Q&A: Blizzard's Executive Vice President of Game Design Rob Pardo
By Earnest Cavalli October 15, 2008 | 12:00:00 PMCategories: Blizzcon 2008
ANAHEIM -- Blizzard's executive vice president of game design Rob Pardo has his hand in just about everything the company does, so though I was scheduled to speak to him specifically about Diablo III, our conversation meanders a bit.
We start off discussing the newly-revealed Wizard class the firm had only that morning revealed as a part of the latest Diablo title, but soon we're covering everything from Blizzard's efforts to stem the tide of cheaters in their online games to the company's efforts to bring their games to the silver screen.
This marks the third interview in my series of talks from Blizzcon 2008 which includes chats with World of Warcraft lead producer J. Allen Brack and StarCraft II lead designer Dustin Browder. The final part, an interview with Blizzard CEO and co-founder Mike Morhaime on the company's current and future plans, should appear soon.
Wired: You guys just announced the Wizard. Can you tell us about that?
Rob Pardo: [Laughter]
Wired: Ok, how about a general overview of the class. What does it ... ok, say, what in Diablo II would it most closely relate to?
Pardo: The Wizardís probably most analogous to the Sorceress. Yeah, so the Wizard is definitely our most traditional mage, magic class. The Wizard, youíre going to see -- this is the class thatís going to cast the Magic Missile, have the Chain Lightning abilities. He also has kind of "time manipulation, reality distortion" abilities. Things like that.
Wired: Youíd say this is a more area-attack-focused class than, say, the Barbarian?
Pardo: Well one of the things about Diablo is that every class has to have area effect abilities, because it really is a game of ďyou against many creatures.Ē So Iíd say that all the classes really have target abilities and area effect abilities because it's really important -- its not a game like WoW.
WoW is a game that really focuses on interdependency, so we assume, especially in a dungeon, that classes will have other classes to kind of work with. In Diablo we have to take the paradigm that ďyou're on your own.Ē So every class has to be self-sufficient. Of course we have synergies and ways that we can play co-op, but every class really does have to be self-sufficient.
Wired: So there isnít going to be ... a lot of people have been concerned that because World of Warcraft has been so ridiculously successful for you guys that Diablo III is going to push towards becoming more of an MMO where youíre going to see more of a focus on playing the online component, having parties of people, that kind of thing. Is that the direction youíre going with it?
Pardo: We wanna make Diablo III even better for online play for sure but that doesn't necessarily mean we want it to be an MMO. I mean, weíve been a company focused on multiplayer gameplay for a really long time now, so its something like WoW is just an expression of that philosophy and belief.
With Diablo III we certainly want to make co-op a lot more fun, we wanna make PvP a lot more fun, but its not an MMO in the sense of WoW at all.
Wired: Speaking of it being online, with Diablo II and the first Diablo, really quickly after the game was released and, again, after every patch, there is this huge amount of people who hack the game, find ways to work around the system. What are you guys doing in Diablo III to prevent that? Obviously that makes playing less fun for people who arenít cheating.
Pardo: With online games itís definitely challenging to keep people from modifying the game, or hacking the game, but itís something we take very seriously. Itís something that, you look at a lot of our efforts in our other games and -- we have a full-blown Hacks Team now at Blizzard -- weíve developed our own kinda anti-hack software called ďWardenĒ which we use in World of Warcraft to try to detect a whole variety of known hacks. Weíve put technology in all of our games to help with a whole variety of those sort of hacks and to detect those sort of things. We keep it pretty serious.
Thereís nothing specific that we're doing just for Diablo III, itís kinda more of a Blizzard effort to prevent cheating across the board.
Wired: Is it going to be the exact same ďWardenĒ software in Diablo III as in World of Warcraft?
Pardo: It will be adapted, but itís something that was made for all of our games.
