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Interview - (2004-03-18) Char
Title Interview - (2004-03-18) Char
Description Onyx interviews Char for the Phrozen Keep on his d2:elements mod & modmaking guide.
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ONYX:
Char is one of the noticeable members of the Phrozen Keep. He was not around for some time, but now he has returned at full speed bringing us two different things - a beta of his d2:elements mod and a great modmaking guide. I thought this was the right time to ask him some questions.


ONYX:
Could you tell us a little about who Char is?

CHAR:
Yeah, i think so .

My reallife name is Henning Avenhaus, and I am 20 years old. I am currently living in Zurich, Switzerland, and studying informatics at ETH Zurich. But originally, I am german, coming from a farm near Bielefeld (in the northwest of Germany). I am used to being far away from home, seeing that I left home at the age of 15, heading for a boarding school in Brunswick, which is 60 km east of Hannover (well, at least that city should be known).

My first computer experience was on a 80386 SX-25 with an amazing 1 MB of RAM (on eight 128K modules ) my father owned. It also had an amazing amount of 104 MB hard drive memory. However, it was enough to play games like Dune2 and Warcraft.
Later, at boarding school, I got my own PC. The boarding school had an internal network, and I learned quite a lot about computers there (I learned a lot about life there, too...). I also started playing Diablo1 (found 2 Dreamflanges in 2 days, thats what I call luck....) at that time, and later Diablo2.

But actually, computers are not the main part in my life I think. They are important for me, but there is much more to this life than sitting in front of a PC. So for example, I play theatre in an amateur theatre group (I also started doing that at boarding school where I was actually forced to play theatre), I dance a bit, I go out and meet friends, I love watching videos, ....

ONYX:
What sparked your interest to D2?

CHAR:
Well, actually I was fascinated by the concept of Diablo1, building up your own character, identifying with it. Searching for items, trying to find the best ones.

When Diablo2 came out, it took me just a few hours to complete it on normal difficulty. I was playing together with a friend, he played a barbarian, I played a necromancer. He was much faster for some reason (well, with that character I don't wonder too much), and ran out onto the floor on boarding school and cried "FIRST!!" when he had finally won against Diablo himself . I played that necromancer character some further, it was a REALLY weird build, mixture from close-combat necro and reviving one. It worked quite well until act3 hell difficulty, where a) the character build was a bit weak and b) a patch came out raising the cost of reviving from 3 mana to 45 mana.

I really enjoyed playing D2 classic, and I was eager for the expansion, which offered a lot more to find and to experience. Then, I went to Battle.net and was quite disappointed about the imbalances (too strong uniques, too extreme MF values) and the cheaters running around there.

I started playing uncommon builds (like Charged Bolt sorceress and Daggermancer) cause they were just way more interesting than the mainstream ones. But still, i think that classic Diablo2 is way more balanced than LOD.

ONYX:
What inspired you to take up modding D2 and what was the first modification you made to the game back then?

CHAR:

Well, as I said, I was a bit disappointed that on the one hand, the unique items were really powerful (and sometimes nearly essential), and on the other hand, the only way to get them was to either do endless itemfind runs (quite boring) or cheat (even more boring). Because of that, I started to look around, and found the modifications.

The first modification I ever played was the Middle Earth Mod if I recall correctly, that might have already been in times before the expansion though, not quite sure. I really liked some things in it, everything was so new and unknown. But i cannot really remeber too much from that time, maybe because of the expansion coming out or something like that.

Later, I tried Zy-El as a bowazon. It was quite funny at normal difficulty, but after I got my hands on the Zy-El's Memory ring and the Zy-El runewords in boots, which gave me practically all stats a bowazon would ever have dreamed of having, i quit. I never made it past character level 115. I have heard though that things have massively changed since then, and i am sure Kato is doing a good job there, especially after reading his interview.

Then, I tried Ancestral Recall, and that was a mod I really enjoyed. I could build up more interesting characters, and my Elemental Druid made it up to level 92, also finishing vast parts of Descendants of the Dragon. I also had some more characters back in those times.

Then, I found the PhrozenKeep and thought to myself: Well, uniques are still overpowered in most mods I have seen, why not make my own mod, making rares useful again (the only REALLY unique itemtype btw...)? And because of that, the first thing I obviously did was increasing the possible damage on rare items. That was about one year ago, and the funny thing is that I just recently came back to the magicprefix/magicsuffix.txt files, restructuring them all yet again and making all the changes I did back then obsolete

First, I thought that the mod would be finished in just a few weeks, being mostly an item-only mod. Then, I decided to put in the elemental weapons, and quickly after that, things started to grow bigger and bigger. There was so much I did never really like about Diablo2, and there were so much possibilities. I even had a look into code editing....

