The Gameplay Systems and Crusader Panel was the first held on the second day of BlizzCon 2013. And although the headline act was the Crusader the original five classes weren’t neglected. They have all been re-examined by the design team and today they showcased some of their new and improved skills. As well as wowing the crowd with the new skills the panel discuss the design philosophies behind the ramping up of the existing bank of skills.
The Panel for this consisted of Travis Day, Paul David, Nicholas Eberle, Josh Mosqueira, Steve Shimizu and Kevin Martins.
If you didn’t get a chance to see it the whole one hour panel has been transcribed with illustrative shots and video snips demoing the new and improved skills. All after the break.
Josh has this philosophy about expansions where he wants the settings, the hero and the villain to match up. Since these are inherently more self-constrained than the larger game those things should be a great trifecta. The Crusader was a great choice to balance against someone like Malthael. So, who is the Crusader? When we set out to make a class we had a few different questions we like to ask ourselves and one of the most important ones is where do they fit in that story? Where do they fit in the world of Sanctuary.
We had this vague idea, and most classes start with a very vague idea. We kind of like the Paladin, could we bring something like that forward? When we put it through that filter of the hero matching the villain better, we talked about maybe having a dark Paladin. That handful of words eventually turned into something much grander. We also had this idea that we wanted to broaden the horizons of Sanctuary and make the world bigger by adding this class.
So we took a lot of things we loved about the Paladin and we did a lot of new things and that’s where the Crusader came from.
The Crusader and the Paladin order are tied together. When the Paladin order was first founded, Rakkis, who became the first king of Westmarch led the Crusaders (Ed. he says Crusaders but I think he means Paladins) west on a grand crusade bringing the Zakarum faith by fire and sword. Meanwhile the Crusaders, the elite force of the Paladins, went east on a secret mission. Now the star has fallen and dead have risen, Diablo has come back to earth and Malthael has arrived on Sanctuary the Crusader has come back west to solve these problems. He is a member of the Zakarum faith but he has never been corrupted. They have never given up their crusade and are going to solve this problem.
It’s a proper hero for humanity in this darkest hour.
The ideas are very simple when we start off. I mentioned before, they are very vague. So we have the knight in shining armour of the Paladin, to have this knight battle-scarred armour, it’s not just darker, it’s more appropriate to the times. If someone lives in eternal warfare, that’s kind of where the Crusader came from.
We also have this idea of righteous wrath. When you see this word watch how this influences all the skills, the weapon, the armour, the looks we are about to show you guys as we do a deep dive into this class. Essentially this is scourging evil. Humanity has had enough, they are tired of being caught in the middle and the Crusader is going to stop this once and for all.
This is the core tactical concept. So we have this idea of where they fit into the story, we had this fantasy of this knight in battle-scarred armour who has live in eternal warfare. Powered by Wrath. The war machine made human answers the final question about classes which is where do they fit in the tactical toolkit. We knew we wanted a heavily-armoured character. We knew we wanted a character who was melee-heavy but we also wanted to stand out from the Barbarian and the Monk.
You’re going to watch this concept; if we took like a medieval battlefield engine, if we took a modern one like a tank, how can we turn that into something that you can actually play, here today on the show floor.
When we first set out to create the Crusader, we established some early pillars to help define what the Crusader is. These pillars are knights in battle-scarred armour, righteous wrath, mid-range melee and a war machine made human. But what do these pillars mean, how do they help define the Crusader and how do we visualise these ideas?
To help us answer these questions we brainstormed. Brainstorming allows us to grab a bunch of different ideas to help us imagine what these pillars are
Here we have a concept of shape language. Shape Language is the overall simplification of the major elements down to basic geometric shapes. In this particular example the rectangular shape help reinforce the idea of a heavily-armoured knight.
Here we have a pair of concepts that focus on the shield. Up top the shield takes centre stage, suggesting the shield is a very important extension of the character. Down below we have a skill concept that depicts a shield being used as a melee weapon. You can see the Crusader leap up into the air and come crashing down on his enemies.
