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Diablo 3 Console Feature and Fan Reactions

Posted 21 Feb 2013 by

Yesterday’s announcement that a Diablo 3 Console was coming (soon?) to the Playstation 3 and the future Playstation 4 was big news, but not surprising news. After all, Blizzard has repeatedly confirmed that they were “exploring a Diablo-related concept for consoles,” and at Blizzcon 2010 and again in 2011 they announced that the project was scaling up, being led by Josh Mosqueira, and that help was wanted. They even hired a PS3 specialist last June. They were thinking about a Diablo 3 console game long before then, though, as this October 2008 quote from Jay Wilson makes clear:

If we did it, we would want to do a really high quality version–we wouldn’t just want to do a port,” Wilson said. “We would never make that decision if we thought we had to compromise the overall quality…we could probably do it at any time, we could release the game and then decide we wanted to do a 360 version or a PS3 version. We haven’t really decided to take the [console] plunge,” he continued “We’ve really come to the conclusion that it’s probably the best fit because the control scheme is actually not that incompatible. So if we were to make that decision, Diablo would be the natural choice.

Not a fake screenshot.

Not a fake screenshot.

For much more on the history of the Diablo 3 console project, I refer you to the extensive DiabloWikiDiablo 3 Console article in the DiabloWiki, which has numerous Blue quotes on the issue, most of which seem right in line with the console news Chris Metzen debuted yesterday. You can also see a fair amount of coverage

So, while the announcement wasn’t a real surprise, the whole thing became a lot more real with the official announcement, and our news post and forum conversation about it saw a lot of feedback, much of it negative. What are the main issues with the console project, and how might it affect the Diablo 3 community and Blizzard’s continued support of the PC/Mac version of Diablo? Let’s take a look at some of the main issues you guys are addressing in feedback.

Topics in this article include: Offline mode for consoles, UI issues, dumbed-down D3 blamed on consoles, will console gamers take to a grindy ARPG, how will no-split-screen work, what does this mean for further Diablo 3 development and patch support, and more.


Everything Bad in Diablo 3 is due to the Simultaneous Console Development

This seems to be the biggest or more angry complaint, so I’ll hit it right at the start. First of all, it’s hard not to notice that there’s a bit of a Mad Libs aspect to this, where the complaints stay the same and only the noun to blame changes. D3 sucks because ________ (Choose one: Jay Wilson, RMAH, Bobby Kotick, Console version, Global Warming.)

Skill interface, February 2012.

Skill interface, February 2012.

That said, as someone who used the phrase “dumbed down D3″ often enough that I made a news category for it, there is an argument to be made here. The skill interface remodel is the biggest example of a system that appears to have been simplified in function and appearance, and possibly part of the reason behind the change was to make it more console-friendly.

Background: All during development DiabloWikiRunestones were objects you found from monster drops (like gems, basically) and you socketed them into skills to modify the function of the skill. There were five different types of runestones and up to seven quality levels, and the theory was that players would collect them and try different ones out in their skills.

There were problems with the system, though: The devs said that people tended not to desocket and resocket and thus didn’t experiment much, that the runestones completely clogged your inventory (especially when they got magical affixes on them and thus every one was different and unstackable), and that it was a generally cumbersome and complicated system. These points were strongly argued by guys from the WoW strike team when they did a full play through of Diablo 3 in late 2011, and that led to the entire system being reworked (and improved?) As you see in the game today, each skill has a base form and then 5 rune effects, but you don’t require runestones to change them, and you’re able to switch freely between them any time.

Whatever you think of that change, if clearly necessitated a reworking of the UI. Before then, you only saw the runestone effect when you hovered on the runestone. The basic skill window only showed the base skill function, so a new UI was required that could show the base skill, plus all of the rune effects in one place. And not just in some long hover tooltip. Which is why we’ve now got the one big skill window that fills the entire screen, rather than small icons that appear on a side window like you get with the Inventory or Follower.

There was a ton of debate about that system and change at the time, (I wasn’t a fan of the change) and some people did indeed say it was a change made to match up with the Console. And maybe it was, but I don’t think it’s exactly Exhibit A. After all, they had to change the UI to show all the rune effects and the skill at once, so some sort of change was required. And it’s not like they overhauled everything in the PC game for the console; look at the feature list and screenshots from yesterday: no paperdoll, no inventory grid, different waypoint menu, no belt interface, etc.

So yeah, the skill UI changed back in late 2011 (and went into the Beta in Feb 2012), and many of us weren’t big fans of the change. But there’s nothing really linking that change to the console UI, and we see tons of other UI changes for the console that would definitely be worth outrage if they came to the PC.

Also note that as of October 2011, when the big skill UI overhaul was underway, the Diablo console “team” consisted of three people. The project was hardly even begun, and if you believe that the other 150 people working frantically to finish Diablo 3 were missing deadlines because they were throwing out entire game systems and reworking the UI so that they might save the console developers a bit of effort 8 or 10 or 12 months later… yeah.