ONYX:
Have you ever modded games other than D2?

CHAR:
No, I haven't. At least not if you do not count the few maps I made for Starcraft (Small Game Hunters: My answer to the Big Game Hunters map, giving players small amounts of minerals / gas per time, no minerals on the map at all), or removing some things from the maps in Dune2. I was interested in modifications for games, though. Too bad that this water starcraft approach (called Aqueous Rift) died....

ONYX:
Tell us about the main features of d2: elements.

CHAR:
Hmm. I would say there are four main features in d2:elements, and I will try to explain them a bit. They are:

- Random Immunities on monsters
- Elemental Weapons
- A new Skillsystem
- Skillpower to enhance Skills

Random Immunities:
Well, this is the most essential I think. In unmodded LOD, there were a lot of character builds just trying to get one damage type maxed (Multizon), and not caring about the immunes. Well, if the immune monsters are just in some places (there are no physical immunes in Cow Level), and maybe some bosses are immune, too, well, who cares? I just need to be successful where I am, and if that is just the Cow Level, everything is okay.
This doesn't work anymore in d2:elements, because every monster (including Act Bosses) has a certain chance to get one or two random immunities assigned. This chance increases with the monster level.
On normal, you will not see too much random immunes, but they are already noticable. But on hell, in the fifth act, you have to expect that most monsters have a random immunity, and lots of monsters even have two, making up standard monsters that have up to three immunities (one standard, two random), and bosses that have up to five (although the chance for five immunities is extremely low, I never saw such a monster in my tests).

Elemental Weapons:
If you do not specifically want to kill each and every monster and are a physical-damage warrior, an elemental weapon in the second weapon slot will really help you. You can kill most of the enemies this way.
Elemental weapons are the same as physical weapons, except that they deal elemental damage instead. They share with their physical counterparts the requirements (level, strength, dexterity), but have higher damages because they do not get strength or dexterity damage bonuses. They get a small damage bonus from energy though.
An example: there is a Great Sword dealing 19-34 physical damage. There is as well a Fluid Sword dealing 28-51 cold damage. It looks the same (except for the fact that its blue) and has the same requirements.

New Skill System:
I did not like the old one for two reasons: First, nearly all skills would be either level 0, 1 or 20. Furthermore, if your build was "finished", there was no reasonable thing you could do with the skillpoints left.
Because of that, I came up with a new one that does not have a maximum level and no level requirements for skills either.

The cost for increasing a skill is based upon the current skill level now. You need 1 skillpoint for the first level, 2 skillpoints for the second level, 3 for the third and so on (it changes a bit from that theme later on, but you get the idea). The first level of former higher-level skills now costs as much skillpoints as the former level requirement was (Concentration: 24, Fanaticism: 30 and so on). This prevents players from investing in highlevel skills too early.
This should make it easier to spread your skillpoints over more skills or to concentrate on just some skills if you like (decide between 7 skills at level 19 and 4 skills at level 25...). One should not concentrate too much, though. Beware of the random immunities...

All skills have been rebalanced to fit this new system, and i also made lowlevel skills more useful when doing that. They can now compete with the highlevel skills.

Skillpower:
I did not like the synergy system in patch 1.10, so I removed it and replaced it with a synergy to Skillpower (former Energy). Most of the skills (though not all) increase their effects when you increase Skillpower. The effect this has are numerous and reach from enhanced damage (Bone Spirit) over increased lightning absorb (Resist Lightning) until decreased damage to self (Sacrifice). This should encourage caster characters to care more about their Skillpower value. But there are, of course, some caster skills as well that do not need Skillpower to be effective (Nova for example).

There are numerous other things changed as well. The monsters have been completely rebalanced, all weapon damages have been rebalanced, some armor stats have changed, skills have been rebalanced, rare items have been improved, there are new unique and set items, new runes and runewords, new class-specific items, altered cube recipes, altered drops (more good stuff for you), ....

I did not make this mod a total conversion though. Its more an expansion and rebalancing of Diablo2: Lord of Destruction, and most skills that were in the unmodded game also are in d2:elements.

ONYX:
Why did you choose to make a mod that is so close to the original game?

