Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

On May 15, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people around the world launched the Battlenet web client and clicked the launch button for Diablo 3, a game that Blizzard was working on it for nearly 10 years. Fans have been patiently waiting for this moment, counting down the days until they can frantically click their way through an army of hellish creatures in a gothic fantasy world. But at 12:00 midnight on May 15th, when Diablo 3 became available, anyone who tried to launch the game was met with a vague and nerve-wracking message:

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

On May 15, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people around the world launched the Battlenet web client and clicked the launch button for Diablo 3, a game that Blizzard was working on it for nearly 10 years. Fans have been patiently waiting for this moment, counting down the days until they can frantically click their way through an army of hellish creatures in a gothic fantasy world. But at 12:00 midnight on May 15th, when Diablo 3 became available, anyone who tried to launch the game was met with a vague and nerve-wracking message:

The servers are now busy. Please try another time (error 37)

After a decade of tumultuous production, Diablo 3 was finally released, but no one could play it. Some people became careless and fell asleep. Some people kept trying. An hour later:

Now the servers are busy. Please try another time (Error 37)

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

"Error 37" became a meme and continues With fans expressing their frustration across internet forums, the meme went viral. Diablo fans were already skeptical of Blizzard's decision to make Diablo 3 playable online only they thought Blizzard was afraid of illegal downloads and this problem only confirmed their fears. Fans immediately thought that if they could play Diablo 3 offline, they would be fighting monsters in New Tristram right now, not trying to figure out what error 37 means.

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At Blizzard's Irvine, California office, a group of live service engineers and producers in a place they call the "War Room" " on it, they sat anxiously not knowing what to do.

Diablo 3 sold beyond their most optimistic expectations, but their servers were unable to handle the volume of players trying to log into the game. . Around 1:00 p.m., Blizzard released a brief message: Please note that due to the high volume of traffic, attempts to log in and create characters may be slower than normal... We hope to resolve this issue soon and thank you for your patience.

A few kilometers away, in the soldier arcade of Irvine Spectrum, the rest of the Diablo 3 team had no idea that people couldn't play their game. They were having a party. Hundreds of die-hard fans of the game, wearing spiked armor and carrying huge battle axes, came to the official Diablo 3 launch event. As Blizzard developers were signing photos and greeting fans, they heard rumblings of downed servers. It soon became clear that this was not a standard technical problem at launch, and that it was more than that.

Josh Mosqueira, a member of Blizzard, said: We were all surprised. It seems strange to say. When so many people are waiting for the game, how can you expect something surprising to happen? But I remember I was present in the meeting before the launch of the game and I said: Are we really ready for the launch of the game? OK, let's double the prediction of potential problems, let's triple the prediction of potential problems. But even these predictions turned out to be too conservative.

A few hours later that same day, as fans tried to launch Diablo 3 again, they were again met with a cryptic message: Unable to connect to the service. or the connection was interrupted (error 3003). The 3003 bug wasn't as popular as its cooler, smaller brother, but it made people wonder how the other 2,966 bugs didn't happen. The next day, error 37 reappeared, along with a host of other server errors that continued to plague Diablo 3 players days after the game's launch. The Diablo 3 war room was active for 24 hours; There, the tired engineers were huddled behind the computers, sipping coffee and trying to figure out how to boost the game's servers.

After about 48 hours, they managed to stabilize the servers. Bugs showed up from time to time, but most of the time people were able to play the game without interruption. On May 17, after the situation stabilized, Blizzard issued a statement apologizing. "Your passion," they said For the game, it was a source of humility for us. We sincerely regret that in your movement to defeat the Lord of Terror, both an army of demons threw stones at your feet and a fragile infrastructure."

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

Finally, the world was able to play Diablo 3. This game, like the previous titles, allowed you to create a character and walk in environments full of monsters and demons, destroy them and collect valuable loot along the way. Depending on the class you chose (wizard, demon slayer, etc.), you were given a large number of abilities and spells that you could use in turn. There are also many randomly generated black holes in the game, so no game round will be the same as the other. At first, Diablo 3 looked like the game fans had been waiting for.

However, in the coming weeks, players discovered that Diablo 3 had a series of major problems. Destroying hordes of monsters was fun, but the difficulty level of the game increased exponentially. Legendary items were rarely provided to the player. Endgame content was too challenging. Most frustrating of all, the game's loot system seemed to be based on the in-game Auction House, which allowed players to buy and sell powerful equipment using real money. This controversial system made Diablo 3 look like one of the hated Pay to Win games. In such a game, the best way to strengthen your character is not to play the game and make fun decisions, but to enter your bank card details on the Blizzard website.