Wired: Along with that, thereís a huge segment of the fanbase and a huge segment of the media who came down on EA recently when they released Spore and it had that ridiculous DRM system that only allowed you to put it on three computers. There was a huge uproar. Obviously you need some kind of DRM otherwise people would just blatantly pirate your game over and over again. What kind of solutions are you guys looking at for Diablo III?
Pardo: The thing that I think helps us, is that since our games have such a huge multiplayer component, Battle.net really is our most effective DRM.
If you wanna play online on Battle.net with other players youíre going to have to have a legitimate copy. Thatís really kinda been the thing thatís always saved us from a lot of the PC piracy that I think hurts a lot of other single-player-only games.
Wired: Youíre not going to have something where the game has to phone home every time you turn it on?
Pardo: No, thereís no particular plans for that. We do now have the online store where weíre doing digital distribution on your account. In those particular cases you have to be online to actually download the game, but once you have it, you're fine.
I think our approach -- if you want to use an analogy -- we take an approach thatís more similar to Steam than EA
, letís say.
Wired: Speaking of which, Steam has been a huge success. Do you have any plans of releasing your games through their system, or is it going to be one of these things where you say: ďWeíre a big enough company, we can do it ourselves?Ē
Pardo: I think weíre probably currently in the mindset that weíre going to digitally distribute just on Battle.net. I donít know if our strategy will change in the future. I think itís something that weíre just trying to get really good at doing ourselves for now.
Wired: When Diablo II came out, I remember, I first bought it and the computer I had had like 128MB of RAM, which was over the system requirements, but I didnít really feel like I got the full experience of the game running perfectly until I had something like 2GB of RAM.
It seems that the Diablo series is very RAM-dependent, traditionally. Is that going to be the case with Diablo III? Are we going to need 6GB of RAM to run it at full everything?
Pardo: I donít know if my memory serves me well enough to speak too intelligently on that, but I donít think thereís anything actually about Diablo thatís particularly RAM-dependent. I think all of our games ... one of the philosophies we have is to always try to cater to a pretty low system spec. We really wanna make sure that as many gamers as possible can play our games, and I think thatís really the trick to being successful on PC anyway. If youíre only catering to the upper two percent of systems then youíve really narrowed down your userbase. We always try to appeal broadly.
Now, at the same time, we want a lot of our graphics and all of our features to look good, so it really depends on what features you're gonna enable and what kind of system you have for what kind of experience youíre going to get.
Wired: Do you guys have any idea what the system requirements are going to look like?
Pardo: Ohhh ... Why do I forget the answer to this question? We do. Iím not sure what weíve released. I can totally get that information to you in the future though.
Wired: That would be great.
Pardo: But I canít remember and I donít wanna misquote.
Wired: Absolutely, yeah. Diablo II introduced the Horardric Cube. It was a big success. Everybody likes the crafting component.
Wired: Is Diablo III going to have an equivalent crafting system?
Pardo: I wouldnít say ďequivalent.Ē I mean thereís things that were cool about the Horardric Cube, thereís things that were kinda silly about it, but we certainly want to have some features in the game that allow people to do some sort of crafting.
I wanna leave that intentionally vague because itís kind of a ... there are some features that weíll be going into in the future. Weíll talk more succinctly about ďwhat are we doing instead of the Horardic Cube?Ē
Wired: I was just at the StarCraft II panel and they revealed that StarCraft II is going to be released as a trilogy ...
Pardo: ďThey?Ē It was me!
Wired: Yeah! You can see what the scheduling is doing to my memory.
So, itís going to be released as a trilogy. The Diablo series has always had expansions. Are you guys going the same route? The trilogy? At least one expansion? Iím assuming at least one expansion.
Pardo: We havenít decided those sorts of things yet. I would probably assume the same thing. At least an expansion or something, but we havenít, to be honest, decided anything like that yet.
Itís a similar sort of development in StarCraft II. We didnít decide out of the gate that we were gonna do the trilogy idea. We havenít really got to the point yet with Diablo III to discuss what future products are going to look like.