CHAR:
Well, there are several reasons. First of all, I really liked Diablo2 (why would I otherwise have modded it? No liking Diablo2 -> No playing Diablo2 -> No modding Diablo2
The thing I did not like about it was that there were a LOT of great ideas in it, and there were some really crappy things that destroyed the fun playing the game (overpowered but rare-as-hell uniques for example).
What I liked though was the general idea of the seven character classes, the general ideas behind the skills, and so on. The problem was just that they were unbalanced as hell and that sadly, lots of them were useless.
So what I tried was to make the game be essentially the same, but giving you a totally new feeling when playing it on the other hand. Giving people more freedom in the world of Diablo2 (for example with the new skillsystem). Making new, interesting builds possible. Making the game challenging while playable with selffound items. Stuff like that.

On the other hand, "close to the original" is relative. If you see mostly unchanged levels and using the same character base ideas as "close to the original", d2:elements definitely is that. If you count in game balance, prepare for major changes.

ONYX:
Now, let's say a few words about your guide. Firstly - why have you decided to write it?

CHAR:
Well, I have to say that I started that guide a LONG time ago (about 5 months), and at that time, I realized that there are a lot of people out there thinking that modding is a better form of cheating or something like that. Furthermore, there were a lot of people trying to make the game more challenging, more interesting, more funny, whatever. A lot of these people had great intentions, but some of them just went into the wrong direction because they did not see that they changed a lot of non-obvious things too when changing obvious ones. I cannot blame them for that of course, since I was the same when I started, and I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. But I guess this community is made for people to help each other, and so I decided to write this guide in order to help people and prevent them from having to learn certain things the hard way, which can be very demotivating. When I had read this great post on skill and character design by Brother Laz, I realized that I had that guide still lying around somewhere, and that I could just finish it, so I did.

I have to tell though that this is not meant to say people "hey, you got to do it this way", but just to help them understand certain things.

ONYX:
What category of modmakers are you aiming your guide at?

CHAR:
I guess it would be quite good if a new modder would read this tutorial and might help him / her to come up with a good mod, but on the other hand, who is gonna read that much when he / she just started making mods?
But I dont think this is only for people that just started mod making. Even Joel told me that he got some interesting thoughts from that guide....
It can be used as a reference, and when you start modding in a specific area, you can just have a quick look at that part of the guide in case you are a bit unsure about how to do it or if you just want to have someone else's thoughts on that topic.
That is why I added the formulas at the end, too, you can use them as a reference and do not have to search the forum for them.

ONYX:
Do you still play mods, and if so, which ones do you like best?

CHAR:
I don't currently have the time to play mods, but I think I will try again when I get some more time (and when I need to work less on d2:elements).

First, of course, now that the beta is out, I will play my own mod a bit. But I am also planning to have a look at Ancestral Recall / DotD once again since I really enjoyed that, and of course, I will try Shadow Empires: Realms of the Unknown and Dark Alliance when they are out . Back to Hellfire sounds promising, too

ONYX:
Is there anything you'd like to do or seen done in a mod?

CHAR:
Oh well, ideas....
Yes of course there are things that I really would enjoy in a mod. But some of them are impossible, several of them require heavy rebalancing and a lot of them require very advanced techniques / code editing and could not be done in any minor modification.

For example, I like everything that gives you a totally new feeling when you play Diablo2. Or I would like to have a new system of resistances where 30% and 40% are not 70%, but 100% - (100%-30%) * (100%-40%) = 58% (I hope you get the idea). I would like to have a system where you get "character points" instead of skillpoints and statpoints. You can then choose to use them to improve your stats or to improve your skills. I like any system that motivates you to play your character much more differenciated then in vanilla LOD (zeal, fanaticism, .... what do i need more?).
I like any ideas that make elite items better than normal items in all cases. Why would anyone use an elite orb? Cause it's unique, well.... and why would anyone use an elite rare orb if he / she can get the same enchantments on a normal one way more easy?
I would like to see a fourth difficulty that is made for the elite fighters. No drops (or just few), no experience (or just few), just the honor you can get if you get through it. Doesn't necessarily need to be a fourth difficulty, but can also be just some levels....

The most important ideas I had (random immunities, skillsystem rebalances) have already been done in d2:elements .

But in general, you can often not tell if a certain modification is good. What may be great in one mod may be totally crappy in another one.

ONYX:
If there was a question you wanted to be asked, but didn't, now you can answer it.

CHAR:
Well, yes.

There has been some confusion about the name of my mod. Its called "d2:elements", and most people seem to think that it mainly refers to the elemental weapons, and some people asked why I did not implement elemental armors as well. The title of my mod refers to the elemental weapons, too, but not only. "Elements" is also to be understood as "basic elements", somewhat "back to the roots". I wanted to keep and strengthen some elements of Diablo2 which I think are very fundamental and very important.

ONYX:
Thanks for your time.

CHAR:
Thanks too

And now, be sure to try my mod


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