Since Blizzard was founded in 1991, this The studio is known for making great games. Among these games, cultural phenomena such as Warcraft and Starcraft can be mentioned. When you saw Blizzard's jagged logo on a game, you knew you were in for an experience like no other. In 2000, Blizzard set a new standard for action role-playing games with the release of Diablo 2, a game that inspired millions of late-night gaming sessions with LAN connections. At these meetings, millions of teenagers gathered to fight evil monsters and find the elusive Stones of Jordan. Diablo 2 was considered one of the best games ever. Now, in May 2012, with the bug-filled launch of Diablo 3, Blizzard's logo was emblazoned on a phenomenon the company had never experienced before: failure in front of everyone. Even after bug 37 was fixed, the problem was just beginning.

***

Josh Maskera always hated Montreal winters. He was of Mexican-Canadian descent with a thick mixed accent and had served as a Black Watch infantry soldier in the Canadian Army. In the early years of his career, Maskera wrote tabletop role-playing games for White Wolf and tried to break into the video game industry. After working on several games and a seven-year stint at Relic Entertainment in Vancouver, Maskera moved to Montreal to work on Far Cry 3 at Ubisoft's headquarters. In this city, in winters, the temperature is several degrees lower than what is standard for a city where humans live.

On one of the very snowy days in February 2011, a year before the 37 error occurred. To be found, Mascara received a call from Jay Wilson, an old friend of his from Relic. Wilson was now working at Blizzard in Irvine, California, and they were looking for a new lead designer for Diablo 3, a game Wilson was directing. Someone from Ubisoft had applied for the position, so Wilson wanted to know what the culture was like at Ubisoft. Did this new designer fit with Blizzard's work environment? The two friends chatted and then Wilson made a new proposal: Is Mascara willing to take on this serious task himself?

Mascara said he would have to think about it. He looked out his window, saw the snow falling, and realized there wasn't much to think about. "Two and a half months after that conversation, I was walking through these halls as lead designer for the console version of Diablo 3," Maskera said. At first, his job was managing a small teamthree people, including himselfto adapt Diablo 3 for Xbox and PlayStation. This was a new experience for Blizzard, as the company had resisted releasing games on consoles for years and released its big titles such as World of Warcraft and Starcraft II only for Windows and Macintosh. With the release of Diablo 3, Blizzard's think room saw an opportunity to explore the big world of the console game market. They started and tried to see how to make the control of Diablo 3 feel good on the console handle. Blizzard had given Maskera and his team the freedom to make whatever changes were necessary to the game for the console version, and they took advantage of that freedom, changing the skills of all classes to match their new control layout. "Many skill timings feel awkward on console because your eyes are focused on your character instead of the mouse pointer," Maskera said. That's why we made changes to all the skills in the game."

In late 2011, as the PC team was crunching for a spring release, Maskera and his colleagues halted development of the console version so they could Help finish the game. The three of usthere were eight of us at the timethe eight of us were all new to Blizzard, so we thought we had to work together. [We wanted to show that] we want to be part of this project. This is going to be very exciting; It's going to be a big moment in Blizzard history and we're excited to be a part of it.

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

But then. Diablo 3 launched, and we saw the 37th error and tumultuous days at Blizzard as members of the company tried to stabilize the servers. As Maskera and his crew returned to work on the console version, the rest of Diablo 3's designers tried to fix the game's deeper problems. For example, players were clearly not happy with the game's loot collection system, but what exactly was the problem? How could Blizzard make the endgame content as addictive as Diablo 2, so that even after finishing the story, players will spend hours defeating demons and searching for better loot?

The developers realized that the game's biggest problem was difficulty. Was. The designers of the game originally modeled the difficulty level of Diablo 3 from the difficulty level of Diablo 2, in such a way that at first you completed the entire game on the normal part, then you completed it a second time on the challenging Nightmare mode and a third time on the mode Super hard Hell. Diablo 3 introduced a fourth difficulty structure following this structure: Inferno. This difficulty was so hard that it was impossible to complete without the best possible gear in the game, creating Diablo's equivalent of the age-old "which came first the chicken or the egg" question: if your gear wasn't good enough to get through Inferno, how could you get gear? which you were supposed to find and get on Inferno difficulty?

One of the options ahead was the auction house. If you didn't want to bang your head against the wall on Inferno difficulty, you could buy better equipment with real money; This was the exact opposite of what most players wanted to do. Because of this, some clever players found a way to exploit the system. Thanks to Diablo 3's random spawn system, getting loot from a powerful enemy was no more likely than breaking jars. When the players realized this, they played marathons and did nothing but break the pitcher. It wasn't fun, but it was better than paying real money.

Over the next few months, Blizzard realized that people were more interested in bypassing Diablo 3's systems than playing it; This issue became a problem for which a serious solution had to be thought of. From May 15 to the end of August, the Diablo 3 team released about eighteen patches and hotfixes for the game, each of which fixed bugs, changed character skills, and addressed player complaints. The largest of these patches, which was added to the game on August 21, 2012, added a system called Paragon Levels, which allowed players to keep getting stronger after reaching the last level (level 60). Also, this patch made Inferno difficulty easier and added a series of unique effects to legendary equipment, so that when you get a new weapon, you feel like a Saheimgan war machine. That is, they are a series of temporary solutions to force players to do something beyond breaking jars. Blood was still dripping from the wound in Diablo 3's side and it took a long time to heal it.

