Blizzard's upcoming Diablo III has a strong legacy to draw from, as the sequel to a series that first appeared in 1996 and has seen three official retail releases. In what proved to be a window into the Blizzard design process, the team discussed the just-announced Monk class, and how the class is taking influence from a surprising area: console brawlers.
Speaking on a wide-ranging Diablo III panel during BlizzCon 2009 in Anaheim, California, lead designer Jay Wilson explained, "We love fighting games on the Diablo III team, and we really wanted a character that felt like a fighting game character.
"We wanted to do combo moves, a lot of martial arts," he added.
Also speaking on the panel was technical game designer Wyatt Cheng. "The aesthetic goal was [to] feel like a brawler, like a fighting game," Cheng said. "But how do those goals translate into actual skills?"
To answer that question, Blizzard examined the cases where it has toyed with combo-equipped classes before, in the 2001 Diablo II expansion Lord of Destruction as well as in World of Warcraft, but the Diablo III team didn't feel either of those approaches was ideal for the more elegant brawler-like system it is looking to achieve with the Monk.
"If you look at the Assassin from Diablo II, it emphasized two-button mouse play," which the team liked, said Cheng -- "Unfortunately, [often] you'd build up a lot of combo points, but [after the process of doing so] there'd be nothing left around you to kill. With the World of Warcraft Rogue, we liked that people combined their skills in interesting ways, but players of WoW have more skills than fit on a left and right mouse button or even a skill bar."
Also clearly a driving influence on the game is the Shaolin kung-fu monk tradition, or at least how it's portrayed in Asian cinema -- the Monk's three skill stages are called Way of the Hundred Fists, Crippling Pain, and Exploding Pain.
But still, "We'd seen the Asian kung-fu monk before," added lead world designer Leonard Boyarsky (also a veteran of Fallout and Fallout 2). "They're killing machines, but at the same time they're very holy men. It was really fun walking up to our artists and [giving them that description], and watching them go crazy."
On the art side, said "explosion dude" Julian Love, "We talked about the 2D fighter feel -- how could art get that across on screen?" The team went with a style that actually renders the Monk model as a flat black 2D silhouette sharply illuminated by bright, luminescent light.
One past character that probably wasn't much of an influence? The Monk included in the Hellfire expansion for Diablo, which was developed not by Blizzard but by Synergistic and Sierra, which has been pointedly excluded from any Diablo lore since -- and not mentioned by the team today.