BlizzConline 2021: Diablo Immortal Press Q&A
The Diablo Immortal Press Q&A was a privately held ZOOM meeting hosted by Cassandra Reynoso (Blizzard Global PR/moderator), Kristopher Zierhut (technical game designer) and Caleb Arseneaux (lead game producer).
There were 11 press/fansite outlet representative invitees in the Q&A held on Saturday, February 20, 2021 at 2pm EST.
Diablo Immortal Press Q&A
AndroidHeadlines (Justin Diaz): I know that they talked about this stuff yesterday, that there were going to be future tests before launch. I just wanted to know if character progression is going to be carried over to the final release with the future tests or if it’s going to be wiped like the technical alpha?
Caleb: We will be wiping after every test, because what we want to do is make sure that we have the freedom to make broad changes to our progression system and to items and stuff, and it just wouldn’t be fair to be working toward a specific goal inside of one of our tests and then to have everything switched on you automatically, and the game could fundamentally change, and how we do some of the backend; and so it may not even work correctly. So to avoid all those issues, we do a full wipe at the end of every test.
MMORPG (Robin Baird): With the recent test that you guys did with the alpha and all that, is there anything that particularly surprised you about the way the players who participated, interacted or did with the game that you weren’t expecting, that you might expand on or do something differently than what you were originally planning; or it might’ve changed the way you guys think about things a little bit?
Kristopher: I can give you an example of that. For the first time in the Diablo series, we have a game that is really an MMO where you have hundreds, actually, thousands of other players running around in the same world as you; and we weren’t sure what kind of impact that was going to have on the outdoor world and questing experience.
So one thing we got feedback during the technical alpha is that some people were having trouble with completing the quests and tasks they were given because they’d be in an outdoor area and say some demon Hunter runs through strafing everything in sight and tags all those monsters that then they weren’t getting credit for those monsters towards their quests, and it made their quests very difficult to complete. We weren’t sure if it was going to be a problem. Yep, it was a problem. So we changed the rules.
Now going forward, all quests and tasks… if somebody else attacks the monster first, but then you assist them in killing — in other words, you do some damage to it, you fight it, then everyone who was involved by the in-fighting, that monster will get credit towards completion of that quest; and that will also extend to also getting credit for bosses. So if somebody else is fighting a boss and you join in, you’re both going to get loot off of it.
Caleb: I have a personal story. That something… I was surprised by It. It was before we went to the tech alpha, we all competed internally about how far we could get in Challenge Rifts, doing sequential procedural dungeon levels, and every level gets harder; and I was like topping out at like 45 or 50; and I thought I was really good. Until we let the public in.
Kristopher: Where did you end up on the leaderboard?
Caleb: I wasn’t. Not only did I not make the podium, I didn’t even make the stands.
Kristopher: I managed to hang on to about fifth place on the wizard leader board the whole alpha.
Caleb: So I got to get good.
Screenrant (Zak Wojnar): This is a different kind of Diablo. It’s the MMO angle that a lot of people maybe weren’t expecting, and I think there’s still maybe a little bit of confusion as to where Diablo 4 falls on that spectrum. But when it comes to like player feedback, how do you parse out what is actually constructive feedback and what is people who are confused as to what the game is aiming to be?
Caleb: I think that’s a great question. At the end of our technical alpha, we looked at every single piece of feedback that we got, and there was a few different channels of it. One is that there is an end-game feedback tool which allowed any player to capture a screenshot or video, and then type in some feedback and send it in.
That actually went directly to a JIRA project tracking system that we had inside Blizzard, and then my production team and our quality assurance team actually went through and pulled all of those over, and our design team went through every single one. We basically had our whole team just basically on zoom, and I was sharing my screen, and we just went line by line; and I think one of the things is when you look at that feedback, and we’re trying to look for trends, not just anecdotes, right? Some person may have a really easy time fighting a boss, and another person is having a very difficult time, and they can both be the same class.
So ultimately, we have to make a judgment call on what the experience is going to be, weighing all that different feedback. But we try to look for trends. For what Kristopher was saying, people weren’t tagging monsters when they thought they should be able to tag monsters and get credit for them. That was a trend.
We saw over a bunch of different feedback from a bunch of players, and so in the end, we do have to make a judgment call. But we do really value that kind of feedback. Especially when we see a really clear trend over multiple players, but then we’re also looking at Reddit, other community channels, to get anecdotes and feedback from there as well.
