The changing rhythm of Diablo 3's PS3 play

It's all about the rhythm.

On computer, Diablo 3 is a game driven by the steady beat of a finger clicking a mouse. But when Blizzard's action role-playing game makes the leap to console it will be a game that has a player's thumb dancing across four face buttons, and their fingers drumming out a tattoo of special attacks on triggers.

"That's one of the changes we made with the rhythm of the game," said Joshua Mosqueira, the game's lead designer. "On PC you like to go click, click, click, click and it feels great because that's what a mouse is designed for. But with a controller your thumb wants to dance."

On computer, players rely on hot keys assigned to a keyboard to do many of the game's actions, but on the PS3 players assign six actions to the Dualshock's four face buttons and the right trigger and bumper. That tweak doesn't just impact the rhythm of buttons taps in the game. It also led the developers to change the rhythm of creature spawns and attacks, a move meant to highlight that subtle change in button tapping complexity.

"We tuned a lot of the encounters to make sure things come at you in waves," Mosqueira said. "We don't reduce the number of monsters, we just stagger them. So you have this more X, triangle, square, circle rhythm.

"The way a controller is designed, your thumb wants to do this, it feels really good. Your fingers are really engaged. It's not this one finger that gets all of the action."

In action, Diablo 3 on the PS3 feels like not just a faithful port of a game, but a game that blends the best of the PC experience with some very smart fine-tuning. The left thumbstick, for instance, can be used to dodge your character out of harms way. Pressing up and down on the direction pad allows players to quickly tap through items picked up as loot. Each item has a series of red down arrows and green up arrows next to it, making it easy to spot the best item to equip. A single button press pops that items on your character.

Once a player gets accustomed to the six buttons used for attacks on the right side of the controller, it's easy to develop your own rhythm for attacks, one that does indeed involve a lot of thumb dancing and finger twiddling.

Another major change that the PS3 brings to Diablo 3 is the ability to play the game both online with friends but also offline with up to four friends on the same television. It's this "couch play" that Mosqueira says inspired the developers of Diablo 3's console version.

"It's been a long time coming for us to sort of find the right game for us to come back on on the console," Mosqueira said. "When we were nearing the end of development for Diablo 3 for PC it felt like such a natural transition to see how this awesome game, the grand daddy of the action RPG, would feel when you are sitting on the couch with the controller in your hand.

Mosqueira was clear that work didn't begin "in earnest" on the game until after the PC version had shipped.

"Fundamentally at Blizzard we always focus on creating a stellar gaming experience first tailored specifically for the platform it's going to be on," he said. "It was very deliberate that Blizzard said, ‘You know what, we're excited about console, but before we even think about it, before we even try to get the team together, we're going to try and make sure the PC game is awesome and get it out and then we're going to do the same thing on console.' It was really important we don't sacrifice one for the other. That's why we have staggered development."

Another important thing for Blizzard is that as with the PC version, the PS3 version of Diablo 3 has to be a living game. First, that means that the PS3 version of the game will ship with all of the PC version's patches and content packs. While they're not sure when they're going to stop including them so they can concentrate on bug fixes, the PS3 version currently includes all of the fixes, tweaks and new content up to patch 1.07 of the PC version.

"All of those goodies and tweaks have been carried forward," Mosqueira said. "Support is something we take very seriously and we're working very closely with Sony to make sure our console players get the same type of love that our PC players get."

I asked Mosqueira if the desire to perhaps do a steady stream of content updates was the reason Blizzard decided to develop the game for the PS3 and not the Xbox 360, but he declined to say. He also declined to say whether the game would be eventually coming to the Xbox 360.

"Right now it is just awesome to be able to talk to you and say how cool it feels on a Dualshock controller," he said, "so we have no other announcements to make at this moment."

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