Here we have plethora of amour designs. In this image the artist explored the many different ways an armoured knight could look like. There’s also some play with some of the cloth as you can see. The cloth is there to represent the idea that the Crusader isn’t purely melee but he’s also able to do some magical abilities.
At the end of the brainstorm we gather all of the ideas, all the elements and we pick and choose ones that really help support the pillars that we had established early on. These are the big bulky armour, the cloth element, the shield, the flail and we take all those into concepting.
Concepting is where we can take those elements and really refine them so we can figure out what this character should look like.
Here we have a concept that incorporates the heavy armour and cloth elements. The cloth here has transformed into a tabard which suggests that he’s a knight from an order and he’s also a magical user.
Here we have a concept that really incorporates all of the elements that we had established.(1) He has a shield, the tabard, the big bulky armour and the flail. We really liked where this was going so we went down this road and really explored what we could come up with and this is our take on that.(2)
But this wasn’t really quite hitting it for us. It’s really at this point where we know the elements that we want but we really just need to figure out what they should look like. After many weeks of work and countless drawings everything finally culminated down to this one image. This, for us, really represents what a Crusader is in Diablo 3. Here we have a fierce battle-scarred knight with a flail and shield in hand ready to leap head first into enemies.
From here we go into modelling. With all the work that went into brainstorming and concepting, modelling was pretty straight forward with this character. One of the first things we do when we model is we block out the character. Blocking out the character allows us to get a feel for what that character looks and feels like in 3D. Also it allows us to assess the proportions to make sure they are where they need to be. Once we are pretty happy where everything is we go into straight up productions.
Here we can see the final gray model on the left hand side and on the right hand side you can see the many stages of texture completion.(1) Once we are this point we polish, we make the weapon, we make the shield and we have the final asset in game.(2)
Here you can get a sneak peek at some of the amour sets you guys are going to be able to find for the Crusader.
So character and concept have made a great foundation for the Crusader. They have taken these key words…medieval, mid-range melee, squared, a character that will hold his ground and they gave it a face. Now it’s the animators turn to bring it to life and we start with an idle pose. That idle pose has to really capture the tone of the character. We started with this right here. What we like about this is he has these squared shoulders and this broad chest. He’s militant and stoic and he’s not scared of the enemies in front of him. In theory, this is really great, but in practice we ran into some issues. You’re going to see here that when he goes into dynamic action he then hits this very rigid resting pose and it causes visual noise and it’s distracting to look at so we had to rethink this.
The good news was we could take this pose that hits a lot of his core elements and apply it to his town idle. So when you’re talking to a vendor you still capture that element of the Crusader we want but in game you are more battle ready.
Here, even without his weapons, he’s a square and when you put it in practice it flows much better. Now it’s fluid, it’s dynamic and you’re not distracted and it feels really good.
Once we’ve solved this issue we can continue to animate more of his locomotion and base move and more weapons, but this time we got asked to get involved with something that was new for the animators, which was the signature weapon.
When you start to see the concepts of the crusader with the shield we knew that was going to be a big part of him, but the flail really struck a chord with the team. It was medieval, mid range melee, it was very physical for a weapon.
In-game though there were some issues with it, as you can see this is not reacting well at all. It’s got a mind of its own.
We now focus a lot of time to make it feel right. Every time we change gravity, physics, weight or material, we have to click 100 times to see how it reacts. What you learn is it’s not bout her action it’s about the reaction. it;s what the flail does after the movement. We had a meeting and I said “we’re either going to fail or flail”. We ended up with something that was good, and you’ll see it;s working how you’d expect it.
Finally the meat and potatoes for the animators, the skills. Every hero has a style, the Barbarian is very consistent, the Monk hits and holds, and the Crusader has a bit of a build up to his animations. Here’s Shield Bash and it’s slowed down. What you see is a character who gathers that energy in the back, holds it and then explodes forward. It’s physical and powerful, and it’s going with the line of action for the skill. At full speed you see how powerful it feels.
This is when you get character concepts, animation, effects and designers really working together.
On the design side, our challenge is figuring out “how does this guy play?”. When you’re clicking the button and slaying evil, what’s the tempo behind it? Smooth jazz? Hard Drum and bass?