Kristopher: I’ll give you another example of a trend that we were seeing. There was some complaint that the wizard class felt underpowered or that it wasn’t playing the way people wanted to. A lot of people, the way they like to play wizard is to like: kite.
So they get a monster, big monster, hard elites and they chase, they get the kiting around, and they keep doing damage to them. They avoid taking any damage while controlling these monsters; and wizard just wasn’t really cutting it at doing that; and we identified the core ways that wizard controls monsters is by chilling them, so that they move more slowly; and that the chill effects on the wizard just weren’t strong enough.
You chill something. You go to do the next attack, and it has already caught up with you again, just catching up too soon. So we made all of the chill effects on the wizard class stronger. So monsters will be slowed down even more; and then the Ray of Frost ability got redesigned a bit. Instead of just chilling the monster, if he hit them at all, now the longer the Ray of Frost beam hits the monster, the more chilled it gets, the slower and slower it moves; and that lets you use the Ray of Frost to slow it down and then teleport to get some distance so that you can hit them with combos: like Scorch and Arcane Wind to cause an Inferno that kills the monster.
Before, it was too hard to pull that off. So we saw that feedback, and then we try to understand what was causing that “My wizard feels underpowered” by looking for where are the problems the class is having and then make specific changes to help the class feel better.
InvenGlobal (Aaron Alford): I was curious how the pandemic impacted the processes within your internal team? Do you feel like you adapted well? What challenges did you face as a result of the pandemic and presumably moving your team at least somewhat remote? Could you just talk about that a little bit?
Caleb: One of the things that we experienced very early on around the end of March that we were told we’re gonna go home and work for a few weeks. That’ll be fine; and I’m sure you guys were all told something similar; and then here we are.
I think one of the things that we experienced right away was a lot of our day is spent collaborating with one another in different meetings. We meet with design and we meet with art and production and all of our other disciplines.
So we’re in meetings a lot, and usually when you’re on campus, there’s this mental break that happens when you get to walk from one meeting room to the next. You kind of get to exercise, get some fresh air and at least like take a mental break. When it’s just back-to-back ZOOM meetings, we have this sometimes an exhausting efficient day where there’s no downtime and you’re barely moving, and you’re just like clicking twice to go to your next hour block; and so sometimes it could kind of get exhausting because it’s so efficient; and so I think what we started to do was try to end meetings earlier so that we just had that kind of like refresh so that we could context switch a little bit better.
But then at this point, I think that we’ve grown more accustomed to it. A lot of people, at least from me (myself), I like that I can stand up at the end of my day and go be with my family right away.
Like there’s no commute time. That’s great. Yeah. I mean, it’s like portal technology, as far as I’m concerned, I can literally leave this world and go home like instantly.
So that feels pretty good, but I would be very excited to return to the office and see everybody in person again.
Kris: I think for me, one of the big challenges is before the time between meetings, there’s sort of this informal ability to say: “Hey, Wyatt, I have this idea.” Run it by him in 30 seconds, and not have to tell a meeting. Not to have to schedule something, and all of those little informal connections; or like where you’re walking by somebody on the way to lunch, you’re sharing ideas and all that cross-pollination. It’s harder to make that happen. So we have to deliberately put it into the schedules.
Like I have multiple meetings a week where it’s just me and Wyatt chat for half an hour or 15 minutes about what’s going on, because we used to just do that all the time because we’re sitting next to each other. So that’s been a bit more of a challenge, and I think it’s also just a little bit fatiguing that you’re always in the same spot within the same chair, the same place; and you kind of want to get up and get around.
My big adjustment had been that I have a small dog that I take for walks three or four times a day just to get outside of the house; and the funniest thing that happens is every time I say: “Oh, I’m taking my dog for a walk” — my entire household wants to go with me because everybody wants to get out of their chair and walk around.
So it’s been interesting, and then meeting more of the neighbors, and it’s just a totally different social experience.
InvenGlobal (Aaron Alford): Great. Thank you so much for sharing those details about your work life. I know that it can be a little more personal and it’s not particularly the purpose of this, but I think it’s important to understand the context in which what you guys are doing is happening because it’s very impressive.
Kristopher: Yeah. Thanks.
GameRant (Cameron Corliss): Obviously, the way that people interact with mobile as a platform is a lot different than a PC or a console. Can you tell us a little bit about the changes that you’ve had to make to kind of rise to the occasion and how have you adapted the gameplay for mobile?.
