Game Design Updates: A short analysis

Posted by Radoslav "Nydra" Kolev at 31 May 2012 10:55
A long and thorough post was published on Battle.net explaining the direction that the game will be taking with the next few patches as well as providing a bunch of "fun statistics" for fans to enjoy. We sit down for a short analysis of both parts of the post.

Before the actual game design talk commences, Blizzard give us some figures about the first two weeks of Diablo III:

On average players have created 3 characters each
80% of characters are between levels 1 and 30
1.9% of characters have unlocked Inferno difficulty
54% of Hardcore players chose a female character
The majority of Hardcore deaths (35%) occur in Act I Normal
The most common level 60 build in the game is only used by 0.7% of level 60 characters of that class (not including Passive diversity)
The most used runes for each class at level 60 are Barbarian: Best Served Cold, Demon Hunter: Lingering Fog, Wizard: Mirror Skin, Monk: Peaceful Repose, Witch Doctor: Numbing Dart

It's interesting to decipher some of those numbers, particularly the large amount of Hardcore deaths on Act I Normal. Having played through Act I Normal about five times now (including on hardcore), this writer can guarantee that there are no special mobs that are particularly dangerous besides the Walker Trees in the Fields of Misery. It's not like Tristram and its surroundings are cluttered with Colossal Gorgors or Heralds of Pestilence, so our guess is that most of the people fall victim to the illusionary sense of immortality which can make a person play over-recklessly. Sadly, there is no statistics on which classes die the most on Act I Normal.

More surprising is the low percent of characters who managed to unlock beat Diablo on Hell and unlock Inferno. Have in mind that with an average of 3 characters per account, 1.9% is actually the absolute highest amount of players that have unlocked Inferno, while in fact this number should be lower, knowing that many players have multiple characters on Inferno. Considering how easy it actually is to beat Hell (not to boast around, just shooting a statement that holds true even when considering the more casual players), I expected it to be above the 10%. I'd love to see statistics of some actual Inferno progress (e.g. number of characters that have beaten Act II) as it communicate some even cooler information!

The third detail of interest is the figure 0.7% used to describe the most used build for each class. Although this may look like something in full support for Blizzard's intent to have great build variety, we need to take some factors into account. First, not all level 60 characters have unlocked Inferno, and we can tell you that Hell builds have really nothing in common with Inferno builds. Second, changing one rune on one skill does not make for an entirely different build, but is something that will be picked up the software. And third, skill builds are more or less linked to gear, e.g. barbarians that do not have high armor items will chose Ignore Pain or Leap [Iron Impact] or both to make up for it and this is also something that leads to the small percentage that we have here. Inferno build stats will make for a more interesting discussion but 114,000 people are not a representative sample size, I guess.

On to game changes now. A part of Blizzard's post is related to the recent Patch 1.0.2. Patch Notes. The patch saw Monk's Mantra of Healing and its rune Boon of Protection redone. Previously, after casting MoH [Boon of Protection], the monk and his allies got a shield that absorbed up to 15% of his/her maximum life. On May 22nd, the rune was hotfixed and read that "the amount of damage absorbed is now capped at the amount of healing provided by Mantra of Healing in the first 3 seconds after activation". That hotfix also addressed Wizard's Energy Armor [Force Armor] and Demon Hunter's Smoke Screen [Lingering Fog] as both of those along with Mantra of Healing [Boon of Protection] made the classes using them very hard to kill with proper itemization, even on Inferno.


Although the changes to Force Armor and Lingering Fog persisted, the Mantra of Healing was changed once again (details available in the patch notes at the link above). Blizzard's explanation is as follows:

Regarding the changes to Lingering Fog, Boon of Protection, and Force Armor: we determined these skills were simply more powerful than they should be, and we felt their impact on class balance and how each class was perceived warranted hotfixes as soon as we were able. However, we don't want you to be worried that a hotfix nerf is lurking around the corner every day. If a skill is strong, but isn't really breaking the game, we want you to have your fun. Part of the enjoyment of Diablo is finding those super-strong builds, and we want players to be excited to use something they discovered that feels overpowered. A good example of this is the monk Overawe rune, which many players have identified as being quite good. We agree it's good, but we don't think it's so far out of line that we're going to swoop in and hotfix it out of existence.