We new straight away he had to be melee character, he’s a big guy with armor, shield and a flail. There;s no way he’s walking away from a fight. We already have two very strong classes in the Barbarian and the monk that really own that space really well. So for the Crusader we gave him the ability to have some strong ranged component to him. A lot of his skills have the ability to slay from afar.
The key for that was to have him powered by this Righteous Wrath. Wrath is your resource, it ambiently generates even when you;re not in combat. because he’s “so maaaaad!”. At the same time he can generate it with his primary, he spends big with his secondary skills like Shield Bash. But the great thing about it being earth is it;s not necessarily being physical, it;s this mystical power he has inside of him, and he can unleash it in anyway shape or form.
The Crusader is often wearing a shield so he won’t be able to dual wield, that’s OK because for a lot of his skills they’re very AoE oriented which makes up for the fact you can’y flail around very fast. But you can hit lots of monsters at the same time.
The fantastic things about his ranged abilities is not only can he kill things from afar, they also have this physical component to them. His ranged skill have this feeling of strength behind them.
Now that the two gameplay roles are established and understood. The next thing is to fill out the rest of the Skill Kit. We don;t start with just 24 skills, we have to come up with that on the design side. Sometimes we’re not successful.
This is Crushing Resolve. Zeal in Diablo 2 was an amazing skill, it increased the number of monsters it would hit as you used it, increased attack speed, scaled with attack rating in fantastic ways. We decided that he was descended from the Paladin so let’s bring that skill forward and give it to him. Unfortunately it didn’t work too well. In Diablo 2 you had two skill buttons effectively, in Diablo 3 it’s so much better, you have six. You have all these utility skills you want to use. When you have one skill that does as many things as Zeal in that kind of context, it can actually get a little bit sad because you;e just pressing one button all the time. There’s not incentive to press anything else. Also the visuals are not reading terribly well. So, you won’t see this on the Crusader. You won’t see it on the floor, you won’t see it in Reaper of Souls.
We iterate, we learned a lot. This actually became Slash and Slash has a rune on it called Zeal. It’s kind of win win.
Sometimes lightening strikes. This is Fist of the Heavens.
The Crusader is a Knight in battle-scarred armor. He’s an immovable force, an unstoppable object. When he commands, the heavens respond. This is the first pass on the skill, we haven’t changed it since we tried it out. We saw it in-game and we knew it resonated so strongly. We had to just keep it and we haven’t needed to iterate on it. It was that good.
As a Crusader I want to be surrounded by enemies a lot. A lot of my utility skills like Provoke actually increase their potency based on the number of monsters I hit. That radius is around me.
The first thing we do when we’re designing a new class for Diablo 3. We ask “what’s the fantasy for this character?” We brainstorm and come up with all kinds of fantasies we want to see for the Crusader. I’ll show you how we take those to finished skills.
The first skill is Heaven’s Fury. The fantasy that started out for this, we wanted to see the hand of God reach out and destroy the Crusader’s enemies. It sounded cool but we had to figure out what that does and what does it look like.
The first version you would click and drag out a line and these beams would come raining down destruction on the battlefield. Visually we thought it looked pretty cool but it had problems. It was really loud. If you were in a multiplayer game it was all you saw. It was annoying. So we made some revisions.
In version 2 we had the beam chase the mouse cursor around and we liked the way it looked. It felt powerful but didn’t take too much space up on screen. Mechanically it was a little rough. We didn’t like having a channelled skill for the Crusader. We want him to move and hit things.
The final version of Heaven’s Fury you right click and it chases down monsters leaving the Crusader free to smite his enemy while Heaven’s Fury melts faces.
Every class needs a movement skill so we asked “what’s a knight without his horse?”. This is Steed Charge. The Crusader summons a mystical horse that cruises around the battlefield really, really fast. It has some awesome runes too.
One of the coolest things about a tank is the big gun on top, so we didn’t want to give him a gun, but what if he was the shell in that cannon. Falling Sword jumps him in the air and he crashes down dealing tons of AoE damage. It helps him get into the fight.