As promised, here’s the full transcript of the interview we carried out with Jay Wilson last week. Every game content question was presented in the original six installments, but the material was reordered to fit thematically into the individual updates, and I left out all of the backstage chatter. This full transcript contains everything save the very first “Hi, how are you.” remarks, and even if you’ve read the other six installments (as most of you certainly did) you might enjoy seeing the whole thing in its real life order.
Click through for the full transcript. All 56 questions.
Diablo III Game Director Jay Wilson interviewed by Flux, for Diii.net. Interview conducted Tuesday morning, October 6, 2009.
The call came from Blizzard around 11:35, and after a few hellos and brief pleasantries, the interview began at 11:37. It ran until 12:00, and Jay was game to answer virtually everything I asked, and was forthcoming with quite a few tidbits never before revealed.
This interview was originally posted in six installments, with the questions reordered somewhat to fit thematically. Read the originals if you prefer, and the length comment threads all six parts spawned. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six. (Six closed with an infamous rant about the removal of the weapon switch hotkey, and the post has 79 comments, most of them debating that very feature.)
I put in a few stage directions, but not many. Quite often, Jay would pause a second or two before replying, and usually sounded thoughtful as he began speaking. I think this was partially to sum up a good answer to the frequently fairly deep questions, but also to weigh just what he could talk about at this point, when so much of the game remains secret and unrevealed to outsiders.
Though I recorded this interview, Blizzard has asked us not to post the audio. The following transcript was created from the recording, with some very slight changes to clean up the grammar and wording. (Mostly to my questions, since I was skimming over a list of about 200 and muttering, while debating whether to stick to my main highlighted questions or ask follow-ups, depending on Jay’s answers.) There were no game content questions that we held back from the original six-installment presentation, but some of the backstage conversation that’s present in this full transcript was not included in the six-part presentation.
Diii.net: Let’s start off with some Monk questions.
Jay Wilson: Okay.
Diii.net: We saw 8 Monk skills at BlizzCon (all detailed in Diablo Wiki). All were melee offensive or defensive. Can you give us some idea of what other skills the character will have at his disposal?
Jay Wilson: Most of the Monk’s skills will focus on combat skills and attacks, along with his various escape skills. And we talked at Blizzcon that we’re likely to put some defensive and supportive abilities on him. Possibly Auras. We’ve not done the next round of skills on him yet so we’re not exactly sure.
Diii.net: Really? That’s handy, since I was also going to ask if he’d have any co-op or party-boosting skills.
Jay Wilson: We definitely want to do that with one class. Whether or not it’s the Monk hasn’t yet been decided. The Monk does seem to be the logical choice. The only reason we might not do with him is that he’s too logical.
Diii.net: You want to mix it up?
Jay Wilson: Exactly.
Diii.net: There was talk of the Monk’s lore, that the Monks have 1001 gods and they give themselves tattoos to honor their gods and celebrate their glorious achievements in life. Are any of his skills going to be representative of those gods? Say there’s a fire god, and the Monk would have a fire attack in His name?
Jay Wilson: Yes. Leonard Boyarsky is our lead world designer, and he’s definitely talked about some of the mythology of the Monk. And relating them to some of the Monk’s skills.
Diii.net: On that topic, players are wondering if we’ll see those tattoos on the monk in the game.
Jay Wilson: I think some of them are in already. As to whether we see more during the course of the game, that’s undecided. It’s tied to the story arcs we create for the game.
Diii.net: Seems like a lot of work too, for the graphics?
Jay Wilson: Not necessarily. IF we have them over the course of the game it’s fairly problematic. How are they seen through his equipment? If they’re part of his base texture then that’s a little easier.
Diii.net: The Monk has a staff and the fist weapons. Will he have any weapon specific skills? Like dual wielding with just the fist weapons?
Jay Wilson: We’re talking about that. One of the things we’ve talked about with the Monk is that a lot of his skills don’t really use his weapons. So he’s doing melee skills with his weapons almost holstered. For instance, Debilitating … I think it’s called Crippling Wave now. We change them a lot and I get mixed up on the titles. Anyway, the Crippling Wave skill seems like it should be a staff skill. It’s kind of AoE, he does it and affects a lot of guys around him. So it’s a possibility that we’ll do skills and redefine them based on combat styles and have those styles have a weapon preference.