Click through for a lot more on other topics, pro and con-sole alike…


No Split-Screen?

Advanced split screen technology.

Advanced split screen technology.

This one is just guessing now and we’ll know more about it come the demos at PAX East, but lots of players are speclating about how it might work for 2-4 players on the same machine, which is to say on the same TV monitor. Most shooters and race games and the like handle this with split screen, so each player gets half or a quarter of the monitor to follow their own character, which is an awesome way to get into violent screaming matches about who is a cheating screen watching son of a bitch. (Because see, you can watch someone else’s screen, figure where they are, and set an ambush accordingly.)

Diablo 3 says it won’t have split screen; all characters will remain on the same screen with some innovative camera angle technology. I’m happy to be surprised, but don’t you just figure “innovative” means “zoom out higher” and they’ll combine that with some kind of system where one character is designated the leader and everyone has to stay within 50 yards (or whatever) of him to be on the visible screen?

It could be annoying if you’re not the lead character and you’re fighting something (or trying to reach an item drop) just off the screen, but it might actually be cool for better party play. If you must stay together then you will, and everyone teaming up all the time on every enemy should make for some pretty fun co-op play.

Besides, this is only when you’ve got multiple people on the same machine, so you’re all sitting together in the same room and you can communicate your break times and movements and town visits. It’s not like you’ll be doing this online and get stuck in one spot, twiddling your thumbs while some guy screws around with his inventory, or respecs, or goes AFK to burn some pizza rolls. If you’re playing together in the same room, you can just talk and compromise, right? (Note that I grew up without any siblings. Though of you who gamed with a big or little brother can probably offer some counter arguments.)


Four Player Game Limit

Another point being cited as a change made for the console. Perhaps, but we’ve all played Diablo 3 for the past 10 months (unless you’re one of the haters who last played in May and only comes around anymore to bitch with a dedicated ferocity only explained by the fact that a drunken Jay Wilson backed his Ferrari over your dog) and how many of us have thought, “If only there were 8 players crammed into this small level, all emitting massive visual AoE effects at once. That would make everything so much better!”

IMHO, the levels and dungeons in Diablo 3 aren’t large enough to support 8 characters, especially not as fast as everyone can move now, and as big as the graphics and visuals are. Honestly, Diablo 2 had the same problems and that game wasn’t real optimal with 8 characters in the same area, but we were just used to it, so some complained when D3 lowered the max players allowed. Plus in Diablo 2 the drop rate and experience was hugely boosted in big games, and you could move between acts and bosses freely in the same game, so it was quite viable to play in 2 or 3 parties in the same game, in different acts, interacting not at all. Those features aren’t in Diablo 3, and maybe they should be, but as D3 works today, more players in a game wouldn’t make it better.

Besides, why would it have mattered if they’d allowed 8 players in PC/Mac games, but only 4 in console? Or only 4 in console games played on the same machine? They’re including offline play for the console, and many other game changes. They could have done that and no one would have cared. Aren’t there shooters that support 8 or 16 or 64 people in online play, but only 4 for consoles, especially if on the same machine/split screen?


Offline Mode?

The full feature list for the PS3 version isn’t yet finalized and we’ll surely get more details in the weeks to come, and especially at PAX East in late March when they’ll be rolling out a playable demo. But we can speculate on some of the features now, and Chris Metzen’s presentation confirmed that there will be an offline mode for the console. Presumably it’ll work a bit like Diablo 2 did, where there were single player/open realm characters stored on your end without any real anti-hacking/duping security, and closed realm/Battle.net-only characters who were stored on B.net without any real anti-hacking/duping security. (Kidding!)

This seems a concession to market realities; I’m not real up on console gaming in the last two decades or so, but for all the fun social interactions available via Xbox Live other console online gaming services, I assume some considerable percentage of the market is *not* able to play online, at least not all the time. Thus a major new AAA console release that *required* an internet connection to play would have been a big marketing and sales problem, (AKA a Bobb-lem) hence some compromise had to be made.

This is an issue since it reopens all of the “online-only” wounds from years past. (See them all via the news category tag.) To recap briefly, Online-only was announced in August 2011 and provoked a huge outcry. That hate died down and not long after most fans didn’t seem too bothered. It obviously didn’t hurt D3’s sales either, but then May 15, 2012 arrived Error 37 and and the whole issue exploded again.

I was fairly complain-y about the online only thing despite the fact that I’m personally almost always online, mostly since Blizzard’s explanations were so transparently facile. In interviews and presentations they mentioned “stopping piracy” about twice, while talking up things like, “enhancing a more robust multiplayer experience” about seven hundred and forty-three times, which was just transparently manure-like.

I am more sympathetic to their claims that not allowing TCP/IP play helps with B.net security, since it doesn’t let end users get their hands on the multiplayer code to reverse engineer it or find other security vulnerabilities. And that doesn’t appear to be impacted by the console offline mode, since it’s not a TCP/IP sort of thing. You’ll be able to export your characters (or have to create different ones for SP only?) but you can’t import your SP characters back to the servers, and you’re not hosting the TCP/IP type thing, just playing multiple characters via the same machine. Hence no security issues (in theory).


