It's just before lunch in Paris, and city of lights has been invaded by hordes of Blizzard fans, eagerly flowing into the Porte de Versailles Exposition Center.
They've come from across Europe to the Worldwide Invitational, and during the opening ceremonies, they witness an announcement that the billion-dollar-a-year developer will be releasing a new PC and Mac title, Diablo 3.
Organizers told Gamasutra that 11,000 people were attending the consumer event, including hundreds of press from Europe and a handful of North American outlets - and with a dozen camera crews crowding both sides of the room for the ceremony.
Mike Morhaime, president of Blizzard, gave some opening remarks to the gathered horde of gamers, describing the event "…as a way to say thank-you to our players." Tickets for the Invitational cost €70 ($110 USD).
"I know you've been wondering if we have any big news for you at this event," said Morhaime. "Well..." he continued as the crowd went wild, "as it turns out... we do."
At this point the stage lights turned red, and an acoustic guitarist came up to perform the theme from Diablo II. Then a rich cinematic trailer for the newly confirmed title Diablo 3 began to roll.
The game will be rated 16 in Europe, and the cut-scenes shown here look of similarly high quality to those promoting other Blizzard titles. "It is said, in the end of all things, you find a new beginning," begins the narration.
After the trailer, the game's lead designer Jay Wilson is introduced, and is also prepared to demonstrate gameplay footage from the title. He begins by showing the Forgotten Tombs level.
From initial impressions, the gameplay is exceedingly atmospheric and the user interface is clean - and its ethos is described as "...so simple you can play it with just the mouse." Wilson also focuses on a key tenet of the title - keeping the combat fast.
Another important evolution of the franchise is the fact that environments will be destroyable - the example shown is a stone wall collapsing on a group of enemies, eliciting crowd glee.
So, sure, there's some obvious boasts from the game's creators, with Wilson commenting: "Diablo 3 will be filled with more story and quests than any Diablo before."
But overall, there are key changes - the game will, first and foremost, be a co-operative title, according to Wilson. While the designer cautioned the audience that all things can change before the title ships (at a so far unconfirmed future date), he does introduce the audience to a new class, the witch doctor.
Further information is available at Blizzard's Diablo 3 website, and Gamasutra will have more in-person reports from Diablo 3's unveiling at the Worldwide Invitational in the near future.
[UPDATE: During a panel discussion at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in Paris, Diablo 3’s lead designer Jay Wilson explained the much-awaited title would be “one of the first games to… have a lot of replayability through randomness.”
The title’s epic scale includes being “expanded by adding a lot of bigger... outdoor environments” compared to the previous games in the series, according to the designer
Wilson admitted: “We could just make Diablo 2 again – and the fans would probably be happy with that,” but went on to say that in order to be worthy of Blizzard and worthy of the fans, the game had to be a significant step forward.
One of the overarching features that Wilson sees as doing this is the game's generative systems. “Is there randomness?” he asked - “absolutely there is" - citing random monster encounters and items as being a key part of the new game.
Usability and accessibility are also important to the team. “Better gameplay, less carpal tunnel,” is one way that Wilson described it, and he went on to say that the game will be usable by the casual, while retaning depth: “We have a saying – if you can click a mouse, you can play Diablo.”
“That’s not to say you won’t break some mice playing Diablo 3 – you will, it’s a mouse killer,” he reassured the audience. In fact, the team at Blizzard “...view Diablo as an extremely fast-paced combat game.”
Most notably, Wilson about an element of the game that’s clearly important to him - the narrative. “We wanted to improve the story, make a better story, but not lose the feel that Diablo 1 and II had,” he said. “If you’re interested in the story, it’s there for you.”
Towards the end of the panel, Wilson addressed the issue of who will play this game, and who won’t. “We want to make a game for Diablo players, and who love Diablo. We don’t worry about it finding an audience. We don’t worry about World of Warcraft players either. We think there’s plenty of room for both.”
As for how long this title was in development before its public unveiling? Wilson grins: “The development of a Blizzard game is sometimes a long affair. This is how long it took us to be ready.”