Blizzard's Bill Roper interviewed (part two)

by Mark Asher

Quarter to Three had a chance to talk to Blizzardís Bill Roper. Here's part two of our interview in which Bill talks about the Diablo 2 expansion, shares his thoughts on massively multiplayer games, and plugs the new Warcraft novel.

Quarter to Three: How's the Diablo 2 expansion coming along?

Bill Roper: Really well. Itís on schedule even. We have weekly, worldwide teleconference calls to update others on our progress with our projects. We just had one and we said, "Were in this weird place right now. We're on schedule." It got a good laugh.

As to the expansion, itís neat. At Blizzard we all have played Diablo 2 so much so it would be understandable if people werenít that enthused about playing it, but the expansion has people excited again. People are out in the hallways going, "Come look at this cool unique item I just got!" Just this past Monday we opened the expansion up for everyone at Blizzard to play for the first time. We ordered pizza and people played all evening. We even converted veteran Battle.net characters so people could play with their familiar characters. Weíve gotten some great feedback.

Qt3: Whatís one of the most notable things about the expansion?

Roper: Act 5 has the best quest we've ever done. Hands down. Itís really cool.

Qt3: Was Diablo 2 cut short? The last Act was so much shorter than the others.

Roper: It really wasn't. When we got to Act 4 from a storytelling perspective it seemed like there wasn't a lot that had to happen here. So it was "Letís destroy the Soulstone and get on to Big Red himself." Act 3 was the biggest act and I think we really hit that feel we wanted, one of wandering through huge jungles. So after that lengthy Act in Act 4 we wanted to get to the big payoff. We didnít want the player to have to fight through the Seven Circles of Hell.

Qt3: Did the skills system make it harder to balance the game?

Roper: It definitely was very challenging. There were some skills that we didn't get right. Even with all the thousands of hours you put into the game testing it, you don't see some of these problems until you get hundreds of thousands of hours of people playing it after itís released.

Qt3: So will the expansion address any game balance issues?

Roper: We will go back and do some tweaking on some of the older skills with the expansion, but mainly on the ones that don't get used. a lot of times. For some of these they didnít get used because of buggy behavior, but for many players decided that another skill accomplished the same thing and was better, so they ignored some skills. It was like we were saying, "Look at how you can use this skill. In some situations, it's greít!" And players were saying, "Yeah, but we like this skill better." There are a lot of "min maxers" who play Diablo 2, and they will always take the path to sure success. So what weíre trying to do is make some of these seldom-used skills more attractive.

Qt3: Blizzard has strong support in the fan community. What do you think about the troubles that websites are having now?

Roper: So many have been able to support themselves through advertising, but now the model isn't working Advertisers are now saying, "We don't know about this. We donít know if we get value from these ads." Like everyone else, we donít know where all this will end up.

As for Battle.net being affected, we view it as being so closely tied to the product that we don't break it out as a separate product. It does require a capital investment though.

Qt3: Will future Blizzard games be free to play on Battle.net?

Roper: Yeah, thatís our model. We have no plans on changing that.

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