***

That's the level of commitment. It was unusual. Usually, the job of the game studios was to publish the game and then abandon it; Sometimes, he assigned a small team to fix awkward bugs before starting a new project. But Blizzard built its identity on making games that were meant to last for a long time. Blizzard used to release free patches for their games years after their release and continue to support the game, believing that such extended support would garner goodwill from fans, which would lead to more game sales.

(Footnote: Diablo 2 was released in 2000, but was still receiving new patches until 2016. Starcraft was released in 1998, but received a new patch in 2017. There is no other company that keep his old games updated for such a long time.)

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

By the end of July 2012, Diablo 3 It sold a staggering ten million copies. Blizzard game developers thought that they had made a fun game, but they also knew that their game was going to be much better. "This game was a diamond in the rough," said Wyatt Cheng, one of the game's senior technical designers. We knew we had to polish it a little more. "It needed a little more work." Fortunately, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime told the Diablo 3 team to continue releasing free patches indefinitely. "There are few companies where we can sell millions of copies of a game and still feel like we could have done better," Cheng said. Given the game's turbulent launch, we've been given a long window of time to make it better.

Of course, this was just one perspective on the situation. Another view was that those who had worked on Diablo 3 some of whom had been working on the game for nearly a decade had no time off. Anyone who has spent a lot of time on a project knows what a joy it is to finish it, and when it's done, you'll never want to look at it again. "I was listening to a podcast about psychology by Angela Duckworth, who was doing promotional tours for her book," said Cheng, who started working on Diablo 3 in the early days. He wrote about the concept of heaven. He said that innateness is a characteristic that many successful people have. Janam means persistence, it means that he stepped forward at any cost. To do anything worth doing. Being born doesn't mean you enjoy your life every day. Of course, sometimes you have fun, and when you do, it's wonderful. But in order to be born, you usually have to see the long-term goal, keep the long-term perspective in mind, and overcome whatever obstacles you encounter on a daily basis, while always keeping the end goal in front of you."

The "ultimate" target, or at least the next milestone, was the Diablo 3 expansion pack. Blizzard used to release many expansion packs for each game in the series. The creators of Diablo 3 also knew that their expansion pack for this game was the best opportunity to revolutionize the game. In late 2012, they opened a huge Google file listing all the issues they needed to fix and new features they wanted to add (like refactoring an item or setting new goals for the endgame). /p>

But they needed new leadership. Diablo 3's longtime director Jay Wilson has announced that he wants to step down due to exhaustion. He had announced the reason for this fatigue from ten years of continuous work on a game. (Footnote: Surprisingly, Blizzard did not allow Jay Wilson to be interviewed for this book.)

Blizzard needed a new director; This director not only had to lead the development of the new expansion pack, but also shaped the future of Diablo 3. There was a newcomer at the studio who was perfect for the position.

When Josh Maschera first saw the job posting on Blizzard's internal website, he had no intention of applying. He was enjoying the challenges of porting Diablo 3 to consoles and overseeing a small team. Although the members of his team had increased from three people to twenty-five people, but the conditions were still different from the days of his work at Ubisoft. At Ubisoft, he had to lead a team of 400 people. Even when Wilson and the rest of Blizzard's leadership encouraged Maskera to take on the responsibility, he was reluctant. "I was happy to be entrusted with managing the console port," he said. Because I was constantly working on the game itself, not messing around with PowerPoint. He was also interested in the culture of the Diablo 3 game development team and it didn't take him long to be convinced to apply for the job. After conducting a series of interviews - not only with Blizzard's management team, but with all the colleagues - Maskera was called into the office of Frank Pearce, one of the founders of Blizzard, to announce his acceptance. He was entrusted with the position of director. Maskera wasn't on the Diablo 3 team for long, but his colleagues respected him as a designer and leader, and Blizzard wanted him to be the future of the game. "When they told me the news, it was an amazing moment," Maschera said. But immediately after that, I got a lot of anxiety. Because Diablo is not only one of the big collections of Blizzard, but also one of the big collections of the gaming industry. The responsibility of directing it was very heavy.

After becoming director, one of the first actions of Mascara was to sit down with the rest of the Diablo 3 cast and ask them how they felt. Once these people were his colleagues, but now they had to answer to him. What aspects of Diablo 3 did they like? What future did they see for Diablo 3 in the coming years? Usually, the nature of a PC game expansion pack was to add new content: new stages, new items, new classes; But Blizzard's goal was to transform Diablo 3 with this expansion pack. "It didn't take long before it became clear that they wanted to not only fix the game's launch issues with the expansion pack, but also chart a new future for Diablo," Maskera said. "That was the pressure the game team was feeling and everyone was thinking big." They still didn't know exactly what the nature of Diablo 3 was. Maskera liked to point out that when gamers were talking about Diablo 2, what they had in mind wasn't the original version of the game; What they had in mind was a version of the game that was released in 2001. That year, Blizzard listened to fan feedback and released the Lords of Destruction expansion pack. Diablo 2, along with Lords of Destruction, was a version of the game that remained in the memory of fans. This expansion pack was the result of feedback from millions of players and Blizzard's direct response to these reactions.

