Jesse McCree is "a DJ and music producer, a gardener, and a trained four-wheel drive vehicle operator". But that's during his free time. Given today's March 23rd, and that the second coming of Blizzard's wildly popular action-RPG is coming out in two days, you're probably a tad more interested in McCree's other life, his life as a lead content designer on Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo III team. Just prior to Reaper of Souls' launch, we interviewed the veteran designer (who has focused on key new gameplay features like Nephalem Rifts and Adventure Mode) in Madrid.
First of all, can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Blizzard and on Diablo III?
My name is Jesse McCree and I'm the lead content designer in Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. What did I do? That's a broad question! Hmmm... You know, we made an expansion, so there's a lot of new features in the expansion: we've got the Crusader, a new act (Act V), it's kind of got a new, old dark gothic tone to it that we like... We've got an Adventure Mode, so that completely changes the way the game plays, it takes all the content and kind of makes it replayable in ways that it hasn't been before.
Adventure Mode includes one of my favorite features, which is Nephalem Rifts. It takes all the dungeons, all the exteriors, the monsters, and we got kind of new bosses, and shuffles them up and randomises them. There's new crafting, and there's a lot of stuff in the expansion, we completely change the way that loot works and we've got new skills and abilities for all the classes so... (laughs)
Ok, we see... Do you think Reaper of Souls is as important to Diablo III as Lord of Destruction was to Diablo II?
As important? Hmm... Our philosophy is we support our games. So I think every update we make is important, I hope that, you know, every decision we make is the right one. We try our best to make sure the game becomes more fun. I think so far the reception for Reaper of Souls has been really good so I'm optimistic but we're going watch it and we're going to play it and if there's anything that needs to be adjusted or things that we need to add, we're going to talk about that and keep working on it.
After all the criticism Diablo III received, and after seeing all the changes you've introduced with Reaper of Souls, it may seem that you are more focused on fixing Diablo III than on including new stuff in the game. Is that true?
I think there's both. I mean we're constantly working on the game: we added a lot of new content, like adding a class or a new act, Adventure Mode... I think is not as much a fix as it is: "Oh, this is a cool way to play it", like we like playing this way; is something players asked for, they wanted to be able to teleport around and go wherever they want so we added that ability and then, on top of that, we did things that they didn't asked for like "hey you can get a random set of quests every time you do this" and some of them are bonuses, and as you do those you're going to unlock Nepharem Rifts and go and play that stuff so... (laughs)
And you've included the new Crusader class and naturally you've chosen it from a range of several potential classes. Why did you choose the Crusader and what does it add to Diablo III's experience?
We have no shortage of ideas that we want to do for classes. The tricky part is going "Okay, which one should we do?" and we spent a lot of time talking about it, looking at it, you know, doing drawings and "uhh, this looks cool". What kind of gameplay do we want? And eventually we narrow it down, we felt like having another manly class, especially one that having a big shield was a good fit. We didn't really have anything like that previously, I mean the monk has a shield but we see him as kinda more spry, he is faster, we wanted something that was really tanky and bulky, and you know a little bit more delivered and kind of heavy. We thought that the Crusader fit the theme really well for the expansion, and Westmarch, the city we're building, is a suitable place for a guy like this to go in and kind of lay down some justice. So, I don't know, he was just an all around good fit.
Which elements do you consider when you start designing a level for Diablo III? What's the most important thing you start to work with?
The most important thing for making a level... that's tricky. There's a whole bunch of things that go on in making levels: the theme, the way it looks, can the player understand it visually?, do they get the gameplay space? Like "where can I go versus where I can't go". Can the monsters fit and provide interesting gameplay in those spaces? It's kind of a balancing act between the whole bunch of different things; usually we start with a rough idea of the kind of space that something's going to be... like, for the cities, we knew that there would be a lot of streets, and a lot of interiors so, we started by roughing those out, making sure the camera works because we're locked to camera, so we prototyped and then we played it, and then we adjusted and then we played it more, and we just keep doing that until we ship it so...
And how do you design a level with a strong random component? Because if you play an act such as Act V it's easier to guide the player to the experiences that you want him to play, but how do you do that in a randomised mode?
Well so, for Adventure Mode, the only thing we wanted for the player was for them to have fun and we felt like guiding them too much, we didn't want to do that, we wanted to say "hey, here's some things you can do" and if you want to do those, you get an extra reward and when you reset it, they'll be different. So, every time you reset the game in Adventure Mode, you have a new set of random quests. As opposed to the campaign, which, as you said, is very guided and linear, so there's just two different gameplay styles so I think some players might prefer playing the campaign so we got the system where, if you play it through and you beat the boss, then you can reset your quests and it puts everything back and it, you know, resets the game so you have to play through, and if you play through it again, you get legendary [items] off the end boss or something like that.
How do you think that removing the Auction House is going to impact Diablo III gameplay?
Oh, I know how it's going to affect it, it's going to make the game a lot more fun, I mean that's the reason we're turning it off. It's turned off now. We looked at the console version and it didn't have an Auction House, and it was really fun to play the game and like "Oh I'm getting loot, and I can use it for myself!". So, you know, the game is about killing monsters and getting loot, not going to the Auction House and buying loot, like that's not how the game should be. So it's a pretty easy decision from the gameplay side to go "yeah, we need to not have this, it's not fun". So, I think the game is way more fun now. We've also changed the way loot drops so, you know, it's more for your class, the chance of finding an upgrade is higher, we drop less but better loot, which doesn't mean everything you drop is going to be useful, and especially, as you play through, your character is going to find less and less upgrades, that's just the nature of the game. This is like doing something like, adding the Crusader is important, it gives you a reason to go back and start from level one and kind of progress through the game again, and get that sense of like "oh, I'm finding new stuff, I'm getting new skills, and I'm getting upgrades more often".
Are we going to see a second expansion for Diablo III?
Well, right now we're just focused on trying to get this one out. And there we're going to watch it and see what happens, like, you know, what does the game need? What does it want? What are the players asking for? Trying to figure out how this fits into, you know, patches and other things in the future.
Okay, thank you very much!
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls comes out this Tuesday, March 25th. Stay tuned to Gamereactor for the review.