Lead producer Alex Mayberry talks redemption for Blizzard’s most controversial release till date.
Blizzard Entertainment probably didn’t anticipate Diablo III being as controversial as it eventually ended up being. But from server woes and connectivity issues to a broken Auction House and always-online play, we’ve come a long way since then with Reaper of Souls. While not every key issue with the main game has been addressed – PC players still need very much to stay online why playing – Blizzard is making an effort to give the fans what they want…even if they don’t know they want it yet.
In that department, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls may either be a success or failure depending on who you ask. But there’s no denying that Lead Producer Alex Mayberry and his team have been working to ensure better service, a smooth launch and just an outright fun experience for players. When will we see the PS4 version of Diablo 3 and Reaper of Souls? What about the Auction House, which recently shut down? Will Reaper of Souls really serve to redeem the game that made many a Blizzard faithful turn their back on the franchise? Find out below.
Kurtis Simpson: During the launch of Diablo 3 back on the PC there was quite a bit of criticism, regarding patches and connectivity issues. How has this changed for the upcoming version of Reaper of Souls ?
Alex Mayberry: First of all we learned a lot during that first launch, and since that time we’ve done some serious upgrades to our service and what’s unique about the way we are launching Reaper is that a couple of weeks ago we put out patch 2.01. People who are playing right now have all our content they are playing on the codebase that is Reaper of Souls.
It’s just that when you buy Reaper it will unlock adventure mode, but all those things are there now and will be accessible when we launch tonight. For the past several weeks that code has been live and runnning, tonight when we launch it’s really just flipping a switch opening up the rest of that content. So really in terms of just the server functionality it’s live and working right now. So our goal is to just put that out prior to the launch so we can just iron out any hiccups with the service which we’ve been doing over the past several weeks. So we expect a pretty smooth launch.
"We built something that was very complex and functional, and you know provided a good service. In the end we felt that the Auction House took away from the gaming experience because players could go buy the best items in the game and then feel like the game was never going to give them an upgrade again."
Kurtis Simpson: Sounds great. One of our readers commented on one of our articles about the lack of PvP and why we’re seeing an expansion pack instead. Will PvP be happening at some point?
Alex Mayberry: It’s something we talk about very frequently, we know that players have wanted it and it’s something we would like to do. But there are a lot of challenges to making PvP in a Diablo game, to make it a PvP that is going to match fan expectations.
I mean currently you can have matches that battle against each other. We have brawling modes so you can go in and fight against each other. I think players want something more robust than that, and I think that’s something that we would like to give. However the random nature of Diablo 3 makes it extremely hard to balance a pure PvP experience. So we spend a lot of time discussing what PvP should be in a Diablo game and what those challenges are but at this point we haven’t firmed up what are plans for that are yet.
Kurtis Simpson: Okay, so it was recently announced that Auction House had been shut down, would you count this as a failure in some way?
Alex Mayberry: I don’t say it was a failure, it was an experiment along, we’ve said it was an experiment, and for the sake of experiments it did work. We built something that was very complex and functional, and you know provided a good service. In the end we felt that the Auction House took away from the gaming experience because players could go buy the best items in the game and then feel like the game was never going to give them an upgrade again. We wanted the players to get their best items from the game not from the Auction House. So for the good of the game and in the long term it was better to shut it down.
Kurtis Simpson: I see, alot of the community around the game where quite happy about this, in all respects. But because of the nature of an online game do you think this could change again?
Alex Mayberry: In what ways?
"To me that's one of the most compelling reasons why online is so good. You can't get on an airplane and play the game on your laptop but when you get off, you can go to your friends house and log in and all of your characters are there."
Kurtis Simpson: In staying offline.
Alex Mayberry: Oh as in offline versus online, we don’t anticipate changing the PC online requirements. There’s a lot of benefits from being online. For one you have a presence online if you’re friends are playing World of Warcraft or Starcraft or Hearthstone or any of our other games you can communicate, you have all of the Battle.net social functionality, being able to easily patch and update the game, having your character remain persistent so you know if your hard drive crashes, if your PC is stolen your character still exists within our database.
To me that’s one of the most compelling reasons why online is so good. You can’t get on an airplane and play the game on your laptop but when you get off, you can go to your friends house and log in and all of your characters are there. So not to mention the fact that Diablo 3 on the PC was built to be an online game from the start, and to make it offline we would have to completely rebuild that architecture and that’s not something we are looking at doing.
Kurtis Simpson: So given that the nature of always-online is here to stay are there any other plans in the future to take more advantage of that?
Alex Mayberry: Sure. I mean it gives us the advantage to do things that we couldn’t do if it was just an always offline game. I don’t have any definitve plans to point to but having that connectivity and that guarantee that everybody is online does give us options that we wouldn’t have if it was just an offline game.
Kurtis Simpson: Reapers of Souls is gaining a bit of criticism due to its pricing. Since the main selling point is the adventure mode do you think there’s enough in the expansion to justify its price?