Diii.net: The monk has a small shield on his arm in the concept art. Is that just decorative or ornamental, or is that an example of an actual equipment option for the character?
Jay Wilson: It’s part of his armor. The artists were trying to visualize the monk. One of the challenges is to do it by remaining faithful to the lore, and he needed armor. What’s armor for a guy like that? They were exploring ideas of bracers and just defensive aspects of things on his arms. That gave him a lot of freedom of movement, but also protected him.
Diii.net: That was a question that I saw in our forums, people were wondering how the monk could use heavy plate mail and still do all of his high motion combo attacks.
Jay Wilson: Well we do different versions of armor for every character. The Diablo II Sorceress could use heavy plate mail without actually looking like she was covered in heavy plate mail. For us, our focus is to make sure that every character has armor that they look cool in. So the Monk’s armor isn’t going to look like heavy plate armor. It’s going to look like a shirt, what our imagination of what the Monk’s armor could be. It’s definitely going to be equipment, but he’s not going to look like he’s covered in metal, like the barb is likely to look.
Diii.net: One other question on the Monk’s armor. Traditionally in RPGs, Monks have bonuses to light armor and penalties to heavy armor. Is that something you guys are looking at?
Jay Wilson: No. We’re an item based game. The idea of a character that doesn’t use items is foreign to our basic game philosophy. So one of the things we decided when we were creating the Monk was that we were not going to explore that aspect of the character. We’re going to make a Diablo Monk, and the Diablo Monk uses items.
Diii.net: Just as an FYI, our readers seem fairly unanimous in preferring “mongrels” to “zombie dogs” if you guys are still debating that name choice. I think you said it had gone back to Zombie Dogs at Blizzcon, so of course fans then preferred Mongrels instead.
Jay Wilson: I like Mongrels better too, so I’ll use that as a weapon to try to convince the team.
Diii.net: I can send one of the PR guys the link. Look, fans said that!
Jay Wilson: *laughing* Well that’s great.
Diii.net: Because if someone says something on an internet forum, it must be true.
Jay Wilson: Yes.
(Note: After some early worries when the Z-Dog fans turned out quickly, the thread I posted to settle this issue has turned solidly towards “Mongrel.” Though there’s already concern over what “Mongrels” can be abbreviated to, in order to save valuable milliseconds in Battle.net chat.)
Diii.net: We saw 30-35 skills for the Wizard (30), Barbarian (35), and Witch Doctor (34), at Blizzcon. Can you give us an idea how close to the final skill trees those are? Almost ready, or they’re still very preliminary and we’re still going to see lots more higher level skills?
Jay Wilson: In terms of the number of skills, that’s about right. In terms of the skill tree we’re um… we’re still playing around with the actual layouts of skill trees and the working of the skill system. The skills for the Wizard and Barbarian their skill trees were very solid. We like their skills, though there are a few still missing. Especially for the Wizard, there are skills we didn’t put into her tree that we’re still defining, especially at the high end. The same for the Barbarian; we’ve got a few skills on the way for him. But for the most part, the content of those trees is more or less correct.
Diii.net: Based on playing those two characters and examining their trees, the Wizard has tons and tons of active attack skills and very few passives, while the Barbarian has an awful lot of defensive passives. Early on he didn’t have very many active skills. So fans were thinking we’d still see a lot of changes, and especially that the Wizard would be getting some more interesting passives.
Jay Wilson: *sounding thoughtful* Um… yeah, the team has done more passes and passives on the Barbarian, so his are more developed. The Wizard is a little bit harder to do passives for. If you look at the Barbarian in D2, you see the same thing. A lot more passives and less actives than the wizard in D2. I think that’s more a difference between a melee char and a magic wielder.
The fact that the Barbarian has a lot of passive defense is because he’s supposed to be tough. While I think that the Wizard probably doesn’t have enough passives, I would agree with that statement, keep in mind that they are two different classes.
Diii.net: Another follow up on that issue. People are wondering if the skills will be like Diablo 2 or more like World of Warcraft. Will we see more skills forever, or get the top level at level 30ish?
Jay Wilson: Diablo 2. We’re following the same model. Here essentially our Nightmare and Hell difficulties are an extension of normal difficulty, not a continuation of more content. So normal difficulty ends our core game, and then nightmare and hell are replays of them on higher skills levels. So we are going to allow you to continue and develop your skills into the higher difficulty levels.
