In this short Design Retrospective series, we’ll dissect the the BlizzCon 2016 Design Retrospective panel. Today, we take a deeper look at the development of the Demon Hunter class alongside senior game designer Jonathan LeCraft.
When the team finally got word that Demon Hunters were actually happening, they wasted no time digging in. The last real bite anyone has had of them was Burning Crusade, so in only three days, they had a somewhat-working version ready in an internal build.
The early build let users create their Demon Hunter in the character creator and had just a couple skills. Since one of Legion‘s focuses was class fantasy, they kept the skill kit limited while they iterated–working with only enough active abilities to fit the standard hotbar.
At first, the idea of shooting laser beams out of a character’s head was more of a joke (looking at you, Hozen Idol)–but no one really shot it down, and soon enough, Eyebeam was born.
The first iteration of the skill literally just shot a laser into the target, which was a little…well, boring. After all, the Demon Hunter has been speculated for pretty much every expansion before it was announced (we can finally stop talking about it!)–it needed to be cool. 100% of the time.
The next version of Eyebeam was more of an amalgamation of two abilities we now know. Players would click the skill, flip into the air, and point their cursor–where ever the cursor went, the laser followed, burning along the ground.
It was a bit much, and the skill was split into Barrage and Eyebeam. Also, no more of that point and follow nonsense, it just burns through everything in front of you.
Initially, was only a charge with big damage at the end. Internally, they knew it worked well with Vengeful Retreat. But the team wanted to take it one step further. Well, maybe a couple steps.
First, they removed the targeting requirement. Use it anywhere, at any time, more like Blink. The damage focus was shifted from impact to anything the Demon Hunter shot through with their sharp glaives. Also, since players would move, like, really fast, they wanted the move to defy gravity.
That last idea didn’t really work so well in the end. The idea was that Fel Rush would shoot over ravines and other obstacles–really playing on the dexterity and speed of the class–but it ended up just shooting people off into a dark abyss.
To fix it, one of their programmers looked to old Megaman moves–when the player started Fel Rush on the ground, they would move along the ground and stop before blasting off to infinity and beyond. But if they started the move in the air, they’d glide like the most graceful, fel-singed butterfly.
Metamorphosis, another of the class’s iconic moves, wasn’t always so impressive. Originally, it was a button players pushed for extra damage. It included the transformation, but that was pretty much it.
Early playtesting, thankfully, brought more scrutiny. Players just didn’t feel powerful. At first, the team tried doubling the damage output (on top of the existing increase), but complaints continued. Then they doubled it again, and were confounded by more of the same thoughts. They were at a loss until someone brought up that it might not be about numbers, but gameplay, itself.
To make the move feel more special, the demon forms were amped up a notch. Illidan’s stylistic leap, plus a short stun, were added. Finally, they laid on the haste to add to the almost manic gameplay of the class. More button mashing, basically.
Amid all of the iteration, something must have worked. Internal numbers point to some interesting facts: two-thirds of all Legion accounts have created a Demon Hunter.