Battle.net 2.0 Social Features

There’s been a lot of complaining about Diablo 3’s lacking social features since it went live on B.net during the beta, and most of those complaints are justified. I don’t want to get into that whole argument again here, but again, how does that relate to the console? You can say the lack of robust chat options and such are console-previews since no-keyboard, etc… but SC2 has all the same B.net social issues, and it came out years before D3 and still has no console plans at all, to my knowledge.

Yes, there are some bad or sub-optimal features in Diablo 3, but it’s silly to blame everything on the console project.


Will Console Players Embrace a Grindy ARPG?

No idea. Obviously Blizzard thinks they will or they wouldn’t be spending the time/money/effort to create a console Diablo 3, and I bet they’ve done just a tad more market research on the topic than any of us. There are plenty of very popular RPGs on consoles, and LotR or Skyrim type games set in a similar dark fantasy world, so obviously the basic elements are fine. The question seems to be if console players will grind paragon levels, spend time in the Auction House to min/max their gear, devote hundreds of hours to upgrading a character, etc. And there, it’s an open question.

In a way it doesn’t matter. Most people who bought Diablo 3 on a PC or Mac didn’t do those things, or at least not to a huge extent. It’s kind of the dirty secret of gaming, but a huge percentage of people who buy a game never finish it, or only play through once, etc. We saw some interesting figures about that before Torchlight 2, when the Runic Games guys talked about the Steam Achievements in TL1, and how very tiny percentages of the players had achieved even the basic “complete the entire game once” type awards. Most of us have games we only played for a while and quit, or we know people who bought D3 and hardly played it, etc. Two good friends of mine have D3CEs sitting on their office floor, right on top of their SC2CEs, which they never even opened, since all they play is WoW. Still.

So would console gamers build up Paragon 100 characters in Diablo 3? Or would they play more casually and just have fun sometimes? Dunno. Guess we’ll find out, but there will have to be some infusion of new players (fresh meat) from the console. I certainly hope so, and that they can access the same economy and player base, since I can’t even give away low or mid-level equipment in the GAH anymore, and 3 million noobs with gold to burn would be an awesome addition to Battle.net.


Will Console Characters Join the PC/Mac Character Economy?

I would think so, barring some technical difficulty in merging the PS3 players with the current players. They said the consoles will launch at v1.07 with all the same features; Monster Power, Hellfire Rings, Demonic Essences, etc, and that the console will get patches and updates along with the PC version.

Maybe someone else can suggest some reasons why not, but as far as I can see Blizzard would want to throw us all into the same pool. They’ve resisted doing ladder resets or new seasons or other such ways to split up the player base that we saw in Diablo 2, so why start now?

You could say that communication issues would be a problem, with PC gamers using keyboards and console players using headsets, but no one types or talks in public games anyway, so that’s not really an issue.

It’ll be interesting to see how the technology works, if it does. Can you access an existing account via a console? Or create an account on a console and then access it via your computer? I imagine we’ll find out about these issues soon enough, though I’m not entirely confident, given the many issues and very slow dev times we’ve seen for new B.net 2.0 features.


Can Console Players RMAH?

No idea. I don’t follow consoles very closely, so correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t there all kinds of monetization elements to console games today? Map packs for CoD, bonus weapons and armors and skins in other games, new cars and tracks for race games, etc. Given that Diablo 3’s long term financial condition is supposedly going to be supported by the RMAH, I’d imagine Blizzard would tie the whole system together, to include console players, if at all possible.


What Does a Console Title Mean to Ongoing Support?

This one seems like good news (for those of us who want a better Diablo 3) since more players = more money = more developers = more patches, etc. We’ve had a good number of patches and updates with Diablo 3 so far (albeit spurred largely by the lackluster state of the game upon launch) and there’s no reason to expect that to stop. Maybe slow as the devs work on an expansion and console version, but long term they’ll want to keep the console players playing same as they want to keep the rest of us playing, and that means patches and updates and occasional expansions.

On the whole I don’t see any real reason for concern about the console version. We’ve know they were planning to make it all along and there’s not much evidence that any of the big changes in Diablo 3 due to the console. If we see future patches making changes that seem designed more for console than PC (What would that even be? I can’t imagine any such?) then it’ll certainly be worth complaining about at the time.

Sadly, or happily, depending on your perspective, Diablo 3 is what it is since the developers made it the game the wanted it to be. If you hate some of the features that’s your choice, but simply saying anything you don’t like is due to the console, without any logical connection between them, is pointless. Argue against features or implementation if you like, but do so on reasonable terms. And as I said in the last point, no matter what you think of console gaming yourself, it’s hard to see how the D3 devs having a few million more incoming customers is a bad thing in terms of ongoing game support. More mouths to feed should equal more content and updates and improvements for the rest of us. Right?