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Miguel (M): Do you consider the console to be on equal footing with the PC?
- Julia Humphreys (JH): I definitely think so. One of our major goals when bringing it to the console was we believed there were legions of console players out there who might want to play Diablo but, for whatever reason, never picked it up for the PC. They weren't PC gamers or they didn't have a PC to play it on; they just had their preferred platforms. I think we've done a tremendous job of reaching those people and giving them an opportunity to experience the Diablo franchise and Blizzard-quality games. Being able to show the game on PS4 before it launches for retail is just amazing for us.
M: Were you surprised at how well-received it was?
- JH: I think we believed in the product very strongly; everyone on the console team is a gamer. We knew it played really well and played it on the PC, but we loved playing on consoles. We knew how good it felt to us. We knew that there was a lot of skepticism from people, but we knew as soon as people got their hands on it, it would turn around.
- The PS4 version might ruin you a little bit for the PS3 version, as we get a nice little boost in graphics. It looks so beautiful on the PS4.
M: When Diablo was taking its final shape on the PC, do you think that console operability was an idea that they had?
- JH: I think that the focus was on PC. At some point the members of the PC team thought that this might make sense on other platforms. Action RPGs work very well on consoles, having direct control of your character with an analog stick works really well. To my knowledge there wasn't the seed of this idea until they made the decision to bring it over.
M: Obviously it's not interfacing over battle.net.
- JH: Right.
M: Where could it go in terms of unique multiplayer expression?
- JH: We don't have battlenet, but what we do have is the great backbone of Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. You're going to see that expand even further in the next generation of consoles. What the PS4 is looking at doing with the PSN is really exciting for us, like they built the share button right into the controller itself, so it's a really seamless way for PS4 players to share screenshots or videos of their gameplay footage by linking their other social media accounts to their PSN account. This is something the console players haven't been able to do very easily in the past, the same way the PC players could. You know, lots of people like to stream Diablo on Twitch and that's awesome for the PC crowd, but not for the console. This is an answer to that for people who want to play on the PS4.
- PS4 version is also going to have a few unique social features. They are Player Mail, Player Gifts, and what we're calling Avenger Kills. Player Mail is pretty straightforward: send an item you find in the world to your friend. Player Gifts expands on that by anytime you have an item drop in the world – say I was playing and got a legendary item – there's small chance that item would have a secondary item, and it would say "Gift to Miguel", and then I could click on that and it would send it to your mailbox. At the time you open the gift, it would roll the item for your character. I wouldn't have to keep in mind that "Okay, Miguel plays a Monk, Josh plays a Demon Hunter. What is their gear, is this item going to be good for them?"
- Avenger Kills takes the mail system and turns it around to bring in the monsters of the world. Let's say I was out adventuring in the world and I was killed by a lowly white monster who got the killing blow on me. There's a chance for that monster to level up in power and jump through a portal. That monster could turn up in your game and say something like "Julia's killer is hunting you" and then you have the chance to kill that monster and get some loot and share some of that loot back with me.
M: The folks that I interviewed earlier about Reaper of Souls, when they mentioned it the first thing that came to my mind was "Okay, I'll let it kill me, and I urge you to let it kill you, and so on just so we could inflate the [power of the monster]."
- JH: (Laughs) Yeah, there's going to be a cap on how big – how much – they can level up. We have talked about that, like, what if these things spread like a virus? We think it could cause some really cool events. We still have to test it a lot and tune it.
M: Is there anything you've noticed the player base doing on consoles that came as a surprise?
- JH: I haven't seen any behaviors that surprise. One thing that has surprised us is a request that we see a lot that we didn't expect to be a feature that was missed from the PC version which is emotes. We've seen a lot of people asking if there's a way we can include emotes. The specific case is that someone might be playing online with their friends and they don't use headsets or don't have them so they don't have the voice chat functionality to be able to coordinate; and what they want is simple way to say "this way" or "this is for you" or whatever the case may be. So we're looking at using the touchpad on the PS4 controller to have some maybe simple gesturable commands that would allow you to have some of the basic emotes to more easily communicate with your players.
M: I've heard a lot of people say that this game feels more "native" on console. What do you attribute that to?
- JH: There's a long history of RPGs and Action RPGs on console systems. Going back to Baldur's Gate, Dark Alliance. It feels very natural to control your character directly with an analog stick and be jamming on those buttons for all of your powers. It calls to mind some of those traditions. I think being able to play on the same screen as your friends in the room also feels very native to a console; it's an experience you can only have with a console. There aren't a lot of games anymore that do that. That used to be a staple of the genre.
M: I noticed when I was playing that the right stick lets you do a roll. Is that something that's totally unique to console?
- JH: It is totally unique to consoles. The reason why is that, on the PC version you're clicking to tell your character where to go. It's an indirect scheme, and your character will automatically path to where it needs to go. If they need to get out of danger quickly, you just click, and they run out of danger. It also gives you a chance to do other things while you're moving. On the console, since you're moving with the analog stick, you have to do every single thing. Having a quick little evade move is something that allows you to quickly and tactically reposition yourself in combat. It also gave you the ability to quickly get out of the way while doing something else.
M: Is development happening concurrently on console and PC?
- JH: PC is still leading the charge. Just like the original version, we will have a staggered release with the PS4 version coming out afterward. We are trying to narrow that gap as much as possible. The whole process has been a learning experience for the console team and Blizzard as a company and it's been fifteen years since we put out a console product before this.
M: Is there any way it will interface with battle.net in the future? Is there any reason for it?
- JH: We think it could be really cool for players. One thing that could be really cool about it is 360 and PSN players already have a really rich community, but it would be nice for them to be more easily integrated into the battlenet/Blizzard community so they feel that they have a rich presence there, too. It's something we're looking into potentially for the future. We want to make sure that it feels good and seamless and it's something that a user wants to do.