Caleb: There is kind of two parts to this. The first, I’m going to let Kris talk about how we went about the gameplay design, but one thing I want to make really clear too, is that we have put our heart and soul into this game just like any other title. Just because it’s on mobile, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with all the Blizzard polish and attention to detail, and effort, and telling a story that we would put in any of our other games.
I think that could be a misconception about being on mobile, that we are directly trying to confront and just blow away with Diablo immortal; and then there are like really specific design things that we’ve had to do that Kris can talk about.
Kristopher: Yeah, we’re trying to make the most complete Diablo game we can. It’s just as big as any other game of the series. In some ways bigger than some of the things we’re trying to do; but one of the biggest areas you have to adjust is the control scheme, right?
You have less space on the screen. That’s the size. So traditionally a Diablo game would have the big red and blue bubbles: the Health and Mana bubbles — that show onscreen. How much resources you have; and we just don’t have the space to display that.
So, okay. Let’s not show those, but you can still see a health bar that’s easy, but now we have this energy globe that we can’t display, and keeping track of your energy resources for using abilities becomes very difficult. So the design of abilities shifted.
So most of our skills are cooldown controlled — meaning they have a 10, 15, 20 (whatever) seconds cooldown between how many times you can use them. Now, that sounds like: “Oh, I’m just mashing things on cooldown.” It’s a little bit more complex than that. We do things like abilities might have multiple charges, so it has three charges and every 15 seconds it adds a charge.
So you have some control about when to use them; and it behaves kind of like an energy bar just for that ability; or to take an ability like Disintegrate — the wizard’s ability where you channel the beam of Disintegrate, but you see this energy bar (specific to Disintegrate) slowly go down; and when it hits zero you have to stop, but you can switch to one of the other abilities; and while you’re using your other abilities, the Disintegrate charge is back up again.
We’ve been able to experiment more with interesting control schemes in the game. Abilities whose controls completely changed based on which legendary ability you have equipped, we have abilities where you can be aiming, it changes dynamically where they have multiple stages, they aim differently depending on which stage you’re on; and we can show how the controls work onscreen, because of the touchscreen.
So there’s a huge amount of opportunity in being a touchscreen and being able to do things that you couldn’t do with a regular controller or with a mouse and keyboard very easily — because they are harder to understand.
Also, we’ve changed the way your character moves. Diablo historically has been a Point-and-Click. I click on a spot and my character walks to that spot; and now your character is moving in a direction like with a joystick, and that lets us put in some different types of challenges.
For example, what if you were in a rift where the floor is covered in ice and you have momentum. Right? That’s something that wouldn’t work with the click to move controls that a mouse had before. But now when I’m using a joystick, now I can be battling against the momentum, or I can have a current or a wind blowing me in a particular direction; and so, some interesting control dynamics that are possible that weren’t possible before.
BlizzWatch (Dan O’Halloran): First, I want to say I played this at both the last two BlizzCons, and enjoyed it immensely. My question is with the MMO elements involved, how are you guys handling trades between players or The Market features?
Kristopher: So in our game, we have The Market which is very different from any previous auction house. It’s a place where players can sell items to each other, but anonymously. You can’t tell who’s selling what items to whom, and the prices are within a limited range on the server. So you can’t engage in as much a market manipulation as we may have seen in other MMOs; and it’s also very limited what you can sell to other players.
There is no gear in The Market. There is no gold for sale in The Market. They’re limited in specific items you can sell to the players, which are more in the range of– let’s say legendary gems. You can only have so many legendary gems equipped, so it’s more of a trade: “I have one I don’t want. This other one I do want. So I’ll sell the one I don’t want, so I can buy the one I do.”
It’s more of an exchange economy than what you would have seen in a lot of MMOs in the past.
Android Central (Daniel Bader): I play the game on a Samsung Galaxy S20. It ran great and I installed it also on an iPhone 12, and it played great; but I noticed that there was a high-performance mode on the iOS version that tagged 60 frames per second; and there was none on the Android version and it stayed at 30 the whole time.
I’m wondering what your FPS target is for the final release and whether you will enable higher performance modes on more performance hardware. If there will be more granular graphics controls. Based on your SOC or your GPU, like you do see on the PC versions.
