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The Devil's Workshop: An Interview with Diablo III's Jay Wilson

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The Devil's Workshop: An Interview with Diablo III's Jay Wilson

May 14, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next
 

Prior to working at Blizzard, Jay Wilson worked on some big games, including Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War while he was at Relic. But none of his previous games were as widely-anticipated -- and garnered as high expectations -- as his latest work: Diablo III, launching this week for PC and Mac.

As director on Diablo III, Wilson had to digest everything that the 16-year-old Diablo franchise is known for, lead a team to determine what this latest entry should be, and how the Diablo team could achieve that vision. Reaching goals, said Wilson, meant crunching for quality, intense polishing, and listening -- as well as not listening -- to player feedback.

Diablo III is the first game that he headed up at Blizzard. Even though he was familiar with the high quality bar at the company, he told Gamasutra in this interview, "It just took a lot longer [to reach that standard] than I had anticipated."

I just read the Diablo II postmortem on Gamasutra, and about the crunch at the end of its development. How did you handle the final stretch for Diablo III? Was there just some massive crunch, like there was with Diablo II?

JW: Oh, yeah. We had a pretty big crunch. I wasn't there for Diablo II, so I can't really speak to it exactly, but as a company, I think we've gotten better in how we handle crunch. It's a little bit more phased, and we're able to take down certain [development] groups and give them rests. Not everybody really finishes at the same time.

There's the ability to keep people busy without keeping them in crunch when, really, their work is done. So a lot of it really is not just because of the time they put in; it's really the stress of trying to make the right decisions, and having so many balls in the air at once. Projects are really big now, and there's a lot of logistics to finishing them.

One of the first things we try to do is we limit how much time people actually work. We actually send people home so that they don't overwork. Our crunch was long, so what we try to do is make it long but not hard. We'd have weeks where we would just tell people they couldn't crunch at all.

Part of that was if we had a group that we felt was ahead, we'd tell them, "You guys are ahead. Don't crunch for a few weeks." Other groups, they weren't ahead, but they were tired, so we would give them a week off from crunch.

So we do things like that. We also just had groups that finished earlier than others. Mostly on the art side. The art finished early, which was a good thing -- you kind of want art to finish first.

So we have more capabilities now, when we have a group finish [their work]. In previous games I've worked on, you don't want anybody to finish early, because then what do you do with them? They're just sitting around. Nothing good happens from people sitting around. "Idle hands" is really a true statement. [Ed. Note: the full idiom is the "idle hands are the devil's workshop".]

And so we have a lot better management now, so we're able to do things like training courses, and help out some of the other teams. So we have a lot more capabilities to say, "Okay. It's okay for us to finish, to have this other group working, and have these other groups stop." So [we have] just a little bit more sophisticated ability to manage people.

How do you define crunch?

JW: For me, crunch is when people are generally working over 50 to 60 hours a week. That much or more. Essentially, if they're working more than 40, then I consider it crunch -- but for an extended period of time.

I think we always say -- one of the things that I try to push to the team -- is that while game development cycles have a tendency to crunch towards the end, usually for a few reasons, at Blizzard, it's actually driven by quality.

But most companies you work for, it's not actually quality that makes you crunch. It's usually bad planning, and a lack of focus. So if you can, for the majority of your project, be really focused -- and do like little mini crunches. Like once a month you have one week where you work a little extra to try and hit a goal, you can actually alleviate a lot of the end crunch.

And you've got to couple that with an appropriate level of ambition. I would actually say on Diablo III, we were overambitious in a lot of ways. I, as a game director, kind of underestimated the amount of time it would take us to get to the Blizzard quality level. I hadn't made a Blizzard game before, so now I know better, and I think we can do an even better job on it.

You came from Relic, just prior?

JW: Yep. And I worked on a game called Impossible Creatures, where we crunched like crazy, and then I worked on a game called Dawn of War, which was a lot less time and money than Impossible Creatures, and yet we made a better game and we actually didn't hardly crunch at all. And it was because I had really good understanding of the capability of the team, and what would be an appropriate ambition level for them.

It was a very ambitious project, but everybody was very focused on what the game was supposed to be, and how it should work. We all worked together before, too, which is a huge advantage. Because if you have a team that has put something out together, I wouldn't say their quality necessarily goes up, but their efficiency goes way up.


