Not too long back I got a chance to talk to Matthew Burger, the senior designer on the PS3 version of Diablo 3. We talked about adapting the PC version for PS3, including the widespread changes to the controls, interface and loads more.
Making Diablo 3 for PS3
Leon Hurley A lot of talk about console Diablo, before it was officially announced, seemed to focus on finding the right control method. The direct control you’ve gone with seems the most obvious solution. Why did it take so long to get there?
Matthew Burger Part of it is that we wanted to make sure that a console version of Diablo 3 felt like a console game. It didn’t feel like a PC game brought onto the console. For that to happen we needed to have a team that was a console dedicated team – console designers, console programmers, console developers – and it took time to make that team. So the development of the game only started in earnest a year ago, after the launch of Diablo 3 on PC. There were a lot of things we needed to answer in the first few months. Some of it was the control scheme but integral to that was the user interface because how you control your barbarian, your demon hunter, your character on the battlefield is important. But also how you interact with the interface in a Diablo game is extremely important because you have to manage your items, your inventory, your powers. We really had to address all those issues all at the same time.
LH Blizzard hasn’t done a lot of console development recently, was it a shock to the system?
MB It is a different environment and that’s why we needed a team of developers with a console background. All our developers, designers, artist all have a strong console background. And the team that was made for this product has a long history of making console products at different companies. For them it’s not that much of a culture shock. For Blizzard it’s really more going back to our roots. Blizzard started making console games along time ago and we just wanted to get back into making a console game. We wanted to bring the Blizzard quality of games, Blizzard gameplay games to anther audience that hadn’t got to play them recently.
LH There’s also the PS4 version on the way. Any work started there in earnest?
MB For the moment we’re just happy to get the PS3 version into people’s hands. Happy for people to play it for the first time so we’re not talking about any other console launches at this time.
LH Now you have a team in place are there any longer term plans for consoles in general?
MB Really focused on delivering Diablo 3, making it the best experience for console possible. That’s our only goal at this point.
On PS3 we don’t want you to be fighting
the interface so we wanted to make things
very simple. We moved from grid based
inventory to a more circular interface.
We broke out equipment based on slots
LH So what are the changes you made between the PS3 and PC version?
MB The user interface has completely been redone for the PS3, in fact there were a lot of iterations over it. What was very important was – on PC obviously you have mouse and keyboard so navigating interfaces, lists, it’s very different – on PS3 we don’t want you to be fighting the interface so we wanted to make things very simple. So we moved from the paper doll and grid based inventory (on PC) to a more circular interface. We broke out equipment based on slots so if you chose your left hand for instance it’s one handed weapons, if you chose you head it’s helms, it’s always two buttons to get to anything. Very straight forward. What we’ve done is, instead of front loading all the complexity, we’ve buried it a little bit. So you can chose to open up your inventory and go ‘oh, this item has three green arrows obviously it’s going to be better for me’ and equip it right away. But maybe you’re looking for a specific item, a specific resistance, in which case you can compare it, open up its stats list and you can see everything thing it does and go, ‘oh yes this is exactly what I’m looking for’. So we’ve streamlined a lot of that process.
One of the other things we added on the console version is that when you pick up an item it’ll appear on the left side of the screen in the item event queue. If you press up on the D-pad you can actually scroll through all those items and you can equip them immediately. So you don’t even have to open up the inventory. If an item has three green arrows across the board and it’s better than what you have, press it, equip it, don’t need to open your inventory, keep on killing things.
LH Have you taken in to account that console gamer might have different expectations to a PC gamer?
MB Evade is a good example of that. On the PC version you don’t have evade, on the console version if use your right stick you can evade left, right, back and forward. In this type of game having a dodge roll is fairly traditional on the console so we wanted to make sure we had that. It also helped solve some of the differences between PC and console. On the PC if you click somewhere you’re character automatically goes there, on the console version, direct control, you have to actually manually go there. If you’re surrounded by enemies that might be a little more difficult, a little bit more tricky, so evade actually allows you to balance that out.
Something we’ve done a little bit of work on is our boss fights – the presentation, some of the mechanics [have been changed] to bring them more in line with console boss fights which have a lot of tradition. So we’ve obviously kept an eye on how console games are and we mirrored that.
LH Given the point and click nature of the PC original were you never tempted to try Move on PS3?
MB What we didn’t want to do was emulate a PC game on the console. So, for instance, you can’t plug in a USB keyboard and mouse and play Diablo 3 on PS3. It was really built for the controller. We put a lot work into how we laid out the abilities and the camera. It wouldn’t feel right.
LH Are you planning to support the PS3 version as you have the PC? DLC for example?
MB We’re not talking about DLC and things like that but I think it’s safe to say that Blizzard has a very strong history of supporting their games post launch and we would not want to stop that for Diablo 3.