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Having recently launched Diablo II: Resurrected into open beta not only on PC, but also on both current and next-gen consoles, Blizzard Entertainment now brings us this insightful PlayStation Blog post highlighting some of the challenges of making the classic action-RPG more controller-friendly.
Check it out:
After more than two decades, the legacy of the Dark Wanderer and the demonic burden he bears is making a resurgence in the realms of humanity. Blizzard Entertainment’s resurrection of the acclaimed action role-playing game that defined a genre is nearly here! For the first time, console players who pre-order Diablo II: Resurrected will be able to experience first-hand the remastered epic of Diablo II with Early Access to the Open Beta, now live on PS5 and PS4.
Diablo II’s legacy will continue on new platforms over 20 years after its original release on PC in 2000. New players and veterans will be able to experience this iconic chapter of the Eternal Conflict through the extraordinary capabilities of the PlayStation consoles and DualShock 4 controller on PS4 and DualSense wireless controller on PS5.
Bringing the classic keyboard-and-mouse gameplay to a controller was a unique challenge. To illustrate the Diablo II: Resurrected team’s approach to adapting the feel and controls to PlayStation controllers, we invited Design Director Robert Gallerani to share his insights.
When we set out designing the controller control scheme, we broke down the work into a handful of categories. Each of these were core considerations we wanted to be mindful of as we brought Diablo II: Resurrected to console players.
With a keyboard and mouse, the player acts as an “eye in the sky” telling their character what to do and where to go by clicking somewhere. Do you perform a ranged ability on a monster? Do you walk over to a chest and open it? Perhaps you open a door? With the mouse, the players’ primary input is a click that conveys aiming or a specific ability or action. The game then guides the character to the place where it can perform the action, finding a path for you.
On a controller, however, the player is more directly acting as their avatar. This starts to have serious ramifications at many levels—but to our players, it all just needs “to work.”
Tweaking the Movement
On a controller, movement is tied to the analog stick. This means that the player, and not the game, is directing the character where to go. To achieve this, we turned off the game’s pathfinding. However, now players can travel to places the game would never have guided you before. For example, a player can try and run into a wall or move against collision objects. This also makes it easier to evade oncoming attacks from adversaries.
In addition to considering where you go, you also need to determine how fast you go. Diablo II has a stamina system. This means that there are two modes of travel: walking and running. When your stamina depletes, you can no longer run. We needed to have this system work in parallel with players’ expectations that when you push the analog stick a little, you move a small amount, and when you push it all the way, you move at top speed. We tried having stick deflection alone drive the player’s speed, but this made it too hard to “just walk.” Walking gives your character better stats in the game, so it was important we made it easy for players to control this. We settled on a toggle in the end, because it preserved the conscious decision of choosing to walk instead of run. This was vital when it comes to picking up items, but more on that later.
Finding the Targets
The next big difference when not having a mouse is probably the most obvious. You have no cursor, your means to tell the game what to attack. However, with a thumb stick on the controller, we are always scanning the playfield with a large cone, and prioritizing targets at many levels—monsters, items, objects you can interact with, other players, your corpse, and so on—and the priorities are tuned per class. So, for example, a Necromancer will tend to prioritize corpses more than other classes do. We experimented with showing a player all the different targeting options, but it became information overload. We settled on just showing the player their primary target. So even though we don’t show a corpse being highlighted, we are selecting the closest one should the player trigger an ability that requires a corpse.
Looting with Ease
The only thing as important as killing monsters in Diablo II is looting them once they are dead. The way players loot with keyboard and mouse is typically to hold a key to see the items’ label, and then they would click on the name. To some players, holding a button on a controller can be uncomfortable, so we removed the need to hold down the item label button (although it is still present). When using the controller, item names are shown based on time and distance to the player. This means that if an item is near a player, it will always show. And when an item drops, its name will stay on screen for a short period of time.
The next challenge was to determine how a player picks the item up. With a controller, it just made sense to have the player walk over to the item. This proved quite tricky when a monster would explode into a loot pinata, but the player only wanted that one specific item. So, in the end, we added the ability for players to walk very slow and stop in between different items on the ground so that they could loot the specific item they wanted, making the looting experience on console far more accessible.
Triggering the Abilities
Here we knew we had to meet Diablo III players’ expectations. In the original Diablo II, a player has two buttons: left and right mouse click. To gain access to any number of other abilities, players use hotkeys to quickly remap these two buttons. This is a very roundabout way to use abilities. With a controller, we changed this to not remap, but to have buttons directly trigger the abilities. We then display these abilities very similarly to Diablo III, in a “tray” on the bottom of the screen. However, given that players can have a significant number of abilities at any given time, we allow players to hold the left trigger to provide the player with access to another six slots, effectively giving players 12 slots to quickly launch any abilities.
Balancing the Classic
A frequent challenge with the controller is that we have far fewer buttons on a controller than a keyboard, so we spend a lot of time weighing the trade-offs of button mappings and ensuring the most essential abilities are on the easiest-to-reach buttons. Based on the feedback from the Technical Alpha (from PC controller players), we feel we’ve taken controller support in a solid direction that we hope meets players’ expectations. We are still polishing edge cases, but we think we have struck the right balance between a modern feel and preserving the classic mechanics.
–Robert Gallerani, Design Director