Masquerra said: "The difficulty is that you can make a game, you can test a game, and you can even think that you can make the game. You know, but when you publish it, all your imaginations are blown. On the first day, the number of hours played by the players exceeds the number of hours played by the entire development team. That's why you will see things that were never meant to be seen. You'll see players reacting to your game they're playing, they're engaging with it, they're interacting with it. The factor that makes it difficult is learning the discipline and willpower required to respond properly to this feedback."

The members of the Diablo 3 development team are preparing an expansion pack for the game - called Reaper of Souls. ) - and in the meantime they saw an opportunity for themselves to make up for the mistakes of the past; Not just error 37, but all of Diablo 3's initial errors. It was an opportunity for the team to create their own "Lords of Destruction" and conquer the heights that Diablo 2 had conquered years earlier. Rob Foote, one of the senior producers, said: "We thought this was our chance to win back the trust of the fans. It's better to use it."

Perhaps it seemed strange to someone who was looking at the story from the outside that a game that was under construction for ten years had so many flaws at the time of launch. be Maskera's theory was this: Diablo 3's flaws were a direct effect of the shadow that Diablo 2 cast on the game's team. As Maschera said in a speech in 2015, Diablo 2 cast a huge shadow on the team. The pressure of appearing at the level of this extraordinary game weighed heavily on the team and affected many decisions."

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

Dragon Age: Inquisition was plagued by negative reaction to Dragon Age 2 (see Chapter 6), but Blizzard faced the opposite problem: Diablo 3 needed to be a big hit. Diablo 2 would arrive and leave it behind. The designers of Diablo 3 were willing to get creative in some areas, such as the game's flexible skill system, which is generally considered one of its strengths. But in Maskera's opinion, they were too conservative with the rest of the ensemble's traditional elements.

As a new member, Maskera was willing to challenge everyone else's preconceptions about what makes Diablo "Diablo." Kill, even if in this Rasta had to fight a series of Blizzard's tricks. For the console version of the gamewhich was in development alongside Ghost ReaperMascara had gone to great lengths to add a "dodge" feature to the game. Thanks to this feature, the player could jump on the ground using the joystick and dodge enemy attacks. It was a controversial decision.

Masquerade said: "The ability to swallow was very controversial for the team members. Very very controversial. I had long discussions with other designers about why we needed this feature on the console.

Mascara's reasoning was that if players are walking around for hours and there is no way out. They get tired to change the way they move. The popular jump button in the world of Warcraft was a testament to this claim. The reasoning of the rest of the designers was that adding the ability to dodge/bounce would reduce the effect of items that increased the player's walking speed - an idea inherited from Diablo 2 - and thus reduce the long-term satisfaction of the game. "Both are strong arguments," Maskera said. Both arguments are correct. In the end, you have to say to yourself: OK, I'm willing to sacrifice some long-term rewards for short-term gratification... I realize I'm killing the reward to some extent, but it's necessary for this game to feel like a console game. That my thumb is doing something from time to time. It feels good to move it. "The movement of the thumb is tied to the gaming experience on the console." (Masquerra eventually won this fight, and dodge was added to the game.)

By trial and error on the console version of the game, Masquera and his team were able to do things that other team members would consider excessive. , because in the design of the console version of the game, there was no pressure to stay faithful to the Diablo 2 formula. "I think that was one of the most liberating options," he said. The members of the team making the PC version had good intentions, but because of all the pressure and all the expectations that were placed on them, they made initial designs that were very conservative. But the experience of making a console version was like going wild in the wild west. In some ways, when we look back... we feel like we were a little raw. We had been messing with this game for almost six months and we didn't know the history of all the decisions that led to the creation of this moment; We were just like a bunch of kids in the pit pushing buttons.

For a game that's been in the works for years, a new angle could be helpful, especially as Blizzard revisits the core mechanics of the game. Diablo 3 became (like the loot system). In the PC version of Diablo 3, enemies would drop a bunch of loot after being killed, and players would feel the familiar rush of dopamine in their brains by picking up cool new weapons and equipment. But without a mouse and keyboard, navigating through all those shiny rings and necklaces could be overwhelming. As the team behind the console version of Diablo 3 were testing the game, Maskera realized that the large amount of loot was hindering players' progress, forcing them to pause the game every few seconds to tidy up their backpacks.

