IV. Game accessibility, scalability, simplification
This section of game discussion has several different facets. I will define each of these terms as they pertain to video games (Diablo specifically) before breaking down each element. They are each very important in terms of how effectively a game developer (Blizzard) can communicate information to a player (inside D3). Additionally the make changes much simpler to implement.Accessibility
– The ease with which a person who has never seen a Diablo game may become immersed into its various systems without becoming confused or needing assistance from sources other than the gameplay itself. Systems – Crafting, Story, Quests, etc.Scalability
– The ease with which a developer may add new content to a game without destroying systems which are already present. Content – Expansion pack, level cap increase, new items, new areas.Simplification
– The way in which a developer communicates the way a game system functions to the player AND the ability of a player to understand that information inside of the game itself without requiring help from websites/spreadsheets. Communication – Character sheet, User Interface, Crafting window.1. Accessibility
Accessibility is one of the hotter topics among Diablo players. Many veteran players liked the previous (inaccessible) system. How was D2 inaccessible? Excellent question, let’s look at examples. 1a. Stat point allocation
In D2 you were given points every level to allocate however you please. As a brand new player to the game I personally recall placing them everywhere. I had a level 40 barbarian that had equal parts strength, dexterity, vitality, and energy. I also recall deleting that character because it became useless. I didn’t understand their effects, how they benefitted my character, and which ones were best. In D2 there was also a disparity between classes as well. Melee characters received more health from vitality (I never found that out in game). Casters gained more mana from energy. How much per class? Don’t know, had to alt+tab to find out.
D3 Stat point allocation – In D3 you can go to your character sheet and see EXACTLY what each stat does. I know 1 primary stat = 1% damage. I know 3 vitality = 30 health. It tells me right inside the game. What is even better is that all the classes get automatic allocation to their stats. Many players were adamant that this was a terrible decision. Let’s take a look at it though, due to benefit BIAS (Vitality for a barb > Vitality for a sorceress) it’s clear Blizzard intended barbarians to have more health than sorceresses. With auto-tuned stats, that’s up to them. The player doesn’t get the opportunity to ruin an otherwise excellent character with decisions they make before understanding the mechanics. That is a shining example of accessibility. Let’s take a look at another. 1b.Crafting
D2 is another fantastic example of inaccessible. It’s perhaps the best example. First and foremost, the crafting system cannot be understood through gameplay, ever. A persistent player might not ever discover a runeword in their entire D2 experience. No one would discover these horadric cube recipes. Does anyone believe that a new player would eventually put 6 chipped gems and a sword into the cube? Accessibility is all about disseminating information through gameplay. This system fails in every conceivable way. Even when you do look up the recipes, brace yourself, you’re going to be thinking like this:
… okay I think the mlvl was this… and that mlvl gives a treasure class of this, I need this item… let me check the spreadsheet again… and so my ilvl is probably this… so when I craft “Ilvl has to be calculated: ilvl = int(.5*78) + int(.5*85) = 39 + 42 = 81”. How many suffixes was that again?!??! Oh it had to be bramble mitts…white ones aren’t working!?!? where do… sapphire was it? Oh I needed an amethyst… OH FORGET IT I’LL JUST KILL MEPHISTO SOME MORE.
How does D3 crafting (purely from an accessibility standpoint) differ? Many ways! For one, the item requirements are simple. Disenchants are as follows: Blue items give x, Yellow items give y, Orange items give z. Want a cool new sword? 10x+2y+z=new sword! That’s some pretty accessible math. Another big point of accessibility for crafting is the lack of a base item (with a pre-determined and invisible item level) to create new gear. The user interface shows you exactly what you need and exactly what you’ll make. You can also track your progress towards the new item just by glancing at your inventory. I think a lot more people are going to be crafting end-game rare/set/legendary items! That seems pretty accessible to me.1c. Skill System
The skill system was not inherently inaccessible by design in D2. D2 had a pretty solid skill system. The skills had icons that more or less explained what they did. The descriptions were succinct, 10-12 damage, costs 8 mana, 12 yard range, available at level 6. The increase in soft levels was indicated by a blue icon instead of white, synergy functions also existed within the tooltip. A new player could pick up the game, gain some skill levels, and be relatively sure what they would do. Why do I mention this in the accessibility section? Hell mode. Hell mode specifically (to a lesser extent, nightmare) was inaccessible. This is largely due to the skill system. New players were unaware that their 20 point frost nova would become completely useless. When they hit that point what happened? Reroll a new character, read more spreadsheets, inaccessible.
