Tobold's Blog
Saturday, May 19, 2012
 
A decade of attention deficit disorder

Between Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 there is over a decade of time. And many of the developments of that decade apparently haven't registered with Blizzard's game developers. What they *did* notice was the development of micro-transactions, so Diablo 3 has the real money auction house. But much of the actual gameplay is very old school. And some of these old school decisions appear rather weird in this time and age, as if the devs had been frozen in time.

There are far more players today, which pushes the average to less hardcore, and there are far more games battling for our attention. Thus 90% of players don't ever reach the end of the average video game. Thus I find the design decision that forces you to play through Diablo 3 several times to get to the difficulty level you want somewhat weird. There will be a number of people who will never reach the difficulty level at which the game would be most fun for them, because they simply can't be bothered to grind through the lower difficulty levels to get there.

I am already not a huge fan of the classical MMORPG endgame in which players are offered new content at a higher difficulty level as reward of having grinded their way up to the level cap. But offering them OLD content at a higher difficulty level as reward for that same grind seems even more counterproductive to me. No doubt there will be people playing Diablo 3 at hell level soon, just because that is the ePeen thing to do. But wouldn't they have been better off if hell difficulty had been something you could select already on your first game?

Comments:
How would you make selectable difficulty work in conjunction with levelling and gearing?

Make Hell Act 1 beatable as a level 1 character with no gear, just requiring superlative play skills? Then what happens if someone spends half an hour getting to level 5 and equipping some blues before starting Hell?

I just can't see how this idea could possibly work.
 
>if hell difficulty had been something you could select already on your first game?

This would mean that player skill influences the game as much as gear and stats. This wasn't the case in Diablo and Diablo 2. On the contrary, the learning curve flatted out pretty early, you just got loot with higher numbers.

The main difficulty adjustment was enemy HP and damage scaling, not new tactical challenges. There was no player skill or knowledge that allowed you to beat higher difficulties - only higher stats did the trick.

I guess, in D3 the stats will scale, and relative player/monster power will just stay the same, as will gameplay. That's just my guess though.

If you could adjust the difficulty on slot-machine, what would you do to make it feel more "fair and challenging"?
It either gives money more often or less often - it won't feel fair or challenging either way, because you can't influence the outcome.

On the other hand, in skill-dependent games starting on high difficulty is possible: Left4Dead difficulties were drastically different, and to beat higher ones, the _players_ should make progress and acquire key skills, not their characters.
Spelunky is another good example: you can start from higher levels pretty early, but doing this is pointless until you actually learn how to survive them with well equipped character, so inexperienced players are still better off starting on lower levels and collecting as much gear as they can.
 
The point of the game itself is playing the same content over and over again to get the ├╝ber-shinies. Players who don't want to do that simply bought the wrong game.

But even then, playing through Diablo just once (not rushing, listening to all the dialogue, full clears of all areas) provides a solid 20 hours of gameplay. More than most single player games these days.

Yeah it would be nice for the people who play it just once to select the difficulty they want, but the game just wasn't made for them.
 
Carson makes a good point. But it would surely be possible to equip players with some barely Hell-worthy starting equipment if they wanted to start there. Or there could be just two starting levels, one easy and one a bit harder, without letting you start off in Hell itself.

That said, they probably *are* catering for the 90% of casual players who indeed may never complete the game at the first difficulty level.
 
As for me, I have decided I am not going to bother. My current internet connection is a wireless dongle which would be fine if the game just required periodic check-ins but is not good enough if lag is going to be an issue. And Diablo II was not all that compelling - I can always finish that if I want, or wait for Torchlight II.
 
Tobold, the design you're pushing for is not better nor worse - it's just different. The game was always an item grind. They enabled the auction houses and that kind of moved the point of balance in that Item Grind.

You want to have access to Hell level difficulty, but a character at level one can't beat a single hell-mob at level one nor at level 30. And to move and equip a character automatically should you select hell at the start of the game would be completely against the policies of an Item Grind. Soo I'm really shocked that a sensible person like you came out with an idea like that.
 
You are considering only a very narrow set of solutions. I never asked for ungeared level 1 characters to have access to the "as is" hell level. I am asking for variable difficulty levels, so that somebody who is good at the game isn't forced to grind it through at the extremely easy normal level before getting to the content he would consider challenging.
 