Diii.net: Do you guys work and plan in advance to plan multiple potential builds for each character? Or do you just throw in as many cool skills as you can and see how players find ways to use them?
Jay Wilson: A little bit of both. We try to anticipate what we think will be good builds. For example, there’s lots of things we put into the wizard, to try to make a battle mage more viable. But sometimes we put in skills that we’re not 100% sure is an awesome skill, but that we think somebody will find an awesome use for. We try to plan things ahead of time, but we’re not foolish enough to believe that the three of us who work on skills can come up with as many possibilities and variations as the millions of players who will take the work we’ve done and have fun building stuff with it. We mostly try to make sure they have the tools to have a lot of freedom and create a lot of cool stuff.
Diii.net: Can you place your heads into the lion’s jaws and name the 3 of you who work on skills?
Diii.net: Hah. I talked to Julian and Chris at Blizzcon. In fact, I sat beside Chris at the fansite convention lunch and he said he first decided he wanted to work at Blizzard when he was reading our D2 website back in high school. And he was amazed to meet me since he used to read stuff I wrote on the website like 8 years ago. He was like, “Oh wow, you’re Flux?”
Jay Wilson: That’s where we all started.
Diii.net: The Witch Doctor build seems fairly narrow in concept. He’ll always have mongrels for tanking, some mini-mage support, and some minion attacks and a bit of mind control. Looking at his skill tree now, there doesn’t seem to be that many potential Witch Doctor builds, which isn’t true of the Wizard or Barbarian. Can you comment on that? Is it just that we don’t know enough about the Witch Doctor yet?
Jay Wilson: The Witch Doctor is less developed than the Wizard and the Barbarian. His skills are on what we call a second round, a second revision, while the Barbarian and Wizard are firmly in their third, maybe even their fourth revision. So as every time we revisit the systems we expand the abilities. It’s based on playing them. We discover basically the same things, and we’ll say something like, “Oh, this class seems a little bit more focused than we wanted. We can’t make this kind of build the way we wanted to.” So we end up expanding them over time.
In the game, every class is different. Some classes offer themselves up to a lot of variations. Some classes tend to have a lot more focus. We saw that in Diablo II, some classes had fewer variations and fewer possibilities than the others. That’s not really our goal though. Our goal is to make sure that every class is equally diverse in the types of builds they can be made for.
Diii.net: That’s what players hope for long term, but as you said earlier, it’s amazing the variety of things players find to use once they have the game in their hands. Look at all the weird builds in Diablo II.
Jay Wilson: The hardest thing as designers is relinquishing control. That’s hard to do as a designer. We have to accept that. We have to sometimes say, “Here’s a cool skill, we’re not really sure what to do with it.” Unless it’s just crap. Q&A can go, “This is just crap.” And we’ll fix it. And make it better. But it’s really difficult sometimes to do that and really truly turning your game over to the community is hard. You have to stop thinking, “This is the kind of wizard I’d like to build.” so you aren’t keeping the game one way so you can build that. You have to allow for other things. That’s the biggest challenge, and it’s something we work on and iterate on constantly.
Diii.net: Everyone seems pretty happy with the function and form of the Barbarian’s Fury resource, but nothing has been revealed about the non-mana resources that the Wizard and Monk will use. Can you give us some insight into what kind of play style their resources are meant to encourage?
Jay Wilson: Well for the Wizard we want to enforce the fact that she’s a glass cannon. I don’t think it’s fun to ever run out of mana. I’m not really interested in an extended resource for her. For the WD we’re okay with mana, since he’s got some pretty good skills to recover mana that also double as attacks. And he’s not defenseless when he’s out of mana. He’s got pets and ways to attack with them that aren’t mana intensive. For him that makes mana fairly interesting.
For the wizard, when she’s out of mana she just dies. And that’s not fun. So if anything, we want to encourage how she plays. So she’s the kind of character that blasts first and asks questions later. Very vulnerable. So we want to implement a system that makes her more blasty, but even more vulnerable. We want to make that a choice for the player. “Do I want to make myself more vulnerable in exchange for being more blasty.” And that’s a cool gameplay pull there.
For the Monk um… I’m not ready to talk about him yet since he’s just too early. We still haven’t decided exactly what we want to do with him. We’re still playing around with his resource system.