Kristopher: I don’t know a lot of the specific details, and we really can’t talk to it because one of the purposes of the technical alpha was to find out how well it performed on different phones and gauge that performance, get benchmarks on it, to make improvements to the clients so that it can support more phones in, to gradually widen the number of phones the game could support, and what graphics capabilities, but we do intend to give players the ability to adjust the graphics settings so that when you have a device that is very, very powerful, you can increase the graphics settings, and when it’s a lower power device, you can still play the game but maybe you turn down the graphical settings. Caleb may have more to add on that.
Caleb: For iPhone 12, during tech alpha, there was actually just an issue specific to that device that didn’t allow the 60 FPS option to be toggled on.
If you had like an iPhone 11 you would have been able to do that. There’s some processing differences between the two phones and we weren’t able to resolve the iPhone 12 issue in time for tech alpha, but in future versions, we will; and like Kris said, our goal is to have a very wide list of supported devices; and in tech alpha, it started really narrow.
As we go to different testing phases, we will widen it so that our goal by the end of our testing phase and when we launch would be to have a very wide set of phones that we would support; and that even inside of supporting a phone, players would then have quality options to be able to do; and for phones that support the 60 FPS setting, that they can do that.
We’re also optimizing battery consumption, which is not really optimized and ticked off and something we will continue to optimize towards launch.
Android Central (Daniel Bader): Is it possible to disclose the breakdown between iOS and Android users in the technical alpha in Australia?
Caleb: We had Android only in Australia. It was a 100% Android in Australia.
Kristopher: It was a smaller group of influencers in North America that we allowed both (iOS and Android).
Caleb: There was a separate bill that we were able to distribute in North America, specifically for press and influencers.
Liz: My question is actually a little broader. You’ve got three different Diablo games in the development pipeline right now. They’re all looking sharp. They’re all looking beautiful in the footage we’re seeing.
How is the development on these different titles influencing each other? Are the graphics on Diablo Immortal influencing Diablo II: Resurrected, for example? Or vice versa? How is that kind of interplay going?
Caleb: I think one of the things that is great about working at Blizzard is that each game team really does get to decide at some destiny in their own style. Speaking for Diablo Immortal, we felt that the aesthetic of Diablo III was a good starting place for our art direction because the readability of some of their choices was better for mobile. Some of the color usage, some of the effects, design like that was a good starting off point; but our team has taken that which was like the inspiration behind our style; and from scratch, taking it to a new place.
In many ways, the Diablo Immortal engine is able to support a higher quality, a higher fidelity of art than what we were able to support in Diablo III; and so we’ve improved on quality and taken some liberties with the art direction into a new space.
So the other two games, Diablo II: Resurrected and Diablo IV, they have their own freedom to pursue the styles that are best for their game and that tells their story.
Kristopher: In terms of the timeline, they have a big separation. So Diablo IV and Diablo Immortal have their own very separate time, decades apart. So they can tell their own stories without crashing into each other, so to speak.
Blizzplanet (Tomas Hernandez): What is your stand on Android emulators such as Bluestacks on PC for those who don’t own a mobile device?
Caleb: That’s a great question, and one that we get quite often. Our goal is that we have the very best mobile experience. All of our effort has been focused on that. However, we don’t have any plans to block emulation at this time, and we’re continuing to look at the community and what they want in terms of emulation support; and having that be a part of our discussions internally.
GamesRadar (Austin Wood): I wanted to follow up on a previous answer a bit. Can you share some other ways that you’ve changed or added to gameplay to take advantage of mobile as a platform and leveraging strengths as opposed to just compensating for it by streamlining or scaling down?
Kristopher: Again, talking about control schemes specifically, the way the abilities display the UI for aiming and the targeting area they’re going to hit, lets us give the player a much better sense of control over where they’re targeting and the range of their abilities, because we can show those controls right underneath their fingers and they can change onscreen where their fingers are.
So we can communicate the controls to the players in a way that wasn’t possible without a touchscreen. So I think that’s one really big area that we’ve done some interesting things that you couldn’t have done in a PC or console game.
AndroidHeadlines (Justin Diaz): This is probably going to be a question I’m sure that other people have already asked before somewhere, but I just was curious if you guys had plans to add other classes beyond the initial five that have already been listed on the website.
Kristopher: So we’ve actually already listed six. So we have the wizard, the barbarian, the monk, the demon hunter, and then the crusader and the necromancer are coming.