Wired: And are you guys worried that the fans are going to see -- specifically with StarCraft II -- that theyíre going to see it and say ďOh! Theyíre coming out with an expansion so they mustíve held back content from the original release to put in the expansion!Ē Is there a concern that youíre going to be upsetting your fans that way?
Pardo: With StarCraft?
Pardo: Well I guess itís really the way you look at it: If you really think that we could do a 90-mission campaign then, I guess you could view it as weíre holding something back, but if you look at the fact that weíve never done a campaign of that size before within a shipping product ... I mean, the Terran campaign is gonna be as big as any of our full-blown RTS campaigns with all the races from the past. So, I really definitely donít look at it as holding back anything. Weíre really just trying to deliver a bigger story across three games.
Wired: Iíve got my MacBook Pro here, as I already told you, I love it, Iím totally down with the whole Apple zealotry.
Wired: You guys have been huge supporters of gaming on the Mac for a long time. Youíve been one of the only computer gaming companies that supports this stuff. Diablo III? Going to be Mac and PC? Released at the same time?
Pardo: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Wired: And also, do you guys have any plans to do iPhone stuff?
Pardo: We have no concrete plans right now to do anything on the iPhone. We are starting to talk about doing some things on mobile but it isn't something thatís a big primary strategy of ours right now.
Wired: World of Warcraft, when it was released ... obviously people saw a lot of parallels between that and the Diablo series, for instance, the entire item system. A lot of ideas that originated in Diablo then carried over into World of Warcraft. Is there going to be any crossing back over from WoW to Diablo III? Are you borrowing ideas from the World of Warcraft system for Diablo III?
Pardo: I donít know if I would look at it quite like that. Yeah, theyíre both within the RPG genre which is typically a very item-based sort of game.
I think with each of our games, we always look for ideas from our games, we look for ideas from other games; a lot of times we even find ideas that donít even come from the obvious game genres. I canít think of anything specific thatís carrying over from WoW into Diablo IIIís item system, but ...
Wired: You guys arenít going to have Murlocs popping up as enemies? That kind of thing?
Pardo: [Laughter] Thatíd be cool actually. Thatís a cool idea. Murlocs could fit within the Diablo universe.
Wired: They fit everywhere! Absolutely!
Pardo: Yeah, youíve just gotta make sure you get the sound right.
Wired: Exactly. Thatís key.
I have no idea if you guys are even remotely close to knowing this, but when -- broad, ballpark estimate -- can we expect to see Diablo III on retail shelves?
Pardo: When itís ready.
Wired: Ok ... alright ...
Wired: Is that like 2 years from now? A decade from now?
Pardo: I donít ... I donít know how far out it is, but itís still fairly early in development. I think when people see it, it feels so polished and so finished, but the reality is we have a very small portion of the game done right now.
A lot of the way we develop is: We wanna make sure the game is really fun and the visual fidelity we want ... we wanna make sure we have a small area that feels really done so we know what to build. So even though it looks really complete a lot of the content is just not there. We have a long ways to go to build each of the different acts in the game and put in all the quests and all the different monsters. We have a lot of development ahead of us before it will be something ... It will definitely be out after StarCraft II.
Wired: [Laughter] So ďsometime in the futureĒ is what weíre looking at.
Pardo: Yeah. Itís too far out to really say for sure. Itís a ways out.
Wired: Speaking of these "acts," are we going to be following the traditional Diablo II "four acts" system?
Pardo: Weíre definitely doing an acts system ...
Wired: With entirely new worlds?
Pardo: Yeah. I donít think weíve announced how many there are because weíre still talking about it.
Wired: And total gameplay? What are you guys shooting for? 40 hours? 60 hours?
Pardo: Itís really hard, I think, with a lot of our games to look at it like that.
With Diablo particularly, how long is it going to take you if you do it all in one sitting and donít replay with all the optional stuff? I donít know. Hopefully itís a similar scope to Diablo II, whatever that mapped out to. With that much content. But the thing about Diablo is: We really want it to be replayable. We donít want it to feel like ďoh, itís a 25 hour experienceĒ we want it to feel like ďit's 25 to 500 hours depending on how much you wanna play.Ē
Wired: Yeah, Iíve got hundreds of hours in Diablo II.