Alex Mayberry: Adventure mode really changes the way the game is played. There’s been alot of positive comments about patch 2.01 and 2.0 but that’s really just a taste of what Reaper brings, and we still have the whole of Act 5 which is playing through Westmarch, Pandemonium, and fighting Malthael which is compelling in itself. But after that we unlock adventure mode and that completely changes the feel of the game.
You feel less constrained, it feels more open, you as the player have far more choices of what you can do with your time, more way to get great items and more way to fight monsters that you haven’t before. So we feel like it brings much more great amount of replayability to the game. So yes, we do feel because of that it justifies the price point.
"We're already seeing players come back, our numbers have been going up steadily since patch 2.01. I've been reading our forums on Battle.net. I"ve been reading Reddit and I see a lot of really good commentary. I have lots of friends who play, everybody seems really excited about the changes we've made. So we're very hopeful to see players come back and see what we've changed."
Kurtis Simpson: Reapers of Souls seems to be more of ‘a road to redemption’ for the Diablo franchise. Do you think it will bring back the older players who gave up on the game during its launch?
Alex Mayberry: We’re already seeing players come back, our numbers have been going up steadily since patch 2.01. I’ve been reading our forums on Battle.net. I”ve been reading Reddit and I see a lot of really good commentary. I have lots of friends who play, everybody seems really excited about the changes we’ve made. So we’re very hopeful to see players come back and see what we’ve changed.
Kurtis Simpson: How is the PS4 version of Diablo 3 shaping up? How different will it be from the PC version in terms of control and user interface?
Alex Mayberry: We’ll take the same approach that we did for regular Diablo 3 on PS3, it’s not a straight port so that means all User-Interfaces will be redesigned to completely take advantage of those consoles, so that it’s easier to use with a controller than it is with a PC and a mouse. So you know we don’t consider these straight ports. There will be changes in the console versions that will make the game feel like it was made for that platform.
Kurtis Simpson: Is the PS4 version still due for release this year?
Alex Mayberry: I don’t have a time frame on it but they’re not far behind us on the development cycle, but I don’t have a date to announce.
Kurtis Simpson: So with the PlayStation 4 and the games that have been released so far there’s been alot of talk regarding frame-rate and resolution. So is there a case of scaling back certain things on the PS4 from the PC? Is it going to be full HD with high frame-rates like what everybody wants?
Alex Mayberry: Our goal is to always have the highest resolution we can get and the fastest frame-rates. We will have to make adjustments to take advantage of the console architecture versus the PC. They do behave slightly differently but whatever changes we make should only be for the benefit of the platform and not something that players would really notice, more under the hood kind of changes.
We really look at trying to make the game experience great from holding a controller in your hand and it kind of starts from there. You know having the dual-sticks and being able to drive your character, the gameplay of the console version feels inherently different anyway because they are different controls. So we will really cater the game to take advantage of that, of holding a controller in your hands.
"We want everything to run smoothly at launch so yeah I mean that's always our goal to have the smoothest launch, it doesn't always happen but that's our goal. So that will be our ideal situation."
Kurtis Simpson: Will the expansion come included with the PS4 version? Or will this be released separately?
Alex Mayberry: I don’t have a lot to say about those platforms because we’re still finalizing the plans. I mean the console versions are in development but they are slightly behind us on the PC side so I don’t want to say anything just because it could change.
Kurtis Simpson: Back on the PS3 it was said the system was really hard to code for. But now with the PS4’s PC-like architecture, has development become easier?
Alex Mayberry: Yeah. I would say in general that’s probably true, plus our console developers now have more time under their belt with the PS4 and the game engine itself, so in addition to the architecture being a bit more approachable, our expertise has grown as well so we’re getting pretty good at developing for those platforms.
Kurtis Simpson: Is there any chance of the game coming to the Xbox One?
Alex Mayberry: I can’t say when or if that will happen, only that we develop for both platforms as part of what we do. If it does come to Xbox One we’ll make announcement, once that’s for certain.
Kurtis Simpson: Are there any specific plans for the PS4 version so that it runs smoothly at launch?
Alex Mayberry: We want everything to run smoothly at launch so yeah I mean that’s always our goal to have the smoothest launch, it doesn’t always happen but that’s our goal. So that will be our ideal situation.
Kurtis Simpson: Are there any other plans, secrets or information that you want to let go for the fans regarding the Reaper of Souls expansion?
Alex Mayberry: [Laughs] I can’t say there’s anything, I don’t like revealing secrets because they’re not secrets anymore, [Laughs again]. I would say there are certainly things for players to find, there are secrets to find in Reaper that they will definitely have fun finding, you know especially within the Nephalem Rifts. There’s some secret monster populations that will be near and dear to the hearts of Diablo players, so I think there will be some happy players when they find them.
Kurtis Simpson: Will there be any cross-platforming say from players on the PS3 to the PS4, or the PS4 to the PC? is it possible?
Alex Mayberry: I would say no at this point. It’s not something that we are doing just because of the nature of those two systems, and kind of the requirements for those specific platforms make that quite difficult to do.