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Comments


Robert Boyd
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Loved the article. This was probably my favorite part:

"For us, good design has a lot of depth and is very approachable. That's always our first priority. And the problem that you run into is we attract a very hardcore audience, and hardcore audiences don't like things to be approachable. They like their hardcore game. They like their elitism. And that's just not what Blizzard's ever been about."

Wish more developers took that approach.

Matt Cratty
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I scratched my head as I read this. There isn't a developer that I'm aware of that DOESN'T follow this mantra today (the approachable mantra that is).

I personally find myself yearning for the "elitist" game on occasion after another approachable bland entry has hit the shelves.

Note, I'm not picking sides, just sometimes I want a developer to assume I want to be challenged at least a bit.

Ardney Carter
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Your're leaving out the 1st part of the quote though: "...Good design has a lot of depth". If you then couple that with the context of the remarks relating to balancing design direction with feedback from various channels it becomes apparent what he was getting at.

Basically, if you make a game that's approachable and has plenty of depth you're likely to gain a large audience. In turn, a portion of that audience will become 'hardcore' and bring with it all the elements of elitism and exclusion that such a community entails. This subset of your user base will then be quite vocal about what it wants included and excluded in subsequent entries in the franchise.

The point is, if you listen to them exclusively you will be doing your audience as a whole a disservice as designing the game solely with the hardcore minority in mind was not what drew them in in the first place. So if you design the game with both approachability and depth in mind at the outset you can make a game that appeals to a wider audience then just the 'hardcore' community which is going to develop as a subset of your total audience regardless.

Robert Boyd
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Matt, you're missing the point. The point isn't let's dumb down our games so everyone can play them. The point is that depth and accessibility don't have to be at cross purposes. You can make a game with tons of depth for hardcore gamers while still making the game easy to get into for new player.

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Rob Wright
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"How long would you say Diablo III has been in polish mode?

JW: Probably two years."

Incredible indeed. I remember being at Blizzcon 2008 when Diablo III was first playable, and I was pretty amazed at how polished it was back then. Granted, I think there were only three classes available to play at that time, but it still looked and played like a finished product -- and it was so good, it stole SatrCraft II's thunder.

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Craig Dolphin
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Much as i love blizzard and diablo, the auction house and the required online aspect are what are stopping me from buying the game. Provide an offline-only single player mode and I'll consider it again. After my experience with the required online in Starcraft 2, I'll never buy another required online game again. Sadly, I suspect I'm a minority in this.

Jose Resines
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Not really a minority, there are a lot of us out there.

The problem is, like it happens with Call of Duty, you can put a turd in a box (or in an installer), put the Blizzard seal on top, and it will sell millions. It still doesn't make it a good game.

Tyler King
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That being said, Diablo 3 will probably do well and sell millions because Blizzard has polished it and made a good game, not just because they slapped their seal on it.

Ujn Hunter
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Right there with you! Give me a single player game that doesn't require an internet connection and I'm game. Won't even consider purchasing a game with such DRM involved.

John Hahn
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@Craig, I think that's a reasonable suspicion. It reminds of when people protested Steam when it first came out because it basically means you have to be online to play all your games. You know what though, in the long run those protests didn't really hurt Valve and Steam has basically become the standard for PC gaming these days (at least in the circles of friends I'm in).

Another example is that you have these people who are anti-digital distribution because they want something physical in their hands when they purchase something. These people are a minority and the benefits and convenience of digital distribution outweigh the cons, which is why it has become the new standard for pretty much all forms of digital media (netflix, itunes, steam, you name it).

Bottom line, there will always be a minority of people that protest any kind of shift in the established way of doing things, but it never seems to actually stop the change from happening in the long run.

Jose Resines
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You DON'T have to be online to play in Steam.

Steam is DRM, but it is a very light one, and at least they compensate it with a lot of features, unlike Origin: bad, intrusive, a POS software, and almost zero features. And expensive, to boot.

I can play my single player games in Steam without being online. I can't say the same about Diablo 3. Because, despite whatever Blizzard says, if you can (and they've said so) play the full game solo, the online-only requirement is an absolute BS.

It's not resistance to change. It's resistance to lose whatever little rights we gamers have when publishers decide to take them away, and charge an extra $10 for the favour.