How does D3 combat the problem of skills becoming useless late game? All skills are always useful. That’s a pretty bold design decision to be sure, likely to turn some heads. Players are used to 2 skills being useful (Blizzard, Blessed Hammer) for an entire class. Now all of a sudden… everything is useful!?!? This causes quite a bit of controversy. Adding scalability to the skill system (being discussed further down) really improved the accessibility of late game content to all players. Having all skills without making a new character also greatly aids in this area.1d. Accessibility – conclusions
The biggest complaint I see is from players who like pre-nerf sunwell. The 1% of fanatically hardcore super gamers that could solo uber tristram. Those guys HATE accessibility because it makes distinguishing yourself from the rest of the player base much more difficult if not impossible. Now everyone will have a chance to fight that monster which has 5 damage immunities. Because of a skill system that allows players to experiment, simple to understand crafting, and simple stats. The real distinguishing features then become cosmetic (dyes, runed skills). Those features are accessible to all players, not just a fraction of the population. A portion of the player base disapproves. They are quite vocal.2. Scalability
Scalability is something that rarely gets mentioned. This is interesting because it’s a MAJOR design philosophy which Blizzard is ardently seeking to achieve with this release. I already briefly defined scalability, here are some examples that show it being put into practice. There are a vast multitude of examples beyond these but a forum post cannot contain the entirety of my thoughts on the matter.2a. Level Cap
The level cap is a great example of scalability. There is an important notation that must be made. An ATTAINABLE level cap is scalable. A non-attainable level cap is not scalable. What does that mean? Put simply the D2 level cap was not nearly as scalable as D3. The player level, monster level, and item level were all tied into item drops/crafting/game progression. Making a change to how quickly you level or the max level would require other systems to be changed as well. This makes for a difficult time when releasing expansion packs, new areas, and new recipes. All these systems rely on player level for certain requirements to be met.
D3 has been designed with growth in mind. The inferno difficulty is the best evidence of this fact. When an expansion comes out and the level cap becomes 80, Blizzard just goes into a “monster level in inferno” spreadsheet, changes 1 value (61->81) and all the monster damage, reaction speed, projectile quantity, level of ability are now end game again. They all tie into level to derive their power. Just like a players auto-stats are tied to their level. A few stat point adjustments can be made behind the scenes (for balance reasons) and the player may never be the wiser.
Imagine Lord of Destruction raising the level cap to 120. All the monster levels have to be adjusted in various ways, crafting has to be adjusted, loot tables have to be adjusted. It would have been a nightmare and taken a long development time to balance. If D3 got that adjustment it’s much simpler because the crafting is largely outside of leveling and isn’t tied directly to monster drops. The cap is also attainable, meaning a vast majority of players will achieve it. Expansion packs will take less iterative testing because it’s more “drag this slider bar” and less “let’s look at every single monster again”. The inverse being “every single monster that isn’t new, is now useless”. Monster level caps are a very important tool for adjusting their power quickly. If we get to act 3 inferno and x monster is too easy they just slide the level up a notch. There’s quite a bit more to be said about level caps for both players and monsters but know that it’s important that they are attainable rewards.2b. Skills
Skills were not scalable in D2. Skills having their own damage numbers is inherently bad for scaling. If we take LoD as an example you can quickly see why. When the expansion was released several skills went from useless to completely invalid. Even worse than that was punishing the player by giving synergic incentives to actually pump points into these skills. Why did firebolt not work in hell? It wasn’t designed to scale that way. Level 20 firebolt does 60 damage, level 20 fireball does 258. Firebolt is inherently non-viable due to it having low damage. How does d3 address this issue?