Pardo: Exactly. Thatís really how we wanna look at it.
Wired: The first Diablo was released on the original PlayStation. It was ported to the original PlayStation.
Pardo: Oh thatís right! It was huh?
Wired: Yeah, it was a while ago since you guys have done any console stuff, but with these new consoles, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 it's theoretically possible for you to port these new games, and thereís good money in that. Are you guys looking at that?
Pardo: Itís definitely something that weíre evaluating.
Itís something that ... right now weíre really focused on making the game on PC. Itís something that I do think -- just kinda talkiní -- Diablo, out of our different franchises that are currently in development, would be the one that probably could actually go to consoles, but we donít have any current plans right now to do that.
Wired: Thereís been a big push in Hollywood lately to ...
Pardo: Really? [Laughter]
Wired: Yeah, I know. ... to take games, make them into movies. Theyíre never good movies ...
Wired: ... but they make money, apparently. Thereís been talk of a Diablo movie and a WarCraft movie, just murmurings about this, for years ...
Pardo: Murmurs? You havenít heard about the World of Warcraft movie in development?
Wired: Well, Iíve heard, but until I see something concrete Iím still going to consider it sorta ďout there.Ē
Wired: Are you guys actively looking to go in that direction?
Pardo: With World of Warcraft absolutely. Thatís what I mean: Itís not really a murmur with that one. With that one we ... as a matter of fact, at our last Blizzcon we even did a panel on the World of Warcraft movie that had Legendary Pictures up on stage talking about it. So itís something weíre actively developing right now: To try to get a World of Warcraft movie.
One of the reasons, I mean weíve had opportunities to do movies way before now, people will pay us the money to do it, but ...
Wired: Like a Lost Vikings movie?
Pardo: [Laughter] Yeah. We donít want to make a ďvideogame movie.Ē We want to make a great movie.
Until Legendary came to us we didnít really feel like we had the opportunity to do that. We felt like, before them, we had the opportunity to make a ďvideogame movie,Ē and thatís not what we want to make.
But with Legendary in the picture, I mean, theyíre a really great group. This is a group that makes some phenomenal movies that are out there, and they're very geeky movies. I donít know if ... youíve seen The Dark Knight, right?
Wired: Yeah. Totally.
Pardo: That movie was amazing. Thatís the group thatís making our movie, and weíre really excited about it.
Wired: Thatís your benchmark for quality? The Dark Knight? Youíre setting the bar kinda high.
Pardo: Thatís where we start. [Laughter]
Wired: [Laughter] Fair enough.
Pardo: No, I mean, I would be thrilled if it was to that quality. For sure. That movie was probably the best movie of the last five years or so, at least. They obviously know how to make great movies. They also did 300, they did Superman Returns, they did Batman Begins, so theyíve got a great track record not only making great movies, but making movies that really sing to us.
Pardo: We really feel like these are the guys that could make a great movie in a videogame license.
Wired: Why not -- you guys have been known as the masters of CGI cinemas in your games for years -- so why not just do that? Youíve obviously got the team who can do that.
Pardo: Um ... weíve got a fraction of a team that could do that. [Laughter]
Our Blizzard film department is a fraction of, letís say, a Pixar. We have some really talented guys, but if we wanted to make a movie weíd have to make a movie studio which would be very different from making a game studio.
And on top of that, if theyíre going to do that, whoís going to make the videos for our games?
Wired: Thatís a good point. How many people do you guys have working in your video department?
Pardo: I think weíre about 100 people.
Pardo: Yeah, but I think Pixar employs up to 3 to 400 people to make one movie. Weíre very small by comparison.
Images courtesy Blizzard Entertainment
Awesome interview if you want to know about the Blizzard mindset, and kick in the face for EA about the whole DRM fiasco