So we have six so far, and we definitely have plans after launch to keep on adding new classes to the game. It’s important that each class has a distinct, unique identity and a really cool fantasy, lots of a visual look that is unique to them as we develop those new classes; but we already have plans in the work for new classes. We just can’t tell you about them yet.
OpenCritic (Brendan Frye): You mentioned that the game has been specifically designed for touchscreens in mind, and I noticed it for during the alpha test, there was no controller or any other support. Are you looking at that for the future? Because it does seem a game tailor-made for some kind of controller type situation.
Caleb: Yeah, that was one of the most requested things coming out of our tech alpha, as well; and we are looking into that right now. I don’t have anything to announce or any specifics, but like we definitely heard the community on that one.
MMORPG (Robin Baird): I was wondering because a lot of times, with especially MMOs, players will play for like big chunks of time. Like sometimes more than 12 hours. Insane amounts of time sometimes. I was wondering since mobile games tend to be more pickup play for a little bit, and put down — what are you aiming for? What is your thought process on average game time per session?
Kristopher: Yeah. We want this to be a game where like if you’re in a doctor’s office and you have got five minutes to burn, you can open up the game and jump into an Elder Rift or go to a Bounty and be done in five minutes.
We facilitate that with the length of time that Elder Rifts take, and every character has the ability to teleport back to Westmarch, and a cooldown in that is five minutes. To fit that five minute window; but we also have content that might take a half an hour or more where you get together with a group of friends to go and kill King Leoric, or fight The Countess.
We have content in a variety of ranges for how long people want to spend playing the game so that they can do it on the move, or if they want to sit down and play for several hours at once, they can do that too.
See, we want to support all those different playstyles, and we found during the technical alpha people were sitting down and playing for hours at a time sometimes.
Screenrant (Zak Wojnar): Blizzard has these notoriously infamously high quality standards. There’s the stories of stuff in development for years that if it’s not working, then they cancel them. Tell me about working with a developer like NetEase and how you hold them to that same standard. There were worries and fears way back that this game would be a re-skin of some of their other titles. How do you fight that and hold them to the Blizzard standard of excellence?
Caleb: That’s a good question. At the very start of the partnership, we agreed on the tenets of what makes a Blizzard game. One of those being quality, and that commitment to quality, and putting gameplay first as a part of what the team is going to be about.
Our team isn’t about shipping this as quickly as possible. Our team is about making the very best game we can; and there is always struggles when you’re making a game to uphold and improve quality across the board that are not unique to Diablo Immortal.
I would say that if you look at the time since we’ve announced the game in BlizzCon 2018 to now, we’ve spent that entire time improving quality and polishing and doing our own internal testing and really iterating on the game to make sure it feels like it’s going to do the fans justice — Right? — and do Diablo justice. It is not really unique to Diablo Immortal or to our partnership with NetEase. That is a difficult thing.
Game development at Blizzard is all about making sure that we ask ourselves the questions like: “Is this good enough?” — and that’s sometimes why it takes a long time for us to make what we make. But I would say that we have a great team, and that our partnership with NetEase… they completely subscribed to our commitment to quality, which was a pre-requisite to having this partnership.
Kristopher: I want to talk a little bit about the re-skin confusion. This is an engine that NetEase is using for the first time. It wasn’t used for any of those previous games people compare it to. DI is being built completely from scratch in that new engine; and it’s also not a re-skin of Diablo III.
The character classes while they may be six of the same character classes, they have new abilities that they did not have before.
They’re variations on the abilities that they did not have before. They have new legendary items, new, legendary gems, all kinds of new interactions. It is a new game going into new zones you’ve never seen before, fighting new bosses we haven’t seen before, at least seen in this form before. So it is a wholly new game that we’ve built.
OpenCritic (Brendan Frye): I wanted to talk about the visuals, because especially Android and iOS have such vast differences in what they can do — and you mentioned a little bit when you were talking about the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 — was there any difficulty to figure out how far back to go to allow this game to work and in such where was the cutoff point to ensure you got the best video, visual fidelity, but still appeal to the widest audience possible?
Caleb: We are still working on our minimum spec. That’s actually a big part of why we do these testing phases is that (I think I mentioned this before) we start really narrow the devices we absolutely know will work well in Technical Alpha. Then as we move to other test phases, we start widening that band to include more and more devices.
iOS and Android are very comparable. If you’re using the same generation of device across both operating systems, there’s a lot of diversity with Android, more than on iOS; but we care about those players that have those phones; and so as we continue in our testing phases, you’ll see us open up to more and more diverse devices.