Diii.net: Do you envision the health globes will boost those other resources in the way that the Wizard and Witch Doctor were gaining mana from them at Blizzcon?
Jay Wilson:Um, maybe? *sounding intrigued* Usually in the third or fourth skill revision on classes we look at that kind of thing. For the Witch Doctor we figured that a lot of the mana things we had on the Wizard would work better on the Witch Doctor. We were having trouble maintaining enough mana while play testing the Witch Doctor. Especially if players didn’t take a specific mana recovery skill. So we focused on spreading that out across a lot more of the class so he can pull mana back more easily. When we get to other classes I’m sure we’ll look for more of that.
But the key is that we don’t necessarily want to…. we don’t want to cannibalize an existing gameplay mechanic. So when you take health globes that are already important, and you make them even more important, then that doesn’t really create gameplay. For the WD, the health globes weren’t that important a lot of times, since he very rarely took damage with his pets, so for him by enhancing his desire for health globes, we’re really putting gameplay where it wasn’t. So whatever we’re designing a class that’s what we look at.
Diii.net: Can you guys give me a heads up when there’s 5 minutes to go, since I have kind of a lightning round of questions to get through.
Blizzard PR guy: There’s five minutes left to go.
(It was 11:52 at this point, so I hoped he was exaggerating, but I did feel an instant of panic. I was also annoyed, since we hadn’t gotten started until 11:37, since they hadn’t called until 11:35, and I’d hoped to get those 5 minutes back on the tail end.)
Diii.net: Oh noes! You called at 35 after, but okay. A couple of quick item questions then. Are there going to be any completely new weapon types?
Jay Wilson: I’m sorry? *feedback screeching* (This happened every time the PR guy chimed in on their intercom phone.)
Diii.net: Are there going to be any completely new item types?
Jay Wilson: Will there be any completely new item types?… Yes. *laughs* That’s all I’m going to say.
Diii.net: Does that mean the Monk’s fist items? Or something else.
Jay Wilson: *pauses* That’s all I’m going to say. You asked the question. “Are there going to be any new item types?” That’s all I’m going to say.
(Note that I screwed this one up when I repeated it, since I said “items” instead of “weapons” and we already know there are pants and backpacks added in D3.)
Diii.net: Skill runes?
Jay Wilson: Yes. We will have skill runes.
Diii.net: They’re still being reworked and you don’t have any further comment?
Jay Wilson: They’re not being reworked, we had tons of skill runes on the Wizard and the Barbarian but they were so spotty across the entire class we thought it would be more confusing to show them off than to not. So we just disabled them all for the BlizzCon build. But they’re all still there and they work just fine.
Diii.net: Are we going to see returning set or unique items from Diablo 1 or Diablo 2?
Jay Wilson: *pause* Uh… probably. The game’s itemization is done fairly late in development. The itemization in general is done fairly late in development. So at that point we’ll be building unique items and looking all over the world for ideas and I’m sure we’ll look at the previous games.
Diii.net: Weapon switch hotkey?
Jay Wilson: No. We took that out.
Diii.net: Oh, I loved that feature in D2.
Jay Wilson: Mostly we took it out because the only examples we could come up with of how people used it were somewhat exploitive. Most frequently people used it by accident and wondered where the freak my weapons went. So it didn’t seem a useful feature for anyone but a very small portion of the audience that used it to swap items for magic find purposes, which seemed not a great super fun reason to swap weapons. There were probably some other uses, which I’m sure I’ll be reminded of in the forums.
Diii.net: There were a lot of specialized builds that found it essential to use two sets of weapons. Hybrid Amazons, chiefly. Used a bow and also a javelin/shield.
Jay Wilson: Yeah.
(This was probably the most controversial piece of news in this entire interview, at least judging by our editorial on it and nearly one hundred fan replies.)
Diii.net: These are the lightning round questions. These are a bunch of quick topics that you’ll probably say no comment on. If you can’t give any new information on them just say pass and I’ll go on to the next one.
Jay Wilson: Okay.
Diii.net: Fifth character.
Jay Wilson: Pass.
Jay Wilson: Uh… we will have PvP in some form. And we’re working on it now, and it’s pretty awesome, and it’ll get announced at a future date.