Inferno is intended to be extremely difficult, but with some specific skills, a few classes were simply able to progress far more easily than intended. This made the classes, which were about where they were supposed to be, seem very underpowered. It also created the perception that the classes doing well were intended to rely on specific runes in all their builds, and the other classes were just broken. This is the opposite of what’s true. If any single skill or rune feels absolutely required to progress, it means that skill is working against our goal of encouraging build diversity -- and those “required” skills need to be corrected. We know these hotfixes snuck up on people, and it took us a day or so to communicate that they had gone live. However, our intent moving forward is that when there are circumstances where a hotfix is necessary, we’ll communicate changes that could impact your ability to play your class through ‘Upcoming Changes’ posts in the General forum. Ideally, we’ll let you know as soon as we even have the idea that we want to make that kind of change.

Talking about Inferno, this is one of the places that the development team will be focusing a lot. The first changes will come with Patch 1.0.3. which is to correct the damage "spikiness" in Inferno, often resulting in characters being one-shotted without any ability to react. As this is in direct to contradiction to the intended "very consistent drain on your health", this will be fixed. And that makes perfect sense. The current state of Inferno is that either you get killed in one blow with zero chance to object to the finality of the vortex into instant death arcane laser field; or you are geared enough to tractor through the elites with the fights that are actually challenging and force you to calculate your cooldowns and optimize your rotation being a very rare sight. The gap between the two extremes is just too large at some points and balancing the elite pack fights might be the hardest job for the development team on the list.

Furthermore, Blizzard are tuning Inferno to be beatable by a variety of offensive builds, as they feel that building full defense is not that fun. I will have to agree with them there - kiting an elite pack and running around the map like a scared little girl while waiting for my defensive cooldowns is not the most exciting experience.

We've also seen some people saying our intention with Inferno is just one-shot you to make it difficult. While damage is a bit spikier than we'd like, we're actually seeing a pretty significant number of people attempting Inferno without sufficient gear. There's a good chance that returning to the previous Act to farm upgrades will do the most to help you survive. That said, we’d like to shift some of the focus away from survival and more toward using a variety of offensive tactics to succeed. Survival will still be important, but finding ways to maximize your damage while staying alive is more exciting. We’re not particularly concerned with whether or not a boss is “beatable,” though it should feel epic and challenging to defeat it. We’re more concerned with ensuring that acquiring 5 stacks of Nephalem Valor and taking on as many Champions and Rares as you can remains the most challenging and rewarding way to play.

Final game changes include tuning the power of items and adjusting leveling costs for the artisans. The former is addressed by correcting the item level of the gear so that players can get a good explanation about why a blue item of level 63 is better than a level 60 legendary. Legendary items will also be buffed with the PvP patch, although this will not be done retrospectively, meaning that current legendaries will not be affected, only post-PvP ones. This leaves a feeling that the D3 community might not be entirely satisfied by the fact that there will still be crappy legendaries but there's no evidence that the overall idea behind the item design will change any time soon.

And it shouldn't really. When every barbarian out there carries an Azurewrath with a Stormshield, it leads to point where there's little to no diversity and characters that are indistinguishable from each other.


And this is what Blizzard say about the crafting system:

Other areas of concern have been both the gem combination system and Blacksmith leveling and crafting costs. The intent, especially with the Blacksmith, is that he’s leveling with you, you’re able to use him as an alternate source for upgrades. Our design goal is that once you get to level 60, his recipes are actually good enough to help fill a character’s potential itemization gaps. To correct these issues, we’re looking to adjust the Blacksmith costs for training (gold and pages) and crafting from levels 1-59, and reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square). Both of these changes are scheduled for patch 1.0.3.

Although leveling costs were certainly one of the many things that the community desired, there's also the moment about the complete randomization of crafting in terms of random properties. Members of the community boards have been asking about the option to pay gold to limit this randomization (by choosing one of the properties, for example, or changing them post-crafting) and it will be curious to see if Blizzard will consider to address these in the future.

Source: Battle.net