We don’t have anything to confirm about our absolute minimum specifications, but we want to support as many phones as we possibly can while still maintaining a really good gameplay quality for all those devices.
InvenGlobal (Aaron Alford): You may have answered it this at some point in a different spot, but I would love to hear y’all’s perspective on what it was like taking the control system of what is traditionally a mouse and keyboard game and bringing that to mobile; and then kind of what process do you go by? What are the concerns and the features and the affordances that you need that are specific to mobile devices?
Kristopher: I talked about this a little bit earlier with a change in the control scheme, not be able to display health and mana bubbles onscreen. Moving to joystick control instead of the point-and-click control that Diablo had before.
Those are all considerations. We definitely took some inspiration from some of the people on our team, worked on Diablo III (console), and had experience with how that worked, and how to take what they learned from that and bring it into our game. Those are some of the biggest changes in terms of controls.
But like I said before, I think being a touchscreen and be able to have the controls literally change underneath your fingers to show you what you need to do to control your character is a new opportunity we couldn’t do before; and then again, the change from click-to-move to a joystick control created other new opportunities for gameplay controls.
Caleb: I’d like to add to that too. Even if you just look at a screenshot of our game, and you see all the buttons that you’re able to press, and then all the other UI elements that are present — that represents a huge investment on the part of Blizzard to do usability testing and get professional sort of appraisal on where we should be laying out certain things, what is the minimum font size that we should be pursuing so that it’s easy to read, and easy to understand what the game is telling you.
So there’s a lot of what we call UX (user experience design) that just went into the very top layer of the game, and that extends not just there, but throughout every menu and system that we have.
Kristopher: We also put a lot of focus into making the joystick controls work as well as possible. We have had multiple iterations where we’ve revised the rules, revised the controls, revise the tolerances and how they work, where you can put your finger down, what the range of movement is. All that stuff has been examined and compared to other games with similar controls, like other games genre to try to get the best we could possibly make it.
GameRant (Cameron Corliss): What do you guys feel has been the greatest accomplishment so far as far as putting this game on mobile?
Caleb: That’s a big one. I think during the technical alpha, being able to see like the sort of vision of a Diablo action-RPG MMO come to fruition and see strangers rolling next to me as they were about their own adventure and being able to see them that was super validating for me. In fact, like at the very start of the technical alpha, I teleported one of my characters to the start of the second zone.
So right after the tutorial, you’d go into the Ashwold Cemetery, and kind of all the new players have to take this one road to get there, and so what I did is I parked my character in the bushes off to the side of the road, just so I could see the stream of people walking by; and it was just cool because I’m like: “Oh my God, this is great.”
Like, people I’ve never played with before are all sharing this world, and then you start seeing the zone chat become active; and people start like realizing probably for the first time in a Diablo game, how easy it is to connect with other people and to party up; and then you start seeing like: “Hey, looking for group for Mad King’s Breach — the first dungeon in the game.
And that sort of feeling felt very new in the Diablo setting to have that MMO social feature be validated. That felt really good for me. I don’t know Kris, if you have another–
Kristopher: I completely agree on getting that MMO multiplayer community feeling into a Diablo game was really gratifying to see.
I think one of the other big gratifying experiences for me was early on — a couple of years ago when I first came onto the team, I have to say, I was very skeptical about touch controls and joystick control on a mobile device, because I played a few games before that it didn’t work very well, and I didn’t like those games; but when I sat down and played with this, I was like, it was working well, I could control my character.
It felt good, and I found myself, I’ve been playing this game for over an hour and my fingers don’t hurt and I’m controlling my character. I’m having a blast. They getting a really good feeling controls and gameplay onto mobile was really pretty awesome.
BlizzWatch (Dan O’Halloran): Mobile phones are notorious for lag and dropped connections. How are you guys accounting for that in your design?
Caleb: That’s a great question. There’s like a tech answer to that really. Going back to our partnership with NetEase, they do have an engine which is very suited and purpose built for a mobile data connection environment where you could be transitioning from different data connections to WiFi, and back and forth, and we need to be able to do that pretty seamlessly without interrupting your session.
So we continue to work on that issue. It is top of my interest because we want the flexibility of playing even in high ping situations. In fact, some of our players and myself included, I actually created a character on the Australian server and the server was based there, but I’m here in the United States and I was playing at maybe 200ms ping; and I’m still able to play the game and execute all my moves and everything like that without really feeling it. So to be able to operate and play the game, I feel like I can make progress and really not notice for the most part, even playing at a very high ping, that is a good sign for me.