Bisse Mayrakoira
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"Protests did not really hurt Valve?" You are committing a logical mistake here. Valve has met with success, true. That doesn't mean it has not been hurt, and in fact they continue to be hurt by the reaction to the restrictions they set. (Whether they somehow gain more from those restrictions is another matter.)

I personally avoid paying for games with online activation, which includes anything on Steam. When I can't reasonably get a game without it, I tend to wait for a rock bottom discount. The average rental price I have paid for any such game is currently under $5. Meanwhile I have no problem paying $30 on Good Old Games, or directly to developers, since these do not seek to control my use and enjoyment of the game and thus deliver a more valuable product.

I certainly hope change keeps happening in the long run, and specifically, forces the industry to quit trying to obsessively wrest control from the gamer at every turn. No one benefits when every game has its own bad Facebook copy which will soon be forgotten and go dark along with its servers, while real community building and organizing is prevented by lack of modding, lack of dedicated server executables in gamers' hands, etc.

Michael Wenk
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Great interview. It does point out a real big problem for Blizzard. By largely relying on whether internal Blizzard people find something fun, what they do is create games that are fun for Blizzard people, and those gamers out in the world that are like Blizzard people. Obvious, right?

The problem is that philosophy is naturally self limiting, those people that aren't like Blizzard people won't find a particular game to be fun, and won't buy the next game that they come out with. I think that is why they have had such a bear with Cataclysm as compared to Wrath. Wrath was more fun for a general audience, and then Cata was tailored more towards Blizzard people and as such the Wrath audience that wasn't into that sort of stuff was turned off.

When you look at the TES series, and Fallout 3, those games contain so much varied content that in a sense if you don't find a quest fun, you're likely to find the next one fun. So in that sense a TES game is more generally accessible.

I do wish that Bethesda had Blizzard's quality. Hell, I wish Bethesda had EA/Bioware's quality.

John Hahn
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@Michael I wouldn't call it a "real big problem" for Blizzard. They seem to have done quite well for themselves using that tactic. You can't make a game that every single person on earth is going to enjoy. This is true for any kind of entertainment media. Blizzard has been super successful using the strategy they use, to the point where you could argue that they are basically the last remaining successful AAA PC exclusive studio. What I mean is that the majority of companies that used to be PC powerhouses have become console centric, and most PC exclusive companies these days seem to be in the casual/facebook sector. The fact that Blizzard has managed to remain AAA and PC exclusive is a testament to their success. Honestly, they may have problems, but they don't have any "real big problems". In this industry, "real big problems" means you are on the brink of going out of business. Blizzard isn't anywhere near that level of problems.

Michael Wenk
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@John It is a huge problem for the business of ATVI. One of their crown jewel studios has problems with adaptability. Being limited to producing fun content to your own class of people in entertainment means you will eventually hit a wall and be stuck at that point and then be forced to retreat. This is where Blizzard is today. Its not necessarily a game problem , but it is a business problem. It would be akin to a movie theater deciding to only show movies that the theater workers loved to watch. Eventually they would fail, even the people that love those same movies would eventually wander off to see new things.

Diablo 3 will be a success. But I wonder for how long Blizzard will be able to keep doing this. Sure they won't die tomorrow, next year or the year after that, but these limits will hamstring them. That should concern investors, at least I think it should.

I for one wonder how sooner Diablo 3 would have shipped had they had more diversity in deciding what *is* fun. I'm willing to bet that over half the content that went into alpha and beta were told that this wasn't fun. And then by their own processes they consider this a polish exercise, and likely the result was a change that the person that said it wasn't fun, said it was better, but maybe its not good enough for the rest.

After digesting this article, I'm fully expecting D3 to be a mediocre game like Cataclysm was.

If you contrast this with Bethesda, Obsidian, and Bioware, there's obviously more diversity in content than in a Blizzard game. If you factor out the bugs, which is hard, there's something in those games that everyone will like (and hate perversely) but in general more people will like it.

John Hahn
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I respectfully disagree with your entire line of thought here.