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

It was at this point that they decided to manipulate the game formula. "We said to ourselves, 'Okay, whenever there's going to be a white or gray booty [low-value items], 70 percent of the time it's going to be gold,'" Maskera said. This change may have seemed drastic to Diablo 3 fans, but it laid the foundation for a system that the development team called Loot 2.0, a system that made Diablo 3 better not only on consoles, but also on PC. "We came to the conclusion that maybe we could lower the item drop rate," Maskera said. If the number of items were to be reduced, it was necessary to increase their quality." With the loot system 2.0, Maskera and his team members hoped that all the criticisms leveled at the equipment and loot system in Diablo 3 would be addressed. do One of the complaints from fans was that it took too long to obtain high-level "legendary" items, so in Loot 2.0 it was made a rule that every big boss's corpse drop at least one legendary item. Fans noted that when they finally got their hands on legendary items, the game randomly generated their abilities, so it was possible for the player to find an orange weapon and get excited, only to find that it was useless. He doesn't like his class and he likes it.

(Footnote: The random generation items were not compatible with Diablo 3's ability system. In Diablo 2, every ability worked for all classes, but Diablo 3 followed a more focused approach. For example In Diablo 3, the Ax of Strength is only good for the barbarian class, so if you're playing as a demon hunter, it's an essential antidote weapon to get. Application wizards Yes it was practically useless to everyone. Wizards couldn't use bows and arrows, and archer classes didn't need intelligence.)

So Loot 2.0 added a benchmarking system to the game that manipulated the random number generator in situations where the player He would pick up a legendary item, whatever he needed.

Throughout 2013, Blizzard's game developers gathered to decide on the direction they wanted to take with Ghost Reaper; During these meetings, one of the concepts that was constantly raised in the discussions was "randomization". However, random numbers have always been the beating heart of Diablo. Since the release of the first Diablo game in 1996, in which players wandered through random black holes beneath the ruined city of Tristram and slayed monsters, the Diablo series relied on random seed generators for virtually everything. The arrangement of the black holes was random. The treasure chests were random. Most of the magic items were random; The game collected these items from a large table of prefixes and suffixes, and the ability of each item was linked to its name. (For example, if a belt was prefixed with 'Lucky', it would increase the amount of gold you received from monsters. If an item was prefixed with 'Of the Leech', it would give you life with each attack.)

This randomness was one of the reasons for the widespread popularity of Diablo. Playing Diablo was like running a story campaign in Black Holes and Dragons: a completely different experience with each new round. Finding a new item and clicking on the "identify item" option was very addicting, because each time you could come across a completely new item. Diablo satisfied the same part of our brain that makes us spend a lot of money on lottery tickets and gambling machines. Diablo's place next to the card tables in the glitzy Vegas casinos looks empty.

It took a long time for the designers to realize that their preoccupation with maintaining random numbers was hurting Diablo 3. Kevin Martens, one of the lead designers, said: "Personally, I was kneeling in front of the randomization portal and I was praising it. Even when I could make something more random, I didn't realize that randomization is a way to increase replayability... When people ask me, "What's the main difference between Diablo 3 and Reaper of Ghosts?", my shortest answer is: In Reaper. Ghosts, we fixed randomization impurities. We made randomization work for the player's enjoyment, not the other way around.

This is where Diablo 3 diverges from Las Vegas. Blizzard didn't want to always be the winner of the casino field. Josh Maskera and his team realized that the way to keep players happy was to give them some points. "When Diablo 3 launched, getting or not getting a legendary item just depended on the roll of the dice," Maskera said. Sometimes luck is on your side and sometimes not... When we were building Ghost Reaper we said to ourselves: Okay, our goal is not to cheat. We don't want the player to feel that we are making the game easy for him, but it was necessary to change the situation a little in the player's favor so that it does not take 104 hours to find a legendary item."

(Footnote: One of Mascara's favorite memory was when he was playing Diablo 3 for the first time as an axe-wielding barbarian, and it took him 104 hours to find a legendary item (he checked this himself to make sure). When he saw the bright orange on the floor, he felt a great sense of pleasure until he saw that the relevant item was a slingshot. Barbarians could not use a slingshot.)

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

It was also necessary to take measures to fix the game's difficulty level. When Blizzard's designers were working on the initial version of Diablo 3, they believed that players were looking for a Diablo that was more challenging than the previous titles in the series. "We made a promotional video that said, 'Diablo is going to blow your life,'" Martens said. There were some members of our team who commented on how difficult the game was, and even though they were experienced game developers, they still got tired of it. The truth is and now that we look back with current insight that some people want the game to be very hard and some people want the game to be a little easier. Some are looking for something in between."

The problem wasn't just that Inferno mode was too hard; Players simply lost interest in experiencing the same campaign over and over again, especially when the only variable was the toughness of the monsters. That structure, which was enjoyable in 2001, had become boring in 2012 for various reasons. The field of video game design has gone through a lot of leaps and bounds over the past decade. Dozens of Diablo clones had been released over the years, and some even improved on Diablo 2's formula (although none as much as Diablo 2 did not succeed). When Diablo 3 came out, people expected a rhythm that wasn't too repetitive.

