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DiscoStu avatar 2:59 AM on 06.22.2011  (server time)
The Devil's In The Controls: Diablo III Console Fears Illegitimate?

Since announcing plans for a console port for Diablo III, Blizzard has attracted close attention from PC and console gamers alike. The port will be the first since Diablo on the original Playstation. Buzz around the web seems mostly optimistic, with console gamers foaming at the mouth for the chance to play one of the most anticipated games of the last decade. That's not to say that there is no fear surrounding the release; a particularly venomous comment left on my original Diablo III post is a testament to the concerns felt by the PC gaming crowd, in particular.

Recent years have seen the console market eclipse the PC market in many respects, and the idea of consoles "taking" one more thing from PCs is stinging fans of the mouse and keyboard. Computer gamers should be pleased to know Blizzard has made a strict commitment to releasing the PC version according to their original schedule, whether or not a console interpretation is prepared for release. It's doubtful that a console release will outshine the PC version, as the Diablo franchise exists with PC in mind. For the sake of argument, though, what would this unlikely outcome necessitate? The short answer is strong online support and an intuitive controller scheme.

Online support for a console Diablo game is a lot easier said than done. The biggest reason for this is, Blizzard's proprietary online service package. Since online play first became mainstream for consoles, there has not been a single Blizzard game on a home console. As a result of this, gamers have never played a Diablo title online outside of the PC. On top of that, has seen a lot of changes in the last year or two, leading to the service become much more of a standalone entity. Blizzard has even openly discussed the possibility of becoming pay-to-play, a topic that has been met with nothing but disgust by consumers. Bearing in mind the state of today, I have little confidence that Blizzard would play nice with services like the PSN or Xbox Live.

In order to secure the console online community, Blizzard would need to make Diablo III multiplayer easily accessible on both the PS3 and Xbox 360. This means loosening the grip has on the player and forming a symbiotic relationship with either system's respective online service. Steam has made the first leap into this territory by featuring a specifically fitted console version with the PS3 release of Portal 2. I haven't personally tried it, so I can't speak to its functionality. Blizzard is a massive company and I know they can pull this off if they focus their resources on it. Let's just hope Activision keeps their grubby hands off.


But seriously, folks, note Bobby Kotick's cold, dead eyes. That's no accident. He can only survive by sucking the life out of beloved IPs. Just be glad he didn't get his hands on Nintendogs. Kids would shriek in terror at the sight of their once healthy digital pets, now soulless husks whose once-playful barks drift out of their gaping mouths like the sounds of a whimpering baby left at the bottom of a deep and empty well. But enough about Lucifer -- I mean Bobby Kotick -- I believe the downloadable games on the PSN and Xbox Live may have solved the problem of translating Diablo III's PC controls to a gamepad.

Namely this one.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was a unique isometric-view Tomb Raider title released on the PSN and Xbox Live, and possesses a distinctive Diablo-esque feel. Players make their way through a series of tombs in pursuit of an angry Toltec demigod, fighting hordes of twisted monsters and traversing trap-filled dungeons. The only key differences with LCatGoL are that players use guns instead of magic or medieval weapons and there are significant platforming elements involved in traversing the game's locations. Since Diablo is purely a combat-oriented game, we can ignore the platforming aspects here.

Exactly like in Diablo, enemies approach the player (who occupies the center of the screen) from all directions and the player must quickly flick between targets to avoid becoming swarmed. This is intuitively accomplished by relegating movement to the left analog stick and directional aim to the right analog stick. Since all of the weapons in LCatGoL are projectile weapons, the player simply uses themselves as a point of reference and points the right stick in the direction of an enemy, relative to their character. For those who may have difficulty hitting the mark, the game also allows for varying degrees of aim-assistance. From here, firing is as simple as pulling the right trigger button. By arranging the battlefield as a circle expanding from a central point (the player), the game beautifully facilitates fighting swarms of enemies.

Not all weapons in Diablo are projectiles; in fact, a very even proportion are melee weapons. With the control scheme outlined above, this does not pose a problem. Simply get close to your enemy and replace the word "fire" with "swing." The same can be said for alternate attacks. In Diablo, the player typically has a weapon as a primary attack and an ability as a secondary attack. That's why God gave us two trigger buttons. By adopting this control layout, the meat of Diablo's gameplay is faithfully represented on a gamepad. I know what you're thinking, though, "what about selecting abilities on the fly and using potions without function or number keys?"

While I agree that those hotkeys make switching tactics on the fly a breeze, a gamepad won't be far behind. We are still left with the shoulder "bumpers," and the D-pad. The horizontal D-pad buttons could be used to switch abilities on the fly, while the vertical ones select alternate equipment sets on the fly, or vice versa. The bumpers could be used to quickly drink potions from different tiers of the player's belt. Using potions in Diablo III won't be as demanding of finger dexterity as previous installments, since enemies now drop health orbs that instantly add to the player's life. I doubt this was instituted with gamepads in mind, but for better or worse it makes for a nice handicap to console players.

There are plenty of other concerns to be addressed before a console adaptation of Diablo III will see the market, such as "will PC and console gamers play in the same servers?" I don't have the answers to those kinds of questions, and only time will tell for sure. However, in the meantime, don't worry about a console Diablo title stealing the PC's thunder, and try not to sweat the control questions too much. If they're smart, Blizzard will adopt a clever control layout like that of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Speaking of which, if you haven't played it yet, I highly recommend it. At $14.99 it's a very reasonable and very fun download. Pick it up and see what I mean.

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