When ATVI bought Blizzard, they knew what Blizzard's legacy was and what kinds of games they were master's of creating. If I own several shoe companies that make tennis shoes and sandles, and I then acquire a specialty company that makes the best boots in the world, I don't expect that company to become more general and suddenly start making sandles and tennis shoes. I already have sandle and tennis shoe companies to cover that sector of the market. I want that specialty boot company to keep doing what they do best. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Besides, I'm pretty sure blizzard has some tricks up their sleeves with this new MMO they are cooking up.

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Jose Resines
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Dear Jay: come back when D3 supports LAN play, and offline single player. The online only requirement is totally unacceptable, and your excuses for forcing it are pure BS. Thanks for forcing people to depend on a server emulator, the same way tournaments depend on a chinese emulator. Nice work there, guys, very nice work.

Also, when did Blizzard's "when it's done" stance change?. Releasing without PVP when it was promised time and again is yet another promise broken.

Let me guess. Activision. Since you merged with them, your customers have been kicked to the end of the queue, and now money is king. You'll still sell millions, but gameplay wise you're now Call of Duty. Ok, not that bad, but really.. 10+ years and this is all you got?. Too much focus on fleecing money via the RMAH, too little thought to what gamers really wanted.

All hail the old Blizzard.

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Joe E
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Am I the only one with a problem with this Director legitimizing crunch like this? But it's for 'quality' blahblah.. crunch is crunch is mandated overtime, and 'sometimes we tell them not to crunch!' seems like a terrible argument. Apart from the demoralizing aspect of a terrible work-life balance, it's been proven a long time ago than more than 40 hours is actually detrimental in the long run. I guess now I know where I'll never be sending my resume.

Bisse Mayrakoira
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Yeah, "it's for quality" is humorous considering that crunching is really absence of project management quality.

That said: he does recognize that sustained over 40 hours a week is crunching, and he does recognize that it's stupid to allow it to go on for long. Hard to tell exactly how their work practices are, but it doesn't sound abusive like in some other parts of the industry that have gone on record with 50-hour weeks as minimum.

If it's true that they do overtime about one week in a month to reach a sprint deadline of some sort, to keep the development focused and goal-oriented, that sounds much like any other software development, not "crunching" as I understand the term. I would expect any deadline/overtime weeks to be followed with lighter weeks with corresponding time off to balance things up, though. That would be professional, fair and productive. And it is how things have been done in (non-game) software development shops I have worked at.

The end crunch was glossed over, would be interesting to hear how bad it got.

Terry Matthes
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I felt like I was being Jedi Mind tricked for a second there. Good call.

Chris Schwarz
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Crunching for quality is still crunching, and the rationalization is transparent. He does even admit that he underestimated the level of effort needed to achieve their quality targets. It's not the worst crunch I've heard of, but that doesn't make it noble, or even right.

http://myunscriptedblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/living-in-crunch.htm
l

Igor Queiroz
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Reading this article, something became even clear to me. I born to be a game designer. Nothing qualifies more a game designer than an analytical point of view.

Great article.

Anonymous Designer
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mark cocjin
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I really like how Blizzard worked so hard to make the pirated copy of Diablo 3 the best copy to play the game single player or on LAN.

The third world is built on gaming cafes playing multiplayer games on LAN. It does not matter that these people are not part of the Blizzard Net club. What matters to them is that they're playing with their friends.

You should not force people to pay money for your game. You have to make a game that gives so much to customers that they will want to pay you. All this holding content hostage only works on first world countries who see entertainment as a legitimate expense. In third world countries, gaming comes last and if they can get it for free, that's what they would do.

Gene Gacho
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As a third world game developer, I can attest to the differences mentioned. LANs are king here, and indeed, as long as people play with their friends, it doesn't matter to them if they do it through less than legitimate channels. That being said, it still doesn't make piracy right though. :\

Bruno Xavier
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"the problem that you run into is we attract a very hardcore audience, and hardcore audiences don't like things to be approachable. They like their hardcore game. They like their elitism. And that's just not what Blizzard's ever been about."

So, Blizzard's games are for casual public now?! I loled on that one.
To me it sounds like his team do not care about the hardcore fanboys because they know those will buy the game anyways.
But I can't see the "casual" player enjoying a game space dominated by "hardcore" players.

Joe McGinn
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Great article in many ways, it's a shame it's a little misguided on crunch.

Fact: Crunch does not increase volume of work completed/
Fact: Crunch does not increase quality.

