As I played a session of Diablo 3 on PlayStation 3, DualShock firmly in-hand, senior level designer Matthew Berger offered a frank assessment on why PC games can translate to successful console ports.
"You want to sit on your couch," he said. "You might love Diablo on PC, you might still be playing Diablo on PC, but you might say, 'I don't want to sit at my desk now.'"
Blizzard recognizes that there's more to console games than simply moving it to a new platform. The company has retrofitted the familiar game with features for the explicit purpose of making it "feel native to the platform." The left-stick gives direct movement control, the right-stick is a quick way to evade attacks, the camera pulls in closer to the player by default. And of course, unlike its famous cousin, it has an offline mode.
All of this made the game feel much more natural than I'd have thought. The PlayStation 3 controller never felt like it was lacking. In fact, I preferred the direct movement control, and right-stick evasion techniques made it easier to get close to a target and quickly dodge after dealing some damage. This may be partially due to the monster behavior, which Berger said has been tweaked so that players don't feel overwhelmed. He also mentioned that attacks land slightly faster, which contributes to the feeling of a quick-paced action game.
With loot comes inventory management. Blizzard openly recognizes the hassles of dealing with this on a controller, and has made adjustments. "On console we've actually lowered the number of drops a little bit, because we don't want you spending as much time in the inventory," Berger said. "As much work as we've done with it, it's still not as pleasant as with a mouse and keyboard, and that's not the most fun thing to do anyway. But we have increased the quality of the drops. Less, but better."
Other usability adjustments to make inventory management easier include a quick equip function using the control pad, for when you just found a great piece of loot and don't want to sort through the menu looking for it. When you do dive into the inventory, it's categorized by several different radial menus, each with clear-cut information on the stats of different gear. And to cut down on clutter, Berger said, a lot of the white and grey equipment just turns directly into gold.
For all of its user-friendly interface design, though, it was hard not to notice that the visuals had gotten a downgrade from the PC. Anything can happen before the game ships, but console players with a discerning eye may be best off playing the (as yet unseen) PlayStation 4 version, as I presume it will have more visual parity with the PC and retain the PS3's smart console adjustments.
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I was playing on a slightly older build of the game, but Berger said the full shipped game will contain all of the updates through PC version 1.7. Even after that point, he says Blizzard is committed to continuing updates that may not always be matched to the PC updates. "We do not abandon a game once it's shipped," he said. "We listen to our community, we continue to update it to assure it is the best game it can be at any point in time. This isn't a port that we're putting onto console, it's a full-on Blizzard console game. We'll continue to support it like any other Blizzard game."
As for a release window, Blizzard is sticking with the tried-and-true "once we're happy with it" credo. "We're not going to compromise on this," Berger said, "we're going to noodle over it and iterate as long as it takes."