Bluddshed: Well, when I first heard about it, I was like, “oh, that’s cool…” like there’s a pub for everybody to go to, a little town, but it’s way cooler when you get the play it because you’re there and you get to see everybody running by. You get to check out everyone’s gear, and it does feel a lot more alive, and it became one of my favorite features. I think overall just because it’s like we’re talking about WoW, seeing people with certain gear and inspecting them. I think really kind of brings like the game and the community together.
Caleb: I think one of the best parts is seeing all the different spots in the city where people go for different activities whether it’s leveling up their gear, or getting gem slotted in, or going to do some Elder Rifts, or Bounties. It’s really cool to just watch people, sort of like, in the traffic, going from here to there. And it feels almost like a living city. Right, where there’s a bunch of people just going about their day and it feels very well, you know, like you said like alive.
Bluddshed: Yeah watching people take group selfies and… it was cool, yeah.
Caleb: Yeah exactly. (laughing)
Bluddshed: I enjoyed it.
Wyatt: A central town hub was something that we wanted to do for Diablo 3. Back then, internally, we called it “Player town” and it never quite made it. In game development you have to kind of pick and choose the features that you’re going to incorporate; but I’m super thrilled that we were able to incorporate a capital city into this experience. One of the things I think is special about having a game with a capital town, also just an online game where other players are always around, is you really get the sense that the world is real. That like when you close down the app, when you aren’t playing anymore, the world lives on without you, and it is alive without you, and I feel like having a Capital City, really brings that idea home.
Bluddshed: Now, we just need to have like a working bar in Westmarch and I’ll be happy.
Caleb: There is actually a bar in Westmarch. There was not a whole lot of reason to go there during Technical Alpha, but it’s got a whole tavern vibe in there, and go hang out.
Bluddshed: Maybe able to sit and maybe order something or hang out?
Wyatt: There’s gonna be some reasons for you to swing by the bar later. I think one of the ways that Diablo is really trying to do something new is with the social aspects of the game. When we talk about the game and being a mobile MMO, I think finding reasons for you to enjoy being around other people is really important to us. I mean, you can play through the main story campaign solo, just if you just want to kind of take in and digest the story, and do it at your own pace. But providing incentives and rewards for interacting with other players, I think actually makes the game more fun.
Bluddshed: Yeah speaking of like community, we did a dungeon together in Alpha.
Wyatt: Yes, we did. I had a lot of fun running that dungeon with you. So I was just watching your stream, you know, when the tech alpha was going on there were a bunch of different content creators, who had their streams going and I saw you. So I’m like, “oh, well, let me let me jump on” and I remember I typed out in chat to you. I was like, “Hey, Bludd do you want to run a dungeon together?”
And, and you said yes, and so that was cool. I was able to jump on were able to party up no problem. I’m really glad the voice chat was there, because I was like “well, you’re streaming? How do we get on voice, like do we need to like get on to discord somehow?” But since you were streaming the game, I think it all just worked out and all the audio pass through. And it was a good time, I think it was one of my highlights from the Technical Alpha.
Bluddshed: Oh that’s awesome. That means a lot. So I got to ask you guys: are there any plans for controller support?
Caleb: Controller support is one of the most requested things that we got coming out of technical alpha. And so you are not alone in wanting to be able to sit comfortably and play with a Bluetooth controller. We’re actually going to be investigating how we can bring in controller support in the future; and we are very excited that the community responded so positively to it; and so, nothing to announce today, but definitely look for updates on this in the future.
Bluddshed: Yeah, the touch controls are really good. I would use them for any kind of quick gameplay sessions when I’m out and about, or doing things. But when I’m kind of plopping down for the day, it would be cool to kind of switch to controller mode and kick back. Did you guys play in any areas outside of your home?
Wyatt: Yeah, I mean one of my favorite experiences being able to just take my dog out for a walk, and play… I was at just taking my dog for a walk. I was at an intersection, and the PvP event in Bilefen came up and I was just like, “I’m gonna do it from here.” Super convenient to be able to just, yeah, play from the park or wherever. I remember Leviathan was joking that he could play while he was waiting at the doctor’s office. And it’s almost like the doctor says: “okay, you’re up!” and Leviathan was like: “No, no, no. You can go. I will keep waiting. Don’t worry about me.”
Bluddshed: Wherever I was out — where I could play comfortably, I was playing Diablo Immortal, and it was a cool experience to be able to just play it wherever I was and kind of get progress on my account.
Wyatt: What kind of stuff did you enjoy doing?
Bluddshed: That was actually my favorite thing about Diablo Immortal — the amount of activities you could do. There’s like these lairs out in the open world, there’s legendary mobs, like there’s a lot; but I think lairs, hunting for lairs, or like hidden dungeons. It kind of gave me some of those D2 vibes.
Caleb: What was the max rank on a Normal gem, that you got during Technical Alpha?
Bluddshed: Not too much, I think a five? Does that sound right? I think it was a level five for the normal gems.
Wyatt: That sounds like 10 to 12 hours of grinding a day for a while.
Bluddshed: Lairs, I mentioned, were one of my favorite kind of activities to do in Diablo Immortal. I noticed some of the tile sets look like D3 assets? Are we gonna get like a more variety of tile sets in lairs?
