David Kim talks System Design and Diablo 4, reveals how much is still up in the air
Often, the people who play video games say they wish the devs of said games would pay more attention to them and their concerns. That’s what makes this recent post by David Kim, Lead Systems Designer on Diablo 4, so interesting — because it is exactly that. It is Blizzard and the Diablo 4 design team, and specifically the head of their systems design for the game, coming out and addressing exactly what they’re doing to make the game happen. It is exactly what the community always says it wants.
But at the same time, it’s also a post that’s much more, “we’re listening,” than, “this is what we’re going to do,” because the post reveals that they don’t know what they’re going to do. This post goes a long way towards telling you exactly where Diablo 4 is in its development process. And the picture it paints is very much a game in its early stages, where a lot of player questions about how things like itemization or endgame are going to work are answered with, essentially, that they don’t know yet. That in and of itself is an interesting decision. It’s rare for a company like Blizzard to actually admit that they’re still working on how this is all going to shake out.
This is a game that is unrepentant in how unfinished it is, and I find that refreshing. Rarely do you see this level of candor about a game not knowing what it will end up being, while still admitting to everything they have decided on.
Itemization and the known
Mr. Kim makes the point that there will be a separate itemization post but definitely makes the case that they’re working on the feedback they’ve received on that front. A point made earlier in the post about feedback is worth repeating, however: feedback is rarely universal. For every player who hates a system or a design choice, there are other players who love it, and still more who didn’t really feel strongly one way or another. Player feedback is rarely easily sifted or implemented in the design of a game even if you’re of a mind to, and that’s worth considering.
But while we’re told we’ll hear more about itemization later, Mr. Kim does tell us a few things: we’re going to have Elective Mode on skills in Diablo 4 in a manner similar to how Diablo 3 worked. The team agrees that Ancient Items need work in D4 and they’re taking a look at them now. And the most interesting discussion of the entire post, to me, was the discussion of how Endgame Progression is going to work in Diablo 4.
D3 has the Paragon system, which has worked reasonably well for that purpose, and is essentially an ‘infinite’ system. Mr. Kim talks about how they haven’t decided how D4 is going to handle that, with discussion on the team weighing the pros and cons of both approaches. I definitely encourage you to read this section of the post very carefully and think about it because it’s fascinating. Here’s an excerpt I liked.
There seems to be some concern around infinite being worse because it will eventually overshadow all the power granted by other sources. However, we can control how much power each system gives, whether it’s infinite or finite.
For example, say we’re talking about thousands of hours of gameplay . . . within those thousands of hours, we could choose to create a finite system that grants 1,000,000 times more power than an infinite system, making it practically impossible for the infinite system to catch up in power.
That statement simultaneously outlines one approach they could take while making it clear that, as yet, they have not taken that approach or indeed have not even decided on which approach they should take. I think a lot of us just assumed that certain Diablo 3 systems like Adventure Mode or Paragon levels would be imported into Diablo 4 and if there’s anything this post does and does well it’s to emphasize that these assumptions are premature. D4 is a different game and they’re still working on how to approach it and what it needs.
Sources of power and adventure
The discussion of leveling systems also discusses why systems with two experience options have advantages — you want people to feel the sense of completion at hitting level cap while also giving them something they can pursue indefinitely, which is why the Paragon system has worked well for Diablo 3. It’s heartening to see that they’re keeping these elements in mind as they work on the game.
The breakdown of exactly how you get stronger as you play Diablo 4 is interesting as it seems aimed at making the gear treadmill less dominant. While of course gear is still important, leveling up and getting new ranks on skills and new talent choices are a big part of what makes a level 50 character stronger than a level 20 character, to just pull two levels out of my butt for the purposes of the example. There’s also a discussion of Legendary items and how they will grant power, comparing the strength of a Legendary power to being roughly equal to that of three affixes on an item.
Finally, there’s a discussion of how Keyed Dungeons are going to work and what makes them different from Rifts. I’m not 100% sold on Keyed Dungeons — they sound too much like Mythic + Dungeons in WoW to me. This part of the post did little to make me think otherwise, as it emphasized the way affixes will make Keyed Dungeons more difficult and more requiring of sitting down and working out a strategy beforehand. That’s a compelling form of gameplay to be sure, but I also like it when I can just go running in and lay waste to as many demons as possible, and I hope that kind of play makes an appearance in Diablo 4 as well.
The transparency of Sanctuary
All in all, Mr. Kim has done something interesting with this post, and I hope it’s something that continues as we get closer to Diablo 4 arriving. It’s always something worthwhile when the developers stop to explain to us exactly where they are and how they’re making use of our feedback, and I hope the community takes a page from this example and really thinks about how their providing it. This is a golden opportunity for a good relationship, if we don’t squander it.
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