Flat damage has been removed from Diablo 3! Flat damage is one of the largest hurdles for game balance. Everything that is flat has to be looked at again every time you expand the content. Skills are no exception. All damage being based off a weapon (with an attack component) is fantastic for scaling. Did the expansion give monsters 15% more damage? All new weapons now do 15% more damage. The key is that the focus will be on newer content instead of searching for game breaking issues with balance. We can tell at a glance that bola shot (DH) and Frenzy (Barb) should do comparable damage. Weapon upgrades will improve them both equally.2c. Scalability – Conclusions
Keep in mind that skills are not so simple as I am saying, obviously there are individual tweaks required every now and again. The main point is that skill scalability achieves several design goals. It saves Blizzard time. It makes it easier for you to compare one class to another. It centralizes character damage improvements to weapons. Finally it reduces incidence of imbalanced, underused, and broken skills because nothing is flat, 1 change slides everything up the scale with it.3. Simplification
Simplified tooltips are frequently mentioned on the forums. There was quite a bit of pushback from the hardcore player base. Hardcore players want excel spreadsheets, abacuses, and planetary orbits to play a role in their character build. Blizzards design goal in this area is to keep you (the player) inside the game. That’s the driving focus in this area. What do you mean keep me in the game? I mean that off the top of my head I can tell you that the runes to craft chains of honor are Dol+Um+Ber+Ist. Why can I tell you that? Because I alt+tabbed to the arreat summit 10,000 times to look at it. This is not simplified. Simplification ties directly in with accessibility but they aren’t quite the same.3a. Stat Points
I gave quite a lengthy discourse on the difference between stats in D2 and D3. One of the more prominent takeaways from that section is how complicated D2 stats became. Dexterity was the most complicated since it had 5 different effects. The other stats weren’t simple either. Every class gained different amounts of life from vitality and damage from strength. When you tack on stat points as a gear requirement as well it becomes really confusing. Low level characters are punished for overspending points early in the game. Higher level characters are recreated to get those 15 points back.
How are D3 stats simple? The quickest answer is that they all have only 1 universal effect. Armor, Resists, Life, and dodge. That’s as simple as you can get. Obviously primary stats give damage bonuses too but those are displayed right on the tooltip and they are linear. All classes get 1% damage from 1 point of primary stat. Not only do they only have 1 universal effect but that 1 effect is exactly the same through all classes. 10 life per point of vitality. 1 point of intelligence gives .1 to all resists. It doesn’t take an excel spreadsheet to find out how to get the maximum damage for your character. You just stack primary stat gems, you’ll hit like a mack truck. In D2 you needed Dex for Zon, Strength for Barb, equal strength and dex for asassins. Then stats didn’t even help caster classes, you had to get +skills modifiers! Even when you did get damage bonuses it was significantly less than 1% per point. It was a convoluted mess, thankfully this new system is extremely simple and easy to understand, all within the confines of the game itself.3b. Trading
I will be writing another section that discusses the economy but this merits a bit of a mention here. I wrote quite a bit about skills and stats and very little about trading. One of the major design goals for D3 was to make trading as simple as possible. Previously we had a barter system, my p nagel for your 10 p gems or an ist for a max armor shako. Mid rune for 20 life sc. Any player coming in to the game with the intent of trading would need a 4 hour training course on the intricacies of the D2 economy. How does D3 address this problem?
The auction house was born. Currency comes about in all modernized societies. Currency allows the buyer to value what they are offering against a neutral party (the currency itself). The auction house facilitates trade even when the player is not online. The problem of D2 spamming for trades or sitting in town with mules will be almost completely nullified. Now if you want to trade an item you just list it on the auction house. Sell item X for Y amount of currency and buy Z item in exchange. You effectively traded with another player. The new system benefits everyone, except maybe scammers. Best of all it’s simple!3c. Simplification – Conclusions
Simplification has been implemented in every game system. Trading, crafting, damage valuation, gems, etc. The prevalent goal is the keep you inside the game. If you need to alt tab and look up a formula or build or trading website then the game isn’t simple enough. Again this frustrates many of the more hardcore players who derive artificial game lengthening from convoluted systems and inefficient design. A small portion of the player base loves confusing implementations. It allows them to create artificial gaps between themselves and other (less studied) players. If you like games that have these gaps, you probably won’t like Diablo 3. Unfortunately for you the vast majority of players hate these gaps. I doubt they will be returning to any Blizzard game anytime soon, especially D3. 4. Ease of use – Concluded
There’s a theme these 3 concepts share. The theme is ease of use. Many players pick up a game like D2 and are inevitably put-off because their build didn’t work, they don’t understand how to build a character that will work in hell, the stats gave no explanation of their function, trading for an item you wanted was impossible, and they didn’t feel like reading the arreat summit for an hour a day in their spare time.
Blizzard wants games that are easy to use. Does this really contrast with traditional gamers wanting difficult games? The type of difficulty Blizzard seeks with D3 is not that of Punch out. They don’t want you to memorize Mike Tyson’s punches because he beat you over and over and over again. If that isn’t the case, what does Blizzard want?
They want you to be able to craft items without hitting level 85 and farming for 10 hours. They want you to trade without sitting in town for 2 hours in a mule game or buying items on a website. They want you in the action, killing demons, and not doing a book report on their archaic crafting formulae. Some of you may hate it, others may love it. The real question is this: Does ease of use obliterate an otherwise very steep skill curve? It certainly did not with Starcraft 2 and that’s a pretty easy game to use.