Caleb: In Technical Alpha, we had two of those tile sets intentionally. Just for that small test, but we plan on adding a lot of diversity and variety to those tile sets, and so there should be a difference between what you see in a Rift, which sort of like takes its tile set from a global pool of different things you can see, versus like a lair, where a lair could be inside Bilefen or Ashwood Cemetery, and the lair below a cemetery should look different than the lair below a jungle, or a frozen mountain, or whatever the zone is. And so we’re putting a lot of effort to make sure that there’s diversity there, and that it feels connected to the world above it.
Bluddshed: That’s really cool. So if it’s like a foresty type zone the lairs is going to have like a foresty, mossy type dungeon to correspond to that? That really kind of increases the immersion, I like that idea.
Caleb: We want you to remember where you are and the surface world as you dive down into the lair, but that by no means limits the amount of diversity, and like rich art we are able to put into each of these tile sets.
Bluddshed: Did you expect players to grind so much in general, like with all the Paragon that we grinded, and all the gem levels, and everything?
Wyatt: There were some people who seriously went ham on it, for sure. Like it was pretty impressive and I took it as a compliment. When people want to play the game that much, it means that we’ve made something special that people want to enjoy. I think it speaks doubly so, when it’s a limited Technical Alpha, it’s only going for a short time and progress isn’t carrying forward. For people to play an RPG and invest time in a character that is ultimately going to be deleted really means that they’re just having a lot of fun doing it; and that’s great to see.
Caleb: I was really surprised by how far people got in Challenge Rifts. Like to see that was just awesome. Because I don’t think anyone internally had gotten that far naturally; without using some developer powers; and so just to see in like two and a half weeks– people just blowing the dev team away in terms of Challenge Rift progression. That’s cool. That makes us really happy.
Bluddshed: Probably got a lot of good data off of it from the tech alpha, I’m assuming?
Caleb: We got a lot of cool clips on Twitch, man. Like we just got a lot of great observation, like just watching people play at that high level, and seeing what skills they use, or do they talk about, what kind of gear, or legendaries do they want. Like that informs us a lot just watching you guys play.
Wyatt: It was really cool to see sort of how a lot of the high-end players take on the game. It’s also interesting to see how, like, just your average person walks into the game. We held the test primarily in Australia, and being able to see not like the elite top 5%, but just your average person, who downloads the game. How long does it take them to finish the tutorial? How many hours do they want to play? What percentage of people are coming back? Like we’ve been gathering a lot of data and it’s been extremely helpful.
Bluddshed: I was there at BlizzCon 2018, and how do you think the announcement for Diablo Immortal went?
Wyatt: Yeah, that was rough. For sure. I think a lot of people came, they had Diablo 4 on the mind, and at one point during the Q&A it was asked if the game would ever be coming to PC; and I had probably not the best response; and what went through my mind is that I really wanted to be able to say “Hey, we’re making Diablo IV” — and that’s not something that we could share at the time. An inappropriate remark came out instead; and I am glad that now hopefully people can see that there’s more Diablo on its way. We have a lot of love for the Diablo universe and our goal ultimately is to provide more Diablo options for more people.
Bluddshed: Yeah, so I was there at BlizzCon, like I said, at ground zero and it was tough. I mean, it was really hard with all the passion at all-time high from the community. It was tough to stream it. But I always believed in Diablo Immortal. It was so much fun when I played the demo, and I was like everybody else. I wanted D4 to be announced. But with all the hints, and you guys saying that there was multiple projects in the works, I guess that was my glimmer of hope that I was holding to. And so, I was able to look at Diablo Immortal, I guess a different way because in the back of my mind, I knew like Diablo IV was probably getting developed. But I streamed it, and I don’t regret nothing. It was fun; and I feel like I can tackle anything now.
Wyatt: Cool. Well, thanks for supporting the team. We got feedback, and I think that really sustained the team through that time, is for the people who played it at BlizzCon, there was a lot of feedback that said, you know, this is good. I think the game kind of spoke for itself; and playing is believing for this game, and I’m looking forward to the future where we can get the game in more people’s hands, so they can see for themselves.
Bluddshed: What’s next? Is there another testing phase? What’s happening?
Caleb: We will have a new testing phase which will include new content. For example a new class, and we’re really excited to bring that to a wider audience as well. Potentially for a longer period of time. Our previous test was only two and a half weeks, and so we’re looking at our next test as an opportunity to test more end-game systems, since we’re really excited about that; and we’ll announce more about that very soon.
Bluddshed: Let’s say, you’re saying, all the stuff that we’ve experienced is still not the true end-game that you have planned?
Caleb: Oh, no. Now we have an epic in-game planned for Diablo Immortal; and for the Technical Alpha, it was very much focused on the early and mid-game. And so, I believe we’ve said before that like the Challenge Rift alone, is not the sole end-game of Diablo Immortal. We have a lot more planned.
Wyatt: The level cap of the Technical Alpha was set at 45; for the release game we’re planning for it to be 60. So, at 45 we wanted there to be something for players to do which is why we have the Challenge Rifts. But the Tech Alpha was really focused on the early leveling experience and the mid game systems. There are whole new other systems that we still have planned for the elder game.
Bluddshed: Well, I had a blast playing the Alpha. I had an awesome time hanging out with you guys today. So thanks for having me.
Caleb: Yeah, Bluddshed. Thanks a lot.
Wyatt: Yeah Bludd. It has been an absolute pleasure.
Bluddshed: It’s been amazing to be part of BlizzConline and I look forward to what’s to come.
Special thanks to RedOctober for this transcript.