These are both known, proven facts based on over a century of research. Great games are made *despite* crunch, not because of it. Shame to see Blizzard is one of the misguided ones, still pushing that old fashioned, disprove "crunch works" nonsense.

It's not enough to say "We're kind about how we implement it." That's to say, "We are doing this thing that hurts our people, hurts productivity, and hurts game quality - but at least we are nice about how we are doing it."

Anonymous Designer
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That's just not true and those aren't proven facts. Otherwise virtually every successful AAA team wouldn't crunch, like they, you know, do. Crunch happens because not enough gets done during months of 40 hours weeks, regardless of less-than-perfect planning. Your fingers and brain cells don't break after 40 hours, and sometimes you may be tired after a 12 hour day, but you realize you aren't quite done, but you will be done in 15 minutes (i.e. 1.5 hours). It feels good to say crunch is evil, and noone likes it, but that does not mean it is ineffective.

Joe McGinn
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Jack, with respect, you are incorrect and your argument is illogical.

1. If even ONE AAA game is made without crunch - and there have been many - it proves beyond any doubt that crunch is not necessary. So your logic fails.

2. Furthermore, your post argues against a full century of research, literally hundreds of studies prove that you are incorrect. So your facts fail.

There are many, many article online to substantiate what I've said. This is only one of them, a recent one:
http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/bring_back_the_40_hour_work_week/

Anonymous Designer
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How silly of me to have forgotten that AAA video games have been made for the last full century. In your own linked article, this tidbit seems to counter your own claim - particularly as stated by Jay Wilson.

"There was one exception to this rule. Research by the Business Roundtable in the 1980s found that you could get short-term gains by going to 60- or 70-hour weeks very briefly — for example, pushing extra hard for a few weeks to meet a critical production deadline. "

And to your points (while staying logical)
1. I never stated crunch was necessary. It makes it easy to call me "illogical" when you put words in my mouth. So right there your point 1 dies. But to re-iterate, my logic is that when you see what has been done per month with 40 hour weeks over a stretch of time, forsee that production level is not enough to meet your deadline - you crunch in order to increase productivity for your deadline. It works. That's why people do it. That doesn't mean it's not abused - of course it is - just like anything that is effective in it's function.
2. Studies about different occupations in full time, not video games with periodic short term crunches. Your facts and research say exactly what I'm saying, as I quoted above.

Extra - Some developers enjoy their job, it doesn't feel as much like work when you genuinely enjoy it. We often work with people of like minds and interest, which also increases the tolerance of overtime. There is also built-in downtime for compiles, linking, etc. - this builds in short term breaks consistently throughout the day, easing stress.

We do work too hard in this industry, but a strict 40 hour work week is extremely difficult to make work with constrained time and resources. That doesn't mean it can't be done, but you have to be the Michael Jordan of project managers and have a championship team behind you to get it done. That can't happen for everyone. There is much to be said, much to be learned, and long strides to be taken to move our industry into the right place regarding work hours - but we need to be honest with ourselves to get there.

Julian Cram
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There is someone who reads the design documents - the lead tester.

Without a design document, how are test plans put in place?

Chris Proctor
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Designers can write (or help write) test plans. That's much better than trying to keep a monolithic design document up to date.

Eric Schwarz
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I am not a fan of this "no design document" attitude. Design documents are important, not because they should serve as the primary motivation for you or your team, but because they are a way to formulate and design a game in a detailed manner. I feel many designers and developers overlook the value of understanding game mechanics and why things work, and adopt a reactive rather than proactive approach to creating things - it's not about building a game out of interesting mechanics that spring logically from one another, it's about imitating and sticking to genre conventions, and tweaking when you hit a brick wall.

Moreover, if a team lacks the discipline or knowledge to make games, and can't stay interested in creating games long enough to read design documents to begin with, then there is a serious problem with that team, and probably the leadership strategy as well. There is a reason why making games is work, and this laid back attitude of "yeah, we'll just prototype everything, implement ideas as they come", in my opinion, promotes lazy design and management, lacking in efficiency and focus towards an end goal - not to mention it basically only works at a company like Blizzard, which has orders of magnitude more resources than most other developers.

