VideoGamer.com: If you could single out one feature of D3 to convince someone to by the game, what would it be? What's the coolest feature?
JW: The coolest announced feature? (laughter) There are a few we've not revealed yet! For me it would have to be the character classes. I know that's kind of an odd feature to pick, but one of the things that was a hallmark of D2, one of the thigns that made it a favourite game of mine, was that the character classes were extremely archetypal. They were the kind of characters that people inherently wanted to play - they were very visceral, very powerful, very satisfying. Running through the world and hitting stuff with an axe felt really good. So when we started on D3 one of our main objectives was not to match the game on that front, but to surpass it. And that's something I feel we've really accomplished when you look at the character classes, the skillset we've put on them is really imaginative, very over the top and original. We've really tried to go for classes that are not your standard warrior, rogue, mage. We're not trying to provide something that's unknown to the players, but rather classes that are not what you'd typically see.
VideoGamer.com: Can you confirm that the Barbarian is the only class to return from Diablo II?
JW: Yes. Originally we were planning to have no classes return, but as we developed one of the classes essentially turned into the barbarian. We reached a point where we were going to call it some other name, and we realised that everyone else would just call it the barbarian anyway, so maybe we should just go with that.
VideoGamer.com: Can you tell us what the previous name was?
JW: I'd rather not, actually, as we held back a few ideas and might use them in a character further down the road.
VideoGamer.com: Fair enough!
JW: I think the barbarian was one of the classes we looked at and felt could be improved upon. One of the reasons we set this goal of not bringing back old classes was that we don't want to do a re-hash - we want to do a sequel with new gameplay and new experiences. I know a lot of people really love the classes in D2, and it's not my intention to deliberately hurt them! I love those classes too - the necromancer is my favourite - but our goal was to do new things.
VideoGamer.com: Have you copped a lot of flack over this?
JW: Yeah and we will! All the barbarian players are delighted and all the necromancers hate us. I understand, I don't begrudge them that. I would hate me too! But what I would say is that when we announce the next class, which is quite similar to a previous class, then all those players will hate us too. You can't make everybody happy, but I think when the game finally come out players will find there's a good class for them, one they will love as much as the ones that came before. And if they don't, I absolutely promise that in the expansions we'll consider bringing back old classes. We just don't want to do it with the first release. We want to establish our identity.
VideoGamer.com: So if people want D2, they should play D2, right?
JW: Well like I say, I sympathise. I understand why they want these things. But it also comes down to what inspires us as developers. Good games come out of passion, and if one of the dictates had been, "Okay, we're just going to take all the classes from D2 and re-do them," I don't think a lot of people on our team would have been that excited about it. In fact, I know they wouldn't have been. It came from the team that they didn't want to re-do the classes. So one of my jobs as lead designer is not only to steer everyone towards those choices, but also to make sure the whole team is excited by the choices we make. Sometimes that means we have to look at things and say, You know what, maybe this could be awesome, maybe the necromancer could be an awesome character for Diablo 3 - but if no-one on the team is interested in making him, he's not going to be great. He's going to be mediocre.
VideoGamer.com: Some developers, Dennis Dyack for one, really don't like showing work-in-progress on games that are still at an early stage - but Blizzard has always been very happy to do this. Why is that? Is there a risk behind doing this?
JW: This is going to sound snarky, but there's only a risk to your ego. That's it. If it's good then people will recognise that it's good; if it's not good then you need to learn from that and make it better. Sometimes people clutch things close to their chest and they don't want to show off something that misrepresents them and I understand that - but the thing is, gamers only remember the last thing you showed them. So if you show them something and they say, "Oh my God, that's horrible!" the you say "Well, geez... let's go back and make it better." At least now you know why. At least now you have some information. And so one of the reasons why we actually prefer a really long window before we release a game is because we want a lot of feedback - we want to know what people like and don't like about a game. We want to give people several opportunities to play it before a release. We play our games constantly before we release them - we give them to other development teams and get feedback. We do very long betas and alphas and include a lot of people, not just from the fanbase but from the industry as a whole. And I would say look at the success of Blizzard games. If other companies think it's a risk, think it's a bad idea... obviously it's not.
I think it's hard for people, when they get attached to an idea. And we do this all the time. I get really attached to an idea, I really want it to work - so I don't want other people to tell me it's not working. The key is to use that feedback and not fight it, because someday the whole world is going to have it. It's going to be there someday. Do you want to make sure you give them what they want, what you know will be a great game, or do you want to take the risk that your opinion is the right opinion? It's a tough call, but for the most part I'd say "No, don't take the risk.". It's not design's job to come up with all the great ideas and figure out which is the absolute best. It's design's job to make sure that the best ideas get into the game. That's the major difference. I think a lot of people get into game design as a job because they think, "Man, I can sit around all day and come up with ideas." And it's like, "No, you can sit around all day and have your ideas torn down." And that's a lot more painful, but that's the job.
VideoGamer.com: You can't really show off things at early stage in the music and film industries - not in the same way, at any rate. You can demo tracks or show a rough footage, but it's not really the same thing. But it sounds as though you regard this ability as a strength...
JW: It's an advantage of the medium, but it's also one of the things that makes games really hard to make. The best games are made though iteration. They're so complex, and there's so little known - there's no formula for making a great game, it's always this weird alchemy! We used to have this joke at a company I used to work for, where people would come up and say, "This game's not fun! Make it fun!". And we'd be like, "Pull down the cookbook. Two of these, three of these, four of those - there we are, now we've got fun!" A lot of the time it's very touchy-feely, trying things out. It's more like cooking without a cookbook and no knowledge of the ingredients whatsoever.
VideoGamer.com: Last question - which games have you played over the last year that you've really enjoyed?
JW: Well, I'm currently playing the PS3 Ratchet & Clank, which I absolutely love. I play a lot of World of Warcraft, and a lot of RTSs - so I was playing C&C3 earlier this year. I know it took me a while to catch up to it, but I have like this laundry list! I really enjoyed GTA IV. I especially liked the way they introduced their campaign. It's funny, but we joke about GTA IV that it's like an MMO but with one quest - and how did they pull that off? If we gave people an MMO with one quest they'd skin us alive! But really it means that they get to pace their game, but give people this open-world illusion that they have complete freedom, which is wonderful. It's a great way to create a game, and it's really fun.
VideoGamer.com: So on the basis of those comments... Will we see car jacking missions in Diablo III?
JW: Oh absolutely! We just put them in last week!
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time Jay.
Diablo III is due out for PC when it's ready.