The incredibly true story of how Diablo 3 on the consoles was almost a twin-stick shooter

The incredibly true story of how Diablo 3 on the consoles was almost a twin-stick shooter

We’ve written about the console version of Diablo 3, and in many ways it seems superior to the PC version of the game. Yes, I know how heretical that sounds. At E3 I was able to play the game with two other players on the same screen, and it was a good time. Having direct control of your character, instead of clicking where you’d like for them to go and then clicking on the enemies you’d like to attack, changes the rhythm and feel of the game.

During my hands-on time with the game we had to stay on the same screen since we were all in the same room, and discussing strategy with players who share the same physical space as you was lovely, but I was told that you can split up when playing online. The game supports any combination of online and same screen multiplayer, so you can play with a friend on your system, and them go online and play with two other people if you’d like.

What I noticed was that it’s counter-intuitive to have to point your character at the enemies. I was used to simply clicking on the enemies, and my character orienting themselves in order to attack. I found myself trying to use the right analog stick to aim my attacks, as if I were playing a twin-stick shooter like Geometry Wars. I said as much to Josh Mosqueira, the game’s director, and his response surprised me. It turns out, I wasn’t alone in thinking a twin-stick approach to Diablo 3 made sense.

“That’s actually one of the first prototypes we tried,” he said. “We figured when we started that we had to find the right combination, but there are many people on the time who had the same expectation [about the controls]. But when we started prototyping the game we found two problems with that approach that would be pretty hard to solve.”

“One, the twin stick shooter works very well when you have an overhead camera angle,” Mosqueira continued. “Because the angle of your location matches the angle onscreen. With a declinated camera, that means the top rotation on the stick, you’re covering more degrees than the bottom side, so you’re losing a little bit of precision.”

It’s a bit of a tortured explanation, but the twin-stick approach only works with precision when you’re viewing the angle from the top. Since Diablo 3 features a camera that views the action from an angle, the rotation of your stick wouldn’t match your view in a way that made sense.

“But more importantly, you can’t blow stuff up or smash things if your thumb is on the right stick and the left stick,” Mosqueira explained. “We wanted to really emphasize a console rhythm, an action rhythm, we wanted to have your thumbs dance across the d-pad using your skills in a very intuitive way.”

This makes sense. Your skills are mapped to the controller's buttons, and that just doesn't work when both of your fingers are on the analog sticks. You could map those powers to the shoulder buttons, but that just doesn't have the same feel as using the face buttons. There is a certain rhythm that happens when you use your thumb to trigger your attacks.

Still, there is something neat about the idea that Blizzard toyed with the idea of making Diablo 3 feel and play like a twin-stick shooter on consoles. I'd like to try that version of the game.