Ghost Reaper was an opportunity to solve these problems. Blizzard's short-term solution for Diablo 3 was to ease Inferno's difficulty through post-release patches, but with the release of this expansion pack, solutions were brought to a whole new level. "It was around late November 2012 that it occurred to me that it might be better to design the game's difficulty rating system from scratch," Martens said. However, it was not easy. "The whole game was built on the basis of these four levels of difficulty. All the monster figures were based on these four degrees of difficulty.

Kevin Martens tried to broaden his vision. Instead of looking at the difficulty levels as different stages of progression in the game, wouldn't it have been better if the developer team had designed the structure of Diablo 3 from the ground up and made the monsters stronger as the player progressed? Apart from that, a new modifier system could also be added to the game, so that anyone looking for more challenge could activate Hard or Expert mode to increase the health bar and merge enemies. If you wanted the game to be easier, you could return the game mode to normal. To solve the problem of "which came first the chicken or the egg" of Inferno mode, Blizzard's solution was to kill both the chicken and the egg.

For someone who was looking at the story from the outside, maybe this solution is obvious to It seems The difficulty level of most games follows such a system. But for one of the Diablo games, this system was revolutionary. "At first [the solution] seemed like an impossible mountain to climb," Martens said. We knew that we had to change one of the most important parts of the game, but until that moment we had not looked at the game from this point of view - from the point of view of automatic difficulty level. They hadn't looked, it was Diablo 2. Until now, it didn't occur to the members of the development team that they should change the structure of the difficulty level of the game, because the tradition of Diablo games has always been the same; To complete the normal difficulty first, then the nightmare difficulty and finally the hell difficulty. Going through this process was what gave Diablo its identity. At the beginning of the launch of Diablo 3, some fans criticized Blizzard, because in this game, for the first time, health orbs were released from enemies, and in their opinion, this was a betrayal of the tradition of the series. Therefore, even thinking about changing the overall structure of Diablo 3 seemed difficult. But what if they did? What if they found a better alternative?

In the months after the game's launch, a number of Diablo 3 players complained about not being able to teleport between the game's four seasons, and Blizzard was looking for a way to address that feedback. react "We worked with the engineers and they said, 'Oh yeah, we can figure out a way to do this,'" Rob Foote said. In fact, I think it was one of the engineers who said: "Maybe we can do a better job."

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

They put their thoughts together again. What if instead of allowing players to teleport between different locations, a new game mode was added that changed everything? What if that mode became the main focus of endgame content?

They named this new mode Adventure Mode. After completing Ghost Reaper, you could unlock adventure mode and enter any of your favorite areas in the game: from the deserts of Caldeum to the frozen mountains of Arreat. Each of the game's five seasons assigned you a series of randomly rewarded objectives, such as "kill a boss" or "clear a black hole." The more goals you complete, the more loot you get. It also added a special event adventure section and a section called Nephalem Rifts to the game. This section consisted of multi-part dungeons where areas and monsters from all the different parts of Diablo 3 were brought together in a gothic feast. According to Blizzard's vision, the adventure section was supposed to keep players entertained for hours after the game was over. Admittedly, this part was more fun to mess with than breaking the jar.

In August 2013, at Gamescom in Germany, Blizzard prepared to announce the release of Ghost Reaper to a room full of reporters and fans. The evil guardian angel Malthael was the focus of the expansion pack, which added a new class called the Crusader. The expansion was supposed to bring a slew of new features: the first of which was the loot system 2.0, which Blizzard planned to add to the game in a free patch, hoping to show fans that their criticisms had been heard.

Josh Maskera said: "Before we were about to announce the news, the atmosphere in the room was tense. I could sense everyone thinking: Hmmm, what you're going to show better be good. "You could almost feel they were expecting to be disappointed." Then Blizzard Video It featured the announcement: a four-minute opening interlude to Reaper of Ghosts that introduced Maltale to the world. "This close angel, wielding a terrible scythe in each hand, made his way through a group of Horadrim wizards and attacked his former brother, Tyrael." "The Nephalem will stop you," Tyrael said. "No one can stop death," replied Malthael.

The audience erupted in applause. "There was a wave of excitement that you could feel," Maskera said. I said to myself: Okay, apparently people are willing to give us another chance. It's better not to spoil it."

Blizzard originally planned to release Ghost Reaper in late 2013, but the Diablo 3 team realized they needed more time and pushed it back to the first quarter of 2014. . This delay was not a surprise to anyone. Blizzard was known for not rushing its games. After all, Diablo 3 took ten years to make, and it was hard to find a game that didn't miss at least one of its deadlines. A detailed description of Blizzard's approach to game development has become famous. In June 2012, more than a year after Blizzard had hoped to release the first StarCraft expansion, Heart of the Swarm, Browder spoke with me about the game's progress. He said: "99% of the stages of the game are finished, but the last one percent is very troublesome." Qalb Swaram was not released until March 2013. It took almost a year to work on that final percentage.