90% of players don't ever reach the end

I am convinced that this is caoused by the repetitive nature of the games in general not just Diablo. Almost all (although other games try to hide this fact) rely on artificial difficulty settings, you'll end up doing the same thing only the mobs have some fake properties that make them a lot more difficult to kill.

Once you see through that, geez this is the exact same thing only some programmer chose to a larger number for damage ... the game is not fun in the least bit.

Now that I am older and have all the disposable income in the world I am unable to find a game that is actually interesting and not a rehash of a concept that I have already played dozens of times.
 
Well, I foresee that you'll take me as a narrowminded individual, but I dare say it anyway: There's not as many solutions if you still want to keep the game in the Diablo tradition.

The solution that comes to mind is to leave Normal, Nightmare and Hell as they were and add Easy, Hard and Very Hard on top of that. So that you could go through Normal on Very Hard and then finish Hell on Easy. Surely there are 'some' other solutions, if you get more into their detailed descriptions, but leaving the traditional Diablo difficulty levels would have made a game that has less Diablo in the Diablo AND adding a secondary difficulty grid would just make it very complex and would interfere with the Item Grind game too much.

You probably can't deny, that the difficulty chain that you cannot bypass is a crucial part of the Item Gathering gameplay, which connects to how much space you have for items, the way you level up craftsman and so on. Adding ar transformin the difficulties that are a standalone mechanic that simply makes the game easier or more difficult would strongly affect, if not simply ruin the game's economic balance.
 
I would argue that a "difficulty chain" which is based on item collection is not only outdated by a decade, but also made completely redundant by the auction house.
 
You could always try speedrunning or naked runs; there's achievements for both.

And as for the endgame.. going through old content is very much a feature; One of the selling points of the new Inferno difficulty is that all monsters are at the same level, so you can do the content you like best.
 
With the easy item purchases, one who want to rush to Hell can do it in like 20 hours. He don't wander around, don't pick up lorebooks, just kill quest targets. Hardly difficult grinding.
 
You've been playing D&D, whose basic gameplay is unchanged in 40 years.

I love baseball, basic gameplay unchanged in 140 years.

Why would they change Diablo? And at what point does tinkering with gameplay change a game to a completely different game?
 
At the expense of the "loot hunt" aspect of the game, you can enjoy the lore and combat aspects at a higher in normal difficulty by equipping only white gear (or grey gear). You have to be able to see past the "handicapping yourself" factor, but you get closer to what you're looking for right from low levels of Normal.
 
After thinking about this somewhat, and arguing a few details with myself, here's what I have to say.

Yes, you are right. This game is INCREDIBLY old school. It is a skinner box, the fun from playing it is derived from finding more awesome gear as time goes on. In some ways it is two games, in that normal is easy enough and you can legitimately just play for the plot. But once you beat normal and move on, the game becomes a DIFFERENT game, one where plot is meaningless and you are just there to get higher level, and after that is cap, just better gear, as the monsters get scarier and scarier.

"Grind" is one of the features that has been dropped from gaming as unfun...and yet...at the same time, Diablo 2 was STILL popular over a decade after release. It's a game that a large number of fans will randomly come back to after a long time away and still enjoy playing. This basic experience is sort of timeless in that way.

What blizzard DID update was that the story is quite a bit better and more engaging. Diablo 2 was even less story focused, and in exchange, normal mode was a bit more difficult than normal D3, using increased difficulty as the fun element instead of plot.

Though, thinking about that more, I suppose I can see how that could very well be considered a downside: To someone coming from D2, this is all easy to grasp but to someone who didn't play D2 much or never played it at all, this is maybe seen as a bait and switch. If you enjoy playing D3 for the plot and not for the level and loot chasing, you are going to be disappointed or angry when you get to nightmare and its just the same game over and over, the new content is over with, and you are being told that you should just enjoy grinding.

This may just be an irreconcilable difference though. Already the diablo 3 community at large has complained about basic updates to the game, a change to the format to make it more in tune with modern games. You are wrong in accusing blizzard of not listening; The opposite is true. Blizzard would have COMPLETELY alienated the current playerbase if they more drastically changed the formula. Diablo players want the game how it is. You could argue they would attract more new players than the amount of old players they would lose, but then why even call it Diablo 3?

You may just be looking at the game in the wrong way. Inferno mode isn't a harder version of normal mode, even if it LOOKS like that. It is the last quarter of the game. Saying it should be accessible from the start would be like saying, in RPG terms, that you should be able to start at the final boss because the final boss is harder than the first boss, and you want the game to be harder. The plot is just utterly irrelevant to position in the game at all times not normal.