To be blunt (and maybe a bit cynical), when I read that Diablo III had major systems changes, overhauls and content additions and reductions during a 2-year "polish phase", that doesn't strike me as "gee, Blizzard really care about their games a whole lot that they'd work so much on them." It strikes me as poor management and a lack of real understanding of the game from a mechanics and systems perspective.

I want to stress - no disrespect intended at all in my comments, and obviously Blizzard are very successful at what they do, both financially and in terms of the games they produce. I just personally don't feel that the viewpoints regarding design and project management here are especially efficient, and at a certain point may actually do more harm than good.

Robert Boyd
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I think you've got things backwards. It's not lazy to scrap that "brilliant" idea that the designer had because the prototype indicates that it doesn't actually work the way everyone thought it would in practice and then go to work implementing something else that will actually work. No, the lazy approach would be to just keep following the design document even though it's not as good as was expected.

A design document is a hypothesis. Prototyping is how you test those hypothesis.

Eric Schwarz
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Of course. I never said that it's worth following a design document blindly to the end, don't get me wrong. But, the idea that you don't need one, in my opinion, risks damaging game design as a discipline and can quickly lead to inflated production schedules and a lack of focus on a project. Even for an independent designer, it's good as a though exercise to lay out all your ideas on paper, so that you actually understand them and why they work before going on to implement them.

John Hahn
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The problem with design docs is that, like Robert said, many of the things in the doc wind up not working as well as the designers hope they will, and so, in the end, things winds up being very different from the design doc.

Once people are in development mode and things are under tight deadlines, nobody has time to go back and rewrite the doc to keep it up-to-date. Just getting things remade based on user feedback and making things fun to play takes enough time. This means that if somebody were to pick up that design doc, say, 4 months before a game ships, and start reading it, it would be a design of a very different game than what the team has actually wound up creating, so really, how useful is the doc at that point? Was it worth the company spending all that money meticulously writing out this doc that ultimately isn't really much like the end product?

More and more, I've read and heard about the biggest and best companies in this business adopting a casual stance with regards to documentation. I went to a talk with some designers from Irrational Games, and they basically said they aren't a documentation heavy company at all. One of them even said, "We aren't writing a book, we are making a game." That seems to be a very popular way of looking at things these days, and it seems to work.

Bart Stewart
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Does team size matter?

In other words, if you're a AAA shop who can have hundreds of people working on a game for 3-5 years, does that give you the flexibility to dream up new design ideas in the hallway that a smaller team can't afford?

Is it possible that a sensibly constrained strategic plan -- i.e., a design doc -- is more important for a smaller team that can't afford to lose its focus?

Eric Schwarz
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@Bart Stewart

It's an interesting question and it depends too much on the circumstances, but yes, that's one thing I should have made more clear in my initial comment - a lot of this is subjective to the overall work environment and corporate structure. I certainly cannot speak to what Blizzard Entertainment is like on a day to day basis, although the impression I get is that it's relatively laid back and unstructured compared to some studios.

I would actually say a small team has a lot more mobility to go beyond a design document because even sweeping changes are theoretically just a short IM conversation away, and since the people involved are more likely to know each other closely, there's also a good chance that they will be able to think alike without needing to see everything written out.

At the same time, at a large enough company, these sorts of changes also have a chance to be implemented very quickly due to sheer team size. Provided there isn't such a strict and rigid structure to development, it might be relatively quick and easy to, say, add a new spell to your Diablo-like game (a programmer, artist, designer, etc. should be able to figure that out within a day or two), and the same goes for adding plenty of other types of content. When development roles are highly compartmentalized, and you have specialists able to produce very high-quality work very quickly, then that can be an advantage for sure... the downside that arises, however, is that there is probably less overall consistency in the team and not everyone might be aware of changes made or the shifting design goals, and as such there's a bigger burden on the person or people at the top making those decisions.

Ronildson Palermo
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I couldn't agree (and relate) better that no one ever really reads your design bibles... If I had a penny for everytime a programmer came to me with a doubt about how this or that worked and I said: 'it's in the design!';

But, you see, in the end, I don't blame then - it's easier, more fun and honestly more productive when I take a quick second to sit beside them and tell them how something works. We ourselves see how it runs and we immediately realize if it's working or not.

I firmly believe those big chunky design documents are pieces created by designers to designers. People from outside that niche can't really understand what's going on in there if it lacks proper art or game screen with the appropriate arrows and pointers, and that's only really there once the game has been in production for a while - that kinda defeats the purpose of having one.