Rob Foote said, The thing that makes programming challenging is trial and error. If you want to make a great game, you have to allow yourself trial and error. Trial and error was the last one percent. The producers of Blizzard tried to leave some space at the end of their planning so that their game developers could polish all aspects of the game and come to the conclusion that they have made a perfect game. "It's very challenging because people say to themselves, 'What's the point of spending all this time?'" Foote said. What are they doing during this time? The answer is that they are busy with trial and error. We don't know what they're going to do, but we know they're going to do something. As an add-on for Reaper of Souls, Josh Maskera and his teammates had to scrap a bunch of content they had in mind for the game. The members of the Diablo 3 team, along with the adventure mode, considered a system called Devil's Hand, which placed 52 very powerful enemies in the game world. Players could kill them in exchange for collectable items, hoping to eventually get all 52 items. The team members didn't have enough time to polish the Devil's Hand item collection system as it should have been, so Maskera decided to remove it from the game. "We felt like we had the extra time, but we couldn't add both content to the game, and the more important mode is the adventure mode, because it would really change the way players play," he said. That's why we had to leave the hand of the devil."

(footnote: ideas related to the hand of the devil were finally added to the game in the form of Kanai's Cube in patch 2.3. Kanai's cube is a box (It's flexible magic that allows Diablo 3 players to draw and collect power from their legendary gear.)

As the months passed, everyone on the Blizzard staff felt good about the progress they were making. Since the appearance of Error 37, they've managed to transform the Diablo 3 formula, rebuild the loot system, and bring millions of Diablo fans back to the front with Ghost Reaper. But Maskera still felt the game had one major flaw that they hadn't addressed yet, and that conflicted with the way they wanted players to experience the game: the auction house.

When Blizzard first introduced the auction house that revolved around real moneyannounced for Diablo 3, skeptics saw it as a form of money-loving dirty politics. Creators Blizzard argued that they had more noble intentions in mind, insisting that they built the auction house to improve the experience of exchanging items between players. In 2002, Diablo 2: The Dark Lord was infected with black markets that were not managed by Blizzard. In these black markets, people would buy powerful items on untrusted and dubious sites for real money. As Kevin Martens said, Blizzard's goal was to provide a "high-end" experience for such players to be able to buy and sell items safely and securely.

However, it wasn't long after launch that Blizzard's Diablo 3 found that the auction house was hurting the game. Some players enjoyed trading, no doubt about it - especially players who farmed loot and used it in They sold for a high profit - but for many, the auction house made Diablo 3 a very unpleasant experience. The presence of such a thing in the game destroys the fun of hunting for better equipment. What was the fun of finding a great suit of armor when you could go to the auction house and buy a better one?

A group of players who named themselves the Ironborn (inspired by the Greyjoy family in Game of Thrones) ), were not willing to use the auction house. They even sent out a survey to Blizzard asking the game developers to add the Steelers mode to Diablo 3. "We had a community of fans who were like, 'Hey guys, Diablo 3 is what we've been waiting for, but I've created a whole new experience for myself by avoiding the auction house,'" Wyatt Cheng said. You can look at Diablo 3 from this point of view and say that we have a great game, but the auction house has a destructive effect on the players' view of the game."

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

One day in September 2013, as Ghost Reaper was still in production, Josh Mascara was sitting in a meeting drawing something on his desk. It was one of Blizzard's routine monthly strategy planning meetings. In this meeting, the company's CEO, Mike Moreheim, would gather together with the company's executive producers and project managers to discuss business. When it came to technical talks about economic issues, Mascara's attention was elsewhere. But suddenly the Diablo 3 discussion came up, and it didn't take long for the auction house to be dragged into the middle. If I were anywhere else, I'd probably say: You know what? We need to think more about some issues. I'm not sure yet. But when I looked at the audience and realized how important it was for our players to believe in us, I said: You know what? It might be better to remove it altogether.

After a brief discussion about the technical aspects of doing such a thing how to notify players, how to handle current auctions, how long they would have to wait to finalize the plan, for example. This decision has been implemented. It was finally time to remove the Diablo 3 auction house. "I thought to myself, 'Wow, this is really happening,'" Maschera said. I think Mike also participated in this decision. Mike Gamer is the follow up. He loves video games. He loves the players more than anyone. He is ready to make these decisions and say: you know what, this decision will not be without casualties. But it's the right thing to do.

On September 17, 2013, Blizzard announced that it would be deactivating the auction house in March 2014. Most fans were happy to hear this news. Now you could go hunting for loot with peace of mind. You no longer had the nagging thought that you could find a better item instead of loot hunting with real money. One Kotaku member wrote: Well done Blizzard. You made me hope for the game again. Now I might be motivated to try it again."

