Demon Hunter: Behind the Blindfold

Jonathan: Sometime ago, the team got together and we picked out the features for the next expansion. You know things like dungeons and raids, and quests, and even the demon hunter as a new class.



Well, as it turned out, that was way back in Burning Crusade. So when we got a second chance with Legion, we didn’t waste a minute.



In fact, I want to say within about three days we had an internal build where you could make a demon hunter and hop in through the regular character creation process, add a few abilities and you even kind of looked the part. And what this allowed us to do was start a really cool feedback loop where people could easily play, and then they would come and talk to us, and we’d be able to make changes, and we’d repeat that.



Well, after a few weeks we took a deep breath and we said: “Let’s look at some of our core philosophies,” or with Legion every character class had a laser focus on its core fantasy, and some reinforcement there, so that one was easy to put front and center.



But we also knew a lot of people were going to try out the demon hunter, so we wanted also to make sure that it was easy to learn; and one of the ways we kept ourselves on track for that was we said: “Alright, let’s limit the number of abilities we are creating to a single bar — meaning no more than twelve;” and how we went to about that is we made this map, and this is a bunch of high level concepts in very discrete quantities; and this really helped keep us on path when we were surrounded basically by too many cool ideas. So there is the plan. There’s a high level plan.



Let me talk about some of the individual abilities and the design iteration there starting with Eye Beam. Well this one started out simple enough. We had a brainstorm, we were talking about the Illidan fight, and someone says: “Eye Lasers!” and at the time I remember looking around at everyone, and we all thought well this is kind of ridiculous, but we also all thought: “Of course, we have to do it.

So the first iteration of the first prototype was very simple. It was a beam from your eyes to the target, did some damage around them. Well, we kicked that up a little bit, and instead you would hover in the air and you would channel this beam into the ground, but wherever your mouse cursor went, that beam would follow it and do damage to everything around it; and this actually felt kind of cool and a little bit different, but for one problem was that most mobs don’t move around that much. So a lot of times you just be sitting there hovering in one spot, and it didn’t feel very heroic.



Next up we got this awesome storyboard from the artist, and we looked at that and we said: “We love it. Let’s do it,” and we implemented it, and we hopped in the game and we tried it out, and we loved it; but as we played it, we kind of said: “Oh, you know what? I think this ability is doing too much. In fact it kind of feels like two abilities.”

Well, there we have an easy decision. We just cut it in half, and that first part where all those arching energy comes from your eyes and slams down around the opponent — that became the talent known as Fel Barrage, and that second half with that powerful front facing beam in some artistic embellishment became the Eye Beam that you know today.

Now another ability with a humble beginning is Fel Rush, and this one began its journey as a simple charge for the target with a big chunk of damage at the end; and it was very functional, and in fact, it worked awesome with Vengeful Retreat, but we wanted something a little more unique. So what do we do?

Well, first we took off the targeting, and that turned it into a short dash which then of course damaged anything you would pass through; and we also made it really really fast, and just as a kicker, we thought: “Oh, you know what? What if we let you Fel Rush over obstacles?” So we gave it the Ignore Gravity effect, and we tried it out and it felt really good… except for one tiny wrinkle, and that was: there you are in the starting area, you are cruising towards that first quest giver, and you are going down a very steep slope, and you hit Fel Rush where you would stick to the ground for maybe a couple yards, but then you would lift off and get launched into the air right off the edge to your death. We didn’t want that.



So the next day, I went to talk to one of the programmers (we will call him Stephen. That is his actual name), and I said: “Stephen, how do we make it so that you stick to the terrain, but go over obstacles,” and that’s kind of an ambiguous request. So at some point during this conversation he stops me, and he opens up a drawer, kinda ominous, but he pulls out a little monitor and a console. He plugs it in and he turns it on; and there is Mega Man, and this is one of the earlier 2D versions, and in that game they have got a jump and they have got a dash, and what we were able to quickly discover is that they had solved it by giving all the control to the player.

Meaning if you are on the ground, you stick to the ground, if you are in the air, then you do the air dash. So in that one little move we were able to gain some really great design inspiration from one of our favorite games of all time.

Of course, we have to talk about the big purple demon in the room: Metamorphosis. This one threw us for a little bit of a loop because even from the get go we saw the early art, and we said: “Oh, it’s going to be so epic. The form is going to sell itself. We don’t need to do very much,” let’s just add a nice straightforward damage bonus, but the feedback, in fact from you guys was: “Well, I can’t really feel the effects of it.”



Huh… that should be an easy problem to solve. So we just doubled it, but lo and behold… same feedback. Now at this point, we kind of suspected something was wrong, but you know what? We doubled it again; and at this point, it’s just completely ludicrous values, and the feedback changed only to: “Oh, well… I’m definitely killing things faster, but I’m not really sure why.” And that’s when it crystallized that any changes going forward had to be visceral.



So we did three things: well first we added that big Illidan-style leap, you stun everything when you land, and then we added the haste bonus which let you attack faster. It means you are pressing buttons faster, and that’s something you can feel. And at last, we concentrated that damage bonus into two abilities so you could more easily see where it is coming from. Now each of those have their own story too, but I don’t want to take up a whole hour. Come find me if you want to hear them though, so I’m going to leave you guys with some stats. I like stats.

Two out of three Legion accounts have made a demon hunter for some purpose we don’t know. So we dug down a little bit more, and 30% of those demon hunters have made it to 110. That’s why you always see them in instances and running around. And if you’ve gone through the experience you know there is a choice between Kayn and Altruis. Spoilers, but Kayn is winning just so you know by a long shot. Next time you see him in a game, give him a high five; and last my favorite: 7.5% of all the demon hunter names are a pun with Illidan, and we even looked into some of that and saw that they were been saved for a very long time. So as it turns out you were prepared.



You guys, thank you for letting me ramble. Right now, I want to give it up to the guru of artifacts and connoisseur of the Hawaiian shirt: Owen Landgren.

Next: Artifact Weapons

Early DevelopmentDemon Hunter: Behind the BlindfoldArtifact WeaponsLegion PvP Goals
Legion ProfessionsWorld Quests

Hope you enjoyed this article. Please, support Blizzplanet via PayPal or Patreon, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch for daily Blizzard games news updates.

BlizzCon 2019 Panel Transcripts