What I've been doing lately is breaking the design down into several different, smaller and more accessible documents. 10 pages is the limit and there's gotta be art in there! From my personal inquiries to people around me having some form of illustration in the document increases it's chance to be actually looked at by people dramatically.

Anonymous Designer
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Many times, depending on the task and your resources, you can prototype in a time frame not much longer than writing a design doc. And the former is infinitely more useful. Also keep in mind that just because something is a "design doc" doesn't mean it's good. It may leave out a million imminent details/causes/effects (either intentionally or unintentionally). It may under or over explain. It may just be a screenshot from a movie and say "like this!". It may sound stupid, be confusing, have typo's, not include the pivotal part that the author just realized after speaking to an artist in the break room. It takes time to write, time to read, time to update - and is a static relic attempting to represent what is really a living breathing ever-changing feature.

Jay hit the nail on the head by saying design docs are most useful for handing off to engineers so they can program to a precise spec after the idea has been sold or proven.

Raul Aliaga
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I think that a key consideration for focusing on prototyping instead of documenting besides of the benefits already mentioned, is that it enables to have all teams working relatively synchronously, which is a really big concern with such large teams at a place like Blizzard. If they spend designing too much systems upfront without stressing the importance of the feeling of actual gameplay, then you may end up with a huge complex perfectly designed system that it isn't too fun to play and that's more expensive than risking major refactors once you're long advanced in development.

With that said, I agree with @Bart Stewart in the team size distinction: smaller teams can focus on several games on different stages of development, and doing systems design for a small title can be more effective upfront in which the art and tech teams might possibly be creating new content or bug fixing for previous games.

ashish pratap
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Great Article.
"As soon as you're willing to look at your current work and say, "It's not good enough, redo it," or even have the capability to do that, that's when you can start getting to those moments"................

I feel those moments are of great importance to Blizzard . It feels awesome to play Diablo 3 as they have loads of great moments in the game.Game looks great till now and i am totally loving it.The fact is ,Blizzard can afford to scrap something and start all over again, since they have that kind of budget and resources.They set such a high standards for other developers that they are unbeatable.Look at WOW ,Starcraft 2 and now Diablo 3. They always manage to set new benchmark for their games.

2 Years of polishing for Diablo 3: I mean how much money and time Blizzard has to get this kind of quality.Its insane. Usually if you are under tight budget & deadline normally you give your best shot and thats it.

Eric Schwarz
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Yet, to play devil's advocate, there are actually a lot of problems with the game. Diablo III has basic UI concerns (damage formulas and how attributes relate to character aren't made clear, skills page is awkwardly organized and you can't view all skills at once, have to turn on "advanced" features in the menus just to be able to map abilities the way you want, etc.), awkward, inconsistent and rushed-feeling bits that don't make a lot of sense (character-specific cutscenes after major story events that sum up exactly what the dialogue just said 2 seconds ago, yet they also play big emotionally "moving" sequences in-game rather than using their cinematic budget on those), there are outstanding balance issues (Wizard has a skill that provides 6 seconds of invincibility every 15 seconds?), and the plot, frankly, is a mess (which normally I wouldn't mind too much, except that Blizzard clearly made it a point to overhaul their storytelling).

And that says nothing about the server situation, which literally the worst of online-only DRM being exposed to players immediately after they have spent money on the game.

Frankly, as completely gorgeous and smooth and well-designed much of the game is, it has enough rough edges and things that were changed/removed at the last minute for me to ask "this is what took 10+ years, and 2 years of polishing?"

Nicholas Clayton
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I think maybe no one reads the design docs due to the way they are presented. I know I don't like looking at walls of text myself. I don't have a lot of design doc experience, but I do have ideas based on experience to improve them.

Maybe, instead of all encompassing "Master" docs, you modularize them in smaller, more focused documents and fill it with ideas, sketches, asset lists, dialog, etc. based on the topic.

For example, with Diablo 3, there could have been documents for Barbarian_Male and Barbarian_Female since the have different art, sound and possibly dialog. If something changes, it's a lot easier to change in a smaller document.

I will use HTML for an analogy, it's a lot more of a chore changing element styles inline than to make changes in an external stylesheet.


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