Variable difficulty from the start of the game is, to a degree, already taken care of through Hardcore mode. That drastically changes the difficulty of the game straight from normal and all the way through inferno, so functions as what you are saying it should have, a difficulty choice from the start.

Finally, one last note, slightly off topic, but in response to a comment you said: It isn't quite that people will be doing things on hell level soon. A large number of people are already taking down inferno by this point. Which is kind of funny, in the sense that if we look at MMOs this would be a HORRIFYING development, people having almost devoured all the content a scant few days after release. Ultimately however, the same was true of Diablo 2. It was played for over a decade and all the content took days out of that decade to get through (Including expansions and large content patches, which did add new stuff that took more time to work through later on).
 
I lied, one other final comment:

Diablo, as a whole, is a bit of a guilty pleasure to most people. They can't rationalize the fact that it really is just one long silly grind for better shinies, just a way to push a button and get a prize. Even knowing that, even logically not a fan of that style of game making, very often it is just too fun in actual practice so hours and hours of time are just flushed down the toilet. Analyzing it is depressing, playing it is addicting.
 
Perhaps because the AH tends to be the most enjoyable part of MMOs for me, I just don't have your AH issues. I personally don't see any difference between if I get my pixels from a difficult Boss, a barrel, tokens(e.g. VP) or the AH. I open my Skinner Box and get some pixels that reaffirm what a special snowflake I am. Plus I prefer salary over lottery tickets - seeing some gold drop and thinking "cool that is .01% of a legendary" is preferable than a .01% drop rate for a legendary.

While still leveling, there is nothing that special (barring affix farming stuff I guess) - the best level 15 will last you longer, but at some point a blue will be better. Sic transit gloria mundi
 
Nightmare, Hell, etc. aren't difficulty levels in a traditional sense. They're there to provide continuing character progression beyond the first playthrough.

I agree that the game lacks a traditional difficulty slider. The normal playthrough is just a huge bore. In Diablo 2 you could amend that with /players 8, not so much anymore in the brave new world of always online DRM.
 
There's nothing wrong with the way difficulty is designed in the Diablo series. That's what makes Diablo, well, Diablo. Increasing levels of difficulty after you beat the game. Try going even from Normal to Nightmare and you'll get a wake-up call. If they had done anything to change this, I doubt it would have held the same interest.
 
Yeah, it is a bit odd. It's as if in WoW they had decided only to make half the zones and when you reached level 40 you had to start again in Goldshire on 'hard mode.'
 
So you're saying it's bad that a game doesn't enroll itself perfectly in today's "standards"? People love the Diablo series exactly because of different outlook on difficulties, gear, etc. And being different, even if it means sticking to something you discovered 15 years ago, is something that is definitely needed in the present.

The game is very intelligently planned out and it really deserves a more detailed and informed look than the one you're giving it here.

Your proposed solution is not a solution because it doesn't treat ANY of its own consequences.

How can you build an Inferno difficulty level for characters that are level 5 and have 2 skills and 4 white items on them? It would just be retarded and boring until you'd get to level 30 or so.

How would you compress the 60 levels? Would you make it that completing a single quest gives me 3,4 levels? Or would you reduce the number of levels to 20 - 30? If so, then what about all the skills and rune? Would you fit 10 new runes and 3 new skills in each level? Wouldn't that be completely overwhelming for a player?

How would you handle the split of your player-base? Right now people might be on different levels, but they're always on the same path.

Gear from Inferno would have the same level requirement as gear from normal. Would it be OK for any players to have access to it, even if they'll use it to play a lower level than Inferno? How would you fix all this? Keep in mind that a fix would have to involve the auction house and all the crafting too.

The achievement system would have to contain achievs for all the levels, right? So if a player wants all the achievs, he'd still have to go through all the difficulty levels, no? Or you'd make it that someone killing the boss on Inferno gets the achievs for all difficulty levels? If so, wouldn't you be killing any desire to repeat content or to mingle with other people, at different levels, ever?

And I could go on for half an hour more... It's very easy to write a few lines about an idea that just hit you, without really thinking it through and having the impression that you are right. If you ponder a bit more about it though, stuff like that above comes up. Can it be fixed? Probably. Would it make Diablo a better game and one that would still have a special place in the gaming ecosystem? I highly doubt it.
 
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