Diii.net: Are we going to see any large info releases before next year’s blizzcon?
Jay Wilson: *pause* I dunno. That’s a question for Ryan. (The PR guy.)
Jay Wilson: Like hirelings?
Diii.net: Yeah. In the past you’ve said you want to do more with Hirelings in D3, but you’ve not given any details on them yet.
Jay Wilson: I can’t give any details on those yet.
Diii.net: Guild support online?
Jay Wilson:Um… we don’t really know yet. We’re not working on battle.net yet.
Diii.net: Respecs. Cost, gold mechanism, any specifics?
Jay Wilson: We will have respecs. We haven’t determined the mechanism yet, but we’re definitely trying to do something different than a wholesale pay a token price and get all your skills back. We want to have a higher price than that.
Diii.net: Gambling in the game?
Jay Wilson: *pause* Undecided.
Diii.net: What percent are you complete with the entire project, or any of the individual acts.
Jay Wilson: Now that’s a sneaky way to try to figure out what our release date is!
Diii.net: *laughs* Oh I know that already. I’m just trying to get a percentage now.
Jay Wilson: No, we don’t really measure percentages. We don’t really know.
Diii.net: Do you plan on allowing voice support in game?
Jay Wilson:Uh, probably. Well yeah, I think that’s one of the core features Battle.net said they’re going to support.
Diii.net: Are there going to be different character titles for completing difficulty levels or quests or other such things.
Jay Wilson: Wow, that’s a cool idea. *sincerely* Uh… I don’t know?
Diii.net: People are wondering about the single player save state. If it’s going to save the entire world as is, like Diablo 1 did, or if it’ll just save your progress and reset everything else, like Diablo 2 did?
Jay Wilson: *pause* Uh… no comment.
Diii.net: Any changes in your plans about the red outline around targeted monsters?
Jay Wilson: No.
Diii.net: So it’s still in?
Jay Wilson: It’s still in and it’s not going anywhere.
Diii.net: Ahh. That was one of Chris Haga‘s big questions of we fans at Blizzcon. If we liked it or thought it was too obtrusive.
Jay Wilson: I consider it absolutely essential for target selection. We tried tons of other systems, and that’s the one that worked really well. The complaint we get is that it makes the monsters pop out from the world, and our response is that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.
Diii.net: Are we going to see any more monster types from Diablo I that weren’t in Diablo II? Such as Hidden, Knights, Horned Chargers, etc?
Jay Wilson: Um… I would have to review our monster list to know precisely if they’re in Diablo I and not Diablo II. There are a few more returning from Diablo 2, but I don’t think there are others from Diablo 1 that weren’t in D2 as well?
Diii.net: The Talisman. You said initially it was some sort of stat-boosting thing, but it’s been disabled for the past year and a half, in playable builds anyway.
Jay Wilson: Mm-hmm. It’s still on hold.
Diii.net: People are wondering if there’s going to be some mechanism to allow greater character diversification in stats, given that we can not manually assign our own attribute points in Diablo 3. There will be something more than just finding +10 on an item. We’ll be able to do something more to differentiate our characters from others?
Jay Wilson: Yes. We’re stated in the past that we’re working on a new customization system. A system that’s part of your character building. Also that within the item space we’re looking for ways for more… we really prefer the single point stat customization be more item based. But we’re going to have a system to more or less replace the attribute point spending system.
PR Guy Ryan: Last question, so make it a good one! (It was 11:58 at this point.)
Diii.net: Oh, they’re all good ones. (A boast I disproved by asking a not so good one, in terms of picking something that Jay could give a lengthy answer to.)
Diii.net: How will we sell items easily in town, since there are no more town portals? How do you pop back quickly and easily without slowing down the gameplay?
Jay Wilson: Waypoints are a little bit more frequent and your bag space is a little bit bigger.
Diii.net: It’s going to be Diablo 2 in style? There won’t be pets you can send back, or NPC merchants out in the wild, or any other odd features?
Jay Wilson: No.
Thanks to Bashiok, Ryan, and everyone else from Blizzard PR who helped make this interview a reality, thanks to Jay for giving such good replies to our questions, and thanks to all of you guys for submitting excellent questions and joining in quality discussions of the interview presentation. Knowing there are so many fans eager for more info and ready to soak it in is what keeps us working hard to post the best Diablo 3 content anywhere.