And then we have a lot further. We want to go there, but we had some of our influencers also playing on the Australian server; and even in their streams, you could see them playing; and a lot of people just didn’t notice at all, even though I see the little ms number in that really small font in the bottom left — I’m like: “Oh, they’re streaming, but they’re playing on the Australian server” even though they’re based somewhere else.
And that was a good sign, but we’re going to continue to optimize that experience.
BlizzWatch (Dan O’Halloran): And then on the design side, let me know if you can answer this… what happens if you just totally lag out in the middle of something?
Kristopher: We’ll keep you in the game for multiple minutes. I don’t want to get into exact details on how long, but you don’t just get instantly pulled out of the world when you get disconnected. You get your connection back, your characters is still going to be in the world.
Some of the designs for death systems are done to accommodate for that. Let’s say you do have a disconnection, your character gets killed. You can resurrect usually the first time you die right in the spot where you last died, so you can resume playing from where you left off or in the worst case, you’re teleported back to the nearest town hub, and can run back to where you were.
If you were in the middle of a dungeon or instance, it’s still there when you come back. You have many minutes to come back and resume that before you lose it; and in our Elder Rift system, if for example, you spent some resources to put a crest into an Elder Rift, and you are disconnected and not able to get back to it, we send you those resources back to you after the fact.
So we’ve thought a lot about what happens when players get disconnected. What happens when they get an important phone call on their phone and they can’t keep playing the game, right? What do they do? And how do we handle that to make sure that there’s never a negative consequence to the players and those kinds of interruptions happen and they can resume from where they left off without losing progress on their character.
Android Central (Daniel Bader): It depends on how we play, but a couple of hours into the game… I wonder how you’re feeling about the game after the Technical Alpha and whether you would adjust how early or far into the game Westmarch is introduced? I thought the onboarding experience was pretty seamless.
You get a bit of the story, you work your way up to a pretty nice level before you get to Westmarch. But once you’re there, that’s where you’re going to stay presumably for awhile.
How are you feeling about that now after a bunch of people have played?
Kristopher: We’re actually already making changes to that. We felt like we waited a little bit too long to introduce Westmarch. So you are going to get a trip to Westmarch earlier in the storyline to connect with Cain there too, to figure out what the larger story is, and then get sent back out into the field so that during the course of the story, you’ll have multiple times where you come to Westmarch, get some guidance, go back to adventurous, more experienced on the story and come back to Westmarch repeatedly before you get to max level.
Caleb: We really like Westmarch, by the way, and we feel like that is almost like an: “uh-huh” or “Eureka” moment for players, because they enter into this capital city and that’s where you do see a ton of other players. There’s a bunch of activities inside Westmarch that we actually want people to be able to play earlier in their experience, and so there’s things there that are really interesting where you do want to move earlier in the game.
Android Central (Daniel Bader): I liked that just personally. I think getting a glimpse of Westmarch, it really does change how you perceive it. I mean, I was playing early enough where I didn’t see another player until I got to Westmarch. But I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case when it’s a bit more broadly available.
Cassandra: And correct me if I’m wrong, Daniel. You were on the North America server, right? So other press players, right?
Kristopher: The North America server population was a little low. So we expect more people.
Android Central (Daniel Bader): Fair. That’s true.
Liz: So kind of bridging off of Dan’s question earlier — These systems built around that mobile experience only where you don’t necessarily want people to be punished for things that are natural to a phone environment, like getting a call, are there any concerns about system abuse where I swipe up and quit the game and suddenly I get my resources back because I was having a bad run.
Kristopher: So specifically on the elder rifts, when you use crests in the elder rifts, we want to mail those back to you If you don’t complete it. Cause we don’t want you to lose resources.
But you’re right, people could choose it and say: “Well, I don’t like this one.” And so, what actually happens and this connects to the other question is you disconnect, you reconnect. You’re still in that elder rift. The elder rift has a duration lifespan. It exists. And until that lifespan runs out, every time you come back, you can’t do a different elder rift.
If you can’t close that one and start a new one. You can’t cycle the instances. You’re stuck with that one for the time window you have. So that’s our way of guarding against that kind of abuse, but also being generous to people who have a problem happen in it a little bit.
Liz: Is that lifespan going to be publicly available?