Wyatt Cheng said: "The best Diablo experience happens when you kill a series of monsters and in return get better items that allow you to make your character stronger. do. If the activity to get stronger doesn't involve killing monsters the game isn't in a good position.

Now it seemed like they had found the perfect formula for Ghost Reaper. Along with a new area (Westmarch) and a new boss (Maltael), the expansion was supposed to introduce the 2.0 loot system (which was free to all players in the patch), an adventure mode, and a revised difficulty system. A week before the release of Reaper of Souls, Blizzard was planning to remove the auction house. As they put the finishing touches on the add-on's development and ready it for launch, Maskera and his team felt it was a big moment. They are supposed to turn public opinion in their favor.

When Ghost Reaper was launched on March 25, 2014, there was no mention of error 37. This time, Blizzard had strengthened the infrastructure of the game servers. Also, the company had decided to strengthen the game's error messaging system so that in case of a problem, the displayed message is not so vague. Josh Maskera said: "I think one of the other lessons we learned was that if you were anxiously logging into the game and seeing error 37, you would think to yourself: What is error 37? I have no idea what this error is. Now all the errors are more specific and written like this: This is the problem we are facing now. This is the amount of time you can expect the problem to be resolved.

Blizzard members breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the reaction of the fans. Diablo fans too. One Ars Technica reviewer wrote: "Diablo 3 finally manages to rediscover the moment-to-moment gameplay that was the series' strength, and all the elements that stood in the way of the game's greatness have either been removed or refined." Ghost Reaper is Diablo 3's way of salvation.

BingMag.com Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (blood, sweat and pixels – the fifth part)

Two years after launch, people were finally falling in love with Diablo 3. "When we went to forums or got direct feedback from fans, the problems they mentioned were more specific and less general," said Kevin Martens. "It was at this moment that I really believed that we were succeeding." As Martens and the rest of the designers scoured Reddit and Battlenet, they were delighted to see players complaining about an item being weak or asking Blizzard to weave certain builds. No longer were players uttering the ominous phrase that is the death sentence for any game: "The game just doesn't work."

The most gratifying thing for Josh Maskera was that people fell in love with the console version of Diablo 3, released in September 2013. It was released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and in August 2014 on newer consoles (PlayStation 4 and Xbox One). After decades of clicking with a mouse, it seems blasphemous to say this, but playing Diablo 3 on a PlayStation 4 console was more fun than experiencing it with a mouse and keyboard.

Over the coming months and years, Blizzard released new patches and features for Diablo 3. Some of them were free; Like a black hole called Greyhollow Island and a reconstructed version of the church from the first Diablo game. Some other content was paid, such as the Necromancer class. While fans were upset about the lack of a new expansion pack (no news was announced until early 2017), Blizzard has shown that it is sticking to its promise to support the game for years after its release. Other game makers might not have bothered so much; Especially after that disastrous launch. "We want to win and earn the love and trust of our players," Wyatt Cheng said. We have done a lot of work on this game. We believed in the game. We knew it was great, and it would have been really sad if we were the kind of company that saw Error 37 and said, 'Oh, we better ignore it.''

On the other hand, Josh Maschera was done with Diablo 3. In the summer of 2016, Maskera left Blizzard and founded a new studio called Bonfire with Rob Pardo, one of the long-time members of Blizzard and the chief designer of the World of Warcraft. "Leaving this team and this company was the hardest non-life decision I've ever made in my life," Maschera said. I felt like I wanted to take a risk and do something completely different.

At least he left Blizzard with a great legacy. Diablo 3 was one of the best-selling games of all time and sold 30 million copies as of August 2015. The game also taught a lesson that other game developers would learn from for years after its release, including the creators of The Division and Destiny (whom we'll meet in Chapter 8). That lesson was this: every game can be improved.

Often video game creators reach their peak productivity late in the project, because by this point they have a good idea of what their game experience will feel like. For Diablo 3 and similar games, the game launch was just the beginning of the production process. "Even for a game like Diablo, which has a strong vision behind it and a strong identity, one of the biggest challenges is that at the beginning of the project ... before the game is released, everyone has a different idea of the game in mind," Maskera said. One of the most difficult tasks is to manifest this idea. But when the idea manifests, there will be less discussion about it, because everyone can see the nature of the game. Game development is very difficult, but before the release of the game, its difficulty is different. It's like it's more existential."

Diablo 3 was proof that even for one of the most successful and talented game studios in the world, with almost limitless resources, it could take years to make a game. So that the game he made fits properly. This game proved that even when you're making the third game in a series, there are still an incredibly large number of variables that can confuse anyone. This game proved that even when a game comes out with crippling flaws, with enough time, money and commitment, it can be turned into a great product. When news of error 37 spread across the internet, gamers thought Diablo 3 was doomed. But the page returned.

Continues

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