Caleb: I think we’re still iterating on like what feels good there, and then another area that could be potentially an exploit is that we have this PvP arena inside one of our zones; and one of the things that our designers worked really hard on is making sure that if people decided to minimize the game right before they were killed by another player (to kinda rob them, for example), they would still actually die because your character would just all of a sudden just stand there. (laughs)
Kristopher: Consequences. You lose the Bilefen battle, but you don’t lose any progress in your character. You can come back.
Blizzplanet (Tomas Hernandez): What is your philosophy for Guild systems? Will they have a personalized building, level up system, shared storage, or achievement rewards?
So the one thing I can say is that we are calling it “Clans.” There are clan achievements, there are things that sort of passively will build up, like number of demons your Guild has killed, things like that. But then there’s also like directed achievements of like, all right… go do this specific dungeon with specific classes from your clan to earn achievement points. Those sorts of things. But one of the most important things you should walk away with is that that is not the only social group that we are going to have in Diablo immortal.
We actually planned for even larger, more robust social systems beyond clans that we’ll be talking about pretty soon, but nothing to specifically confirm today; and so there’s going to be a lot of social goals that groups of players are going to be able to chase.
Kristopher: Yeah. Specifically in your question about clan leveling, we want to make sure that you always feel like you can join a social group with your friends and a clan to do stuff together; and unfortunately, the leveling mechanic in clans and guilds often acts as a social barrier. Like I don’t want to be in a Guild that isn’t max level. It conflicts with. I want to be in the Guild with my buddies. So we don’t have a leveling mechanic because we want you to always be able to freely play with your friends.
GamesRadar (Austin Wood): So I’m curious with tests still going on and changes being made based on feedback from those tests… currently, if you have any long-term plans for progression in prestige in Diablo immortal compared to things like Diablo IV bringing back the seasonal format and Diablo II: Resurrected bringing back it’s ladder system over a period of months, so like a 3-month block versus the next 3-months blocks for the game, how does content evolve?
Kristopher: There will be deep seasonal progression of different types in some of those elder systems from the max level systems you’re talking about in the end-game. We will have deep progression that lasts multiple months; you will see a lot of that, and there will be times when those progressions reset and start again.
We can’t really go into the details on how it will work, but there will be things that you are working on over a period of months with your friends, with your teams of like-minded players..
Caleb: In our experience, it’ll take a while to get to max level, of course, similar to other MMOs. However, once you get to that state, our end-game is how do we keep players really engaged and interested in the different things we have to offer there; and like we said previously, technical alpha didn’t actually contain our end-game. We have a massive (frankly) part of the game which has yet to be revealed and that is part of our end-game. It’s going to keep people coming back, hopefully.
Kristopher: So one I can specifically talk to is you’re going to be collecting gear over a period of time. So you’re going to want to get specific combinations of legendary affixes to make the build that you want in your character. So here you’re looking for those drops; and then, gear in our game can be ranked up, so you get to improve your gear by investing resources into it.
Those resources are acquired 100% from killing monsters. You can’t buy them. You have to put in the time to get those resources, but you rank up your gear and that will be something that takes time over a period of weeks and months to rank up your gear to the highest possible levels, and then ultimately — when we introduce new gear, new legendary affixes, new levels — you’ll kind of do that process again.
GamesRadar (Austin Wood): You were talking about gear and that got me thinking about one of the things that I was kind of questioning to myself while I was playing during the test; and I was really curious if you guys were having any plans for things like character customization in the form of transmogs, or like being able to color your gear kind of like in Diablo III.
They have the ink pots and things that you can use to color your different pieces. You kind of make your character mash (match?) and stuff. I really liked that aspect of being able to kind of change the design and the look of the characters gear to make everything look kind of cohesive, and I just was curious if that was going to be implemented into Diablo Immortal at all.
Caleb: So one thing that I can say on this front is that there will be ways of customizing your character, especially at character creation. How you physically look. There’s going to be a pretty broad selection of different ways to customize how you look. In terms of the character, we have nothing to announce today about specifically, like any sort of dye-ing or any sort of transmog.
But we do plan on being able to make some changes and you have some agency about how certain gear does look on your character; and I know that sounds super vague — and I apologize — but we just don’t have anything to announce today.
Kristopher: You will be able to customize your character. We just can’t tell you how yet.
GamesRadar (Austin Wood): That’s good enough of an answer for now. Thank you very much.